Observations

Observing the Holiday

Last night we attended a wonderful Passover seder at the home of friends, an Israeli family whose son is in the same class as Jonah. Most of the guests were Israelis and the seder was the most observant I’ve ever been to. I had helped a little by buying a few things and making the charoset (which was chunky, not pasty, as described in the Wikipedia entry I’ve linked to) and found it quite difficult to find ingredients that were Kosher for Passover. In our family seders, we’ve always cheated a little, not worrying so much if everything was strictly Passover certified, and basically following the spirit, rather than the law, of the holiday. It was mind-opening to realize how difficult it is to strictly adhere to the rules.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-vintage-porcelain-matzoth-plate-image23189979My husband is not Jewish, but I call him an honorary Jew because he is so comfortable in these settings, fitting in perfectly and participating as much as possible. (He doesn’t read Hebrew; I barely do.) The child is the one who, after just two years in a Jewish day school, is most familiar with the prayers and songs, and I gazed at him last night with some wonder, as though he were someone else’s child who was incredibly familiar and beloved to me. At the end of the evening, a prayer was sung that we have never sung at family seders. I didn’t recognize it but Jonah joined in sporadically, bouncing in his seat and sometimes singing in a goofy, cartoon-character voice. He was the eldest of seven children (the youngest of whom is an infant) and no one seemed to mind his antics. There was lots of noise and distraction throughout the seder, which is also something I’m not quite used to.

Our friend M, the mom of the hosting family, made all the food, and it was plentiful and delicious, every bit of it. I left feeling so full I didn’t eat today until late in the afternoon. She looked so exhausted by the end of the night (nearly midnight) that I worried about her, but she assured me she would get some rest today.

We were so pleased and grateful to be included. It was a beautiful evening on so many levels.

Observing the World

I can’t get the words together to write about Kansas, about a madman so full of hatred he would seek out Jews to murder on the eve of Passover. I don’t know what to say about Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher, who carries the U.S. flag but says he doesn’t recognize the U.S. government. I don’t know what to say except that these two things are intricately connected, and that there is a whole network, however loosely intertwined, of people in this country who are that angry and that fucked up.

It gives me pause; it should give you pause, too.

10154968_10152244587966749_6098421436474616092_nPassover celebrates overcoming hatred, oppression, and slavery. When I was a child, we always sang Let My People Go at the seder, a reminder that slavery happened right here, in our country, and afflicted a group of people whose descendants are our neighbors and friends and fellow citizens. I love that President Obama and his family celebrate Passover at the White House, recognizing the universality of the holiday and the beauty of it, and the fact that Jesus celebrated it, too.

Chag Pesach Sameach! (Happy Passover!)

Photos: Top: Seder plate © Mazor | Dreamstime.com; Passover at the White House © someone at the White House. (Hoping this is fair use.)

Kid

kidGet Up!

Yesterday, Saturday, my little guy tickled my feet until I got up. He was relentless. After wriggling like mad and laughing and begging, I got up and took care of the things that needed to be taken care of, like feeding him, cleaning up after and feeding the cats, doing some laundry, etc., which was something of an accomplishment because I’ve been sick with a bad case of the flu. By the early afternoon, I had to get back into bed.

I truly thought we’d be done with this illness thing come spring, but there’s some nasty shit going around, so here is my advice: Whatever you do, don’t get sick. Just don’t. Follow that simple advice, and I promise you will be all right.

Kid

Something made me think this morning of the 1980 song “Kid” by The Pretenders, about a parent’s struggle with her child’s disappointment in her. Haven’t we all felt that way at one time or another?

Last Halloween, after a little party, I drove Jonah to a nearby neighborhood to go trick-or-treating. As we were leaving, I backed up and accidentally tapped the car behind us, setting off its alarm. I hesitated, looking around to see if its owner was nearby, but after a minute or two no one came, so I drove away. Jonah was furious.

“Aren’t you supposed to wait?” he wanted to know. “Shouldn’t you tell the police?”

Much of this fury was the result of our having been rear-ended by someone in a hit and run about a year before. Whenever we pass the spot where that happened, we both remember the sudden impact, the shock, and our astonishment that the other driver—a young woman in a blue pickup—veered out of the lane and raced away.

kid2…And then there was the time that I accidentally rear-ended someone on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. We were heading into the city after a wedding in the East Bay and got stuck in massive traffic: the bridge was undergoing construction and that morning, a big rig had had an accident on the bridge and caught fire. We sat in that traffic for hours. I hadn’t slept well the night before and was exhausted and distracted when I smacked into the car in front of me. I had been moving at maybe three miles an hour.

The other driver was a kid in his late teens or early twenties and was driving his mother’s car. He claimed I’d damaged it, which was absurd—the car was in crap shape to begin with and was covered in dents and scratches. We were cordial to each other, but I couldn’t help but think that he was taking advantage of the situation. A police officer waved us over to a construction zone near the Angel Island exit, where the other driver showed him the “damage.”

The officer suggested we deal with it through our insurance agencies and, thinking I was covered through the rental car company, I didn’t insist on a police report. That was a mistake. The kid’s mom filed a claim and I had to deal with my insurance agency. A lot of hassle for a load of bullshit.

Back in New Haven, I reminded Jonah of what had happened on the Bay Bridge and told him I didn’t want to go through something like that again.

But I also told him he was right. “If I had hit the car hard enough to damage it, or if there had been someone in the car, I would have reported it.” And this was the truth.

And yet he was right. He was holding me to a higher standard than I was holding myself to. And that’s a hard thing.

“You think it’s wrong/I can tell you do/How can I explain/When you don’t want me to?”

It’s tough, raising a kid when you’re imperfect. Isn’t it?

 

Photos of the kid by Mommy.

 

I’m Against It*

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-stop-sign-enforced-bullet-holes-image21906913It’s astounding, the many ways we have of expressing ourselves and the sense of empowerment this bestows. We can make it known we’re for or against an unprecedented number of issues, and all before our first cup of coffee. It complicates matters, though, that there are so many things to be against, no one person can oppose them all. These days, especially, it’s important to carefully pick and choose our issues or risk diluting our rancor to the point of futility. How many things can one person reasonably oppose before this happens? I find I can be against only three or four issues at a time before I exhaust myself, so I try to exert some restraint.

Don’t forget that you have to be either for or against things. Nuance and ambivalence is so 1970s.

Recently I entered into a debate on Facebook about parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. The “anti-vaxxers,” as I’ve seen many call themselves, are obviously against something, but they’re also against anyone who is against their being against it. This must be utterly draining. As someone who is opposed to their anti-vaccination stance, I try not to get too emotionally involved, so when I do comment, I’m inclined to be snide about the lack of comprehension of basic science, or to point out the logical inconsistency of their arguments. I’ve noticed that many of the “sources” they cite are personal blogs or obscure health sites, while organizations like the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization are shunned as mainstream or governmental. This enables them to make statements that in any other context would be blatantly false.

It’s amazing how that works. On the internet, you can make any claim at all, and this allows people who want to believe your claim to 1)  believe it, and 2) use your site as a reference to prove it. So I can write that the world’s scientific community has overwhelmingly embraced the theory that Earth will be sucked into a black hole by the year 2025 and, even though it’s a lie, you can cite this blog as proof. After all, once a claim is out there, it’s out there—it can never wholly be taken back, no matter how many experts refute it. (Take, for instance, the ongoing nonsense about President Obama being Muslim or having been born in Kenya. Neither will ever go away.) So although The Lancet retracted in 2010 the scientific paper by Andrew Wakefield that linked MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccinations to autism, and although Britain revoked Wakefield’s license to practice medicine, the idea persists that the two are causally linked. And this has led to a decrease in the number of parents getting their kids vaccinated.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-vaccination-vials-syringeon-white-isolated-background-d-image32991919Despite my inclination toward sarcasm, real consequences result from willful ignorance and the biggest losers are always, always children. If anti-vaxxers’ decisions only affected their own kids, that would be sad in itself, but there might be valid arguments for allowing them to fuck up their own progeny. Alas, that’s not the way vaccines work; if you don’t understand this, take a quick look at this explanation of community immunity by the NIH, so simple and clear I’m quite sure a seven-year-old would understand it. This CDC page addressing misconceptions about vaccines is also helpful—unless, that is, you’ve contracted the very contagious habit of automatically discounting any information coming from a government agency.

I’m not a scientist; I’m just married to one. I am very much aware of my own ignorance, which is why I tend to consult people who have studied and worked hard in a field, as well as to trust the consensus of scientists, because there’s a system of checks and balances in place. The progress of civilization, after all, depends on the advancement of knowledge. It seems to me that those of us who aren’t in the business of advancing knowledge would do well to have a bit more trust in those who are.

Photo: Top: Stop sign with bullet holes © Dlrz4114; Bottom: vials and syringe © Maksym Yemelyanov; Both via Dreamstime.com

 

* Thanks, Groucho!

 

Recent Revelations

I interrupt my part-time mission of countering anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and racism on Facebook to bring you this blog post.

You can thank me later.

Capoeira

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-capoeira-performance-toronto-june-members-sinha-bahia-canada-perform-harbourfront-canada-day-festival-june-toronto-image31995743Yesterday, after several months of on-and-off capoeira (due to a winter marked by lots of sickness) I got up my nerve and actually wore the white pants that are part of the capoeira uniform. Why is that a big deal, you wonder? (You must be a man if you really wondered that.) Here I am, nearly fifty years old and out of shape and going back to class after a twenty-year hiatus and feeling fat and ugly and old and wrinkly. Wearing clingy, white, polyester pants was not my idea of improving my self-esteem. But here’s the amazing thing: Twenty years ago, when I was relatively young and studied capoeira in San Francisco, I loved, loved, loved it, and yet it was also an incredibly painful experience for me. The atmosphere in my class was one of intense competition and antagonism, spurred on by a mestre who was insecure and pretty fucking crazy. Now, as a Tired Old Thing, I return after much deliberation and the response—particularly from my new mestre and instructor—is one of admiration (for coming back after twenty fucking years—you try it!) and support. I am surrounded by fellow students who are there to learn and grow and, in the process, are happy to help and encourage each other. And that’s a beautiful thing. I leave class feeling elevated and happy and glad to be alive.

I could focus on all the things I can no longer do after twenty years but I’m encouraged to feel good about what I can do. This is a something of a revelation, a epiphany, and a wonder.

And so I rock the clingy polyester pants. Every facet of our lives should be like this, every day.

Just Do It

On Sunday mornings the hub-sand and I really get our lethargy on. I usually laze about in bed until the child informs me that he wants to eat.

“I’m hungry” is the Jewish mama’s call to action.

Last Sunday I asked the little guy to feed the kitties. This is generally my job, so I gave him clear instructions.

“Empty their bowls in the garbage can, wash them, dry them, and then put food in them.”

Twosie_Feb_March2014He offered to clean out their litter box, too—bonus!—and as I lay there, I reminded myself that the mess he’d make did not matter. What mattered was that he was doing it. This was not a time- or work-saver for Mama—it was an opportunity for him to chip in. So I lay in bed smiling, even though I knew I’d need to go into the bathroom a little bit later to sweep up, finish cleaning the litter box, put the food away properly, and—he tipped me off about this one—clean cat poop off the floor.

Hell. It was still a beautiful moment. And you’d better believe I savored it.

To Brainwash or Not to Brainwash

Last week the hub-sand and a friend of ours—the dad of Jonah’s friend and classmate—brought the kids to a “monster truck jam.” This may have been a bad idea—I’m not sure about that—but I do know I’m immensely thankful I didn’t go because the entire experience would have given me a massive headache and further soured me toward the human race, what with the faux patriotism, the ear-splitting music, and the horrendous noise of the trucks. (The dads bought the kids ear muffs designed to resemble monster truck tires at a whopping $20 a pair, but they didn’t cut out enough noise for Jonah, who had to leave after about half an hour.)

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-excaliber-monster-jam-truck-image19648011Yesterday, after capoeira, we went to a pub for lunch and Jonah became fascinated with the Nascar race being shown on two of the three of the televisions in the place. The third TV was airing a basketball game, which I pointed out more than once.

“Isn’t basketball more interesting, Jonah?”

“No. I like this,” he said, pointing to the cars, which were zipping like wind-up toys around the oval track.

I kind of get it, while simultaneously not getting it at all, and as a men’s chorus from Appalachia performed (silently, as the sound was mercifully turned off), I came very close to saying, “Do you see a person of color in that crowd? Beware of pastimes that attract only white people.” But then I realized how badly that could backfire, and how under-represented people of color are at many things I enjoy and find worthwhile. And so I decided to leave it to fate, to hope and trust that the things we expose him to and the values we share with him and the people he knows and cares about will guide him through his life in a good and beautiful way.

I do. I believe. I have faith. Hallelujah!

 

Photos: Top: Capoeira performance by Sinha Bahia Capoeira Canada, June 2013 © Howard Sandler | Dreamstime.com; Middle: Photo of Thing Two by Aviva; Bottom: Excaliber monster truck driven by David Brown in Toronto, 2011 © Serena Livington | Dreamstime.com

 

Mommy-Dick; Or, the Whine

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-giant-whale-tail-image21181751Call me CrabbyPants. Some years ago—never mind how long, exactly—finding myself long in the tooth and short in childbearing years, I thought it was time to cast about in the world of reproductive technology. So did my husband and thus, being of little means and great hope, and despite the damp, drizzly November of Life we found ourselves in, we sought out a fertility doctor at the University of Connecticut, paid for—thankfully—by our medical insurance. It was that or stepping into the street and knocking people’s hats off, particularly hats of those parents who took their children for granted, pushing their perambulators about with an air of nonchalance and entitlement. It was high time to get to sea (so to speak) as soon as we could. There is nothing surprising about this. Many women, at some time or another, find themselves with very nearly the same feelings.

Oh! But you talk about birth-control! About avoidance of pregnancy. Oh, yes. Here come the crowds, headed straight for the nightclubs, hooking up for the night and expecting nothing to come of it. Strange! Nothing will content them but sex without complications. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in… if you know what I mean. Tell me, is it the magnetic virtue of parenthood that attracts them thither?

But I’ve made my point and while I could make it again and again, in paragraph after paragraph, this is a blog and not a 600-page novel. And though I cannot tell why it was that those sneaky stage managers, the Fates, ensured that one round of IVF did the trick, when others like me were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, I became a parent, which is how I find myself today, said Fates having cajoled me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment. Ha! Hormones be damned!

But I don’t mean that. Not really. My son, Jonah, named for the man who found himself in the belly of a magnificent beast—a beast some have pursued cruelly and without justification, to my mind—is my treasure, my fortune, my soul. And yet I find myself, at times, a bona fide Crabbypants, a crank, a—to put it plainly—total fucking bitch. There are times when I long to shout, “Yo, do not talk to me! Make yourself scarce!,” times when I would, indeed, gladly board a ship to nowhere for the soul purpose of pursuing a metaphorical or literal behemoth.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-beluga-whale-image21877130Chief among the thieves of my good humor is the overwhelming idea of the Life Itself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster it is. The wild and distant seas we travel in pursuit of some undeliverable, nameless source of Happiness distract us and make us bitchy. We take this out on our children often. And that sucks.

Not wanting to be this person, I succumb to the boy’s repeated plaints of Can I watch something? Can I watch something? though I know there are far richer ways to cast about the waves, biding one’s time. Yet his watching, say, a movie gives me some moments of solitude, time to allow my thoughts to be cradled on the salty, rocking sea, gathering the warming rays of the sun. Soon, I am at peace again, and can gaze upon my child with loving eyes, and not the cold, sharp eyes of a freakin’ harpy.

Is it so for others, I wonder? Or am I alone cursed with a nagging need to experience an ephemeral sliver of solitude? Would that the Fates would instant-message me! But alas, I shall be satisfied with a comment or two, from you, dear Readers, from you.

Photos: Top: Giant Whale Tail © Hui Wang; Bottom: Beluga © Petar Zigich | Dreamstime.com

 

A Lump in Need of Inspiration

This has been somewhat of a tough winter, with lots of sickness and snow days and missed work and feeling like a shut-in. I am not a winter sports person, pretty much detest frigid temps, and yet try every  year to start off, at least, with a thingie2positive attitude (“This isn’t so bad! I’m not even that cold!”) but find that optimism difficult to sustain. So right about now, in mid-February, coming off yet another bad cold and another round of conjunctivitis, I’m done. And yet I’m a little annoyed that I can’t even find it within myself to wish I were in northern California, one of my favorite spots on earth (and where I lived for 12 years), as they’re in the midst of a terrible drought. Thanks for not even making it as my fantasy back-up, NoCal!

(There’s nothing like viewing the world through selfish-colored lenses.)

I am a lump. I’ve been uninspired, phlegmy, tired, bored, boring, and brain dead. I am in desperate need of a kick in the pants, or at least a bit of inspiration, which is why I am sending this shout-out to Ellen Page:

ELLEN PAGE!

dreamstime_xs_26360068I am not what you’d call an Ellen Page fan. I have never seen Juno or X-Men. I heard Ellen Page’s name via all the buzz about Juno whenever it was that Juno was released and my first reaction to seeing online that she’d come out was a mildly interested “Good for her!” But something compelled me to watch the speech she gave at a Human Rights Campaign conference on Valentine’s Day and I’m very glad I did. This twenty-six-year-old actress is eloquent, compassionate, humble, and brave. She is wise beyond her years and well worth listening to. And if that hasn’t convinced you, her talk is less than nine minutes long.

What’s it gonna cost you? Nothin’. Here it is.

One day, “coming out” won’t be necessary, because no one will have to hide in the first place. But until that day, those in the public eye who stand up despite the inevitable wave of ignorant, small-minded, and hateful comments are heroes who make life just a little easier for kids and teens who are figuring out who they are. And that ain’t no small thing. Because growing up feeling as though everything about you is just wrong is crippling. In my own way, I know about that.

knightsThis is why I want so desperately for my son to feel supported in being the person he is, to laugh, love, live, and create. I love his drawings of the unique world that inhabits his mind. The world as he sees it is—like him—whimsical, exuberant, and wildly fascinating.

Last night, as I was running around doing whatever, Jonah was getting changed into his pajamas, and I half-noticed his struggle to put on his pajama top. After a minute or so, I asked if he needed help, went over, and discovered his pajama top was actually his pajama bottom. This might have been why it weren’t goin’ over his head, nohow.

We laughed very hard and when I saw that he was embarrassed, I said, “Everyone does silly things, Jonah. It’s great to be able to laugh at yourself.”

And it’s true. Being able to laugh at yourself is to acknowledge that you’re part of the great, struggling, absurd, and incredible horde of humanity, a mass of beings as different from one another as each falling snowflake and yet as indistinguishable as those snowflakes piled together in a mound of snow. Getting that is one small but important step toward self-acceptance. Getting that is understanding that differences are what make us interesting, and commonalities are what help us relate to each other.

Inspiration is not so hard to come by, is it?

Photos: Top: Thing 2, lumpish but curious; Middle: Ellen Page © Featureflash | Dreamstime.com; Bottom: Drawing by Jonah 2.14.14

 

Erring on the Side of Kindness

The night before his seventh birthday, Jonah, my son, insisted on sleeping in our bed. “It’s my last night of being a little kid,” he explained. I indulged him.

Seven does seem to belong to a new category of kid-ness. He’s in the second half of first grade, itself a huge step on the journey through school. Seven is heading toward big-ness, maturity, comprehension, independence. It’s half fourteen, one-third the drinking age. It’s three less than ten.

Jonah has always had a mind of his own, but this mind of his is less and less bendable to parental will. He is becoming his own person—as he should—and his ideas and world view are increasingly his own. I love to get his perspective on things. I learn from him. I’m amused by him. I’m inspired by him.

party_tableThis has been a heartbreaking week for me, a here’s-life-in-all-its-beauty-and-tragedy week. On one hand, the little guy turning seven, having a really great birthday party with adorable friends and wonderful parents, reminding us of why we bother with these parties in the first place. Afterwards, we were exhilarated and thankful for the lovely people in our lives. Today, at a party for his friend’s little brother, Jonah ran over to me, blood streaming down his chin, shouting excitedly that he’d lost his tooth. And then, after we cleaned him up, he ran back to the place where it had dropped and miraculously found it.

We’ve found ourselves in an amazing community of people who will step in if someone needs a ride to a birthday party or care for their kid for a few hours. It reaffirms my belief in goodness when sometimes there seems to be so little of it.

Sad things have happened this week: We lost the great Pete Seeger. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the finest actors of our time… what a tragic, unexpected, heartbreaking loss that was. And the letter by Dylan Farrow in The New York Times: a real shocker, wasn’t it?

maskAs though these things in themselves weren’t devastating enough, I was saddened even more by many of the responses to them. Folks dismissing Pete Seeger as a communist. People throwing all sorts of judgment at PSH’s addiction. And so many trying Woody Allen in the all-knowing Court of Public Opinion. No doubt I’ll lose some Facebook friends for voicing my view of things. But the propensity of people to hurl accusations and judgments at people, often without the benefit of the facts, is something that makes my blood boil. Life can be cruel and unkind and nasty; must we revel in it by spewing unsupported nonsense, by feeding on mass hysteria?

I’d like to think we’re better than that. But sometimes, I have to wonder. The little guy is growing up. To many people, he’s far too big to be crawling into bed with us. But while I fail sometimes, I try to err on the side of kindness. So if he needs an extra snuggle now and then, who am I to judge?

Photos: Top: Party table; Bottom: Mask by Jonah