Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Pintele Yid

My parents weren't very into Judaism while I was growing up. Because of the Holocaust, because of seeing things during the war that they felt were incompatible with the existence of any God, none of that was part of the Jewishness I grew up with. Food was, Yiddish was, and, of course, the Holocaust was. As a matter of fact, instead of my parents picking between Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Orthodox Judaism, they simply made up their own denomination: Holocaust Judaism. Our worship consisted mainly of repeating over and over again all of the horrors our parents lived through during the war, until we all ran shrieking from the house into the arms of non-Jewish spouses.

But I had a longing for more. I had a pintele yid - a little Jewish spark inside me.

In 1989, I got divorced from my first husband. There were a lot of reasons for this but they can be boiled down to the most important one: I was dying inside my marriage. That's all. My pintele yid reared its head hopefully. Could the little Jew come out again? I didn't know anyone in the Jewish community, I hadn't been to a synagogue in years - I'd been hiding in fact, believing I didn't belong. But I also believed one thing absolutely: if I had to start all over again I was going to get exactly the life I wanted.

This past Sunday was the Israel Independence Day Fair in Phoenix. Husband and I went and walked among all the tables and booths and I saw what my pintele yid and I had built in the twenty-one years since my divorce, and in the seventeen years since my second marriage.

I wasn't alone anymore; that little Jew inside of me has nothing to hanker for. My synagogue, my Rabbi, my kids' Preschool teachers, their Jewish Day School teachers and staff, their camp, my chavurah friends, the moms and dads I've met, the charities with which we've been involved, and so much more. A rich life. A life that at one time eluded me. From Holocaust Judaism back to Judaism, one step at a time.

The life I dreamed of the day I watched my ex-husband drive away, his car loaded with his belongings.

Did you ever have to start over? After a move, in college, as an adult? Did you ever have to start with nothing but your belief in a different life?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scaled Down

I had to go to a few doctor appointments lately. Besides the time involved, the eye-crossing impossibility of fitting something in a schedule already stretched tight, there was one other problem: the weigh in.

How can I express how very much I hate to be weighed at a doctor's office? Or, let's be plain about this, how much I hate to be weighed at all?

Scales and I go way back, to when I first got my weight problem at age fifteen. That's when I first began perfecting my scale shenanigans. The first thing I did was I always adjusted the scale at home to be a few pounds under zero. I don't remember exactly why I started doing this but I do remember that there was  some complicated math involved which took into account the times that scale had been wrong before and the difference between a hard surface weigh-in or a carpet weigh-in. In other words, just like forty is the new thirty, in my house, negative three was the new zero.

Then there was the weigh-in itself. Naked from my shower, and on twinkle toes, I approached the scale with extreme caution, like maybe it was a grenade. Near-sighted, I would get close to it to inspect for the proper negative three setting. Then, all being in order, I would flutter up onto it, first one foot and then the other, looking down - nearly blind - and ready to make a quick getaway once I saw even a glimmering of an acceptable number, even if the scale was on its way to a different one. Then I fluttered off.

I didn't have a love/hate relationship with the scale, it was pure hate/hate.

Finally, my husband put an end to my agony. One time, during a garage sale, he snuck our scale outside and sold it. Now I only get weighed at doctors' offices, whether it's once every six months or twice in one week.

So how do I prepare for a doctor appointment? Do I carefully gather all my questions about my illness? Do I gather all my available medical records and x-rays?

No, I stand in my closet and I carefully examine my wardrobe to see what I can wear that is the lightest weight. I mull over whether it would look weird to wear cotton shorts in the winter? Do I own any gauze? Can I wear a negligee? I consider it quite a milestone that I'm willing to wear clothes at all. In the elevator going up to the doctor's office I surreptitiously slip off my watch and wedding rings. My poor doctor thinks I've been divorced for years.

At the scale, the same thing always happens. The heartless nurse marches me over to the thing like a prisoner. She seems surprised by the delay as I slip off my shoes. Does she actually expect me to accept a hit of a pound or two for shoes? Then, while I literally stop breathing, she starts playing with the weights, a little up, a little down, sliding here and there. Finally it stops. I look. It's okay. Still, next time I'm closing my eyes. 

What kind of games do you play with your scale? Are you the type who hops on and off ten times a day or not at all? Do you hate being weighed at a doctor's office? Do you ever try to wear lightweight clothing?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 'F' Word: Football

Today was the NFL Draft. I mention this not because I care, or for some reason I actually watched it, but because it means that football is coming. It's unavoidable, marching inexorably closer and closer to me with each passing day. The first sign? The NFL Draft. Then sometime in the middle of innocently enjoying the one hundred fifteen degree days of my Arizona summer, a TV set will suddenly flick on and that'll be it. Pre-season looping into the regular season and the endless fascination around here with All Things Football.

Husband has something else to be especially gleeful about this year: high school football. Bar Mitzvahzilla is already training to be a punter for the high school team.

Since somehow, even though he's still in eighth grade, Bar Mitzvahzilla is already in a "kicking clinic," I had to take him shopping to buy some football cleats. Of course, I wanted him to just use his soccer cleats and call it a day, but it turns out that's unthinkable. There are actually very specific, different, cleats for Baseball, Soccer, and Football, and they're differentiated by something elusive in the pointiness and spacing of the spikes. What do I know? I was a hippie in high school.

Here's something else I learned: when the male Sales Associates at Sports Authority found out that Bar Mitzvahzilla would be playing high school football, they all got starry-eyed. You would've thought Bar Mitzvahzilla was Joe Montana. Here's my son, the computer game addict, the ten-year-old in a teenager's body, being fawned over by these grown men. My son as an object of adoration, and for something he hasn't even done yet. And for something that has a bit more to do with brawn than brains. The hippie inside me cringed.

So there will be no peace for me. Football on TV day and night and actual live football games requiring the attendance of a real flesh and blood mother - an enthusiastic mother - on the other days.

How's your sports enthusiasm? Do you watch the NFL Draft? Have you ever watched your child get admired for something and realized how completely separate he/she is from you as they're growing up?  What was your "label" in high school?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Roommates of Doom

Did you ever have a roommate who drove you nuts?

When I went to college, I went through seven roommates my freshman year. This wasn't all my fault. In the prison block of my first college dormitory, we were assigned to four-person, two-bunkbedded rooms, one bunkbed on each side of the room, a bank of four closets in the middle, and a strip of four built-in desks on the opposite wall. With that many people in a room the minute I switched rooms once I automatically had six roommates. Then the minute one those subsequent roommates switched I was at seven. It was hard not to take this personally.

After all, I had roommates who bordered on evil, some who were criminal, and some who were just plain loony.  There was one who switched bunks with me while I was away for the weekend, though just to creep me out she placed my artwork upside down next to my new bunk. Eventually, when I went away again, she moved me out into another room. I had a roommate who used to wake up our entire room with blasting Gospel exhortations to accept Jesus or burn. Every night for dinner she ate dry ramen, crunching it silently at her desk. I tried to explain to her that you were supposed to cook it, and offered her the use of my hot pot, but she just looked at me silently and kept crunching. I had a spoiled roommate who was so rich that hundred-dollar bills used to fall out of the Calvin Klein jeans she left strewn all over the floor of the room, all while I was subsisting on knock-off cans of corn. I had trampy roommates, virginal roommates, and, later, I had some roommates who were fascinated by my houseplants and plant light, so much so that they then bought their own plant light and started a pot farm in their room.

So I had some bad roommates. But I'm starting to wonder if these roommates, my children, are the worst roommates I've ever had. 

My husband and I walk in the kitchen one evening. The cabinets are flung open, measuring spoons out, microwave door wide, wrappers on the counter. I think, Where are the kids? Are they okay? Because, of course, based on the condition of the house, I think there's been a burglar in there.

But no. They both simply made some fudgy thing that had to be microwaved and needed a measuring spoon to do it, and they had to unwrap some packaging. And they're just that bad of roommates that they grab what they need and simply drop the rest of the stuff where ever they are. Lift a finger to throw the wrapper in the garbage can? No, of course not. Swing an arm to shut the cabinet door? Lift a hand to put away the measuring spoons? C'mon.

When I look at these roommates of mine - the fourteen-year-old and the ten-year-old - I feel a little hopeless. The fact that they can make a mess and then sit in it - what does this say for their future? The fact that somehow, unlike my other roommates, all their actions not only reflect on me but have to be fixed by me, this is bad.

But so far one thing to be grateful for: no pot farm.

Did you ever have a bad roommate? Did you ever have a really great one? Did you live in a prison cell dorm at college like I did? What kind of "roommates" are your kids?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Past Tense, Present Tense

My mother and father, wedding day 1951

Once upon a time I was a fifteen-year-old with no father. This had happened very suddenly. Like as suddenly as a heart attack, mainly because it was a heart attack. My father was alive one second and dead the next.

When I was a kid and I first realized that there was such a thing called death, the first thing I thought was that I couldn't bear to lose my parents. I knew my grandparents would die one day because they seemed very old to my young eyes, but not my parents. It was absolutely beyond my imagination that my parents would someday not be there. It was something best not thought of. So even though my father had had a minor heart attack before we moved to Arizona from Chicago, I never dwelled on his mortality. He was strong like an ox, he was stubborn like an ox. The word "ox" came up a lot when discussing my father. And yet, he was gone.

At fifteen I looked around and I saw that I was pretty much alone in this strange new world of half-orphans. Everyone else my age had fathers. No one else had to redo the way they spoke, to eliminate the word "parents" from their vocabulary and replace it with the word "mother." No one else had to start using past tense when speaking of their dad.

And now it's just the opposite. The years have passed. The language has changed. When you're fifty, everyone speaks of their parents in past tense because almost no one has a parent. If we meet up at a reunion it's never, "How are your parents?" There's more gingerly touching upon the subject, a more careful question: "Do you still have your parents?"

And suddenly, the exact opposite of myself at fifteen, at fifty I'm overcome by my abundance. Somehow, I still have a mother. I'm one of the few who doesn't have to mark her life by the days she lost one parent and then the other. Beyond all reason, all my doubts, all my fears, there she is, alive at nearly eighty.

So even though there's something a little quieter about her now, and something slowing down, and something that's definitely leaving, I think of that fifteen-year-old who thought she was so unlucky, and I think of this fifty-year-old who is so lucky, really. Because eighty is good. If she almost got killed at age twelve while running from Nazis in the forest of Belarus and instead of dying she's almost eighty, that's good.

Do you remember realizing your parents were mortal when you were a kid? How distressing was that? Was there ever a time when you had to change the way you spoke about your family, due to divorce or death, at an awkward time?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Purse of Shame

Well, I've really been dragging my feet ever since Maria of Mother of Three Seeks Sanity tagged me on What's In Your Bag. I guess I didn't want to admit that I'm stupid enough to carry a purse that costs as much as a small Caribbean island. Nor did I want to admit that I'm stupid enough to carry a purse that one of my children could actually hop inside if they need to, but that by itself can easily dislocate my shoulder. But here I am, finally, shame-faced, with my purse, the Louis Vuitton Galleria Bag, which I love.

I think I've written before about my little teensy, weensy shopaholic problem, right? Also, about how, being raised by the Holocaust Survivor immigrants, who wouldn't pay for anything but food or shelter, I then ended up, after my dad's death, a member of probably the only Jewish family in Scottsdale receiving food stamps?  These things have quite an impact on the heart of a girl. Once I had a little bit of money, I always had a decent purse, and a matching wallet and planner. And eyeglass case. And key chain. And then another purse when I got sick of the first purse. (About this time, people start feeling really sorry for Husband. I know.) 

Now for the inside. Here's what came out when I dumped it:

Really. This is the purse you don't go into without a flashlight. The purse you venture near in fear of coming out alive. Will your hand get bitten off by an animal that crawled in by mistake and has now built a nest in its interior? Could there be a family of vagrants in there? Can it double as a flotation device? Or is it like Mary Poppins' purse - will I one day pull out a lamp from there?

Anyway, that's the accumulated paper from several weeks of lists I lost (there they are!) and receipts for restaurants or returns or whatever shopaholics do when they're avoiding writing.

Then I cleaned up all the garbage and came up with this:

1) Yes, not only am I big enough idiot to spend top dollar for a Louis Vuitton purse, but I've also spent top dollar for the matching accessories - wallet, checkbook, eyeglass case and keychain (and agenda - not shown)- but, hey, I only had to buy them once. You should have seen me when I carried Dooney & Bourke back in the duck days - I had to buy everything in each color.

2) Two Jazzercise membership cards for my two locations. 

3) My little pal, the BlackBerry, which has enslaved me to its blinking light.

4) My mini Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous because I'm a twelve-stepper for my weight. Obviously not a twelve-stepper for my shopping yet! One addiction at a time, right?

5) Weight Watchers Point Calculator because even in my program you have to have a food plan and mine is WW points and has been for 10 years.

6) Lactase for lactose intolerance in clear containeer, inhaler for asthma, some headache pills in blue container for husband. (I know, he should carry his own purse.)

7) Floss sticks, lipstick, mirror, hair ties, tissues and manicure kit. None of which I can ever find.

8) Husband's reading glasses (should I get him his own Louis Vuitton eyeglass case?)

9) Back up house and car keys because I'm stupid enough to have locked myself out of my house before but neurotic enough to immediately be able to whip out the backup keys and get back in.

10) Missing: my notebook. I wrote down a great idea for a story, brought it into my office and forgot to put it back.

Also missing: all of our money.

I'll pass the fun (and humiliation) along to these friends:

BLW from Big Little Wolf's Daily Plate of Crazy (tell me your bag's French, Wolfie!), and to
Ellen at Weighting Around

Are you a "purse person?" Do you need everything to match? Do you spend too much on one particular item in your wardrobe and then nearly nothing on the rest? What's hiding in your bag?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Essential Yiddish: Part One

I grew up with Yiddish-speaking parents. Of course, both of them were born in Eastern Europe so that makes sense. While they each spoke about five languages, Yiddish was the language they spoke to each other and, although the oldest sisters were fluent in Yiddish, they lost it when they started school. By the time sister number seven was born, my parents were forced to speak to their Yiddish-illiterate children in one language only: English. 

They tried to speak Yiddish to me but, as the number six child, you can bet I wasn't listening. As a American child of the 1960s, Yiddish was somewhat of an embarassment to me. I looked on it with some hostility since it was always used to keep secrets from me and because it was used for the incessant chattering of a billion uninteresting grown up conversations.

Of course, I changed my mind later. Too late. Long after my brain had frozen onto English and I only knew Yiddish adjectives and exclamations. But those Yiddish adjectives and exclamations color my world. I can't live without them. I teach them to my children and to my Amerikanish Jewish husband (his family? No Yiddish). And today, I teach it to you. Well, a first lesson, anyway.

Five Yiddish words you can't live without.

1) Drek - Crap or substandard junk. You can eat something and pronounce it "drek," or you can buy something shoddily made and declare it "drek." Needless to say, this one comes in handy.

2) Goniff - The jerk who sold you the drek - literally, a thief. A person who steals you blind. A pronouncement on his soul for being a thieving liar.

3) Schlmozel - You for being a hopeless dupe who got swindled by the goniff who sold you drek.

4) Schpilkes - How you feel inside now with your guts churning after you were such a schlmozel for buying such drek from that goniff. [Shpill-kiss]

5) Meshuganah - Crazy, insane. How you feel when you think about the goniff who gave you such schpilkes when he sold you the drek and made you into such a schlmozel. [Mesh-u-gah-nah]

Feel free to use these words however they fit into your life. You can pepper your speech with them for a little color. You can throw them around when you're angry so no one will know what you're talking about. Or you can do what my mom did: you can teach your children these words and then mutter commentary on the people around you under your breath so that only your children know that you have a steady stream of Yiddish criticisms rolling off your tongue while you're beaming at the synagogue ladies. 

Does your family have any vestiges of an Old Country language it still uses? Any secret language? Will any of these words come in handy? Did your parents try to give you something you cast off but later appreciated?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Break, Spring Broken

It's kind of blurry, all the images are running together now, but I believe my kids last went to school on March 26th, a Friday. Then there was a weekend during which I cooked and cooked and then cooked some more, a Monday during which I cooked even more and then set our table, and then there were two Passover Seders. I remember a lot of matzoh. That was a long time ago already - a week. Why are the kids still off from school?

Every school on the planet started back up today after Spring Break. Except mine. My kids are off till Wednesday because their Spring Break is geared towards something different than Spring and more indistinct than Easter: it's geared towards Passover, which apparently will never end. 

After our seders there was a three-day trip to Tucson, then another weekend. Now it's Monday again. They don't return to school till Wednesday, April 7th. That's like a different month than when this thing started.

We haven't eaten bread this entire time, we've been eating matza, which, in my opinion, takes a bit of doctoring up to taste good. We've also had a couple close calls, like where Daughter had some food, let's say a crouton, on its way to her mouth, then halfway in her mouth, and I said, "Stop! It's bread!" and she pulled it out at the last second. Also, we have a loose definition of what bread is. It has to look like bread to be bread. Let's put it this way: we eat tortillas.

Today my kids announced that instead of my idea for explaining why they were the only kids off from school today at the places we went - that they were 4th and 8th grade drop outs - they decided to say that I was homeschooling them. I looked at them and two thoughts flashed through my mind: gratitude for all the wonderful teachers they've had and how very lucky Husband and I have been, and horror at the thought of me homeschooling them. Because that would be just my style, to homeschool my kids and take them shopping all day for a lesson in, um, "economics."

Here's one thing I've learned because of this Spring Break that won't end: because of spending so much quality, unstructured time with Bar Mitzvahzilla in this strange loop of time we're calling Spring Break, a harbinger of the summer to come, I've decided that what we need in the summer is a lot LESS time together. He really needs to go to summer school and football camp. It turns out that what will make Bar Mitzvahzilla unhappy is what will make Mommy happy - me minus one lurking ominous bad-tempered teenager.

Just one more day left. And then Spring Break will be broken.

Did you ever give up a food only to find it in your mouth by accident? Is spending too much time around the kids solidifying your summer camp plans? How was your Spring Break?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Graying at the Edges

I was sitting at my makeup mirror recently, the scene of all of my greatest torments, and I was just finishing up my hair, which is a very involved process. Right after I had blow-dried, straightened and then curled it into submission, I noticed some gray hair. I had to move my stylist appointment because of my kids' Spring Break this week and now, what do you know? Gray hair.

Do old habits die hard? I reached up my hand and was about to pull one that was making my eyes cross it was so long and scraggly and coming straight at me in the magnifying portion of the mirror, when I looked a little closer. I noticed that about 40% of my roots are gray. I recoiled like I had just missed getting hit by a train. I let my hand flutter back down to my side.

What was I thinking? Was I going to pull every single one of those gray hairs out of my head? Was I going to pluck myself bald?

For goodness sakes, these are not the good old days of finding one gray hair, pulling it out and then, five years later, finding another. That was fun. I know that, at my age, not to look like Albert Einstein with a crazy, electrified shock of white hair means I'm doing pretty well, but that doesn't mean I get to go on a rampage and pull them all out. Right?

I'm already in deep trouble with my hair stylist because right after I had my last cut I was unhappy with one little area on my head and decided to cut it myself. So I hacked a big piece off and left myself with a mullet on top.  There's no way she's not going to notice this since it's uneven and about eight inches shorter than the rest of my hair. So I'm already in enough trouble with her without yanking grays and ending up with tiny, scraggly gray hairs popping out of my scalp just in time for my next appointment - the second the kids get back to school.

So, I ignore it. I take a deep breath. I ignore the silvery flash in a line straight down the center of my head, like a skunk. And I walk away from the mirror.

Ever tempted to yank out all your gray hairs? Do you pull them or dye them? Or are you going gray naturally? Ever spontaneously cut your hair - badly? If you have a hair stylist do you get along or are you constantly switching stylists?