I Don’t Want to Write About Politics

politics-is-everythingI don’t want to write about politics, but every piece of my life is controlled by it.

I woke up Friday morning and realized my high-school-aged daughter had slept through her alarm. Her high school offers tremendous opportunities for academic and extra-curricular rigor, but if she wants to be a member of the honors society (a prerequisite for her preferred college admissions), she also has to do community service and show some proof of outside-of-school leadership. Thursday, she went to school all day, helped teach at her religious school, and then attended a meeting of a task force at our synagogue, returning home at 8:30pm to begin her homework. Educational policy has set this system up for kids like my daughter, a hamster wheel of achievement that burns kids out by the end of their senior year. Politics made her exhausted today.

When I came downstairs Friday morning, my younger daughter sat at the kitchen counter watching YouTube videos and eating breakfast. Though she seems healthy now, the years of worrying about her growth curve make my furtive glances at her food choices an instinct. I note the volume and count the calories in my head, inventory her planned activity for the day, and check myself; she’s fine. A part of her history stems from misdiagnosis her doctors made and for which they never apologized, a reality that I suspect comes from their fear of lawsuit. That misdiagnosis will stay on her medical chart, making her vulnerable forever to the caprices of health care legislation. My 11-year-old may be doomed to a life of wildly overpriced health insurance. Politics will someday make her — or keep her — sick. Continue Reading…

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Heart Exchange

child running

There’s a saying about becoming a mother that, for all its overuse and cliche, is as true as anything I’ve ever heard. It explains perfectly my own experience of mothering, one I’ve tried to capture and describe in other ways only to come back, finally, to this beautiful quote attributed to author Elizabeth Stone. In full, it reads:

Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

Of course, it’s not exactly my heart that runs off each day with my children. Rather, it is an enormous portion of my emotional power, vulnerability, and grounding to the corporeal world that surrounds each of them when we part. There is a piece of my intention for each day that I lend to them, a chunk of my personal energy that I gladly give away in service to whatever they need. Shorthand: heart.

That floating bit of my spirit is something I trust to do what I can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t in a world they need to learn for themselves. Like a blessing, I picture it keeping them safe. My promise to that end — the heart that goes walking around outside my body — is that the gift of it is irrevocable. I’ve told my daughters over and over that there is nothing they can do to make me stop loving them. They’ve sometimes tested me on this, asking what if I do this or what if I do that, but I always answer, “I will always love you, even if I don’t love the things you do.”

Even if I die? they have never asked, but I do know the answer. Yes, even if you die. Continue Reading…

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Three Days of Reckoning

stroller

When my now-eleven-year-old-daughter Sammi was still in my belly, I had a dream: a thin girl with straight, dirty blond hair and glasses, about nine or ten, was pushing a stroller at the zoo. I couldn’t see who was in the stroller, but something told me that pushing this stroller was very important for that young girl. Standing in place, her thin legs visible under short-shorts, she pushed her glasses above her eyes and wiped the bridge of her nose, then leaned forward, pressing her arms out and putting all her weight into the stroller. It rolled forward, and a gaggle of children I couldn’t quite make out ran and pranced around her as they moved toward the nearest animal exhibit.

That’s all the dream was — a girl I’d never seen pushing a stroller — and, at the time, I knew it was important but couldn’t quite figure out how. After all, I didn’t know I was having a second girl, and this baby in my belly had a round, dimpled older sister with a head full of huge dark curls.

But now, this week, I glimpsed a shadow of this image in real life. Sammi stood in a paper gown, waiting for the pediatrician. She had tried sitting on my lap in the chair, but her legs are now finally long and gangly enough that this is uncomfortable for both of us. I offered her the chair, but it was cold against her bare thighs, and she wanted to avoid the examining table until she had no other choice. So, she stood there: petite but solid, the plastic belt of the gown forcing the beginnings of a woman’s figure into my imagination, and I thought to myself: I really never pictured her at this age. Continue Reading…

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How Have You Never Had KUGEL?

bakingtogether

My older daughter, Ronni, ran out of the door of the elementary school one day many years ago with her eyes wide and a story bubbling to the surface even as I crouched down to receive her in my arms.

“Mommy!,” she gasped, flinging her lunchbox into the basket under the stroller where her little sister sat, “I ate all the kugel in my lunch today — but no one at my table even knew what kugel was!

I hugged her and laughed. “Kugel isn’t a food most people have tried, sweetie, unless they’re Jewish or have lots of Jewish friends.”

She nodded. “I know, but MOMMY. How can they LIVE without trying KUGEL?!” Continue Reading…

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Unexpected Miracles in Unpleasant Places

gfchallahA through line — sometimes faint, and mostly cultural — in my journey of being a wife and mother has always been my identity as a Jewish woman. Like so many people in my generation, I was dropped unceremoniously at the door of the religious school three days a week, twice for Hebrew lessons that were little more than decoding an unfamiliar alphabet, and once for the study of Jewish laws and history. I sat through many Friday night Sabbath services enthralled with the voices of our choir and of our cantor, a deep bass whose lowest notes made me imagine the voice of G-d. I went to three days of services on the High Holy Days, had a Bat Mitzvah in which I chanted a Haftorah portion that I’d never seen translated into English. I knew which foods went with which holidays: challah with the sabbath, apples and honey and mandelbrot with Rosh Hashanah, matzo ball soup with Passover.

It was all a ritual and surface-level observance. What held me to it was my mother and father, and their parents, and the parents before them, the long tail of history and the other-ness that held us together. “In the end,” I was told over and over, “you’ll be seen as a Jew no matter what you do.” Of course, that was a reaction to the recent history of the Holocaust, but I took it at face value, as least as it applied to the wider world’s opinion.

As a young adult, I fell in love with and married a Jewish man whose connection to Judaism had been stronger than mine, but brutally interrupted when his father died far too young and far too suddenly. He believed in having a Jewish home, but neither of us paid particular attention to the particulars of that. Before we had children, it was still the faith of our parents.

Becoming a mother forced me to decide how to reconnect to this faith in a way that would mean more to my children than whatever the Hebrew lessons and matzo balls had come to mean to me. Rather than a religion of their parents, I wanted my children to see themselves as Jews of whatever type moved them.

And then Sammi, my younger daughter, was born with a host of medical issues that took years to unravel. For many holidays during the years when her health changed our entire family’s diet, the connection of faith and ritual to food became tenuous. How do we define the sabbath without a challah? For that matter, how do we define a challah? According to Jewish law, a challah to be used for religious purposes has to be made of wheat, barley, spelt, oat or rye. What, then, of my gluten-free challah during Sammi’s six-food-elimination diet?

Was that challah Jewish? As I grappled with why this was the path my little girl’s health had taken, was I more than a mother pantomiming faith for her children? Continue Reading…

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