A little bit of everything

Wow I am lucky — and so are my kids!

Disclaimer:  I know that my in-laws read my blog … In fact, they read almost everything I write.

Let me begin by describing this weekend – Amidan celebrated his birthday with the extended family while at the Jersey shore.  Sunday started with hours in the water park, and ended with two huge cakes, and enough presents that Toy-r-us might need to restock.  Grandma and Grandpa went all out, and on our rather long drive home, Amidan told me this was his best birthday ever!

Fast forward 24 hours to the actual birthday – in fact, less than 24 hours later, my father-in-law sat in his car for three hours so that he could take Amidan out for a birthday dinner!  Amidan and the girls were ecstatic to see Grandpa again!  Amidan who kind of realizes that New Jersey is not around the corner from Baltimore told me again last night that he had the best birthday ever, and has the best grandpa ever.  When dinner was over, two hours after Grandpa arrived, he was back in his car driving home to NJ so that he could be at his next grandchild’s birthday breakfast the following day!

Wow — my kids are lucky… I would argue that they have the best grandparents ever … but really it is me who is so lucky — I am blessed with the best in-laws ever!

Confession #1  –  I might have known my mother-in-law to be for all of 3 days, when she turned to me and said “If you are going to marry my son, you will call me mom!”  I almost had a heart-attack.  This expectation was so unexpected, and felt so intense, all I could do was pick up the phone to call my mom and say “what do I do now?”   My mom laughed. She  gave me a lesson on daughter-in-law etiquette which basically amounted to “if you she wants you to call her Queen – call her Queen, you will be her daughter in law”.  I lost many nights sleep over these two conversations.  How do you can someone else mom?  I felt kind of lucky, I called my mother Ima — so at least Mom would be someone else?

I never imagined how I would feel two years later.  My mom was gone unexpectedly, and suddenly it did not seem so hard to say the words Ma – to my mother-in-law.  You see, it was no longer about her expectation or desire … it became about the relationship.   When the unexpected happens it is hard to imagine how far the ripples will stretch … I never could have imagined how grateful I would feel picking up the phone in the morning to call Mom and say hello, or to tell her some ridiculous thing her grandchildren had done that morning.   I never imagined how good I would feel, when I realized that she was calling me on her way to work many mornings, the same time she speaks to her two daughters.

Confession #2  I would not have made it through college or graduate school without my father and his knowledge of English grammar or his advice when my ideas were just so crazy that they needed grounding.   It was different with my father-in-law.  My dad’s passing was not as unexpected.  Philip and I have odd things in common – like a passion for Jewish education.  It is not that he didn’t have expectations when I joined his family, I am sure he did.  But for the last four years, other than this blog, there is nothing I have written that Philip has proofed and offered feedback.  My greatest sermon readers are my in-laws.  When I want to present to new project or idea to the synagogue; Philip goes over it with a fine tooth comb.  He challenges my assumptions, speaks from his own experience, and is always ready to offer concrete advice.  And as an added benefit, he does not make fun of my poor grammar nearly as often as my dad enjoyed doing.

I recently met a new friend and colleague, and in an add conversation we both found out that we are parents whose parents are no longer alive.  She told me about this group or philosophy called ” parent-less parenting,” and Confession #3 is that while I am very interested, the whole idea kind of scares me.

I spoke with my mom every single day, sometimes two or three times a day.  I feel her absence the most in relationship with parenting my own children.  But damn I am lucky.  My parents are gone but both my children and I are blessed with the most amazing grandparents and in-laws a person could imagine!

I hear friends talking all the time about the “dreadful in-laws.”  I actually get embarrassed,  to tell people how amazing my in-laws are and authentic our relationship has become.

It still makes me really sad my kids won’t know my folks.  I feel like they will never hear stories about me as a child, the trouble I caused, or the great things I accomplished.  But that is really my issue — and maybe that is what parent-less parenting is all about.  My children on the other hand are getting a more than full dose of grandparent love and affection!  They adore their grandparents and they are adored!  What more could an Ima want?

As for me, I am damn lucky.  I adore my in-laws the same way my kids do.  And I know from experience not many women can say that.  We only get gifted one set of parents in this world — but those of us who are really really lucky, can find surrogates who make their ever day lives feel full, blessed, and very special.

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Life is full of curve balls…

I thank God every day.

I am blessed with an amazing husband, and four beautiful children.  I love my job, I live in a nice house, my extended family is supportive; overall, life is good.  In fact, life is great! 

But life is not without curve balls.

For the past month, Gavriela has been attending “food school.”  She is two years old and gets 95% of her nutrients from pediasure.  For reasons we do not understand, she never learned to eat solid foods.  In fact, according to her amazing therapists – she does not know how to chew, and having things in her mouth produces for her anxiety.  

Now, if you know David and myself — we are no strangers to food.  We like food.  We love food.  We love to eat, and both of us enjoy cooking.   And we have a child for whom eating is a source of pediatric anxiety. 

This is huge –

Eating is social. 

Eating is a mtizvah.

Eating is a part of Jewish culture and identity.

Eating is done at birthday parties, play-dates, shopping trips. 

And Gavriela still does not eat!

David spends most of every day at food school.  He watches her meals, and now even participates in feeding her…

I go once a week or so …

And while I sit there … I keep counting my blessings.   Some of Gavi’s peers have feeding tubes … some have heart conditions … some seizure conditions … some have conditions that have conditions … and then there is my bouncy, snarky, adorable Gavriela who has food anxiety.   I am blessed. 

But I also worry…

People look at us funny when we tell them our daughter doesn’t eat… They assume she is just a picky eater … Soon, it will be socially unacceptable for Gavriela to have a bottle in the classroom…soon her peers will begin to notice that something about her is different. 

And then I think about Shabbat and Jewish holidays — how can I teach Gavriela to love these sacred times if – a key component of them produces anxiety?  

I love to eat!  How can I be empathetic with Gavriela for whom eating is stressful?  

How do I support her — but also push her!  Eating is normative behavior — She must learn how to eat.  

I recently had the conversation with a dear friend about hidden disabilities.  – When you look normal, sound normal, are bright and articulate — but still something is different … something is not totally right. 

Gavriela just had a “food school” extended by a week — They think she is close to meeting her goals — mind you that the goal is for her to eat 2oz of smooth pureed food in a sitting — not a steak nor sushi!   When food school is over, we will be in therapy for a long time …

I am blessed. 

I am blessed with an amazing husband, and four beautiful children.  I love my job, I live in a nice house, my extended family is supportive; overall, life is good.  In fact, life is great! 

But life is not without curve balls. 

And from those curve balls, can come the unexpected, the challenging, and perhaps an even greater source of blessings! 

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L’dor Va’dor – the joy of connecting generations

So, there is no doubt that it is pretty cool when you can connect with your child over something that you love or loved when you were young!  It is even more special when you can make the connection jump a generation or two!  Often recipies give us  this opportunity.  We cook grandma’s kugel or chicken soup, and when we sit down to the meal, we tell stories abouth the person with whom the recipie originated.  (For the record though, both my mom and grandma cooked by site and taste, so I very rarely have been gifted written recipies to follow)

I was musing about some of the great moments I have shared with my own children —

The first is kinda fun.  While I swore up and down we would not have gun toys in our house, and our children would not play violent games, I couldn’t help myself but to introduce the kids to Star Wars!  Now we have blasters and light sabers!  We watch the movies together, read the books, and I get to shop for all the toys I loved as a kid all over again!  My two year old can hum the Imperial March!   My four year old proudly says that Princess Leia is the greatest princess in the galexy!  (So  there Cinderella and Snow White!)   I loved Star Wars as a kid, and I love it even more now watching again and again through the eyes of my children!

There is a wonderful children’s book “Tikki Tikki Tembo” that I must  have read a million times with my mom when I was little.  It is a sweet Chineese fable about a first born son with a terribly long name that is very fun to read over and over again.   One night, I was reading Tikki Tikki Tembo with Amidan, and I mentioned to him that my Ima used to read this book with me — Amidan, is very aware that my parents have both died.  We talk about them often and what it means that they are dead.  But that evening Amidan was so profound.  He looked at me and said ” You read this book with your Ima … and now you are reading it with me”  I can’t cound the number of times that I swore I would never end up like my parents!  Usually in relation to something they did that made me crazy.  (For example, licking a finger and then wiping schmutz of a face)  Well, that night I loved that I got to be just like my Ima and Amidan was just like me.

I came home from California wearing a necklace that had belonged to my mom.  Ora is obsessed with jewlery!  She has Hello Kitty jewlery, she has princess jewlery, and now she has her sight set on my jewlery!   She looks at this necklace every day.  She touches it,  to my dismay – pulling on the chain just a little two hard.   She is confused that it was my Ima’s necklace, yet how could it have been given to me recently — I admit, that is confusing for a four year old.   But the best part is, she asks me every day, when will she have a necklace exactly like Ima’s that her Ima gave to her!   Every day she asks,  “When I’m  five?”  ” No Ora”   “When I’m eight?”  “No Ora”   “When I am six? ”  “No Ora” then I look at her and smile — “When you become a Bat Mitzvah Ora, I will get you a necklace just like this one!”  “Exactly like it?” she asks!   “Exactly” I answer, followed by a kiss.    That only puts her off a little while before she back asking again!

David and I were talking recently about how it is hard to introduce our children to my parents.  It is confusing.  They know my grandparents- their great grandparents, and they are extremely close to David’s parents.  So when we talk about Grandma Gloria or Grandpa Don they are often a bit confused.  Plus, it is hard for me to just bring them up in conversation – It doesn’t feel natural.

I am becoming more aware of these awesome organic opporutnities that present themselves L’dor Va’dor.  Opportunities to connect one generation to another without feeling awkward of uncomfortable.   The first few times it happend I I was surprised, and bit uncomfortable myself.   But now I find myself looking for these moments – and looking forward to them.   I remember asking many people after my mom died, how I would tell my children stories about her and my dad.  People gave me all sorts of different answers, most of which are forgotten or still make me cringe.   But, these moments when what we have, or what we are doing, connects us to those who are no longer here, are precious moments that I am now able to appreciate and elaborate on!  What a gift!

Four years is a long time!  But time is just going to get longer … So I am grateful that these moments keep presenting themselves.  Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo is just as much fun to say today, as it was when I was reading it in bed with my Ima!

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Clergy Kids!

So when I was growing up most of the kids I spent time with in school were the children of Rabbis. There was nothing unusual about Rabbi’s kids at my Lubavitch Day School. In fact, if you weren’t a rabbi’s kid, some would say that you were at a disadvantage – after all, who would help you with your Rashi homework or Torah Fair Project?

When I got to Rabbinical School, I met a different type of Rabbi’s kids — These were success stories. Children of Rabbi’s most of whom spent their career in congregations, and who had such positive experiences with the rabbinate that it became their chosen career. These folks were great! They had unique insights. Their advantage often came with their innate knowledge of practical rabbinics, and of course once again – they could also call home when they needed a little bit of help.

But there are those other rabbi’s kids. And now — I don’t just mean rabbi’s kids — I mean the children of all sorts of preachers. The ones for whom living in public life all of the time was just too overwhelming. The ones for whom watching their parents care for other families, taking time away from their own, was frustrating. There are those who talk about the late nights their rabbinic parent worked — never being home for homework or missing school events; not being a part of bed-time rituals.

For those who felt negative about their own family experiences — they don’t choose the rabbinate as a career. I know quite a few who don’t choose active Jewish living either.

My husband also knew both of these types of Rabbinic children growing up. When we got married, we had many conversations about how to have a healthy rabbinic family life. As a typical Associate Rabbi, I understood the challenges faced by Rabbinic families. I missed birthday parties (though some parents might think this was a job benefit) and I often got home late at night. I am most lucky though; with my crazy rabbi’s schedule, I had a stay at home spouse who was solely dedicated to loving and taking care of our children. While I think David and I did a good job looking for a Rabbinic/Family balance, when the opportunity came to take an education job within a congregation, I jumped at the opportunity.

So when Ora now asks on a Friday night why I am not on the Bima — I look at her an smile and say “It is so I can sit here with you and Amidan, do you like that” and I can always count on her smiling.

Now I am on the Birthday circuit! Every Sunday a different party for a different child! And you know what – I really enjoy it. What a great way to meet all the parents in our new community.

But here is what I love the most about being a rabbinic family —

Our closest friends, another rabbinic family with three boys, recently had their dog die after an accident. While talking about how to help the boys cope with the loss, the mom mention that when they went to shul on Friday night, her boys wanted to stand up and say the Kaddish! Lest you think I condone saying Kaddish for a pet, her boys are four, six, and eight- not only do they know what the Kaddish is; for why one says Kaddish, their Hebrew is all good enough to recite the word with the congregation.

And then there are my own children, when I told my five year old that Jastrow had died, his concern for his friends was overwhelming. First he asked how it happened…then he asked about each boy, and finally he wanted to know how their parents were doing after this huge loss. And since our friends live far away, he suggested that we skype a shiva visit! Now doesn’t that make an ima proud!

So while I’m not sure what the outcome of my own rabbinic family will be – I love that my children are a part of Jewish life in it’s entirety. They have been to baby namings, and they know that one someone – even a beloved dog dies, that they are supposed to offer comfort. I love that the songs we sing are as often in Hebrew as they are in English. I love Shabbat is their favorite day of the week. (Ok, for Ora it is since she can wear her Ima’s makeup) And I love watching their lives be infused with Judaism ever day.

This is the blessing I can give my children. Even if sometimes my job pulls we a way at terrible hours, and even if sometimes it feels like I have to put the shul first! I love my children more than anything, and I pray the rabbinate remains a source of joy and strength for them in the future!

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California Dreaming….

It has been four years since my last visit to California … Somethings haven’t changed at all and other things will never be the same way again. I came back for a reunion. USY guided my life for five amazing years. Not only did I have a wonderful time – I learned about leadership, Judaism, relationships, and so much more. I am one of “those people” I can say that USY changed my life, and I mean it. USY led me to the Rabbinate. It led me to Jewish education. It was a teenage passion and remains a defining influence in my life.

But I am an adult now. And as I head off to this reunion I am so aware of the people who will not be joining me… most obvious my mom, but then there is Kelly, Abby, and Helen. There are others who won’t be there – not because they are out of town or have other commitments, but because they are no longer here. And so while I am so excited to spend this weekend in San Diego, I feel their loss ever present right now. Last night I sat with Steve and Robin telling stories about my folks … We laughed hard, and that is what we should be doing. On Saturday night I will be wearing a necklace my mom had made shortly before her final roadtrip. I feel like I have to bring something that was hers with me. After all, she loved USY as much as I did. She gave the organization thousands of hours of time and energy.

I recently had a conversation in which I realized how much of adult I had become. I have friends fighting illnesses that can kill them, I have friends who are no longer here. I talk to my children about grandparents they never had the chance to know. What happened? When did I become so old, that I am living real life – not the protected world my parents lovingly created for me?

Real life has its ups and downs. I miss my parents terribly. I am still angry that a road trip ended in disaster for so many people I love… But I am an adult, I am living real life, and I rejoice and count my blessings every day. Because as much as I am missing my mom this weekend — I am also missing four amazing, beautiful, wonderful children who are mine! I am missing my husband who has only known me during real life — through the joys and sorrows that real life brings. I am answering emails for a job I enjoy and that brings me the same excitement I felt when I was a teenager living in the protected world of USY.

USY is one my greatest blessings. It brought me to where I am today — an adult, with my own family, living in the real world – some of which I have created, and some of which just comes with being an adult. I wouldn’t miss the reunion for anything. Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam She’hechianu V’ki’imanu V’higianu La’Zman Hazeh. Thank you God, for bringing me to this moment in my life.


Never Done This Before…

For quite some time, David, my husband, has been encouraging me to set up a blog.  In fact, he went as far as to add wordpress to my brand new iphone hoping that it would be the incentive that I needed to start blogging.  Well, the iphone is not quite new anymore, but I finally logged in to wordpress and have established my very first blog.

Now what?

Well, I thought I could use this space to share interesting moments in my life and musings about just about everything and anything I find interesting.

So I want to start by sharing an amazing moment in my daughter Ora’s preschool classroom.  In August, an Israeli family moved to Baltimore, and their daughter joined Ora’s class.  As you can imagine, it is not easy to move half way across the world speaking a different language and start school right away. But Ora’s new friend has done great — sometimes sad mornings, but as the days have gone by more and more smiles.   Last week, a new boy joined Ora’s class.  He speaks English, his family only moved from a neighboring state.  Ora’s newest classmate has been quite sad.  When I dropped her off on Friday, he was crying at the door – and this is when I saw one of the most amazing and organic lesson in Torah values that I have seen in a long time.  The Israeli aba, bent down and explained to his daughter in Hebrew that her new classmate was a little bit sad because he didn’t know anyone yet.  He also turned to the little boy and explained that his daughter sometimes felt sad when he left in the morning.  And then it happened.  This little girl, who had been so new and scared herself a few weeks prior, reached out her hand and took this little boy’s hand in hers.  They then began to play ring-around- the-rosie and the tears dried up.

We talk to you our children all the time about be kind and welcoming.  We also hope that our children can learn from their own experiences.  Watching this little girl, who knew all too well, what it felt like to be the new kid all alone,  all those education theory classes I took fell into place.  We need to model for our children the values that we want them to live by, and then we need to give them the opportunity to practice those values.  This week Hakhnasat Orchim came to life in preschool.

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