Lucky Latkes

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Things are definitely different here in Washington state. If you follow the news, you will consistently read about Seattle as one of the strongest and fastest growing Jewish communities in the country. I have little reason to doubt this fact. Except that unless I’m at our wonderful new temple in North Seattle, I could swing dozens of dead cats and never hit a single member of our tribe.

We currently live about 20 minutes North of the city in a suburb at the tip of Lake Washington known as Kenmore. My kids have no Jewish friends at school, I haven’t seen a single home with a Mezuzah on the doorpost in our neighborhood, and I can’t find a decent challah within 20 miles of my front door.

I’m not exactly complaining. But it’s awfully weird for this North Shore Chicago girl who spent the last two decades in Los Angeles and Scottsdale surrounded by plenty of Jewish brethren to be living amongst all of these lovely people, most of whom have never even met a Jew. My oldest son, Levi, who is deeply entrenched in Judaism, torah and spirituality has mentioned to me several times that he feels kind of weird even telling kids at school about his Judaism because he’s always met with strange looks and  perplexed stares whenever he mentions his religious heritage.

Please understand that we have in no way met with unkindness or religious intolerance in any way.  Our neighbors are civil and have spoken to us on at least one or two occasions. But they’re not busting down our door with plates of great Aunt Sofie’s mandelbread or a sample of Grandma Sarah’s famous rugelach.

That being said, Levi loves his new High School. In part, this is due to the outstanding culinary arts program that he managed to earn a spot in as the only sophomore ever admitted. His culinary arts teacher is an amazing chef, teacher and yes, Iron Chef America winner. We’ve even talked about having her and the students cater my younger son, Eli’s, upcoming Oneg Shabbat Bar Mitzvah luncheon at the temple this March.

But the other day, Levi came home in a state of utter delight and could barely contain his excitement long enough to tell us why he was so elated. He explained that there was a new class competition in culinary. Each student would get to choose one kitchen appliance for the upcoming challenge and would have to prepare a specified dish with their appliance. Levi immediately began gunning for the food processor. But after picking numbers from a chef hat, he ended up being the last student to choose his appliance. “I knew there was no way I was going to get the food processor,” He told us sadly.

The other appliances included a blender, a Kitchen Aide, a waffle iron, a deli slicer and several other typical kitchen helpers. “But somehow,” Levi offered, “No one picked the food processor. I was absolutely last and I got it! Can you believe that?”

“No one picked the food processor?” I asked incredulously. “That’s really bizarre. That doesn’t make any sense. I would’ve thought the food processor would’ve been the first to be snatched up.” “I know,” he said with a huge smile plastered across his face. “I never knew I was this lucky. And guess what else? You will never believe what recipe I got with it.”

“What?” My husband, Mark, asked with intense curiosity. Levi cheerfully replied, “Dad, it’s our favorite thing to make in the food processor! You’ll never believe it. Guess! You have to guess.”

“Our favorite thing to make in the food processor?” repeated Mark. “Um…potato pancakes?”

“Not just potato pancakes,” chirped Levi, “But latkes! Actual latkes! That’s what the recipe said. Isn’t that amazing!”

Now comes the moment  where I regret lacking any internal editing programs to stop my mouth from speaking exactly what my brain thinks up. “Well, obviously you got the food processor because no one else even knew what a latke was.”

Both Levi and Mark looked at me in horror. “Mom,” Levi said, “That’s ridiculous. Who doesn’t know what a latke is?” Mark was smiling a knowing smile, “Yeah hon, who doesn’t know what a latke is?”

“Um…you’re right, Leves,” I stammered. “Forget I said that. You just got…lucky, incredibly lucky!

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I’ve been saved!

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Look, I’m Jewish. I have no identity problems. I’m not self-loathing (at least not for my religious preferences). I was raised Conservative with one set of Orthodox grandparents. We keep kosher, fervently observe all Jewish holidays and celebrate Shabbat every week.

But I have to confess something. I find tremendous comfort in Christian rock music. Whenever I say that out load, my Jewish friends, family and colleagues are shocked and dismayed. “You’re kidding, right?” is the most frequent response I encounter. But it’s the truth and I’m not afraid to say it.

Sure there are plenty of songs to which I don’t relate. I check out at the explicit Jesus references and any talk about “our father who died for our sins.” But most of it is completely aligned with our own Jewish spiritual philosophy. Songs about “hanging on,” “believing,” “never giving up,” I can’t see those as heretical or anti-Jewish in any way.

My affinity for Christian music bothers by family — a lot. I try to play it in the car sometimes when I’m shuffling the kids to and from clubs, appointments and Hebrew school. I think the positive, uplifting messages will seep into their unconsciousness and improve long term coping skills as they inevitably meet with obstacles and disappointments in life. That’s all well and good until an unsuspected reference to our savior and king surfaces. Then the jig is up. “Mom, will you stop with the Christian music. It’s just weird, OK?”

Then they inevitably remind me of my 2007 trip to Sedona when they were 7 and almost four. It was New Year’s Eve and I was driving with the boys to meet some friends for the holiday. It was cold and snowy but I had plenty of daylight and I knew it was a relatively short trip. Of course once it started to get dark, I realized I’d been driving for over three hours and that I might have made a bum turn or taken a wrong exit. 

When I finally found a safe spot to pull over, I was slightly hysterical and began sobbing into the steering wheel. As we sat there in the cold car somewhere on the side of a road, me weeping and the boys growing ever more anxious, there was a sudden tapping on my window. I looked up and saw the kindly countenance of a woman motioning to me to roll down the window. I did so and she asked me if I was okay. I admitted between whimpers that I was not. “I’m trying to get to Sedona,” I sniffled. “But we’re lost, and I have no idea where we are.”

She took my hands into hers and said, “May I pray to Jesus with you?” My boys watched with wide eyes as I emphatically said, “Yes!” Then she offered up a prayer to the big guy asking for him to help us find our way and to protect us on our journey. She pointed me towards a neighboring town which I later learned was Strawberry, AZ and with renewed hope and vitality I set out to find our path to salvation.

I was able to get us turned around and back on the road and managed to successfully make it to our cabin in the woods just slightly late for dinner. But the more people to whom I related my redemption tale, the more I was met with uncertain stares and stifled laughter. “What?” I said to friends and family whom I could tell were holding themselves back from full throttled chortling at my experience. “I got where I needed to go. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

As we move ever closer to the holiday season this year, I encourage all to count blessings, believe in miracles, and stay open to inspiration, from wherever it may come.

The inconvenient tinkle truth

One more reason to put down the friggin' seat!

One more reason to put down the friggin’ seat!

I love Target. I doubt they could do anything offensive enough to make me close my purse and boycott their establishment. So the ongoing hoopla over their gender neutral bathrooms seems more than a little silly to me. Plus, given the state of our current economic woes, the idea of a campaign targeting an institution that carries merchandise from high-end manufacturers like Dyson and Cuisinart, while also offering a plethora of products like Bud Lite, Alpo and Suave, seems wrong to me on so many levels.

Frankly, I don’t really care which bathroom anyone uses or with which gender people identify. I am enthusiastically in favor of allowing everyone to use whatever public bathroom they need when they need to use it. I mean, just think of the mess we will have to endure if any one group feels unwelcome and resorts to urinating on the sidewalk or, Heaven forbid, defecating along the side of the road.

But at a certain point, I must draw the line. If you eliminate while standing, put the friggin’ toilet seat down when you’re done! It is disgusting to have to handle a urine-stained toilet seat from a woman’s perspective. (I know it’s very politically incorrect to suggest that I speak for an entire gender. But I think it’s nasty, and I’ve never met a woman who relished the opportunity to touch, hoist or handle a slovenly seat previously sprayed by a sloppy stranger.

As an actor, I am used to sharing facilities with all types of folk. But several times I have had to bring up the annoying seat lowering negligence to male cast mates or careless crew members. I have discovered, however, that the majority of both men and women consider it uncouth and ill-mannered to leave the seat up. This is an issue all genders find rather revolting.

Again, I realize it is high risk these days to speak honestly about such a delicate topic. But I feel I owe it to society to address this despicable elephant in our public bathrooms.

Look, I’m a wife and a mom. I live with three Y chromosome individuals. But I taught them from the very beginning that if they intend to live in the same house as I do, they’d better put down the seat down after each and every turn in the toilet. It’s really not that difficult to train the males in your life on proper potty protocol.

And while I’m at it, I hate to sound critical. But as more and more restrooms are converted to co-ed, I’m a little appalled by the splashes of yolk colored puddles that seem to sit at the base of every public toilet I visit. I’m not pointing a finger, but we women don’t miss the bowl. That’s all I’m saying.

Come on, America. We have the first woman ever running for president. It’s an exciting time for our sex, even if we do only take home .77 cents to every dollar earned by our male counterparts. But we have power in numbers. We must insist on equal rights for all public bathroom users. Congress passed the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote, in 1919. Women were officially welcomed into every position for which they were qualified in our military just this past January of 2016. Our strides continue to be bold, courageous, and powerful. But it is deplorable that the issue of seat lowering has not been championed and brought to the forefront.

I for one am ready to lead the charge. I am not afraid to speak loud and proud for all of us who relieve ourselves on our derriéres. We are not second class citizens. We demand respect in the bathroom and will not rest until each and every penis wielding person uses common sense values, compassion, and consideration when in the presence of a public toilet. So put the damn seats down!

Now who’s with me?

What’s wrong with a win-win-win?

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I never moved as a kid. I never had to leave my house, lose my friends, and start all over. I did as an adult. I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and then again to Arizona, the latter being the most challenging experience of my lifetime. But here I am, arguably in the second half of my life, getting ready to do it again. Most days I function alright understanding the magnitude of this upcoming geographic shift. But that’s only because I’m in complete denial. I haven’t packed a thing. I refuse to say goodbye to anyone. I’m just going about my busy life as I always do and trying not to focus on the fact that my family is being uprooted in one weeks time.

My kids are excited for the most part, except when they’re not. Like me, they toggle between hopeful enthusiasm and debilitating fear. On my good days, I think I will make friends, build a strong community, and find professional satisfaction. Other days I think I’ll end up a puddle in the corner of a room unable to pull myself together to even venture outside of our lovely, generic rental home that I wont be able to customize and color as if it were my next great art project.

Each day I find myself facing some very concrete challenge that threatens the foundation upon which I’m cautiously treading. Yesterday I waited all day for a charity to come pick up a load of furniture which included an 8 foot granite mosaic dining room table I had built and a 700 bottle stainless steel wine refrigerator that required no less than 6 movers to haul into my home. Of course after 8 hours of waiting they didn’t show up. When I tried to reschedule, they asked me to please move the items to the curb and assured me they would be in the neighborhood sometime next Tuesday between the hours of 8am and 4pm. Well,” I thought to myself, “That’s just not going to work.”

I spent a few hours completely panicked, knowing that the house needed to be cleared and in move-in condition for our new tenants by the weekend. Then I started snapping photos of everything in my house that was too big or too old or too fragile to move. I listed everything for FREE on Craig’s List. Literally within 30 seconds of posting the items, my phone started ringing and dinging off the hook. HUNDREDS of people wanted my items, and they were eager and aggressive.

The texts became increasingly frantic and dramatic. “My parent’s house burnt down,” “This is the most beautiful table I have ever seen,” “I’m a single mother and I cannot live without this love seat.” Each and every voicemail and text indicated that the interested party was en route to my house with a truck and a cadre of muscular movers. I was completely overwhelmed.

I texted my address to the first respondent who arrived within minutes at my door. I admit I was surprised to see a petite woman, her 14 year old daughter and an SUV parked at the curb. “Um…I don’t think you’re going to be able to take anything in that,” I said. She surveyed the house and politely asked if she could have everything. She promised to return within two hours with the manpower, equipment and space needed to gently remove all of my collosal items.

I was reluctant to promise the pieces to her. What if she didn’t come back? What if I lost all of the other leads because I trusted a stranger? It seemed like a bad bet to place. But she looked honest and sincere. So I agreed.

I ignored the bombardment of calls and texts that continued non-stop until her return at 8pm. She and her peeps took everything gently and carefully and graciously thanked me for all of it.

Within 20 minutes my house had been cleaned out and a stranger’s family had received enough furniture to outfit their own empty abode. I felt good about it, like maybe I had contributed to someone else’s happiness.

A friend shook her head at me when I relayed the story to her. “You do know they’re just going to sell your stuff and make a whole lot of money don’t you?” By her tone I knew I was supposed to feel bad about that. But instead I was thrilled and felt proud of these strangers entrepreneurial assertiveness. “More power to them,” I insisted. “They saw an opportunity and acted on it. Forgive me, but isn’t that part of what built our country and made it great?”

She looked at me as if I had morphed into a female version of Donald Trump. Using the words “country” and any form of “make it great” in the same sentence these days is a risky enterprise. I actually felt embarrassed, like I had confessed to some kind of sick, sinful, capitalistic tendency.

But the truth is, I did admire the moxie of this young family. I appreciated their willingness to come over on a moment’s notice. I was grateful to have my moving load lightened exponentially.

People today worry so much about getting their due. There’s a pervasive belief in society that one person’s financial gain only comes at a deficit to someone else. I see it differently. I no longer needed some stuff. What I did need was someone to empty my house and haul away my belongings. The young family who came to my aid needed furniture or money to help them live better lives. If they keep and enjoy my stuff, that’s a “win-win.” If they sell it to someone else and make money, that creates an even longer chain of benefit, or a “win-win-win” situation. In my book, the more “wins” the better, for all of us.

Matzah, Marvel and Maternal Remorse

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“Where are you going with those?” I ask Eli, my twelve year old son, as he suspiciously tries to slink out of the house for school carrying three unopened boxes of leftover Passover matzah. “Um…nowhere,” he answers. “Bye mom. Have a great day.”

“Wait just a minute, Eli,” I’m not ready to let this go. “Why are you taking three boxes of matzah to school after Passover?”

“I thought they were leftover.” He chirps.

“Yeah… So what?” I challenge.

“Alright mom,” he confides. “But if I tell you you can’t get involved. Promise?”

These are always my favorite intros to any conversation with my kids. Promising not to get involved isn’t something I’m apt to do easily.

“I promise nothing,” I say. “Now what’s with the matzah? And if you miss the bus you’re walking to school. So start talking.”

“I’m selling them to a friend.” he sheepishly confesses.

“Selling them? For how much?” I inquire.

“Fifteen dollars,” he tells me.

This is the part where I go berzerk. “Fifteen dollars? Who would buy matzah for fifteen dollars? That’s insane.” I grab the matzah and insist that it is not being sold to anyone. “If you want to give your friend the matzah that is perfectly alright. But you are not selling it to him for any amount of money.”

“But mom, we made a deal. And you always say ‘a deal is a deal.’ He wagered with me willingly. I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain”

As I delve into this, I learn that Eli has been making money on the side selling a variety of useless items to his pals who only want Eli to play more advanced PS4 video games with them. Eli has a limited number of players, and since his mother is a meanie and wont splurge endlessly on Disney Infinity and Marvel superhero characters for the PS4, Eli has had to turn to his own ingenuity to raise the funds to support his virtual reality video habit.

“Joey begged me, mom,” Eli pleaded. “He just really wants me to be able to play with him and I don’t have the Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. Can I please go now?”

Then I pulled out my ace. I was sure I had this one in the bag. “Well Eli,” I say, “If you feel that selling something like matzah, that you didn’t even pay for, to Joey, or any other friend, for way more money than it’s worth, is the right thing to do, then you go right ahead. Just make sure you feel good about yourself and what you’re choosing to do.” Ha. This was a page from any good Jewish mother’s parenting book. I felt the guilt dripping off each word as it slowly and purposely rolled off my tongue. No way Eli would collect the cash and exploit a pal with this jolt of maternal consciousness infecting his psyche.

But alas, even sure things sometimes go awry. When Eli came home from school he laid down the fifteen dollars from Joey along with all of his Chanukah and birthday money  and asked if he could use my amazon account to purchase his Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. “Mom, I tried to tell Joey I didn’t want the money,” He explained. “I swear I offered to just give him the matzah for free. But he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He insisted, mom. Really.”

I reluctantly gave permission for Eli to buy the Season’s Pass and have been pondering this decision ever since. I’m plagued with guilt over taking another child’s money to pay for a game I wasn’t willing to buy for my son myself. I am deeply perplexed about where Joey so easily scored $15. Did his parents know he was subsidizing Eli’s PS4 practice? Would they think we were shameful people, taking money from their 12 year old son? Maybe they did know about it and were under the impression that we were from some sort of underserved North Scottsdale barrio. Maybe they believed their son was merely giving back to his community as they had undoubtedly modeled through their own charitable endeavors.

The more I mulled this over, the more awful I felt. But I had set this up for Eli to make his own decision and I fiercely believe in allowing your children to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. I told him to follow his conscience and he had. Only his conscience didn’t lead him to the conclusion I had hoped it would. Now what?

“Is there anything Joey wants that his parents wont give him?” I asked after a few hours of hopeless deliberation. “Maybe we can get him something, you know like a toy or a PS4 game?”

“Mom,” Eli chastised, “Joey has everything. There’s nothing we could get him that he doesn’t already have.”

“But maybe there’s something he’d like that he might not buy for himself?” I pushed. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just something to let him know we appreciate him and his friendship.”

“Well,” I could see the wheels turning in Eli’s head, “He really loves his gecko, Emily. Maybe we could get him something for her.”

“OK, that’s a good idea,” I said, “What do you think she might like?”

“Hmmm…” he looked at me coyly for an extremely long moment. “I know. How ‘bout a PS4 controller? They don’t use joysticks anymore so Emily could play with us. I know they would both love that.”

In the Disney Marvel Battleground Universe, I think I’m being set up for a gigantic Hulk smash.

Hummer

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When my son, Levi, was 5 years old my husband and I temporarily lost our minds and  spent a ridiculous sum of money on a mini version of a Hummer for him to drive around the neighborhood. This car was totally amazing. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was part of our financially strapped, joint mid-life crisis. We couldn’t actually afford a pair of Porsches or a duo of Lamborghinis for ourselves, so instead we settled on a mini Hummer for our five year old. We thought we were pretty great parents that year.

Of course as all parents, who have ever watched their children ignore their plethora of play toys and opt instead for a bevy of beaten up pots and pans to play with, can guess, Levi was not at all interested in this outrageously fabulous vehicle. We spent countless hours trying to interest him in the Hummer. But no amount of creative cajoling could entice him to set foot in the  birthday mobile.

Finally, one day I was making dinner and I glanced out the window and saw him climb into the Hummer and turn the key. I was elated. I called my husband to tell him the great news but by the time he picked up the phone, Levi had exited the vehicle and was talking animatedly to himself just a few feet away from where he’d begun. I hung up the phone and raced outside to question his curiously short road trip.

“I just needed to get to the office,” my five year old explained. Then, like a chip off the old block, he gently invited me to go back inside,“I have work to do, mommy.”

I returned to the kitchen to finish dinner. After about a half hour of “office work,” my son hopped back into the Hummer, turned the key and drove for about three seconds until he reached home and entered the kitchen. “Hi mom, I’m home from the office,” he chirped brightly. At that moment I realized that no matter how good our intentions, kids find enjoyment in the activities they love and not necessarily in the ones we adults think they should. We could’ve bought my son a mini Boeing 747 and he would only have used it as a vehicle to act out whatever adult behaviors he was working on at the time. That’s just who he was. He pretended he was a grown up and loved to mimic grown up behavior. We came to understand that it was his way of making sense of the world around him. He never played for the sake of playing. Levi is what you’d call an “old soul.” He’s always wanted to be an adult and we were foolish to think that a souped up Hummer would change that.

He loved sitting in my car pretending to drive. He loved acting out swim lessons with me as the student and him as the teacher. He loved dressing up like his dad and going to the office to see patients. No matter how many ways I tried to get him to drop the grown up scenarios and play for the sake of playing, kid stuff like that just wasn’t in his repertoire.

He is now a 15 year old young man with a compassionate heart, a solid work ethic and a yearning to take on the world as a full-fledged adult. Levi is who he’s always been so it shouldn’t be hard for me to accept his burgeoning adulthood. But today as we sat in the AZ Motor Vehicle Division waiting for him to take his written learner’s permit test, I found myself struggling with a different set of emotions.

I’ve heard hundreds of parents tell me, “Enjoy the moment. They grow up so fast.” I’ve always found that kind of unwarranted advice to be more of an annoyance than a comfort. And I’ve always sworn to never unload that piece of counsel onto other parents. But today I’m wallowing in the reality that they do grow up so quickly and within what feels like a nano-second, they are ready to venture into the world without you.

As parents it’s our job to find ways to remain relevant in our kids’ lives. Hopefully we wont always be their primary care-givers. But when that role ends, how do we morph into something that still matters, that continues to resonate with who they are and enables us to maintain connection and purpose? The reality that kids grow up and leave home has always been there. It’s just so incredibly painful when you stand toe to toe with that truth.

Levi drove home from the MVD. It was his first time driving on major roads and his first experience in rush-hour traffic. We’ve been practicing in parking lots and around the neighborhood for a few months so I knew he was ready to test out his developing skills.

He did a great job. Well, aside from that one turn. But more importantly, he and I are renegotiating our relationship and learning from one another about how we can navigate his journey into full adulthood while still balancing my need to be his parent and guide his growing independence. It’s not always easy. Sometimes he’ll erupt into a toddler type tantrum. Sometimes I do the same. I still have a lot of parenting to do. I’m not sure that ever actually ends. But we’re growing up together and it’s a pretty amazing journey.

Resale shmesale

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I did something fantastic today. It may not sound all that impressive to you. It was a small thing. But it made me incredibly happy.

You see for the past few years I’ve been selling my old clothes to several designer resale boutiques. I’m not a label conscious girl. But I do like nice things and over the years I’ve accumulated a healthy collection of designer clothing and accessories. Selling them has been fun and profitable because instead of buying new clothes, I would just use my credit and bring home slightly worn pieces to suit my wardrobe needs.

But for the past year or so, the consignment stores I’ve been frequenting have gotten increasingly persnickety. On more than one occasion they’ve rejected my worn garments and offered little explanation as to why they wouldn’t take them. There is something extremely insulting about a consignment store rejecting your items. I don’t know why but it feels like a direct personal rejection and truth be told, it stings. It’s gotten to the point where I have tremendous anxiety over bringing my goods to the buyers. This week in fact I drove around for days with a trunk load of designer goods trying to work up the courage to basically give away my good clothing for pennies on the dollar. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Today it hit me that instead of trying to sell my old Coach purse and Gucci sunglasses, maybe I ought to just give them away to people who actually need them. It sounds rather simplistic. At first I kept harping on the fact that I might be giving away something of real value. But why give away anything unless it has real value? Suddenly I felt like a real heel. Sure I’ve needed a little bit of help these past few years and buying clothes at resale boutiques has been one way my family has dealt with our own economic hardships. So please believe me when I say that there is nothing dishonorable or negative about selling your used togs. But the more I anguished over facing off with some fashionista over weather or not my gently used $200 Ted Baker skirt was worth $12, the more I realized the inanity of the situation.

So this morning I marched into the Foothills Animal Rescue resale shop around the corner from my house and handed over a pile of clothes, belts, purses and accessories. It was freeing. They were actually grateful and warm and didn’t act like I was some kind of pariah. They even thanked me for bringing in my items.

It felt so much better giving my things away instead of haggling over the few dollars I might have “earned” had I consigned them. Sure I’ll probably end up with less stuff since I wont be exchanging my items directly for other designer accoutrements. But I’ve recently come to realize that “stuff” in general is over-rated, and since this morning’s donation, I suddenly feel fuller and more complete; like I need a lot less to be happy than I used to think.

P, B and Jay

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A few years ago when money was already tight and we were scaling back on holiday gift giving, my insane husband, Mark, happened upon a giant inflatable polar bear playing “Whack-a-mole” with two little penguins. Like any adoring husband, he thought, “I just have to spend the money and buy this inane decoration for my Jewish wife for Chanukah.”

I remember walking into the house and hearing this loud whirring noise which turned out to be the pump he bought to blow up the whacking polar bear and penguin cubs. This monstrosity was in the center courtyard of our house when I came home and Mark and our two boys just stood there beaming upon my arrival.

“This is a joke, right?” I asked, looking at the giant arcade-like phenomena. Then, realizing that it wasn’t, I tried to lighten up and smile as I queried about the cost of this newly acquired modern art. “We’re Jewish,” I said, “You do know that we don’t celebrate Christmas and I’m really not okay with a huge Christmas display in the middle of our house.” In spite of the red and green holiday scarf and Santa hat adorning the polar bear, Mark argued that it really wasn’t related to Christmas at all and was merely a celebration of wintertime joy. “He’s beating two penguins,” I countered. “There really is no joy in this scenario.”

Mark nicknamed the Antarctic birds “P and B,” and dubbed the big white Ursus “Jay.” While I acknowledged that the names were cute and clever, I couldn’t wait to rid my home of their presence. Finally when the New Year rolled around I insisted on packing up the polar trio and stuffing them into a cabinet in the garage. I admit I agreed to letting them come out again the following year. But truthfully, I had no intention of honoring that accord.

Last year as the holiday season roared in I had a real heart-to-heart with my husband. I told him how sweet it was that he had purchased such a unique gift for me the year before and that I couldn’t think of a single wife who had gotten as unusual a gift as I had received. But I felt very uncomfortable displaying the wondrous gift as I was proud of our heritage and felt like Jewish people needn’t decorate their homes with Yuletide paraphernalia. He was slightly downhearted but understanding as he neatly packed up P, B, and Jay and readied them for their journey to Good Will.

But then an idea came to me. We have a nearby neighborhood that goes all out at Christmas time.  They create a magical winter wonderland and invite a steady stream of visitors to enjoy their extensive fantasyland. We go with the boys every year and had planned to drive through the Christmas oasis that very night.

As our car slowly crept down the sugar-plum laden road,I readied my family to be on the lookout for a suitable home for P,B, and Jay. We knew it the moment we saw it; one house on the street that was lit up brighter than all the others, with a slew of polar bears gleefully interacting with passersby. This was a home where our Arctic creatures would feel happy, chilled and welcomed as part of the family.

We went home and wrote a deeply personal note explaining why we could no longer care for our beloved trio. Like a despondent parent leaving her baby on a neighbor’s doorstep, we waited till the crowds dispersed and snuck back to leave our package and note at the front door of our new host’s home. We felt sad and our hearts were heavy as we said our final goodbyes and departed.

We checked back a few nights later but there was no sign of P, B, and Jay. We wondered if they would ever see the light of Christmas again. It was a painful holiday season as we mourned their loss, all the while remembering the joy they had brought us the year before. I felt guilty and ashamed of giving them up. Perhaps the new family had too many mouths to feed already and had simply tossed P, B, and Jay onto a trash heap without ever even meeting them in full holiday inflatability.

We grieved their loss for months and when this holiday season arrived we all pretended that we had no expectations. I couldn’t actually bring myself to visit the magical street this year. I couldn’t face it if P, B and Jay weren’t there. At least I could live in denial if I stayed away from the street altogether.

My eldest son, Levi, was bolder and insisted on facing off with reality. He went on an evening Christmas light excursion to check on our threesome. I could barely await his return. “Did you see them?” I asked with fervent anticipation. He looked at me with a stone cold stare. Then he slowly raised his phone to my eyes. It was them! They were there! Front and center. P, B, and Jay were alive and well and celebrating Christmas with their polar bear brethren  in the most prominent spot on the front lawn of the house where we had left them .

I was elated. Seriously. I mean, it was truly as if my beloved offspring had been given a second chance at life. I haven’t stopped smiling for weeks. And as we celebrate another year of light and joy, I realize that Holiday miracles are all around. You just have to look in the right places.

Baby you can drive my …bus

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“Why aren’t you at the bus stop?” I sleepily barked at my 15 year old son, Levi, as I pulled on a sweatshirt and emerged from another night of tossing and turning. “It’s 6:20. I can’t drive you to school. I have a breakfast meeting…”

“Mom,” he calmly reassured me, “Relax. My regular bus driver is out this week. There’s a sub taking his route. She’s not my regular driver, but she’s very nice. She has to run her own route first so she wont get to my stop until 6:42. I spoke with the dispatcher earlier this morning.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I asked with complete incredulity.

“Yeah,” he said, “After waiting at the corner for 25 minutes in the cold last week, I decided to look into things and learned about the change in drivers. Apparently Ernie is out having some minor surgery. So Sheila is filling in. I expect Ernie will be back on Monday.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I muttered still struggling to comprehend the reality at hand. How is it possible, I wondered,  that a child of mine could be this organized, systematic and methodical? These are not skills that I possess in any quantity. His creative spirit, sense of wonder and off the charts enthusiasm smack sharply of all things me. But this…this…unbridled resourcefulness and time management talent was his and his alone.

“Well, have a great day,” I announced as I  started my coffee, still pondering this amazing occurrence. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, grabbed his backpack and headed out. “You too,” He said. “Hope your day is amazing.”

Two days later I had all but forgotten my son’s shrewd ingenuity and was focused instead on his typical teen boy behavior; the atrocious mess in his bedroom, his laundry littering the floor, his sassy come backs to…almost everything.

“You haven’t heard about my ridiculous morning,” he started as I annoyedly shuffled his breakfast dishes into the dishwasher at 4:30 in the afternoon. “You know, Levi,” I griped, “I’m not your maid. You know better than to leave dishes in the sink. I have more important things to do than clean up all day after you and your brother.” I was frighteningly sounding like my mother and hating myself in the process.

“Sorry,” he chirped casually, “It wont happen again.” This was a vow I had heard thousands of times before.I took a deep breath, thought about what was really important, and said, “Tell me about your ridiculous morning.”

“Well,” He began, “I was at the bus stop at 6:15 today. My regular driver was supposed to be back. But there was a big Cox truck right at the corner. There was another sub and I guess she didn’t see me behind the truck and she just drove right by me. So I immediately called the bus company and spoke with the dispatcher on duty. I told him what had happened while I was running to the final stop in the neighborhood. It was about a half mile away. But I ran hard. I told the guy to radio the driver and let her know that she’d inadvertently passed me and that she should wait for me right outside the back gate. So that’s what they did. Of course she was

irritated when I finally got there and said, ‘Next time, be out there on time.’ To which I respectfully replied that she clearly had not received full explanation of the event. I clarified that I was there on time and that she didn’t see me and drove right past me. ‘Oh,’ she reluctantly acknowledged, ‘Sorry.’”

Again I was stunned by his problem solving capabilities and take-charge attitude. I had to concede to myself that had this happened to me I would undoubtedly have headed home, woken my parents, and insisted on someone driving me to school. This was a young man, unlike any teenager I have ever known, who saw a problem and instead of turning  it into his parent’s responsibility, relied upon his own quick thinking and inventiveness to remedy the situation. This is a kid, I realized, who can make it on his own.

That thought was both empowering and crippling if truth be told. I felt a deep sense of pride and admiration for Levi’s self-reliance and strength of character. At the same time, there is a minute sense of loss when a parent recognizes that their offspring really can survive and thrive without any assistance from them.

“You’re one amazing young man,” I told Levi as he shoveled in the remainder of the last bag of cinnamon pita chips I was saving for myself. He looked a little like Cookie Monster with the crumbs carelessly cascading from his mouth. “Thanks,” he said smiling broadly. “You’re a pretty amazing mom too.”

The art of parental consequence

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“Mom, have you seen my monologue for the school play?” My 15 year old son, Levi, asks in a quasi panic mode. “No,” I reply. “Did you leave it on the floor of your room?”

“Yeah, I did.” He’s already starting to sound a bit sassy. “It was here this morning when I left for school.”

“Oh, bummer.” I say, trying to muster up all the empathy I can find. “I must’ve tossed it when I threw out everything on your floor this morning when I gathered up your sheets for the laundry.”

“You threw  it out?” He whined, “How could you do that? Now I wont be able to audition for the school play. I can’t believe you would do that.”

“Gosh sweetie, I am so sorry. I can’t always tell what’s garbage and what’s important. Maybe it would be better for you to pick up your room on a daily basis. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

Levi moped around the house for the next few hours periodically  giving me dirty looks whenever I crossed his path. I remained upbeat and detached. I was in teacher mode and I could not let my emotions get involved.

Finally I see him scurry into my office to use my computer. He furiously types in something and I watch his eyes light up. “Got it.” He says victoriously. I couldn’t resist. “Got what, hon? What did you find?”

He then goes on to explain that he went to the play publisher’s website (Samuel French) and searched for the title of his school play, “The Elephant’s Graveyard.” by George Brant. “Luckily,” he tells me, “They had a few sample pages of the script and my monologue was in the sample. Isn’t that awesome?”

“Your monologue was in the sample pages?” I disbelievingly replied. “You’re kidding. Well…that’s great. Just great.” He printed it up and went ahead memorizing and putting actions to the words for his upcoming audition.

Now normally I want to see my kids succeed. I want them to be happy, to do all of their homework, to get good grades, and of course to be cast in the school play. But I was seething. How does a kid get this lucky? The audition is tomorrow. He loses the monologue which he needs for the audition. I try to teach him a valuable lesson. But the one page he needs seems to magically appear for him to save the day and undermine the lessons I’m so desperately attempting to instill within him. What’s a parent to do?

One week later:

Levi didn’t get the callback for the school play. He was moderately disappointed. I feel slightly responsible. But the truth is he didn’t prepare and that wasn’t because of me. Maybe next time he’ll work harder, start earlier and be more responsible with his materials. Or…maybe he’ll just join the speech and debate club which will probably serve him better in the long run.