I am thrilled to have my latest essay on Full Grown People today. It is such an amazing site with great essays about life, death, love, loss: the messy business of being an adult. This one was a long time coming, and I’m so happy it found a home there.
When my mother found out she had cancer, she said she wanted to do two things when she got better: learn to play the piano and get a bird.
“A bird? Why?” I asked, remembering the nasty parakeets I’d had as a child who kicked feathers and birdseed shells into my underwear drawer.
“Well, I have a friend who has this really beautiful bird, and I’d like to have a bird like that.”
I rolled my eyes, a childish act, that, at twenty-seven, I was probably too old to still be doing. It was so typical of my mother to want something simply because it was beautiful: bird as objet d’art. Her desire—requirement, really—for things to be aesthetically pleasing was not a trait we shared.
In the emotionally chaotic days after her cancer diagnosis, it still seemed reasonable to make plans for the future. My mother would stagger her chemotherapy treatments with her schedule at work. We located the city’s best wig store. She ordered shelving for her new apartment. And she was going to break up with her boyfriend, Steven, because, although he was nice, she said, “Nice is not enough.” She would stop postponing joy and make the time for things she always seemed to be putting off. So if a bird was part of the life she imagined for herself in her post-cancer future, who was I to argue?
“Why are we going to a Christmas show when we’re not Christian?”
Thanks to Brain, Child Magazine for reposting my story from last year about raising Jewish kids at Christmas. I thought my kids would love the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Instead, it raised questions for them about what it means to be an outsider. As someone who grew up celebrating Christmas, I was surprised that they thought the show was for other people, not for them.
I realize that in my efforts to raise proud, Jewish children, I may have made too much of the fact that we don’t celebrate Christmas. After reading Galit Breen’s excellent piece “What This Jew Thinks About Celebrating Christmas” I’ve come to think that there might be ways to combine the two traditions without confusing everyone. The fact is, I did grow up celebrating Christmas (with my Jewish father) and maybe it is O.K. (of course it is) to share some of those traditions with my kids. So we’re working on it.
My latest piece is about Paris, and why we need to have fierce conversations with our kids.
I wasn’t a mother on 9/11, but I spent the day with children. I was teaching third grade in New York, and September 11, 2001, was our first day of school. As the news trickled in that morning, parents arrived early to pick up their children, and by the end of the day, only a handful remained in our care. After they were gone, I finally let my guard down and cried.
When school reopened a few days later, we were instructed to discuss what had happened with our students, but only in the broadest of terms. When difficult questions arose, we were to bounce them back to the parents, as we were uncertain how much detail each family had chosen to go into. We felt it was better to err on the side of saying too little than delve too deeply into the particulars of this strange and terrible new world.
My latest piece at kveller.com is about my struggle with Ellie over playing the flute. She really wants to quit, but I won’t let her. The comments have ranged from “Let the poor girl quit, you lunatic” to “You go, Tiger Mom!” Have you dealt with something similar with your children? And how did you resolve it?
“I’m giving you a gift you’ll thank me for later!” I shouted.
“I never asked you for that gift!” Ellie screamed back. “I hate that gift!”
My 10-year-old daughter and I were arguing about her flute lessons again. Things had gotten so bad, her teacher had written me an email with the subject line “Ellie happiness :).”
“I am still confused about Ellie,” she wrote. “I’ve been trying different strategies and feel that I’m missing the boat.” She suggested that we meet with her colleague Michele, someone who had insight into learning styles and might be able to “diagnose” Ellie.
“So, we’re having therapy for flute now?” my husband, Ken, asked me. “Please let her quit, would you?”
“I realized that there are no winners and losers, that just because you lost one thing doesn’t mean you won’t lose it all. There are people who have more and those who have less, and there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.”
Just in time for Throw Back Thursday, my latest piece is about my twentieth college reunion. There’s nothing like the people who knew you when. I had fun writing this one.
On the day I turned 20, I received a birthday card from my younger brother. “Wow,” he wrote in his cramped, jagged cursive, “I can’t believe you’re 20!” I couldn’t believe it either. Twenty felt like a big deal—the mathematical end of childhood and adolescence, the beginning of adulthood. I was finally old enough that someone was impressed by my age but still young enough that I wasn’t insulted by their astonishment.
Of course, nothing really changed on the day I turned 20. Inside, I still felt 19 or 14, or sometimes, even 10. Whatever the calendar said, I was no closer to being an adult at all. But 20 was perhaps the first time I realized I would never be something again—a teenager, a child—and that time really did only go in one direction.
I dug back into the past to recall the day of Sam’s bris, twelve years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. As we make plans for his bar mitzvah, I find myself still grappling with issues of identity. What makes a Jew?
(I should say that my title for this piece was “Conversion”…..)
The smell of butter and onions from the omelette station drifts upstairs to the room where I am changing into my mother-in-law’s clothing. It is the day of my son Sam’s bris, and even though I gave birth eight days earlier, I still look like I’m five months pregnant. My stomach is loose and flabby and looks like a wrung-out piece of cheesecloth. My previously non-existent breasts have ballooned to C-cups. None of my own clothing fits me so my mother-in-law, Annette, who has arranged, paid for, and is hosting this party at her Long Island home, has lent me some of her clothes. I have never loved her more.
I look in the mirror and see nothing I recognize. Annette’s ivory-colored silk blouse and paisley-printed skirt, while elegant, do little to disguise the fact that I am a battlefield: exhausted, overwhelmed, leaky. No matter how much I had done to prepare for the birth of my first child—baby care classes at the hospital, multiple readings of “What to Expect”—I have been completely upended by the experience of motherhood, and it has only been eight days. In a few moments, my son will take part in the oldest rite in Judaism, linking him to a chain of tradition that began with Abraham’s covenant with God almost 4,000 years ago. All I have to do is show up.