Has anyone else noticed that the whole “we’re in this together” thing has sort of morphed into “now I’m depressed and you’re in this alone”? CALL ME!!!
What do I do?
How to stay (relatively) sane during #covid crisis.
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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!
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.
“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.
“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.”