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That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

A Word From The Weiss

 

 Sorry for going AWOL.jpg    OK! OK! OK! Before you even begin to tell me that I have virtually gone AWOL for over half the summer and become one of the worst blogging correspondents ever, let me just point out that last week was special. Last week, I had one of the best excuses ever. That is, Saturday was my son’s 30th birthday – his biggest milestone ever, beyond the bar mitzvah and the wedding, of course – and being a nice Jewish mom, I chose to mark it by undertaking what may be my most ambitious project ever.

Aidan turned 30.jpg

       I mean ever. It was a project, after all, that was not just monumental, but 30 years in the making.

     Then again, the actual work only began 17 years ago, soon after the bar mitzvah. That’s when our good friends Sari and Arthur sent Aidan a special present to mark the day that he became a man: a beautiful, stylish, black leather-bound photo album.

     This wasn’t the typical modern album, the kind filled with pages of clear plastic compartments into which you can easily slip standard 4x6 or 5x7 prints.

     This one was the real deal. That is to say, the realrather old-fashioned deal – the kind that my parents made once upon a time for their own weddings and distant youth.

Album cover blank.jpg

    It was a voluminous volume equipped with 30 sheets of thickblack archival paper. The front and back covers were constructed from buttery soft, quilted jet-black leather. A little pocket inside the back cover held hundreds of tiny black triangular tabs. The only way to secure photographs inside was to apply one of these tabs to each of their four corners, lick or otherwise moisten the back, and then press them into place.

Photos were attached with adhesive tabs.jpg

      It was a beautiful gift. A thoughtful gift. A very special, exceptional gift. But it was also a demanding one. It demanded a level of organization that I did not possess. The kind of discipline that allows you to start and stick to an installment plan in which you insert photos on a regular basis, every time your kid has a photo op or does something noteworthy, like spin a dreidel, dress up for Halloween, or actually clean his or her room.

     I knew that I should do that. I always meant to do that. But life is busy. And so am I. The most I could seem to manage was to keep shoving photos and memorabilia into the box that held the album, in hopes that I would find time to attach them someday.

     And that is what I did. For 17 years.

Aidan graduating high school in 2004.jpg

     When Aidan graduated from high school, I wanted to finally assemble the album as a graduation gift. But I was too busy planning his graduation party. Besides, I didn’t want him lugging something so precious to his chaotic college dorm.

Aidan at Brown graduation with Allegra 2008.jpg

     When he was about to graduate from college, I thought of doing it again. But I was still overwhelmed and didn’t want him taking it along to a series of nomadic apartments.

     Then, after he got engaged last summer, I became determined to surprise him with the album as a very special wedding gift from his dear old nice Jewish mum. This would also be a way to introduce his bride-to-be to the real, unadulterated Aidan (not that, after four years together, Kaitlin didn’t already know and love the real Aidan). 

Kaitlin and Aidan on his 29th.JPG

     By then, in my mind, the album had grown in scope and proportion to be profound. This would not be just a photo collection starting from the day he was born. To me, these prints provided full-color, concrete proof that he had been blessed with a happy life.

     A very happy life, if you ask me, even though he is almost infamous for his stiff-lipped, stony expressions and a refusal to smile whenever there’s a camera in sight (which made finding photos in which he actually looked happy like – excuse the goyisheh expression – searching for the Holy Grail).

Aidan is not known to smile for the camera.JPG

     Yet if I had been too busy to assemble the album during the past 16 years of his life, then I certainly had no time to do it during the hectic year that we spent planning his wedding.

     So when his big birthday rolled around only two months after the Big Day, I viewed it as a second chance. Maybe my final chance – or at least my last big chance until the next major milestone (and I don’t dare to speculate what or when that might be).

     So I pulled out the box, which over the years had grown so chockfull of prints that the lid rested lopsidedly about a foot above the bottom, like a splayed-open accordion.

Aidan on the first day of first grade.jpg

      After piling photos in it haphazardly for going on two decades, the hardest part was trying to put them into some semblance of chronological order. Some had been taken when he was an infant or toddler. Others clearly hailed from high school and beyond. But it wasn’t easy telling the difference between two months old and four months old.

Aidan as

     And had he been 8 (or was it 9?) the year he dressed up for Halloween in a canary yellow trench coat, his face shmeered with olive green gook to resemble the title character in a 1994 Jim Carrey movie called “The Mask”?

     Why, oh why hadn’t I taken the time to scrawl the dates on the backs of these prints? For awhile, back in the ‘90s, we’d had a camera that had automatically inscribed the day, month, and year in the bottom corner of every single photograph it took. Elegant? No. A godsend, though.

Album page with The Mask.JPG

        For the rest, the best I could do, I guess, was guess.

     After I had arranged my hundreds of pictures in vague, estimated order by date, I chose an image I had always loved to insert into the window in the cover. It was a picture taken in June 2000, the day Aidan graduated from King Philip Middle School at age 13. But it looked more or less like the 30-year-old Aidan-to-be of today.

Album cover with photo.JPG

     Then I proceeded to start carefully affixing photos on the inside, one by one, three or four to a page, beginning with one of my husband manically clutching my belly soon after we'd first learned that our firstborn was growing somewhere inside it.

     One of the main advantages of this kind of old school album is that it allows you to give the photos silly captions (“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Super Aidan!”), or to at least jot down key info like where, when, and on what occasion it was taken.

Photo album page 1.JPG

     Why, there was even enough space at times to provide behind-the-scenes insights, like I did for a photo snapped when Aidan was 2 that became our year-end holiday card. Although we had chosen a generic, non-denominational holiday design, the printer had made an error and inserted an image of Santa Claus with the words “Ho Ho Ho” below. And we had ordered them so late that there had been no time left to get them reprinted. So we had been obliged to send them out as is, with a disclaimerHo ho ho, indeed.

Album page with Ho ho ho photo.JPG

     I began filling the album early on Monday morning, taking only occasional breaks to do absolutely essential things, like go to the loo, attend my weekly Zumba class, and watch the latest episode of Bachelor in ParadiseBut by 2 a.m., when I finally gave up and called it a night, I was only a few measly pages into the project… and Aidan was still in diapers.

     So I started in again on Tuesday, and then Wednesday as well. Each night, I was up till 2 or so again (the latest hour at which I could manage to not begin gluing  things upside down or writing total gibberish in gold permanent ink).

Photo album page with inflatable palm tree.JPG

     What, you might wonder, was taking so darned long? One problem was that, even though I already had hundreds of photos, found myself stopping repeatedly to forage throughout the house for essential pictures I knew were still missing.

     I also felt obliged to check through old letters and documents and, yes, installments of my blog to verify names, places, and dates before daring to inscribe them in permanent ink.

Album page 2.JPG

    Yes, I know it was just a simple photo album, not world history being recorded in a textbook or news in the newspaper of record. But I hoped that my son would treasure the album and pass it down to his own offspring for posterity. So I wanted to do whatever it took to get everything right.

    Speaking of that, as the week went by and my efforts continued, I began to wonder if they were all for naught. Would Aidan treasure, or at the very least, appreciate my present?

     Or would he do little more than glance at my colossal undertaking, roll his eyes, then put it under the bed or pop it into a drawer somewhere, never to be seen again?

Album with Solomon Schechter years pix.JPG

     Would it become among his most cherished possessions, or would it eventually be lost in transit over the many times that he would no doubt move over the coming years?

     I would have to wait until we met for the answer to at least one of those questions.

      As you can probably imagine, after several days of hunching over my project, my aging back was beginning to ache almost as much as it did back when I was pregnant.

     Also, after a few days of slaving over this venture day and night, there were old photos piled anywhere and everywhere. The dining room table, which was now photo album central, was such a God-awful mess that I doubted we would ever be able to eat on it again.

Photos covered the dining room table.JPG

      We were due to leave on Saturday morning for NYC, where Aidan lives, so I woke up on Friday knowing I would have to stay up until I was done, however late. There was a part of me that now regretted having ever started it in the first place.

    Mostly, though, what I now regretted was not having planned the layout more carefully from the outset. There were 60 pages altogether, counting front and back. Unfortunately, I had devoted too many of them to my son’s earliest years.

Album page with Aidan's bar mitzvah.JPG

    When I was growing up, my family owned a movie camera, but no still camera, and God knows iPhones didn’t exist. There are barely a handful of pictures remaining from the first two decades of my life.

     By comparison, from the moment they were born, both Aidan and his younger sister Allegra were captured so often that you can practically watch them grow up via time-lapse photography. So even after being highly selective with those shots, I had managed to fill over two-thirds of the album just documenting ages 0 through 8.

Album page with baby Allegra pushing Aidan.JPG

    With contemporary albums, you can change your mind and rearrange the pictures tucked into the plastic sleeves. In this case, everything was already set – if not in stone, then with adhesive little tabs and indelible annotations.

    So from this point on, I had to be selective. Very selective. Which should I include – our first family vacation to Europe, when Aidan was 12, or pix from when he spent a semester of junior year studying abroad in London?

    What about all those years he played soccer, in both the fall and the spring, or performed in his schools’ jazz bands and marched with them in the annual Memorial Day parade? Would it suffice to have only one picture of each to represent years of concerted effort?

Album page with junior prom pix.JPG

    There was only one choice that was easy to make: I decided it was fine to put in a photo or two of him in his tux, along with his date, at both the junior and senior proms. But I figured that his new wife wouldn’t be all that thrilled to see images of his other past girlfriends. They would remain on the cutting room floor – or, in this case, the dining room table.

      As for his new wife, there were more hard choices to make. In the four years since Aidan and Kaitlin had met, many a photo had been taken documenting their blossoming romanceYet there was barely room to include even one. The entirety of their relationship had to be summed up very succinctly in four shots on the penultimate page.

Album page with Kaitlin pix.JPG

     “Engaged!”

     “Married!”

     “Honeymoon!”

     And what might not be the most original postscript ever:

     “And they lived happily ever after…”

     Oh, well. There would soon be an entire wedding album that would display the rest.

     When I was done filling all 60 pages, I penned an inscription on the inside cover.

    “The Life of Aidan: The First 30 Years, with love from your very proud mom,” it read. Beneath that, I added a photo of me cradling him as an infant in my arms, rays of light radiating off my shoulders as I left the hospital with my newborn, some 30 years ago.

     When I was finally done, it was so late that there were nearly rays of morning light radiating through the window. Still, I took the time to lovingly flip through my handiwork.

Album inside cover.JPG

     Then I flipped through it again and flipped out, overcome with even greater regret.

     How I wished that I had started making this album years ago – not because doing it all in one week had nearly done me in. It was that after going to all of this trouble, I was reluctant to give it up instantly. Would my son actually treasure it the way that I would?

    My fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant recently had the nerve to inform me that “The virtue lies in the struggle, not in the prize.” Mine had been the struggle. Aidan would get the prize. Oh, well. I guess I could always look at it when I went over to visit. He just had better not hide it under the bed or stick it in some drawer, never to be seen again.

 

      

Aidan's birthday brunch at Russ & Daughters.jpg

             Although the actual birthday fell on Saturday, the party was scheduled for Thursday night. We weren’t invited to that, of course. Neither would we ever presume that any normal, red-blooded 30-year-old would want to spend his actual b’day hanging out with his folks.

      The plan was to take him out for brunch on Sunday instead, along with Allegra, her boyfriend JP, and Kaitlin, of course. And this being his 30th, we wanted to go somewhere special.

      And special is what he chose. It wasn’t among his usual haunts, anyway. Or, for that matter, ours.

Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side.jpg

      Normally, we met up somewhere in his Upper West Side neighborhood for omelets or other such typical brunch fare. But what he really wanted to do for his big birthday was go to Russ & Daughters, a relatively new branch of the famous Lower East Side food emporium inside the Jewish Museum.

     In other words, a place that was kind of like a kreplach – something Jewish inside something equally Jewish.

     This place does not, however, actually serve kreplach. Nor, for that matter, matzo ball soup.

Russ & Daughters menu.JPG

     Yet they offer just about everything else of the traditional Jewish food persuasion, from kasha varnishkas and vegetarian chopped liver to blintzes and babke French toast. The specialty of the house, however, is a dazzling variety of smoked fish – both pickled and schmaltz (creamed) herring, whitefish, sable, and every manner of lox or bagel imaginable.

      There were so many options that when we arrived just before noon on Sunday, I couldn’t decide, and not just because the prices were a little on the pricey side – and I’m not just talking about the price of the platters intended to serve three to four, like the Hattie (smoked whitefish, kippered salmon, Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, and sable) for $110, or the Ida (Scottish smoked salmon, Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, pastrami-cured salmon, angravlox) for $95.

Russ & Daughters' Eggs Benny with lox.jpg

     It turned out that the birthday boy himself was equally undecided, so we agreed to share our top two choices – the Classic (Gaspe Nova smoked salmon with cream cheese, tomato, onion, and capers on a bagel) for $22, and the Eggs Benny (poached eggs, Scottish smoked salmon, sautéed spinach, and Hollandaise sauce on challah) for $23.

     But by this point I could stand the suspense no longer. And before any of these rather oily, messy, and decidedly smelly delicacies could arrive and potentially soil my handiwork, I whipped the box with the album out.

      “What’s this?” Aidan asked, looking a bit surprised.

      Then, the moment he opened it, his face lit up. “Oh. Wow!” is what I think he said.

     Then he began leafing through it, page by page, seemingly transfixed, an uncharacteristically broad smile faintly curling the corners of his lips as he continued to exclaim periodically, “Oh. Wow!”

Aidan at Russ & Daughters.jpg

     I could see that Kaitlin, who was seated across from him, was also devouring the images with her eyes, even though she could only see them upside down at this point.

     Suddenly, the hostess of the café wandered over to have a closer look herself. “I haven’t seen one of those in years!” she gushed. Then she paused for a moment, gazing appreciatively over Aidan’s shoulder, before adding something like, “Oh, wow!”

      Yet most admiring of all was Allegra, to whom I had already shown my creation. “When am I going to get one of those myself?” she asked eagerly. “Do I have to wait until I’m 30?”

Allegra January 2016.jpg

      “Not if I start working on it now,” I replied. “Which I probably should. And don’t worry,” I added. “I have duplicates of most of those pictures.”

     Duplicates. Now there was an idea. Maybe the answer was to make not one album, but two at the same time. Two versions of the same thing. Otherwise, I will demand joint custody or visitation rights. She just had better not hide it under the bed or in some drawer.

Allegra and Aidan little and big.jpg

     But let’s be honest. I probably won’t find the time to put together

 another such album, let alone two, until Allegra turns 30 herself. If then. And with all the things we have photographed her doing, from ballet recitals to jazz performances, I fear hers will take even longer.

     Yes, she, too, if you ask me, has been blessed with a very happy (and busy) life.

     Then, if you ask me, I'm the one with the real happy, charmed life. Because I have both of them.

4:20 pm 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Word From The Weiss 

 

With two of my 30 students.jpg

      You’ll have to forgive me for not posting a single word for the past week or so. Friday afternoon was graduation, and I had to be there to cheer for my kids.

       All 30 of them.

       Yes, if you are regular readers of this space, you know by now that I have only two biological children, Aidan and Allegra, as well as Kaitlin, my wonderful brand-new daughter-in-law.

      But I also had an actual job again this summer, serving once again as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut Medical School, during which I grew so attached to my 30 students that, as far as I’m concerned, they are all now “my kids” too.

Aspiring med school class 2016.JPG

      What was INice Jewish Mom, doing teaching at med school? Don’t imagine for a second that I was hired to tutor aspiring physicians in physics or inorganic chemistry. You might argue that on some level I am qualified to call myself a doctor of Mom-ology. But in this case, what the program really required was an experienced writer and editor.

      Then again, as it turned out, what many of my students also needed was what almost every kid – no, let’s face it, almost everyone – could probably use: another mother.

       Nice, Jewish, or otherwise.  

       For the past 20 yearsUConn Health Center has offered a series of courses each summer and on Saturdays through the school yearDesigned for students ranging in age from middle school through post-college, HCOP aims to increase diversity in the health-care field by helping youngsters from minority backgrounds that are underrepresented in the profession get into medical and dental schools.

Group shot 3 2016.JPG

       The primary focus of the class with which I was affiliated was to help these students raise their science grades and scores on standardized tests. However, the directors of the program realized last year that these students could also use some help with the personal essays for their applications. That’s where I came in.  

       The students I taught were all college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates who will be applying to medical and dental schools. They were so busy taking science courses and studying for the MCATs and DAT (Dental Admission Test) that there was only time for me to teach one initial 90-minute class to each of the two groups.

HCOP dental student and me.JPG

       After that, the plan once again was that they would write their essays on their own and email them to me to be edited. Then I would meet with each of them one-on-one to discuss the changes I had made and elicit any necessary additions or clarifications. 

     Writing can be a daunting task, particularly for science kids. It hardly helped that many of them spoke English as a second language. To help put my students at ease and create a welcoming atmosphere, I showed up

I brought candy and snacks.jpg

for my classes with a bowl full of candy and granola bars. I also advised them to lose whatever notions they might have about what “good writing” entails. When it comes to composing a personal essay, I said, the best approach is to forget about big words and stiff, formal terms like “nonetheless.” And “therefore.” Rather, adopt a natural voice, meaning conversational tone, as though you were telling a story about something to a good friend.

Introducing the world's leading expert.jpg

    Or perhaps your mother.

    I also assured them that they had nothing to worry about because the subject matter they were required to write about in this case happened to be the one topic on which they were each not only extremely well-versed, but actually the world’s leading expert.

      Themselves. 

      To drive this point home, I asked for a volunteer to come up, asked him his name, then placed a white satin graduation cap on his head and ceremonially presented him to rest of the class.

The world's leading expert on Lemuel.JPG

     “Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the world’s leading expert on LemuelLemuel!”

     Since the majority of my students were of African-American or Hispanic descent, and many came from a wide range of other places, including Puerto Rico, India, Jamaica, Pakistan, and Vietnam, my class this year also featured the world’s leading experts on ZuleikaUchennaMeadeshiaKavishaJadia, and Hamza.

Hamza.JPG

     Yet once again, since many of them spoke English as a second language, far more challenging than pronouncing their names was managing to revise their essays so that they retained their writers' natural voices, yet read smoothly and totally grammatically.

     Many of the stories they chose to tell were heart-rending. They wrote of sacrifices their parents had made to move to this country seeking a better life for their children. Many of these youngsters were not just the first in their families to attend college, but also the first to speak English. So they had been obliged to attend doctors’appointments with their parents, siblings and other relatives to serve as translators, starting from a very young age.

     Others, growing up in extreme poverty, had needed to work to help their families.

HCOP student.JPG

     One girl, whose father was an invalid, had been responsible for administering his daily regimen of medications since she was 11, on top of doing a wide gamut of household chores. This meant that, like many of her classmates, she had been forced to grow up fast.

    And yet, as you find when you work with children, they still needed a parent. An extra parent, I mean. Or at the very least some caring adult to offer support, reassurance, and advice.

    And so, even though I had only been allotted 20 measly minutes to meet privately with each student, I often ended up spending much of thaprecious time counseling them not just on their personal essays, but also a wide variety of personal issues.

HCOP group shot 2016.JPG

       In the interests of maintaining confidentiality, I am not going to name any names.

      But there was one girl who wrote about a touchy, traumatic situation that I felt warranted comment on far more than her voice, word choice, and sentence structure.

       As I had advised my students, the personal essay was the best place to address any deficiencies or precipitous dips in their academic record. That is, if they had a difficult semester or two, or a low grade in one particular courseand this could be attributed to a specific situation – death in the family, an illness or injury they or a close relative had suffered, or some other sort of hardship – then they should address it there head-on. It was generally not a good idea to lead off with this kind of information, however. The better approach was to start off with something unique about them, then go on to detail their best qualities and accomplishments. Then, just before the end, they could digress briefly to explain the unfortunate things that had happened, and how they had managed to persist and overcome this obstacle and soon improve their grades.

     Still, I was a bit surprised by the way in which one student took this advice to heart. Her grades had declined during her freshman year, she explained, because she had contracted an STD.

      Although this condition was not life-threatening, she went on to note, it still had managed to deeply affect her on an emotional level. “A typical 17-year-old doesn’t know how to deal with this type of situation,” she wrote, “and I was no exception.” She had felt betrayed by the person who had given it to her. She had needed to find a way to afford the expensive medication required to treat it. But perhaps worst of all was having to confess what had happened to her to her proper, devout parents back home.

Two more doctors to be.JPG

     Seeing the tears well up in her eyes as we discussed this, I couldn’t help but tear up myself. It no longer seemed so pressing to iron out the details of the medical internships she had undertaken, or to help her elaborate further on her extracurricular activitiesI began to assure her instead that no matter what you do, or what may happen to you, your parents truly love you, and they always will. Because almost nothing can undermine the love we feel. That is who your parents are, and that is what parents do.

     Another girl wrote about having had to grapple with her parents’ contentious breakup when she was in the eighth grade. I ended up talking with her about how my own parents had gone through an extremely acrimonious divorce during my teen years, so I knew where she was coming from, but that I had lived to tell about it.

HCOP two doctors to be.jpg

     Then there was the one boy in the class who didn’t submit his essay the day that it was due. Or the following day. Or even week. He kept pleading for extensions, saying he couldn’t write anything that was half-decent. And yet, when he finally sent it to me, at midnight the night before we met, it turned out to be one of the best in the class by far.

      I told him that his problem was not writing. It was that he was too hard on himself. He simply needed to begin to believe in himself. And that I believed in him already.  

     But most gripping of all was the student who wrote about his troubled relationship with his father. He had grown up in another country and never even spoken to his dad, who lived in the U.S., until he was a teenager. A few years later, his father had offered to pay for the boy to travel here to attend college, and they were now living together. Yet, as he detailed in his essay, his father had still remained distant and seemingly disinterested in his life – so much so that he felt unwelcome in his house and often longed to go home to his mother, siblings, and the country in which hed been raised.

      “Tell me something,” I asked, after we had reviewed much of his essay together. “Do you intend to show this to your dad?”

      He mulled the question over briefly. “Yes," he finally answered. "I guess I would like him to read it.”

     “In that case,” I said gently, “I suggest that you change what you said about him.”

     He looked at me with some surprise. “But what I said is true,” he responded flatly.

      Of that, sadly, I had little doubt. My concern was that the words he had used, which were harsh and potentially hurtful, would only alienate his father further. Not only might this make their relationship even more tense, but I feared his father might ask him to move out.

     Yet sensing his resistance, I decided to drop the issue and just move on. So we did.

Editing an essay.jpg

     After we had finished discussing every other point that I needed to clarify, though, he brought it up again himself. While sitting there, he’d had an abrupt change of heart. He said that he had decided I was right, after all, and he wanted to soften his language.

     But at that moment, I reconsidered. For I suddenly had a change of heart myself.

     “No,” I said, “I have another idea. I’m going to email you two copies of your essay. The first is to send in with your applications. That one will remain exactly as you originally put it. The second one is to show your father. That one will say it much more nicely.”

      A broad smile broke across his face, perhaps for the first time since he had entered the room. He nodded in agreement.

Jadia and me.JPG

      Although it was none of my business, at least officially, we spent the rest of our remaining time discussing what else he might do to remedy their troubled relationship.

    He said that his father seemed to believe that now that he was in his 20s, he was all grown up and no longer needed  a dad. I assured him that my son, who will turn 30 this month and is now a married man, still needs a father too. As well as a mother. For the truth is that no one truly ever reaches the point at which they no longer need, want, or at least appreciate having a supportive parent in their life. How I wish I still had one myself.

      I advised him to try to have a chat with his father, but to put it as positively as possible, rather than being confrontational in any way. I said to emphasize not how disappointed he was that they were so disconnected, but rather how much he would enjoy spending more time together. Perhaps, as a start, he could simply invite his father to join him for an activity that they both enjoyed. It was at least worth a try.

     There was that smile again.

Selfie with student at graduation.JPG

     I don’t know how much my advice helped anyone. But I can tell that they all ended up with well-written and compelling essays that should help get them into grad school. No matter what their grades or test scores may be. For that was indeed my business.

      It’s funny. Although it was crucial for their personal essays to demonstrate that they were both eager and qualified to become doctors or dentists, aspiring health professionals also need to show that they have a heart. I told them that the most important thing they needed to convey was why they wanted to spend their lives caring for human beings. So nearly all of them stated somewhere that they wanted to help people, and that they believed the best possible way to help people was to heal them or improve their health.

      And perhaps what they said was true. At least it was for them. But not necessarily for everyone.      

With one of

       What I did last month for my 30 “kids” may not have been a case of life or death. But it was a case of whether or not they got to fulfill their greatest aspirations. I spent hours working on every single essay, reading it over and over again to make sure it was the best that it could be. No, I did not hold their lives or their health in my hands. What I held in my hands was their dreams.

       also know that they appreciated not just my snacks, or my advice, but my efforts, and the extent to which I clearly cared. Because when I went to see them all graduate, many of them came over to greet me. Or hug me. Or have their picture taken with me.

      Now it was my turn to smile, and not just for the camera.

      Someone who gave a speech at the ceremony concluded with an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone,” he said. “If you want to go far, go together.”

      And if you want to get into grad school, or have some moral support along the way, get yourself an extra mom. Or dad. Nice, Jewish, or otherwise. I was happy to have some extra kids. Who doesn’t need more of those? 

3:03 pm 

Friday, July 22, 2016

 

A Word From The Weiss

 

 

My husband and me before the wedding.JPG

      We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of the Jewish (or at least Jew-ish) wedding of the century (or month) to bring you a tale of the not quite so newly wed – Nice Jewish Dad and me.

       Last week was our 32nd wedding anniversary.

       That may sound like a pretty big number as anniversaries go, but it is not exactly a biggie, or particularly major or momentous number, as milestones go.

       That is not to say my husband and I are not all for acknowledging anniversaries.

Our 25th anniversary in Florence.jpg

       For our 25th, we spent two and a half weeks in RomeFlorence, and Tuscany.

       For our 30th, we celebrated with three weeks in Hong Kong, Beijing and Thailand.

       I don’t know where we’ll go next, but if we keep the pattern up – mathematically, anyway – Nice Jewish Dad had better retire at some point because for our 40th we’ll be away for almost a month.

       Last week, though, was only our 32nd. Not exactly something to alert the media about. I would have been content to throw a couple of steaks on the grill, exchange greeting cards and a few little tchotchkes, and then call it a night.

       And had the occasion fallen midweek, that is most likely what we would have done.

Challahs.jpg

       This particular anniversary, however, fell on a Friday night. And to be perfectly honest, we are not people who make it a habit to regularly observe Shabbat. Why, we barely ever buy a challah anymore, now that the kids are grown and living on their own.

Aidan and Kaitlin honeymooning in Venice.jpg

       So, seeing that it was a weekend night, we felt compelled to do something special. Or maybe it’s just that our kids felt compelled to make sure we did something special. Our daughter, Allegra, did, anyway. Our son Aidan, a.k.a. the groom, had just returned from his two-week honeymoon in Italy with his beautiful bride, Kaitlin, and almost instantly flown off again to Portland, OR, to serve as an usher in yet another wedding.

      Such is life when you’re in your 20s and on the wedding circuit.

      But his sister, for some reason, really had our occasion on the brain.

Allegra and me.jpg

      “What are you and Dad doing for your anniversary?”she kept asking me. Maybe it was just that kids like to see signs that, despite all the inevitable kvetching and squabbles that go on in any marriage (particularly mine), their folks are still feeling amorous, or at least affectionate enough to stick it out together for at least another year.

Allegra and JP photo by Pavan.jpg

       Or maybe she was still feeling regrets that she and her boyfriend JP had just marked their own anniversary with little if any fanfare. I could understand her wanting to have just a bit of a vicarious thrill. Plus, I am 100 percent in favor of celebrating anything and everything in life worthy of celebration, since there is way too much of the other stuff.

        Then again, theirs was only a second anniversary. The second anniversary of their first DATE. We have now had 34 of those, during which a certain percentage of the initial thrill has gradually worn off, the way the gleam of a new car fades over time. Our particular car still had most of its original parts, and felt comfortable to drive, but it had also lost some of its initial pep. After all, we were talking about a 34-year-old car. An American car. Didn't Allegra realize it was pretty amazing that this broken-down old jalopy was still even on the road?

       Her own relationship, by comparison, had barely even left the lot yet.

New car still on the lot.jpgOur marriage was like a 34-year-old car.jpg

 

      “Give it another three decades or so,” I was tempted to tell her. “Then we’ll talk.

      But I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I promised that we would do something, even if it was just to go out for dinner and a movie. There was, in fact, a film playing in town that we had been dying to see: Maggie’s Plan, starring Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke.

We wanted to see

     “Isn’t that about people having an affair?” Allegra retorted with palpable disapproval. “That isn’t appropriate for an anniversary! Why don’t you see something else?”

     The problem was there were slim pickings beyond the usual summer blockbusters. “What do you want us to see,” I shot back, “Ghostbusters?

      As for dinner, our daughter also seemed to have an inordinate interest in our possible destination. I told her that, in view of Bastille Day falling just the day before, I was inclined to go to my favorite local French eatery, A’Vert Brasserie in West Hartford, CT.

Ghostbusters 2016.jpg

       “Great! Would you like me to make you a reservation?” she offered brightly. At the time she said this, however, she was in the midst of driving 600 miles to Michigan to visit an old friend who was seriously ill. So I said thanks, anyway. I could make my own.

     Then, to be as good as my word, and also to preclude her continuing to noodge me all the way from NYC to Marshall, MI, I actually phoned and booked a table for 8:15 p.m.

Catherine and me.JPG

      Flash forward to Friday. It turned out to be extremely hot and steamy, even for mid-July, so I readily succumbed to an invitation from my friend Catherine to come over for a late-day swim. We were floating around in her pool, after sitting around sipping wine, when I suddenly realized it was 5:30 p.m. Maggie’s Plan, which we had decided to see, appropriate or not, started at 6, and I was 5 miles from home wearing a wet bathing suit.

      Oops. 

      I phoned my husband to apologize and ask him if he might just want to come over and join us in the pool instead. But he reminded me that it was, in fact, our anniversary. “Shouldn’t we keep our plans and go out?” he asked.

My husband bought roses for our anniversary.JPG

     Something in his voice made it clear he wanted me to come home pronto. So I drove off in my dripping suit, only to find that he had bought me two dozen lovely roses.

      Nice!

      What was not so nice was to arrive at the movie theater on the dot of 6 to discover that Maggie’s Plan was not actually playing there until 10:20 p.m. The night before, the 6 p.m. showing had been listed on the theater’s web site. But it wasn’t there. Now what?

Maggie's Plan Hawke and Gerwig.jpg

      As I often say, the best-laid plans of mice and moms are apt to go awry. And tonight those plans didn’t seem to care one whit that it was our anniversary. (Neither did the manager of the Palace 17, who refused to give us free tickets in view of our trouble.)

       In order to make our 8:15 reservation, we would have to see something that started ASAP. The only prospect seemed to be an international espionage thriller based on a 2010 John le Carré novel about the Russian mafia called Our Kind of Traitor.

Our Kind of Traitor.jpg

       It opened with a man and his wife being executed by some Russians, after which their beautiful 20-something daughter tries to flee barefoot in the snow and is savagely gunned down as well. I'm a well-known wimp when it comes to violence. By the time the opening credits had finished rolling, I was crying.

      Talk about being inappropriate subject matter for an anniversary. We walked out.

      That is, I walked out, and my husband was loyal and empathetic enough to follow.

     Now what?

Ghostbusters female cast.jpg

     It seemed unlikely that the surly manager would give us our money back. Besides, we were already there and still had a good two hours to kill before dinner.

     Should we see Ghostbusters?

     We were standing forlornly in the nearly deserted lobby when my husband noticed another option that was just about to start. Having seen TV ads for it, I knew that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates was probably pretty juvenile and exceedingly raunchy. But we also knew it was about our favorite current subject as recent Parents of the Groom – a wedding. Wasn’t that at least appropriate subject matter for an anniversary?

      Well, I am here to tell you that this movie is totally raunchy.

      And unbearably juvenile.

      But we still found ourselves laughing our tucheses off at many scenes, despite our better judgment and our being old enough to have been married now for 32 years.

      The plot is totally ridiculous. Two brothers are so wild and out of control that their parents insist that they find two nice girls to bring as dates to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii to keep them in check. Little do Mike and Dave (played by Adam DeVine and Zac Efronrealize, but the seemingly respectable dates that they manage to recruit (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) are out-of-work and out of control waitresses who are even heartier partiers than they are.

Efron and Kendrick.jpg

     I am not saying you should rush out and see this totally tasteless, ridiculous rom-com yourself. But Anna Kendrick, of Pitch Perfect fame, is talented and likable in anything she does, and Zac Efron is easy on the eyes, even for someone of my vintage. And by the time we left, still giggling over a gag involving a bush, it felt like our anniversary was looking up.

       Well, OK, maybe not so fast. We arrived at the restaurant only to discover that this popular eatery was packed to the gills and we could barely hear each other over the din. Not to mention that we were seated at a teeny table right in the midst of the commotion.

Avert Brasserie.jpg

      Oh, well. What was there to talk about after 32 years of marriage anyway, right?

     Then suddenly the maitre d came over brandishing an ice-cold bottle of Riesling.

      Huh? We hadn’t ordered a bottle of wine.

Our friends Pat and Michael had sent us wine.jpg

     But apparently our good friends Pat and Michael Kazakoff had. Never mind that they were now away on vacation. They knew it was our anniversary and had somehow found out where we were eating. And that somehow – or someone – was undoubtedly Allegra.

      Now things were suddenly beginning to make some sense. Not to mention really look up.

      Bon anniversaire!” the maitre d cried jubilantly, pouring us each a generous glass.

Our anniversary dinner at A'vert Brasserie.jpg

      What an incredible surprise! What incredible friendsThings were definitely looking up.

      Moments later, the maitre d’, whose name was Mike, returned. “May I seat you at a different table?” he asked, gesturing to a spacious, relatively quiet booth in the corner.

      Things were most definitely looking up… even if we would now have to actually converse.

      But even the conversation was beginning to flowalong with the vino.

Escargots at A'vert.jpg

      After we had ordered our meals, including (pardon our trayf) a shared appetizer of escargots, my husband took the opportunity to hand me an anniversary card. “It’s Always Been You,” said the greeting on the front.

Anniversary card It's Always Been You.jpg

      “Always will be,” it added inside (along with an inscription that was, well, personal).

      As if all this hoopla weren’t enough, after we had polished off the wine, our delicieux entrees, and the last bites of the profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with hot fudge, we learned that, due to the occasion, our dessert was on the house.

The profiteroles at A'vert.jpg

      In case you are wondering, I also had a card for my husband waiting at home, along with a box of chocolates from Jacques Torres and, yes, a few little tchotchkes.

     “Why do I put up with you?” the card I had purchased asked on the outside. “Oh, wait, now I remember,” it continues inside. “YOU put up with ME!”

      In the end, maybe it was no big deal whether we went out, stayed in, or did anything at all. But in case you have an anniversary or other such occasion coming up yourself, well, let me say this. It would have been fine to just let it go. But it was so much nicer not to.

Allegra and JP in Cape May.jpg

      And it was very, very nice of our friends, and our daughter, to play a role in that.

     By the way, I am happy to report that Allegra and JP decided to go away for a belated anniversary celebrationafter all, and are now happily ensconced at a lovely seaside inn.

      Maybe the best-laid plans of mice and moms are almost guaranteed to go awry. But it is still worth making them anyway, because we really must take time to celebrate anything in life that is worth celebratingand also do whatever it takes to keep the home fires burning.

Maybe we'll at least make it to our 33rd.jpg

      We are still hoping to see Maggie’s Plan one of these days. But not because it's about an extramarital affair, or that we would ever want to have one of those ourselves. On the contrary, after our anniversary date, it feels like our good old '84 sedan just got an oil change and a much-needed tune-up. I would even dare say that we are almost feeling amorous, or at the very least affectionate enough to stick it out together until our 33rd. Or maybe even the 40th. Why the heck not? I could really use a month away. 

6:41 pm 

Friday, July 15, 2016

 

A Word From The Weiss

 

Aidan and Kaitlin before the wedding.jpg

    Whether or not you have been waiting with bated breath to hear more details of my son’s recent wedding, I know what you must be thinking (whether or not you have the chutzpah to actually say it out loud): Was there a chuppah? Was there a hora? Was it a Jewish wedding?

       The answers to those questions, however pressing they may be, are not all that simple. Let me tell you a little more about what happened and let you be the judge.

     As I have noted before, Kaitlin, the bride, while beautiful and brilliant, is not Jewish herself. So we realized that in the interests of making everyone comfortable and happy, a non-denominational ceremony was probably the best approach.

Wedding officiant Patricia Debrovner.jpg

    The question was, who would perform it? After a great deal of soul-searching, and Internet searching, not to mention heated debate, the Happy Couple finally managed to locate an absolutely lovely woman from the Ethical Culture Society of New York. Many guests remarked afterwards that she reminded them of actress Betty White, and they were truly not far off the mark. The officiant79-year-old Patricia Bruder Debrovner, is a longtime actress who appeared on the soap opera As the World Turns for 35 years. 

     Her approach to conducting the ceremony turned out to be warm and reflective, extremely spiritual, and deeply moving. She spoke of the meaning of marriage and the sanctity of the special bonds that link husband and wife, tying in everything from the bliss she feels herself after being married for over 50 years to a traditional Apache blessing.

     This is not to say that the ceremony entirely lacked for Jewish content or context.

Chuppah with bride and groom.jpg

      Although I knew from the start that there would be no rabbi or other Jewish member of the clergy present, I was heartened to hear that the nuptials would take place under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy. Why, the very day that Aidan and Kaitlin became engaged, early last summer, she created a Pinterest page to gather wedding ideas, and among the very first things that she posted, to my surprise, were images of chuppahs.

The Riverview gazebo.jpg

      She seemed to grasp the magnitude of this element of our wedding ritual, and as a nature lover favored designs that were rustic in styleBut the wedding venue that the kids ultimately chose, The Riverview, in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, already had a large gazebo in place, and any outdoor ceremony there would need to incorporate that.

Janet of Floral Designs by Janet King.jpg

       The venue’s in-house florist, Janet of Floral Designs by Janet King, in Eastchester, NYhowever, was not only sensitive to our cultural needs, but also extremely savvy. She clearly had been down this road to holy matrimony before and knew just what to do. She could easily make the white wooden structure resemble a chuppah, she assured us, by adding clusters of blossoms and curly willow boughs on the front beams. The only missing element was an actual piece of cloth, and for this, my son’s tallis – the prayer shawl he received at his bar mitzvah 17 years ago – would more than suffice.

groom stepping on the glass.jpg

      I was also absolutely ecstatic to hear from the Happy Couple that the most fundamental, iconic element of a Jewish wedding ceremony would be included as well. Obviously, I’m referring to the final moments of the proceedings, when the couple’s lifelong connection is sealed, not just by a kiss, but the groom stepping on a glass.

    OK, let’s call a spade a spade. For those who may not know, what a Jewish groom actually steps on tends to be a light bulb, because they shatter easily, with an audible crack.

the groom actually steps on a light bulb.jpg

      Knowing that well over half the relatives and friends present would be Jewish, I could already imagine the cries of joy and congratulations ringing out across the Hudson.

      “Mazel tov!”

Wedding hora bride and groom lifted in chairs.jpg

     As for a hora, I could already imagine other sorts of cries. But hopefully not cryingKaitlin was totally on board with having everyone dance the hora at the beginning of the party. As for the Jewish custom of having the bride and groom be hoisted up in chairs, though? Let’s just say that she had an understandable level of trepidation about her role in this segment of the celebration. I kept reassuring her that no bride or groom had ever been droppedI can't say I knew this to be true, but I certainly hoped it was trueand I didn’t want her to worry. So what else could I say?

     That, I figured, was where the Jewish elements of the evening would end. And had that been the case, as we Jews say at Passover, Dayenu!”

     It would have been enough.

Manischewitz -- what could be more kosher?.jpg

     So imagine my surprise when a few days before the event, Kaitlin wrote to ask me to purchase some kosher wine. They would need it for the moment when they each took a sip from the same silver goblet during the ceremony. Basically, that is, for the Kiddush.

    Wait, there was going to be a Kiddush? A traditional Jewish blessing over the wine?

    I asked if some standard  Manischewitz concord grape would suffice. I always have some of that on hand, and what could be more kosher than that?    

    She quickly responded that, no, she really would prefer that it be white kosher wine. She was worried about having an errant drop of red fruit of the vine potentially stain her wedding gown.

     Before sending my husband to the store to buy a bottle of that, I wrote to Aidan just to make sure that this was what he wanted too.

      Isn’t red wine more traditional?” he responded. I thought so, but told him to work it out with Kaitlin and let us know. He later replied with the verdict: Better red, he said. But my husband wanted a vintage a little less sweet that syrupy Manischewitz and purchased something else.

     No sooner had we gotten our wine act together than Aidan wrote to me again. Who, he wanted to know, was going to do the Motzi?

     Wait, now they also wanted a Motzi, the traditional blessing over the bread?

Uncle Gerard chanting the Motzi at Allegra's bat mitzvah.JPG

     OMG! What the heck going on?

     As for who among the gathered guests would chant the Motzi, that was a bit of a quandary. For as long as I could remember – meaning my whole life – at every single simcha my family had held, be it wedding, bar mitzvah, or other milestone, the motzi had been belted out by my Uncle Gerard, whose rich tenor voice had made him the star of many a community theater production in Northern New Jersey. Sadly, he had passed away two years ago at the age of 88. Who could ever even presume to take his place?

Cousin Susan would help say the Motzi.JPG

     The best option I could come up with was that his daughter, my cousin Susan, would step up and do it with my daughter Allegra and me.

      Meanwhile, I began thinking about the direction in which this entire enterprise was going. If we were going to have a chuppah, a hora, a Kiddush, and a Motzi, well, why not go for the entire Jewish kit and caboodle and throw in a ketubah too?

     I’m talking about the traditional Jewish wedding contract, a written document customarily signed right before the ceremony by the bride, the groom, and the officiating rabbi.

     I don’t know why this added detail was suddenly of such importance to me. The truth is no one even mentioned the word "ketubah" when I got married, 32 years ago today. But when one of Aidan’s good friends tied the knot a few years ago, Aidan was chosen to be one of the two witnesses who signed his ketubah, and I remember thinking what an honor and a privilege that was. Wouldn't it be nice for him to have two of his friends sign it for him, and to then have one of these historic documents himself to keep for posterity?

Ketubah with Peacock.jpg       So I wrote him to ask if he might want one of these as well. He responded that, well, he would think about it. The ceremony was now only three days away, though. There wasn’t much time left to think.

     So I called my synagogue to ask if they might have a ketubah on hand that we could use. I was told that they had some very simple ones that I could have free of charge, but that most people opted for more decorative ones. Personalized versions of these could be ordered from many places for hundreds of dollars. But there were also some that could be downloaded off the Internet for free.

     Considering that my son had sounded so noncommittal, I didn’t want to invest too much. In fact, given his lack of enthusiasm, I figured that I should probably not invest anything at all.

Free Ketubah I found online.jpg

     So I searched online until I found one that was not only attractivebut also expressed strictly non-denominational sentiments that I thought would appeal to them both. It read:

       "And each said to the other: We promise to love, honor, cherish, appreciate and support each other as we grow together. May we treasure our uniqueness and always try to be sensitive to each other's needs. We will treat each other with respect and understanding. We shall strive to be for each other a constant source of friendship… Let our lives be intertwined forever and our hearts beat as one. We shall remain faithful through health and illness and through joys and sorrows. Let us not take each other for granted. May we always remember why we first fell in love and never forget how much we mean to each other. As we joyfully enter into this covenant, our hope is that our home will be filled with happiness and peace."

      There were spaces at the bottom for the signatures of two witnesses, the bride, the groom, and an officiant.

      No rabbi necessary.  

      I emailed these words to Aidan, along with a picture of the design. “No pressure,” I said, “but I will bring it if you want to use it. 

      Then I filled in the blank spaces on it with the names of the bride and groom, the date, and the location of the nuptials, and I brought it along just in case.

         

Chuppah photograph by Jamie Santamour.jpg

       Flash forward three days. We arrived breathlessly at the wedding venue an hour before the ceremony was to begin. There, standing before rows of white chairs on the river’s edge, was the most beautiful chuppah imaginable. 

       A large box on a table nearby held all of the wedding party’s flowers, from the bridal bouquet and groomsmen’s boutonnieres to the flower girls’ baskets of rose petals.

      As I searched in this for the mother of the groom’s wristlet I would get to wear, I saw a small, white-haired woman in a cream-colored robe approaching. I could have sworn it was Betty White.

Betty White.jpg

      After introducing herself and shaking my hand, she asked where the wine for the ceremony was. I handed over the bottle of kosher red wine my husband had bought, which we had just had uncorked.

    She looked back at me incredulously and glared. “It needs to be white wine!” she declared. “We can’t risk having a drop fall on the bride’s gown! Don’t you have any white wine?”

     I stood there speechless for a moment. Where did I even begin to explain?

     Well, there would be no need to explain, because before I could begin to collect my thoughts, she stalked off toward the bar asserting, “Never mind! I’ll just go get it myself.”

The Kiddush shot by Jamie Santamour.jpg

      OK, so the wine that the bride and groom sipped together during the ceremony might not be kosher, after all.

     Also, I got so flustered about this little confrontation that, although I prevailed upon the officiant and both of the two best men to sign the ketubah, I lost my nerve and never even dared to show it to the bride and groom.

     Yet when the groom topped off the ceremony by stepping resoundingly on a glass – OK, yes, the light bulb – cries of “Mazel tov!” did indeed echo clear across the Hudson.

Aidan steps on the glass.jpg

 

      And although when my cousin Susan later joined us in singing a rousing motzi – one that surely would have made her father proud – there may not have been a dry eye in the house, but there wasn’t an actual challah in the house, either. I think we said it over some rolls.

     As for the hora, though, that I can assure you was the real deal. As well as the reeling deal (as you can see from these wonderful photos taken by our photographer, Jamie Santamour).

Women's hora shot by Jamie Santamour.jpg

       

        Spinning around endlessly to "Hava Nagila," I quickly grew so dizzy and exhausted that I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. In traditional Jewish fashion, the women danced separately from the men. I can’t tell you what the guys did, but we joined hands and circled to the left. Then wcircled to the right. Then we lifted our hands and rushed toward the center. Then, suddenly, I began spinning around in the center of the circle, linking elbows jubilantly as I swung around the bride, my daughter, my niece, my friends, and half the other women I know.

The men's hora photo by Jamie Santamour.jpg

     Then, at last, came the moment we had all been waiting for, and the bride herself had been waiting to see if she would survive.

     I’m talking about the chairs

     Up into the air she went.

Kaitlin lifted in chair by Jamie Santamour.jpg

     Up into the air he went.

     Then someone passed up a cloth napkin, onto which they each grabbed hold.

     The two of them were paraded around for such a long time that I could only imagine poor Kaitlin was terrified. So I kept rushing toward the group of men who had hoisted them, screaming, “Enough already! Put her down!”

Photo by Jamie Santamour.jpg

    But either they couldn’t hear me over the music or they hadn't had enough themselves. Because they didn’t put Kaitlin down for quite some time.

    And when they finally did, it was only so they could lift my husband instead. And me.

      I have to admit that, after all of my efforts to reassure Kaitlin, it was pretty scary up there for me too. It felt many times as though I was tipping backwards and might be dropped at any moment.

Me up in the chair by Jamie Santamour.jpg

    But in the end, I must admit, it was still literally one of the high points of my life. 

    And now that I’m beginning to come down to earth, I have time to think about it all.

    I also am curious to know what you think about it all. Would you say it was a Jewish wedding? 

    Or at the very least, a Jew-ish wedding?

    Feel free to write me and tell me what you think at nicejewishmom@gmail.com.

    I’ll be waiting with bated breath.

1:52 pm 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Word From The Weiss

 

Mother of the groom.jpg

     As you may have noticed, I didn't post a word last week. I didn't even post a note stating that I wasn't going to post a word. I mean, who had the time? Certainly not me... the Mother of the Groom!

      Yes, that's what I said. "Groom." As in my son. Aidan. Who got married. Last Saturday night!

       I wish I had the time to tell you all about it. Or almost anything about it. Never mind having the time. Now that it's over, for the first time in a long time, I finally do have some time on my hands.

       What I really don't have is one iota of energy. After all, five days later, I'm still the Mother of the Groom.

       Make that recovering Mother of the Groom.

JP, Allegra, Kaitlin and Aidan.jpg

       People are said to be newlyweds for the first two years of their married life. Well, after all the effort that went into the Big Day, I suspect that for the first two years of their marriage I may remain a recovering Mother of the Groom.

      And until I finish recovering, and am able to converse again in complete sentences, you will have to settle for the small bone or two that I'm prepared to throw you (although I hesitate to use the word "bone," since the dinner at this particular wedding, by decree of the vegetarian bride, included no meat whatsoever).

Kaitlin and Aidan's first dance.JPG

      The items that I have to throw you, boneless though they may be, are the only ones already cast in complete sentences. I'm referring to the two toasts that I gave on behalf of the Happy Couple this past weekend -- one at the rehearsal dinner and a completely different one at the start of the reception.  

      As for the photos you see here, at this point I have only a small collection of unofficial ones snapped on my phone or those of assorted guests who have been kind enough to fork them over. It will probably be some time before I get to see the real ones. No matter. I think these are beautiful. After all, the bride was beautiful. And if you ask me, my son and the rest of the bridal party all looked pretty beautiful, too. Cheers -- or should I say l'chaim? -- to them all!

 

My Toast at The Rehearsal Dinner 

 

Aidan playing the sax.jpg

        People sometimes ask how it was that Aidan, soon followed by Allegra, got so deeply into jazz. Part of it was that he took up the saxophone at around age 9, and as with everything else that he sets his mind to, he put in the time. Halso proved to be talented and supremely capable, not to mentioned focused, hard-working,and committed… so committed that there were nights when I asked him to please STOP practicing because Mommy was getting a headache. Sorry, Aid!

        The other part of the jazz equation, though, was that we live in a town where the school jazz band is nationally known, so that when he was applying to colleges, all we had to do was call up the heads of the music departments, and they would want to meet him and audition him personally.

        One school that he applied to was Tufts Universityin Massachusetts, near BostonWe set off to meet the rather temperamental and demanding head of their jazz program on a memorably dark and stormy fall day. After we’d driven the two hours to the school, I said to Aidan, “I’m going to drop you off with your saxophone in front of the music building, so you don’t get all wet.”

        “No,” he said, “you can’t.

Aidan and Kaitlin engagement photo.jpg

        Aidan has always been modest and unassuming to the max, and he never wants anyone to go out of his way for him. But now I thought he was being ridiculous.

        “What are you talking about?” I said. “Of course I can!

        “No,” he maintained, “you can’t. You can’t… because I forgot to bring my saxophone!

        Oops! It was the one single time in his life that he wasn’t quite so capable and focused. Maybe the chaos of leaving in the storm had made him a little fedrayt. (That means forgetful in Yiddish.)

        NOW what were we going to do?

Aidan before his wedding.jpg

        Well, I’ll tell you what we DID. I looked at him. He looked at me. And the two of us began laughing so hard that I began to cry until I nearly peed my pants.

        Then I called the temperamental, demanding director of the jazz department, and we went to face the music together.

        This story has a happy ending: After berating us, the tyrant phoned another student and told him to bring a saxophone to his office right away. Aidan auditioned. The guy was blown away. He said there was no question he wanted Aidan at Tufts. Aidan, though, elected to go to Brown!

       The fact is, however, that life is full of such episodes and errors. Some, like that one, are just minor “oops” moments, but others, as too many of us here know, turn out to be true tragedies.

Walking Kaitlin down the aisle.jpg

       The key is to have the right person by your side – someone who knows to laugh when there’s nothing more you can do, and will cry with you when there’s nothing more you can do. And I know Aidan has found that person in the Kaitlin because she’s Kaitlin. No one could be better. For him. Or as a person. Anywhere.

       I am so proud to be his mom, and so happy to have Kaitlin join our family. This is a moment to both laugh and cry.  Because I am so overwhelmed with joy that there’s nothing more I can do.

 

      OK, that's what I said at the rehearsal dinner. But the rehearsal dinner was a tiny affair, with just the bridal party, immediate family, and a very few out-of-towners, including some good friends who had come all the way from London.

The rehearsal dinner was small.JPG

      So I felt compelled, or obliged even, to give another toast at the main event, if only to welcome all of our friends.

      Unfortunately, this wedding featured two maids of honor, including my daughter, and also two best men, and all four of them wanted to get into the toasting act.

Two maids of honor, two best men

      Also unfortunately, the band leader, who introduced all of the various and sundry speakers, didn't get the memo noting that my husband and I intended to put in our two cents worth too. So after the four members of the bridal party had each had their very heartfelt, amusing, and rather extensive say, all eight musicians in his group abruptly assembled behind him and he prepared to strike up the band.

      Yikes!

      Now what was I going to do? Well, I'll tell you what I did. I jumped to my feet and began to rush toward him. My daughter, Allegra, meanwhile, shot me a horrified glance. The wait staff had already finished serving the pasta course, which was rapidly getting cold. And our guests had already sat quietly through a good 15 to 20 minutes of oratory and banter. Wasn't it time to give it a rest?

Allegra was one of two maids of honor.jpg

      Seeing my daughter decisively shake her head and mouth the words "Do it later," I began to slink dejectedly back to my seat. Then I thought, "Later? There won't be any 'later'!" Many people were bound to leave early. Others would be ready to dance. Or schmooze. There was no other time when everyone would be willing to pay attention. It was now or never. I preferred now. So I dashed up to the mic, took a big gulp, and as everyone dug into their pasta, said this...

     Or something like this. The other unfortunate thing was that, although I had slipped not one but two pairs of reading glasses into my teeny-weeny evening bag that morning, I had somehow managed to misplace both of them during the course of this eventful day. Without them, and in the heat of the moment, I could barely make out one word on the page I clutched in my hand. So I simply had to wing it. 

 

My Wedding Toast for Aidan and Kaitlin

The wedding ceremony under the chuppah.jpg

       Despite the hilarious and heartfelt words we heard him utter tonite, including six very profound and life-changing ones  “With this ring, I thee wed! -- Aidan has always been on the soft-spoken side. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, well, he's kind of a low talker. But he has always had a lot to say, and a way with the wordsalmost from the moment he emerged from the womb nearly three decades ago
       I still vividly recall him running around the back yard when he was only about 18 months old, hitting a tennis ball straight up into the air with a racket and yelling over and over again, "UnbeliEEEvable!" "UnbeliEEEvable!"

       Of course, because he was only about 18 months old, what he actually yelled was probably more like "un-be-WEAVEable!"
       What is unbelievable to me is that 28 years have passed since that time, during which I have watched my little boy grow into a brilliant, capable, kind, insightful, and otherwise wonderful manand we are standing before you today celebrating his marriage.

Kaitlin is unbelievable.jpg

       Also unbelievable? That he somehow managed to find someone brilliant, kind, beautiful and otherwise wonderful enough for him. Let’s face it. I'm a nice Jewish mom, and never believed ANYONE would be good enough for him... until he brought home Kaitlin.

       I only wish my own mom, Bunnie, and my Dad, Stuie, could have lived to see this day, as well as Harlan’s mother, whom the kids called Nanny Harriet. I know that they would have loved Kaitlin as much as we do, and they would also be so very proud of Aidan. Otherwise known as "The Aidman." Or "Computer Aid." Our boy!!!

Walking Aidan down the aisle.jpg

       I hope the Happy Couple will not mind if I divulge that there were moments along their journey of love when they considered having a small, low-key wedding. Face it, almost everyone would kind of prefer a small, low-key wedding. Correction: every groom would. Brides? Not so much.
       The problem with that scenario, we quickly realized, was that not eacand every one of YOU would have been here today. And we just could not imagine doing this without each and every one of you -- the most important people in our lives.First dance as husband and wife.JPG       Besides, getting married is not about keeping it small and to yourself. It's about standing up in front of the whole world -- or, at the very least, the people most important in our lives -- and saying proudly, and loudly, I have found him! Oher! I have found the one! The one I prize above all else and in whom my soul delights! 
       The ones whom I prize above all else and in whom my soul delights are my children -- and OK, yes, I guess, that guy over there -- so I cannot tell you how delighted I am that Aidan, my beloved son, has found HIS One.

champagne in flutes.jpg

       And that his one is someone we love too!

       To love! To the sons we love and the ones they love!

       To Aidan and Kaitlin!

       Unbelievable!!!

11:07 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
    
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LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
                                                                                           
 *********************************************
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.