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.

Who peed in the vacuum cleaner?

Sure, you think you can trust Fido around your appliances...

Sure, you think you can trust Fido around your appliances…

Okay, I admit my life is far from boring. But every once in a while I would like something to be “normal” in my world. Well, I guess that wont be happening today.

So we got this really cute vacuum cleaner as a gift. (It’s a long story). It’s called a Bumble Bee and it’s a hot little yellow and black Miele canister vac. It worked great…the first time I used it. Then, about a week later, I went to use it again and it wouldn’t even turn on. I thought maybe it was the bag because these little vacuum bags fill pretty quickly. Of course I didn’t have any new bags so I had to order them from Amazon and wait two days…blah blah blah.

Cut to yesterday. I put in the new bag and the vacuum still doesn’t work. So I call Miele to see what’s up. They say it’s under warranty and send me to this vacuum repair shop on Scottsdale Road and Shea. I drop off the Bumble Bee this morning and wait to hear from Sean about what the problem is. Around 4:00 I notice that Sean has left a message. But when I retrieve the message I am literally dumbstruck.

I think he says on the message that my vacuum motor was destroyed by urine. I play the message again. Surely I misheard him. Urine? Nope. That is definitely what the man said. And surprisingly, urine is not covered under the warranty. It’ll run over $300 to fix this stupid sucking machine. I call back immediately. But Sean has left for the day. I am in a tizzy. How can my vacuum motor have been destroyed by urine? That is outrageously weird.

I ask my kids if either of them happened to have urinated on or near the vacuum cleaner. Both vehemently deny any urinary involvement. Now I am looking suspiciously at my dogs. I truly cannot envision a scenario in which this ridiculous situation makes any sense at all. My adult dogs haven’t peed in the house in years. Plus, how did the guy determine that it was urine? Did he send it to a lab? Do they have some kind of dip stick at the repair shop? Does this happen often? I mean, listening to the message, the guy sounds sort of ho hum, like “…oh, it’s urine…so the warranty isn’t going to cover the new motor.” Like this sort of thing happens on a daily basis.

I am dismayed and baffled at the same time. I call back the manufacturer and explain the strange diagnosis. A very nice young man, Danny, puts me on hold for a long time, I suspect he is trying to stop laughing and recompose himself. He tells me he will get to the bottom of this but it may take several days and serious supervisory involvement. He urges me to wait on the repair until I hear from him.

More to come as the saga unfolds…

Zillow be damned!

UnknownYou know how you just know certain things about your kids? Like, your daughter may be delightfully quirky, but she simply wasn’t born with the grace to end up as an Olympic figure skater? Or your son might be the next Jay Leno, but chances aren’t good that he’ll win a Nobel economics prize? We all make certain assumptions about our children based on the reality of who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. Take my eldest, Levi, for example. He’s unusually bright, brimming with kindness and one of the funniest 13 year old boys I’ve ever encountered. Barring some unexpected psychotic break in his early twenties, (God forbid a million times), I feel fairly confident claiming that he is not and never will be a stalker, terrorist or mass murderer. But we live in unthinkable times where kids aren’t allowed to keep score in flag football leagues, lockers have been outlawed at most middle schools and bringing a PB&J sandwich to school can get a kid expelled for attempted homicide.

So when the fill-in vice principal at my son’s middle school called me today, I was a bit taken aback. He gently introduced himself and I immediately went into panic mode. “Is everything alright? Is Levi okay?” I asked with a tone of terror in my voice. Clearly he hadn’t spoken to enough parents in his early tenure to know that one must always begin the unexpected parental phone call with the obligatory, “Hello Mrs. Gettleman, this is Mr. X from your son’s school and EVERYONE IS JUST FINE.”

Turns out he was calling because of my son’s inquisitive mind and untraditional interest in real estate. Apparently, Levi and his classmates were sharing home addresses on googlemaps and Levi, imbued with curiosity, checked out their living quarters on Zillow.com. I cannot tell you why my son is fascinated by Zillow. Perhaps it has something to do with his unusual interest in HGTV and the myriad of home-buying programs they air. While it doesn’t float my boat, he loves watching “Love it or List it,” “House Hunters International,” and he’s entered to win the 2014 “HGTV Dream Home” at least a thousand times this year. I’ll admit it’s not typical, but I’d hardly call it risky teen behavior.

But of course, what one sane parent sees as idiosyncratic and amusing, another parent might judge as dangerous and threatening to their offspring. So I sat, slack-jawed, as I listened to this man’s explanation that a parent had called with deep concern about my son’s “inappropriate” behavior. After I determined that this was not a crank call or a set-up for an upcoming episode of Punk’d, I spoke rather tentatively. “Um…have you met my son Levi? I can assure you he’s not stalking anyone or posing a risk to other students.”

“Well, I did get a chance to talk to him,” he said, “And I too determined that he is a really sweet kid who just didn’t realize that looking up other people’s addresses on Zillow is a breach of privacy.” A breach of privacy? Really? Like every geographic, economic and political piece of information about each of us isn’t part of today’s public internet database? You’ve got to be kidding me. My kid’s in hot water because he Zillowed another kid’s house?

Maybe I’ve lost all sense of reality. Maybe I really don’t understand how dangerous the world has become. Maybe finding out that a 7th grader knew our address, square footage and Zillow Home Value Index would actually freak me out enough to call the principal and complain. Or maybe…maybe…I’m a little less neurotic than the average parent today. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Shopping sickness

online-shopping-cartoon

I have to come clean. I have a real problem and I don’t know how to get over it. Some people do drugs. Others are addicted to exercise or prescription painkillers. Some people over-eat or under-eat or find themselves in abusive relationships. Let’s face it. Nobody gets through this life unscathed. “Everyone has a story,” someone once told me. I believe that to be true. And while some stories are epic sagas, others are more like comic-book narratives. Mine, on the other hand, resembles one of those Nordstrom catalogues that show up every few weeks in your snail mail box.

My problem is shopping. Not just “walk into a store, need a new pair of pumps” shopping. I’m talking about obsessive, on-line, “can’t go to sleep until I find whatever obscure item I’ve decidedly set my sights upon” shopping.

A few nights ago, I was up half the night in search of a vintage pair of men’s socks that I wanted to buy my husband for Father’s Day. Another night last week, I roamed through columns of ebay listings for the perfect dog collars for my two dogs. (I’d noticed shortly before bedtime that their collars looked a bit dingy.) Last night I researched mascara until 3am when I finally decided that the bags under my eyes were no match for my lashes, no matter how voluminous, dark and lustrous I could make them.

This is a sickness. I lie there in bed, i-pad in hand, and cannot make myself stop. Why am I doing this? It’s not that I’m spending huge amounts of money we don’t have. I buy piddly little crap like cell phone jacks from China or laundry detergent from Dusseldorf. (I’m really not kidding. It’s great detergent.) But once I start researching, I can’t stop myself. Be it the pinnacle of tooth brush refills or the epitome of hand-dyed wrapping paper, once my mind focuses on some kind of need, I become completely obsessed with researching and purchasing the item in question. I seriously know more about diy table cloth fabric than any respectable person ought to know.

And I know I’m not alone. Because I get HUNDREDS of email ads every five minutes. From “Rue-la-la” to “Beyond the Rack” to “Fab.com,” I could literally spend the next six months of my life trying to clear out my email box and delete every on-line solicitation to buy yet another elegant designer handbag for up to 70% off. No joke, I have 17,000 e-mails. And some of them I have to actually read. But I never get to them because every time I try to wade through the morass of e-mails I get side-tracked by yet another “Living Social” deal or “Groupon” ad.

I tried making a rule that no electronics could be brought into the bedroom. But technically that meant I couldn’t keep my husband’s LED alarm clock and he overslept and missed a few morning patients. He insisted that a blanket anti-electronic ban was unacceptable. I could just try to eliminate anything with the letter “i” but I’m pretty attached to my dog, Maggie (maybe I could change the spelling of her name) and I’d hate to rid myself of the chaise at the end of the bed.

No, there’s no way around this. I have to dig deep and find the willpower within to cut myself off from all electronic media post 9p.m. That’s it. No checking e-mail. No sleepy-time surfing. No “Words with Friends” to help soothe me to sleep. It’s just too dangerous. Clearly I cannot use these media responsibly.

Okay, I admit it. I am powerless over my addiction. Breathe. I am taking a fearless moral inventory of myself. Breathe. And I humbly ask a power greater than myself to remove the electronic clatter that clouds my psyche and keeps me from slumber. Breathe.

Is it okay to just concentrate on three steps instead of all twelve? It’s just that time is limited and they get kind of repetitive after a while. Besides, I only have a few minutes before the Disney necktie auction I’ve been following on ebay ends and I really need to get this Goofy tie for Mark for his birthday.

What’s in a name? Everything!

A “mini-pad,” really?

OK, so they pay some marketing group a boat load of cash to come up with a name like “iPad Mini?” Did they not think that people would shorthand it as “mini pad?” Which only leads me to ask what we should now call a regular sized iPad? That’s right. It’s a “Maxi pad.” I mean, seriously, nobody thought of that? Or else they did and were simply not deterred by the menstrual connection? Really?

Look, there are a host of poorly named products out there. There’s everything from Pee Cola to Barf laundry detergent. But most of the real doozies are from other countries and sound funny to us but really make sense in a different language. But for a company like Apple to just sort of miss this one seems like a colossal failure in the marketing research department.

The last product I remember with an equally bad name was the little chocolate chews my mom used to pop to help her stay slim. They were called “Ayds.” Remember them? Of course once the AIDS epidemic took center stage, the diet candies lost their appeal and left the marketplace.

I once found a guy in the phonebook named “Al Coholic.” No joke. I called him on the radio and asked him live, on-air, if he’d found it troublesome to go through life with a name like that. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. Like “Al Coholic” was just as vanilla a name as “John Smith,” which given Mr. Smith’s heroic notoriety, is sort of amusing since his name has come to stand for the epitome of unremarkable, trite and ordinary.

When we first were convinced that my youngest son, in utero, was going to be a girl, I thoughtfully presented the name option of “Leah” to my husband Mark. He just stared at me in disbelief. “Lay-a-Gettleman?” he quarried, “”That’s not a name, it’s a sentence.” I had to admit he had a point. I just hadn’t thought of it.

Which brings me back to the whole Kotex thing. I mean sure, people make mistakes. We’re all human. But when you’re a multi-billion dollar company, like Apple, you sort of expect more. Unless…maybe they’re going after that ever-so-elusive, older, female demographic. I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe they deliberately named their new device after an outdated feminine hygiene product to try and attract the gals who grew up using those “mini pads.” Now that is ingenious.

Expand the market share from dweebie, gen-y males to mature, married chicks, 54 plus. Hmmm???? Clever move. Boy those guys at Apple are ahead of the curve.

“Call” me crazy

Hello, mom? Have you lost your mind?

There’s a drama at our house and it revolves around an electronic device. Sound familiar? The only thing unusual about this particular drama is that it’s only occurring within the ravages of my mind.

You see, part of me thinks my 11 year old son, Levi, needs a cell phone. I mean he’s constantly using mine to talk to classmates about assignments and set up social arrangements. Frankly it’s a bit of a nuisance. But more importantly, he sometimes needs to call me from after school activities when schedules change or plans vary. It would be, well…convenient.

However, when I say “cell phone,” I’m actually talking about a device used to connect to people telephonically. No texting. No internet. No video capabilities. Just a simple, highly limited calling plan. In short, not the cell phone he would like to acquire.

I once floated the idea to him. When he heard that it wasn’t 4G or invented by Steve Jobs, he politely declined the offer, preferring instead to remain disconnected and untethered from such an utterly uncool parental figure. So the first part of my dilemma is that he has no interest whatsoever in obtaining a cell phone. We all know too well how items with no personal value are kept and maintained by 11 year old boys. This does not bode well for said cell phone.

The second issue is that no matter how vehemently a parent opposes the whole electronic invasion, eventually your will is eroded and you give in to things you never in a million years believed you’d give into. So I figure it’s only a matter of time before my son manages to coax an evil, spend-your-life-texting implement out of us. But the earlier we start the descent down that slippery slope, the sooner he’ll be lost to us in a sea of cyber-space. Putting off the inevitable, even for a year or two, gives us more time with him as a viable and meaningful member of our family. One could also argue that more time as a child, unencumbered by a device that teaches people to be 100% accessible to their peers, co-workers, and even enemies at any given moment, would serve to cultivate a more thoughtful and emotionally connected adult later on in life. So why start the journey earlier than absolutely necessary?

Hmmm…Sometimes clarity comes from simply seeing your issues in black and white. I think that is my experience today. As I reread this, I am convinced that, unless I am harboring some internally masochistic yearnings, I’d better hold off on the cell phone idea for a while. Maybe I’ll wait until…he’s driving, or legally drinking. Oh lord, I just hope he doesn’t combine those two things; especially while he’s texting.

I am a camera

Cable car cuddling: Don't we look sweet?

I’m sitting at my computer watching a slide show of photos of happy kids, untroubled parents and a family that clearly loves life, each other and having fun. Who are these people? They look an awful lot like my family. But there’s no way these happy-go-lucky folks are even remotely related to me, my exhausted husband, or my increasingly annoying two children.

Why can’t life be more like a photo montage? I mean, in all fairness, I took a lot of these pictures. I was actually present for each and every happy moment that’s parading before me on my computer screen. I can even remember most of the events without a great deal of prompting. I ought to feel as joyful and carefree as my celluloid image. But I don’t.

The mom in the photos is young, happy, and easy-going. I, in contrast, feel tired, ancient and about as close to breaking as an overstrung archery bow. I can’t even imagine my two sons sitting next to each other without trying to kill each other. And I’m not sure I can remember the last time I saw my husband smile. This is making me sad.

Maybe there’s some way to “fake it till you make it.” If I just pretend to be as happy as photo me, maybe I’ll somehow morph into her. Maybe if I act like her, my family will follow suit and my kids will burst out into peels of laughter instead of screeching furiously at one another. Maybe if I can just convince myself that she is me I can bring a sense of joy and ease back into our lives.

That seems kind of impossible from my current vantage point. Maybe I’ll just write a play about a writer who wills herself into her computer to relive all the happiness depicted in her iphoto albums. I bet that’d get old pretty quickly though. I mean, how many chilly San Francisco cable car rides would it take before even photo mom got bored?

No. I guess I’m stuck out here, being me, watching her, wondering how we all got so frustrated and disgruntled about life when it really is filled with so many opportunities to love and enjoy each other. Maybe I just need to realize that we do have joyful moments, mixed into the misery of 113 degree days, unending errands and piles of dirty laundry. Maybe it’s all about focus. When you take a picture you take a moment, you breathe, you stay still and snap, the perfect shot. Most of the time in life I forget to breathe, am running 150 miles per hour and never even look where I’m headed.

I am that woman in the photos. I just need to aim my eagle eye at the good things, the happy moments, the daily victories, and not to concentrate so hard on the tirades, the tantrums and the tragedies. It’s all about where you aim the camera, set the F-stop, and how you choose to compose each shot. Plus one can always add a little bit of flash to brighten up the image a bit. Remember, as Gentle Giant once sang, “I am a camera.”

Six word memoir

Who are you really, In six words or less?

Who are you really, In six words or less?

I was listening to NPR today and they promoted an upcoming segment on writing your own memoir — in six words. The minute I heard it I was hooked. Six words to tell the world who you were, what your life meant. Fascinating. Tricky. Impossible. I became obsessed. It’s like that game we used to play as kids; “If your house was burning down, what three things would you save?”

If you only had six words, who would you be? Can you hone a description of yourself to that fine a point? Without cliche? Without limiting all that you are?

I began to work:

So much laundry, need to write.

Write to live. Mother to love.

More than mom. Creator, artist, dreamer.

Watch stars. Play Clue. Want more.

Seeking balance — motherhood and self expression.

I asked a friend what his would be. He said, “I would have done it different.” That made me sad.

I kept working. Then I checked out the NPR transcript since I hadn’t even heard the show. Apparently the idea came from “Smith,” the online magazine. Based on the legend that Hemingway once responded to a challenge to write a complete story in six words with, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” They asked readers to tell their life stories in a single sentence. What resulted was a book,“Not Quite What I Was Planning,” by Smith founding editor, Larry Smith and his memoir editor, Rachel Fershleiser.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
- Robin Templeton

Watching quietly from every door frame.
- Nicole Resseguie

Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
- Alanna Schubach

Born in the desert, still thirsty.
- Georgene Nunn

Almost a victim of my family
- Chuck Sangster

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson

Then I went back to work on my own. Clearly being a mother was key to my self description. But so was being an artist, an independent creative being. I netted out with this:

“Deep loving mom, creating art to live.”

What would your six word memoir say?

Fried at “Fry’s”

Yesterday my eldest son, Levi, got electrocuted at

No, I don't want FRYs with that!

“Fry’s” Electronics. The irony of that is not wasted on me. It was truly a horrifying event. We sat down in these massage chairs and when they weren’t working, Levi went to check and see if they were plugged in. When he picked up the cord it exploded into flames, knocked him back about three feet and singed his hand badly. It was terrifying. He then became completely hysterical and I tried to comfort him while also barking out orders to nearby nitwit employees who just stood there staring at me.

He is fine, albeit a bit fearful of anything electronic. But the fact remains that this could have been a grave, irreparable tragedy. That’s the part I can’t get beyond. I’m haunted by the “what ifs.” What if the current had been stronger? What if the explosion had caught fire and spread. What if something truly terrible had happened to my son?

It’s funny. When bad things happen, I almost always realize how lucky I am. It’s that Jewish “imagine the worst” thing that guides my thoughts towards the worst possible scenario. Then I’m deeply grateful for whatever minor event has befallen me. But I can’t forget how quickly life can turn — forever. It can leave you shattered, alone, sick, lost, afraid; for no other reason than random chance, and there’s simply nothing you can do to control it.

I stood right next to my son as he innocently picked up a cord, an ordinary event that had an unexpected, extraordinary outcome. A friend of mine told me how her toddler daughter had fallen and broken her arm, twice, as she walked helplessly alongside. I remember countless times when minor accidents occurred under my watch and only through luck and good fortune amounted to only a few cuts and bruises.

It’s all very frightening. I want this realization to make me live more fully, embrace every moment, appreciate all that I have. Instead it makes me want to slip under the covers, barricade my front door, and turn out all the lights in the house like my lame neighbors on Halloween night. I want to keep my family safe, my boys alive and unscathed by life’s darts and daggers.

Today my car was broken into. The window was shattered and an expensive item was stolen. My first reaction? Relief. Thank God no one was in the car. Thank God my husband and kids were safe. Thank God no one was hurt. But maybe I’m too passive. Maybe I ought to be more proactive, see potential bad things around the corners before they appear. Maybe my “thank god it wasn’t worse” attitude is really just a manifestation of fear, helplessness and the reality of how truly ineffective I am in life.

Help, I think I’ve fallen into a philosophical minefield and I can’t get up.