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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Word From the Weiss
Every year, just before Thanksgiving, the calls begin. Friends phone me to pose the same age-old question: “Serving anything novel with the turkey this year?” To which I invariably offer the same response: No one wants novelty for Thanksgiving. More than perhaps any other holiday, Turkey Day is strictly about three things – “Tradition, tradition… TRADITION!” (in the inimitable words of Fiddler on the Roof). This is especially true when it comes to food. Dare to dispense with any one of the usual side dishes, from the stuffing or cranberry sauce to the creamy pumpkin pie, and someone is sure to feel gypped. And after eating all of the usual suspects, who has room for anything else?
There is, of course, another age-old tradition also endemic to the occasion: family squabbles. You may imagine that yours is the only dysfunctional family in America and that everyone else gets to enjoy a picture-perfect holiday. But get real. In virtually every home in the country tomorrow, there will be a turkey in the oven and turmoil in the air, whether it be about incompatibility, infidelity, or how much various relatives eat. Or drink.
In my family, we used to save time by combining these two holiday traditions, food and fighting. I don’t mean we had actual food fights, lofting mashed potatoes into the air like John Belushi in Animal House. Rather, every Thanksgiving, my mother and I would battle about side dishes. A ‘60s housewife to the core, she swore by frozen vegetables. I insisted on fresh. I like my veggies steamed al dente (Italian for “to the tooth”). She boiled hers long enough so that anyone who might have forgotten their dentures could easily have gummed them instead.
And beyond these vital matters of quality was the even thornier issue of quantity. Jewish mothers, as we know, tend to err on the side of generosity, G-d forbid anyone should finish the meal still able to button their pants. I am no stranger to this approach myself. But my mother’s vision of what was enough was unquestionably much too much. And so one lamentable year, not long ago, I actually walked out of her house when she asked me to help out in the kitchen by steaming four gargantuan heads of broccoli. There were only nine people for dinner and perhaps a dozen other overflowing dishes already. It seemed so over the top that I totally blew my top.
“Broccoli,” in fact, has become a code word in my house. There was another Thanksgiving when my mother-in-law, then nearing 90, was in a convalescent home for the occasion. My husband asked her what she’d had for lunch, and she began rattling off answers until she got stumped, caught in a veritable senior moment, and concluded, “…and the popular green vegetable.” It took us many guesses to come up with broccoli.
I always thought the popular green vegetable for Thanksgiving was string beans. Or, perhaps, peas.
Ever since, whenever we can’t think of a word we want or recall someone’s name, we simply say, “the popular green vegetable.” Or sometimes just “broccoli” for short.
But in the case of that memorably dissonant Thanksgiving at my mom’s, this was no euphemism. We really were bickering about broccoli. I actually believed that her overabundance of fresh florets, purchased mostly to appease me, were worth getting worked up about. Now I wish I could go back in time so I could steam – or better yet, mercilessly overcook to her outdated taste – every one of those stupid green stalks. I’d give almost anything just to be able to fight with her again.
Instead, we’re combining two very disparate traditions this week, the American ritual of indulging in abject gluttony and the Jewish rite of holding an unveiling. Yes, I worry that incorporating something so funereal in the holiday may undermine the fun. But my mother died more than 18 months ago, and Jews customarily hold a graveside ceremony to unveil the gravestone after only a year. This is the first time we will have managed to assemble everyone necessary, winter weather’s on the way, and I’m not willing to wait any longer.
I also worry that what we're unveiling in this case may prove to be underwhelming. A few months after my mother passed away, I called the cemetery to order a stone. That’s when I learned about the strict rules dictating stone design where she's buried.
According to these rules, you may only erect an upright headstone -- the tall, imposing sort you see in most graveyards -- if you own at least four adjacent plots. Then you get to have your family name engraved on the large stone and mark the various graves adjoining it with small, individual footstones. Own any fewer than four in a row, though, and you are restricted to putting in only a small, flat footstone on each.
        And there's the rub.
After my stepfather died, my mother bought the plot beside his for herself. My stepbrothers own their father’s grave, and I learned that no neighboring plots are any longer available. The upshot: We could put nothing more substantial to mark my mother’s final resting place than a small stone, two feet by one foot, embedded to be level with the earth.
I was shocked at this. And incensed. When my father, from whom my mother was divorced, died 12 years ago, I ordered him a towering, magnificent stone embellished with Lions of Judah and all sorts of flowery language. Did my mother deserve any less? Why should he get a virtual monument as a testament to his life, and she make do for eternity with a puny stone not much larger than a loaf of bread lying flat on the ground?
I kvetched to her temple, which owns that section of the cemetery, noting that my mom was a big macher there for decades and deserved to be honored, not buried from view. I bitched to my older brother, who sympathized and said that he’d loved my mother too, but that gravestones, in the end, are not that important to him. Then I realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, short of exhuming her body and burying her elsewhere. I think she’d rather rest in peace.
Besides, my mother may have had a healthy ego, but she was an unassuming person. She dressed mostly in muted tones like beige and gray. She wouldn’t have expected the Taj Mahal.
So I ordered a modest, one-size-fits-all marker bearing her name, dates, parents’ names, and the most ample inscription that could fit: “Beloved wife, mother & grandmother” (how nice to have an ampersand to save space!), followed by a favorite phrase she often used to denote her ultimate stamp of approval: “The best of all the good ones.”
That’s what my brother’s family and mine will see when we gather this Friday, following the turkey and other festivities. I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to that part of the weekend. But I’ve been fretting for months that we’ve failed to properly honor my mother’s memory. So I am looking forward to unloading a lingering source of guilt.
I’m also looking forward to showing my mother, if she’s there, that my brother and I have finally managed to achieve after her death one of her fondest dreams in life. We’ve ceased being foolishly divided by petty differences. We don't just love each other. We’re friends again, as close as we were back when we were kids. We’re totally there for each other and talk almost every day.
        Our families will spend Thanksgiving at his house, which
brings me back to my initial thoughts about holiday traditions. Not to be corny, or too sentimental, but we all know that tomorrow isn’t really about what kind of stuffing we eat or just how stuffed we can get. It’s about being grateful for what we have and getting together with family and friends.
And no matter how screwed up your family may be, you should be happy that you still have them there to fight with… or maybe even not fight with. For deep down, maybe you don’t detest them, or their annoying ways of doing things, quite as much as you think you do. At the very least, you’d rather be with them than spend the holiday alone.
Clearly, most of us care enough about our relatives to endure mammoth traffic jams, exasperating flight delays, and/or invasive TSA pat-downs just to have their company for a single meal. And that is something pretty monumental. How about unveiling that?  
12:39 am 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Word From the Weiss
        I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, and you may not even believe me. You’ll say that I’m exaggerating or just being melodramatic. But what the heck. Here goes.
I was out walking my dog last evening. It was close to 5 when we headed out and already near nightfall, thanks to the recent departure of Daylight Savings Time. I parked at a local middle school that has lovely grounds. But instead of circling the structure, as we most often do, we walked out into the streets in the wake of some other dogs. I began daydreaming as we wandered, block after block. Then I looked up and realized that I’d somehow lost my bearings. I had no idea from which direction we’d originally come.
The houses didn’t look at all familiar. Neither did the occasional street sign. Moments ago, it had been a hazy dusk. Now the starless sky had turned pitch black. I took another turn, hoping that I was doubling back, only to discover I’d gone further off track. That’s when I recognized the strange but awful truth.
        Although I’ve lived in this town for over 25 years, I was actually lost. Lost in my own neighborhood.
Maybe it was the darkness, but at this disturbing realization, I began to panic. “Calm down,” I thought. “This is just a momentary glitch. You’re not lost, merely disoriented.” If worse came to worst, I could call my husband. But he wasn’t home from work yet, and it seemed too humiliating to tell him.
        “Come and get me.”
        “Why? Where are you?”
        “That’s the problem. I don’t know.”
Zoe’s fur is black as coal. So were my pants and jacket. Every time a car approached, I retreated from the edge of the road, fearing that we were invisible in the darkness, and at the same time hoping we were. I’ve never felt unsafe in my suburban enclave. Being off my own turf, though, made me feel oddly vulnerable. Many a van and pickup truck passed, workers and lawn servicemen wrapping up business for the day. Anyone could have stopped and easily pulled me into their vehicles. No one knew where I was.
Zoe tugged me down a lane to the right. Dogs have a good sense of direction. Did she understand that I wanted to return to the car, or was she enjoying the change of scenery and eager to explore further? Once, years ago, she’d wandered out of sight in a local park, and I’d been unable to find her for hours. Finally, I’d walked home distraught, only to find her on my doorstep. Should I trust her instincts now?
As I floundered for a sense of direction, I began to think, “Maybe I’ve been lost for longer than I realize.”
It’s a product of middle age, perhaps (an optimistic term, for sure – average life spans may be inching up, but I don’t envision myself ever joining the ranks of centenarians on Willard Scott’s Smucker’s labels). Like many people of my vintage, I occasionally glimpse myself in a mirror and think, “Is that really me? With that belly? How did I get so old?” In a month, my youngest child will be 21. How did I get so old?
        Then again, “old” is relative. A close friend recently suggested that I turn this site into an advice column. There are endless resources for new parents, she noted, but how about focusing on empty nest syndrome for people whose kids have just left home? I explained that her oldest child may be a college freshman, but
my youngest has only one semester left. And most of my friends are older than I am. Nearly every week, I bid “Mazel tov!” to someone over the birth of their latest grandchild. My friends don't need to help their kids adjust to life in the dorm. Their children are having children, becoming engaged, or getting their MBAs.
        Yes, h
ow did I get so old?
Once upon a time, a good pre-childbirth two decades ago, I was a svelte size 6. Why am I satisfied now wearing a 12 and setting my sights, half-heartedly at best, on getting back into a 10 someday? It’s nice, on the one hand, to finally feel comfortable in my own skin, and to have accepted that we unavoidably alter physically as we age. But am I too complacent about accepting the ravages of time? Shouldn’t I hit the elliptical at the gym more often? How will I ever find my way back to my former svelte self?
Once I was also an ambitious, successful working woman, a journalist who undertook difficult stories and urged friends who’d left the world of work for motherhood to resume their once-vital careers. Then I was downsized from my newspaper job and became one of those avid, full-time mothers who dare to look askance at career women who don’t have time to dote endlessly on their offspring, as I did. Now I’m a so-called free-lance writer -- free to do nothing because I have no active contacts in my field. I’m a mother of grown children with no one at home to coddle. How do I find my way back to doing meaningful work as I once knew it, and at my age, will I ever?
Not to mention my whole identity as a woman… and work and motherhood do not completely cover it.
Sometimes I look at myself at night, watching TV while seated on my side of the sectional sofa -- a safe six feet or so away from my husband -- and I wonder, “When did we stop touching each other with actual affection? Wouldn’t life be nicer if we were pissed off at one another less often and had more physical contact? But how, after all these years, can we ever find our way back to the way that we once were?”
While foraging in my office the other day, I came across a book someone must have given me as a joke, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Sexy. But did I open it and delve instantly into its list of “idiot-proof steps to get past your inhibitions”? No. I merely thought, “When did I stop packing lingerie for weekend getaways and start opting for T-shirts and comfy PJs instead? Could I even fit into that lingerie if I could remember where the heck I put it? When did I stop being sexy and become a complete idiot instead?”
I’ve also done things lately to alienate good and true friends, whether by bad behavior or mere neglect. Talk about being an idiot.
Somewhere, without thinking, I strayed off the path to all of these things I once had and still want. There I was, in my own neighborhood, as it were – my own life –but I wasn’t paying enough attention. I took a wrong turn, then kept going in the wrong direction and ended up far, far away from where I intended to go or was supposed to be. And so, I guess I do feel a little lost right now. Lost in my own life.
Where the analogy breaks down somewhat is that, as we all know, you really can’t go home again. And maybe home, if it means returning to where we started, is not exactly where we want to go, anyway. Things change. Relationships change. We change. And with luck, change doesn’t always mean growing from a svelte size 6 to a still semi-sexy (as I’d like to fancy myself) 12. Change can also be for the better.
I can’t go back to being a teenager, a young single woman, or a newlywed. Nor would I ever want to. I am comfortable in my own skin now. I want to keep going. We all have to keep going, hoping for better.
The important thing, maybe, is to go in the right direction, rather than getting further and further lost. And I’m happy to report that, at least on my errant dog walk, that is what I did. Once I made myself calm down, I realized that workmen are just honest, hard-working people who want to go home to their dinner and their wives (ones who hopefully cuddle with them on the couch and wear something trashy).
I realized that the block I’d just retraced wasn’t the one I wanted and would never lead me anywhere.
Then I turned myself around and, with a tug of the leash, headed, with hope, in the opposite direction.
        And after a couple of dark streets, things finally started to look familiar. I saw a street sign I knew, and then, around the bend, in the distance, the back entrance to the school parking lot. I was so relieved at this point that I began to run. Zoe, too. When we reached my long-lost car, I clicked the door open and we clambered in, whereupon Zoe turned and began to slurp her tongue all over my face, something she hasn't done in ages. So I guess she'd understood that we'd been lost, after all. But now we were found. And we happily headed home. 

12:21 am 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Word From the Weiss
         When I was a freshman in college, I started to see a therapist on campus after a boy I'd had a secret crush on committed suicide. One Saturday night, I was mortified to go to a school concert and see my therapist walk in and stand nearby, seemingly watching me. It wasn't just that worlds were colliding, á la Seinfeld. I felt incredibly self-conscious. But I had arrived late, the place was packed, and there was nowhere to sit. So I kept standing where I was, just inside the entrance, right beside a swinging door that hit me every time somebody walked in, which was about every 20 seconds.
        At our next appointment, the therapist didn't ask me whether I'd enjoyed the music, or why I'd been all by myself on a Saturday night. What he asked was why I hadn't moved after the first time the door had hit me. Let alone the hundredth time. Was I a glutton for punishment? What did it take in life to make me move?
        I'll tell you what it takes.
        We went out to dinner with another couple a few weeks ago. These people are among our closest friends. We spend many special occasions with them and have been friends for over 15 years. But I hadn't seen them lately. So my husband brought up my brand new Web site and encouraged me to tell them about it. 
        While I did, the husband, "Barry," whipped out his iPhone, Googled my site and began making snide little remarks about it. This was not remotely out of character. Barry, for as long as I've known him, has been a bit of a wiseguy. OK, more than a bit. Way more. But I'd eventually learned not to let him make a fool out of me. So I decided to stand up for myself, noting that the site had already received more than 1,000 hits.
        "Can you tell where those hits are coming from?" he asked. I shook my head, whereupon he offered to tell me where. They were most probably from Web hosting sites hoping to sell me their services, he said. Or perhaps people out to steal my domain name. I was stunned at these suggestions - that anyone, let alone a friend, would tell me that the only reason anyone would look at my site was for ulterior motives.
        On the contrary, I protested, I believed these visits were from actual readers. But he insisted otherwise.
        As off-handed as his remark may have been, I must admit that I remained offended by it for several days. But not as offended as I was the following week, when Barry followed it up with an email. I'd mentioned to his wife, "Miriam," that I'd written my latest blog about our mutual friend "Nan" and whether to attend an upcoming fund-raiser at the Chabad House honoring her. They'd each responded with separate emails.      
       Miriam concurred with my ultimate choice to not attend. Barry disagreed. This, in and of itself, wouldn't have troubled me one whit. I remain conflicted about my decision and welcome any and all viewpoints. What disturbed me was the way that he prefaced his remarks.        
        "This is way too long," he began, regarding my blog. "These comments need to be shortened -- too repetitive. I can write this without you getting mad -- right?" He went on to say that Nan was my good friend, so I needed to support her "nachas" regardless of how I felt about Chabad.
        I read his words once. I read them twice. Without you getting mad. Was he serious? I wasn't "mad." Mad didn't begin to cover it. What I felt was like I'd just been shot with a poison arrow. Shot by a friend, that is. And, as contrived as this word may sound, I suddenly had an epiphany.
        As self-indulgent as blogging may be, I'm not a self-indulgent person. I'm not an egotistical person. I'm riddled with self-doubt and by far my own worst critic. I'm someone who gets up every morning hoping that nothing too awful will happen, and who spends half the day in her PJ's trying not to feel like garbage.
        I didn't start writing a blog expecting everyone I know to read it. Read it if you want, or don't. I've been a journalist since I grew up, I have nowhere else to publish anymore, and I just need somewhere to write.
        To my delighted surprise, though, every one of my acquaintances who's seen my site has responded with enthusiasm, encouragement or at least elation for me that I've managed to undertake something new after many difficult years.       
        "I love the Blog!" wrote our old friend Rick from Miami just last week. "Every sentence drips of you!"
       "You are such a good writer... always providing a lift to my day, no matter how many or how few the words!" gushed our close friend Kathy, an accomplished travel writer who lives in London.
       I share their remarks with genuine humility, not wishing to toot my own horn, merely to point out the stark contrast from Barry's put-down. (I've been a writer for a long time. Saying that a piece of writing is "way too long" and repetitive is the opposite of saying that you liked it, hung on every word and only wish you could have read more.) 
        I'd like to think my other friends' reactions are sincere. But at the very least, I guess they concur with Barry's other concept -- they're my good friends, and regardless of how they feel about my work, they need to support my nachas.
        Only one person has responded otherwise. One person, who couldn't stifle an impulse to say something subtly but certainly caustic, and who clearly must have realized that his remark was potentially hurtful or he wouldn't have pointed out in the same breath that it might make me mad.
        Unfortunately for Barry, I've had lots of hard luck lately. A whole lot of angst, tsurris and other tough stuff. This wasn't one whack from a swinging door. It was No. 101.
        And so I responded with a blunt and rather crude reply that I will, with no little shame, reproduce here:

Dear "Barry,"
        Go f--- yourself, go f--- yourself, go f--- yourself. Sorry to be repetitive, but at least it's short.
        You're right. ‘Nan' is my good friend, one who supports and encourages me when I finally get it together to do something after 15 years of being unemployed. You are just a sarcastic, mean-spirited a--. I can say this without your getting mad, right?

        Given the vagueness of email, Barry may have assumed I was kidding. "I would if I could!!!!" he wrote back, followed by, "I also offer anger management courses."
        To which I responded rather repetitively, with a resounding three words. (I'll give you one guess.)
        There then ensued days of my husband and Barry's wife lobbying for us to make up and bury the hatchet. And had this been a first offense, I certainly would have agreed. I don't have enough friends in my life. And who among us can really afford to lose any friends we already have?
        Then again, life is short, I'm relatively fragile, and I'm not sure I can afford to spend time with people who repeatedly put me down. And as much as I've remained friends with Barry for years, hurt me is what he too often does.
        Too often he lets loose zingers that sit with me for days, if not years. One typical example: After my mother died, I mentioned that we were having trouble selling her house because the only offer we'd received was way below our asking price.
        "You're lucky to get that much," he retorted. "That house is just a teardown."
        I looked at him in shock, almost speechless. He was talking about the house I'd grown up in, and the only time he'd ever seen it was right after my mother's funeral. Had he really been at her shiva, thinking, "What a dump!"? (Then again, I must give him all due credit for driving 90 minutes in each direction just to show up.)
        Whether our tattered friendship was now just a teardown was another issue. Barry soon left me a voice mail stating that "if you're upset, there's definitely been a misunderstanding that I want to discuss with you. Please call me back so I can clarify any misunderstanding, so that there is no misunderstanding, because we've been friends too long to let some stupid email come between us."
        Nice sentiments. Yet it didn't escape me that he'd used the word "misunderstanding" three times. To me, this telegraphed less of a desire to apologize than merely to defend himself.
        Even so, I called Barry back the next day. He told me that when he'd said my remarks were repetitive, way too long, and needed to be cut, he'd been referring only to that one blog entry, not my entire Web site. In other words, there'd been no misunderstanding. I'd understood this all along.
        He also noted in his defense that we'd had many discussions over the years of a joking nature and that to him this was just another. I tried to explain that nothing he'd said this time was funny, and that over all those years we'd rarely gotten together without his hurting my feelings in some profound way. He said that he'd never been aware of this and would try to be more sensitive.
        Ultimately, I told him that if he was offering an apology, then I would accept.
        I was thinking back to Yom Kippur, when the Rabbi said that if you offer someone a sincere apology three times and he still won't accept it, then you should consider yourself absolved. At the time, I'd thought, "What sort of a person refuses three sincere apologies?"
        Then again, how sincere is an apology that you have to ask for?
        Anyway, Barry said that he was indeed apologizing. And I did accept. And the next time he saw me, he rushed over and gave me a big hug. Yet somehow, days later, I'm still not quite ready to move on.
        I still fear that every time we see each other, he's going to trample on my feelings in some way. I still suspect that he thinks it was all just a misunderstanding. And I still believe that with friends like that... Well, you get the idea.
        Yet it troubles me greatly that we have mutual friends with whom the four of us often get together. Our rift will unavoidably affect them. I don't want them to suffer or have to choose sides.
        Besides, as upset as I am with Barry's behavior, Miriam is still my good and dear friend. How could we remain friends if I remained at odds with her husband?
        Then there's the issue of my friendship with Barry himself. Is it fair to excommunicate an old friend for continuing to behave pretty much as he always has?   
        Also, am I acting like a jerk, perhaps, by making such a megillah over this incident? By behaving as I have -- and by writing this -- I might be hurting his feelings more than I realize.
        So I will try to get over this, and maybe in time we can forgive each other. For, as with most swinging doors, this one swings both ways.
12:15 am 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Word From the Weiss
        The other night, I picked up the phone to hear nothing but a blood-curdling scream. I shouldn't have been that shocked. It was Halloween, after all. The problem is that the person screaming was my daughter. And she was clearly in shock.
        She apparently had just opened a text message from my husband, who had sent her a photograph. This photo showed him with his arm around his good friend Steve.  It also showed him dressed as a woman. And not just any old woman. His particular choice was more than a little perverse. Even for Halloween.
        Let me explain.
        Normally, my daughter's the one who manages to shock us with her costume choices. Never mind that All Hallow's Eve is customarily regarded as a holiday for children only. I still remember the year that my son announced that he was too old to go out trick-or-treating anymore, and that he was simply going to stay home and do homework. This seemed so sad to me that I asked him halfway through the evening to go out and chaperone his younger sister and her friends while they continued to prowl the neighborhood collecting candy. I wasn't quite ready to see him -- or us -- turn middle-aged overnight. After all, he was only 14.
        I've discovered since then that the teenage years aren't the bitter end of this annual ritual, but merely a brief hiatus from the fun. By the time kids reach college, they make up for the lost time by going all out. My daughter and her friends begin planning their costumes soon after returning to school each fall. By late October, they go into full gear - way beyond anything we ever did for them when they were small.
        Group costumes among 20-somethings seem to be all the rage, and it doesn't matter whether they choose The Three Musketeers, The Three Stooges, or those three beloved reality TV stars of Jersey Shore fame, Snooki, Pauly D., and "The Situation." For post-adolescents, especially young women, Halloween is simply a flimsy excuse to wear something flimsy, flirty and flashy and show their sexy side.
         It's an opportunity to literally let it all hang out, as we used to say. Or so I learned when my daughter chose to be Joe the Plumber during the last Presidential election. I lent her my old denim overalls and a rubber plunger from the bathroom. She's well-endowed, to say the least, and judging from the revealing pictures she later posted on Facebook, her version of Joe was just plumb trampy. (She easily filled out the overalls and wore next to nothing underneath.)
         SassyAntoinetteandfriendcropped.jpgThis year, having just attended a masquerade party, she and her college cohorts wanted to get their money's worth out of their glittery, Venetian-style Carnivale masks by dressing up in Victorian garb. This led her to peruse countless costume stores and Web sites. But whereas once upon a time she searched for Disney characters like Sleeping Beauty and Belle from "Beauty and the Beast," she now sought get-ups classified as "Sexy Marie Antoinette," "Sassy Marie Antoinette," and the ever-popular "Slutty Antoinette."
        Before I cast any aspersions, I must confess that my neighbors have yet to forget the Halloween night that I dressed up as a lady of the night (and I mean one who was clearly no lady). Now that the kids are gone, we still get into the holiday spirit to dole out candy, but we give little thought to our costumes until the very last minute. I invest far more effort in what I put on the dog, who after 12 years has a treasure trove of options to choose from, ranging from a red, horned Devil Dog to last year's white satin Elvis suit. ("She ain't nothin' but a hound dog," I explained to many a perplexed trick-or-treater.)
        This year, we were so busy with weekend guests that my husband decided to resort to a favorite rerun. He took out his old Hillary Clinton mask and kept pestering me to find a dress in my closet that might fit. I replied that, No. 1, I had no dresses that would conceivably accommodate his torso, which is considerably more ample than mine. And No. 2, with the sole exception of Chelsea's recent nuptials, Hillary Clinton is never seen in a dress, any more than you'd expect to see Bill in a dress. She strictly favors pant suits.
        My husband has plenty of those of his own, but none that looks remotely feminine.  So I offered to lend him a bra, along with a jacket, a blouse and a strand of pearls. Unfortunately, none of my blouses fit his chest, either. Then I had an inspiration. My late mother was among Hillary's biggest fans. And ever since she died last year, I haven't had the heart to dispose of many of her clothes. She wore a size or two up from me, and her style was decidedly more tailored than mine. In other words, much more Hillary.
HarlanasGrandmaBunniecropped.jpg        One of my mother's favorite tops, a striped, sleeveless knit, was a perfect fit. My husband was so pleased with it, in fact, that he declined to wear my suit jacket, complaining that it concealed his newfound cleavage. (After experimenting with various kinds of stuffing material for the bra, from crumpled newspaper to apples and other sorts of fruit, we had finally found the perfect filler: a pair of tennis balls. And face it, whether you love Hillary, as I do, or not, no one disputes that she has balls.)
        He wore this outfit throughout the evening, horrifying nearly every child who had the misfortune to ring our bell and be handed a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup by a hulking, rather hideous version of the Secretary of State, who reminded each that Tuesday was Election Day, then urged them in an eerie falsetto, "Don't forget to vote!"
        When we eventually sat down with guests to dinner, he couldn't eat with the mask on, so I decided to offer him a long, blonde wig from one of my daughter's costumes of Halloweens past. This is what he wore when he posed for the photos. It's also what provoked my daughter's terrified screech. My mother, you see, thanks to her hairdresser, had once sported similar blonde curls.
        "Is Dad Grandma?" she howled into the phone. "What kind of a person dresses up as their own dead mother-in-law?"
        GrandmaBunnieatAidansbarmitzvah1.jpgTo be honest, the moment he'd put on the wig, I had noticed the uncanny resemblance. But I had never appreciated people telling me how much I looked like my mother. And I hadn't wanted to spoil his fun.
        Also, I didn't really want to insult my dear mother's memory by admitting that I detected any resemblance.  After all, even at age 81, my mother was a far more attractive woman than my husband will ever be.
        On top of that, I miss her so much, every day, that I didn't mind getting to eat dinner with her one more time. A larger-than-life version of her, that is. Returned to life. One night only.  A true Night of the Living Dead.
        Sorry if that sounds a little tasteless, as Halloween, by its very nature, almost always is. But in the end, I don't think she would have minded being impersonated, however inadvertently, either. Along with loving Hillary, my mother also loved celebrating all holidays, and doing virtually anything fun with her family.
        She was such an upbeat person, right until the end, in fact, that a year and a half after losing her, I still try to wear something of hers almost every day, whether it be one of her coats, a favorite sweater, or a cherished piece of jewelry. I'm not trying to dress up as my mother. ("Sexy Granny?") I just like to imagine that I'm taking her along for the ride. Or better yet, taking her along for the fun.
        For in the end, I'd like to believe that we're never too old to have some fun. Not when we're 14. Not when we're in our forties, or fifties, or beyond. Not even after we're gone.
12:19 am 

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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.