That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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on a Modern-Day Bimah
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Word From The Weiss
        Only two weeks in, I'm already beginning to rethink the name of this site. Should it stay as is, NiceJewishMom.com, or be NiceJewishMomSITcom instead? OK, just kidding. But as anyone who has kids, especially girls, must know, life is not  full of surprises (serendipitous occurrences that actually seem fortuitous), but rather crises and calamities, coupled with horrid twists and hairpin turns.
        Another day, another drama. Welcome to my not-always-nice Jewish world!
        Just yesterday, Allegra, who is 20, called fretfully from college in Boston with another typical horror story (the high-tech kind my own mother never had to deal with when I was a young adult): While waiting to get her Mac repaired at the Apple store, she'd checked her Facebook page on one of the shop's public computers. Only later did she realize that she had neglected to log herself off afterwards. Surprise! The sociopath next in line had seized this golden opportunity to change my daughter's Facebook photo (to a shot of two naked, obese women), then message half of her friends asking if they wanted to have sex.
        Perhaps she told us the, er, naked truth preferring that we learn it from her rather than by other means. (My husband happens to be one of her Facebook friends, although he did not receive this particular invite. Yikes!)
        More likely, she just wanted to vent.
        I couldn't do much to help in this case, other than to offer sympathy and  urge her to send an explanation to everyone she knows (as easily said and done on Facebook as making a group bootie call).
        But too often I get involved in my kids' personal dilemmas, not just by having my older-but-wiser say, but also jumping into the fray.
        Such was the case when Allegra divulged recently that her boyfriend was moving and had found an amazing place posted on Craig's List. It boasted beautiful wood floors, spacious rooms and an in-house washer/dryer, all for a measly $380 a month (less than a third of what she pays). One minor catch: He would be sharing the premises with another young man who described himself as a "full-time nudist."
        As if this weren't enough, she mentioned that her boyfriend, who is a musician, had a rehearsal that night, so she was going over to check out this gem herself.
        I instantly went online and within hours had forwarded innumerable options, noting that all were somewhat pricier, at $500 and up, "but I'm afraid that's the going rate for rooming with people who are fully clothed."
        I should have known better than to weigh in or waste my precious time. The b.f., I heard, did not exactly welcome either my efforts or my sarcasm. My daughter never did manage to meet the nudist. And in due time, the boyfriend found his own alternative address among the dressed.
        The bigger issue, of course, is whether we should intervene in our kids' problems at all. Might it not be better to let them figure out how to sidestep large, falling objects themselves? Or, even better, should we simply let them do all the hare-brained things that they always want to do, suffer the consequences and eventually learn their lesson and stop acting like nincompoops?
        The problem is that I converse with my kids so often, and learn so much detail about their lives, that it often feels like watching a train wreck in progress (the way someone always seems to have a camera handy these days to capture every disaster in progress). When you know exactly what your kids are up to - and as an adult you've been there and know better -- it's hard to hold your tongue and watch them fall flat on their what-ifs, and/or butts.
        My old friend Karin, upon reading here about how often I hear from my children, forwarded this site to her own 20-something daughter, who is far more reticent. She was delighted to report back that it prompted the girl to phone home. (Jewish guilt in action -- better than rollover minutes!) Meanwhile, Karin also sent me the speech she gave when her daughter became a bat mitzvah, which stated that the girl had accused her of being "under-protective" -- a valid charge, she admitted in the speech, which went on to explain:

            "It's what I learned from MY parents. They always took risks on me, and somehow it usually turned out well. It made me feel like they trusted me. If they trusted me, I must have been worthy of their trust. It's a funny thing about trust: It's contagious... So Rose, I'm not making excuses, but keep in mind that trust is a nice thing to give your children. The danger is that your children may accuse you of being under-protective, too."

        Reading this, I must confess, made me feel a little abashed about my own parenting approach. Do I not trust my kids, or do they not sense that trust... and therefore perhaps not always rise to the occasion and earn it?
        The fact is that when I was growing up, my parents took plenty of risks with me, but I don't think they deliberately allowed me this freedom for my own good. They were just distracted by their own marital woes (my mother) or work and selfish inclinations (my dad). Their under-parenting was not truly about trust at all; more like extreme naiveté and not-necessarily-benign neglect.
        And yet they somehow managed to still be overprotective, like too many Jewish parents. They instilled a pervasive sense of anxiety in me that made me a cautious person, and in turn a cautious parent.
        Which brings me to the point:
        Does my kids' desire to stay in such close touch show that we are good parents? Or, rather, that we are perhaps TOO good for their own good?
        Your progeny may not keep you in the proverbial loop about every minor development in their lives, good or bad  (mostly bad). But while you wonder why they never call, they never write, you are probably able to do other things as well, like entertain clear thoughts in your head, keep a clean house, and hold a job, rather than attending to every minor development in their young lives, good or bad (mostly bad).
        You can also rest assured that you have succeeded in raising human beings who are independent. I lie awake at night worrying not only about the next episode in our sitcom, but also that our lives are less sitcom than psycho-drama. We're such "good parents" that we may never know a dull moment... or a day of peace.

10:12 pm 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Word from the Weiss
        ’Twas the night before Rosh Hashanah, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring … not even my mouth.
        The children, still munchkins, were tucked in their beds, visions of Rugrats still dancing in their heads.
Their father, my bitter half, was down for the night, switching between Nightline and the Bowe-Holyfield fight.
But I was still slaving away in the kitchen, moaning and groaning and scrubbing and bitchin’. There I was, a thoroughly modern woman with all the customary ambitions, anxieties and occasional hot-blooded urges, yet all were being drowned out by some nagging internal voice bellowing a primordial, non-negotiable command: “Time to make the kugel!”
I’ve had many such compulsions over the years. It’s as if they are programmed to sprout on me with age, along with my mother’s thighs.
And, as with a disproportionate number of Jewish neuroses, quite a few of them revolve around food. I love dining out, for everything from soufflés to sushi, but when we arrive at a restaurant I’m often tempted to order for everyone else at the table. (I believe it’s my unique talent in life to intuit what others want. Now, if only I could learn to please myself.) And whenever I manage to lure guests to my house, I torture them with excessive hospitality. No one is allowed to leave while they can still button their pants!
So, getting back to my epiphany, which occurred back in the ‘60s… The 5760s, that is… The HHD (High Holy Daze) was upon us, and to serve my family a respectably excessive feast, I had to get cooking. And fast.
An ancient, grease-stained cookbook led the way. It was a homespun volume published by my mother’s temple in Westchester so long ago that its title, “Try It . . . You’ll Like It!!” might actually have elicited grins, not groans. I bypassed the dishes that passed for “gourmet” in 1972 -- sweet and sour meatballs and apricot Jell-O mold -- and headed straight to the back. That’s where they kept the recipes for the good stuff, the high-calorie concoctions reserved for Jewish holidays, such as cheese blintzes, matzoh ball soup and meat pancakes cooked in borscht.
No luck finding lokshen kugel. The only passing reference to puddings was of the potato persuasion. In a panic, I flipped back to the side dish section of the main text. And there I saw them: four distinct versions from which to choose.
Apparently, back in 1972, noodle kugel was classified as everyday fare among members of the Beth El sisterhood.
Ever ambitious, I selected the recipe with the most ingredients. I was making decent headway parboiling golden ribbons of pasta and beating eggs. (Jews don’t really need to worry about cholesterol; they know guilt or gonifs like Bernie Madoff are bound to get them first.) Suddenly, a ringing telephone rudely interrupted.
It was London calling – our close friend Paul, a savvy Brit with a surprisingly good gift of gab for a man (and a shaygetz, no less).
We bantered about the exigencies of contemporary life, from airline baggage rules to Alzheimer’s disease, Finally, I had to interrupt our repartée to scramble up on a chair.
“Hold on,” I ordered, foraging among fossilized vials of herbs. “I can’t find the bleeping vanilla extract.”
“Baking a cake?” he inquired.
“Not exactly,” I replied. “I’m making lokshen kugel.” I stepped off the chair before I could break my neck, as my mother would caution. “Noodle pudding,” I promptly translated. “Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah. It’s New Year’s Eve for the Jews.”
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to interrupt your ritual,” Paul apologized, sounding abashed.
“What ritual?” I demanded. Up to that point, I had never baked a kugel in my life. “I don’t even like kugel, to tell you the truth. Imagine very sweet, solidified macaroni and cheese . . . without the cheese. Try it,” I said. “You won’t like it.”
My friend was growing more mystified by the minute. “So, why are you making it?”
“Why? Because I have to,” I said. “My mother always made it for Rosh Hashanah, like her mother before her. So now that I have kids of my own, some deep, inner voice keeps telling me that I should make it, too.”
 “I am a nice Jewish mother,” I protested. “But I’m really more of a new Jewish mother. I have a thoroughly modern lifestyle and tastes, but also these ingrained, traditional Jewish sensibilities. There’s no easy way to make those two conflicting approaches to life mesh. I look at yarmulkes and often think ‘knit frisbees.’ I love to eat bagels on Sunday morning, not with lox and cream cheese, but sliced avocados and Brie. Meanwhile, I have no savvy yenta to offer me sage advice. I have to make up my own rules, and recipes, as I go along.”
“Make up recipes? Well, in that case,” volunteered my equally modern friend, “if you can’t find the bleeping vanilla extract, why not use hooch instead?”
“Liquor,” he explained, with a roll of his eyes I could envision trans-Atlantically.
Indeed. Inspired to improvise, I bypassed the half-magnum of Manischewitz Extra Heavy Malaga left over from Passover in favor of Amaretto -- equally sweet, but far more potent and palatable. Instantly, I could sense Bubbe Chaia, my Russian great grandmother, turn over in her grave . . . and grope for a pencil to jot down the recipe.
Thus, the idea for this Web site, and my Amaretto Noodle Kugel, were both born in one night. For directions to the latter, please click on the recipe to the right. As for the rest of my quest to reconcile the rituals and reasoning of my Jewish heritage with the problems and priorities of contemporary life -- plus some songs, holiday reflections, and slightly risqué jokes -- please pass the hooch and keep reading.

10:15 pm 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

 Introducing my new BLOG...
PattieLevyheadshot1.jpgA Word From the Weiss
     One of the best things about being a Jew is that you get two chances to start anew. Break your Rosh Hashanah's resolutions by Simchat Torah and you can always try, try again in January.
     But why talk about failure only a week into 5771? I can't fail. I've succeeded already. My first resolution has actually been realized. It's what you're reading now.
     In the coming weeks, I've resolved to continue writing in this space. But today, you can already enjoy all sorts of features, including my first foray into Tashlich, some Rosh Hashanah reflections, a recipe, two songs, a few inevitably corny (and only slightly off-color) Jewish jokes, and what happened when I signed my son up for JDate... without getting his permission first.
     Now on to resolution No. 2: Being more civil to my husband. Or at least less caustic and condescending. (That's the resolution he's made for me, anyway.) To which I say, "Hullo? The expression is 'nice Jewish mother.' Who's ever heard of a 'nice Jewish wife?' "
     Oh, well. The year is young. As I said, I'll keep you posted...

1:32 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!   
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.