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.

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.

Naughty? Not! Parents are heroes!!!

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I like to write about my kids. My eldest son, Levi, is totally into it. When I write something that isn’t about him he mopes around like a wilted Lily. But my younger son, Eli, would rather remain quietly hidden amongst the desert Lantana than be singled out in print. When they were younger it was easier. Now that they’re 14 and almost 11 I feel like I have to ask permission before I write or publish anything personal. It’s seriously cramping my style.

But this time I found a story about good parenting that isn’t my own. It isn’t my own because I don’t have the guts to be a really good parent. If you’re not living under a rock you’ve likely heard about the parents who sent back their 11 year old son’s Nintendo Wii U Console with Super Mario Kart game with the following reason “Son was put on the naughty list, had to watch it being returned.” It sparked a flurry of comments on Reddit and all across the net, most parents claiming it almost abusive to humiliate the child this way. Um…am I the only sane parent left on the planet? This is brilliant!

Christmas presents are a privilege, not a right! If these parents found their child’s behavior to be sub-par, they had every right to return his Nintendo Wii U Console with Super Mario Kart game. What is wrong with parents today? Abusive? I’ve been reading the comments on Imgur where the boy’s folks posted the image above. Some said that since the boy had already opened the gift it was too late to send it back with the “naughty” note. Too late? I’m sorry, but in my world if your kid misbehaves and you want to take away something he’s had for the past 12 years, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s ridiculous how manipulated we parents have become. We don’t want to “shame” our kids or cause them any pain, blah blah blah. When kids are rude and disrespectful we give them our iPads and tell them to keep quiet. That’s the real messed up message we send, present company included.

Take back your role as parental leader and guide. If you see this move as some kind of parental abuse of power, get a backbone. This is good old fashioned parenting at its best. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s inspiring. In fact, I’m going to pry my kids’ kindles out of their grimy little paws right after I post this. Bah humbug!

Captain AmeriMom to the rescue!

DSC_3355Senator, I am no June Cleaver. I don’t claim to be a spectacular parent. If anything, I see myself as overwhelmingly flawed and barely able to maintain a home, organize a family, and see to it that my kids get wherever they’re supposed to be at any certain time on any given day. So when my 10 year old son, Eli, announced that he wanted to be Captain America for Super Hero Day, which happened to fall on Halloween this year, I thought, “Oh well, here’s another lost opportunity for me to come through as a mother.”

I had a busy schedule the day before Halloween and Eli’s pronouncement seemed like an overwhelming burden for which I had neither the time nor the money to shoulder. But at lunchtime I found myself at a Party City store combing the aisles for Cap’n America. To my good fortune, there was a child-sized costume for $19.95 and a shield for only $24. Wow, what a bargain. I could buy one or the other and still have money for groceries. We’re living on a strict, Dave Ramsey type budget these days and I’m looking at $30 in my wallet to get us through to the 10th of November. Okay, be responsible. I cannot spend $44 on a tin shield and flimsy muscle tee that he’ll wear once and discard. No. I am not gonna do it.

I successfully left Party City and went on to my lunch and afternoon meetings. But with an extra 15 minutes and Good Will right across the street from my 2pm, I thought I’d duck in and see if there happened to be a slightly used version of my sought after super hero. No such luck. But for $1.99 I picked up an old dart board and a red shirt and threw them in the back of my car.

I couldn’t wait to get home and start working on my creation. I googled Captain America, looked at the picture and concluded that this was a hopeless endeavor. Then, in spite of myself, I grabbed some old t-shirts, a bottle of fabric glue and pulled out my painting supplies. I spent the next three hours recreating the Captain America ensemble I’d downloaded from the internet.

For those of you who don’t know Eli, let’s just say he can be hard to please. If 99% of his day goes well, he’s the kid who focuses on the 1% that didn’t. So as I worked I couldn’t help but wonder how he might react to my home-made outfit. I imagined multiple scenarios, kind of like my own version of Borges “Garden of Forking Paths.” In one, Eli sat weeping as he gazed upon my makeshift costume. In another, my happy little boy stood toe to toe with a cadre of 5th grade bullies taunting him that he looked nothing like Captain America. My final parallel universe shot two decades into the future. I envisioned Eli, in therapy, as a grown man, feeling overwhelming remorse for rejecting his mother’s costume and consequently her love so many Halloweens ago. There was no version of reality that could have predicted Eli’s actual response.

It took me a moment to realize that someone was watching me. I looked up and saw Eli standing in the archway of my office staring at my creation. “Whoa, mom,” he sputtered. “That is the coolest Captain America costume EVER! I love it! Thank you so much for

working so hard on it.” The genuine delight and appreciation in his eyes filled me with so much joy I could hardly contain myself. I told myself to act cool, to not appear too needy. “Oh…I’m glad you like it,” I replied trying to sound indifferent. “Just threw it together for ya.”

He wore the costume all day at school and couldn’t wait to hit the streets for trick or treating in the evening. On the way home from school he told me over and over again how much he loved it. This was a massive victory on my front. But just as I began to celebrate my success he piped up from the back seat, “Mom, there’s just one thing I need to tell you about the costume.” I felt the full weight of disappointment descend as the wind slowly seeped from my sails. “Yeah?” I tentatively acknowledged, “What is it?” “You’re gonna need to reglue a couple of the stripes on my t-shirt,” he smiled. “Cause I am definitely wearing this costume next year!”

What does forgiveness look like?

Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. Much of the emphasis of the next ten days is on forgiveness. We ask forgiveness from those we have hurt. We ask forgiveness for ourselves for being less than we know we can be. We ask forgiveness of God for our failure to lead good and righteous lives.

I was asked to create a piece of art that illustrated what forgiveness might look like. This is what I came up with.

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What does forgiveness look like?

A broken vase, a treasured gift
from a father who is gone.

My grandfather’s Havdala spice jar,
dropped by a five year old’s inattentive grasp.

The Kiddush cup we got when our first son was born,
mangled in the garbage disposal
as I hurriedly tried to rush through kitchen clean-up.

Broken bits of life that used to shatter my heart.
I chastised myself for their loss.

At first I didn’t know why I saved them in that crate in the garage.
They were painful reminders of moments gone wrong and the
things and people I could never replace.

And then one day I found them and realized
that although they were not whole, as they had once been,
they could live anew, as they now were,
precious pieces of a creative expression.

Entangled within cabinets, picture frames, shelves,
these beloved mementos remind me to forgive, to let go,
to welcome the changes that come sometimes with
carelessness, hurry, and the natural course of our existence.

Forgiveness allows what is broken to become whole.
Art is the process by which those shattered shards come together
to express the imperfect beauty of life.

L’Shana Tova to all.

Resolutions shmesolutions!

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Every day is the beginning of a new year.

I just realized that and Iʼm rather impressed with the depth of that assessment. Why is it that we all wait until December 31st to declare our failures, faults and foibles? I for one have the uncanny ability to notice every flaw about myself on a daily basis. I eat too much chocolate. I yell at my kids. I forget birthdays, flake out on lunch dates, hurt peopleʼs feelings. Itʼs a curse being so self-critical. But at least Iʼm honest.

There also happens to be a silver lining to my day to day fault-finding compulsion. You see, I also have the capacity to start anew, each and every day. And I take full advantage of that capability. In fact, I resign each and every night to love my kids better, to cherish my husband more, to appreciate the simple moments that comprise my all too complicated days.

Waiting for December 31st seems like a colossal waste of time to me. Plus, once a year resolutions are merely a way to set yourself up for failure. If you only go on that diet once every 365 days, youʼre bound to pork out and let yourself down at some point. Then youʼve got to wait another 8 months or 23 pounds (whichever comes first) to start starving yourself again? Thatʼs ridiculous. Iʼd rather enjoy my culinary bender, knowing full well that I can embark on my healthy eating campaign anew the next morrow.

If you act like a jerk on the freeway, cutting someone off either purposely or inadvertently, do you spend the rest of the year following suit until December 31st arrives? Then, and only then, do you pledge to be a better driver, with an improved attitude and kinder disposition? Why not recognize the error of your ways, and correct your rude behavior by the time you get to the next exit?

Or what if you joined a gym as part of your last New Yearʼs resolution and only frequented the joint a few times in January? Should you throw up your arms in defeat and wait until next January to kick your couch potato butt into action? Absurd I say. Go take a walk today, run to the mailbox two or three times, try a free Zoomba class at the Y. Get your body moving any way you can.

So, not that you asked me, hereʼs my suggestion for your 2013 list of New Yearʼs resolutions. Resolve to face yourself in the mirror every morning and not run away from whomever you see. Notice the blemishes, the wrinkles, the age spots. Then challenge yourself to accept who you see, to improve the things you can, and to recognize that weʼre all just a mess of imperfections, trying to do our best and often falling just a little bit short.
Happy New Year.

In search of a plot

“I need a plot! What if I die?” this is the text I received Thanksgiving night from my 12 year old son, Levi. He’d finally left the table and was worriedly texting me from the next room.

It all happened because we were enjoying some post repast conversation at my mom’s house. One of the guests, a long time family friend, works at the Jewish cemetery in town. The discourse had shifted to her work and she was astounding us with stories about elderly people who simply refused to contemplate death, funerals and anything associated with burials. My brother-in-law, an uber-responsible physician, chimed in, “It’s just idiotic not to take care of these things ahead of time. Idiotic and irresponsible.”

Suddenly I look across the table and I see Levi, his head in his hands, prone for an anxiety attack. “Why don’t you go play with your cousins,” I suggest.

“No, mom. I want to stay with the adults,” he insists.

“Well, are you sure you can handle this conversation?” I ask gently.

“Yes,” he replies, “I’m sure. But mom, how much is a plot? Because I need to save up and get one.”

Conversation halted and everyone looked at Levi. Several of the adults started to roar with laughter.

“Levi,” I tried to explain, “You really don’t need to worry about that right now.”

“But I’m going to die,” he matter-of-factly refuted, “I don’t want to be stupid, or irresponsible.”

Suddenly I was transported into the celluloid world of my all time favorite Woody Allen movie, “Annie Hall.” I morphed into Alivie Singer’s kvetching Jewish mother and insisted my 9 year old son, Alivie, tell the psychiatrist why he was so depressed.”

Alvie’s mother:
Tell the Doctor why you’re depressed, Alvie. It’s something that he read.

Alvie:
The Universe is expanding.

Doctor:
The Universe is expanding?

Alvie:
Well, the Universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything.

Alvie’s mother:
He stopped doing his homework.

Alvie:
What’s the point?

Alvie’s mother:
What has the Universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding!”

Doctor:
It wont be expanding for billions of years, Alvie. And we’ve gotta try to enjoy ourselves while we’re here.

Why is it that some kids burden themselves with thoughts like these while others are content to stuff themselves silly with turkey, corn and mashed potatoes? I so want to be one of those care-free people who raises easy, playful youngsters who throw spitballs into the unsuspecting heads of classmates and giggle gleefully when the teacher accidentally strings together words like “under” and “where.” But alas, that’s just not who we are.

I actually remember my first 100% sleepless night. I was about my son’s age and was convinced that the angel of death was coming that very night to take me away. My poor father tried everything to get me to go to sleep. Finally, with a tear in his eye, he implored, “Please, Debbie, just close your eyes. I’ll stand guard all night and I promise not to open the door if he comes. Just go to sleep!”

I guess the sad thing here is that this whole experience just confirms what I’ve known all along; that children really are just mirrors that showcase every flaw, fault and foible of our own misguided psyches. Genetics, my friends, are inescapable.

It’s all kind of depressing. In fact, sometimes I find it so disheartening that I relate completely to Annie Hall’s brother, Duane, (played eerily by a young Christopher Walken), who behind the wheel of his automobile,
confesses to Alvie while speeding down a darkened freeway, “Sometimes I have a sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into an oncoming car. I anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass, the…flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.”

Alvie is stumped for a reply but spits out, “Right,” just as they pull to a stop, “Well, I have to — I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet earth.”

Sometimes it sucks to be me. I desperately want to see myself as Audrie Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” or Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa.” But no matter how hard I try, my true alter ego wont let me forget that I’m really just a female version of a Jewish, neurotic, anxiety-ridden Alvie Singer.

Happy New Year?

This week, most Jewish people ignored the minor holiday of Tu B’Shvat. Unlike the biggies, like Rosh Hashana, Chanukah and Passover, Tu B’Shvat has always occupied a spot on the sidelines, kind of a red-headed step-child kind of holiday.

In part, it’s because it’s a complex festival that has to do with tithing and farming and a lot of technical “arboreal-related” issues. Most of us think of it as some sort of birthday celebration for the trees. Beyond that, we can’t really see the forest.

I would’ve missed the holiday completely this year had it not been for my 11 year-old son, Levi, who came home from school on a mission. It was 4:00 and I was rushing to get ready and get out of the house by 5.

“Mom,” he started in a determined tone that clued me in immediately that I was in for trouble. “I have to go to the grocery store right now.”

“I’ve already gone shopping today,” I assured him. “I’m sure whatever you need can wait till tomorrow.”

“But it can’t,” he bemoaned. “Tomorrow will be too late.”

I explained calmly that no amount of whining would sway me on this issue and sent him on his way. A few minutes later he re-emerged with a grocery list and a very rational request. He had $15 in tow and announced that he was going to pay for his items himself if I would agree to let Gabi, our nanny, take him to the store. He assured me that they would be back in plenty of time to get Eli, his brother, to Karate.

“Levi,” I finally inquired, “What is so important that can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“I’m making a Tu B’Shvat seder and we don’t have all the items I need.”

Now I believe in consistent discipline. I also believe in sticking to my guns. If I say something, I try very hard to follow through with it. But the requested grocery trip had suddenly taken on a new perspective. Sure it was still inconvenient. But why was I sending my boys to Jewish Day School if I wasn’t going to support the important and thoughtful lessons they were learning? I agreed to the bargain, delayed my dinner date and handed Levi a 20 dollar bill.

About an hour later, Levi called the Seder to order. He had set out bountiful platters of pomegranate seeds, nuts, dates and olives. There were avocados and plums, fruits with inedible peels, seeded berries, pitted fruits, and a few Fig Newtons to stand in for wheat, barley and figs. I was taken aback by the beauty and effort involved in creating this meaningful display.

Then Levi taught me about Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees. He explained the significance of eating each of the food items he’d prepared and told me stories of what the holiday meant spiritually as well as literally and religiously. I have to say I was in awe of his expertise and the facility with which he handled the information. We sat together for nearly an hour, me listening to him, reciting prayers, and even asking follow up questions to gain better understanding of his teachings.

It was an unusual opportunity for me to take off my parental hat and see my son for the bright, thoughtful and passionate person he’s becoming. It is truly an honor to be able to step back and appreciate your child for who he is and what he believes in and cares about.

Sure, we’ll still fight about his forgetting to put his dishes in the dishwasher, and his failing to put away his folded laundry as promised. But in between those minor altercations, I’ll try to remember just how amazing this strong, independent young man is, and how grateful I am for all that he brings to our lives.

Happy New Year, trees!

Magic or madness; the choice is up to you

“What are you thankful for?” My mother-in-law asked as we sat down to our sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. This being one of our family’s annual traditions, I was excited to hear what my two sons had to say about gratitude. My little one led off with a short but sweet account of being grateful for family and friends, and not surprisingly added a thankful shout out to the NFL and NCAA football associations.

A few other guests shared their tales of gratefulness which led to my older son, Levi’s, turn at bat. “I’m grateful for everyone at this table and everything on this table,” he managed to slur out in between massive mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. Now, normally, that might be enough of an answer for an 11 year old boy. But this seemed oddly abrupt for my theatrically inclined, loquacious eldest son who has never missed an opportunity to speak in front of an attentive crowd.

I didn’t worry too much about it though and followed carefully as the rest of the guests offered up gratefulness for family, health, friendship, children, spouses, love, and all the other usual suspects. Then came my eldest nephew’s chance to speak. This kid’s like a 17 year old rock star; bright, athletic, popular, funny. He’s got it all. He gave a thoughtful speech about his parents, teachers and clergy keeping him grounded and on track and thanked his younger sister for being his best friend and ardent supporter through thick and thin. But he didn’t stop there. He spoke for another 7 or 8 minutes thanking mentors, friends he’d grown up with and even his two young cousins which put a smile on both my boys’ faces.

With everyone’s gratitude out of the way, we went back to eating and resumed our regularly scheduled conversations. Suddenly, my eldest son announced that he had much more to add to his earlier remarks on thankfulness. He stood up, called for attention and explained that he had been unusually brief before due to excessive hunger. Now that he’d already snarfed several servings of all of his favorite Thanksgiving delights, he was ready to begin his gratitude homily.

He then went on to…go on…and on…and on, about all the things for which he was thankful. Everyone smiled and cooed at his lengthy, detailed list that seemed to last an eternity. Finally, I gave him the “wrap it up” gesture along with a slightly irritated eye ball bulge that said, “Alright already. It’s enough!” He took the cue, just before I had to pull him away from the table with a large, old fashioned crook handled cane.

Not at all dismayed, my son turned tail and headed back to the buffet for yet another heaping serving of holiday treats. By the time dessert rolled around, he was moaning in tummy distention in one of the guest bedrooms. When we finally packed up the leftovers and headed home, his gratefulness centered solely on being able to unbutton his now too tight trousers and know that soon he and his bloated belly would be happily tucked into bed to sleep off his Thanksgiving binge.

This morning I found him cheerfully chowing on some of his leftover faves without even a hint of remorse about last night’s overindulgence. “Can we go to the mall today?” he asked expectantly as I sleepily emerged from my bedroom. “Are you insane?” I retorted. “It’s Black Friday. Do you not remember the chaos from last year?” And that’s when I realized that being a kid means you get to forget all the bad stuff, like over-eating, tummy aches and aggressive shopping crowds. I tried to remember when exactly my view of “holiday magic” got replaced with “holiday madness.” Whenever it was, maybe I need to try harder to remember the good stuff and not get so focused on what’s wrong with this time of year.

Funny how putting your attention on gratitude can refocus your view of the world. Well, onward we go. We’re off to the mall to spend money we don’t have on things nobody needs in stores full of hostile shoppers. Sounds fun, don’t ya think?

Turkey sex

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I heard this interview on NPR the other day with Stephen Dubner, the author of Freakonomics, and I just can’t get it out of my mind. He asked Kai Ryssdal what percentage of the 40 million Thanksgiving turkeys Americans will eat this year are products of artificial insemination. Ryssdal made a few guesses and then Dubner amazed him with the answer; 100%.

Although I didn’t quite understand why, I found that factoid moderately disturbing. Then, Dubner went on to explain why our friendly fowl aren’t doing it anymore these day. This put me over the edge.

As is usually the case with sex, it’s all about appetite. Only in this case, it’s more about human appetite than turkey hunger. You see, Americans have an overwhelming preference for breast meat. (I’ll leave you to unravel the psychology behind that.) So to meet the demand for that most sumptuous body part, the turkey industry turned their backs on traditional turkeys in favor of breeding the broad-breasted white turkey which has been selectively bred to have the largest breasts possible.

The caveat to messing with mother nature, however, is that sometimes there are serious repercussions. According to this chick from the USDA, the turkey breasts are now so large that they actually get in the way and make old-fashioned turkey sex impossible.

Isn’t that…ironic…and…weird? So to satisfy our appetites for breast meat, we’ve done away with turkey coitus. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right to me.

I was explaining this to my dancer friend the other night and she said it sounded a lot like what happened in her burlesque dance class this week. For anyone who doesn’t know, Burlesque is a form of dance designed to allure and tease men sexually. She usually draws a big crowd on Wednesday nights. But this week a couple of the regulars were missing. When she inquired as to their whereabouts, she learned that one of the women couldn’t dance for a few weeks due to breast enhancement surgery. The other was out because she had had to schedule her quarterly Botox treatment that day. (Apparently, you cannot dance the same day you inject.)

At first I didn’t make the connection. But after a moment, I realized how frightfully similar these human behaviors were to our abstinent avians. The truth is, we spend so much time trying to force our bodies to look sexually appealing that we skip the act that might really lead us to sexual fulfillment. The women in the dance class spent time, energy and wads of cash to look alluring in order to attract romantic (or sexual) partners.

The turkeys were being designed with ever-increasing sexual organs, only to be unable to actually follow through with the act. The only difference I can see here is that, unlike the turkeys, the women actually chose their bodily disfigurement. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not slamming anyone for choosing cosmetic surgery. I’m just pointing out that there’s often a price to pay for messing with what nature gave us.

So think twice before ingesting that hormone bloated turkey breast this Thanksgiving. Maybe a good ol’ drumstick will do the trick instead.