A shiksa chews on Shabbat dinner

shabbatblogRecently a friend, who’s doing a video project for grad school, asked me and Joe to film our family lighting the candles and saying the prayers for Shabbat dinner, and also to speak briefly, on film, about what the ritual means to each of us.

I first filmed this short clip of our family performing the rituals out on our back porch, where we like to eat our meals when it’s warm. We’re not formal about our Shabbat dinner, obviously – Joe married a Gentile, for pity’s sake! – but we try to perform the basics every Friday evening nonetheless.

As for contributing my thoughts about what Shabbat dinner meant to me, I initially wondered if I should just put the camera on Joe, let him talk, and call it good.

I mean, after all, I’m an immigrant in the world of Judaism.

Yes, after being married to a Jew for 11 years, I’ve made a comfortable enough home for myself there. I’ve learned to love much of the food (Latkes? Kugel? Please! What’s not to love?), and I’ve picked up bits and pieces of language (Hebrew and Yiddish); but because it’s not part of my own cultural identity – and maybe because, at 5’6”, I tower over the women at most Grekin family gatherings (apparently I’m some sort of goyishe Godzilla) – I can’t escape the sense that, no matter how much I embrace the culture, perform the rituals, or say the prayers, they’re not really mine to claim. Continue reading

Notes from a rough-start vacation

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You know your family had a good vacation when remnants of it stay with your kids long after you’ve come home.

In our case, we were eating dinner on our enclosed back porch the other night when Lily started singing several of the songs she’s learned at U-M’s Camp Michigania, near Petoskey. (The songs almost always begin, “This is a repeat-after-me song!” since the kids are often being marched to various areas of the camp). Neve joined in, singing the every-other-word or so that she remembered, and Joe and I provided back-up.

It was dorky fun, and made us all remember the week that the kids spent playing at the beach, making tie-dye shirts, and getting the occasional boat and horsey ride (plus, in Lily’s case, squeezing some archery and art projects in); Joe and I, meanwhile, spent the week napping, going for runs together, and reading (plus, in my case, attending daily yoga classes, trying archery, attending a late-night astronomy talk, and getting a massage). Ahhhh.

I so, so appreciate these trips to Michigania – we’ve gone annually these last 5 years – because what parents with small kids desperately want, more than anything, is a vacation from parenting.

But that’s like trying to escape yourself by way of travel. Guess what? You can’t ever really do that.

But you CAN hand your kiddos off for a few hours each morning and afternoon for one week while they happily play with other kids and counselors.

And that’s a glorious, glorious thing.

Here are a few notes, good and bad, from this year’s trip. Continue reading

What parents learn from kids’ lessons

photo (1)When your kids are little, it’s so hard to know when to let them make a decision; when to nudge them push through challenges that they’re already resisting – because things are getting hard and they’re scared – and when to let them just walk away.

The conflict arises often when pre-paid extracurricular classes/lessons are involved.

Last fall, we signed Lily up for a gymnastics class – largely because her best friend was in it, and the girls wanted to take the class together.

Lily’s a few months older than her friend, though; so when spring rolled around, the girls’ teacher recommended Lily for the 6-9 year olds’ class, but Lily’s friend would probably not yet be moving forward.

I had a complicated, delicate little dilemma on my hands – which caused me to start questioning our own reasons for repeatedly signing Lily up for these classes. Continue reading

How new underpants, a giant stuffed snake and a Tigers announcer can utterly ruin an evening

underpants

Sometimes your not-quite-3 year old, still awake an hour past her bedtime, briefly stops crying – specifically, about how you forgot to grab Snakey (a giant, purple-and-pink stuffed snake) from her preschool cubby – to make you feel just a little bit more guilty.

“Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”

Because, sweetie, sometimes, the crushing sense that all you do is never, ever enough drains your patience reserves.

Like, you stop at Costco on the way home from work (after getting stuck in traffic) to get individual hummus packs and underpants for both your 3 year old and your 6 year old; and then hours later, the 6 year old throws a screaming, weeping tantrum because you got her one pack of underwear and got the newly-potty-trained 3 year old two packs. (Because, you know, the 3 year old only has a few pairs, and is likely to have some accidents as she gets used to underwear. But when confronted with this reasoning, the 6 year old wails the equivalent of, “ATTICA!!”)

Like, you finally arrive home from Costco with a little time to spare, and you spend it bringing your purchases inside; shutting windows and turning on the air so everyone’s comfortable when they arrive home; moving the laundry – including the sheets and mattress cover your 6 year old peed on the night before – into the dryer; and ordering your daughters’ dinner.

Like, you pick up and deliver their food, and you give them plenty of time to eat it and read a few books with you before leaving for gymnastics. But because you’re so focused on getting them fed and across town, and this is the first night on this particular schedule, you uncharacteristically forget to clear their cubbies of lunchboxes and beloved stuffed animals (see: Snakey – plus Neve’s equivalent of Old Faithful, Doggie). So when your 3 year old, after sabotaging bedtime in every way possible, finally lies down on her bed and asks for Snakey, well, you’re S.O.L. Continue reading

Why most of our parenting mistakes won’t leave a scar

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This is a photo of Neve’s right hand.

I took it to remind myself that the vast majority of mistakes I make as a parent, and regularly beat myself up about, are minor missteps that won’t permanently damage my 2 daughters.

Here’s the backstory: last year, on Mother’s Day (thanks, Painfully Ironic Universe!), I was stealing a few minutes to read a section of the New York Times on our sunny back porch – which we’d just started to use again, thanks to climbing springtime temps – when Neve, then a couple of months shy of turning 2, explored her way into a functionally dead food processor. (We’d temporarily parked it on the porch, so that we’d remember to take it out with the garbage.)

Neve’s hand found, and clutched at, a blade; blood appeared in a small, awful smile across the side of her palm, and she screamed.

Being terrible in a crisis, I freaked out, wrapping my arms around her and crying as Joe fetched a wet, cold washcloth. We held the cloth against her hand, and Joe called his father, who’s a doctor; he recommended applying butterfly bandages, so I ran to the CVS down the block, frantically searching the aisles. When I returned, we did our best to clean and cover the wound, then we discussed our next move.

Or Joe threw out options while I hyperventilated. It’s all kind of cloudy now. You know how it is. Continue reading

Barbie: If you can’t banish her, do a funny photo series

A few years ago, I wrote about how Barbie entered our home, despite my attempts to keep her out.

But since that time, I’ve decided that if these impossibly skinny, mostly blond dolls are going to be my roommates, I’d at least have a little fun, chronicling their adventures in my house by way of a photo series. (My rule is I can only photograph them as I find them, so there’s no posing on my part.) Enjoy.

It was some kind of awful pact...

It was some kind of awful pact…

Awaiting the paternity results.

Awaiting the paternity results.

Frat guy dream.

Frat guy dream.

The lost years, when Barbie converted to Rastafarianism, sold nickel bags and worked on her hacky sack skills. (These are little Neve's socks, by the way.)

The lost years, when Barbie converted to Rastafarianism, sold nickel bags and worked on her hacky sack skills. (These are little Neve’s socks, by the way.)

Continue reading

The power, and limitations, of memory-laden objects

At a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we'd come to bury my mom, this frog arrived in a crib delivered to our room.

At a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we’d come to bury my mom, this frog arrived in a crib that was delivered to our room.

January 9, 2014 marked the five year anniversary of my mom’s death.

And perhaps because we’re programmed to mark anniversaries that end in a 5 or a zero as more significant than others, I found myself honing in on objects and memories from the time of her death.

The squeezy plastic frog that has Holiday Inn stamped in script on its stomach, which arrived with a crib in our hotel room in Terre Haute. (My mom was buried in nearby Clay City, Indiana.) Lily, 8 months old at that time, loved the frog and often held it in her little hands, and I felt ridiculously grateful for this small gesture.

The snug, plain white ankle socks that I borrowed from my mother’s dresser drawer, in North Carolina, because I’d packed our bags in such a rushed, harried state that I’d packed no socks for myself in the coldest month of the year. These same socks are rolled up in my dresser drawer now. Pulling them onto my feet always makes me remember the trip. How we didn’t make it in time to see her alive on final time, despite our best efforts. How her life ended in the time when we were all hurtling through space toward her hospital room. How I knew, upon returning to the Asheville Airport’s car rental counters from the bathroom, that she was gone, simply by the expression on Joe’s face as he walked toward me. How, based on reports of my mother’s condition shortly before her death, I quickly decided that her timing may have been for the best. That the relatively casual, “How are you?” phone conversation I’d had with her days before would serve me well enough, since it ended with, “I love you.” Continue reading