Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Thoughts...

...while watching the wedding video:


1. You were there, and very much aware of everything that was happening. But there is still so much you either missed or can't remember.

2. Taking pictures is tedious and boring. But later, you'll be so happy you did it.

3. Like everything else in life, the night passes too quickly.

4. Watching yourself on video is not fun. It's much more fun watching everyone else.

5. Every person who makes the effort to show up is appreciated. (Although sometimes you don't actually remember that they were there until you see them on video.)

6. It's easier to remember those who wished you mazel tov during the kabbalas panim than those who came during the dancing.

7. If you're feeling uncomfortable while the video camera is focusing on your table, and you pretend to be looking at your phone, you will actually look like you're feeling awkward, and not like you just got a really important text. Just wave and say mazel tov.

8. Those people who take that opportunity to give long speeches to the video camera - no one gets to hear it. We just watch your lips move while we listen to some background music. Just wave and say mazel tov.

9. If someone you love can't be there, even if there are hundreds of other people there and so much going on, you'll notice and miss them.

10. Surprisingly, there is not that much more color on the women's side than on the men's. It's mostly black and white on either side, except for an occasional splash of color, which is probably the out-of-town relative.

11. A wedding is really exciting, but it's only one night. The real fun starts afterwards.

12. There are so many single friends of the kallah, and so many single friends of the chosson. Can't we match them up?

13. None of those single friends of the chosson are good enough for the chosson's sister, apparently.

14. If you spend your night avoiding the camera, you may succeed in not being caught on video, but you miss out on all the fun.

15. It is possible to be so happy and so sad at the same time.

16. Being at your child's wedding is one of the most powerful moments you will ever experience.

17. Sometimes, during your most powerful moment, you will not shed a tear.

18. The men seem to be having a lot more fun than the women.

19. They should really give the chosson a thinner glass to break under the chuppah.

20. I am so, so blessed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Boro Park

I'm from Boro Park.

I love it here.

It's where I grew up, where I got married, and where I'm raising my children.

It's where I chose to raise my children.

I know all the stereotypes. Boro Parkers are loud and aggressive.  They are impolite and inconsiderate. They are unfriendly and rude and arrogant.

And they do not say "Good Shabbos".

True, the chesed here is unparalleled. Even the staunchest out-of-towners would grudgingly admit to that. But that doesn't really say anything about Boro Parkers. It doesn't say anything about the individuals. Chesed, after all, does not equal middos. Chesed doesn't compensate for the lack of civility, the offensive behavior and the rudeness. Right?

I know a very different Boro Park.

It's a lot of people living in a small place. It's crowded. And rushed. It's New York. People here think and behave a bit faster than they do in more laid back areas.

But I know the people. I know the individuals.

I know the woman who noticed when my little boy seemed lost. I know how she didn't wait for him to reach out for help...how she understood that he was too proud to admit he couldn't find his way home...and how she helped him out, with his dignity intact.

I know the man who, while walking home from shul, met a guest of ours who couldn't find our house. I know how he wasn't able to help him, but he invited him to eat with his family instead.

I know my son who noticed the elderly man living near his yeshiva who likes to come daven with the yeshiva's minyan. I know how my son goes to this man's house 3 times every Shabbos to walk him to the yeshiva. I know how he helps him to his place and makes sure he's comfortable and has everything he needs.

I know the woman who knocked on my car window asking if I was going in her direction. I wasn't, but I took her there anyway. I know how thankful she was...as though I drove her across the country instead of just four blocks.

I know the boys who wait at street corners in the cold, hoping for a ride. And I know the people who stop to offer it to them.

I know hundreds of these people. Boro Parkers...all of them.

If you ask us for directions, we won't bond with you. We may not ask you where you're from or why you're here. But we'll stop what we're doing and help you out.

We've gotten a bad rap. And people come here with an opinion...a preconceived notion.

If you expect people to be rude, you will see only rude people. But if you expect people to be nice, you will notice them, too.

Come to Boro Park with a more open mind. Expect people to be nice, patient and caring about others. See what happens. And let me know.

Oh...and say "Good Shabbos".

To quote Wayne Dyer, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change".

Monday, November 22, 2010

Battle Scars

"...And so Hakodosh Baruch Hu chooses a particular couple who will draw such a neshama down to this world. The neshama departs from the kisei hakovod and is immediately placed in an environment in which it is at home - an environment which is heavenly in nature, for an isha me'uberes carries within herself not only a child, but an entire Gan Eden as well.....

However, those special neshamos of which we have spoken above cannot bear to separate themselves from Gan Eden and sully themselves by entering this world of gashmius. And so they are spared from undergoing this discomfort and are returned to the lap of their Father in shamayim, having fulfilled their mission by leaving the heichal haneshamos, thus bringing Moshiach closer.

And what of the mother who had suffered, hoped, and in the end was so disappointed?

She is of flesh and blood and her feelings are understandable. However, in loftier moments - in moments when her wisdom can overcome her emotions - then she can free herself of her earthly thoughts and join in the elation enjoyed by her neshama. Then she will become possessed by a feeling of true joy - the joy of a wealthy man who takes reckoning of all his business endeavors and sees that the profits far outweigh the expenses.

She has merited to have as her guest a pure, holy neshama, accompanied by heavenly light, heavenly malachim and a heavenly Torah. Hakodosh Baruch Hu has chosen her guf to be the bais midrash of this neshama. And when this neshama leaves her, something of the kedusha that entered her will remain, and will not leave her for the rest of her life.

She was zoche to bring Moshiach's arrival closer by offering a sacrifice for this purpose. She is left with no mother's compensation; what she has endured has been for Moshiach's sake alone. She has served as a loyal soldier, not as a worker who awaits immediate payment. She has served with the loyalty of a soldier who is ready to suffer wounds in battle, if necessary, solely for the glory of the king.

Was it all worth it?" *


I lay on the stretcher, consumed by the ache in my heart. I don't want to be here. I barely register the needle in my arm, as I drift into blessed oblivion...as I embrace the blessed release of sleep...numbing the desperate ache inside me.

And when I am awakened, my baby is gone.

It was a normal, uneventful pregnancy, and we eagerly awaited the birth of our child.  We looked forward to our baby's upcoming arrival with joyful anticipation. We wondered whether it would be a boy or a girl..we speculated as to who it would look like...and we talked about who he/she would be named for.

And then, at a routine 16 week checkup, there was no heartbeat. My baby was no longer living.

I cried there in the doctor's office. I cried when I got home. And I cried the next morning at the hospital.

And then I was okay.

I got up, brushed myself off and moved on. I had other children to take care of. A miscarriage is pretty common, after all.

But I wasn't okay, really. Not inside. There was a very alive and real baby inside of me. A baby who died.

For a long time, I'd keep track of how old my baby would have been...should have been...and every time I'd see a child that age, it hurt.

Eventually, the hurt faded. It never disappeared, but it was replaced by a dull ache that settled somewhere deep inside me. I rarely thought about it. And when I did, it was just a fleeting thought. A tiny pinprick of pain.

But sometimes, during the time of year when we would have been celebrating another birthday, I think about it.

I wonder what this child would have been like. I wonder if he would have looked like any of his siblings. I wonder if he would have been quiet or outgoing. I wonder about how he would have changed the family dynamics. I wonder...but I'll never know.

But I do know that he would have had a place in my heart.

He would have been loved.


"Was it all worth it?

In painful moments when disappointment sets in and normal human feelings dominate one's mood, there may be one answer. However, when holiness breaks through, when the seichel of the neshama speaks and the joy of the Jewish soul bursts forth, then there is an answer of an entirely different nature. The answer is accompanied by the chimes of triumph, with the joy of the victor, with the deep-seated satisfaction of one who has earned something of immeasurable value...." *


I've suffered a loss. The ache never really goes away. There is no joy in that...for me. But there is acceptance. It's how it was meant to be.

And I've grown through it. I've learned the depth of sorrow. I've learned that life is incredibly precious, and that every moment shared together should be enjoyed. It's given me increased sensitivity.

There are no chimes of triumph. But I've brought Moshiach's arrival closer.

And that is a comfort.



*Excerpted from a letter written by R' Moshe Wolfson and translated by Rav Shimon Finkelman.
For a copy of the full letter, email me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Half a Mama

"You're going to drive her??" She stared at me in utter disbelief.

My little girl was frantic. She had a science test to study for, and she couldn't find her notebook. I wasn't really worried. I knew she'd do well on the test anyway. But she was distraught. After a thorough search, I concluded that it definitely was not in the house. So at 8:30 PM, I agreed to drive her back to school to see if it was there.

My big girl was incredulous.

"I would never have dreamed of asking you to do that at her age. You would have told me that it's my responsibility to make sure I have it, and if you drive me, I wouldn't learn that."

She's right.

Sometimes, it seems like I have two sets of kids.

The older set was born when I was younger. I stayed home to raise them. I had more time, more energy and more flexibility. I took them to the playground and I read them books. Bedtime was firm, and there was no snacking before dinner. And...if they left their notebook in school, well...how would they learn to take responsibility if I was always fixing their mistakes?

The younger set has an older mother. I have a lot more patience and tolerance. And so much more appreciation for every moment. I'm more aware of the swift passage of time. I know how fast they grow up, and I savor every minute.

With age also comes wisdom. I learned that some things are not worth getting worked up about. I learned to choose my battles.

But I don't have as much time to spend with them as I'd like, and I don't have the energy I used to have. I'm tired. Bedtime is not a concept they are familiar with. There's a lot happening around the house at night, and they want to be a part of it. So I make a lame attempt at getting them into bed, and then I go to sleep and hope they do the same sometime soon. If they want something and I can't think of any reason not to get it for them, I will. My little girl has too many pairs of shoes, and my little boy has too many books and toys. And...if they leave their notebooks in school, I'll drive them there to get it.

My older kids call me on it all the time.

"We were never allowed to do that."

"You never let us take that much snack to school every day."

"You're spoiling him."

Maybe I am.

I look at my older kids. They are mature and responsible. They are sensible and trustworthy adults and near-adults. They are everything I'd hoped they'd become. And I wonder if I am making a mistake in the way I am raising the younger set. Maybe they need me to be the kind of mother I was to their older siblings. Maybe I should be sticking to a method that has been tested and proven to be effective. Tried-and-true.

But maybe they were given to me at this age because this is the kind of parenting they need. Maybe not every child is meant to be parented in the same way.

Or...maybe I am aware of what I am unable to provide, and I am trying to create some sort of balance. Trying to make it up to them in some way, maybe.

Which brings to mind a story I read about a Rebbetzin in Meah Shearim whose married daughter came to visit and watched as her mother gave her much younger sister a potato chip.

"Mama," she cried, "when I grew up, I had to wash six floors in order to earn a half of a potato chip!"

"When you were little," the Rebbetzin replied, "you had a whole Mama, so Hashem knew it was enough for you to have half a potato chip. Now, 25 years later, your sister has half a Mama, so Hashem provided her with a whole potato chip."

More Mama, less potato chip.

Less Mama....more potato chip.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mixed Emotions

It's over.

The weeks of preparation and anticipation. The whirwind of shopping and gown fittings. The anxiety and the excitement. It's all behind us now. Gone...in a blur of music and dancing and five course meals. Just a fleeting moment in time. Gone too fast.

I watch my son and his new wife. They are so perfect for each other. So....complete.

I am so incredibly happy.

And I cry.

I cry because this is what I've prayed for and hoped for.
I cry because this is the fulfillment of my dreams.
I cry because I know how difficult it can be to find one's soulmate, and I'm so thankful that he found his.
I cry because I know how right they are for each other, and I am grateful for that certainty.
I cry because my heart is full.

And I cry because there's a hole in my heart.

My oldest has just left home, and a big chunk of my heart is severed.

I miss him.

My children are growing older. As am I.

I miss tripping over the Lego pieces.
I miss the crayon marks on the walls.
I miss the sand in their shoes.
I miss the patter of little feet.
I miss rocking them to sleep.
I miss the teething and the sleepless nights.

Even the sleepless nights.

I'm at a different stage now, and I'm not sure I'm ready to be here.

I cry because time passes too quickly. Because I can't hold on to the moments.

My big boy is now a married man - ready to begin a new life. Ready to build a home. Ready to face life's challenges.

And I worry.

I have traveled down many of life's paths. I've stared challenges in the face. Some days were wonderful. Some days weren't easy. But I cannot imagine watching my child confront the challenges that life throws at him. I can't imagine how I would be able to bear watching him face a devastating difficulty.

I cry for his future happiness.

I am so unbelievably happy. And I cry.

I cry because I am a mother.

Because of the joys and the sorrows, the laughter and the tears, the fears and the worries, the hopes and dreams, the sweet....and the bittersweet.

There's nothing like being a mother.

Nothing.

I am so blessed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To My Big Boy

You are about to leave home. About to start a life of your own.

I've waited for this since the day you were born.

My heart is so full, that it aches. I am so unbelievably happy. Yet...there is a twinge of sadness.

I'm not unhappy about where you are going. I wouldn't want it any other way. You are going to where you are supposed to be, together with your future wife. To the life you are building together. But I will no longer be a part of the many moments of your life.

It's not like you ever really leave. A child is always in his mother's heart and mind.

But you will be missed.

I remember holding you...my first child....in your first moments of life.

Where have the years flown?

Where has the little boy gone?

Has the time really come?

Yom Kippur just passed. I davened for each of my children. I davened for all their personal needs. I worried about what is ordained for the coming year.

But my thoughts were especially with you.

I thought about everything that happened since last Yom Kippur. I thought about the monumental change in your life. And I davened for you and your kallah. For your new home. And for the children who will hopefully fill it.

I thank Hashem for allowing me to raise you and care for you, and for giving me such joy in watching you grow up to be the special person you are today.

My heart is full.

I wish for you so many things....so many blessings...so much good.

I wish for you only goodness. Only the very best of everything.

And I wish you and your wonderful, sweet kallah...your future wife...a life of true happiness. A life in which you will see the fulfillment of all your heart's desires.

Mazel tov to my dear, dear son.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Global Positioning

"Merge onto US 9 South," my GPS-lady intoned.

"No," I said. "I'm not doing that. That doesn't make any sense."

I forced my car towards the Garden State Parkway, despite her cries of "Recalculating". She really wanted me to take the 9, but I knew better. I knew that she had it wrong this time.

My daughter looked worried.

I cruised along, ignoring every attempt by my GPS to get me off the Parkway and back onto the 9. I closed my ears to that horrible word.

"Can you believe her?" I asked my daughter. "Can you believe how stubborn she is? I'm already on the Garden State. Why can't she just give in and let me stay here? Why does she keep trying to get me off of here and back on the 9? Where are her brains??"

"She doesn't have any," my daughter calmly reminded me. "No brains. Only voice."

I thought of the story I'd read about some driver who blindly followed the computerized voice, and crashed into a river or something. I will not be one of those motorists who turn their brains off when they turn their GPS systems on. It's not that I can't follow the GPS. I'm just positive I know a better route.

"In .5 miles, exit on the right…"

I was momentarily confused. I looked around, dazed. Was this the exit I needed to take to get the Outerbridge Crossing? I was no longer quite as sure as I'd been before. And I had 30 seconds to figure it out.

I took the exit.

And I found myself on Route 9. She beat me this time. My sense of direction, never very strong, left me completely. I sat back and let her lead me. I let go. The trip took double the time it should have, but I made it home.

I may not always like where she takes me, but when I'm hopelessly lost, she brings me back home.

There is a peculiar serenity in that knowledge. I don't necessarily appreciate her advice, and I don't always listen, but there is a sense of trust. No matter how frustrated I am...no matter how annoyed...there remains that faith in her.

Perhaps, some day, my GPS-lady and I will learn to work together. Maybe we can just start this relationship over.


We are approaching Rosh Hashanah. Reflecting on the past year, I find that I've made plenty of bad decisions. I've traveled roads that led to nowhere, and exited roads that were to lead to my destination.

And sometimes, I've been hopelessly lost.

But I know, if I listen to His voice, He will always lead me back home.

My life is in Hashem's hands. I may not always like what He does. But I like the feeling that He's running the show. I like letting go.

This year, I think I'll make a greater effort to stay on course. I will trust Him.

Maybe we can just start this relationship over.


To my readers and fellow bloggers:

May Hashem grant you all a year full of bracha and hatzlacha, mazal, good health, only simchos, and everything you ask for in your tefillos.

To all of you searching for your soulmates, may you find each other SOON. (This is my blog. I can say whatever I want. Iy"h by all of you! :P)

Kesiva V'chasima Tova.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take Care Of My Little Boy

"Macaroni for lunch again today, huh?" I teased. "I see the ketchup all over your shirt."

He looked down.

"That's not ketchup. It's blood."

I blinked hard, and looked again. It was blood. Splattered all over his little shirt.

"What happened?"

"My Rebbe hit me."

He said it so matter-of-factly, it took a moment to register. Just like that....'My Rebbe hit me.' Like, 'I tripped on my shoelace'. Like it was some normal, everyday occurrence. And if I didn't have the physical evidence, I would never have known what happened.

I sat down with him and listened.

The Rebbe slapped him on his face. Hard. Then he slapped him again. And again.

And again.

At some point, his hand made contact with my little boy's nose. The gushing blood finally stopped him.

I was stunned. Shaken. And angry. I looked at my little boy, and my heart twisted inside me.

I went to see the principal the next morning. He met my concerns with doubt, half-heartedly defending the Rebbe, and tried to dismiss me.

When I left the office, I knew that the Rebbe won't touch my kid again. I was able to protect my son, but I couldn't protect any of the other little boys.

I didn't hear the rest of the story until months later. How the Rebbe quickly ushered my son out of the classroom, stopped the bleeding, and tried plying him with candy.

And how he lost all respect for his Rebbe – not because of the slap, but because of what happened next.

The principal walked by and questioned the Rebbe. In front of my son and 25 second graders watching and listening through the open classroom door, he told the principal that another boy hit my son. My son was 7 years old. Too young to stand up for himself, but old enough to be deeply scarred by that experience. It taught him a lesson that no 7 year old should have to learn.

Ten years later, I don't think my son ever fully forgave that Rebbe. He is left with an intense dislike of the man entrusted with molding precious souls. A man who abused that sacred trust. A man who used his power to relieve his frustrations.


"I'm so excited for Yeshiva," my little boy tells me this morning.

"What are you most excited about?"

"My Rebbe."

Oh.

I had heard a little bit about this Rebbe. He had some issues with discipline, and he was incredibly boring. He had a wonderful Rebbe this past year, and I was concerned about the transition.

Apparently, my little boy had none of those reservations.

"He gives out fake dollars when you know the Gemara, and you can buy seforim with them. He's such a good Rebbe."

"Oh…good!" Maybe this would work out better than I'd anticipated.

"He hurts."

He hurts. There it was again…that same matter-of-fact tone of voice. As though this is an expected component to growing up and going to school.

I've come a long way since the blood on the shirt incident. I'm not that young, meek mother I was back then. No one has the right to lay a hand on my kid. No one hurts my son.

I will protect my little boy.


To my little boy's Rebbe:

Look at my son in the classroom when you teach him. Look into his eyes and see how hard he tries…how eager he is to please. See how your disappointment in him…your frustration…reaches into his soul and breaks his heart. See how it hardens into the foundation of his character.

I see it. I see it all. And I am angry every time I watch his self esteem crumbling.

Do you know how sweet he is…my son?

If you looked into his eyes, would you hurt him? If you loved him, would you?

Is it worth a life? A future?

I don't ask you to love my son as I do. But please….look into his eyes. While your expectations may not change, the way you respond to him might.

Take care of my little boy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Unmasked

I'd been reading blogs for a few years when I decided to start one of my own. And so, one morning, the first post went up. It was a strange sensation to write, and then click on that orange button that said, "Publish Post". With that click, I was putting my thoughts out to the world. I was giving permission for people to peek into my brain and read my diary. I had no particular desire for anyone to know it was coming from me, and why should they care, anyway? I'm just.....me. I'm not a writer. I'm not well known. I'm just a woman who likes getting stuff off her chest.

I checked my blog later in the day, and noticed that three people had commented. I sat there, utterly amazed. Three people read my blog! The next day, there were a few more. It was a good feeling.

We've all been there, us bloggers. We know that feeling of watching a blog grow and how good it feels to have someone pay attention.

I think most people who maintain blogs are doing it for some of the same reasons I do. They like the idea of a place where a record of our existence is kept - a house with an always open door, where people can check on you, compare notes with you and tell you what they think. Sometimes that house is messy. In real life, we wouldn't invite any passing strangers into these situations, but the remove of the Internet makes it seem ok.

There are no deep secrets revealed in my blog. But because the house is sometimes messy, I'm not comfortable with a real-life person coming inside. Being a nameless mystery feels safe...there is a security to being anonymous, and I did not want to give that up.

Apparently, I wasn't as anonymous as I believed.

I broke what is probably the number one rule of anonymous blogging - change the details. There are a wealth of details you can modify in a story without losing the essence of it, and I probably should have taken those liberties. I didn't. Someone read a post, and guessed who I am.

For one fleeting moment, I thought about closing my blog. I won't do that. But something does change when you become a real person, rather than an anonymous web site. In my real life, I choose which parts of me I want to put on display. I make sure the house is neat and clean before I invite anyone in. I worry about what people think.

As long as my blog was anonymous, I didn't have to do that. I didn't worry that people's perceptions will change based on something they read. I didn't worry about being judged based on my beliefs, my style, my perspectives, or any of a hundred other things that people judge.

I now have a couple of options. Stop caring about what other people think or discontinue the unfiltered honesty.

I won't do either. I'm going to keep blogging. Anonymously. And it may be more difficult to be as open as I'd like, but I still want the freedom to share my thoughts...to have a place where I am always allowed to write about how I feel without sweeping up first.

To my identifier: Thank you for respecting my privacy. Thank you for not judging me based on things you read on my blog...for not predicating your opinion of me on my messy house.

To everyone else, I will remain,

Yours always,

Mystery Woman

 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Undercover

I'd seen the ads. I probably shook my head and thought, This will never take off. Crazy...

I was wrong.

I spent Shabbos in an ultra chassidish neighborhood. It was very hot and humid, and I was sitting outside, seeking some respite from the frigid air inside, and watching people walk by - the men in their shtreimels, bekeshes and knickers, the women in dark suits and sensible shoes, some with hats over their wigs, but most with heads completely swathed.

A woman passed, wheeling a double stroller, several children clinging to the handlebar. She was wearing a coat. I blinked, unsure if my eyes were playing tricks. No, it was definitely a coat. Odd, I thought. Maybe she didn't feel like getting dressed, and figured it would be easier to just throw a coat over her robe. Odd...

I saw it again a few minutes later. And then again. And my brain finally registered a connection between what I was seeing and the ads I saw months ago.

These were summer coats. An oxymoron, seemingly.

The purpose, according to the ad, was tznius. Women walking to Shul on Shabbos, or to a wedding, dressed in clothing that might attract the attention of men. Ideally, those clothing should be covered by something simple and loose. In the winter, this is not an issue. In the summer, it is. Hence, "summer" coats.

I couldn't understand it when I saw the ad, and I understood it even less now, in the 98° heat. Whose idea was this? I wanted to know. Was it a man who decided to add another restriction, or a woman who wanted to take tznius to another level? Is this what tznius really means? After all, there's nothing attracting about whatever they were wearing under their coats. Black suits, mostly. And not very form fitting, I assumed.

My boys came out of the house then, on their way to Shul, in their bekeshes and hats. Not very different than the summer coats, really. But, somehow, this didn't bother me in the same way. Maybe because I am used to this. Maybe because this is something that's been done for generations. Maybe because wherever I am in frumkeit is "normal", while anything more is fanatic and anything less is "modern". Surely, there are plenty of people who are aghast at the sight of a fur hat in the summer, or even just stockings and long sleeves.

Maybe I was just seeing this all wrong.

Maybe these women were taking the concept of tznius further than I ever could. In their way, they are keeping private what should be kept private, thus enhancing the special intimacy between husband and wife. It's their way of maintaining respect for the body. Beautiful, really.

Another coat clad woman walked by, interrupting my thoughts. My daughter, sitting with me, seemed upset.

"There's nothing feminine about her," she said. "Long, shapeless coat concealing any hint of a figure, no hair...just a face. With no makeup.

"Is this what Hashem wants?"

I had no answer. I don't know the answer.

Is it? 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Birthdays

Ever notice how kids count their age in quarter years?

Three and a quarter, three and a half, three and three quarters. Every quarter year older is cause for celebration. It's like they don't have much age to speak of, so they'll say anything that makes it more impressive.

By the time they reach their teens, they're no longer counting in fractions. But a week after their fifteenth birthday, they're almost 16. And then almost 17.

We parents do it, too. Worse. We count in months. Until a year, it's all we have. But we keep going.

"How old is your son?"

"Thirty two months."

Then we have to wait while the person we're talking to does the math in his head. If he cares.

At some point, we start counting in decades.

"How old are you?"

"I'm in my thirties."

And then people stop asking. We keep having birthdays, only they're not so much fun anymore.

I don't look forward to birthdays. At each birthday, I start counting..tallying. Having a new number that I suddenly "am" gets me looking at other numbers. And the math is never good.

New age: 29

Number of years left: 40? Maybe 50?

Number of productive years left? Years that I can make a difference to this world...change this world in some way: Umm....20?

Scary.

A relative of mine lives near a cemetery. I look out over her fence, and read the gravestones.

1823-1887

Just a blip on the radar.

Who was she? Does anyone know she existed? She was born...she lived a full life, presumably...she loved...she had children, maybe. And then she was gone.

Does anyone remember us when we're gone? Our children do. Maybe our grandchildren. But after that...two hundred years later....does our existence matter to anyone? Will anyone know we lived? Will anyone care?

Celebrating a birthday means celebrating your life, its importance and its impact on the world around you. It means believing that you can make a profound difference and impact on our world. No person alive, no person who has ever lived, no person who shall ever live, can fulfill your specific role.

Pass the birthday cake, please.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Till Death Do Us Part

"My daughter is back home," she told me, her voice surprisingly strong. "She's going to get divorced.

I stared at her, stunned.

I hadn't seen her daughter very much since she'd gotten married almost a year ago. She was a very young bride...sweet, soft spoken and innocent.

She stood beside her mother now, her expression hard to read. But she seemed more mature...older...her innocence gone.

"Baruch Hashem. We're so happy. It's bitter and sweet. We're sad because she had to go through all this pain, but we're happy that she got out now."

Her daughter nodded in agreement.

And then it all came out. The months of abuse - physical, sexual and emotional. How she didn't tell anyone, hoping she could fix it herself. The people she approached for help, who did not understand the severity of the situation. How she finally left him, and called her parents.

And the stories... So many stories...so much pain. It was as though, after so many months of being silent, the floodgates were open, and she couldn't stop talking.

There were tears in my eyes as I listened. Tears for her...but also for her mother, who only just discovered how much her daughter suffered in the past year. And she wasn't there to help her. I don't begin to fathom that anguish. I can't imagine the guilt she must be feeling.

"It was meant to be," she said. "This is the person I was meant to marry. Hashem meant for me to endure this year of misery. I don't understand it now, but I have no questions."

I was awed by her faith. I marveled at her ability to see this experience as predestined...to feel so much misery, yet remain so strong.

"The Rebbe was so excited about this shidduch," her mother continued, referring to the Rebbe of the chassidic group to which they and the family of the chosson belong.

"We knew this was right," she said sadly. "We had no doubts."

I searched her face, looking for some sign of uncertainty. I wondered how they reconciled what, to me, seemed so inconsistent.

For a moment, my belief in Rebbes was shaken. But their trust never wavered.

"Hashem temporarily clouded his vision. This had to happen. It was bashert."

I wanted to hear more. I needed to hear that there were signs that they ignored, obvious things they overlooked, some way they could have known before....anything to assure me that this could never happen to me...that somehow I am in control.

There was nothing. There was no way to know. And no one is immune.

I had a long talk with my daughter that night.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here...not even sure there is a lesson. But I want her to be more aware. I want her to know that sometimes people are not as they appear. I want her to be able to recognize evil. I want her to understand that sometimes we need help....that there are things we cannot deal with on our own.

And I want her to know...always...that I'm here when she needs me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer's Empty Nest

I have a confession to make.

My kids are away at camp, and I'm enjoying their absence.

The days before their departure were a flurry of activity...shopping, labeling, packing duffel bags, arranging logistics and watching their confidence and delight as they headed off.

And then they were gone, and the world was suddenly very, very quiet. A nice quiet. The relieved quiet of a job well done.

Summer's empty nest.


When my little boy was four years old, I sent him to day camp for the first time.

And I cried.

My brain knew that this was the best place for him to be at this stage of his life. But my heart felt that he was so young and vulnerable...that he still needed his home and the pampering that only a mother can give.

My brain understood that he would be reaching towards independence in a warm environment...that I must let go so he can develop fully. But my heart insisted that I can, and should, be a full part of that development.

My stomach was tied up in a knot of anxiety.

My baby was moving into the next huge phase of his life....without me.


I've come a long way since then.

Make no mistake. I'm crazy about my kids. I love having them around. I love the noise and the laughter...their contagious joy and love of life.

And I love sending them away.

I don't have that pit-of-the-stomach sadness that they're off for good, and I know I'm not ready for that.

I do, however, love the temporary break. I'm thrilled at not having to pick up after them, keep tabs on them and nag them to make their beds or put away their clothes. I'm looking forward to the slower pace...less laundry...less cooking...more time. For me.

I can take my time getting home from work. I can catch up with old friends. I can read the paper or do my nails. I can go for long walks or read some books.

Or I can just do nothing.

I will enjoy my summer with a more relaxed attitude and carefree mindset.

And I'll be ready for them when they come back home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

When There Are No Words

The birthday party is winding down. My big girl is opening the gifts, and then the mothers will be arriving to take their little girls home.

I had carefully coached her in advance on proper gift receiving etiquette, and she is doing great, dutifully stopping between each one to say thank you.

She picks up a brightly wrapped box. A little girl bounces excitedly in her seat, her pink hair ribbon matching the rhythm, and I assume she is the giver of this gift.

My big girl tears the paper, and I hold my breath.

It is a game we already own.

I look at her intently, willing her to read my mind.

"Say thank you. Just...say...thank you..."

"We already have this game," she says, in obvious disappointment.

The little girl looks crestfallen, her pink ribbon drooping.

My big girl looks up and catches my eye. A look of comprehension dawns on her little face.

She smiles brightly.

"The one we have is missing some pieces. I'm so happy we have a new one now.

I exhale. The pink ribbon perks up, the little girl beams. My big girl looks pleased. I am relieved. And proud.

My big girl is learning about saying thank you...not just as an automatic response. She is beginning to understand the emotion behind the sentiment.

. . .

Sometimes saying "thank you" just doesn't seem to cut it. Sometimes someone does something so...big, so....overwhelming...that the simple words that are available are not adequate.

How can I just say those overused words, when I need them to carry the deepest meaning, yet they sound just the same as when they are tossed out frivolously by anyone?

How do I express sincere gratitude when I do not know any words that adequately convey those emotions?

Sometimes there are no words to express the gratefulness I feel in my heart.

But words are necessary.

So I am left with a heartfelt "Thank you".

It's not enough, but it's all I have.

Thank you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meant For Each Other

My friend is very frustrated with her bluetooth. And her phone. They just won't sync. She brings them together, the phone searches for its trusted device...and although it's right there, they can't find each other. Or won't.

She doesn't give up. She puts them nose to nose, trying to get them to recognize their match.

It doesn't work.

You can't force love.

I don't have that problem with my bluetooth. I don't use it a lot. Most of the time, it's buried deep inside my pocketbook, with the power off. And I carry my phone in my hand. They need to be separated. Because as soon as Bluetooth sees Phone, it springs to life.

I do what I can to sever the relationship. I go into my phone settings, find bluetooth settings, and make sure that's turned off. I double check the power on Bluetooth. It's off. I put Bluetooth in the little pocket, and carefully zip it shut. Phone goes into a separate pocket. Done. I feel victorious. And evil. And a bit guilty. Kinda like the way I felt when my daughter made friends with a girl I didn't like, and I did whatever I could to keep them apart.

It worked for my daughter. It doesn't work now. A call comes in, and sparks fly.

I check all the settings again. I'm not taking any chances. Bluetooth gets zipped into my pocketbook. I sling my pocketbook over my right shoulder, and Phone goes into my left coat pocket. I don't even feel bad anymore. I smile, smug.

The phone rings. I reach into my pocket, secure in the knowledge that Phone and I now understand each other. I press talk, and say hello. There's no one there. My confidence wavers. I glance at the screen. The call continues, with Bluetooth and Phone united.

That's when I know they are destined to be together.

I use my bluetooth all the time now.

They're meant for each other. And nothing I do will keep them apart.


It is said that ever since Hashem created the world, He has been kept busy making shidduchim. And that making a good match is as hard as Kriyas Yam Suf. Forty days before a child is born a voice is heard: this person is destined for that one. Somehow our bashert, the person destined for us, waits for us.

I've waited for this moment. Who would be special enough? Who would be the one? It seemed like a search for a needle in a haystack would be simpler.

We hit some bumps along the way, but we are not running the world ourselves. The Master of all souls, the Matcher of all matches guided us, wondrously orchestrating this all.


My son is engaged.

She is sweet and warm and smart and beautiful...and perfect for him. Their souls are partners, matching halves of a single whole.

They are meant for each other.


Like Bluetooth and Phone.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

To Love And Protect

I'm a mother. I have a fundamental instinct to protect my children from pain. In the course of their lives, I've soothed, encouraged, held, hugged and protected my little ones through the bumps and bruises associated with living. My love for them is a protective cloak guarding them from the many perils that threaten to harm them as they walk this journey of life.

There have been moments...holding a crying boy whose feelings have been hurt by another child, watching a sad girl trying to heal after a broken friendship...when I am overcome by a powerful, physical instinct to protect and fight for my child.

My daughter is in 7th grade - the year of G.O. elections. In her school, one girl is nominated from each of the 7th grade classes to run for G.O. President. The class votes, but the teachers make the final decision.

Elections took place last week. My daughter was really excited, having been obsessed with this since 5th grade. She felt that her chances of being chosen were pretty good. She had all the qualities needed and fit all the necessary qualifications.

I agreed, of course. I was sure she'd get plenty of votes, and I knew that her teachers recognized her talents and abilities. But I cautioned her during the week that if she was not chosen, she shouldn't be too disappointed. There are close to 30 girls in her class, several of whom would be good choices.

I waited with baited breath the day the results were to be announced. She came home, downcast.

"Who won?" I asked, my heart in my throat.

"Miriam."

Oh.

"I don't mind that I didn't win," she said. "But this was not done fairly. Miriam got only one vote. The head of G.O. is her aunt, and her sisters and cousins are always chosen."

My mother bear instinct kicked in. This was an outrage. How could they do this? How could they lead these girls to believe that their talents and hard work would earn them a chance at winning? How could they instill hope, when no one ever really had any chance?

I didn't want my daughter to suffer. I didn't want her to feel any pain. I would fix this.

I didn't, of course. I hugged her, I listened to her, I empathized. But then I let it go. I know that life is not easy. If I always pave the way, and continually make things easier for my children, I will create adults who are not able to deal with the real world.


My son is no longer a child. He's had his share of childhood disappointments. He's weathered his adolescence, gotten through his teens, and has grown into a mature and serious adult. Dealing with the real world.

And in the real world, I can't protect him.

I see his pain...I watch him suffer. It tears my heart apart. And there's nothing I can do to take his pain away. That protective cloak I naively believed could shield him from every trauma lies crumpled on the floor at my feet.

Motherhood brings out exceptional strength in me. No task is too small or sacrifice too great. In my mind's eye, I can see myself jumping in front of an oncoming train to save their lives. In my imagination, I can always save the day.

But when my son is suffering more pain than he ever has before, I can't protect him. All I can offer is a hand to hold as he walks the road that lies before him.

It's not enough...

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Rebbe and His Chassid

At a wayside inn, a dozen chassidic merchants were warming themselves at the fire. The group included men from towns and villages across Russia and Poland, all traveling to the great annual fair at Leipzig. The conversation soon turned to the greatness of their rebbes, as each extoled the virtues of his master.
One by one, the chassidim told stories about the miraculous powers of their rebbes. One told how for fifteen years he and his wife had yearned for a child, until they received a blessing from their rebbe: within a year, they were cradling their newborn son in their arms. A second told of how his rebbe had neutralized the Jew-hating, pogrom-inciting priest in their village, while a third related how his rebbe's blessing and special instructions had brought home his wayward son. And so they passed the hours, recounting the wonders performed by their holy mentors.

Finally, they all turned to the one chassid who had listened in silence to their stories. "Let's hear something about your rebbe."
The chassid said: "I deal in lumber, and several years ago I was offered a forest for sale. The price was high, but the opportunities were even greater -- there was talk of a railroad to be constructed, raising the demand for and profitability of the local lumber. As I do with all major decisions in my life, I consulted with my Rebbe. He advised me to buy the forest.
"The purchase ruined me. The railroad project fell through and I was left with a basically worthless forest. I lost my entire fortune and was cast heavily into debt."
After a lengthy pause, one of the listeners asked, "And then? What happened?"
"Nothing," said the chassid. "I am still struggling to feed my family and repay my debts."
"So what's the miracle?" they all asked.
"That my relationship with the Rebbe has nothing to do with his wonder-working powers. That I continue to follow his directives in every area of my life. The miracle is that I am still his chassid."


I envy people with this kind of faith. I envy them every time I have to make a difficult decision. These are people who leave full responsibility for every important decision in their lives to someone they trust so completely...someone they believe lives in a world beyond ours.

These are true chassidim.

I've always believed that there are leaders who are worthy of that kind of reverence. I believe that there are Rebbes who have some sort of Divine Inspiration...a kind of prophecy, maybe. A higher vision. I don't know exactly what it is, but it doesn't really matter to their followers. A true chassid is willing to hear what their Rebbe says, and to accept it unhesitatingly. There are no questions. No doubts.

It seems so easy, in a way. Someone takes the crushing weight off your shoulders. He tells you what to do. He guides you. And he is someone who sees deeper than ordinary human beings, with a clarity that goes beyond ordinary intuition. So easy...

It's not. I discovered that today.

During the year my son spent in Israel, he formed an attachment to a specific chassidic group. He davened there as often as he could, and he has tremendous respect for the Rebbe.

We had a monumental decision to make. We spoke to our Rav and followed his advice. We spent hours on the phone. And we arrived at a decision. We would go ahead. But before we do, we agreed to seek a bracha from this Rebbe. A mere formality, I thought. It was what my son wanted.

We didn't get it. There was no bracha. The Rebbe said no.

I want to believe that the Rebbe sees something I cannot see. I want to feel relief...to know that we were just saved from making the biggest mistake of our lives. I want to know with certainty that this is the right decision. The only decision. I want to believe.

But I don't. My heart is not at peace.

I am not a true chassid.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Decisions

My little boy is on the phone. He sounds upset. Something's wrong.

"I lost my yarmulka," he said, his voice breaking. "And today is picture day."

My heart sinks. I'm busy at work. It's the end of the week, and there are so many things I need to finish before I leave today. And I walked to work today.

I stall.

"Well...what are you wearing now?" I ask.

"Nothing. My hand."

"I'm sure they have something in the office," I suggest hopefully.

"They do, but it's so big it almost covers my eyes." He's near tears.

Argh.

Twenty minutes to his yeshiva if I walk fast. Twenty minutes back. Plus some time to stop at a store and get a new yarmulka.

"Can you do something?" He asks plaintively.

Of course I can.

It's so easy when they're nine years old.

But then they grow up. And they enter the world of shidduchim.

The amount of parental involvement in a shidduch differs among the different communities.

In the chassidic community, the parents choose the child's spouse. The child has veto power, but that is rarely exercised. The children trust that their parents know what is best for them, and have the maturity and life experience necessary to make this decision.

In the yeshivish community, parents are involved. They look for the best mate, ask a lot of questions, and gather information. But the decisions are left to the children. Boys and girls go out and see if they are compatible. If a shidduch doesn't work out, the parents go to the next in line. Dating a number of potential mates is the norm.

I am somewhere between the chassidic community and the yeshivish community. My children will 'date' and spend time with a potential to see if they are compatible. The number of dates will be more than in the chassidic community, but a lot less than the yeshivish. The decision is not completely up to the parents. But by the time boy meets girl, most of the work, as far as background, family, personality, goals, etc., is done. It's a match on paper, and now it's up to them to decide.

Sounds simple enough.

But sometimes things don't follow the script. Sometimes, you find what seems to be a perfect match, they go out, and then some new information comes to light.

In the chassidic community, the parents would make a decision. They would seriously consider the issue, maybe take their child's feelings into account to some extent, but at the end, the decision is theirs.

In the yeshivish community, once they've gone out several times, the parents will have input, but the ultimate decision would most likely be the child's.

Where I am, things are not as well defined.

We have a decision to make. My son's opinion will tremendously affect the final decision, but the burden rests on us, his parents. It is the most agonizing, gut wrenching decision I've ever had to make.

What to do? What to do?

It was so much easier when he was nine...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Second Chances

Today is Pesach Sheni. The origin of this semi-holiday is quite fascinating. On the first anniversary of Yetzias Mitzraim, while all the Jews were occupied with preparing their lambs for the annual Korban Pesach, Moshe was approached by a small group of Jews who were ritually impure and thus excluded from offering, or partaking of, the Pesach offering. They weren't satisfied with their "exemption" from this mitzvah. "Why should we be deprived?" they exclaimed. "We, too, want to experience the spiritual freedom gained by participating in the service!" Moshe agreed to convey their grievance to the Almighty, and incredibly, the heartfelt wishes of this small group caused G-d to add a mitzvah to the Torah. Hashem instructed that from that year and onwards all those who weren't capable of offering the Korban Pesach in its proper time on the 14th of Nisan, due to impurity or distance from the Temple, should offer it exactly one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. The day thus represents a "second chance".

It's never too late. There's always a second chance.

Is there….really?

My big boy was 5. Maybe 6. He woke up one morning in pain, his left cheek swollen. It was a Friday, and I remember thinking about the bad timing. There's never a good time for something like this, but that day was particularly inconvenient. Maybe I was really busy…maybe I had a lot planned….maybe I hadn't done any of my Shabbos preparation…I don't remember. I also don't remember what arrangements I made for the other kids. But, somehow, we ended up at the dentist, who referred us to an oral surgeon. His tooth had to come out.

So many years later, I still feel a pang when I think about that episode. I was asked to remain in the waiting room, while a nurse whisked my son away. He was taken into a room where the surgery was to take place. He was given general anesthesia, the tooth was removed, and he was brought out to a cubicle to rest before going home. Only then was I able to be with him.

He went in there all by himself. He was given the anesthesia…and I wasn't there to hold his hand…to reassure him….to make sure he knew he was not alone. And I wasn't there when he awoke. How did I allow that to happen? How could I not insist on accompanying him until the drugs take effect? How did I let him go through that all by himself? He must have been so scared. He had to be. He was so little.

I wonder if this experience scarred him in any way. I wonder if he even remembers.

He seemed ok. He didn't cry. I hugged him before he went in, and he smiled at me. He seemed so mature. He seemed older than his five years. He always did. He was the oldest of three, at the time, and I'm not sure I realized just how little he really was. He was my big boy then, just as he is now. But he was really only a baby.

My youngest is 9. My relationship with him is so different than it ever was with my big boy. He's my baby, and that's how I relate to him. I wish I can go back and let my big boy be a baby for a little bit longer. He was a big boy too soon. Did I spend enough time with him? Did I expect too much from him? Did he grow up too fast…and did that harm him in any way?

I can't go back and redo any of it. There's no second chance.

Is that what is meant when we talk about a second chance? Is it the ability to be transported to a previous point in time and do it the right way this time? Is it the opportunity to fix all our mistakes? Would I even want to do that? Would I want to live my life all over again so that I can do things differently? And…if I lived my life again…would I do things differently?

He's still my big boy. Still mature and responsible. He's an adult now, but he still needs me. He still needs my time. He still needs my advice. He still needs my love. And I'm going to make sure he gets that. I can't go back in time and fix my "mistakes", but it's comforting to know that those mistakes, and the consequences, can be springboards for growth and change.

I'm grateful for my Pesach Sheini.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Blink Of An Eye

I am outside talking to a neighbor. She is in her late 50's. An empty nester.

I look at her, try to focus on what she's saying, but my mind is somewhere else. I am looking through her...seeing her in a way I've never seen her before. I am seeing her 20 years ago...young and busy, lively house full of kids...wiping runny noses, picking up toys.

And I'm sad.

Strangely, I don't think she is sad. She seems happy enough...content with her life.

But I can't shake the sadness.

I walk to work, and I see an elderly couple, arms linked, walking slowly and with difficulty. I watch them. They were a young couple once...not so very long ago. Did they raise a family? Were they happy? I want to know. I need to know. I need to know if their lives just passed them by so quickly that they are wondering where the time went. I need to know if they are mourning the passage of time....their loss of youth.

I'm sad.

For them, too. But mostly for me.

I do Taharas. Sobering work. But never sad. The women are generally old, have lived a full life, and I am preparing them for their meeting with their Maker. It's work that puts things in perspective...puts life in perspective. It reminds one of what is important, of where we are all going some day, and what we take with us. It's beautiful...and holy. But not sad.

I did one last night. I work quietly...my mind going to a place that is becoming very familiar to me. When did this woman stop being a young mother and become the frail woman I see before me? At what point was she no longer needed? When did the transformation take place? Did it happen slowly....or did she suddenly find herself there one day?

I continue my work.

But I'm sad.

How long before I find myself in that place? How much more time? How long before my roles change from mother...or wife...or whatever I am today....to...to what? I depend on these roles to identify myself...even to myself. When will they no longer apply? And...when that happens...who will I be?

Within ten years, I may have an empty nest.

Ten years....

I think back to ten years ago. In some ways, those years seem to have flown by. And every year seems to pass faster than the year before.

I'm almost there. And that thought makes me so sad.

I wish I could freeze time. I'm happy with where I am today. I'm happy now. I want to stay here for a little bit longer. I'm not ready to move on.

I just want more time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More On Shidduchim...

My last post, apparently, touched a raw nerve for a lot of people, and the comments came swiftly.

A part of me was thrilled (Yay....someone's reading my blog!). But the bigger part of me did not like being attacked. I guess this is negative attention, kind of. Better than no attention at all? I'm not sure...

But all those comments did get me thinking about some of the issues discussed in the comments, and about the whole shidduch system, and I'd like to share some of those thoughts, and get some opinions.

First thought was triggered by a comment by Bored Jewish Guy.

Most guys, even in the stricter chasidish circles, know what they like or don't like in a girl well before they're old enough to get married.

My first thought when reading that was, "Nah...not my son. It may be difficult for someone like BJG to understand, but my son and his friends really have very little, if any, exposure to girls."

But a few days later a very minor incident made me realize I was wrong.

My kids came up with an idea for a shidduch (her friend to his friend), which I thought was actually good, and I was going to possibly suggest it. In the meantime, my son texted his friend, saying he had an idea for a shidduch for him.

The first question his friend asked was, "Is she pretty?" I did a double take.

"That's a normal, natural question," my son said, in his friend's defense.

Sure it is. Of course. But....when did my son grow up??

So that was a reality check for me. You were right, BJG.

Second thought is in connection to my post title. I chose it because it is one of those "crazy" shidduch questions that some people ask, and I was making a point. But...to be completely honest...although it's not a question I'd ask, I don't think it's as crazy as it seems.

Suppose my son was raised in a home where the Shabbos table was always set, with china, glasses, silver and pretty tablecloths, and he marries someone who grew up in a home where they just put a pile of plastic cups and some napkins in the middle of the table, and then used disposable plates. Neither method is right or wrong. It's just different. And sometimes different can cause some conflict. Not because of the plastic. But because the plastic is usually indicative of the way many other things in the home are done...the way that home is run. I'm not saying it's an insurmountable conflict. I'm saying that it's something to take into account.

Third thought is a question that came to mind because of the reaction my post engendered.

I wonder if the reaction would have been the same if I would have written about money instead of looks.

Before you beat up on me, let me explain where I am on the money issue.

My son would like to learn full time for about two or three years. Obviously, he wants to marry someone who could appreciate that, wants the same thing, and is willing to work hard to help him realize that. During that time, rent and bills will have to be paid. If his wife has a job that covers that...great. If not, the money has to come from somewhere. I don't have it. So money definitely plays some part in the decision.

But I understand that while the support coming from the girl's parents lasts for a couple of years, he will live with this woman forever. And in those cases where the support lasts longer, there are almost always strings attached. So while money does play some part, it only plays a small part.

I am also very familiar with the other side of the coin. I also have a daughter in shidduchim. I've lost count of how many shidduchim fell apart because I am not able to support her. She wants to marry someone who is learning, is willing to support him, and is able to do so. But most parents of boys in shidduchim want money, whether or not they have it themselves. It's an entitlement.

So here's my question:

What if I would have said, someone suggested a shidduch for my son, but the girl's family does not have a lot of money, and would not be able to support them for whatever amount of time he wants to learn? What if I had two suggestions, both equal in every way, but one has money and one does not...and I'd choose to go with the wealthy girl? Would the uproar be the same?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

China or Plastic?

My sister calls me with a shidduch suggestion for my big boy.

I love those kinds...the ones that come from someone who knows my kids well, and also knows the person they are suggesting. The usual calls are from people who don't know either one of us, and are just matching random boys and girls, based on what they wear, or something equally inconsequential.

She tells me the girl's name and whatever she knows about her. Sounds good. I'm ready to look into this.

I go find my big girl. She's a wealth of information. She knows so many of the girls that are suggested, and if she doesn't, she knows someone who does.

She looks doubtful.

"She's not skinny," she says.

"Well, is she fat?"

"No...not fat... Just a little chunky. Like Chany," she says, referring to one of her cousins, "but shorter."

Hmmm...

I shoot my sister a text. "She's not skinny."

"Is she fat?"

"No. Like Chany, but shorter. Probably like a size 8."

Her response comes quickly. All Caps. "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND??? SINCE WHEN IS 8 FAT?? DO YOU GO BY THOSE STANDARDS?"

Um...no...

But...

I have no answer. I DON'T go by those standards. I'm right there with those who decry the invasive, superficial, nonsensical questions asked by some mothers...the kind of mother who only wants a size 2 for her son.

But...but...

But now it's my son. I look at the list of suggestions I have for him. Some great girls on that list. Including, possibly, the size 8. I don't know yet, because I haven't given her a chance.

I text my sister.

"If you had two girls you were looking into...both really great girls...one is pretty and thin, the other...a bit chunky, maybe...what would you do?"

"Ok. I hear you."

I felt a bit better. For about a minute.

What is wrong with me? This isn't me. I don't ask the sort of questions that are typically asked. I don't even ask for pictures. I'm the one who tossed the shidduch resume from the girl who put her dress size(size 2) right up there after her name and age.

I know I'm being ridiculous. My brain knows it. I'm disgusted with myself.

I know that this poor girl just fell a few notches down my list. I know it...and I'm powerless to do anything to change it.

I'm no better than the rest of them.

What's next? Dishes? Tablecloths???

Shame on me...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Masks

They stared at him in horrified fascination.

It was a hot, summer Shabbos afternoon. The streets were unusually quiet.

We were invited out for the morning meal, and were on our way home, when we saw him.

He was standing, huddled in the shadows of the building, wearing a shtreimel and bekeshe. Smoking.

My children stood there, eyes bulging, mouths hanging open. Here, before them, was such blatant chillul Shabbos, by someone who looked so...so...FRUM, and they couldn't make sense of it.

"But...but...he looks frum," my daughter said, clearly upset. "Why does he dress like that if that's not what he really is?"

Here was a teaching moment.

"I'm sure he IS frum," I said. "We can't judge him. He may be completely frum in every other way, but this is his yetzer hara. This is the one thing he struggles with."

They weren't buying it.

"WE look frum, don't we?" I continued. "But do we always do everything we should? We know that speaking lashon hara is pretty bad...but we do it anyway sometimes. Right? Even though we KNOW it's wrong. Even when we are reminded AS we're saying it. But we're still frum, aren't we?"

We are. They understood. I did my job.

But I'm not sure I quite believed it myself.




I'm frum.

Life for me is so simple. My religion tells me what to do and what not to do, and gives me all the answers.

I wish.

Externally, I look frum. I dress the part. I make brachos and bentch. I keep Shabbos and kosher. I send my kids to all the right schools.

On the outside, I'm frum.

But I'm wearing a mask.

Not the kind we put on during Purim...the kind that hides our physical characteristics. I'm talking about the kind of mask that conceals the essence of who I am.

Because inside, I am struggling. Life feels like a battleground. I am in a constant battle against my own selfishness and desires.

And I don't always win the battle.

Sometimes I surrender. I feel too weak to fight. I do things I know I shouldn't, and don't do things I should. Again and again.

So...who am I?

Am I that frum woman you see when you look at me...the one who covers her hair and wears long sleeves? The one who blends in so easily with all the other frum women in Shul? Or am I a different person under the mask? Someone who sometimes gives in to her yetzer hara when no one is looking?

Am I frum?

Yes. I'm frum. That person who sometimes slips and gives in...that's not me. Sure, it's me playing the part. But it's not who I am. And I don't want to ever allow it to become who I am.

I struggle. I'm fighting the battle. The battlefield brings forth capabilities and potentials I didn't even know existed within myself.

It is this struggle which makes me strong.

Yes, I lose many battles. But for every one I lose, there are so many more that I win.

I will spend the rest of my life fighting these battles. And I will never win the war.

But I will keep fighting.

So...yes, I am frum.

Just like the man with the cigarette...

Even under the mask.


Happy Purim!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hear Me Roar

There's a bully on the school bus.

It happens all the time, I'm sure. We read about it...we hear about it...we feel sorry for the victims, and we can even find it in our hearts to feel sorry for the bullies. And as long as it doesn't directly affect us, we can sigh and move on.

But this time, it's my kid.

He comes off the bus, his young shoulders sagging. There's a fresh bruise on his forehead.

"What happened?" I ask, eyeing the bluish lump. "Did you fall?"

"No. A boy on the bus did it."

My little boy is perfect bully target. I can see that. While most boys his age enjoy running outside and kicking a ball around, he prefers sitting hunched over a thick book, head bent, glasses sliding to the tip of his nose. He's small. And he's not assertive. He won't fight back...probably doesn't even know how to.

I'm angry.

The bully is another mother's little boy. He may have low self esteem, or some behavioral issue, or something going on in his life... I don't know. I don't know what is causing the behavior.

And, frankly, I don't care.

He's hurting my son, displaying a cruelty unfathomable to me, and I can't find it in me to spare any sympathy for him.

"Why does he do it?" he asks, looking at me with such a wistful expression in his clear eyes. "I never did anything to him."

His expression is so sad, my heart is breaking into a million pieces. I choke back the tears. I don't have the answers.

I close my eyes, and I visualize the scene - my son on the floor of the school bus, pinned down by the much bigger boy, his head repeatedly pounded against the hard surface - and I am livid. My normally mild mannered self is gone; transformed into a tiger.

I call the school principal in the morning. He's not surprised. He makes a "deal" with the bully. If there are no complaints against him between now and Purim, he gets a special prize.

A prize? Prize?? Uh uh...not good enough for me. I am a tiger. I want blood.

My little boy seems satisfied. He doesn't want me to call the other mother, so I don't. Yet.

But I tell him, "If he hurts you again, I will go down to school, grab that kid by the collar and tell him, 'you touch my kid again....you even go near him...I will personally come down here and break your bones'."

He smiles and looks at me. He doesn't think I'm serious.

"What if he does do it again? Will you really beat him up?"

I smile back. "I just wanna scare him. He won't do it again if I scare him enough."

But...what if he does? Would I do it? Would I?? He's just a kid himself, and I'm a grown woman. Of course I wouldn't do that. Of course not!

But don't test me.

I'm a tiger.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Moments

My baby is 9 today.

It happens so fast. One day they're throwing food off their high chairs and keeping you up all night, and the next day you're worrying about shidduchim.

Where does the time go?

What happens to the moments?

We're on a treadmill, racing to keep up with all the demands of raising our children, running the home, and holding down a job. We are so busy being a parent, and doing all the things that entails, that we have no time to stop and experience the moments that make it all worthwhile.

Last week my little boy was having a crisis. His class was having a siyum to celebrate completing the parsha. He promised to bring the soda, but he didn't tell me about it. He was crying because if he didn't bring the soda, he was facing what in his life would be considerable embarrassment and humiliation.

If this were just an ordinary soda, I could have possibly spared 5 or 10 minutes to run to the corner grocery. But this was a very specific soda. It would mean going to several stores some distance away, hoping that one might have what I was looking for. I just couldn't do it.

We were about to leave the house to catch the bus to school. I had to leave for work, and we were running late. But he was frantic.

We scurried down the stairs together, him still sniffling about what was going to happen at school, me rushing and hoping he wouldn't miss his bus, and feeling really bad for my sad little boy.

Just as I watched him get on the bus, I had this moment.

It was a crystal clear moment. I knew that work wasn't important. I was going to be late. I would go to the store...as many stores as it takes...and get him that soda. Then I would go to his school and bring it to him.

Later, during work, I began to berate myself for the choice I had made. What lesson am I teaching? He didn't tell me about the soda the day before. Shouldn't there be some consequence to that? Am I spoiling him? Did I do the right thing?

I believe I did. In fact, I am proud of myself for the choice I made.

Who needed me more at the moment? To whom was my attention more crucial? Who else would have gone out and taken care of what, in his little world, was so significant? Who would have even cared?

I began to notice dozens of moments every day.These were moments that had occurred hundreds of times before...mostly seemingly inconsequential things, like bruised feelings, a dream from last night, misplaced headbands. Moments where we sat and talked about their life or problems at school. Moments that happen every day...that I never give much thought to. Only now they were crucial moments.

Yes, my baby is 9. And my older ones already have one foot out the door. But my children still need me. And they will need me for many years to come. I am indispensable and irreplaceable.

And I want to hold on to those moments. I want to make the most of my time with them.

Because tomorrow they will be all grown up.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can I Ask You A Question?

"Excuse me...can I ask you a question?" I stop, momentarily confused. A question? Me? So I say yes because I don't want to be rude and I feel bad.

First mistake.

I stride through the mall, invincible. I've just scored a $79 sweater at Banana Republic for $29.99. I am thoroughly enjoying myself. But my time is almost up, and I'm working my way toward the exit, when my path is blocked by a pretty Israeli girl who wanted....needed....to ask me a question.

Apparently, "can I ask you a question" is a popular tactic used by kiosk sales people. You know...the ones that practically run you down as you walk by, and trap naive shoppers. But I didn't know it then. And I'm not one of those naive women, anyway. I'm a hard sell. I just walk by quickly while looking the other way.

"Can I see your hand?"

"Um...sure."

Second mistake.

I let my guard down. Just for a minute. Before I know it, I'm trapped with a handful of Dead Sea salt scrub. She tells me to follow her, and I do, because I'm not sure what choice I have with my hands full of that stuff.

Third mistake.

I have to admit...after the scrub and then the body butter, my hands feel great. Softer than ever. I want some of that. So I say, "It feels great, but what do you have for my face?"

Mistake number four.

The face peel, demonstrated on the inside of my arm, followed by the moisturizer is even better, if possible, than the body scrub. I've got to have this stuff. I absolutely need it.

"Ok...how much?"

"Well, normally, the scrub sells for $120. But you get a special JP (Jewish Price) only today. I'll give it to you for $80."

Gulp.

"BUT this jar lasts 8-12 months. You only need to use a little bit. And the body butter (also $80) is so thick. You won't find anything like it anywhere. One jar is a 12-18 month supply."

I do some quick mental calculations, while looking around. And right there, in plain view, is another moisturizer. Anti aging.

Mistake number five.

"You don't have wrinkles. But those lines on your forehead...they'll disappear. This one also lasts for 12-18 months. The other moisturizer is for day. This one's for night. I can make this $80, too. JP."

Hmm...let's see... $80 for the body scrub, $80 for each moisturizer, $80 for the body butter and $60 for the face peel. Total of $380. No way.

"No, I'm sorry. This stuff is great, but it's too much."

"I'll tell you what. Don't take the body butter. Just use your own lotion. It's fine. I'll give you the face peel for the crazy price of $40. If you buy the body scrub ($80) and the face peel, I'll throw in both moisturizers for $80."

"I'll take it."

I walk to my car, rationalizing.

I've spent $20 on moisturizers before. And how long do they last? A couple of months? These were $40. I actually got a great deal.

Yeah...but what about all the other stuff...?

The face peel? It's amazing. It's almost like a facial. And the whole bottle cost less than one facial! And besides...I deserve it!

But you just spent $200. You know what you could have done with that?

Yeah. I know.

By the time I reach my car, the lump in my throat has settled permanently in the pit of my stomach. Two hundred dollars.... Ouch.

But I learned an important lesson.

When I go to the mall, I go to shop for things I want. I'm sure the mall kiosk people think they can convince me that I want what they're peddling. But I can assure you.

They will fail.

Because I am smart. And frugal. If it's not on my list, I'm not buying it.

I will turn my head, or pretend to talk on the phone, or pretend to be listening to whatever my daughter is rambling on about, or pretend I'm looking for a store, or pretend I'm looking for my keys.

I am shrewd.

It's three and a half weeks later. I can almost see the bottom of the scrub jar. The stuff is great. Really. I absolutely love it. But I'm about 3/4 way through and it's barely a month.

Sure I deserve it. I also deserve a diamond necklace. But I'm not going out to buy one anytime soon. And when this is gone, I won't go back and get more.

Well....maybe just the scrub.

And the face peel.

To those guys that hire the sales people at the Dead Sea products kiosk, on the slim chance you're reading this....hang on to Avital. She's good.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On A Prayer

I pick up my siddur, kiss it reverently, and begin to daven. I close my eyes and connect with my beloved Father in Heaven. I love the experience. I love the opportunity to connect with Hashem, leaving all life's distractions behind.

I'm lying.

I don't look forward to davening. In fact, I dread it.

Davening is a challenge for me. I have trouble focusing, clearing my mind, and getting to a place where I can concentrate. I can't let go of the million things I need to do, and take the time to just daven.

And I'm bored.

There. I said it.

When I was a kid, I loved davening. I loved the singing...the chanting out loud with the whole class... There was such joy in it. Such passion.

I knew to Whom I was praying and what it was I was praying for. I had a clear focus and I genuinely felt a connection when I davened...an emotional connection.

Slowly, that disappeared. At some point, davening became a task...a chore. I no longer felt that solace - the comfort - I once felt when praying. I still davened, of course. But it became...mechanical.

I'd stand there, recite the prayers, and even comprehend most of them. I'd say the words, stand when I was supposed to stand and bow when I was supposed to bow. But the whole thing became more of a familiar ritual than a direct connection to a Higher Power. The words were there...the motions were there...it was all there - except for the emotion.

And I still davened.

I said the words, most just stumbling carelessly out of my mouth amidst thoughts of appointments I needed to arrange, deadlines at work, and laundry waiting to be folded.

After a while, I began to become....bored with davening.

It's been quite a while since I davened.

Well, that's not really true. I talk to Hashem all the time. (Please...please...find me a parking spot...) I daven at home on Shabbos, so I can be a role model to my daughters. And I actually enjoy davening the few times a year that I go to shul.

But the enthusiasm wore off. The emotion is gone.

And so, I find it difficult to work up the necessary feeling to daven. Sometimes I still go through the motions, but the emotional impact has been lost to me for a long time.

I miss it.


Sigh.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When Bad Things Happen....

Everything Hashem does is for the good, right?

When we suffer, the pain is for our benefit. We don't necessarily see it or understand it, but we believe it to be so. Pain strengthens us. It's a good thing. So we are told.

We are told that eventually we will come to realize that, even though the pain itself was so difficult to endure, it will have had a positive outcome. We will comprehend that the tears and pain were there for our benefit.

Sure.

How can something so negative be for our benefit?

When we are in pain or going through a difficulty, though it is extremely horrible, if we can survive that crisis, we often find deep within ourselves a source of strength that we never knew existed. Challenges, unfortunately, strengthen us to become stronger, and often, wiser.

How true.

The person I was before enduring my life's challenges is someone that the me of today would hardly recognize.

She was a sincerely good person, kept up with lots of friends, and followed all the rules with an innocence that I almost envy.

The me of today is working towards pushing forward in my spiritual growth, and hopes to someday reach the place I once was. But I know that when it happens, it will be on a very different level. Growth that comes through struggle is very different than spirituality that is just there, just because it always was.

And I do struggle. I'm not proud of some of the things I do or don't do...but I know that those things do not define who I am.

The me of today does not have as many friends. Some disappeared because they couldn't relate to suffering, and didn't know how to respond. And some....I drifted away from. Suddenly, my life was so different from theirs....my perspective was so different...we just didn't have anything in common anymore.

But the me of today enjoys my own company. I can go places alone, without feeling awkward...without feeling that I need someone at my side. I have a confidence...and a maturity...I never had before.

And I'm strong. I know that life comes with challenges..with pain....with suffering...and I can face them head on, and get through it even stronger than I was before.

I am more complete. More at peace with who I am.

I like the me of today.

Despite....or maybe because of...the fact that I'm so imperfect.


A man once came to the Maggid of Mezeritch with a question.

"The Talmud tells us," asked the man, "that 'A person is supposed to bless G-d for the bad just as he blesses Him for the good.' How is this humanly possible? Had our sages said that one must accept without complaint or bitterness whatever is ordained from Heaven -- this I can understand. I can even accept that, ultimately, everything is for the good. But how can a person be as grateful for his troubles as he is for his joys?"

The Maggid replied: "To find an answer to your question, you must go see my disciple, Reb Zusha of Anipoli. Only he can help you in this matter."

Reb Zusha received his guest warmly. The visitor decided to observe Reb Zusha's conduct before posing his question. Before long, he concluded that his host truly exemplified the Talmudic dictum which so puzzled him. He couldn't think of anyone who suffered more hardship in his life than did Reb Zusha: a frightful pauper, there was never enough to eat in Reb Zusha's home, and his family was beset with all sorts of afflictions and illnesses. Yet Reb Zusha was always good-humored and cheerful, and constantly expressing his gratitude to the Almighty for all His kindness.

But what was is his secret? How does he do it? The visitor finally decided to pose his question.

"What is your question?" asked Reb Zusha.

The visitor repeated what he had asked of the Maggid. "You raise a good point," said Reb Zusha, after thinking the matter through. "But why did our Rebbe send you to me? How would I know? He should have sent you to someone who has experienced suffering..."


I don't even attempt to reach that level. But I have reached a place where I can be thankful for the suffering.

If I had the choice, would I go through this again....knowing what I know today? Knowing how much I would grow and mature? Knowing that it would make me a stronger person and a better parent? Knowing that I would become kinder and more sensitive to other people's needs? Knowing that, at the end of it all, I'd be more secure in who I am...in who I became?

No....probably not. But I wasn't given the choice.


And I'm grateful.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Power Behind The Desk

Life was different back then. Simpler, maybe. Better? I don't know...

Teachers taught. They weren't armed with the abundance of research available today, and there was not as much awareness of the psychology behind the job. But a good teacher knew instinctively that she held the future of this classroom full of girls in her hands, and she played a role in shaping these personalities.



Self esteem...

Are babies born with it? That independent toddler, declaring he can do it himself, with no doubt in the world that he can....that self confidence..the self esteem....does it last? When does he turn into an adolescent with low self esteem? When does he lose it? How does that happen? And....who is responsible?



Some of my early school years are just a blur in my memory. I vaguely remember bits and pieces of some years, and I draw a complete blank trying to remember others.

But Kindergarten stands out clearly. I loved school. It was where I shone. I got to leave my ordinariness at home, and I revelled in the teacher's love and admiration. We were taking our first baby steps into the wonderful world of the written word, and I couldn't get enough. While my friends were struggling with finding words that rhyme with 'at', I was effortlessly composing a long list of words that delighted my teacher. (It was years before I understood why she and my father shared a good laugh over 'brat', just one of the words on my list, when he came to pick me up from school that day.) I was in my element, and I relished it.

I was so proud of myself. I was smart! I was lovable!



People who are important to kids have a great effect on the development of self esteem in those kids. The messages that children get about their teachers' feelings toward them can have a profound effect on them. It can set the stage for success...or failure.


Third grade stands out in my memory, too.

I hated Morah L. Hated her. It was such a strange, unfamiliar sensation, and it took some time before I was able to identify it.

I started the school year with my new pencil case, happy and excited to be back. The year began ordinarily enough. But something was wrong. Something so puzzling was happening, and my 8 year old mind could not comprehend it or make any sense of it.

Morah L. didn't like me. I just knew it...felt it so strongly that there was no room for doubt. I continued doing whatever it is that third graders do, and tried not to focus on it. Afternoons, when we had our English classes, were still great, and it wasn't hard to get by the mornings when I had something to look forward to.

But things grew steadily worse.

First, my seat was moved to the back of the classroom. Then...was it only my imagination?...my raised hand was ignored, and I would often be skipped over when every girl would have a chance to read or answer questions. Once, another girl made Morah aware of the fact that I was skipped over, and she said, "That's fine. She won't know it anyway".

I stopped caring...stopped trying. I spent the year daydreaming and doodling in the margins of my Navi.

I was stupid. I couldn't keep up with the rest of the class. I was ugly. I didn't deserve to be liked.



Teachers today are taught the importance of accepting students as individuals, as people of infinite worth and value, as human beings worthy of the utmost respect.

But do they understand it? Do they understand the significance...the magnitude? Do they really know it? Do they comprehend the profound effect that they have over their students' sense of self worth and ability to succeed?



I gradually figured out that my brain worked fine for my English studies, but I wasn't bright enough to keep up with the Hebrew classes. And I didn't bother trying. I went through the next few years of school excelling in English, and mediocre, at best, in Hebrew. I got through elementary school, but the enjoyment was gone. The spark was extinguished.

It was a long time before I was able to forgive the teacher who, I felt, stole something so precious from me, and almost as long before I was able to reclaim that which I lost.



Kids are not born feeling good or bad about themselves. They learn this from what happens to them.



What an awesome responsibility!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Believe

There's an Abie Rotenberg song called "Conversations in the Womb". I love the song. It's about twins in the womb discussing whether or not there's life after birth. One twin believes that there is a world to come, where we will stand up straight. The other is convinced that life, as we know it now, is all there is.

There are many variations to that analogy.

The believing fetus arguing that, although we don't know exactly what life after birth will be like, we do believe that it exists...while the nonbeliever insists that, since no one has ever returned from there to tell us what it's like, he, as well as most fetuses, doesn't believe in it. Logic dictates that life ends at birth, and until then, we live in total darkness...

The believer talking about a "mother" who nourishes us and takes care of us...who we finally get to see in the next life..and the nonbeliever scoffing at the notion of a Higher Being...

The message is the same. We believe in life after death...in a World to Come. We believe in G-d. The life we are living now is as temporary as the nine months in the womb. It seems to us mortal humans that this is all there is because that is the reality that is available to our senses. That is what logic dictates. But we know the truth. We have an abiding faith in a world beyond the grave. We cherish our unshakeable conviction in life after death. We believe.

But....do we?

Do we?



One night, years ago, when my kids were babies, I looked up at the sky, and for one split second, I saw something...felt something...I'd never felt before or since. The sky was so vast...and I, so small...that, for the first time in my life, I believed that there was more to life than I could see. I always knew it, of course, but this was different. I saw Someone pulling the strings. I glimpsed something so...enormous...so awesome...that it took my breath away. The sheer immensity of the universe was staggering. And I was able to see how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things. I am just one tiny part of this infinite universe, which was in existence thousands of years before I was alive, and will continue to exist long after I'm gone. At that moment, I knew Hashem exists, and He is running the world. I just KNEW.

That fleeting moment had a profound effect on me. Suddenly, things that seemed so important before became...silly. My priorities shifted completely. Clothing? Shoes? Furniture? How meaningless! How insignificant! Life was so much more than that. I was above that.

But then...the moment passed...life went on....and I quickly forgot.



But every so often, I get a tiny reminder. Something that recalls that feeling, if only for a moment.



The other day, my little boy and I were waiting for his school bus, and he said, "My Rebbe said that Hashem created whole worlds before this one, and then He destroyed them. I wonder if they had a Torah that tells their story."



Wow.



I believe.



I do.




I think I do.





I really, really want to.