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.

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.

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

They're real and they're spectacular!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.