Monday, November 26, 2012

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mommy

My parents put the breaks on my teenage plans to join the IDF long before my college admission letters arrived; and on the whole, I think it was probably a wise move on their part.

But there have been many times throughout the years when I wish I had put up more of a fight. Being a parent myself, I realize why they didn’t want to send their ludicrously American teenage daughter to Gaza (“There are no malls in the army,” was how my dad ended the discussion).

Still, there is no doubt I would have learned skills in the Israeli Army that my journalism professors never imparted: How to face an unpredictable and relentless adversary. How to coax a hostile into compliance. How to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles while sleep- and food-deprived.

How, basically, to function like a normal human being in the presence of a toddler.

When a friend whose son is around Ozzy’s age recently confided that she hadn’t showered that day, I realized that I hadn’t either. Nor the day before. If she hadn’t made the remark, it’s possible I would have gone a week before remembering that that funny stall in my bathroom was meant for more than hosing “accidents” out of tiny pants.

A few weeks of basic training, and I’m sure I would handle my second go at motherhood calmly, wisely and hygienically. Instead, I’m being undone.

After weeks of struggle, Ozzy finally slept through the night – a feat I celebrated by blinking angrily at the ceiling, having being jolted awake out of habit. That wouldn’t happen in Gadna.

And then there’s my ability to speak. Were I able to retrieve enough language from my depleted noodle to actually form sentences, I wouldn’t know how to relate them.

Last year, when Ozzy was new and quiet, I counted on school pickup as the social highlight of my day. We moms crowded the hall, sharing news and gossip as we waited for our then-first-graders to emerge from class.

These days when I talk, I sound like I’m shouting radio commands in the middle of a battlefield. “Hotel! India! That’s a nice sweater. Do you copy?”

“Mayrav, I have to tell you this funny story,” Alisa said, approaching me in the hall.

“Hi. Yeah. Hang on,” I said, darting after Ozzy who had managed to dash inside an elevator and push the alarm button. “Ozzy, come here. We’re going to see Alisa. No, don’t stick your fingers there, Ozzy, that’s an electrical socket. Come here. Alisa wants to tell us something. Baby, we’re not climbing the stairs. Ozzy, get off the stairs. I can’t believe how quickly you just climbed that flight of stairs! Ozzy! Come back here. Ozzy!”

That was September. I still haven’t heard the story.

One day, my kids might want to enlist in the IDF. I don’t know how I’ll feel about them going, but I still think about it for myself.

If for nothing else than the peace and quiet.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Jewish Woman's View Straight Marriage, Gay Marriage and Blood Oranges

Are gay weddings destroying the institution of marriage?

Let’s hope so.

A few months ago the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly voted to approve two ceremonies for same-sex marriage that removes sexist language from the wedding liturgy, allows both parties to pursue divorce and lays out egalitarian rights and customs to both spouses.

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight. This is a column about heterosexual women in the context of marriage, not about whether gay marriage is right or wrong.

I understand that many readers may be opposed to allowing two adults to consecrate their love and declare themselves a family before their community and before God. Everyone has a right to be against whatever they want. I, for instance, am against blood oranges. Blood oranges creep me out. If there were a statewide proposition to ban blood oranges, I’d totally vote for that ban. Blood oranges are an abomination. Wait. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Women.

So, for something like 5 millennia (give or take), women have been treated as property. Even today, in the Conservative and Orthodox movements, men “acquire” their brides in the kiddushin, that part of the wedding where the man puts the ring on the woman’s finger and says, “You are consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”

What the Conservative rabbis did in creating a new liturgy for gay marriage is do away with the kiddushin. Instead of one party acquiring the other, both parties declare that they are acquiring the partnership itself. It’s a lovely image, and one that really, really should be offered to straight couples. Particularly straight couples that do not consider brides to be property, chattel or slaves.

Unfortunately, the ruling on the new liturgy includes an urging for straight couples to avoid using the ceremonies for themselves. The rabbis concede that it might be tempting to ditch centuries of sexist language, unequal footing and unfair divorce practices that leave women chained to jerks who refuse to grant them a divorce, or get.

But, they beg us women to respect the ancient traditions. Respect. Respect… the word rings a bell, but I can’t quite place it. Oh, yeah! Respect is that thing where people treat each other as equals and in no way try to dominate or control the other, right?

Yes, I agree! The ancient rituals of marriage could use a healthy dose of respect. Great idea. So today I raise my champagne flute in a toast to the new ruling on gay wedding liturgy and the hope that it can bring about real and lasting change for women’s rights in heterosexual marriage, too.

As for blood oranges, they can rot for all I care. If God wanted oranges to bleed, he wouldn’t have hit the Eastern Seaboard with all those storms. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!

Today, Hubby and I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. He doesn’t know this – and please don’t tell him – but he doesn’t have to get me anything because a few months ago he got me the best present money can buy: A Thermos.

To the untrained eye, a Thermos is drinking vessel that keeps cold beverages cold and hot beverages hot. Not exactly the kind of sexy stuff bodice-rippers are made of. With its built-in condensation control, not even the container sweats. But that Thermos stirs my loins.

The Talmud has a lot to say on marriage, most of which comes down to kavod, or honor. Spouses are supposed to honor each other more than they do themselves. What the Talmud does not say is that kavod comes in a host of 16-, 20- and 34-ounce, vacuum sealed lightweight aluminum varieties.

Ozzy is so underweight that he has fallen off his growth chart. Twice. So feeding our toddler has become a source of stress for me. As a result, I schlep around cooked food, snack food, jars, pouches, spoons, bottles and sippy cups wherever I go. My diaper bag weighs twice as much as my baby.

Milk is a bit harder to pack. I’ve tried insulated lunchboxes, but usually I find myself having to buy ridiculously overpriced milk at whatever Starbucks or gas station convenience store I happen to be near when Ozzy’s bottle runs dry. It’s a pain, but it’s not a pain I ever complained about. It’s not even a pain I ever identified to myself as a pain.

So a few months ago, when Hubby shuffled into the kitchen proffering a sleek, metal tube, my eyes welled up with tears.

He thought about me. Really thought about me. About what my day is like. What concerns me. What I’m doing at any given moment.

He identified an inconvenience, realized it could be remedied and quietly, unassumingly fixed a problem I didn’t even know I had.

The other day, when meditating on my sweet Thermos, I started laughing out loud. Hubby is such a huge Steve Martin fan, I realized he must certainly have sung Steve Martin’s little song from The Jerk while scrolling Amazon for Thermos ratings:  “I’m picking out a Thermos for you. Not an ordinary Thermos for you!”

(I have never understood how Bernadette Peters could walk out on him after hearing a song like that!)

There have been times in our 15 years that I have felt underappreciated, of course. Times when we have both felt misunderstood. But what that Thermos brought into stark focus for me is how much kavod there is between us, how much honor there still is.

I now never leave home without my Thermos. Ozzy has a ready supply of (amazingly, wonderfully) cold milk whenever he wants it. And I have a reminder of how (surprisingly, sincerely) thoughtful my husband can me.

The traditional gift for a 15th wedding anniversary is crystal, but you can’t keep your Waterford.

I’m happy with my Thermos.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Thoughts On Israel

New Yorkers boycotting Israeli products. People with Jewish surnames throwing around the word “apartheid.” Jewish journalist Peter Beinart blaming Israel for its woes.

As my Jewish studies professor said of Sholem Aleichem’s philosophy, “Whatever they do to us, we can do to ourselves – but worse!”

I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that Israel is always right – or that we should never criticize the Jewish state. But the world is filled with people who jump at every opportunity to demonize the Jewish state – not to mention the Jewish people (See: United Nations). Trust me, the screaming lynch mob doesn’t need the addition of our voices.

We need to remember that we are the children of Israel. Your mom’s not always right, but you wouldn’t throw her under a bus, would you?

In reviewing Peter Beinart’s book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” Rabbi David Wolpe disagrees with Beinart’s assertion that the world takes Israel to task, not out of anti-Semitism, but from an anti-Western sentiment: “Were the British not Western when they used brutal methods to undermine the Irish Republican Army? Never mind the Middle East or Africa. And where was the repeated worldwide condemnation for the brutality of Latin American dictatorships, or the Russians when they obliterated Chechnya? Why did none of these regimes merit the constant, unrelenting pounding condemnation of the world? If you don’t see the specter of anti-Semitism it is not because of its absence. It is because you are either not looking or you refuse to see it.”

Conversely, if you don’t see a compelling need to speak up on behalf of Israel in the face of so much hostility and vitriol, you are either self-loathing or exceedingly dim.

This past Yom Ha’atzmaut I kept thinking about the early days of Zev’s life. He spent a month in neonatal intensive care, sharing a floor with newborns who needed periodic X-rays. Because these babies were too fragile to be wheeled down to radiology, mobile X-ray machines were brought up to the NICU. Before each X-ray, a technician would urge the adults in the room to leave to avoid radiation exposure.

This sounded insane to me. Not only did I stay in the room, but I stood between the X-ray machine and my newborn. Other parents left. I don’t judge them, but I can’t say that I understand them. Every decision I had made in my life – every sacrifice my ancestors had ever made – led to the birth of this beautiful baby boy. I was going to absorb whatever radiation I could to spare his precious little body.

Similarly, I may take a few hits from my friends for my views, but I if someone wants to throw ugly words at Israel, they have to go through me first. As Jews, Israel is not just our past, but our future. When we lose sight of that, we leave the future of our people exposed, vulnerable to an atmosphere more toxic and lethal than any X-ray machine could create.

I am hopeful, though, that those Jews screaming hateful words at Israel will eventually come around. It’s in our DNA to protect our own: The first time I stood in front of Zev’s crib during an X-ray it took me a few seconds to realize it, but right behind me, between my back and the X-ray machine, stood my mother. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mommy Envy

When Zev became a big brother six months ago, I expected there to be some jealousy issues. I didn’t expect those jealousy issues to be mine.

The assumption is that when a baby arrives in a household, the former “only child” feels dethroned and envious. I proudly report to everyone who asks, that Zev is handling his big brotherness beautifully. He adores Oz, reads to him, draws pictures of him. When Oz does some new baby trick, Zev brags to everyone from his teachers to the supermarket cashier.

He even does a great job if sensing when the baby needs my full attention. When I’m nursing, soothing or putting Oz to bed, he is careful to give me a wide berth. And that’s the problem.

Zev has gotten so good at giving me space that I feel as though a whole solar system has grown between us. My husband says I’m crazy to think this, that I’m the center of Zev’s universe. But I know better.

“When is Abba coming home?” Zev asks, looking at the clock as though it will conjure his father faster.

“The same time he always does,” I say. “Are you enjoying your double-scoop of ice cream with three toppings?”

“Yeah,” he allows. “Can I get into my Ninja costume so when Abba comes home I can sneak up and attack him?”

“You could,” I say. “Or you can hang out with me, and we can bake cookies and draw pictures and read a little.”

There is a pause as he considers his options.

“I know! What if I dress up like a spy and set up a booby trap for him instead?”

For about four months I tried to shake off the feeling that I’m a third wheel. Sure, I don’t play video games or know all the members of the Justice League, but I’m still fun. Zev still thinks I’m fun! Right?

Then one morning I stumbled into the kitchen after a sleepless night to find Zev engaged in an animated discussion with his dad about Inspector Gadget. I waited for him to say “Good morning.” When he didn’t, sleep deprivation and my own petty insecurities got the better of me. I snapped.

“You never even look up at me when I come into the room anymore!” I said to Zev. “It hurts my feelings!”

Yep. I directed an emotional outburst at a 6-year-old. I might as well have said, “You love him more than you love me,” before refusing to eat my peas.

Zev hugged me, and I apologized. Later, Hubby tried to remind me, again, that Zev still loves me very much, and the fact that I’m spending a lot of time with Oz does not change our older son’s feelings for me.

The truth is, my role has diminished. I look at how dependent upon me Oz is – I’m not only his primary comforter and protector, I’m his sole food source! – and I realize that Zev needs me less every day. While it’s silly for me to feel jealous, I know the slight distance I’m feeling now is just a glimpse of a much bigger separation to come.

No less an authority than the Torah prepares us for this. All through the Bible are stories of children leaving their parents to strike out on their own. These stories are meant to be inspirational. To remind us that we shouldn’t feel threatened by the natural development of our children.

Eventually, Zev will engage the world on his own. He’ll succeed and fail outside my peripheral vision. He’ll make some friends I may never meet.

I should take comfort in knowing that his growing independence is part of the circle of life. After all, if I hadn’t grown up, there would be no Zev. From here on out, I will try to not be jealous. I will embrace Zev’s growth. As Genesis tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave onto his wife.”

I hate her already.