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Friday, May 27, 2011

A Word From the Weiss

        How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? Oh, never mind -- we all know the answer to that one. But here’s a real question: How many Jewish mothers and others does it take to make a major milestone feel like a true occasion? That was the quandary we grappled with last weekend.Allegrasseniorrecitalposter.jpg
As I reported in my last entry, my daughter had a huge turnout a week ago, with a surprising number of friends and relatives schlepping a considerable distance to Boston to attend her college senior recital. As incredibly gratifying as this was, though, we realized that it would leave few people to attend her actual graduation this past Sunday. For anyone other than the immediate family to travel on her behalf on back-to-back weekends was not just above and beyond; it was beyond reason.
But it turned out that we didn’t realize quite how few people would be available.
Soon after my son Aidan arrived for the recital, he mentioned a bit wistfully that he’d need to make a major sacrifice to return for a second go-round. For the past three years, he’s worked as a production assistant at the TV show Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The show was about to finish shooting its tenth season, which also will evidently be its last. To celebrate, they were holding a lavish wrap party in New York on Saturday night. Aidan planned to forego these festivities in order to meet us in Boston on Saturday.AidanatBrowngraduationwithAllegra.jpg
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I retorted, knowing how disappointing this would be for him. “You can’t miss the wrap party.” I suggested that he attend it, then come up to Boston on Sunday in time for the commencement ceremony at 3. But this would mean traveling 10 hours roundtrip by bus in one day. He’d get home past midnight, and then have to wake up for work at 5 a.m. Monday. It was much too much to ask. So I urged him to just stay put.
“Oh, c’mon, I can’t miss my own sister’s college graduation,” he protested. “Besides, she came to mine.” I could see his point. But his sister, Allegra, wholeheartedly agreed with me. His coming up for her all-important penultimate school recital had been more than enough. We finally convinced him to stay in New York and enjoy one of the few glamorous perks of his very demanding job.
I felt confident that we’d manage to make more than enough hoopla by including Allegra’s boyfriend in the festivities. But then, sadly, Stevo’s grandmother died, and he had to fly to Houston for the funeral. We realized that our big occasion wouldn’t be so big after all. Allegra’s own wrap party would consist of Allegra, her dad and me.RobertRedfordheadshotwithglasses.jpg
It didn’t help that Aidan’s graduation from Brown, three years ago, remained so fresh in our minds. It had consisted of three days and nights of grand events, including speeches, parties, parades, and a formal dinner dance out on the quad. One of the guest speakers had been the writer Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), who was brilliant and insightful. The main commencement speaker had been Robert Redford, who was brilliant, insightful… and Robert Redford.
But far more poignant than any celebrity sighting had been the presence of Grandma Bunnie. My mother, whose immense personality had been much larger than life, had been intensely close to Allegra all her life, and they’d been roomies at the hotel that weekend. Then, less than a year later, she was gone. Enduring the past two years without her had been agony for us all, but we felt her loss most keenly on special occasions, and this graduation would be the most special one yet. I’d hoped to make it so lively that Allegra wouldn’t dwell on her absence. How would hanging out with her parents for two days feel special, let alone spectacular?InnatStBotolphlivingroom.jpg
One option, I thought, would be to throw a party for Allegra and her friends on Friday night. I had plenty of non-perishable supplies left over from the previous week’s recital reception. Besides, I’d reserved a suite in the elegant Inn at St. Botolph, near her apartment, several months ago, assuming that Aidan would be joining us. The suite boasted a large living room, and the cancellation date had already passed. We might as well make use of the extra space, and what better use than holding a swanky soirée?
        Allegra sounded enthusiastic, but still never got around to inviting anyone. On Thursday, only a day before the event, I begged her to make a decision because I needed to buy food. She was elated to just have learned that she’d made Dean’s List once again. But finishing school is a turbulent time in anyone’s life, and as one of my friends once astutely observed, Allegra can bring drama to buying a carton of milk. Within hours, the elation had dissipated and she'd begun stressing out about what the heck she was going to do for the rest of her life. She had gone directly from being an imminent new graduate to being officially unemployed. The last thing on her mind was "Let's party!"
As the day progressed, her text messages vacillated between everything from yes to no, to "I can't decide," to remarks that might best be summed up as “Everyone hates me, nobody likes me, I might as well go eat worms.” (Aside from all the obvious gastronomical considerations and basic "ick" factor, these are not kosher, to my knowledge.) But early that evening, she suddenly issued a short guest list and gave me the go-ahead.
I spent the next two and a half hours racing around town assembling a sumptuous spread for her anticipated 10 to 15 attendees. So it was a little unsettling to get another text message from her just as I returned home with my copious bundles at 8:45 p.m.
“Did u buy the stuff yet? For the party? If you didn’t, don’t.”
OK, many a mother, whether tolerant or other, would have hit the roof at that point. But I took a breath and thought about it. This party was not in any respect for me. It had been planned with the sole intention of delighting her. And if she felt obligated to proceed with it just to appease me, then she probably wouldn’t enjoy herself and might end up miserable, the exact opposite of my goal.shrimpimage.jpg
So I wrote back admitting that I’d already bought almost everything, but almost all of it would keep for some other purpose -- all but the shrimp cocktail and avocados for the guacamole.
“Shrimp… and guac?” she wrote back. These are two of her very favorite things (never mind that the former is also not exactly kosher). I didn't even need to mention the champagne I was bringing. Suddenly, the party was back on the agenda.
The number of guests attending ended up being 11, counting her dad and me. But of course, in typical Jewish mother style, I’d purchased ample refreshments to feed 30, so my hors d’oeuvres, complete with champagne toast, ended up being dinner.TheInnatStBotolphbedroomwideshot.jpg
We also decided to make full use of our extra space by having Allegra sleep over. How much fun is it to languish in your cluttered college hovel while your parents luxuriate in a posh hotel?
        The next day there wasn’t a single minute to dwell on who was or wasn’t with us. We had packing to do. Also, Allegra, in her inimitable style, had totally overcommitted herself. We spent the morning strolling up and down the boutiques of stylish Newbury Street, feverishly searching out last-minute teacher gifts. Then, that afternoon, she had agreed to sing with her boyfriend’s rock band at a funky event in Somerville.Allegrainreddresscut2.jpg
        After that, we raced back to school for a sound check because she’d been chosen to represent the jazz department in the school's special commencement concert that night. Then we zipped back to the hotel so she could trade in her jeans and cowboy boots for a slinky, lipstick red dress and sky-high heels.
        Featuring everything from classical music to opera to an irreverent Broadway number from Spam-a-lot, the concert was designed to showcase the multiple talents of the graduating class. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who the star was for me. Allegra led off the second act after intermission, singing a heart-rending number, “Where Are You Going,” once recorded by Shirley Horn.

Where are you going?
What is it you want to be?
You're coming of age, but you're lost on a page, it seems.
Is wisdom wasted on the young?
Or will the peaceful songs you've sung help to change the world?

        JordanHallimage1.jpgAs graduation songs go, very apropos, no? Being her (nice Jewish) mom, I could tell that she had a clear case of the jitters as she strode tentatively across the stage and seized the microphone in New England Conservatory’s exquisite concert venue, the cavernous and stately Jordan Hall. But judging from their enthusiastic reaction, the rest of the audience could not.
Afterwards, we repaired to a favorite Italian eatery, Lucca Back Bay, where we treated a few more of her friends to a lovely though extravagant bottle of Cabernet and plates of steaming pasta.
The main event was yet to come, though, of course. After a celebratory Sunday brunch the next morning, Allegra dashed off to join her friends at school and have a class photo snapped. By the time we wandered over in her wake, we found ourselves sequestered toward the back of an interminable line snaking throughout the building and into its sub-basement.
No matter. The seats we secured, in the very last row of the orchestra, turned out to be the quintessential vantage point. When the strains of ceremonial music wafted in and the first line of graduates clad in caps and gowns marched in, I suddenly had a déjà vu flashback to what had heretofore been one of the most stellar moments of my life.AidanatgraduationwithMelJonahandBrandon.jpg
It had occurred exactly three years earlier on another blazing late spring day, when a similar commencement parade appeared. Although that graduating class numbered well over 1,000, I found myself standing in exactly the right place at precisely the right time, just as my son rounded the bend beaming, flanked by his three suite mates and closest college friends. I had barely a second to snap this historic moment with my camera, and although I’m far from an artiste behind the lens, all four of them came out in perfect focus.
        “I got it! I got it!” I screamed, overcome with emotion, knowing that this was not just one of the few truly triumphant moments in any parent’s life, but also that the digital proof would allow me to relive this rare wave of unadulterated joy over and over again.AllegraatgraduationsilhouettedheadshotMrNins.jpg
Today, the graduating class at my daughter’s small, elite music conservatory numbered a mere 85, with another 200 or so receiving graduate degrees. But I still miraculously found myself sitting within 10 feet of what was for me the star attraction.  And so I managed to capture her radiant smile just as she turned toward me and beamed with boundless elation at all she had just managed to accomplish, despite years of agonizing pressure, anxiety, and self-doubt.
“I got it! I got it!” I screamed once again, tears streaming down my cheeks, crying out a little too loudly for the rarified atmosphere of the austere, wood-lined concert hall, as well as my husband’s comfort. But none of the parents within earshot seemed to mind. Instead, many smiled back empathetically in a moment of shared naches and rapture.
        We’d all “gotten it” -- gotten what we’d wanted for each of our children since the moment they’d entered the world: proof that they could set out to do something significant, and then, with concerted, considerable and endlessly sustained effort, actually do it.
In this case, the photo caught Allegra’s glowing face alone, silhouetted in darkness. Having been lined up to receive her diploma in alphabetical order, she was not flanked, like her brother had been, by roommates or good friends. But based on the last 21 years, I can wholeheartedly attest that everybody likes her, nobody hates her, and she’d rather eat shrimp than worms.AllegragraduationMay2011090.JPG
After all the speeches and the official flipping of the tassels from right to left, we snapped her again at the reception immediately following, with various professors and friends. Then the three of us went out to toast and exuberantly celebrate the glories of the day at our favorite Boston bistro, Le Petit Robert, over páté, coq au vin and profiteroles.
Of course we missed my mother, and found ourselves repeatedly mimicking her memorable voice as we filled in both the prideful and annoying comments we knew she would have made, if only she had lived to see this wonderful day. And of course we missed Aidan sorely, and the boyfriend as well. But we still found ourselves thoroughly exhilarated and managed to enjoy each other's company and to well up with enough parental fervor to fill in any gaps.Allegraatgraduationwithmeincapandgown.jpg
Days later, Allegra declared that her favorite part of the entire weekend, replete with a wide spectrum of euphoric moments ranging from the concert to the commencement itself, had been that little party I threw in the hotel. “It was perfect – exactly what I wanted!” she exclaimed. The best-laid schemes of mice and men may often go awry. But sometimes a (nice Jewish) mother does know best.
        OK, as you surely know
, it takes zero Jewish mothers to change a light bulb; they’d rather sit in the dark. But how many does it take to turn a major milestone into a true occasion? Just one… if that mother is full of party skills, a little patience, but mostly pride, genuine joy, and limitless love. Like me.

12:43 am 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Word From the Weiss

        We live in a high-tech time, one in which we often text instead of talk and are able to find the nearest sushi bar or Cineplex on our cell phones. Surely, we’ve become too sophisticated to succumb to something as primitive as superstition, haven’t we?
Haven’t I?Fridaythe13thoncalendarimage.jpg
Then why did last Friday’s ominous date manage to give me the heebie-jeebies?
It didn’t help that we had tempted fate by letting our daughter slate one of the most important occasions in her life for one of the most hair-raising dates of the year.
I don’t believe that it crossed either Allegra’s mind or mine that it was going to be Friday the 13th when she chose that day months ago for her college senior recital. This enormous undertaking, her school’s equivalent to the senior thesis, was not only a key requirement for her graduation from New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston; it was also the culmination of her four years there as a jazz vocalist: a lengthy concert in which she would demonstrate what she’d learned by performing mostly compositions she had written or arranged herself, accompanied by musicians of her own choosing.Allegrasseniorrecitalposter.jpg
She’d been worrying about this event throughout the past year. Did I say worrying? Make that obsessing. Her goal was that everything in it be perfect. Being considerably older, and more pragmatic, I had my own expectations, and they weren’t quite as great.
        Of course, we all want our major events to be absolutely perfect. Or nearly perfect. And as a lifelong perfectionist, I’m guilty as charged in that respect. But as a lifelong realist, I’ve also come to the conclusion that perfection is almost impossible to achieve.
Make no mistake. I believe in aiming high. I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well. But why set yourself up for almost surefire disappointment? Doing your best, if you ask me, is the best that you can expect. That makes it the perfect goal.wishboneimagecut.jpg
Of course, if my daughter wanted to achieve perfection, then I wanted it for her. (If I’d had a wishbone or birthday cake on hand, that’s what I would have wished for.) But aiming that high can be counterproductive. My heart sank when she called me the night before the concert to report that she’d just thrown up. She’d been complaining for days about feeling queasy. Had she come down with a stomach bug at a supremely inopportune moment? Or was she simply so nervous that she’d worried herself sick?catererholdingplattersimage.jpg
I was worried enough myself, and I wasn’t even singing. Aside from all the anxiety I felt for her, I had my own role to play in the proceedings. She had publicized on both her invitations and posters that the reception directly following the concert would be catered by NiceJewishMom.com. The word “cater,” to me, did not mean “serve food ordered from a store or restaurant.” It meant that I would personally create an elegant spread. Something special, yet not excessive compared to what other students were doing. So I’d long ago purchased the party goods and been planning, slicing and baking for days.
Exacerbating my anxiety about this were several factors: Allegra could provide only a ballpark figure for how many people to expect – anywhere between 40 and 100+. There would be no refrigeration or heating available on the premises, which ruled out many food options. I’d have to transport everything 100 miles from my home to Boston. And I couldn’t get into the party area to set up until shortly before the concert began.Tasteasedonutsinbox.jpg
Given all of these complications, I’d baked two trays of brownies, dipped dozens of strawberries in dark and white chocolate, and assembled a variety of sparkling juices, cheese, crackers, crudités and dips. My good friend Pat, who had insisted upon pitching in, had promised to provide an exquisite fruit platter. But my pièce de résistance was an assortment of festively decorated mini-donuts from a shop called Tastease in Hartford. I’d ordered three boxes, containing three dozen each in different flavors and designs. (Donuts may not be the height of elegance. But they are definitely the height of fun.)blackdressintrophoto2.jpg
Also anxiety-provoking was that many relatives and friends had elected to attend, and I was the point person for all of them. Of course, we were ecstatic that they were coming. As with any major event in our lives, it becomes so much more meaningful when witnessed by the people who are most significant to us. But in the last couple of days, my phone had begun to ring every few seconds with last-minute queries. What was the address again? Where could they park? What sort of graduation present might Allegra appreciate? Not to mention the eternal No. 1 question: “What should I wear?
If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn I was throwing another bat mitzvah.
So it didn’t help when my cousin arrived at my house early on Friday afternoon to accompany me to Boston and instantly reminded me of the date. A bit earlier, I’d heard from my brother that he was going to have to make an extra stop between New York and Boston to pick up my niece in Providence, since she had a college final paper due at 4. I’d made dinner reservations a week earlier for everyone at a French restaurant at 6. This would be cutting it close.Fridaythe13thimageincircle.jpg
“They’ll never make it by 6,” my cousin said. “Are you kidding? It’s Friday the 13th."
Fearing this myself, knowing they’d hit traffic in and out of all three cities involved, I’d already switched our reservations to a sushi place near my daughter’s school and pushed dinner back half an hour. As special as I wanted the evening to be, French cuisine takes time to prepare and eat, and this occasion was really not about the food.
But my cousin wasn’t impressed by these precautionary measures. “Sushi at 6:30? It’s Friday the 13th. They’ll never make that, either,” she declared.
Then she surveyed everything that I intended to put into the car – six trays of baked goods, countless bottles of beverages, all the party goods, and two large coolers filled with cheese, hummus (we are Jews), and everything else that needed to stay cold. Plus two Aerobeds and all of our suitcases.
“You’re taking all that? It’ll never fit,” she said.carwithbaggageandpaintedlady.jpg
“Please stop saying all of those negative things, and give me a hand,” I replied. And somehow we crammed it all in by the time my husband arrived home from work.
Still, I remained edgy. Shortly before my cousin had arrived, I’d gone to the gas station to fill up. Given skyrocketing gas prices, I’d been prepared for a huge number. Maybe even an astronomical number. But not the eerily devilish one that I got: $66.69.
En route to the Mass Pike, we kept running into pockets of traffic, prompting my cousin to reiterate all of her misgivings that my arrangements would ever go smoothly. Usually, between the two of us, I’m more prone to be the voice of doom and gloom. Maybe she’s just more superstitious, but now she was certainly helping to fan my fears.Stopwatchinhandimage.jpg
I wasn’t that concerned that my brother would arrive late because he’s invariably punctual. Admittedly, he had no control over the traffic going in and out of three cities… during rush hour… on a nice spring day… on Friday the 13th, no less. However, when he says that he’ll arrive at 5, he usually makes it within two minutes, give or take.Joelheadshot.jpg
What I was concerned about, frankly, is that he isn’t remotely a fan of jazz music. He had consented to come for this event (instead of going to his weekend house, which he’d have much preferred), because he knew how important it was to Allegra and to me. But it would take him six hours to drive from Long Island to Boston, stopping en route to pick up his wife and my son in New York City, then his daughter, Suzy, at Brown University. (I get exhausted just thinking about so much schlepping, and he’s a criminal defense attorney, not a bus driver.) If he endured relentless traffic, he might be in a miserable mood.
Then again, this event wasn’t really about my brother’s mood any more than it was about the food. It was mostly about my daughter’s performance and how she would feel about it afterwards. But if you think realizing this was in any respect reassuring, then think again.
I often go to excessive lengths to try to please my children. What parent, particularly a Jewish one, doesn’t? But these exhaustive efforts invariably end up backfiring. No matter how hard I try, some unforeseen calamity always ends up undermining my plans and spoiling the entire experience.
Typical was the time when my daughter was very young that we threw an elaborate birthday party for her at a dance studio. On the way home, she lost a little ring that my father had given her as a gift and ended up sobbing uncontrollably for hours.
Then there was the lavish dinner party that she held during middle school, at which the boy she liked ended up succumbing to the charms of another girl. (Once again, good intentions and excessive effort, culminating in hours of uncontrollable sobbing.)
For Friday night’s concert, she had gotten a gorgeous new gown, glittery five-inch heels, flashy earrings, new makeup, and a stylish haircut. She’d also had new publicity shots taken, and her boyfriend had designed exquisite posters that she’d hung everywhere. What were the chances, given her pattern, that she’d end up satisfied with the results?Allegrainbluebeadeddress2.jpg
Compounding these concerns was the fact that, in planning the evening’s program, she had been far more ambitious than necessary. Most students at her school tend to perform a variety of songs at their recitals backed up by three or four other musicians. Allegra had chosen to be accompanied by a total of 16 instrumentalists, including a sextet, two different trios, her piano teacher, a guitarist, and assorted other guests.
Several of these musicians had other gigs scheduled directly before or after her concert, meaning that they risked arriving late or might need to leave early. What were the chances that everything would proceed like clockwork… on Friday the 13th, no less?
The last senior recital I’d attended at her school had consisted of nine songs. Allegra intended to perform 15 instead, without looking at any of the music. What were the chances that she wouldn’t make some unfortunate faux pas or forget a single lyric?
        As I drove, m
y mind drifted back four years, to the day that she had auditioned live at NEC. We had arrived early and been told that she could have 30 minutes in a practice room. They were way behind schedule, though, so after she warmed up she’d had to wait for hours. Finally, she went in to sing before the judges with a band she had never met. And to my horror, despite weeks of preparation, I heard her begin on the wrong note. She recovered by the second verse, however, and one of the judges berated the piano player for not giving her a starting note and then praised Allegra for her quick recovery.
In the end, to our great delight and relief, she had been accepted anyway. But what if she gave in to nerves now and began on the wrong note during her final recital? How would she handle that?AllegraandStevoatSXSW.jpg
My greatest fear, though, had nothing to do with Allegra or any musical feats. It was about fate. Her boyfriend, Stevo, had spent that week working in Barcelona and was flying back late that afternoon -- on Friday the 13th. What if his flight were delayed and he didn’t make it? Allegra is serious about her singing, but she’s also 21. If her boyfriend wasn’t going to be there, then inconsolable wouldn’t begin to cover it. We might as well all stay home.
Given all of these factors, the chances that nothing would go amiss were minimal. How likely was it that everything would be in perfect alignment… on Friday the 13th?nailbiterwithredhairimage.jpg
OK, did I mention that I’m a worrier by nature? Make that a major-league worrier. But also, as I said, a realist. I decided that I’d be satisfied if she managed not to fall down during the concert. Of course I have infinite faith in her talent and singing ability. But did I also mention those glittery five-inch heels?Glitteryheels.jpg
We were carrying our bags into the hotel when Allegra called to say that one of the musicians was late for rehearsal, stuck in traffic from New York, so she had time to help us unload the car. I’d hoped to change for the concert, but instead we raced to the school.
We were frantically setting up my festive spread when my brother called to announce that he had arrived. It was just before 6. “We could have made the French restaurant after all,” he said. He also admitted that the traffic had been grueling. But he was in good spirits and was a good enough sport not to kvetch.sushiimage.jpg
Everyone enjoyed the sushi, and I ended up being glad to have made the last-minute switch of venue. We finished eating within an hour, so I had time to dash back to the hotel and change, after all. (Certainly, what I wore to the concert was insignificant; my daughter was the star. Yet I’d spent so long the night before choosing what to wear. It would have been a little disappointing to end up in jeans, flats and a shmatta instead.Jewishmanwithbeardandhatimage3cropped.jpg)
Back at the school, I rushed to finish setting up the food and drinks. Various friends from home had already begun arriving, though. With mounting excitement, I found myself hugging them all and everyone else in sight, including Allegra’s longtime therapist, who had hoped to keep a low profile there and seemed to recoil. The person I most wanted to meet (although not necessarily clutch to my chest) was her former boss, a nice Jewish executive from a top jazz booking agency, for whom she had interned last summer. But I had no idea what he looked like, other than… presumably… Jewish.Allegraatherseniorrecitalcropped.jpg
I was still unwrapping cheese when I realized that the concert was about to begin. So I tiptoed to the front-row seat that had been saved for me, beside my sister-in-law Karen, close friend Liz, and Stevo, who was jetlagged but had managed to arrive from Spain with time to spare. And there, gripping the microphone right in front of us, was… a goddess. Yes, nothing short of a goddess. Though, actually, there was nothing short about her. She was wearing a dark blue beaded gown... and sparkly five-inch heels.
Then the band, which had arrived on time, emitted the starting notes, and I heard the voice of an angel – if angels wear form-fitting gowns and silver eye shadow and can jive like a Jewish Ella Fitzgerald.
OK, I know I’m not a music critic. I’m just the (nice Jewish) mom. But as she scatted through the first song and segued into the next, I sensed that she’d never sung so well.  The full-house audience seemed so spellbound that no one even coughed.
Meanwhile, I found myself grinning ecstatically -- so broadly that my face hurt. It wasn’t just about The Voice, as in the latest singing competition on TV. When Allegra sings, she exhibits more passion and emotional intensity than many a Broadway star.Allegraatseniorrecitalwithmic1.jpg
“She’s on fire tonight!” more than one person remarked to me during intermission.
During the brief break, I introduced myself to two men I didn’t know, hoping that they might be her boss, but each looked at me blankly and proved to be someone else.
The second set was just as electrifying, starting off with one of Allegra’s 17 original tunes, a jazzy tango on which she was accompanied with great verve by a violin, accordion and bass. She followed this up with everything from a dark, bluesy original, “I’m Not OK,” to one of her signature up-tempo numbers, “I Don’t Want to Be in Love.”
Although I’d had reservations about her including so many different backup groups, I realized that it was the right approach, after all. Along with the wide range of songs she sang – from an original tune inspired by Joni Mitchell to standards like “Just You, Just Me” and “I’ll Take Manhattan” -- it added variety and helped demonstrate her versatility.
And following the lilting last strains of “Moon River,” her own arrangement of which she uses to close every show, the audience leaped to its feet and gave her a raucous standing O.Tasteasedonutssmallpileimage.jpg
My donuts were a big hit at the reception. My brother, despite all my fears, appeared to enjoy himself thoroughly. But the big surprise, to my disbelief, was that Allegra had no serious complaints. The biggest gripe she could muster was that she’d forgotten some words to a song, one composed by her piano teacher Bert Seager with lyrics by Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent, so she had sung one of the verses twice. But since the song had never been heard before, who knew?
She couldn’t begin to cry about that. The only one crying was my cousin. No longer the voice of doom, or gloom, she was overcome with emotion and, like me, proud of my girl.AllegrasseniorrecitalbyMichaelKwithus2.JPG
        In the printed program passed out, along with thanking her phenomenal teachers, brilliant brother, and (naturally) the boyfriend, without whom “I would not have all those dazzlingly designed posters, nor an infallible navigator in the passenger seat of my life,” Allegra was sweet enough to also give some credit to her (nice Jewish) dad and me. “I am so grateful to have parents who truly have supported me creatively my entire life…” she wrote.
I’m grateful too… grateful to have her as my daughter, and to have witnessed overwhelming evidence that all of that support and four years of college appear to have entirely paid off -- not that I ever really doubted it.Allegrasseniorrecitalphoto1fromMichael.JPG
I never did manage to meet my mystery man, the boss from the jazz booking agency, but my husband evidently did. He turned out to be the guy that my husband had asked to move over, believing that his seat was the best vantage point from which to videotape the show. But there were clearly no hard feelings. He later posted glowing remarks on Facebook.
        “NYC, get ready,” he wrote. “[Allegra]’s going to storm your town with great music.” (He was only a little mystified to have been mistaken for a family member by her singing teacher.  “Oh well. Must be my Jewishness,” he wrote. So I guess I basically was on the right track.)Fridaythe13ththankgodbuttonimage.jpg
What comes next? Graduation this weekend. Then she’s moving to New York to do what these four years have presumably prepared her to do: launch a singing career.
How will she support herself? Who might hire her? What and where will she sing?
I’m not going to worry about any of that now. For the moment, my worries are over.
She didn’t fall. Better yet, she didn’t fail. In any conceivable way.
Why work myself up imagining all sorts of calamities? I got what I wanted, after all. And so did Allegra. She showed me that true or near perfection may be extremely difficult to achieve, but not impossible. Now and then, all the stars actually do manage to align.
        Why am I so easily rattled by everyday pressures, a piddling prime number, and the ever-present risk that one little thing or other might go wrong? I'm lucky. So very lucky. Allegra is my luck, along with her (brilliant) brother, Aidan.
        And whatever happens next, things look promising for the immediate future. My daughter is happy. She was great. She’s going to graduate!
And there isn’t another Friday the 13th on the calendar until January 2012.     
1:46 pm 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Word From the Weiss
You’ve certainly heard of the (admittedly crass) Jewish dilemma – pork at half price – but how about the culture vulture’s quandary: Schlock… for free!?! Last weekend, that was the tough choice I found myself facing.
        To go or not to go? That was the question.MothersDayNocakeonly1.jpg
        To backtrack a bit, w
e were not planning to celebrate Mother’s Day in any way this year. First of all, sad to say, my husband and I no longer have a mother left between us to celebrate. Second, my daughter was too busy finishing college in Boston to come home or meet us anywhere. I’m the only (nice Jewish) mom involved now, and I figured that we should postpone any observance of this trumped-up holiday until next weekend, when our whole family would be in Boston for my daughter’s concert and it would be more convenient for everyone involved.
         Everyone readily agreed.
         On Wednesday, however, I received an email that made me rethink this decision. It came from someone I didn’t know, and even the subject line sounded highly suspicious. And yet so enticing.
“You have won FREE THEATER tickets!” it read.
        Dare I open it? The only thing more irresistible to me (albeit even more suspicious) would have been an offer for free clothes. So I threw caution to the wind and clicked “read.”MissAbigailmagnet.jpg
         “As a special friend of Best of Off Broadway,” it stated, “you have WON 4 free tickets to the new hit NYC comedy, Miss Abigail’s Guide To Dating, Mating, & Marriage, in Times Square, starring Eve Plumb...” It then offered 10 performances to choose from, including Sunday’s matinee.
        Hmmmm. I had no idea what Best of Off Broadway was, although I’ve joined so many services offering deals on theater tickets that I might be a friend of this group. Maybe even a “special friend.”
         I also must admit that I had never heard of this so-called “hit” comedy, nor its star, although the message went on to explain that Ms. Plumb had been the original “Jan” on The Brady Bunch, a 1970s TV sitcom that I had never once seen. It also went on to note that Entertainment Weekly had recently pronounced this production “PURE FUN!”
To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about pure fun. I think I prefer my fun mixed with impurities. Like moral content. Intellectual depth. Maybe even a touch of angst.
But let’s be honest. The operative word in this message wasn’t “fun.” It was “free.”
All of a sudden, I had a choice: I could stay home in Connecticut with my husband on Mother’s Day and probably do nothing much. Or we could go to New York, have a nice meal with our son, and see an off-Broadway show. For free. Why, Entertainment Weekly could have called it “PURE TORTURE!” and I still might have been tempted.
Yes, of course it crossed my mind that this offer might be a scam, but I had a strong sense that it was legit. It not only displayed perfect grammar and punctuation (despite some annoying and excessive use of capitalization FOR EMPHASIS), but also came from what sounded like a real person, someone named Jennifer Tepper. (Scams come from people with strange, foreign names and are addressed “ATTN: Beneficiary.”)MissAbigailphotocropped.jpg
Also, I checked. This show was a real show. A real off-Broadway show. A show that sounded just ditzy enough that I could easily imagine it having trouble filling seats. And as hard as it may be to make a play pay off financially when you’re giving tickets away, it’s better for both the performers and audience to have a relatively full house. Especially for a comedy, since laughter is contagious. Clearly, this was just a marketing campaign meant to get people to see the show and spread the (hopefully good) word.
        I forwarded it to my husband and son, both of whom responded that they were game. So I wrote back and accepted for Sunday’s 3 p.m. show. Almost instantly, Ms. Tepper replied telling me how to collect the tickets from the box office, as well as where to park at a reduced rate. (Even more savings!) Just as instantly, I felt my mood brighten.
         So I was a little peeved when my husband noted that night that the show sounded moronic. What was it about, again? Dating, mating… and marriage? “I’ve done all those things, and I’m not really interested in them anymore,” he said flatly during a long car ride.Broadwaymarquees2.jpg
By “a little peeved,” I mean that I stopped speaking to him for awhile. I must admit that I resented him for showering a little rain on my giddy sense of good fortune. Even so, the next morning I began to have second thoughts. As theater lovers who live two and a half hours from Manhattan, we’re always reading reviews of actual hit plays that we’re dying to see, but probably never will. We don’t get down to the city often enough.
Life is short, as I often say. Too short to see lousy plays. If we were going to go to the trouble of driving five hours there and back, shouldn’t we see something good?
Then again, I felt guilty about the prospect of our seeing anything too wonderful without my daughter. I felt guilty enough that we were going to celebrate Mother’s Day without her. If we went to something good, I feared that she might be hurt or be tempted to neglect her schoolwork and take a bus down to join us. How distraught could she feel about foregoing a 10-hour round-trip bus ride and a bad (probably REALLY BAD) play?
Lest you think that I was being too solicitous of my daughter’s feelings – after all, we were talking about Mother’s Day, not Daughter’s Day – then please let me explain.Stuiewithfish.jpg
When I was a young woman, around her age, my father developed a special manner of celebrating Father’s Day. He was an avid fisherman who lived in Manhattan, but much preferred Maine. He was also a man’s man, one who relished sports of all kinds, Westerns, and the company of other men. So each year, for Father’s Day, he and my brother would take off on the ultimate male excursion, a father-son fishing weekend. After my brother had children of his own, this was eventually expanded to include my nephew, too.
I don’t think it ever occurred to my father that I felt profoundly left out each year. What was I, chopped liver? (Not that there’s anything much better than chopped liver. So maybe I was more like mandlen, those puffy Passover soup nuts that people forget to put into the matzah ball soup.) But seriously… I’m a parent. What could he have been thinking? Wasn’t he my father, too?
You might wonder why, being a woman, I’d get so bent out of shape about missing a fishing trip. The answer is that I grew up going on fishing trips with my family. I know how to fish. I used to love to fish. I just never get to do it anymore.Pattiewithfishat17cropped.jpg
As painful as being excluded from this annual tradition may have been for me, I later started to sense even greater heartache about it on behalf of my son. (I didn’t dare feel indignation for my daughter, who was three times removed from ever being invited.) Maybe my father just assumed that my son should be with his own father on Father’s Day, or that he’d have no interest in coming, since he had never learned to fish. More likely, he was simply doing what he had always done and not thinking about it at all.
Still, my son and nephew are the same age, so it seemed a little sad that it never crossed my dad’s mind to ask him along. Between that, and the fact that we lived two and a half hours away -- just far enough that he rarely visited -- my father developed a much closer relationship with my nephew than with either of my kids. My son also never learned to fish.
I swore that I would never knowingly do anything similar. I love my children equally and always make a conscious effort to treat them as commensurately as possible. So, even though I had spent the previous weekend in Boston visiting my daughter, then returned during the week to attend THREE of her year-end musical recitals, I still worried that celebrating the holiday with just my son somehow smacked of favoritism.
Maybe if this outing was nothing special, my younger offspring would feel less teed off about missing it.
But then I checked The New York Times online and read the readers’ reviews of the so-called “hit” that we were scheduled to see, and I had second thoughts again. (Which I suppose actually makes them third thoughts.)
 “Funny show – highly recommend!” declared Jay, a 43-year-old New Yorker who’d seen it with his cousin. “We both found it to be laugh out loud funny throughout. Audience age varied from 20s-60s,” he added, “and all seemed to enjoy it.”
A few other viewers heartily agreed. “My favorite date night of the past year!” gushed someone named Louise from Hoboken. But others of a more discriminating bent begged to differ.MissAbigailbutton.jpg
“This has got to be the worst show I have seen in 10 years,” declared a New Yorker named Jeff, who’d seen it in January. “The lines read like someone reading to a toddler. But don't worry, it only runs about 80 minutes long.”
Yet another critique, by a woman from New Jersey, pronounced it a total waste of time and money. “I felt especially sorry for the out-of-towners sitting next to us,” it noted. “I see New York theater all the time and know how wonderful it can be. There are so many wonderful plays to see in the city and movies to rent through Netflix… Why spend money and time watching two average actors performing a lackluster play?”
Why, indeed? Wouldn’t we be better off biting the bullet and springing for a Broadway show, or something else high-caliber that we were more likely to like?
I was especially concerned that my son, who’s 24, would be appalled having to sit through something sophomoric, which this insipid-sounding production threatened to be.
An aspiring screenwriter and playwright, Aidan has distinctly intellectual leanings. He also strongly favors substantive, straight drama over the forced merriment endemic to musical theater. How would he begin to tolerate something so clearly trite and frothy?
So I began searching for alternatives. Many options I was drawn to wouldn’t have appealed to him much more, though. What would he make of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” a madcap pop musical known for its countless over-the-top costumes, based on the 1994 movie about two drag queens and a transsexual looking for love in the Australian outback? Now, that was something my daughter might enjoy seeing with me. My husband and son? Not so much.RobinWilliamsinTigertie.jpg
        If I were catering to their tastes, we might be better off going for something more male-oriented, like “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” starring Robin Williams, or comedian Chris Rock’s Broadway debut in the much-lauded and multi-asterisked “The Motherf***** with the Hat.”
The problem was none of these top shows had particularly good seats left. And even with a discount from Theatermania, or any of the other groups I subscribe to, three mediocre seats would still set us back close to 300 bucks, or more.
Somehow, I couldn’t see paying $300 for so-so seats when we already had tickets that were absolutely FREE.
There was also the prospect of finding some middle ground – some nice, economical, off-off-Broadway play. But nothing that I could find had either a Sunday matinee or available tickets. I finally gave up in frustration and phoned my son.
“Let’s just stick with what you’ve got -- the free one,” he said without hesitation. Along with having intellectual proclivities, he has a lifelong predilection for being frugal. He, too, likes his fun adulterated. But also affordable. Or, better yet, free.
So with some trepidation, I decided to stick with Plan A, the seemingly inane play. At least it would only last 80 minutes.MothersDay2011Guysinmatchingshirtskneesup.jpg
        We picked Aidan up as scheduled, a little before 1, and immediately noticed, in one of the most comical moments of the day, that he and my husband were wearing identical blue-and-white striped shirts. I felt like a bride surrounded by bridesmaids.
No, make that hunky dudes mysteriously decked out in color-coordinated duds.
En route to lunch, he told us all about his evening out the night before. He and a former college classmate had obtained last-minute tickets to see King Lear, starring Derek Jacobi, at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We’re talking about perhaps the greatest play ever written, starring one of the greatest actors of our time. This was something that I’d considered, but dismissed, assuming it was sold out. (Also, to my mind, Brooklyn remains uncharted territory.) My heart sank.DerekJacobiinKingLear1.jpg
“How was it?” I dared to ask.
“Mind-blowing,” he replied, using his highest form of flattery. How might Miss Abigail stack up against Monsieurs Jacobi and Shakespeare? My heart sank even further.
My son had gone to the effort of visiting a store that he knows I like and buying a beautifully wrapped gift. He’d also written an extremely sweet message on a pretty card. Plus, he’d readily agreed to spend the day with us. So believe me, I’m not complaining.
Still, he happens to be a young man in his 20s, struggling with work and life issues. Also, we’re a basically normal family – that is to say, a normally dysfunctional one. Nearly everything I do or say irritates my son on contact. And if you think he finds me annoying, you should see how he responds to his father. So, even though this was a family occasion, it was also pretty much business as usual. My son was feeling testy.Pastacauldron1.jpg
It didn’t help that my favorite restaurant in the theater district, Becco, was mobbed, no doubt due to Mother’s Day. Its Italian food and service are normally both impeccable. Last Sunday? Not so much. “What do you have to do around here to get a sip of water?” my son seethed. We’d sat for 20 minutes without anyone appearing to fill our glasses. Even after I asked, we waited about 10 more, after which our cups were never refilled again.
I’d chosen the place because it offers a wonderful Sinfonia di Paste special for both lunch and dinner – a choice of Caesar salad or cold antipasto, followed by all you can eat of three different pastas of the day. Waiters parade around with huge cauldrons of steaming, delectable food, repeatedly offering to refill your plate. But today the pasta was far from steaming. Or delectable. More like tepid and relatively tasteless. Or was I just feeling testy, too?
It took so long to get our check that I worried that, by the time we arrived at the theater, we’d be seated in the back. On the contrary, though, we were led to the front row, almost dead center. I would have been pleased – whatever we were about to see, at least we’d be able to see it well – but I'd read that this play relied heavily on audience participation. I’m fairly shy. So is my son. My husband? Not so much. No, not AT ALL. He volunteers for everything and often embarrasses us both. The back row suddenly looked inviting. But even with my special offer, to which many other audience members had clearly responded too, the place wasn’t close to half full. So we just decided to stay put.
Then the stage lights went on, and it began.MissAbigailandPaco.jpg
The gist of this extremely camp creation was that Miss Abigail -- a blonde, tailored and extremely dated romantic coach to the stars – doled out advice to the famous yet lovelorn, aided and abetted by her sidekick Paco, a handsome young fellow who clearly carried a smoldering torch for his boss and longed to try all of these techniques out on her.
        Obtusely s
watting his advances away as though he were a pesky mosquito, she proceeded to read platitudes aloud from old Emily Post-era advice manuals. Periodically, she summoned selected audience members to the stage to practice flirting by licking their lips suggestively, or compete in activities like a multiple-choice contest dubbed “Love, Lust or Stalking?”
There was, I must admit, the occasional semi-clever line, such as when Miss A pined for the days when fidelity was more than an investment firm, or quipped that… No, come to think of it, that’s the only line I remember laughing at, and it came early in the first half.
Then again, the whole production, with its 1950s-style candy-colored set, projected an upbeat, nostalgic, sweet-natured attitude. Miss A kept having poor Paco pass out little cards to the audience, reminding them to change their underwear daily and carry a fresh handkerchief, or to always kiss their spouses hello, especially when other people are around (something about which I’m so lax that I probably need to carry a reminder card).
And as much as I like my fun adulterated, I don’t ever like it to be mean-spirited. I prefer things that are pleasant. So I guess there’s something to be said for PURE FUN.humoroussubmarinesandwichimage.jpg
Also, to my enormous relief, my husband never raised his hand to volunteer, and none of us was ever lured onstage to participate in any of the skits. The closest we came to audience participation was when, at the close of the show, Miss A leaped off the stage and handed me a long hero sandwich that she’d used as a prop in the final scene. She’d only pretended to be gnawing it, I saw; there wasn’t a bite mark anywhere. (Thank G-d it had only lettuce and tomatoes -- no ham!) My husband told me to take it home, and that he’d eat it for lunch. I had misgivings about how many people might have touched it, not to mention how long it may have been sitting out. But the next day, he added some cheese and mustard, and now it’s gone. (FREE LUNCH!)
Ultimately, though, the best part of this production, beyond the unbeatable price, was indeed that it was only 80 minutes long. By 4:20, we were back outside, able to enjoy the remaining sunshine and more family time together, something of which we truly never get enough.MothersDay2011GuyswithMefullbody.JPG
For in the end, after all my fretting and deliberating, the most significant thing was not what play we saw, or how good it was. It was that we got to do something together.
Driving home afterwards, I was glad that we hadn’t wasted the day staying home. Still, I must admit to some lingering sense that we’d wasted an opportunity. Like people on that series of TV commercials who whack themselves in the forehead and lament, “I could-a had a V8,” I couldn’t quite get it out of my mind that “I could-a seen King Lear!”
And yes, I still felt sheepish when my daughter sent me a long, heartfelt email that night. Not to betray any confidences, or boast, but she talked about what a good mother I am, and how a skit that she’d seen on Saturday Night Live theTinaFeyonSNLimage.jpg night before had hit a bit too close to home – the one about a geeky teenager who doesn’t fit in with other kids her age because she's so busy idolizing her mother, a true MILF (“Mother I’d Like to Friend”), played by Tina Fey. Clearly, she was not just feeling guilty about not being with me, but also stricken that she’d missed out on a family occasion, however lame and low-brow our activities may have been.
I wrote back assuring her that I felt no disappointment, I idolized her too, and that she should really feel absolutely NO GUILT. (What is it with us Jews? Are we walking clichés? Why can’t we purge our penchant for self-blame and just have PURE FUN?)Allegrainbluebeadeddress2.jpg
I also promised her that after her graduation, we’d go out together for mani-pedis – the ultimate mother-daughter female excursion. (I only hope my son won’t mind.)
In retrospect, I’m pleased not only that we managed to get out for Mother’s Day, but that we managed to get it out of the way. Although we’ll be together for the next two weekends, I don’t want anything to detract from my daughter’s final concert this Friday night, or graduation the next Sunday.
Also, only days later, I realize that the big maternal moment has already passed. We’re now moving on toward summer, and soon enough it will be Father’s Day. I have a whole month to find something fun to do for that. Maybe even something with moral content and intellectual depth.
        I'll pay anything. Or at least something. But I’d better start planning now.
12:30 am 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Word From the Weiss
All sorts of things have happened in my life in the past week – all sorts – but I fear that if I don’t say something about Osama bin Laden in, like, the very first sentence, it’ll seem like I live in a cave somewhere. So I’m mentioning him right now.
        Osama bin Laden. Shot in the head! Navy SEALs. They shot him dead!
         The significance of this event in our lives, historically speaking, may not be remotely on par with, say, the assassination of JFK. Yet people are saying that we’ll always remember where we were when we heard of Osama’s death. So here’s how it happened for me.JFKassassinationimage.jpg
        My friend Liz had popped over on Sunday night to watch the season premiere of Law & Order: Criminal Intent with us. Soon after the credits rolled, around 10:15, we were still analyzing the somewhat convoluted plot when a special news report came on, alerting us that President Obama was about to speak. He was going to address the nation about a matter of national security.
          My thoughts instantly flew to Muammar Gaddafi. His youngest son had been killed by NATO forces the night before, along with three of his grandsons. Was he dead too, perhaps? Or had he already done something to retaliate?Gaddafiimage2.jpg
        As if they were able to read my mind, the news report went on to note that the matter the President was going to speak about had nothing to do with Libya.
         Nothing to do with Libya? Then it had nothing to do with Colonel Gaddafi. So, what could it be?
        “It’s Osama bin Laden,” Liz ventured, with seemingly rock-solid certainty.
         Maybe it's un-American of me, but I didn't generally sit around thinking about Osama bin Laden. I have better things to do.
        “Osama?” I replied. “Where do you get that?”
        “I don’t know. It’s just gotta be. What else is there?” she asked.
        Chaos, to me, seemed to be spreading around the world like wildfire. No, faster than wildfire. Like Facebook. So many countries were becoming unhinged. It could be anything, anywhere. A tsunami, earthquake or other natural disaster wouldn’t be a matter of national security. So, terrorist attacks? An assassination? Or, could it be war?
        “This is a matter of national security related to a different part of the world,” the news report said.
        “It’s Osama,” Liz asserted. “What other part of the world could it be?”
        To my mind, there were plenty of other parts of the world in turmoil, not to mention total instability, and potentially about to blow. “North Korea?” I ventured.
        “You think?” Liz asked. She considered this briefly, then dismissed it. “Nah.”
        I won’t drag it out in an excruciating way, as all the news organizations did. You obviously know by now (unless you actually do live in a cave somewhere, and probably even then) that Liz was dead on, and Osama was, in fact, dead.
        Osama bin Laden. Shot in the head. Navy SEALs. They shot him dead!iPhonetextingOsama2.jpg
        We were elated, of course. Not insanely jubilant, but elated. Also perplexed. Even while still waiting impatiently for the President to speak, we felt like we had to do something to mark so momentous an occasion. Liz seized her iPhone and began texting almost everyone she knew. Grabbing my own cell, I called both of my children, neither of whom answered. My daughter had a late-night rehearsal, I recalled. My son, who goes to work around dawn, was probably already asleep.
        “I want to call my mother,” I said. Unfortunately, she’d died two years ago. Liz, who knew this, nodded and smiled sympathetically.HPIM0178.JPG
         “I want to tell Zoe,” I continued. Zoe, my poor, adored dog, died two months ago. Liz concurred, saying she wished she could tell Carlos, her own sweet dog, whom she’d been obliged to put down the week after Zoe died.
         She also was tempted to call her ex-boyfriend, an obsessive political junkie. But he broke up with her six months ago. And he was on a trans-Atlantic flight.
        So much for communing with our significant others. Even my husband had grown tired of waiting and gone upstairs to get ready for bed. “So what do we do now?” I asked. “Drink Champagne?”
        Liz shrugged. “I don’t think it’s right to celebrate someone’s death,” she said. “Even his.”
         I paused to consider whether I agreed. Osama bin Laden was the most hated and hunted man on earth, and arguably one of the worst who’s ever lived. Plus, who knows what future malevolence he might have been plotting against our country? So if his downfall wasn’t worth celebrating, then tell me. What was?
        “Then again, it seems like we ought to drink something,” Liz conceded. ”What do you have?”
         “I have some truly dreadful Champagne,” I replied. I also had some really good Champagne, but I was saving this for some fortuitous occasion of a more personal nature, like having one of my children achieve some sort of success – their curing cancer, publishing a book, or maybe getting engaged to be married.Champagneinglasses.jpg
        I guess I’m one of those professed pessimists who always has a bottle of Champagne chilling, just in case it turns out that I was wrong and things actually do work out in the end. About 30 years ago, the night that my now-husband suddenly proposed in New York City, I whipped out such a bottle, which was then probably the only thing in my refrigerator, other than a half-empty carton of eggs.
         “I don’t really like Champagne,” he said at the time. “Got any chocolate milk?” (Should I have seen that as a potential red flag? That I was agreeing to spend the rest of my life with a 37-year-old confirmed bachelor who had a sizable toy collection and still preferred his favorite childhood drink to Moet & Chandon?)
      Now, three decades later, I did have chocolate milk on hand – chocolate soymilk, to be precise – along with a bar amply stocked with all sorts of libations. But truly dreadful Champagne seemed to be the most appropriate choice I had to offer for toasting the demise of a truly dreadful man.ChampagneCelebrateimage.jpg
         This Champagne was so dreadful that, after struggling for several minutes to ease the cork out by twisting the bottle, I finally figured out that it was a screw top. (And you thought I was exaggerating about the dreadfulness.) No matter. By the time I’d found my champagne flutes, Wolf Blitzer was still stalling for time by offering lots of big hints (“The news is about someone we all hate… who’s holed up in a country that begins with a “P”), and Obama was still nowhere to be seen.
        We tried stalling as well, but once I’d poured the terrible stuff, it seemed like we had to raise our glasses, then clink and drink. And as much as even I had hoped I’d been exaggerating about the dreadfulness of this drink, it turned out to be even more appropriate than I had realized. Truly vile stuff for a truly vile man.
         My husband had come back down to join us. But as much as all three of us happen to be writers, and rarely if ever at a loss for words, no one felt moved to propose a toast of any kind. We just raised our glasses, drank, gagged slightly, then drank some more. Which made me feel somewhat better about the whole thing later on, in view of the raucous displays that followed.
         After the President had finally spoken – rather eloquently, I might add – the TV cameras soon switched to show the scene developing outside the White House, where a sizable crowd was gathering in the wake of this monumental news.WhiteHouselawnafterOsamaUSE.jpg
        By midnight, there appeared to be thousands of revelers, mostly students from nearby George Washington University and other young people, it seemed. Waving flags, chanting, and cheering, they seemed to be intoxicated with joy.
        Yes, unabashed joy. Make that delirium. People around the word viewing their antics would have believed that the United States must have just won a war.
         Or that our population consisted of an ignorant, bloodthirsty mob madly celebrating someone’s death as though their team had just won the Super Bowl.TimesSquareafterOsamaUSE.jpg
         The next day, The New York Times reported that there were similar scenes at Ground Zero and in Times Square, where thousands of people congregated in jubilation, chanting pop tunes popular at school football games. “Osama! Osama! Hey, hey, hey, good-bye!” 
        Hey, hey, hey? Seriously? All I can say is ugh, ugh, ugh. Make that  oy, oy, oy.
        I’m not saying Osama wasn’t the closest thing to Hitler during our lifetimes. I’m not saying I don’t wish that they had taken him alive so that he could be put on trial, publicly reviled, then potentially tortured slowly in some excruciating way.
        That he didn’t deserve the most hellish execution that the wrath of God, or Stephen King or someone else with a profoundly twisted mind, could conjure up, before he went to rot in hell, if there is such a place, for eternity and then some.
       Nor am I in any doubt that as Americans we're entitled to feel some jubilation, or, as Jews, some perfectly justifiable Jew-bilation.Arabscelebrate911.jpg
       I’m just remembering how I felt when the Twin Towers tumbled amid billowing smoke nearly 10 years ago, and legions of folks in the Arab world were shown celebrating exultantly in the streets, and I thought, “Those people must be savages.” Is that the image we want to project to the world at large, particularly to those who may already believe this about our vulgar, super-materialistic, seemingly savage culture?
       Sure, I sympathize with the desire to mark the occasion in some public way. When I was unable to reach my children in those first moments, I thought about whom I could call or write and ended up texting my daughter’s boyfriend, Stevo. I figured that it was almost 11 p.m., much too late to phone any of my own friends or relatives… although the one person I had most wanted to call was one of my husband’s cousins, who had lost a daughter in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
        She, of all people, I figured, would not have minded being awakened for such news. Then again, I believed it was her remaining children’s place to share it with her.
         I’m also not saying that everyone should have stayed home in the comfort of their own living rooms, watching CNN and sipping second-rate Champagne. (I’m not totally delusional, like that royal ninny Marie Antoinette, ready to retort, “What? They don’t have Champagne? Well, then let them drink… Prosecco!”)
        I just wonder if there might have been some way to show our relief to have rid the world of this vicious, evil fiend without looking like monsters ourselves. Aside from being ashamed by the sheer vulgarity of such uncivilized behavior, I worry that it might incite some form of swift retaliation from Osama’s supporters.Cossacksimage1.jpg
        Maybe it’s just the Jew in me, always expecting the Cossacks to knock at the door and cart me off, leaving all of my worldly possessions behind. But instead of gleefully savoring the national triumph of our having finally nabbed the black-souled bastard, I can’t help worrying that our sweet taste of revenge might set off another terrorist attack or somehow provoke the next pogrom.
         After all, it’s been my experience that the Wheel of Fortune spins ’round and ’round, and when things are looking up, they can just as quickly go back down.
         This helps explain some of the other big developments in my life last week.

         One of these followed a very fortuitous discovery. On Friday, I found myself searching for my daughter’s college tuition bill. By my calculation, we were coming to the end of our biggest financial obligation of all time. Two children. Eight semesters. One more payment to go. But I’m usually more organized. Where was that blasted bill?
        I finally gave up and called the tuition management company to which we’re contracted to make monthly payments. They explained that I couldn’t find the bill because there wasn’t one. I had already made the final payment back in April.
        Fearing this was too good to be true, I phoned the business office at my daughter’s college. They told me that, indeed, we were all paid up. In full.
          graduationhatsflying.jpgThis definitely had to be too good to be true. Surely we still owed something.
     “My daughter’s a senior. Aren’t there special charges for graduation?” I asked.
      “No,” the registrar said.
      “Not even for the cap and gown?”
      “No,” the registrar said. “Your daughter rents them, then returns them. They’re totally free of charge.”
       "What about --?" Then I stopped myself. Why look a gift mortarboard in the mouth?
I didn’t even owe May rent on my daughter’s apartment, I remembered. She was moving after graduation, and we’d paid the first and last months in advance.
         This was not just too good to be true. It was perfect timing. For some reason last month, our vacuum cleaner and the door to our microwave both chose to go kaput (talk about things becoming unhinged). Then, as long as we were at the appliance store, my husband decided to spring for the big, new flat-screen TV that he’d always dreamed of (talk about being vulgarly super-materialistic).
That night, we raised a glass of (very decent) wine to the end of tuition payments while eating out with friends, people whose youngest child was also about to graduate. Then, the very next morning, our son called with major news.
         “You know that program I recently applied for to get my MFA in writing?” he asked. He’d insisted that he would probably never even hear back from them. Instead, they’d replied within a week. “They accepted me,” he said.
         It remains to be decided whether he will accept them. Also, assuming that he does, it remains to be decided who will pay for these two years of grad school.
        Personally, I think it’s both an obligation and a privilege for parents to pay for their children’s higher education, if they can possibly afford it. And we can.Cossackimage2.jpg
         I also think that deciding to go for more education is something to celebrate. I still deeply regret not having gotten a graduate degree myself, despite having been invited to continue at Brandeis after graduating 35 years ago.  I'd be thrilled if my son didn't repeat my mistake.
        Besides, we don’t really need to update our rather decrepit and crumbling kitchen (the thing I’ve always dreamed of). And I have better things to do.
        JustWantedYoutoKnowOsamasdeadimage.jpgStill, this development helps confirm my hesitation to celebrate any apparent victory too quickly. To the adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” I might add, “Save the good stuff and drink your crappy Champagne… just in case I was right, after all." Those Cossacks could be at the door at any minute, with al-Qaida close behind.
        Meanwhile, I’m sorry it took 10 years to track the villain down, and I’m glad that he’s finally where he belongs – if not in hell, then at the bottom of the ocean. But I’m keeping my own celebration down to a muted dull roar.
        Pssst. Osama bin Laden. Shot in the head. Navy SEALS. They shot him. Dead.
1:02 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.