|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010
A Word From the Weiss
“Happy New Year!” everyone blurts out at this time
of year, as automatically as they bid “Gezundheit!” at the sound of a sneeze. But how happy are you really
to see the current year end? Should
old acquaintance be forgot and never come to mind?
Ever since I experienced my first grown-up New Year’s Eve – complete
with Champagne and fancy hors d’oeuvres, followed by the inevitable sinking sense of “Is that all there is?”
– I’ve been far from a fan of the year-end wrap-up. Too many expectations, too much indulgence in potent
libations. But most of all, if I’m being honest with myself, simply too much change.
For as free-spirited as
I may appear or profess to be, like most people I’m a creature of habit. I like most things the way they are and wish
they would stay that way. About the only thing I’m truly inclined to change is my underwear.
Just put a pair of clean bikini briefs on my behind.
So much for celebrating New Year’s.
As for my coming-of-age experience, the year was 1976. A fresh-faced 21, I had just finished college a week or so before.
My boyfriend at the time, a well-heeled classmate from Brandeis, had graduated on schedule the previous May and gone
off to work in New York. But I needed to take an extra semester, obliging us to undergo the arduous trek between the Big Apple
and Boston nearly every weekend through December. Now, relieved to be reunited at last, we invited another young couple from
school to join us in ringing in the new year. Buzzing with eager anticipation, we spent the afternoon of December 31st assembling
the most elegant fixings we could afford, from an array of pricey cheeses to a jar of cut-rate caviar.
A blinding blizzard
waylaid our friends, though, who were driving in from some suburb. They phoned repeatedly, promising to set out soon, or as
soon as the steady downfall might subside. At last, though, they decreed that it had grown too late to come anymore and
was far too hazardous to brave the roads. So we devoured our delicacies all alone and polished off the Champagne between us.
Then, instead of doing what any red-blooded young couple in their right minds might (watch the ball drop on TV, then put on
an Al Green record, or Barry White, perhaps), in our crestfallen, isolated and decidedly intoxicated state, we began hashing
out our unresolved relationship issues. By midnight, we had agreed to call it quits. I moved out promptly
the next morning, before I’d even had time to unpack.
It was not the definitive end of that youthful romance, which soon rallied
to see another year, and even another New Year’s. But it also was far from the exhilarating revelry I’d long imagined
to be the purview of adults on the penultimate night of the year.
I’ve had plenty of delightful celebrations of
the year’s denouement in the interim, mainly intimate dinners with cherished old friends. But I’ve also had some
other real zingers in the dismal department. (Last year, our son returned from a trip with such severe food poisoning that
we had to take him to an emergency clinic that afternoon. Then, while I was getting dressed for our evening out, my husband
had a car accident, putting a decided damper on our mood and any prospect of merriment.)
And so somehow, although
many years have passed since that first attempt at an adult soirée – so very many that my youngest child is now
a fresh-faced 21 herself – I never have managed to remotely recover the sense of breathless anticipation that Auld Lang
Syne time seems meant to signify.
What I’ve developed in its place is a penchant for always buying something
festive (i.e. absurdly glitzy) to wear that night, while inwardly weighing how eager I am to start anew based on the year
I’m relinquishing. Often, so much tsuris and mishegas have befallen me that I’ve lost all hope
for the current calendar year and can barely wait for it to end. But this year, I’m happy to report, is different.
I feel like I’ve managed to make a fresh start already. And although it may be only that – a start, meaning that
it begs for some sustained amount of follow-through before I’m entitled to break out the Champagne – I’m
less eager than usual to give up on the present year, cut my losses and start over with a clean slate.
It’s much like Bill
Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. After a whole lot of sniveling and snidely conveying a “Why even
bother?” attitude, I finally feel like I may be beginning to get it right at last. But whatever “right”
may be, I don’t have it right enough yet. I need more time. I’d hoped to have more to show for myself by now.
For this and many other reasons, I’m not quite ready to close the book on 2010.
It’s not just that
I’m not prepared to start writing a different number on the date line of personal checks (always a challenge to get
used to till March). Or that I haven’t made it to Staples yet to purchase a new daily planner. I’m stuck in a
wistful time warp of the spirit, still mourning the end of summer while I put on boots and gloves to go shovel the walk. The
second hand may be inching toward midnight on the 31st, but I’m not ready to move on.
Then again, as I said, I’m
not someone who deals well with change. I’m still brooding that the local supermarket I’ve been frequenting for
the past two decades recently closed, and I have to get used to the more goyishe chain that replaced it. It unnerves
me that they don’t carry the brand of bread I like. I know there are far more monumental issues in life, and that there
are plenty of people who can’t even afford bread. But there it is. How will I deal with a brand new year when
I still want my old bread back?
How will I face four months of winter (face it, in New England we’ll
be shivering until almost May) when my beach bag is still beside the door, ready for me to grab for an impromptu dip in the
And how will I adjust to my youngest child having recently turned 21, meaning she’s an adult herself? Officially
an adult, anyway. Having one more semester of college to go, she’s not quite independent yet. In fact, we are obliged
for various reasons to escort her up to Stowe, Vermont, this weekend, where her boyfriend, a musician, is performing with
his band at a ski resort on New Year’s Eve.
Driving four hours due north in late December may not
be everyone’s idea of fun. In fact, our daughter doesn’t understand why we’re willing to do it – to
which I say, “Just wait until you’re a mother someday, and you’ll understand that parents will do almost
anything to make their children happy.” Also, not having forgotten what it’s like to be 21 and smitten –
and having long ago realized that when you’ve been married for decades, New Year’s Eve isn’t exactly about
romance anymore – we are more than willing to make the trek to make sure she arrives safely. With luck, we have close
friends who have a vacation house there and have offered to put us up, and we look forward to spending time with them.
Our hosts are attending a party that night, though, meaning that my husband and I will be alone together on the actual Eve,
rather than feasting with friends as usual. (I don't remember the last time we were all alone on New Year's Eve. Maybe never.)
Meanwhile, my husband had another car accident yesterday afternoon; when he took our daughter to get her hair cut for the
coming festivities, a passing car lost control and slammed into him while he was parked near the salon. Talk about déjà
vu all over again! At least he wasn’t hurt, and his car sustained only a flesh wound.
I can only hope this isn’t
becoming a new New Year’s tradition. But I learned my lesson decades ago and am not planning to revive an old one. New
Year’s may not be about “scoring” when you’re married, but neither is it any time to settle old scores.
Like it or not, we have a brand new year to plan. So I’m going to watch how much I drink on Friday night, and also watch
what I say.
Meanwhile, I'm not really going to be alone for the holiday. We
may not be amongst our old friends this year, but I have you, my readers. You are my cherished new friends. So let
me be among the first to toast you. To life, and to life lessons learned the hard way. Let's all look forward, ready
or not, to a nice, fresh start. To 2011. To better times. To starting over. L'chaim!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
A Word From the Weiss
And so, another year skids to a close. Time to toss out the old, ring in the new… and get all of those medical procedures
that you need now before January 1, when the percentage you’ve met toward your health insurance deductible rolls back
to zero again.
I’m not just talking about the mammogram I had on Monday (scheduled in part in the wake of poor Elizabeth Edwards’
passing). I’m referring to what I did a year ago, when I broke down and submitted to something I thought I’d never
dare consider – genetic testing.
From the time I was in my teens, when my mother’s only sister was
diagnosed with breast cancer, I harbored a sense of certain doom. It was like I was walking around with an internal time bomb,
inactive now but destined to go off someday. My mother tried to dodge this unwelcome twist of fate, combating her own raised
risk of developing the disease with the least effective approach imaginable: denial. When a mammogram she had soon after my
aunt’s death revealed a suspicious growth, she told her doctor that it had to be a mistake – just scar tissue
from a fibroid she’d had removed years earlier. Then she adamantly refused to get another mammogram for the next 16
Fate and modern medicine finally caught up with her when her longtime gynecologist eventually retired and
her young, less compliant new one refused to take no for an answer. Soon after, the other shoe dropped. My mother
was diagnosed with the disease… and my own probability of contracting it myself went through the roof.
By then, of course, what had once
been a pea-sized growth had reached the dimensions of a grapefruit. As my mother went through treatment after treatment following
surgery (much of which was more brutal than the disease itself), friends urged me to consider genetic testing. I refused.
I’d been getting yearly mammograms since I was in my thirties, I countered. All had been clear so far. Besides, even
if I got tested and received a bad report, I wasn’t ready to consider a double mastectomy for prophylactic purposes.
I preferred to live with uncertainty and hope for a slim chance that I’d been spared.
A year ago, though, I started to
think differently. I now had watched my mother suffer through her agonizing final months and begun to revise my stance. I
would never let that happen to me, I decided. Nor would I ever make my own kids have to witness it.
Genetic testing is extremely
costly – over $3,000 – and only one lab in the country performs it, Myriad Genetic Laboratories in Utah (although
the blood can be drawn anywhere and sent there). Having two close relatives die of breast cancer, I learned, made me eligible
to have the testing fully covered by our insurance. And yes, my family had already met its hefty annual deductible and was
about to start from scratch again.
I must admit that I was half-hoping when I phoned the cancer center at
the University of Connecticut Health Center that there would be no available appointments. No such lack of luck. They fit
me in almost immediately, three days before Christmas.
The appointment included an hour of conversation before I’d
be sent for blood work. The young genetic counselor I saw had to make sure that I was mentally prepared to handle the potential
That conversation included some positive surprises. Even with two close relatives afflicted by the disease,
my own risk of having either of the two most common genetic mutations that lead to it was less than 20 percent (far from the
100 percent I’d long imagined). That was the good news. I won’t bore you with every grim detail of the not-so-good.
Suffice it to say that there was plenty of it.
The two most common forms of the mutation are known as BRCA1 and
BRCA2 (short for Breast Cancer 1 and 2), and both are disproportionately prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews like me. If I had either
one, my chances of developing breast cancer would soar to between 56 and 85 percent (versus 12 percent for the general population).
Even worse, if I had either mutation, there was a 50/50 chance that I’d passed it on to my own daughter, or that
my son was a carrier who could pass it on to his children. I’d lived for over 50 years with uncertainty about my own
genetic makeup. Was it fair for me to get tested and potentially give my children a terrible prognosis in their early 20s?
Yet after coming this far, there seemed to be no legitimate way to turn back now. So I went off to the lab and let them
draw the requisite three vials of blood.
Unfortunately, it takes approximately three weeks for the results
to be issued. Believe me, for me, those weeks were far from fun.
The results were to be delivered in person
by the same woman who’d done my initial consultation at UConn. I scheduled the appointment for January 12, two days
before my birthday. Over dinner the night before, I confessed to my close friend “Nan” that I was terrified, more
anxious than I’d ever been about anything in my entire life.
“In that case, I’m going with you,”
she asserted. I protested that I’d be fine alone. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She even insisted on
She picked me up early the next morning, which was icy cold and ominously overcast. Soon we were sitting
in the cancer ward’s waiting room, alongside countless other women, many of whom were very frail and concealing bald
scalps with kerchiefs.
Nan had agreed to remain sitting there while I went in to face my fate. But when the
counselor finally came to retrieve me, I had a moment of panic. I pictured myself having to return soon after, shake my head
sadly and recount all the dreadful details. This would be unbearable.
“Come with me!” I blurted
out. Nan looked surprised, but did.
We followed the counselor down a long hallway and into a small conference
room. She picked up a folder and pulled out a report featuring lots of fine print. I watched her leaf through it briefly,
then fold her arms. I tried to brace myself, but couldn’t breathe.
“Before going into all of the details,
which are very complex and you need to know, let me get this out of the way,” she said. She paused, glancing down at
the sheet before her. “Your blood tested negative. Negative for both. You don’t have either mutation.”
I looked at her. I looked at Nan. Then a scream of utter disbelief escaped my lips, and I began to sob uncontrollably.
Never mind three awful weeks of crippling fear. A lifetime of unspeakable dread burst through a shattered dam and flooded
down my face.
I tried my best to come down to earth as the details were divulged. Given my family history, my risk of my
developing breast cancer was still elevated, to an estimated 22 percent. It remained possible that my mother had had a different,
rarer mutation not yet detectable by today’s technology. Or that she’d had a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, but not
passed it on. Either way, I didn’t have one.
And here was the best news
of all: Since I didn’t have either genetic mutation, my children could not have inherited one. They don’t skip
Furthermore, since cancer doesn’t run in my husband’s family (neither his mother nor any of her
10 siblings was ever diagnosed with any form of the disease), the likelihood that either of my children had either genetic
mutation was estimated to be nil!
Over the celebratory lunch to which Nan treated me at Bricco, our favorite local restaurant,
the full implications of this revelation began to dawn on me. Genetic testing hadn’t merely lifted what had felt like
a lifelong death sentence. Maybe it was time to rethink a lifetime of inherent negativity and always preparing myself for
I guess I grew up like many Jews do, internalizing centuries of pent-up anxiety, always wondering when the
next pogrom, wave of anti-Semitism or other catastrophe will hit. Who knows what other worst-case scenarios that I’d
long conjured up were based on erroneous assumptions? Maybe it was high time that I stopped waiting to die and started thinking
instead about how to live, and maybe even really enjoy it.
In the year since, I’ve tried to live every day bearing
in mind that I dodged not a bullet, but a bomb. I’ve tried to hold onto that new sense of both optimism and infinite
possibility, believing that, against my instincts, things actually can work out for the best.
That didn’t prevent me from
having a moment of panic following my mammogram on Monday, when the technician returned after taking my films, told me the
radiologist had seen something that looked suspicious, and that she had to do one side over again.
I tried to stay calm. Then she
returned after round 2 and said it had been nothing.
“You’re all clear. There was nothing
there.” She studied my look of clear disbelief. “I don’t know how else to say it: You’re absolutely
I’m fine. I’m more than fine. For another year! And I intend to have a fine one indeed.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
A Word From the Weiss
are the top ten reasons why I am NOT writing my blog this week:
10. My husband is on vacation for most of the month. I guess you would call it vacation. We're not actually going anywhere,
or much of anywhere. But after 13 years at his current job, he's entitled to five weeks off annually, and he can't carry the
time that remains into January. It's a case of use it or lose it, so he's using it by staying home from work. For the next
three weeks. With me. (G-d help us both.)
I'm not sure I've earned the right
to take such a breather myself. I only started filling this space in September. I'm also not sure that productivity is contagious.
But slothfulness sure is. Why should I slave away writing when he's lying there on the couch, feet up, reading a book? Yes,
a mystery book. And here's a real mystery for you: How, exactly, is he managing to read? His eyes are closed. He's snoring!
9. What is he so tired about? I'm the one who's really, really tired. I went to Boston last night to see my daughter
perform in a year-end concert. Since the show didn't start until 9 p.m. and Boston is a hundred miles away, I decided to stay
overnight with her, in hopes of getting to bed before midnight. Yeah, right. I'd forgotten what goes on at college.
The concert finished shortly after 10, as expected. But my daughter
still had to watch a movie that would be discussed in one of her classes today. She was also now totally ravenous (as usual,
she'd barely touched her dinner before singing). There was nothing exciting to eat in her apartment, though, so she insisted
on baking cookies, which we scarfed down with ice cream. Then we lit the menorah with her boyfriend and hung around talking
to him for another hour or so. Finally, we got into bed and put on the movie after he left, around midnight.
The class in question turned out to be about genocide. The movie? The Killing Fields,
from 1984. Two hours and 21 minutes of brutality in Cambodia, not to mention a young Sam Waterston sulking and even younger
John Malkovich sneering. (I'd long forgotten he was in that.) We streamed it onto my computer from Netflix, but had endless
technical difficulties and had to keep rolling it back. We finished watching at 3 a.m.
Why, you may ask, did I stay up until the bitter end? My daughter has a studio apartment, and I was sharing her queen-size
bed. You try sleeping through all of that violence, machine-gun fire and explosions. Field of Dreams this
8. Suddenly, it was 9 a.m. My daughter needed to shower and dress quickly before a rehearsal for yet another concert, and I was stuck in a time warp. Sam Waterston
had aged 26 years overnight and was no longer writing exposés about the Khmer Rouge, or even trying
cases on Law & Order. He was now a white-haired pitchman hawking TD Ameritrade on TV. And John Malkovich
was all but bald and, well, being John Malkovich. Hadn't we just turned in 10 minutes ago? Who could function on
such little sleep, let alone put words together?
7. My daughter left me alone in her apartment for the next two hours.
Write my blog or sleep? Write my blog or... clean?!? I don't know what men daydream about, but one of my recurring fantasies
is rather dirty and heavily involves rubber. It's to be left all alone in either one of my kids' apartments with some
Scrubbing Bubbles and a roll of paper towels. Never mind that friends think I'm a bit of a slob. Or that I still
resent my own mother for the time she visited my first post-college apartment and removed her shoes and stockings after dinner
and proceeded to wash the floor. Never mind that my daughter's current apartment is actually, surprisingly, fairly clean. After all, what's a mother for, if not to lend a helping hand or two?
I covered my hands with the rubber gloves I'd bought my daughter when
she moved into her latest digs (they may not sound like much of a house gift, but they're purple, her favorite color). Then
I located a treasure trove of cleaning products under the sink. A quick survey of her apartment, however, yielded no paper
towels. Not even a sponge. The best I could do was to make the bed, unload the dishwasher, spritz the mirror with Windex,
and douse the doorknobs with disinfectant. Then I put away the many clothes she'd tried on and discarded this morning, de-waxed
the much-used menorah with boiling water, and emptied the garbage. How irresistible tidying up can be when you're supposed
to be writing something. Also, I may be NiceJewishMom.com, but first and foremost I'm a nice Jewish mom. Write my blog
when there's actual dust lurking under my daughter's bed? Ha! I think not.
spent the rest of the day interviewing someone for a book I'm writing (more on that some other time). The interview ran far
longer than I'd anticipated. By the time I got on the road, it was rush hour. Rush hour out of Boston. Bitterly cold, and
bumper to bumper on the Mass Pike. Even with an E-ZPass to streamline passage through the tolls, the trip home took an extra
hour. I spent the whole time on the phone yakking with the troops (thank G-d for my Bluetooth). And by "troops,"
I mean my husband and son. It was still a long, stultifying ride, especially on six hours' sleep.
5. I got back after
7 p.m., utterly exhausted, and having been away overnight figured that I should hang out for awhile with my husband. Usually
he's too busy to come down for dinner and has to be called three times. Now he seemed eager for company, even mine, and
had picked up some takeout so I wouldn't have to cook. Talk about fantasies. Did I mention that he's on vacation?
4. My bridge group (yes, I am becoming my own mother) is meeting at my house Wednesday, and I have a whole lot of cleaning
left to do. Somehow, it's much more enjoyable cleaning someone else's house (your own child's, anyway) than it is dealing
with your own mess. I know that the women in my group aren't coming over to inspect my home wearing white gloves. Aside from
engaging in a modicum of chitchat, they're fairly single-minded in their purpose, much like the character Big Julie in Guys &
Dolls, the thug from Chicago who keeps complaining when they're down in the sewer, "I came here to shoot
crap. Let's shoot crap!"
The dolls who are coming over aren't mission
dolls, like Sgt. Sarah Brown, but they do have a mission; they want to play bridge. (Luck be a trump card tonight?) To do
that, though, they need a clean table. A table that isn't covered with junk mail, magazines, knickknacks, nail clippers, and
other random clutter. Not to mention half-empty wine bottles, serving trays still lingering from Thanksgiving, and, yes, dust.
Maybe even dirt. (Did I mention that I'm a bit of a slob?)
3. It's Tuesday night. Glee is on, and I really want to watch it, even if it's the Christmas episode this week, filled
with giddy caroling, a revolving cast of characters dressed in Santa Claus suits, and an overabundance of Christmas spirit
-- heart-warming mush instead of the usual pop/rock mash-ups.
and often offended by the way the two Jewish main characters are portrayed. One, Rachel, is a shamelessly ambitious and Narcissistic egomaniac, albeit a beautiful and phenomenally talented one, and the other, Puck, is a dim-witted and
shamelessly immoral juvenile delinquent, albeit a socially cool and phenomenally talented one. (Seriously. How many
supercool Jewish juvenile delinquents do you know?) Even so, I guess it's nice that they choose to have openly Jewish
characters of any kind. And even so, I shamelessly love the show.
2. It's the seventh
night of Chanukah, and even after six other nights I still want to go rustle up a batch of latkes, then wrap some gifts, light
the menorah, and sing the blessings with my husband and my dog. Even if they are now both snoring.
1. Given my lack of sleep, my long journey, my neglected husband, the imminent bridge group visit, and a bitterly cold night,
I know what I want for Chanukah: I want the night off. Whether or not I deserve it.
Happy Chanukah to you, too! Treat yourself to something you need, whether you've earned it or not. Or give yourself a break.
I'm sure you could use one as much as the next Nice Jewish Mom. Thanks, everyone. Thanks for reading. I'll see you here next
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Word From the Weiss
Never mind not being ready for 2011. Who can handle Chanukah only a week after Thanksgiving?
to be honest, I managed to finish my holiday shopping last Saturday, even though I make it a rule to give something on all
eight nights to every member of my family (including, of course, the dog). Given the vagaries of the Jewish calendar, that
obliged me to start buying gifts as early as last summer (think of it as Chanukah in July). The only challenge now is getting
them wrapped – and remembering where I put them.
Yet what other choice did I have? My kids were home
for Thanksgiving, and they live so far away that we won’t be seeing them for Chanukah this year. I have a friend who
mails gifts daily eight days in a row so that each of his kids receives a package for each night of Chanukah. He, clearly,
is a man of faith – faith in the U.S. Postal Service. I’d like to think of myself as a woman of faith as well.
But at this time of year, I’d rather play it safe. I sent my kids home with their gifts.
In that regard,
I may be alone. Despite all of the hoopla surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday, most of the people I know are
busy. They’ve barely begun to shop.
Am I the only one who resents that Jewish holidays are moveable
feasts, cropping up when you least expect them (and in this case when you’re still eating leftover turkey)? Plus, who
can really relish potato latkes when we’re still stuffed with cornbread stuffing?
I also worry
that an early Chanukah raises the risk of Jewish children feeling pangs of envy when Christmas rolls around, and memories
of their own celebration are, like the Maccabees, already ancient history.
When did we Jews begin competing
with Gentiles so shamelessly to make the biggest holiday bang? I mean, eight nights of Chanukah I can understand. Giving gifts
on Chanukah I can also sort of understand. But does any child (let alone any adult) really need to receive presents eight
nights in a row?
Nonetheless, I never consider buying fewer gifts. I don’t even consider buying less expensive gifts, although
my husband gives me a lecture about it every year. (I think he says something about setting a strict budget or not spending
as much as I did last year, but I’m not quite sure because I make it a strict policy to merely look like I’m listening.)
Instead, I follow another long-respected Chanukah tradition: I try to pass off as gifts things that everyone needed
anyway. Warm winter pajamas. Snow boots and gloves. Socks. Bed linens. Underwear. Books. These are the sorts of things that
my parents managed to underwhelm me with annually when I was growing up. But most kids have plenty of toys and gadgets
that they don’t play with anymore, and others that they never played with in the first place. At least the useful presents
will actually be used.
The sad thing about sensible gifts is that it’s hard to get a rise out of children when they open boxes from
department stores (already an ominous sign) and find brand new… thermal long underwear! Or, surprise! -- The Snuggie,
or almost anything else made of polar fleece. Yet if there’s one thing that I used to relish, it was seeing my kids’
eyes gleam back when they were small and incredibly easy to please, and they got to unwrap the Malibu Barbie or Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtle action figure of their dreams.
The pursuit of that magical moment is what motivates
many Jewish parents to try competing with Christmas. That, and perhaps less-than-fond childhood memories like the ones I still
harbor – of being obliged to sing countless Christmas carols at school concerts while silently lip-syncing phrases like
“the little Lord Jesus.” Seeing Christmas lights proliferate like dandelions on neighbors’ lawns. Having
to watch characters on TV sitcoms obsess endlessly about the incredible booty they hoped to find under the tree.
Who can blame Jews, particularly Baby Boomers like me, for feeling like our kids deserve equal time and equal booty,
if not to get to finally see, say, a Charlie Brown Chanukah on TV? Or perhaps a new installment of some other cultural franchise
– “Harry Potter and the Hallowed Chanukiah… or the Goblet of Manischewitz,” perhaps?
Yet let’s face it: Just consider how the trappings of the two holidays truly compare. No one can dispute that
potato latkes have it hands-down over fruitcake. Yet in size and spectacle, it’s hard to pit even the most ornate nine-headed
candelabra against almost any Christmas tree. There are less than a handful of mainstream Chanukah songs (never mind that
most popular Christmas carols, from “White Christmas” to “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” were
composed by Jews). And Judah Maccabee, however heroic, never poses for pictures in malls or ho-ho-ho’s down anyone's
chimney bearing gifts.
This is not to suggest that I personally ever have suffered from so-called Christmas envy. I like our holiday just
fine, thank you, and so do my kids. “At least Chanukah has a point,” my daughter once observed when she was young.
“I mean, what’s the point of Christmas?” Evidently, the birth of Jesus was not a hot topic at her Jewish
Along with the obvious contrasts, though, I worry about the inadvertent similarities. One of my friends puts all of
her family’s Chanukah presents out at once and lets her children choose one to open each night. She enjoys watching
them turn boxes over, shaking them to gauge their contents. But to me, this is a minor variation on the typical Christmas
approach. Deck the halls with loaves of challah. Fa la la la la, la la la la!
I prefer a method
marked by modified extravagance (although not quite modified enough to appease my live-in Scrooge). Everyone receives a gift
every night. Only the first and perhaps last nights, however, feature eye-popping purchases. Most of the rest come with washing
instructions and are likely to elicit little more than a “Bah, humbug.”
may be typical in two more respects. One is that I do most of the holiday buying, with little help from my spouse. (Hence
the need for the un-listened to lecture). The other is the focus on children. We give, they receive. Or that’s the way
it used to be. I’ve made some modifications.
Initially, I began including my husband on the receiving
end. At last, someone who appreciated fleece! But this made it seem too much like I was the mom and he was one of the kids.
Besides, everyone felt guilty that I was the only one left out of the action.
So I decided to
start picking up a little something for myself. And an occasional big something. I even wrap my own gifts, then gush while
opening them. My gasps of surprise may require a soupcon of Sarah Bernhardt, but there’s no need to feign delight. I
always get exactly what I want – and in precisely the right size.
Meanwhile, to balance out all
of this materialism, my family started celebrating Christmas, too. We observed it only as good Jews should, though. On Christmas
Day, before joining friends for Chinese food and a movie out, we used to visit a battered women’s shelter bearing gifts:
new toys for the children and colorful bags brimming with makeup and toiletries for their moms. After years of being wary
of Santa Claus, we discovered that it was much more fun being him.
I must admit that we haven’t
done it lately, though, and it’s time to remedy that. Chanukah just hasn’t felt nearly as meaningful ever since
our kids grew up and left home. It seems sad lighting the menorah nightly with my husband and having only two voices to harmonize
on the blessings, even if the dog does chime in as best she can. (Don’t believe that my dog can sing? Phone us any night
during the coming week and we’ll let you listen in.)
Otherwise, I’ll take our December holiday as is. I love free
shipping on Cyber Monday, even if I won’t go near the mall, be it Black Friday or even Free Friday. I love the perseverance
of the indefatigable Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. But I’ll admit to one bit of Christmas envy:
Oh, what I’d give right now to have another 3½ weeks to get ready.
|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!
|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