That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

This site  The Web 

A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
(With new content posted every WEEK!)

Archive Newer | Older

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

AllegraandmeonCannonBeach.JPG        Yes, I’m nice, I’m Jewish, and I’m unquestionably a mom, but not necessarily in that order… No, definitely not in that order… even when it comes to the High Holy Days. So when both the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement fell during the week this year, we figured that our kids would never manage to come home to us and we’d do whatever necessary to go to them, even if this meant missing services at our own shul, not getting to greet our friends there afterwards, and abandoning many other time-honored traditions of being home for the Holy Days.FireIslandhousewithPattie.JPG
        Complicating matters somewhat was that Rosh Hashanah began on a Sunday night, and my brother had been kind enough to offer us his beach house for that weekend while he was away. Spending two nights there before going to the city made it all but impossible for me to cart along food for our holiday dinner. When our daughter Allegra invited us to eat at her place in NYC on Sunday night, though, I packed up whatever I could to enhance our celebration, including wine, tall white tapers in a pair of brass candleholders, and a nice, braided challah.PattieandHarlanonFIdock2.JPG
We invited the kids to join us at the beach, of course, but of course they said they were too busy.FireIslandsunset2.JPG So my husband and I spent most of that time alone together, strolling on the sand, catching up on our reading, and ogling the heart-meltingly picture-perfect pink sunsets over the sea. And surprisingly we managed to not kill each other or get on each other’s nerves almost constantly (in part due to our fresh New Year’s vows to not kill each other and do a little better about getting on each other’s nerves almost constantly).DeeronFireIsland.JPG
Our only company was a pair of large deer who ventured into my brother’s back yard and proceeded to graze on the shrubbery with abandon, unperturbed by both our presence and our frenetic attempts to capture them on our iPhones at very close range.AllegraonFireIslanddock.jpg
But then Allegra reconsidered our invitation and decided to take a train out to the ferry early Sunday morning, after all, even though we realized this would put a serious damper on her ability to get a holiday dinner onto the table at any reasonable hour.HarlanandAllegraonthebeachatFI.JPG
We were thrilled to see her and proceeded to spend a lovely, tranquil day together doing all of the above… although we did have a white-knuckle moment or two when we couldn’t find our umbrella and chairs after a long walk on the beach, and soon realized that the clouds were rolling in fast and that we had overshot our belongings by a mile.Cloudsbeganrollingin2.JPG
On the ferry ride back, we also began to realize that we had overshot the realm of possibility with respect to our plans to celebrate the holiday with our customary home-cooked meal. I proposed that we consider getting some prepared food to go instead, but then Allegra started having second thoughts about hosting us in her apartment after all, given that her three roommates were all home and one of them even had a guest for the weekend.
Our son Aidan also shares his apartment, and he didn’t feel comfortable having the four of us dining in his somewhat confined quarters either. Our only viable option, it seemed, was to go out for dinner.
“We are not going out for dinner on Rosh Hashanah!” Allegra countered decisively. “I want to eat kugel!”Kugel1.jpg
I wanted to eat kugel, too. “Maybe we can find somewhere that serves it,” I offered hopefully. "Or maybe Whole Foods has some.”
“I don’t want Whole Foods kugel!" she cried. "I want my own kugel!”
However gratifying it was to hear how strongly she felt about noodle pudding in particular and keeping up holiday traditions in general, I could think of no alternative. The question was where to go.KatzsDelicatessensandwich.jpg
When we phoned Aidan for suggestions, he proposed Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side or somewhere else that served traditional Jewish fare. But it suddenly occurred to me that any place with even the slightest Jewish connection would probably be closed for Rosh Hashanah.
I told the kids that I sympathized with their eagerness to observe the holiday as we always did, but that under the circumstances we were going to have to do things a little differently this year. I suggested they come up with another plan together and said that I was willing to go anywhere they chose, be it for lokshen kugel, lasagna, or even sushi. The important thing was not what we ate, but that we got to eat it together.GrandmaBunnieinwhitetennisoutfit.JPG
Allegra dozed off briefly in the car on the way back to the city, then awakened to tell us that she had dreamt that we were driving to Grandma Bunnie’s house for dinner. This made me feel even worse because my mother, to whom she was extremely close, died over three years ago. But when we arrived at Aidan’s apartment at 7:30, the kids had a brief huddle alongside the car, then announced elatedly that we were going to their favorite Szechuan place nearby. If we couldn’t actually have Rosh Hashanah dinner at Grandma’s house, they said, then Chinese food was the next best thing.
In fact, when my mother had grown too old and too ill to cook for our extended family, she had begun ordering in food from her favorite Chinese restaurant instead.SichuanChelseaawning.JPG
The kids led the way as we marched the half-dozen blocks or so to a vibrant, bustling eatery called Grand Sichuan International, on West 24th Street, where nearly every table was taken – never mind that it was essentially New Year’s Eve for the Jews. No one noticed the plastic bag I had tucked under my arm until we were seated, and I proceeded to empty it, jubilantly placing my braided challah in the middle of the table.
“What are you doing?” Allegra shrieked in horror. “You can’t bring that in here!”Challahpicture.jpg
This was not the reaction I had anticipated after her conniptions about the kugel. “Sure you can,” I replied. “I’m sure they don’t care.” I wanted to say a motzi, I explained, and I wasn’t about to chant the blessing over the bread beside a dish of fried noodles.
My kids weren’t about to go along with what to them was fekakta behavior, though. “Put that away!” Aidan ordered decisively, sounding so assertive that I promptly did.AidanatSichuanChelsea.jpg
“Well, can we at least order wonton soup,” I asked, “and pretend that we’re eating matzah balls?” But even here I encountered some resistance. A specialty of the house was something called soup dumplings, and the kids were eager to order these instead. They doubted that their dad and I would have the slightest idea how to eat them, though.
I assured them that we were up to this big challenge. The greater hardship was narrowing down our entrée choices from the innumerable options on the vast menu. My mouth had begun to water at the sight of a platter of sautéed string beans passing by, but it turned out that these were seasoned with minced pork. Allegra, meanwhile, lobbied for Four Precious Jewels, including jumbo shrimps, scallops, fish fillet and beef with assorted vegetables. Aidan objected, however, saying that, this being Rosh Hashanah, we couldn’t in good conscience order both shrimp and pork.SichuanChelseamenu.JPG
There were a few offerings with such enticing names that we found them hard to resist, even if they didn’t actually sound all that appetizing, such as Grasp at Good Luck (which was described as shredded chicken with carrots, snow peas, soft tofu, bean sprouts and cellophane noodles) and something seriously called (and believe me, I couldn’t have made this up if I tried) The Blueberry Trees Bent Their Green Branches (which consisted of sautéed squid, green celery, and spicy pepper with black beans).
But then there was the dish that sounded both so poetic and delectable that it won our unanimous approval and managed to kill two birds with one stone, almost literally: We Would Be Too Love-Birds Flying Wing to Wing on High (which was comprised of sautéed spicy baby chicken pieces with fresh ginger).SoupdumplingsatSichuanChelsea.JPG
Aidan once again led the way by placing our final order, and before long those dumplings arrived, and I must say they were a revelation. If you squinted, you conceivably could have mistaken them for matzah balls, I suppose, but they looked more like miniature volcanoes with some sort of fiery-orange substance sealing up the peaks.
The kids had been right to begin with – it actually took some skill to get these little mothers in our mouths. But I watched my offspring and then tried to mimic their expert technique, raising the doughy mounds to my lips, then gently gnawing a hole at the top so that you could quickly suck up the scalding hot soup that lay within before it dripped.
OK, there may have been some minced pork involved, too. But the result was kind of like eating matzah ball soup inside out. And the taste was indisputably delicious!AidanandAllegraatSichuanChelsea.JPG
Everything that followed was similarly sumptuous, especially that love-bird thing. But as I had declared earlier, it wouldn’t have mattered all that much what we ate, even if it tasted like raw sewage. Well, maybe not quite that far. But you know what I mean.
I mean that I was infinitely happier sharing inside-out soup with my kinder at a Chinese restaurant in Chelsea than I would have been eating homemade noodle kugel and a nice kosher chicken with Nice Jewish Dad all alone at home, or anywhere else for that matter. And Nice Jewish Dad was much, much happier, too.PattieandHarlanatSichuanChelsea.JPG
He was also much happier at the prospect of attending services with Allegra the next day than he would have been doing our usual routine at temple back at home. (Aidan, unfortunately, was unable to join us.) At our request, our temple had arranged for us to attend Central Synagogue on East 55th Street, one of the oldest and most prominent Reform congregations in the city, as well as one of the most progressive. Being dues-paying members in good standing, we were entitled to free reciprocal tickets. (Tickets for non-members cost $150 per holiday or $250 for both holidays.)PattieatCentralSynagogue.JPG
Then again, as with the Chinese restaurant, we now found ourselves once again observing one of the most time-worn, significant rituals of our lives on unfamiliar ground.AllegraoutsideCentralSynagogueonRoshHashanah.JPG
Given that unfamiliarity, my husband and I made it a strict point to show up quite early for the service (something, as our rabbi well knows, that is definitely new for us). Allegra texted that she was running late, however. But then to my delight she showed up in a lovely black and cream dress promptly at 12:30, just as worship began.AveryFisherHall.jpg
As non-members of Central, we were not entitled to attend services in the hoity-toity venue it had booked for holiday services this year, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. But we were perfectly content with the afternoon community service held in the modern and attractive chapel in its Community House, which was at least three-quarters full.CentralSynagoguechapel1.JPG
It was, I must confess, exhilarating to discover that this was a particularly youthful, sophisticated, and attractive-looking congregation, because (as ashamed as I am to admit this) my husband and I spent most of the moments leading up to the service visually shopping for potential mates for our progeny, and a wide range of eligible and age-appropriate young Jewish candidates from both genders were there in abundance.
        It was also a relief to discover that as a Reform congregation, like ours back home, it mostly featured music that was totally familiar, so that we were able to sing right along on everything from major prayers like the Shema to songs like “Mi Shebeirach,” the prayer for the sick, performed to the modern melodies of the late Debbie Friedman.RabbiBethKalischatCentralSynagogue.JPG
But what I most enjoyed was that it was presided over by a triumvirate of women – Rabbi Beth Kalisch; a gifted soprano named Amy who was, I believe, lead soloist from the adult choir; and a young rabbinical intern who pitch-hit by leading many prayers.
You might wonder what I mean when I say that this synagogue was “progressive.” We wondered, too. One example was provided by Rabbi Kalisch, a very pleasant and impressive young woman who did her undergrad work at Yale, yet as Adjunct Rabbi for Associate Families (those awaiting full membership) is evidently only in Central’s third string of clergy, after the senior rabbi and two assistants, who are all uniformly male.
With many of the worshippers present being unaffiliated, and having only joined the congregation’s staff only this summer herself, she was unable to call upon anyone present by name to perform an aliyah (special blessing over the Torah). So rather than reserving this honor for the chosen few who had made the most generous donations in either money or time over the past year (as my temple does), she took a creative tack.CentralSynagoguechapel2onRoshHashanah.jpg
Before each segment of the Torah reading, she invited people to voluntarily come up to the bima en masse if they fell into various categories that related to that day’s portion – if, for example, they had received an unexpected gift during the past year; if they were about to make a major change in their lives; or if there had been something notable in the past year that had given them reason to laugh (as Sarah had when she’d discovered that, at the advanced age of 90-something, she was going to have a child).
I found this egalitarian and rather inclusive approach very refreshing. So even as a stranger in a strange shul, I was prepared to participate in any one of these groups, provided that Allegra would as well. But she staunchly declined, looking daggers at me.Alarmclocktomakeyoumorningperson.jpg
Kalisch’s sermon, meanwhile, also seemed contemporary and apropos, relating in large part to her having purchased a natural-light-emitting alarm clock that promised to transform her into a morning person – something that, like me, she decidedly is not – only to realize that we humans are hard-wired to repeat much of our long-term habitual behavior, and unless we are extremely determined and mindful of our actions, all those New Year’s resolutions we make toward self-improvement are probably destined to fail.HarlanatCentralSynagogue.JPG
My husband enjoyed all the proceedings so much that on the way out he procured tickets for us to return the following week for Yom Kippur. Never before had I known him to be so enthusiastic about attending temple, so I didn’t put up a fight. Besides, there was clearly no need to twist my nice Jewish arm to get me to spend yet another High Holy Day with our kids.
As much as we had enjoyed our Sichuan dining experience, minus the challah and complete with pork, Allegra asserted that we would be returning to more familiar ground. She was going to host us all for a holiday dinner at her place this time, no matter what. And no matter what – there would be kugel!
Since she was working earlier that day, I insisted on bringing much of the meal. This time it was easier for me to cart food along, since we were coming straight from home. She planned on roasting a chicken herself, but I supplied the homemade chicken soup with egg noodles, the vegetables, and a salad, as well as an apple tart I’d baked.SINwinelabel.JPG
And although I brought along the requisite liter of Manischewitz Concord Grape, I managed to supplement it with the ultimate Yom Kippur vintage for those seeking something a little less sweet. In small print, the label identified this as “Summer in Napa.” But this novel pinot noir was more prominently emblazoned with the acronym: SIN.
Once again, in pursuit of family solidarity, we were obliged to bend the rules a bit. As we all know, you’re supposed to begin fasting for Yom Kippur at sundown the night before, so we usually eat an early dinner, then rush off to Kol Nidrei services at temple.
Aidan, however, is in his last year of graduate school now, and his class meets only once a week, on Tuesdays, from morning until 8 p.m. So in the interests of having him join us and not miss school, we’d have to forego services and not eat dinner until 9.
Since he wouldn’t be available until then, Allegra decided to keep an appointment she’d made for earlier that evening, not realizing that it was Erev YK. My husband and I arrived just before she left, and while she was out I kept an eye on the chicken in the oven, set the table, and began warming up everything else. Then things got chaotic.AllegraatRoshHashanahtable.JPG
Aidan phoned to say he had decided to leave class early for the holiday, after all. He showed up at 7:30, frazzled, exhausted, and in a strange mood. Then Allegra returned, also in a bit of a snit because now we were rushing to get everything on the table a.s.a.p.ChickensoupwithnoodlesImade.JPG
Yes, a moment of tranquility descended over the apartment as we lit the candles and got, at last, to chant a resounding motzi over my golden, round, raisin-studded challah. My chicken soup (although it had been in the freezer since Passover) was declared by all, as always, to be the best ever.AllegrawithroastchickenonYomKippur.JPG
Allegra’s roast chicken, prepared according to her own personal recipe, was so tender and scrumptious that it actually was the best ever. (Her secret? ChickenbyAllegraatYomKippur.JPGShe poured a liberal dose of apple cider into the roasting pan, then added one cut-up apple, one sliced onion, fresh rosemary and parsley, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt and a dusting of paprika.)
And her kugel, topped with a crunchy layer of Cinnamon Pecan Special K cereal, wasn’t just incredible, but, as Grandma Bunnie would have said, “out of this world.”KugelatAllegrasonYomKippur.JPG
Aidan remained in a funk, however, grumbling about a complicated test he had taken the weekend before to get into a professional union of film and TV stagehands. He was convinced that he had failed it and dreaded having to take it again next year.
Meanwhile, moments after we finished eating the assorted roommates began to arrive, and as gracious as they were about our presence, it was clear that we were intruding.
I didn’t want to leave them one trace of mess, yet Allegra’s New York-style kitchen is too small to allow for anything beyond single-person-occupancy. So while everyone else sat around chatting and watching TV, I sequestered myself at the sink, cleaning up the entire meal single-handedly… only to have Aidan eventually storm in and request that “we get this show on the road.” He wanted dessert to be served already so that we could leave.redheadedwomanwashingdishes.jpg
I couldn’t blame him. It was already past 10, and he needed to be up for work by 6 a.m. Yet it reminded me of one holiday tradition that I well remember, starting from childhood, but that I have never liked: Mom does all the work. Everyone else overeats and then sits around relaxing and socializing, too tired to help.
But I did manage to quickly hand-wash the last of the wine glasses and indeed get that show on the road. Then we dropped him off at home and checked into our hotel in time to be well-rested for our return trip to Central Synagogue the next day.
Once again, the service was presided over by that same lovely matriarchal trio.
Once again, my daughter texted that she was going to be very late (although this time she actually was), and once again until she arrived my husband and I spent most of our time there shopping with our eyes for possible future sons- and daughters-in-law.RabbiKalisch2.jpg
Also, once again Rabbi Kalisch recruited people for aliyot the newfangled way, by inviting up everyone who had experienced holiness in some way in their place of work or who aspired to make Shabbat a more pivotal part of their lives.
But my favorite part this time was when I wanted to go up after she called upon everyone who was among the senior generation of their family, and Allegra didn’t just look daggers at me, but physically restrained me, whispering, “No! You’re not old… in any capacity!”PattieatCentralSynagoguesmiling.JPG
Not old? According to the Jewish calendar, we’ve just begun the year 5773. And although I'm only 100th of that number, that doesn’t exactly make me feel young.
However, I’ll gladly allow that I remain young enough – or at least youthfully open-minded enough -- to be willing to reconsider and even uproot some time-honored holiday traditions. And I have to admit that after experimenting with some different approaches this year, there is something to be said for the new.
Yes, I missed the kugel and the comforts of home on Rosh Hashanah, and I still kind of prefer my matzah balls with the soup on the outside instead… minus the pork. Plus, of course I missed seeing our friends and other familiar faces at temple.AidanatCharlieswedding3.JPG
I also wish that things hadn’t been quite so rushed and hectic, which is almost unavoidable when Jewish holidays fall mid-week. (Plus, after our break fast back home on Yom Kippur, we got a call from a very upbeat Aidan, who had just learned that he had passed that union test after all. I wish we had known that 24 hours earlier, so he not only would have been cheerier, but we could have celebrated with him in person.)
But there was something relaxing about letting others do all the cooking, serving, and cleaning at the restaurant, plus the unquestionable pleasure of trying something new.PattieandHarlanatSichuanwithorange.JPG
        Who knows what the coming 12 months will bring? After 5773 years, traditions that have lasted this long in the Jewish community are so time-worn and deep-rooted that it’s hard to start reinventing them now. Besides, we Jews -- like all humans, as Rabbi Kalisch observed -- are definitely creatures of habit.
        But sometimes you just have to be willing to improvise. Or change.
I hope I can change, or keep at least some of the many resolutions I've made to be a much better person this year.HarlanAidanandAllegraatSichuanChelsea.JPG
I also hope to remain youthful enough to stay open-minded (as well as way too young in my daughter’s eyes to be counted among the elderly just yet).
But there's one tradition I am not willing to bend. Wherever my kids are next year, that’s where you’ll find me. Because first and foremost, I’m a mom. And whatever we do and wherever we do it, the crucial thing is that we do it together.

3:23 pm 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

        FireIslandusatsunset.JPGSorry for the delay last week, but as I said my husband was on vacation from work, so I had to take time off too. As I also noted recently, half the pleasure of any vacation (as well as any holiday, special occasion or almost anything else) lies in the anticipation. Then again, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of spontaneity, especially when you’ve reached an age at which nearly everything you do is routine. Predictable. If not old hat.
There’s also nothing quite like the thrill of finding out that your kids actually want to spend time with you. So when my daughter suddenly invited me to come to New York to join her for Fashion’s Night Out, she didn’t need to ask twice. Within about 30 minutes of her confirming the invitation the next morning, I had thrown on a black dress, packed an overnight bag, and boarded a bus bound for Manhattan. It was the first unexpected adventure I would embark on during my respite from writing. But certainly not the last.
Fashion’s Night Out is an international extravaganza held on the eve of the annual New York fashion shows. AnnaWintour.jpgCreated by Vogue editor and fashion uber arbiter Anna Wintour – in hopes of giving that industry’s bottom line the kind of lift that Spanx have given to our bottoms – FNO began in 2009 and has since spread to include 18 other countries, including Australia, India, Turkey, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia and Japan.
An estimated 4,500 events were held in the USA alone this year, but the undisputed epicenter of it all was NYC, where the world’s fashion press had gathered. Fashion’s Night Out, however, is meant less for the press than the general public, or at least all those savvy enough to be able to distinguish a stacked heel from a stiletto.Stiletto.jpg
Most events involved special sales, merchandise giveaways, and/or free cocktails, with so many stores participating that you needed a map to plan your itinerary. I had arranged to meet Allegra in front of Lincoln Center, where assorted fashion models were posing for photographers, and to my delight a few turned to let me snap them as well, even though I was only packing an iPhone. (It was an odd moment of déjà vu, transporting me back to nearly 30 years ago when I got my journalistic start as a fashion writer, covering the New York shows for USA Today and, later, The Hartford Courant.)
Allegra had to babysit until 6:30, unfortunately, after which we grabbed a quick dinner, then subwayed down to Soho, where most of the action was concentrated and every boutique was mobbed.
“Mobbed,” in fact, didn’t begin to cover it at Victoria’s Secret, where the line outside stretched so far down the block that we couldn’t imagine what they were giving away. (Not just lingerie, but magic potions guaranteed to make you look like a lingerie model?)Desigualdress.jpg
Instead, we descended into Desigual, the lively Barcelona-based clothing company known for its vibrant, casual designs that are a patchwork of graffiti-inspired prints and flamboyant cascades of color. Everyone who entered was being handed a free large canvas tote bag imprinted with splash art and the brand’s logo. However, Allegra pronounced the clothes inside a little too ungapatchka for her taste, so we left in haste.Expressexterior.jpg
They were giving out coupons for money off at Express, but there was no express lane for getting in because a promoter out front was hawking that you could get free drinks inside, as well as your picture snapped with Miss America (although I think it was actually just a contestant from America’s Next Top Model). So we decided to forego the stacks of colorful jeans and makeshift bar where the Stolichnaya was flowing like water.AllegrainZarajacket.JPG
Instead, we nipped into Zara, another clothier of Spanish origin, where Allegra ogled a pair of black jeans, then fell for a multi-zipper-embellished black leather jacket. No sales here, sadly, nor star-studded photo ops (although word had it that Kim Kardashian was in the vicinity making the rounds). But there was champagne! While I eagerly imbibed, my daughter slipped into the dressing room with an armful of slinky numbers. And after downing that flute full of bubbly, I agreed to buy them all!Pattiewithchampagne.JPG
And for anyone of you who may be so cynical as to wonder if I’d been invited in part because I came equipped with credit cards, let me assure you that we simply enjoy shopping together, and that when I get to buy something that makes my kid look great, the pleasure is mostly mine.
By the time we had checked out at the register, it was already past 9 and Fashion’s Night Out was already over. But our pleasure was not. We raced back uptown to the posh Kitano hotel, where one of Allegra’s roommates from college, the eminently talented jazz vocalist Aubrey Johnson, was singing. After her second set, I snapped them at our table together.AubreyandAllegraatKitano.JPG
Never mind Fashion’s Night Out. This, to me, was more about Girls’ Night Out. With my favorite girl. And being down in Soho and so on in our little black dresses made me feel like the coolest mom in the world – well, the coolest nice Jewish mom, anyway.
Anyone with a lick of sense might have realized that it was almost crazy for me to go into New York for just one night, especially since we had to be up at 6:45 the next morning so I could drop Allegra at work before 8, then drive the two and a half hours back home in order to get to my book group, Pattieinblackdress.JPGthe Shayna Maidels, by 10 (or so). Thank God that I evidently don’t have a lick of sense, because it was without a doubt the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and I would drop everything and do it all over again in a heartbeat.
As it turned out, dropping everything when opportunity knocked (or more accurately, phoned or texted) was what the week off was all about. Because late the next afternoon, yet another such spur of the moment invitation arose. Nice Jewish Dad and I had decided to take a drive to Brimfield, MA, for the country’s largest flea market, in part because we had nothing better to do, and largely because it was the only place we could think of to go for a day trip that would allow us to include Latke, our puppy.HarlanandLatkeonferry.JPG
The three of us had just finished polishing off a hamburger when my husband got a call from his old friend Jay, inviting us to visit him and his wife on Martha’s Vineyard. In all honesty, my husband had called him a couple of weeks earlier to mention that he had a vacation coming up and that we might like to visit. It’s not that we were angling for an invitation or free accommodations. It’s more about keeping up a valued old friendship that began when they were in college together at Princeton, some 50 years ago, and the fact is that they never seem free to visit us anymore, so we need to go to them.Jaywithdogsculpture.jpg
         Jay, a talented sculptor, is the sort of free spirit who does things purely on impulse, and the impulse hadn’t struck for him to phone back… until now. “Are you coming?” he asked. The truth was that we had time off and no particular plans. We responded without hesitation. "Yes!"
We agreed to take a ferry out from Cape Cod early the next afternoon, no small feat considering that the Cape was three hours away and we already had plans for that evening, so I had only a couple of hours in the morning to pack and rustle up presents for everyone involved. “Everyone” included the couple’s three grandchildren, who live right next door on their property. (As a Jew, I simply won’t go to anyone’s house empty-handed, and as a mom of formerly young kids I won’t visit children without gifts in tow.)ElandWrenwithartkits.JPG
It wasn’t too hard to find a few elaborate art kits for the kids, and to figure out a pretty gift or two for Jay’s wife, Marianne, who recently celebrated a big birthday. The challenge, to me, was finding something suitable for Jay himself. Buying gifts for men is always tricky, if you ask me, but Jay is so, let’s just say unconventional, that any attempt to pigeon-hole his needs or taste simply boggles my mind.
Then I had an inspiration. And a strong hunch that this inspiration was right.
Soon after we arrived, the twins wandered in, followed by their big brother. Eloise and Adrienne (a.k.a. El and Wren), as well as Dash (short for Dashiell), clearly remembered us from last year – fondly, it seemed – and if so, then the feeling was mutual.Elwithswans.JPG
These three kids are truly being raised the old-fashioned way, meaning by two loving parents, NO access to TV whatsoever, and the incomparable gift of having Grandma and Grandpa living right next door. The result is that they are arguably perhaps THE best kids in the whole world (next to my own, who are already grown, of course).Wrenwithrabbitsrightsideup.jpg
And with three artists in the family (including their mom, Jay and Marianne, who is not just a wonderful and incredibly cool person and grandma, but also an enormously gifted painter), they’re among the most talented, too. The girls’ fanciful papier maché animal sculptures recently won first and second place in a local art show, even though they’re only 7.
The fact is that Jay met Marianne back in the ‘70s, when she was a divorced single mom and her own two twin daughters were toddlers, and he lived with her for decades before they formally tied the knot. But to our surprise, he ultimately evolved into the ultimate family guy. And as he remarked to us over the visit, it has come to the point where the only people he really cares about on this earth are his wife and his family, and the most important thing to him in life is that his grandchildren consider him cool.
I don’t see how they could conceivably view him as anything else, considering what happened the day after we arrived.TothebeachwithLatkeandJay.JPG
We headed straight for the nearest beach because little Latke, a Portuguese Water Dog who’d spent most of her little seven-month-long life living with us in land-locked Connecticut, had never laid her sea-green puppy eyes or webbed paws on the ocean. And when she did, it was less a matter of spontaneity than spontaneous combustion, because she took off like lightning or as though someone had put a match to her tail.
But while we were walking on the beach – walking pretty fast, mind you, since we kept trying to catch up with ecstasy in motion, as if that was ever going to happen  -- Jay chose to go surfing instead… never mind that he had just turned 68 in June.Jaywithsurfboard.JPG
And then, after he had removed his wet suit, he continued stripping down so that he and my husband could recreate some X-rated photos I’d shot of them on the Vineyard some 26 years ago, back when I was extremely pregnant with our first-born (the excuse I gave for remaining fully clothed), but they were both totally free spirits – free enough to, as we used to say, boldly "let it all hang out."JayandHarlanXrated.jpg 
Still, I watched with some trepidation after dinner that first night as Jay slowly unwrapped the gift I had chosen for him, and out came his very own copy of FARTS in the Wild: A Spotter’s Guide, an illustrated children’s book complete with sound effects.Fartbook.JPG
He looked at it. He looked at us. Then his face lit up as he opened to the first page and began to read aloud. “All fartologists know the basic rule of farting: If it eats… sooner or later, it farts.” But he didn’t press the buttons that corresponded with the ensuing pages, describing (and audibly demonstrating) the effluence of everything from goldfish to meerkats to elephants (a sound that, once heard, you will truly never forget).Jayandtwinswithbook.JPG
Instead, he chose to wait until the twins had returned from school the next day. (Brother Dash was away on a field trip.) Then, within moments of arrival, even before demanding a snack, they clambered onto the couch beside him for a public reading…
Followed by a second public reading in which they spent more time pushing the buttons while squealing raucously than paying much if any attention to the actual words.
Jay, however, seemed to enjoy both the book and this experience most of all. And in that moment, while looking (and listening) on, I felt euphoric and strangely vindicated.
Once upon a time, you see, while extremely pregnant with my second-born, I’d purchased a present with similar intentions for my own dad and grandfather-to-be.IntheWoods.jpg
        This particular item hadn’t been quite so bawdy, but it was equally childish in spirit. While visiting Jay and Marianne back then, in 1989, 23 summers ago, I’d been unable to find anything on the island suitable for my father’s approaching 62nd birthday, until in a gift store in Edgartown called In the Woods, I’d suddenly spied... the wooden lobster.lobsterpushtoy.jpg
Lobsters, be they trayf or not, had played an upbeat role in my mostly miserable childhood, conjuring up images of celebratory dinners and summer vacations at the shore. This one, though neither edible nor elegant, was almost irresistibly cute, attached to a long wooden stick, equipped with bright red canvas claws attached to either side that slapped the ground as you propelled it forward.
Seeing it, it suddenly occurred to me that there wasn’t a single plaything in my father’s New York condo with which he could amuse my son, who was nearly 3 at the time. I’d purchased it figuring that it would be only part of the gift, to be supplemented with a sweater or tie or some other customary paternal present. But then my toddler had an abrupt meltdown, being overdue for his afternoon nap, and we simply ran out of time.GrandpaStuheadshot.jpg
As I recount in a story about the incident in my soon-to-be-published book, my father seemed to relish the gift when he opened it, and a lively time ensued while he chased my little one from room to room, pushing the silly carved crustacean throughout his apartment, the claws smacking the carpet loudly as Aidan literally howled with glee.
But then he phoned me at work the next morning to unleash his blind rage, declaring that buying a child’s toy for a man of his age was insulting and unacceptable, that I’d embarrassed him in front of his wife, and that I needed to go buy him two white cotton tennis shirts instead and put them in the mail to him before the day was through.
        I did, of course. And then I didn't speak to him again until the baby was born.
It was one of the low points of my entire life and in the lengthy, rather troubled history of my relationship with my dad. It was also something that has continued to haunt me all these years. Had I been crazy or thoughtless to buy a grown man a toy?Jaywithtwinonhead.JPG
There are those who might think that a 68-year-old grandpa should not be surfing, posing nude on the beach, or enjoying books about flatulence. But Jay is an immensely talented sculptor whose whimsical creations instantly convey the joie de vivre and spontaneity of childhood, perhaps because he has managed to keep that joy and delight alive inside himself while others have let life and obeying convention slowly snuff it out.JayssculptureSwingingJenny2.jpg
He’s also a genuine family man who unquestionably has his priorities straight. So if you ask me, he has it right… and maybe, despite what my father said to me, so did I.
Even if that time, acting on impulse, clearly I couldn’t have called it more wrong.
Speaking of spontaneity, one more moment from my latest travels springs to mind.
After our too-brief visit to the Vineyard, we returned home to unpack, repack, board the dog, and take off for New York City once again, where we were joining our kids for an event we always attend and always enjoy: opening night of Jazz at Lincoln Center.BobbyMcFerrinatJALCfromTheTimes.jpg 
To mark the start of its 25th anniversary season, JALC had chosen to feature singer Bobby McFerrin. Although he elected to tone down his signature style somewhat -- perhaps thinking that he had to get serious because this was Lincoln Center, for God's sake -- it was delightful to hear his still-lively improvisational vocal antics, in which he rapidly switches between octaves, ingeniously supplying his own percussion to whatever melody he sings.JazzatLincolnCenterallfour.JPG
It was also delightful, I must admit, that they served free champagne during intermission.
There could be no question, though, that the highlight of the evening came when, toward the top of the second half, Mr. McFerrin began to croon the opening notes of “Scarborough Fair,” then abruptly interrupted himself to give voice to a rumor he’d heard during intermission that Paul Simon himself was somewhere out there in the audience.
“I don’t know really how you feel about improv,” he added when Mr. Simon dutifully rose in response and waved to the crowd, “but there’s an extra microphone over there.”
In fact, Allegra had been startled to spy Art Garfunkel’s better half while walking up the stairs when we’d first arrived, then pointed out where he was sitting, astonishingly incognito, in the fourth or fifth row. But now that this secret was out of the bag, any hope he had to maintain the sounds of silence was over. Simon modestly but decisively declined McFerrin’s offer to join him onstage, but the audience just wouldn’t have it. They proceeded to clap, cheer and whine plaintively in protest until he finally relented and reluctantly bounded up, to the evident pleasure of Mr. McFerrin, who added in a playfully cheery, high-pitched falsetto, "I just think you can sing this one better than I can.PaulSimonatLincolnCenter.jpg
And then we were treated to what was nothing short of historical musical magic, as these two artists, backed up hauntingly by Wynton Marsalis’s 16-piece big band, spontaneously improvised their way through Simon’s inimitable tune, each lending his own unique style and incomparable virtuosity to create something awkward at first, but charmingly original and unlike any version of this classic song that had ever been sung before.redbra.jpg
The impromptu moment of collaboration was documented the next day in everything from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to The Huffington Post. What they did not report is that one female fan felt so moved by the moment, apparently, that she threw her bright red bra right onto the stage. 
I’d managed to snag box seats at the mezzanine level just behind the stage, but so close to the musicians that we found ourselves about 15 feet away… from Paul Simon!
My son, Aidan, who’d been obliged to get up for work at 4:30 that morning, had struggled to keep his eyes open during the first act -- and during more than one number had failed. But now he wasn’t just wide awake, but practically jumping out of his skin.AidanwithmeatJazzatLincolnCenter.jpg
Although as a young jazz critic he attends concerts regularly, and he generally maintains a deadpan demeanor that is supremely diffident, if not downright blasé, he was for once not just noticeably impressed, but seemingly almost incredulous. “Well, that’s something you’re never going to see again!” he allowed to me as the audience leapt to its feet to give a standing O, roaring and hooting over the deafening applause.
Then, shaking his head, he took his hard-to-win stamp of approval one step higher. “That was the coolest thing ever!” he exclaimed. And although he hadn’t exactly said it, what I heard in my mind was that on some level, maybe I was actually kind of cool, too, for having heard about this concert, snagged the tickets, and invited him to come along.Pattieinblackhat2.JPG
Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking, because, along the lines of what Jay said, there’s probably nothing I want much more in life than for my kids to think that I’m cool.
Predictable isn’t cool. Routine isn’t cool. Being spontaneous and free-spirited is. And although I’m still not quite loose enough to let it all hang out, who knows what the coming year might bring? Maybe if I remain ready to go anywhere at a moment’s notice, I’ll be able to update my maternal monicker someday. Stay tuned for CoolJewishMom.com.    
1:33 pm 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

             MarthasVineyarduswithLatke.JPG This being Sunday already, many of you may have logged in two or three times by now, wondering,"Has she posted yet this week?" "When the heck is she going to post this week?" Or, since I haven't -- and this being Sunday already -- as my mother would say, "IS SHE OK?" 
        The answers to those questions are  no, now, and a definitive YES!!! The problem, if you can even call it that, is that Nice Jewish Dad has been on vacation all week, and so, therefore, have Latke and I. On vacation by association! In fact, while you were there wondering what was wrong, I have been here, there, and pretty much everywhere, trying to cram a full summer's worth of delayed gratification into a single fun-filled week.
        In the past seven days or so alone, I have been to New York City for Fashion's Night Out; Brimfield, MA; Martha's Vineyard; back to New York City for opening night of Jazz at Lincoln Center; and then to Fire Island, where I am right now... and I still intend to return to NYC to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with my kids and hopefully attend shul before the day is through!FireIslandusonferry.JPG
         With all that happening, who could possibly find the time to sit down and write... especially while basking on the beach... with a Nice Jewish Dog, no less? But with all that happening, I also now have much to tell -- and much about which to kvell.
        It's not just the start of another Jewish year, you see -- No. 5773 -- but also a brand new year for NiceJewishMom.com. This week marks exactly two years since I launched this site and began posting weekly. So please tune in again within the next few days for the latest Word From the Weiss. In the meanwhile, happy two-year to me!
        Happy New Year to you!
        And happy New Year to Jews!!!!

7:44 am 

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Word From the Weiss
        As another summer (and yes, another year on the Jewish calendar) draws to a close, a hint of chill already invading the damp evening air, I think not of the many things we did over the past few temperate months, but mostly of the things we didn’t do,Icecreamconetricolored.jpg or didn’t do nearly enough: stroll bare-toed on the beach. Slurp ice cream cones as they melted messily onto our hands and tongues. Gaze skyward while floating idly on our backs in a tranquil blue pool, and work up an impressive sweat playing my one and only sport of choice, tennis.
        But over the weekend, chances abruptly arose to make some last-minute amends, as though we were getting a do-over.Pinkberrywithfruitimage.jpg 
        My brother invited us to use his beach house on Fire Island while he’s away over an upcoming weekend.
        We braved the endless line for frozen yogurt at the local Pinkberry (even better than ice cream, and a whole lot healthier, too).PoolatJCCclub.JPG
        We logged our final laps in the vast pool inundated with shrill, boisturous, splashing kids at our swim and racquet club before it closed for the season.
And then we caught wind that the club, run by our local Jewish Community Center, was marking Labor Day itself with a mixed-doubles tennis tournament.
Although this last thing is probably an annual event, we’d always chosen not to participate, and I wasn’t inclined to break that streak now. Yes, I know how to play tennis. I’ve been playing it for practically all my life, and I generally enjoy it. What I don’t enjoy, though, and never have, is the competitive nature of sports.Pattieat2.JPG
I chalk this up largely to having grown up in a family in which all the other members were determined to come out on top. My father had to win. My mother had to win. And my older brother inherited their innate competitive streak before I arrived on the scene. So I quickly set about perfecting the only viable option: learning how to lose gracefully.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t possess adequate athletic ability to favorably compete at almost anything (although to be honest, I didn’t). My parents’ need to get their way in virtually all arenas made me so uncomfortable that I never wanted to display it myself. Also, my relatives seemed to enjoy winning so much, and doing so mattered so little to me, that I soon developed the nifty, corollary skill of learning how to lose deliberately.AngryBirds.jpg
No wonder I shy away from games of all kinds, be they athletic events or Scrabble. I’ve never engaged in Angry Birds (a cellphone game, I gather, that appears to be this generation’s version of Solitaire). Nor have I once tried the new national pastime (although it’s much more sociable by definition), Words with Friends. So my husband’s wish to enter that mixed-doubles tournament stirred up very mixed emotions.WordswithFriends.jpg
I knew he was anxious to participate, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. We both were eager to make new friends, and he thought this might offer the chance. I just didn’t think we were likely to make new friends by trying to beat them at tennis.Harlanwithtennisracquetyounger.jpg
Given the limited amount that I’ve played this year, I doubted I could beat anyone, anyway. But since I married a man not all that unlike the members of my family of origin, or most other people, for that matter – he loves to win and grows mildly apoplectic when he doesn’t – I doubted that he would enjoy himself if we went out there and totally sucked.
As for trying to net new friends on the tennis court, we'd been down that road before. A few years ago, when we’d belonged to a different local club (mostly so that we could hold our son’s bar mitzvah reception there), we had dared to enter a similar competition, primarily with that express purpose in mind. Our prospects of expanding our social circle had seemed especially promising that time because after playing for several hours, all of the participants were invited to eat together in the club’s restaurant.TheTennisMafia.jpg
Most of these people were part of a small group who spent so much time on the courts together each weekend that we’d come to refer to them as “The Tennis Mafia.” It seemed that no matter what time of day we arrived, they were always out there, competing vigorously against one another in various configurations, the women in their perfectly color-coordinated outfits tightening their jaws just as intently as the men. Watching them play out of the corner of my eye, I always sensed that they were way out of my league, and they probably felt that way too, for they had rarely if ever spoken to us, other than to request that we return a stray ball to them or when returning one of ours.
But finally, through an organized event, we had managed to penetrate their ranks for a day. When play had ended, we eagerly joined the crowd at a large round table in the club’s dining room… only to be told by the woman beside us that she had been saving our seats for “Dick and Jane.” So we moved across the table, where we were promptly informed by someone else that those seats were being saved for “Jack and Jill.” We had no choice but to accept the fact that there was no room at the table for us.womenintennisdresses.jpg
So we moved to another table nearby and ate by ourselves, looking on silently as the members of the Tennis Mafia proceeded to toast each other and laugh uproariously. For the next rather awkward and humiliating hour or two, it felt as though I were back in high school again. I tried to plaster a smile on my face, as if I didn’t care, but my cheeks burned scarlet, which, if anyone actually noticed, was probably chalked up to sunburn.
We’d never played in another tournament again and soon after resigned from that club and joined the JCC one instead. Unfortunately, much of the Tennis Mafia had defected along with us, and I wasn’t prepared to face off with them in yet another competition.
But that’s not what I said to my husband.AllegraatTomisideview.jpg 
The excuse I gave – and it wasn’t just an excuse, but a genuine preference – was that my daughter had mentioned she might visit us and stay over the night before, and I preferred to spend time with her. Allegra was singing on Sunday afternoon in Massachusetts, and had told us that she and her band mates might stop at our house for dinner en route back to NYC, and then possibly spend the night. If they did, then I wanted to stay home the next morning to be with them and (being a nice Jewish mom) make them a very nice breakfast.
The club’s tennis pro told us that he needed to know by Saturday night if we were going to compete or not, so my husband began pressuring Allegra via text message to firm up her plans. This, of course, was to no avail because my daughter had many things on her mind, and being in her 20s was in no hurry to firm up any plans that were taking place more than 24 hours later.AllegrawithhaircutAugust2012cropped.jpg
        So it looked like I was going to get a reprieve, after all. But then she called on Saturday night to say that they would be leaving after dinner after all, and I realized that I would have to grin and bear it… then dig out one of my old tennis outfits and wear it.
So I finally gave in, on two conditions: 1) my husband not get mad at me no matter how much I messed up on the court, and 2) he accept the fact that we were guaranteed to lose (something he later claimed to have no recollection of whatsoever).WrenthamVillagestores.jpg 
We spent Sunday traveling to and from a Boston suburb, where Allegra had been booked to sing outdoors at Wrentham Village, a complex of premium outlets. To me, the word “village” has always suggested something quaint and old-fashioned, a small, historic town featuring a general store, blacksmith, and not much else. Blacksmithimage.jpgIt seemed perverse to dare apply this term to a mammoth modern shopping megalopolis engulfed by a fully occupied parking lot that appeared to stretch for miles.AllegraatWrenthamUSE.jpg
It also seemed bizarre to see my daughter stationed beneath a pristine white canopy singing jazz standards with heart and verve as passersby hurried by grasping bulging bags and pushing baby carriages, most of them listening for only a moment, if that, as they  rushed from store to store frantically taking advantage of back-to-school bargains.
But Allegra gave it her all, as always, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Then we raced home in heavy downpours so that I could throw together a sumptuous feast  which she and her band members wolfed down with gusto, then left.TennisPattiefreakedout.JPG
I thought lingering showers might still tank the tournament and prayed, inwardly, "Rain, rain, don't go away." But no such luck. The sky cleared up, the sun came out, and I awoke on Labor Day with a labor of hate looming.
Approaching the courts at the appointed hour, I saw a few familiar faces, including a couple we knew and liked but with whom we never actually had socialized. There were also some Tennis Mafia alumni and a few strangers, 16 contestants in all.
I tried to fight the queasy feeling in my gut as I followed my husband to what I viewed as certain doom. But all I really wanted to do was turn and race back to the car.tennisgroup1.JPG
It wasn’t just that my tennis game was more than a little rusty. I simply have a lot of trepidation, not just about competition in general, but mixed-gender games in particular. The level of play among the participants is apt to be widely varied, and in this case I was likely to be lowest woman on the totem pole. As always, I didn't mind the prospect of losing. It's just that I expected to be mortified, and that I minded plenty.
hat sort of anxiety, unfortunately, tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. There were many years when I'd get so anxious on the court that I’d totally forget how to serve and would double-fault my way through an entire match. My husband grew so irate about this that he eventually signed me up for lessons, strictly to improve my serve. It was now much more accurate, almost infallibly so, but still not close to passably strong. I’d seen many of the other women serving with assurance and power. I was sure to embarrass myself.Tennisracquetillustration.jpg
I’d also seen my husband grow testy on the court when he made foolish mistakes, to the point of throwing not just temper tantrums but, on one occasion, his racquet. If we turned out to be completely outclassed by everyone else, he was bound to embarrass us both.
Then there was the issue of having men play against women at these events. Should they hit as hard as they could, unleashing their full power? Or must they temper it somewhat in deference to us, the supposedly weaker sex? And how embarrassed they tended to get when you actually managed to get off a decent shot and they missed it.
        No matter how you cut it, the whole thing was just plain awkward.Idrewnumber8.JPG
        But I'd given my word, and there was no turning back now. When I reached the group, the pro extended his cap to me face up and asked me to select one of the folded scraps of paper inside, then give him our number. I had chosen No. 8.
Then he explained the scoring. Rather than playing normal sets -- continuing until one side had won a total of six games – each match would consist of exactly 8 games. Then we would report our scores to him and learn which team we were playing next.
Oh, yes, just one more thing: We were all invited to stay for lunch afterwards.TennisDavidandBeverly.JPG
The first pair we were slated to square off against were David and Beverly. He looked to be in his early 50s and appeared quiet and intense. Beverly I estimated to be in her early 70s. Clearly, they weren’t married. In fact, when they introduced themselves to us, they proceeded to exchange names and handshakes with each other. So I could only presume that until that moment, they’d never even met.
They took one side of the court, and we stationed ourselves on the other. “Are you ready?” my husband asked me after we'd been warming up for about 10 minutes.
“Ready for what?” I asked, already exhausted. "Actually, I'm ready to leave.
Instead, play in earnest began. Beverly, as I'd surmised, was no major threat, but David was sturdy and consistent enough to whip us single-handedly. They won the first four games handily, and my husband began to sputter under his breath, giving me hushed instructions between points, like “Stand closer to the net!” and “Hit it to her, not him.”Pattiemixeddoublestennis.JPG
        For the first time,
I thought back with fondness to that tournament we'd played at the other club. There, mixed doubles had actually meant mixing up the teams, so that no one played with his or her own spouse. I’d approached this element with great trepidation, only to discover that when you played with someone else’s husband, he never gave you any pointers. At least the husband assigned to me didn’t. He was merely encouraging. And very polite.
        But for once now my husband was holding the helpful hints down to a minimum. Maybe that was because for once he was messing up more than I was.
He managed to keep his temper in check, though, and my serve was holding up so well that I actually managed to win my game. Then we snagged two more.
        I winced when he hit a few zingers to poor Beverly, putting his special funky spin on a backhand or two. But I didn't mind when the match miraculously finished 5 to 3 in their favor.
        No, we hadn’t won, but we hadn’t humiliated ourselves, either. We weren't doing all that badly.Tennischamp1.JPG
I braced myself anyway, assuming that eventually we would have to face off with the Tennis Mafia, including Diane, a woman who had reigned as women’s champion at our previous club every single year that we’d belonged. But next we were matched up against a pair of complete strangers instead. And judging from how polite they were to each other, they were neither married nor romantically involved, either.tennisplayeratnet.jpg
John was impossibly tall, perhaps 6-foot-4, which isn't necessarily ideal for tennis, except that his arms spanned a daunting distance in every possible direction, making him a live wall of flesh whenever he stood at the net. His female counterpart, though, Rona (?), was petite and sweet, and she fumbled the ball so frequently that for once my husband didn’t need to coach me about where to aim the ball. I blew many a shot trying to lob it over John’s head (almost impossible) or otherwise get around him. But we managed to outmaneuver them anyway with such ease that this match ended 7 to 1.
        Advantage us
I'd felt so awkward overpowering them to that extent that I'd had to fight the urge to deliberately throw a few points. The fact is that, to me, competition is only remotely fun when the teams are reasonably matched. Yet for the first time almost ever, I began to realize that victory does taste much sweeter than defeat. Maybe the problem was that I usually played tennis against people I knew well, and for me there's no real pleasure in showing up your relatives or good friends.
When it came to strangers, though… well, it was kinda nice to win, although I went out of my way to compliment my opponents whenever possible with cries of “Nice shot!” I was feeling far from cocky, though, figuring that we were required to play every team and eventually would be wildly outclassed.Tennispro1.JPG
But after the second match, the pro announced that there was only enough time left to play against one more pair apiece. I couldn’t believe my ears. What’s more, the pair that he pitted us against were another couple of total strangers.
        They were also decidedly a couple.TennisDon.JPG
        Don and Jill looked lean and fit, and they were unquestionably husband and wife. Although they were both extremely pleasant to us, following nearly every point played there’d be a muted but somewhat heated exchange between them, after which he sometimes went so far as to simulate hitting a shot in slow motion, demonstrating for her how it should've been done.
        Both were more than competent on the court.
But having hit our stride at last and gained some confidence, we clinched the first few games handily.Sunblazing.jpg
Unfortunately, by now it was nearly noon and the sun was directly overhead, and having neglected to bring sunglasses I found myself almost blinded whenever I served. After hitting for nearly two hours now, I also was running out of juice, and they soon began creeping up from behind. To my husband’s delight, Don blew an easy overhead he'd launched, missing the ball entirely. And we finished this round 4 apiece.
Believing that we had at last met a couple we'd gladly play again sometime, I began chatting with Jill as we left the court, confessing how fearful I’d been earlier. She admitted to having had anxiety as well, but not for the same reason.
“We don’t play well together,” she told me, explaining that they were both intense people. Like me, she'd been reluctant to participate at all, but he'd refused to play without her, so she, too, had finally succumbed and done her wifely duty.Tennisgroup3.JPG
        I got the clear feeling, though, that she had no interest in repeating the experience. For as I had anticipated, being pitted against these people at first meeting had not put them in any frame of mind to become our new best friends.
But the final outcome was far from what I had so pessimistically anticipated. Although we’d been spared from facing off against the club champ and her crackerjack partner, three other teams hadn't enjoyed the same luck of the draw. This invincible pair hadn’t let anyone else take so much as a single game off them. And the final ranking was based not on whom you had prevailed against, but strictly on how many games you'd won. So although that couple were the clear-cut winners, we found ourselves – with 14 out of our 24 games won and 10 lost – in a three-way tie for second place.TennisPattieafterwards.JPG
        And it occurred to me that as much as I had fretted and fussed, expecting to be so grossly inferior that I was unfit to join the group, in our own way we had fit in perfectly, almost better perhaps than the dynamic duo who'd outranked everyone else. We had lost one match, won one match, and tied for the third. So in the end, I’d say we fit right in.
Just as gratifying, if not moreso, was that we had surpassed my personal goals. As I hastened to text message triumphantly to Allegra, “Phew! We did great! I only double-faulted once, and Dad didn’t swear or throw his racquet!”
Even lunch turned out to be a palatable surprise. I’d worked up such a fierce appetite that I couldn’t resist scarfing down not just one slice of veggie pizza, butTennislunchHarlan.JPG two. Yet it turned out to be a shorter and much less formal affair than that last fiasco. Everyone just stood around chatting and eating near some picnic tables outdoors, and almost all were very friendly. Mostly, we found ourselves talking animatedly with Randi and Eliot, the nice couple we'd already known. Our children had been in assorted school activities together, and we even had dogs of the exact same breed, so we had a whole lot to discuss.TennisElliot.JPG
No, no one there proposed that we get together at some future date, so I can’t say we made any conquests in the social department. Then again, as I expected, intense competition of any kind isn’t really the best way to make friends and influence people.
But perhaps almost as good as gaining friends, I managed to gain new insights.
How often I have held myself back throughout my life, convinced that I won’t measure up. When it comes to tennis, it’s easy to keep score. But when it comes to evaluating ourselves in other subtler, bigger, and more personal ways, we only have the cold, flat, and often excessively harsh inner mirrors of our own judgment in which to take stock of ourselves.
And for me, in that game, unlike in tennis, there is rarely if ever any love.
Rather, for as long as I can remember, there’s been this cold voice inside my head far crueler than any hypercritical husband on the tennis court, chiding me relentlessly that I’m not good enough -- not pretty enough, thin enough, talented enough or smart enough -- to do so many of the things I long to do.
Things that I might truly enjoy, despite my misgivings, if I ever dared to do them.Pattiegivingherselfabreak.jpg
        So maybe during the coming High Holy Days, instead of focusing as usual on all of the ways that I've fallen short over the past year, I should give myself a break for once and dwell instead on my strengths and the things that I've done right.
How much more I could accomplish in this world if I didn’t worry about failing, embarrassing myself, not fitting in, or looking foolish. I might even make more friends.Tennistrophywomans.JPG
How much more fun I might have. How much better my life might be. And although this summer is swiftly drawing to a close, there will be other summers, and other seasons. So maybe it’s not too late.
Yes, you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you end in a tie. But sometimes, if you're really lucky, you also manage to drown out that cold little voice inside your head. So if you ask me, in this case, I didn’t just tie for second. I came out a winner. And I have to admit that, at least in this instance, maybe winning isn’t so bad, after all.  
9:20 pm 

Archive Newer | Older

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.