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Thursday, May 30, 2013

  A Word From the Weiss

graduationcapsinair.jpg        College commencements. The very words are enough to strike terror in my soul.
Is it the long, schmaltzy speeches? Hardly. I love speeches – the schmaltzier, the better. The endless processions? Nah. I also love pageantry and all that judicial-robe jazz, the marching to Elgar’s “Pomp & Circumstance.” Ditto the tacky bagpipers. I even dig those, I suppose.
I also relish what has become for me now the occasional, fleeting brush with academia, even if I’m soaking up all that intellectual endeavor into my aging brain by osmosis, like trying to drink a very thick shake through a very slender straw. It may be possible to be too rich or too thin, but you can never be too educated or smart, and now that my kids are grown, passing time on any campus has for me become sadly passé.Pattieinbigblackhat.JPG
No, the thing about graduations that causes me no end of trepidation is the sun. As a fair-skinned redhead, I can only take so much of it, and when you’re captive in an open field for hours witnessing all of the above-mentioned, there’s only so large a hat you can wear without provoking the people seated behind you to want to take off your head.
So you might think it came as a relief to see the forecasts for cloudy skies, rain, and probable thunderstorms for last weekend’s graduation. If so, you would be wrong.Thunderstorm.jpg
As Nice Jewish Mom, you see, I don’t have the luxury of worrying only about myself. I also lie awake at night worrying about other people. And I was thoroughly convinced that many of the other people attending last week’s festivities with me would not have seen those dire warnings. Or even if they did, they might not take them to heart.
That, to me, signaled that it wasn’t going to be enough for me to pack sufficient clothing to get me through a weekend’s worth of celebrating and unpredictable weather.
Being Nice Jewish Mom, I also had to pack enough for everyone else involved too. Is it any wonder that I arrived with a car chockfull of junk, as if I were going away for a month?Suzyatrehearsaldinner.JPG
The commencement in question was at Brown University, my son’s alma mater, although I wasn’t attending as a mom this time, but as a nice Jewish aunt. My niece Suzannah was graduating with honors – not only with both a B.A. and a B.S., but as a triple major, no less. And no amount of rain, sleet, or even hail was about to make me miss that.
I don’t want to compromise her privacy by publicizing too much about her big moment, so I’m going to focus mainly on my own experience there. This included more than one incident of being not just a Jewish mother-at-large, but also a taxi service (if there’s any difference between those things, aside from the fare and possible tip).AidanatBrowngraduationwithme.jpg
Having attended my son’s commencement there five years ago, I knew we were in for an entire weekend of celebrating, kind of like a wedding without the bride and groom and with a college president presiding instead of a rabbi. So even though the diplomas wouldn’t be dispensed until Sunday, and the actual parents, my brother and sister-in-law, weren’t coming until Saturday, my husband and I decided to go up on Friday.
I was excited enough about the occasion to have purchased a nice new dress for the graduation itself. And even when I saw the dire forecast, I couldn’t imagine wearing anything else. I merely chose to also bring along rain boots, a sweater, and a raincoat.raingear.jpg
But fearing, as I said, that my daughter, my son, and my son’s girlfriend wouldn’t be quite as well-prepared, I didn’t just bring these items for myself. I also brought two extra pairs of boots, two extra sweaters, three raincoats, and four umbrellas. (We nice Jewish moms have a motto, much like the Girl Scouts’: Be prepared… but don’t just cover your own tuches. Make sure that everyone else you’ve ever met is prepared, too.)
My daughter Allegra had to work on Friday and decided to wait until Saturday to drive up from NYC, rather than braving the Memorial Day traffic (likely to be worse than a Jew jam on Rosh Hashanah). So my son Aidan took a bus with his girlfriend, Kaitlin.
This was in part because he was attending his fifth Brown reunion and didn’t want to miss any of the evening’s alumni hoopla. But it was also Kaitlin’s thirtieth birthday, and he wanted to arrive in time to take her out for an elegant meal in Providence first.rainingcatsanddogs.jpg
While en route, my husband and I drove through some of the heaviest rainfall I have ever experienced. The expression “raining cats and dogs” doesn’t begin to cover it. We’re talking rhinoceroses and giraffes, or maybe more like Chicken Little, as in “The sky is falling.” Surely, the annual Campus Dance was going to have to be canceled.
Just before we reached the outskirts of the city, though, we emerged from the deluge. So after checking into our hotel and grabbing dinner at our favorite local eatery, the Meeting Street Café, my husband and I wandered over to the campus.campusdancecrowd.jpg
        Open to graduating students and their families, all alumni, and the entire Brown community, the Campus Dance was expected to draw some 11,000 people that night. Yet given the plunging temperature and moderately daunting rain that had begun to fall, I had serious doubts that more than a few brave souls would dare to follow through.
I was so conflicted about attending myself, considering the weather, that I proposed we just observe the proceedings from outside the gates, and then go home. Why pay $35 apiece when we were unlikely to last more than a few minutes?CampusDancetickets.JPG
But then a young man approached us beside the ticket office and offered to unload his extra tickets to us at a slightly reduced rate. Who could ever resist such a bargain? So what the heck, we figured. We might as well enjoy ourselves.Browncampusdancewithlights.JPG
The vast main green was strung with white Chinese lanterns, as thousands (or what looked more like tens of thousands) of people both young and old did their best renditions of the fox trot and lindy on the enormous makeshift dance floor. A live classic big band, bedecked in tuxedoes, held forth on a brightly lit stage up front, churning out popular tunes from the songbooks of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, et al.campusdanceband.JPG
The orchestra, at least, had the benefit of an overhanging roof on the open stage. The rest of us? Not so much. My husband and I soon took to the dance floor ourselves, boogying with the rest of the crowd mostly just to keep warm. But I insisted in dancing exclusively under our own two open umbrellas, a little reminiscent of Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, except that we kept inadvertently poking all the dancers around us.
At least they were also dancing with open umbrellas and inadvertently poking us.Campusdancedancers.JPG
When we had danced so much that our arms ached, mostly from keeping those umbrellas aloft, we decided to embark on a comprehensive tour of the premises. It was exciting to see all of the young people dressed up. And dressed to the nines they were.
Most of the girls had refused to be discouraged by the cold or steady downpour and had opted for sequined summer dresses and other elegant, flimsy evening wear, their spike heels plunging deep into the mud surrounding the sidewalks and dance floor.campusdancegirlsindresses.jpg
Seeing this made me more eager than ever to track down Aidan and Kaitlin. I professed to my husband that I just wanted to say a quick hello, if only we could find them. Of course, we didn’t want to ruin their evening by trying to hang out with them. Mostly, I just wanted the thrill of seeing them all dressed up for the dinner and dance.
But the truth was that I also had another agenda.AidanandKaitlininTobago.jpg
Kaitlin is from Florida and, judging from the few other times we’ve gotten together, she doesn’t quite yet appreciate the vagaries of our unpredictable New England climate. I wanted to make sure that she was warm enough and had prepared for the worst, and if not to offer her the spare raincoat and pair of rain boots that I had for her in the car.
She was a saint to be willing to spend her thirtieth birthday weekend at my son’s reunion and hanging out with our extended family. Did she have to catch a cold as well?
We couldn’t seem to find them anywhere, though, no matter how hard we looked. Finally, my husband declared that it was dreadful of us to be stalking them, anyway.
        “How can you say we’re stalking them when we can’t even find them?” I asked.
“Admit it – we’re stalking them,” he replied. “We just happen to be terrible stalkers.”HarlanandPattieatCampusDance.JPG
The dance was slated to end at 1 a.m., but by midnight I was too cold to continue. So we returned to our car. Just as we were passing the dance, however, we were flagged down by two young women in party dresses who’d evidently just left as well. They looked so frantic that I feared they’d had a car accident and needed our help.
Not quite.
“Would you drive us home?” cried the taller girl when I rolled down my window. “We’re so cold. We called a cab 20 minutes ago, but it hasn’t come. We’ll gladly give you money!”PetraWeiss.jpg
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I replied, unlocking the back door. “Of course we’ll take you home. But we won’t take any money. You poor things. You must be freezing. Get in!”
Restraining myself from giving them my usual sort of lecture about not getting into cars with strangers – clearly, we were another student’s parents, not axe murderers – I told them instead that they had picked the right car. After all, I wasn’t exactly a stranger. I was NiceJewishMom.com.
It turned out that one of the girls was a 2011 Brown alum, the other her best friend. They offered to get out a block or two from their hotel, rather than take us out of our way, but of course, being a nice Jewish mom, I insisted on driving them to their door.
It also turned out that the alum, Petra Weiss, who worked for Google, shared one of my last names. Small world, or maybe not so small, after all. There are Weisses everywhere. And at Brown, God knows, there are plenty of Jews.AidanatKaitlinsbirthdaydinner.jpg
Btw, I later learned that if all I’d wanted was to get a gander at Aidan and his date, our wild goose chase had been a waste. Their photos were soon posted on Facebook.
        The next morning dawned colder and even rainier, so I ditched the pastel summer dress I’d hoped to wear and put on pants with, once again, a raincoat and rubber boots. Then we headed back to campus for some of the fascinating alumni forums being held.
Most notable, perhaps, was the one we attended entitled “A Sense of Humor: Brown Women in Comedy,” a panel discussion which invited the audience to “join the discussion about how Brown alumnae are making a living by making people laugh.”
Comedy, as we all know, is an art form disproportionately dominated by men. “I’m a female minority member living in Hollywood with no boobs, so I shouldn’t be working anywhere,” laughed panelist Suzanne Whang, an actress, writer, and stand-up comedian.SuzanneWhang.jpg
Also working against her, she pointed out, was her fundamental attitude. “Most comics are angry, cynical, depressed, and full of self-loathing,” she observed. “I’m angry, but not any of those other things.” On the contrary, as a stage 4 cancer survivor, she was grateful to be alive.
        “Over six years, I dealt with breast cancer three times," she said. "Like most Asians, I’m an over-achiever. I’m also the daughter of parents who hugged me and told me every day that they loved me and I was beautiful.”
If only it were that easy to make your children satisfied and successful, I thought. Or is it?
I think I also hugged my children and told them that I loved them, etc., every day. At least I certainly loved them every single day of their young lives, and of course I still do.
Unfortunately, like most Jews, mine are not just over-achievers, but overly anxious. Neurotic is practically their middle name and mine. But if I couldn’t actually will them to be happy and successful, then at least I could keep them safe and warm.
With that in mind, I still had all of those extra garments in my car, just in case.rainboots.jpg
You might think that my son’s girlfriend would think twice before putting on some spare pair of old boots I'd lugged along. I would expect so as well. So let me assure you that the boots I’d brought for her were brand new ones that I’d bought in her size.
I’d ordered them online last winter, after ascertaining what size she wore and coming to the conclusion that the ones she was wearing weren’t adequate to brave the rain, ice, and snow. But I’d never given them to her because friends had advised me that buying such gifts for my son’s girlfriend was too intrusive and totally inappropriate.
I would like to tell you that I have much more important things on my mind generally than my son’s girlfriend’s footwear and the possibility of their getting cold feet (strictly in the literal sense of the term, that is). But no, I’m afraid that pretty much sums it up.
And even if buying her boots remained intrusive, not to mention inappropriate, I was not about to let the poor girl get cold feet (strictly in the literal sense of the word).KateSpadebluesandals.jpg
I also figured that I could get away with it because it was her birthday, even if I’d already bought her another birthday present or two, including an adorable pair of Kate Spade sandals. (It seemed like an ideal option, considering that I knew her shoe size and that eventually it will actually get warm.)
So I must confess that while I was listening to those hilarious (albeit happy) women in comedy, as well as another forum on the digital future of news media, I had in the back of my mind almost every single second a nagging fear, bordering on acute anxiety, that someone in my group might be outside getting cold feet (strictly in the literal sense).
This notion was instantly validated when I got a call from Allegra the moment I left the last seminar. She was still driving, but had just heard from Kaitlin, who wondered if she’d left yet because she was soaking wet and freezing cold, hadn’t packed the right things for the unseasonable weather, and was hoping to borrow some warmer clothes.
“Don’t worry, I have stuff for her, and I’m on it!” I assured her. Then I promptly hung up and texted Aidan, telling him what I had and where I was. “Where r u?” I concluded.
When I didn’t hear back within half an hour, I also phoned him and left a message. Still no response.Harlanatcampusdance.JPG
My husband began noodging me to go do something else fun with him. Did I want to check out the art museum, perhaps, or just wander around the many shops in town?
Neither, I told him. All I could think about was handing over all of that raingear.
“Are you insane?” he asked me. “The kids are fine. They don’t want your stuff.”
I just flashed him a livid look, colder than the cloud-ridden October-like sky.
It was 3:15, more than an hour later, when I finally got a text back from Aidan.
        “Just had lunch. When is dinner?” he asked, completely ignoring the messages I’d left.
I texted back the time and name of the place we were eating that night, then added that I had a coat and boots for Kaitlin.
“Great. See you tonight,” he shot back.
Now I was ready to tear my hair out. The guy went to Brown, for God's sake, and just finished grad school. Was he being deliberately obtuse, or diplomatically evasive?
“She is ok till then? Doesn’t want coat? Allegra said she was cold,” I wrote.
The words I’d been waiting for came back within a minute. “Where are you?”Cupcakesocks.jpg
In fact, I was in Details, a funky accessories shop on Thayer Street, where I’d just picked out a pair of colorful knee socks printed with cupcakes to go with Kaitlin’s boots. I figured she hadn’t brought any warm socks, either.
They met me in the store five minutes later. Although they’d just managed to buy an umbrella, Kaitlin’s hair was soaking wet. Her feet were in open-toed espadrilles, her lips the same shade of navy blue as her long linen skirt, which was limp with rain.
“Poor Kate has been freezing ever since we got here,” Aidan allowed. (I would later learn that the dorms, where they'd elected to stay, had no heat and paper-thin blankets. She’d also taken a friend’s advice about graduations and only packed fancy dresses, she confessed.)AidanandKaitlinatBrowngraduation.jpg
I insisted that she wait in the warm store while Aidan volunteered to accompany me on the lengthy walk back to the car to retrieve the spare items I’d brought.
I also took this opportunity to bring back all of her birthday presents as well. She didn’t open the gifts in front of me, but seemed unmistakably delighted and relieved. What was a relief to me was that Aidan didn’t seem to object to my intrusiveness, although he’d had ample opportunity to kvetch during our walk to and from the car.
        But he did text me back shortly after. “Kaitlin says thanks for everything,” he wrote. “She loves it.”Allegrawithsequinbag.JPG
Allegra arrived safely later that afternoon, and dinner went off without a hitch. Unfortunately, my plan to turn in early that night was derailed when she chose to join Aidan and his friends at a reunion party. Never mind that she ordered me not to wait up. I worried that she might get lost on her way to our hotel, and, as luck had it, she did.
        It’s not easy for a nice Jewish mother to travel with her grown children. You can’t give them a curfew, but you can’t exactly go to sleep until you know they’re safe. Try to imagine my terror when Allegra texted “I’m leaving now” at 12:45, then didn’t show up for over an hour, although our hotel was only a 10-minute drive from campus. We didn’t get to sleep until 2.
        By the time we woke up, the rain had finally subsided. The cold? Not so much. Rather, the temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees. The high was 57, the low 38. Were we in the month of May, or March? Goodbye sunburn. Hello, Siberia!Browncommencementphoto.jpg
Although the actual graduation ceremony wasn’t scheduled to kick off until 1 p.m., the procession was slated to begin at 9:45. People were bound to start grabbing seats by then, meaning that we’d have to grab some too… then sit in them for hours waiting for the schmaltzy speeches to begin.
Knowing that no one would be dressed warmly enough – even I wasn’t, since I preferred to risk frostbite rather than forego wearing my nice new dress – I resorted to making use of the limited arsenal of cold-weather accoutrements I found in my car. This consisted of two towels and a large piece of maroon cloth that once hung on Allegra’s former boyfriend’s wall and for some reason has since taken up residence in my trunk.Marooncloth.JPG
I wasn’t quite sure what we would do with these items, but they were the closest things that I had to blankets, so I threw them into a shopping bag when we parked.
Unfortunately, we were in such a rush to get seats that none of us bothered to take note of where we had parked. And by the time this occurred to me, it was way too late.
It was probably a good thing I’d taken these vaguely valuable items along with me, since in all likelihood we now would never see the car again. But not everyone agreed.
“What the heck are you bringing towels for?” Allegra asked when she saw me lugging the bulging bag under my arm. I said that I worried that the seats might be wet. But I was really thinking something else.Browngraduationundertowels.JPG
I braced myself to be ridiculed roundly. If I hadn’t gotten on my son’s nerves with all of my gifts and emergency clothing supplies, surely I’d manage to irritate him now.
No sooner did we manage to find the nine seats that we needed, though, than everyone began to shiver. So when I whipped out my towels, no one seemed to mind.Flamingotowel.JPG
On the contrary, almost everyone began to huddle under them, making the towels stretch as far as possible so three laps could be covered at once. Even the guys didn’t seem to mind that one was a beach towel in hot pink and green embellished with flamingoes. It was the larger of the two, and we had to sit outside braving the elements along with the schmaltz for over three hours, so it was the most coveted of all.AllegraandSuzyatgraduation.JPG
I’m not trying to toot my own horn or claim to be some kind of hero. My niece is the one who earned the double degree with the triple major (in Neuroscience, Gender Studies, and Modern Culture and Media). All I did was to bring along some extra boots and raincoats, a pair of old towels, and a wide swath of miscellaneous maroon cloth.
I’m just saying that sometimes, however annoying and intrusive I indeed may be to my entire family, Nice Jewish Mom really does know best.
        But my story doesn’t end there. After we had repaired to a small reception in the Gender Studies department, toasted my niece with champagne, and taken the requisite family photos, my husband and I bid everyone farewell and set off in search of the car.
We had walked for nearly an hour when we came across one of Aidan’s college suite mates, Mel, and a young woman named Naomi, lugging suitcases behind them.MelatBrowngraduation.jpg
They were taking a train to Boston, Mel said, but had no way to get to the station.
“I would gladly take you,” I replied, “but we have no idea where we parked, and we don’t want to take you on a wild goose chase through the entire city of Providence.”
Then I looked around the corner, and lo and behold, my car was sitting right there!NiceJewishMomstaxi.jpg
So Mel and Naomi tossed their luggage in, and we drove them right to the station. (Just call me NiceJewishTaxi.com.) I offered to wait while they checked the schedule, in case they needed to go to the bus station instead, but they insisted that they’d be fine.PattieatBrown2.JPG
I wrote to Naomi, with whom I had exchanged cards, later that night. Never mind that I had only known her for 10 minutes. I wanted to make sure she’d gotten home OK. It turned out that she was not just a very nice Jewish girl, but (as I later learned on Facebook) also the daughter of a longtime president of Brandeis, my own alma mater.
Small world.
        Or maybe not so small. Lots of room for lots of Jews.
And now for the schmaltz.BenAffleckatBrown.jpg
Although Ben Affleck was on hand at Brown to receive an honorary degree, the official orators at the ceremony were two members of the class of 2013. And although they acquitted themselves with eloquence and wit, I’m going to bring you a few choice words from a few better-known speakers at graduations across the country instead.MichelleObamaatEasternKentucky.jpg
        First Lady (and First Mother) Michelle Obama said at Eastern Kentucky University, “I hope you never lose sight of what brought you to this day.” To which I would specify, “Your wits, ingenuity, passion, perseverance, and neither least nor last, your parents."WyntonMarsalisatUofVT.jpg
        Jazz trumpeter and wunderkind Wynton Marsalis, at the University of Vermont, said, “…to us, you will always be our babies. From every changed diaper to every shoulder ride, every bedtime story, every fight over curfew, all the triumphs and the failures rolled up into one… we are so proud of you all.” To which I would add: “Amen!"JulieAndrewsatUofCO.jpg
        And veteran actress and The Sound of Music star Julie Andrews, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said, “Keep learning as you go. Acknowledge that there will be fear and adversity. Then go out and kick butt!” To which I would add, “And when in doubt, bring extra boots… and towels.”


11:43 pm 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

AndNowForSomethingCompletelyDifferent.jpg        I am about to do something that I have never done before.
I wish it were something incredibly courageous or daring, something impressive, inventive, or otherwise original that involved going where no man, woman, or certainly blogger has ever gone before. Quite the contrary, though. It is something that too many men and women, or to be more exact too many TV sitcoms and talk show personalities, do on a regular basis, especially at this time of year.
Yes, I am referring to reruns.
I am not doing this out of laziness, or because I’m much too busy to write my blog. The truth is that I’m usually way too busy to write my blog, yet I manage to do it anyway.Latenighttalkshowhosts.jpg
It also isn’t because nothing new or noteworthy has happened to me in the past week. I often worry that I will eventually run out of material, but the fact is that life goes on, and so does tsuris, and since I began writing this blog over two and a half years ago, the well has never run dry.
My excuse, rather, is that I have a past blog that I feel compelled to dredge up and also reexamine. Ever since actress Angelina Jolie went public last week with her bold decision to have a double mastectomy following genetic testing for breast cancer, I’ve been thinking about my own difficult choice to undergo genetic testing a few years ago.AngelinaJoliethree.jpg
This is something that I first wrote about in December of 2010. And rather than trying to reinvent that particular wheel, I’m going to reprint the tale that I told in this space back then, assuming that many of my readers have never read it, and the rest of you have probably forgotten what I said. (Even I had pretty much forgotten what I said.)
So forgive me if you actually do remember and already know how this story ends. Because the fact is that you don’t know how the new and improved version will end.
It will end with my weighing in about that genetic testing and Ms. Jolie’s big revelation.
        But first things first. Here's that original blog:
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
And so, another year skids to a close. Time to toss out the old, ring in the new… and get all of those medical procedures that you need now before January 1, when the percentage you’ve met toward your health insurance deductible rolls back to zero again.
I’m not just talking about the mammogram I had on Monday (scheduled in part in the wake of poor Elizabeth Edwards’ passing). I’m referring to what I did a year ago, when I broke down and submitted to something I thought I’d never dare consider – genetic testing.AuntGloriain1971.jpg
From the time I was in my late 20s, when my mother’s only sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, I harbored a sense of certain doom. It was like I was walking around with an internal time bomb, inactive now, but destined to go off someday.
My mother tried to dodge this unwelcome twist of fate, combating her own raised risk of developing the disease with the least effective approach imaginable: denial.Bunnieat53.jpg
When a mammogram she had soon after my Aunt Gloria’s death revealed a suspicious growth, she told her doctor that it had to be a mistake – that it was probably just scar tissue from a fibroid she’d had removed years earlier.
Then she adamantly refused to get another mammogram for the next 16 years.Asiandoctor2.jpg
Fate and modern medicine finally caught up with her when her longtime gynecologist eventually retired and her young, less compliant new one – an assertive and rather humorless young Asian woman, by her account – refused to take no for an answer. Soon after, the other shoe dropped. My mother was diagnosed with the disease… and my own probability of contracting it myself went through the roof.pea.jpg
By then, of course, what had once been a pea-sized growth had reached the dimensions of a grapefruit. As my grapefruit.jpgmother went through bilateral lumpectomy surgery, followed by treatment after treatment (much of which was more brutal than the disease itself), friends urged me to consider genetic testing. I refused.
        I’d been getting yearly mammograms ever since I was in my thirties, I countered. All had been clear so far. Besides, even if I got tested and received a bad report, I wasn’t ready to consider a double mastectomy for prophylactic purposes.
I preferred to live with uncertainty and hope that I’d been spared.
A year ago, though, I started thinking differently. I now had watched my mother suffer through her agonizing final months and begun to revise my stance. I would never let that happen to me, I decided. Nor would I ever make my own kids have to witness it.Myriadlogo.jpg
Genetic testing is extremely costly – over $3,000 – and only one lab in the country performs it, Myriad Genetic Laboratories in Utah (although the blood can be drawn anywhere and sent there). Yet having two close relatives die of breast cancer, I learned, made me eligible to have the testing fully covered by our insurance. And yes, my family had already met its hefty annual deductible and was about to start from scratch again.
I must admit that I was half-hoping when I phoned the cancer center at the University of Connecticut Health Center that there would be no available appointments. No such lack of luck. They fit me in almost immediately, three days before Christmas.UConnhealthcenter.jpg
The appointment included an hour of conversation before I’d be sent for blood work. The young genetic counselor I saw had to make sure that I was mentally prepared to handle the potential outcome.
That conversation included some positive surprises. Even though I had two close relatives who had been afflicted by breast cancer, my own risk of having either of the two most common genetic mutations that lead to the disease was less than 20 percent (far from the 100 percent that I’d long imagined).
That was the good news. I won’t bore you with every grim detail of the not-so-good. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of it.breastandovariancancerchart.jpg
The two most common forms of the mutation are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 (short for Breast Cancer 1 and Breast Cancer 2), and both are disproportionately prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews like me. If I had either one, my chances of developing breast cancer would soar to between 56 and 85 percent (versus 12 percent for the general population).
Even worse, if I had either mutation, there was a 50/50 chance that I had passed it on to my own daughter, or that my son was a carrier who could pass it on to his children.AidanandAllegraatSichuanChelsea.JPG
I’d lived for over 50 years with uncertainty. Was it fair for me to get tested and potentially give my children a terrible prognosis while they were in their early 20s?
Yet after coming this far, there seemed to be no legitimate way to turn back now. So I went to the lab in the hospital and let them draw the requisite three vials of blood.
Unfortunately, it takes approximately three weeks for Myriad to issue the results. Believe me, for me, those weeks were far from fun.
The results were to be given in person by the same woman who’d done my initial consultation. I scheduled the appointment for January 12, two days before my birthday.Nan
Over dinner the night before, I confessed to my close friend “Nan” that I was terrified, more anxious than I’d ever been about anything in my entire life.
“In that case, I’m going with you,” she asserted. I protested that I’d be fine alone. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She even insisted on driving me.
She picked me up early the next morning, which was icy cold and ominously overcast. Soon we were sitting in the cancer ward’s waiting room, alongside countless other women, many of whom were very frail, with bald scalps concealed by kerchiefs.Baldcancerpatient.jpg
Nan had agreed to remain sitting there while I went in to face my fate. But when the counselor finally came to retrieve me, I had a moment of panic. I pictured myself having to return soon after, shake my head sadly, and recount all the dreadful details. This would be unbearable.
“Come with me!” I blurted out. Nan looked surprised, but did.
We followed the counselor down a long hallway and into a small conference room. She picked up a folder and pulled out a report featuring lots of fine print. I watched her leaf through it briefly, then fold her arms. I tried to brace myself, but couldn’t breathe.womanwithfolder.jpg
“Before going into all of the details, which are very complex and you need to know, let me get this out of the way,” she said. She paused, glancing down at the sheet before her. “Your blood tested negative. Negative for both. You don’t have either mutation.”
I looked at her. I looked at Nan. Then a scream of utter disbelief escaped my lips, and I began to sob uncontrollably. Never mind three awful weeks of crippling fear. A lifetime of unspeakable dread burst through a shattered dam and flooded down my face.
I tried my best to come down to earth as the details were divulged. Given my family history, my risk of developing breast cancer was still elevated, to an estimated 22 percent. It remained possible that my mother had had a different, rarer mutation that was not yet detectable by today’s technology. Or that she’d had a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, but had not passed it on to me. Either way, I didn’t have one.Allegrawithhaircutagain.JPG
And here was the best news of all: Since I didn’t have either genetic mutation, my children could not have inherited one. They don’t skip generations.
Furthermore, since cancer doesn’t run in my husband’s family (neither his mother nor any of her 10 siblings had ever been diagnosed with any form of the disease), the likelihood that either of my children had either genetic mutation was estimated to be nil!Nanandme.jpg
Over the celebratory lunch to which Nan treated me at Bricco, our favorite local restaurant, the full implications of this revelation began to dawn on me. Genetic testing hadn’t merely lifted what had felt like a lifelong death sentence. Maybe it was time to rethink a lifetime of inherent negativity and always preparing myself for the worst.Cossackimage2.jpg
I guess I grew up like many Jews do, internalizing centuries of pent-up anxiety, always wondering when the next pogrom, wave of anti-Semitism, or other catastrophe will hit. Who knows what other worst-case scenarios that I’d long conjured up were based on erroneous assumptions?
Maybe it was high time that I stopped waiting to die and started thinking instead about how to live, and maybe even begin to really enjoy it.
In the year since, I’ve tried to live every day bearing in mind that I dodged not a bullet, but a bomb. I’ve tried to hold onto that new sense of both optimism and infinite possibility, believing that, against my instincts, things actually can work out for the best.mammogramimage.jpg
That didn’t prevent me from having a moment of panic following my mammogram on Monday, when the technician returned after taking my films, told me that the radiologist had seen something that looked suspicious, and said that she had to do one side over again.
I tried to stay calm. Then she returned after round 2 and said it had been nothing.
“You’re all clear,” she said. “There was nothing there.” She studied my look of clear disbelief. “I don’t know how else to say it: You’re absolutely fine.”
I’m fine. I’m more than fine. For another year! And I intend to have a fine one indeed.
        OK, that’s what I wrote. Now back to the present.angelinajolieandhermother.jpg
As Ms. Jolie openly divulged on May 14th in an Op-Ed piece that she penned for The New York Times, the outcome of her own genetic testing was not nearly as positive.
She’d chosen to submit to the tests after watching her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, struggle with breast cancer and then succumb to ovarian cancer at age 56. Like me, Jolie had a strong family history of such diseases. Her maternal grandmother died of ovarian cancer, too.
As she wrote, her test results soon revealed that she had a “faulty” gene, BRCA1.
My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman,” she said.
“Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation,” she hastened to add. “Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.”AngelinaBradandsixkids.jpg
Faced with those grim odds, she felt compelled, as the mother of six young children, “to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could,” she stated. Her choice was to undergo several months of surgery beginning in early February, which included a preventive double mastectomy, followed last month by breast reconstruction.
As she acknowledged, this was a very personal choice.  And although she believes it was right for her, it seems ever since to have provided endless fodder for tabloid TV and to have stirred up a virtual tornado of controversy.
Most controversial of all, however, appears to be her choice to tell the whole world.angelinajolieontimemagazine.jpg
Her impetus, she explained, was a desire to help save lives."Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year according to the World Health Organization,” she wrote, “mainly in low- and middle-income countries… I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.”
Although Jolie has a long history of social activism, one of my friends scoffed at this claim. “Ugh! She just wants to get more attention for herself,” she said with a sneer.
Yet countless others have hailed her for her candor, calling it gutsy and unselfish.
“Angelina’s courageous act will help save women’s lives,” trumpeted the headline of a May 21st opinion piece in the L.A. Times.
With her star power and ability to stoke an insatiable public interest, Jolie, 37, has the potential to help save lives by raising awareness,” wrote its author, Robin Abcarian. “With the stroke of a pen, she makes genetic testing seem less fearsome and helps de-stigmatize mastectomy."SherylCrow.jpg
Singer Sheryl Crow, who successfully underwent surgery for breast cancer in 2006, also touted the actress via Twitter. “I commend Angelina Jolie for her courage and thoughtfulness in sharing her story today regarding her mastectomy. So brave!” she wrote.GiulianaRancic.jpg
E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic, another famous breast cancer survivor, similarly tweeted in favor of her choice to come clean. “Angelina Jolie reveals double mastectomy. Proud of her for using her incredible platform to educate women,” she wrote.
Of course, it’s impossible to know whether Jolie's motivation to reveal her surgery was selfless and courageous, or simply a prudent public relations move. Yet, given her extensive involvement in philanthropy, I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.PeggyOrenstein.jpg
        As writer Peggy Orenstein noted in the April 28th issue of The Times’ Sunday Magazine, “She also happens to be an international celebrity and major sex symbol who needed to get out in front of the story and talk about her bilateral mastectomy before it became gossip. She was right not to be perceived as hiding it.”
(By the way, as Orenstein also happened to observe, less than 1 percent of women in the general population carry Jolie’s rare genetic mutation. And although we Jews are more predisposed to have it than others, its prevalence among us also remains exceedingly low.
“The rate among Ashkenazi Jews is about 1 percent,” she wrote. “That means that having a mom who had breast cancer, for instance, especially if she was older when given her diagnosis, especially if her tumor was low-grade, is not an indication of a mutation in your family nor necessarily a reason to test — or to panic.”)
But back to the issue of yay or nay. Is Jolie a true hero, or does she just play one in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and other such fantastical productions on the silver screen?AngelinainLaraCroftTombRaider.jpg
I have to confess that, however avid a movie-goer I am, I have never seen a single one of the 45 films in which she has appeared. Yet I would also say that I don’t need to now. Even despite that nasty episode of stealing Brad Pitt away from poor, sweet Jennifer Aniston, I am now and will forever more be, in this respect, a staunch Angelina Jolie fan.
Let me tell you why.
As I said, my life, as always, is far from uneventful. Nor is it close to being over.
If only the same could be said for my late mother, whom I continue to miss every single day.SuzannahatCharlieswedding.JPG
My sweet and brilliant niece Suzannah, the youngest of her four grandchildren, will graduate from Brown University this coming weekend, and my mother won’t be there to see it. Grandma Bunnie made it to my son Aidan’s graduation there exactly five years ago, knowing that she would begin a debilitating regimen of weekly chemo two days later.AidanatBrowngraduationwithallofus.jpg
That was probably the last pleasant weekend of her life. Within a year, she was gone.
She missed out on the infinite joy of seeing her other three grandchildren finish college. She never got to watch any of them walk down the aisle, as my nephew Charlie and his lovely wife Holly did last summer, or to someday have children of their own.
That wasn’t fair to her, or to me. And it certainly wasn't fair to any of them.MymotherandmeonMothersDay.JPG
Of course, there are no guarantees that she might have lingered longer, and yes, she did live to the arguably ripe age of 81. But I believe that, with different medical choices, she would have survived well into her 90s, as her own mother did.
So in the same situation, I know that I would choose differently than she did.
Even when she finally learned that she had advanced bilateral breast cancer, she insisted on having lumpectomies instead of a double mastectomy. And I’m convinced that what prompted this choice was largely a refusal to sacrifice any more of her sense of womanhood than seemed absolutely necessary.
And despite the bravado that I professed above, I sympathized with how she felt.PattieatRiverWalk.JPG
Few if any of us are totally satisfied with our own physiques; at least most of the women I know are excruciatingly aware of what they perceive to be their own anatomical flaws. I would like to say that I’m above such vanity and insecurity, and have far more important things on my mind. But the truth is that I'm no exception, and I could easily give you a laundry list of my assorted physical failings.
        In that regard, I realize that my breasts are just a very small part of who I am. But I often wish that they were a much smaller part, if you get my drift, if only so that I didn't look like two breasts on a stick and could fit into dresses one or two sizes down.
And don’t dare tell me that you would trade places with me in a heartbeat. Face it. The grass is always greener on the other side of the breast.
On the other hand, the prospect of having them surgically removed in order to avoid my mother’s plight forces me to acknowledge how integral a part of my identity they are.AngelinaatAcademyAwards.jpg
And that’s where Ms. Jolie comes in.
        Never mind her professed aim of wanting to help make genetic testing available to more women. Most women cannot afford it and don’t have good enough insurance to get their carriers to foot the bill.
Sure, it’s admirable that she’s calling attention to the prevalence of breast cancer. But face it, between the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the countless celebs stepping forward with their own survival tales, it’s not like that’s any well-kept secret.
What I credit her with is making the choice to have a double mastectomy – well, if not sexy, than more socially acceptable. Yes, she is indeed an international sex symbol. One of the world’s most beautiful women. And she remains one now… even without her original breasts.
"On a personal note," she wrote in The Times, "I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
Let’s not underestimate the extent of such surgery. It’s major. The recovery is also grueling. But, somehow, she still looks great.
        Let’s also not forget the commendable role that her partner in parenthood and life, Brad Pitt, has played in both her medical ordeal and her mission to promote having prophylactic mastectomies as a prudent choice. By all accounts, he stayed close by throughout the arduous procedures and remains no less devoted in their aftermath.BradandAngelina.jpg
“Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie‘s choice, as well as so many others like hers, absolutely heroic,” the 49-year-old actor has been quoted as saying. “…All I want is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family.”
that, although I’ve seen a few of his films, I have never grasped why he’s considered to be such a heartthrob. He’s just not my type. (For starters, he’s not Jewish.) Yet to me, he will heretofore always be a hero and even a heartthrob, just for that.
“Life comes with many challenges,” Jolie wrote at the conclusion of her essay. “The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”
Although my own genetic test came out negative, it remains possible, as I noted, that I have another genetic mutation for which there is no means of detection yet available. My mother and aunt were both diagnosed at the age of 59, and I’m getting close to that. So I still think about it with trepidation more often than I would like to admit.Pattiewithhaircut.JPG
For now, I am continuing to have regular mammograms, and I hope that all of you do, too. My gynecologist has prescribed getting a far more sensitive ultrasound each year as well.
And if any of these procedures should ever detect a problem, then I am more confident now about doing whatever is required to make sure I’m that around for my children and (eventually) theirs.
        For in the end, if necessary, I would much rather live without my breasts than choose to die with them.
No, I may never be an international sex symbol, or come close to feeling like one. But I have many more generations of graduations, weddings, and other not-to-be-missed occasions ahead of me.
        And whatever may come my way, I aim to be at all of them.

6:25 pm 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

MothersDaycardfromAllegra.JPG        A very belated, but also very happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers and others out there. At least I hope it was happy!
I would like to tell you that mine was, or better yet that I had what every one of us craves, more or less, especially on Mother’s Day – a day that goes off without a hitch. But you know what the mother character said in 1997’s As Good As It Gets when Helen Hunt complained that all she really wished was that she could just have a normal boyfriend.ShirleyKnightinAsGoodAsItGets.jpg
“Everybody wants that, dear. It doesn’t exist.”
Neither does that hitch-less day that I hanker for. So let me tell you what really happened.
The Mother’s Day routine in our household has remained fairly constant ever since I can remember, or at least ever since my kids have been old enough to sit still: My entire immediate family has a nice lunch in NYC, we go to see a matinee of some show, and then we drive home. And before you tell me how lucky I am to be spending the whole day with my whole family, let me point out that luck has nothin’ to do with it.AsGoodAsItGets.jpg
I pick the show and restaurant, I make all the arrangements, and I invite everyone involved, giving them plenty of notice before they can even consider making other plans.Bunnieat53.jpg
        I started doing all of this way back when because Mother’s Day used to involve my mother, and the day was mostly about her. She lived en route from our house to NYC, and she loved the theater, but most of all she loved my kids… and, yes, me. And now that, sadly, she is no longer with us, I see no good reason to mess with a formula that works.
This year, though, there was one such reason. When I contacted my kids to “save the date,” I asked my son if his girlfriend might be joining us. He replied instantly that he was available and would definitely come, but that he’d have to get back to me about her.
Then he never did.
Now, my kids might be incredulous to hear this, considering the way things normally go, but the fact is that I never want to be a noodge. I might go so far as to say that the last thing I ever want to be is a noodge. But this would not be the whole truth and nothin’ but.BorntoNoodge.jpg
The whole truth (and nothin’ but) is that the last thing I ever want to be (aside from a murderer, thief, and all those not-so-good things) is a lousy parent. And, unfortunately, good parenting requires fairly regular and at times almost relentless bouts of noodging.
There is often so much noodging necessary, in fact – if you ask me – that in the interests of not completely alienating my children, especially now that they’re grown, I noodge them only when absolutely necessary. And this case seemed like entirely unnecessary noodging.
You might think I could simply have inserted an off-hand query into some normal conversation with my son – “Oh, by the way, did you ever find out if Kaitlin is joining us?” But the fact is that May is a busy month for everyone, and Aidan was so busy finishing his grad-school degree in the weeks just prior to Mother’s Day that we didn’t hear from him. Anjelikaexterior.jpg
So, realizing that the play at the Soho Playhouse I'd carefully chosen might be sold out by the time I found out whether Kaitlin was coming or not, I decided to search for a Plan B, and I quickly found one. There was a movie playing at the Angelika Film Center in Soho, an ultra-funky cinema that is my daughter’s favorite. Although it was a documentary, it had piqued my keen interest when we’d seen the coming attractions. It had since received an amazing 98 percent approval rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, my go-to online arbiter of film taste.AllegraatPurim.jpg
When I mentioned this alternative to my daughter, Allegra sounded perceptibly disappointed, noting that going to a movie didn’t sound special enough for the occasion. But by the time it had been confirmed that her brother’s girlfriend was indeed on board, substituting a mere movie for a live matinee had already really begun to grow on me.StoriesWeTell.jpg
As a family-oriented story focused on the filmmaker’s mother, Stories We Tell, written and directed by Sarah Polley, seemed especially apropos for Mother’s Day. To be frank, it also would be a whole lot less expensive than purchasing five theater tickets. And to be honest, I didn’t mind going the cut-rate route, especially in view of the fact that we’d made pricey plans for the night before.
Allegra had offered to put us up on Saturday night, Mother’s Day Eve, saving us the effort of making the five-hour round-trip drive in a single day. But she also had then managed to nab the last three seats to a jazz concert that she said was not to be missed.FredHerschbySteveJSherman.jpg
Fred Hersch and Esperanza Spalding were playing together at the Jazz Standard, one of the top live-music venues in the city.
Never mind that Vanity Fair has named Hersch “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade or so,” or that he has received five Grammy nominations, including two for Best Jazz Album and Best Jazz Solo for his 2012 release Alive at the Vanguard.EsperanzaSpaldingheadshot.jpg
Also never mind that Spalding, a quirky jazz bassist-slash-singer, beat out Justin Bieber to win the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011 (an unexpected coup that made her the only jazz artist ever to land that award).RichieBarshay.jpg
They were playing with Richie Barshay, a rising young jazz percussionist and nice Jewish boy who has played with countless luminaries, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Bobbie McFerrin, and who happens to come from our town in Connecticut.
So never mind that each of this trio’s one-hour sets entailed a cover charge of $30 per person, exclusive of the rather pricey dinner and drinks we would consume there.FredHerschandEsperanzalive.jpg
We really wanted to go.
So we did, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. But the show started at 7:30 and ended at 8:30, which was way too early to turn in on a Saturday night. So we then went to a little café uptown to catch another performance by Allegra’s friend Jason Yeager over dessert.
After all that live music and all that splurging, I was more inclined than ever to settle for Mother’s Day at the movies.
       Seriously. Can you blame me?
AllegraindressIbought.JPG        Despite ominous forecasts of scattered showers, Sunday dawned warm and sunny. It was temperate enough for Allegra to put on the pretty new summer dress that I’d bought for her, which fit perfectly. But soon after we began driving into the city, we got our first omen that things might not go as planned – and not necessarily in a good way.
I’d made lunch reservations at Zucca, a nice Italian restaurant in the West Village, which was within walking distance of both the Angelika and the Soho Playhouse (just in case we decided to see the play, after all). I was behind the wheel when we stopped at a red light at the end of the small bridge connecting Roosevelt Island, where Allegra lives, to Queens, when we all felt an abrupt jolt.
Yikes! The car behind had just rear-ended us.
I rounded the corner and pulled over as soon as the light changed, and my husband jumped out to survey the damage. He came back shaking his head, but then shrugged. He hadn’t noticed anything visible, but wanted me to take a look for myself.womanincar.jpg
A collision was about the last thing I needed, and I felt more than a little annoyed. The driver was a young woman who appeared to be in her early 30s and also very frazzled.
“I am so, so sorry!” she cried in a thick Russian accent. “Please! I mean to stop and I get distracted.”
I nodded grimly. Then I noticed the gaily wrapped gift sitting on the passenger seat.
“Are you going to see your mother?” I asked enviously. She gazed up at me, clearly perplexed by such an unrelated question. “Actually, I go pick up my little daughter from her art class,” she finally replied.
        Maybe the present was from her little girl to her.Mycarbackview.jpg
“Listen,” I told her, reaching in to rub her shoulder soothingly, “calm down. Take a breath. My car is 12 years old and beat up already, and I don’t see anything new on it. You’re fine. I’m fine. Let’s forget about it. Happy Mother’s Day.”
It’s not as if I’d never rear-ended someone in a tense moment, especially back when I had little kids myself and often got distracted too.
Then I got back into my car.
Only when I had resumed driving did I notice that my back ached from the whiplash. Allegra said that hers did too. Oh, well.
By the time we’d picked up Aidan and Kaitlin in Chelsea, we were 20 minutes late for our 12:30 reservation. My husband gallantly offered to park the car while everyone else went into the restaurant.
“Thanks, but if you can’t find a space on the street within a few minutes, just pull into a lot,” I called to him as we clambered out.MothersDaybrunch20132.JPG
The restaurant, which I’d found online on Savored.com, looked even nicer than I had expected. The hostess seated us at a lovely table inside the open-air veranda out front, which was rimmed with bright flowers. A gentle breeze was wafting in, and we could see people walking past up and down the block. It felt like we were in Rome or Paris.
After surveying the menu, we soon ordered, agreeing to split a couple of pear and goat cheese salads for an appetizer, but instructing the waitress not to bring the main course until my husband had arrived. But soon we realized that at least 15 minutes had passed, and my husband had yet to appear. I called him, but he didn’t answer.

        Then a car parked right in front of us pulled out, so I called again to say that if he was still looking for a spot, he should drive back asap.
till no answer.AidanandKaitlininTobago.jpg
Aidan and Kaitlin began to tell us about the trip they’d recently taken together to a jazz festival in Tobago, which Aidan was covering for a magazine. I told them to wait until my husband came, knowing he’d want to hear about it too. Where the heck was he?Angosturabitters.JPG
To pass the time, Aidan decided instead to fork over his bag of presents. Out came two mammoth bottles of Angostura aromatic bitters, evidently the local specialty he had brought back from Trinidad and Tobago – one for Allegra and another for his dad and me.NailpolishfromKaitlin.JPG
Kaitlin also had been thoughtful enough to get me a little something herself, a bottle of nail polish in a lovely, subtle pink/mauve shade called Hawaiian Orchid. It was the first thing that she'd ever bought for me, and I must say that I was genuinely touched.
Then Aidan hastened to explain that my main Mother’s Day present was a Groupon for a brunch for four complete with cocktails at another New York restaurant, and that he had just emailed it to me. As indelicate as it might be to whip out my cell phone at the table, I took a quick gander at my inbox, and sure enough, there it was.
Normally, as reluctant a shopper as he may be, he usually manages to pick up some sort of thoughtful item for the holiday. But I knew that he’d been overwhelmed lately with his grad-school assignments, along with working full-time doing crew jobs on various TV shows. So I had no trouble whatsoever giving him a pass for letting his fingers do the walking for once, and was more than happy to accept this sweet gesture along with the bitters.Marconyrestaurantinterior.jpg
        Besides, as I readily pointed out, this more or less obligated him (“condemned” is the actual term that I used) to spend yet another Sunday morning chowing down with us. To which he quickly replied with slight incredulity, “Yeah, that was the basic idea.”
Besides, my favorite part in these festivities is always the card. And the one that he’d selected was gorgeous and had a witty and wonderful inscription. Of course, those words were meant strictly for me, but I hope he'll forgive me for divulging this small part: “We couldn’t have done it without you, and we definitely wouldn’t be able to cook to save our lives.”AidansMothersDaycard.JPG
Seeing this, Allegra rushed to be next with her own presentation, but I insisted that she wait until after the meal, or at least until her father resurfaced. Speaking of which…
He’d now been gone for nearly half an hour. Where the heck was he?
Over the next few minutes, I phoned him four or five times. Texted twice, too.
No response. It just kept going to voice mail. This was getting more than scary.
Our salads had long since arrived, and we decided to dig in, although by now I was so anxious that I no longer had an appetite.
“Could Dad have had a car accident?” I ventured reluctantly.
“I’m getting really worried that he has,” Allegra confessed.
But Aidan was the one who actually admitted it. “Clearly, he has had an accident,” he said. “And not just any accident. A bad one.” Bad enough to render him incapable of contacting us, he meant. “But I’m not going to panic until I get a confirmation that he actually has.”
Hearing this, Allegra jumped up and announced that she was going to look for him.
“Look where?” I asked. “I’m terrified that Aidan’s right. But he could be anywhere.”
I suggested calling the police instead, but the kids, who are more experienced about life in NYC, said that it was way too soon for the authorities to know anything about it yet.
Then Allegra stalked out and strode down the block, looking tense and grim.HarlanonMothersDay.jpg
But just before she reached the corner, I saw my husband come into view at last. He looked more than a little sweaty and disheveled, but was otherwise alive. And well.
“Where the hell were you?” I demanded, so relieved that I reached up to hug him, yet also beginning to boil over with rage. It was now 1:35 p.m. “You’ve been gone for 40 minutes!”
“Actually, 45,” he corrected, then explained that he’d quickly found a parking space, but then had gotten lost in the Village and been unable to find his way back.
I couldn’t believe my ears. This was his entire excuse for being MIA for so long?
“But we called you so many times! Why didn’t you answer? Or think of calling us?
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and shrugged. “Oops. Guess the volume was turned all the way down. I simply didn’t hear it and didn’t think you’d worry or really care. I just figured you’d eat without me and expected that you might even be done by now.”
“Done?” I asked in disbelief. “Of course we aren’t done. We haven’t even started!” Then I shoved a menu in his direction in exasperation and asked him to order at once.AidanonMothersDay2013.JPG
While we waited for our food, Aidan at last told the story of his tropical excursion, an uproarious tale of missed planes, lengthy flight delays due to the Sequester, severe seasickness, and rain so heavy that much of the music festival ended up being canceled.
Unfortunately, he got to regale us with this almost without interruption because when our entrees finally arrived, for some reason they neglected to bring his.
“What could be taking so long?” he grumbled testily. It was now well past 2 p.m. and he hadn’t yet eaten a thing that day. “We’ve already been here for over an hour. How long does it take to make an omelet?”
        Of course it was impossible for anyone to enjoy eating when he had nothing.
The waitress shamefully admitted that they'd forgotten to prepare his order, and that it would be a few minutes more. Then an older man, presumably the owner or manager, rushed over to inquire if there were anything he could do to make amends. “Champagne, perhaps?” he suggested apologetically.   
Champagne? To celebrate what -- that Dad was alive, after all (although I was now ready to kill him)?MothersDaymimosatoast.jpg
I’d been watching the waitress wander from table to table ever since we’d arrived, dispensing bubbly pale orange drinks into narrow flute glasses from a glass pitcher. “How about some mimosas?” I proposed.
“Mimosas for everyone!” the owner declared.
That did help take the sting out of the situation and lighten everyone’s mood.
Finally, every morsel of food devoured, Allegra whipped out her own gift bag, which contained a funky pair of vintage earrings we’d found recently together on another excursion and that she had surreptitiously purchased while I pretended I wasn’t looking.EarringsfromAllegra.JPG
Then came her equally gorgeous card, addressed to “Nice Jewish Mom,” with so lengthy and effusive an inscription that I set it aside to read later. It was also intended to be private, I realize, but I hope she won’t object if I disclose two of my favorite parts:NiceJewishMomenvelope.JPG
“You extend your motherly (and sometimes meddlesome) ways to all of my friends and all of your readers. You taught me to be too generous when I was young and to look after the world as if it were my own daughter. And for that I am eternally grateful.”
Followed by, “Thank you for surrounding me with love and support and inspiration, for teaching me to be a strong, independent woman and to believe in myself.”
        Amen to that!
The problem was that by the time we had paid the bill, it was already 3 p.m. The movie started at 3:10 and was a sizable walk away. Even if we could have made it just in time, there was no guarantee we would be able to get seats. Besides, after sitting down for so long, no one really wanted to immediately go sit again, in the dark no less.MothersDay2013inVillage.JPG
So we simply began to wander around the neighborhood, the girls in front and the guys lagging behind. Every once in a while, we women would pop into a boutique to browse just for fun.
But otherwise, we were just meandering aimlessly. So every few minutes, someone would turn to me and demand, “Well, what would you like to do now?”
Do now? There was nothing left to do now. Plan A was out of the question. So was Plan B. I hadn’t considered making any further back-up plan, so I had no clue.
And when my husband asked me impatiently for the fifth or sixth time how we were going to spend the rest of the day, I must admit that I exploded at him quietly. “Don’t you realize that we couldn’t go to the movie because you were missing for so long?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said. “It's all my fault?” Whether or not it was, he then stopped asking.
Yet the truth was that it was way too nice a day to have spent two hours sitting inside in a darkened theater. Besides, the aimless wandering gave us more time together to talk.HouseofCupcakes.jpg
And eventually, we worked up enough of an appetite walking that we were able to wander into a place called House of Cupcakes, where we got to devour what might be the best cupcakes ever.
Then we hurried back to the car, which turned out to be only a few blocks away, and I drove everyone home. No one else plowed into me, I’m happy to report, and by the next day my back felt just as good as new.
No, I guess Mother’s Day this year didn’t go according to plan. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. I guess that goes for moms, too.
And in the end, I decided that if I can give a pass to a complete stranger who rear-ended my car, then I can forgive my own poor husband for briefly losing his way in the West Village. God knows I've done that, too (although God knows I would’ve called).
Besides, along with not wanting to be a noodge, about the last thing that I want to be is not nice. (Would anyone actually want to read NotNiceJewishMom.com?)Nailswithpolish.JPG
I also realize that I have nothing in this case that I can legitimately complain about. I got to spend the entire day with my family. It was a glorious, sunny afternoon, with free mimosas, no less.
        Plus, I nowPattieonMothersDay2013.JPG have a pair of fabulous new earrings, a lifetime supply of bitters, and fingernails painted an exquisite shade of Hawaiian Orchid.
I also have yet another family brunch on the horizon. Never mind days that go off without a hitch, or so-called "normal" boyfriends. Isn’t that, in the end, what everyone really wants -- something fun to look forward to? I know that I do. And that, dear, probably is truly as good as it gets.

1:46 am 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

LongIslandCityaerialview.jpg        About five years ago, I asked my son what the next hot new neighborhood in New York City might be. Never mind that Aidan had just moved there after graduating from college as an English major and was not exactly an expert on real estate. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Long Island City.”
How the heck did he know?
No, never mind that. Here’s the real question: Why didn’t we listen to him?AidaninApril2013.jpg
I’m not saying that we actually had the money to buy a second home in Long Island City (or anywhere else, for that matter) back then. It’s just that given inflation, migration, and trendiness taking their inevitable course over the last five years, we certainly don’t have it now.
Which is too bad. Having just spent the better part of a weekend based there, I can tell you that LIC, the largest section of Queens, remains far from the most glamorous locale in NYC, let alone on earth. If five years ago it was up-and-coming, then today it is still, well… coming.Ravelhotelrooftop.jpg
But if you happen to be going to the city, it’s something to consider. Not for its cultural offerings necessarily, but as an economical alternative for accommodations. After all, there are dozens of hotels there – many of which have sprung up in the past five years alone – including the Z Hotel, the Vetiver, the Verve, the Ravel, a Quality Inn, a Holiday Inn, a Days Inn, a Comfort Inn, a Fairfield Inn, a Red Roof Inn, a Four Points by Sheraton, andHotelZ.jpg last (and probably least), a HoJo’s. And I would all but guarantee that most of them offer far better rates than almost anywhere you’ll ever find in Manhattan.
Yet regardless of my son’s shrewdness, I can’t claim to be astute in any way for choosing to stay there. I simply stumbled upon a good deal and booked it hoping for the best.Catherinedancing.JPG
It all began late last week when I realized that the weekend was fast approaching and my husband and I had absolutely no plans with anyone. As frenetic as our social lives had been all week, between a dinner out with friends, an evening with old chums from London, and my friend Catherine’s year-end dance concert at Central Connecticut State University, it looked like we were going to be all by ourselves on Saturday night.
I had another completely unrelated reason for wanting to get away, and go to NYC in particular. A few Groupons that I’d bought for parking in the city remained unused. Purchased for $19 apiece, they allowed us to park for 24 hours in any Icon garage of our choice, and I wanted to take advantage of them before they expired at the end of April. Grouponlogo.jpg
My husband argued that it was meshugah to spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel in order to not waste a couple of $19 parking coupons. And yes, that may sound logical. But I don’t entirely agree.
If I didn’t use those Groupons, it would make me feel foolish and wasteful, instead of prudent and frugal. It was worth hundreds of dollars to me not to feel like a total fool.
And if that actually makes me a total fool, then sorry. But it makes total sense to me.Allegrawithhaircutagain.JPG
This also gave us a good excuse to do what we often do – see what the kids were up to. Our son was going away for the weekend, we knew, but our daughter said she’d be happy to hang out with us, with just one caveat: She wasn’t up for overnight company.WoodyAllenheadshot.jpg
Woody Allen may not want to join any club that’s willing to have a person like him as a member, but I tend to shun ones that don’t want me. So I quickly set about looking for a hotel.
And so, with most rooms in Manhattan going for $300 and up, I kept looking… and looking… hoping that rates would eventually start going down. No such luck. But finally, on Friday, I saw something promising on Hotels.com. It was relatively cheap, anyway.
        But it wasn’t in Manhattan.
It was in LIC.
No matter. I did what I always do. Rather than booking on the secondary web site, I phoned the hotel itself. Presumably, the middle man must be taking a fee of some sort. I figured that they’d rather have me book them directly, and I asked if I might get a better deal.Nesvahotelexterior.jpg
In this case, the hotel in question, the Nesva, said that they could only come down 10 bucks because this was their very last room.
The very last room available – at the Nesva? Could this place possibly be some well-kept secret? You know, the best hotel you’ve never hear of? No matter. At $170 a night ($198 with tax), it was the cheapest room near NYC that was not in New Jersey.
I took it.
Under normal circumstances, I would then have started searching for a play to see, theater buff that I am. Allegra, however, said some college friends of hers were playing at a jazz club in the West Village on Saturday night and she invited us to tag along for that.
Who could resist an invitation like that?Nesvahotelinterior.jpg
We arrived on Saturday afternoon to find that the Nesva (a monicker derived from the owner’s first name, Nestor, and last name, “Va-something”) was just as it appeared on its web site. A mere six months old, it was a narrow, nine-story building with only four or five rooms per floor. These boasted free Wi-Fi and a fairly modern décor, although the city skyline view we’d requested was only visible from outside on our own little balcony.HarlanonNesvabalcony.JPG
        My husband said that he wished I had booked the Holiday Inn which was right across the street instead, since it probably had a fitness room.
        Nope, the Nesva didn’t.
Whatever. Nice to have a balcony. I also preferred staying in a so-called “boutique” hotel, rather than some generic chain. And with breakfast included, the price could not be beat.
Perhaps the main advantage to staying in LIC (particularly at the Nesva or other nearby hotels) is that you can hop a subway and be in Manhattan in only 10 minutes. But I had another plan in mind this time, of course. I wanted to drive into the city instead. This would allow us not only to pick up Allegra on Roosevelt Island en route, but to get home quickly later that night, when the subways run a little more sporadically.QueensboroBridgedaytime.jpg
Better yet, it would give me the chance on which I was hell-bent to park in a garage and take advantage of one of my unused Groupons.
So imagine my exasperation when we arrived in the Village (after driving through the Midtown Tunnel because we’d been able to check out the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge from our own little balcony and see that it was all backed up), and we quickly managed to find free parking on the street.
But I didn’t have much time to wallow in self-pity, because we soon wandered down to Washington Square Park, which was teeming with flowers in bloom and hordes of city folk listening to street musicians and otherwise reveling in city life and the sun.
        Allegra’s close friend from back home, Michelle, joined us beside the big arch, and the girls deigned to divulge to us a few details of a rendezvous she was planning that had been arranged via a dating website I had never heard of, called HowAboutWe.com.
Everyone knows about Match.com and eHarmony, and I keep hearing about a free site called OK Cupid. This new one works somewhat differently, though. Its members evidently meet by suggesting a specific social interaction that completes the phrase “How about we…,” and if it appeals to you, then you can respond to accept their offer.
Options that were posted on the site just last week included:
        salsadancers1.jpgHow about we… go pick up some fresh vegetables at the farmers market?" (That was posted by a health-conscious 33-year-old man.)
How about we… take a salsa lesson, then test our skills later at a club?" (A proposal from a 27-year-old guy.)bananasplit.jpg
How about we… order a ridiculously huge ice cream sundae and see if we can actually finish it?" (An almost ridiculously tempting, however high-calorie proposition from a 38-year-old woman.)
No one seems to be writing, “How about we… meet up for Friday night services and then go out for a nosh, because I’m Jewish, you’re Jewish, and if we started dating it would probably make our moms really, really happy?” Oh, wait. I guess that’s only on JDate.
Neither does anyone seem to write, “How about we… hang out with my parents in the Village for a few hours on Saturday night?” We realized that we were unbelievably lucky to be enjoying the company of our 20-something daughter and her gal pal, and to make it worth their while we said, “How about we take you out to dinner at the restaurant of your choice?”PattieatCorneliaStreetCafe.JPG
They opted for the Cornelia Street Café, a perfect choice indeed. Not only was my yummy sesame-encrusted salmon with AsianCorneliaStreetCafesalmon.JPG veggies a veritable work of art, but I made two exciting discoveries that made me feel like I was a character in A Christmas Carol… only for Jews. Downstairs by the tiny basement restrooms was the ghost of meals past – a framed excerpt from a review of the place by my former colleague Cynthia Heimel, printed in New York magazine back in 1981, when I was an assistant editor there.JewFestposter.JPG
And right beside it was a framed poster promoting the restaurant’s second annual JewFest, a series of concerts, films and performances coming up in July. Could this be the ghost of blogs to come? Either way, I think I will definitely be back.
Speaking of Christmas – which under normal circumstances, as a nice Jewish mom, I never, ever would – after dinner we strolled around the Village and popped into a posh new bakery on Bleecker Street called Sugar and Plumm. Here, the girls and I agonized, each trying toChocolatesatSugarPlumm.JPG choose a pair of bonbons from their extravagant display of confections (dark chocolate with jasmine tea? Salted caramel? Passionfruit truffle?).Harlaneatingcupcake.JPG Meanwhile, my husband pronounced me meshugah once more for being willing to settle for something puny enough to be dispensed with in a single bite. Instead, he went for a large cookies and cream cupcake… which somehow managed to vanish down the hatch  just as fast.
Then, soon enough, it was time for the main event. We made our way over to La Lanterna di Vittorio on MacDougal Street, or more accurately to the low-lit subterranean hotspot adjoining it known as the Bar Next Door, where Allegra’s former New England Conservatory classmates Mark Zaleski and Mark Cocheo were performing jazz live.BarNextDoor.JPG
Sorry that the photos are so dark (did I happen to mention the low lighting?), but of course their music was right on the mark (what else?). The girls and I were also glad to have stinted ourselves on the sweets, because the desserts at this place are divine. Then again, Nice Jewish Dad, who only ordered a beer, seemed to have little trouble helping me polish off my luscious slice of whipped cream-topped pumpkin bourbon cheesecake.AllegraandMichellewithcoffeedrinks.JPG
The girls also had no trouble washing their own desserts down with tall cups of cappuccino spiked with Frangelico liqueur and topped off with yet more whipped cream.LevysandMichelleatBarNextDoor.JPG
After such an ultra-cool and trendy evening, I must confess that it was a little deflating to drive back to our hotel in LIC, located in the middle of a dingy, commercial-looking neighborhood that has little to offer visitors like us, other than more hotels.
It was also a little disconcerting  to discern at this point that our own hotel was only a block away from the elevated subway line that carries passengers into Manhattan (and to notice this not because it was visible from our balcony, but was audible as well).
The next morning, though, we decided to eschew the rather plebeian complimentary continentalPattieatCafeHenri.JPG breakfast downstairs (consisting mostly of assorted muffins, yogurt, fresh oranges, and coffee) and meet Allegra at her favorite LIC brunch place. At Café Henri, my spinach, leek, and goat cheese omelet was not only scrumptious, but at $9 cost only about half as much as similar selections at our Soho brunch spot of choice, The Cupping Room.OmeletteatCafeHenri.JPG The cappuccinos, at 3 bucks, were also around half the Soho rate.
Afterwards, strolling down 50th Avenue (LIC's closest equivalent to Fifth Avenue), we discovered all sorts of funky shops featuring jewelry, gifts, and assorted tchotchkes, as well as a plethora of bustling, stylish eateries serving everything from Mexican, Spanish, and Thai food to the FrenchHarlanatCrankys.JPG Creole cuisine served at a corner bistro which seemed to have my hubbie's name written all over it.
         We also saw streets lined with tony townhouses and new, well-appointed apartment buildings.LongIslandCitybrownstones.jpg
That’s when we paused to ogle the listings in the window of a realtor’s office and realized that we indeed had missed out on our opportunity to nab that fabled pied-à-terre. (Any idea where the next hot, new New York City neighborhood might be?)
No matter. My husband allowed in the end that the Nesva hadn’t been half-bad after all and he’d be happy to return there again. And if they don’t have even one room left next time, there are plenty of other hotels in the shadow of the El to choose from.Vishniacphoto.JPG
P.S. After bidding our daughter a fond farewell, my husband insisted on driving back to NYC to catch an amazing exhibit at the International Center of Photography, featuring Roman Vishniac’s extraordinary photographs documenting Eastern European Jewry before and during World War II. (Sorry, but the show closed on Sunday, May 5.)
Meanwhile, though, to my exasperation, I managed to find a free parking spot right in front of the ICP, on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street. So we spent the whole weekend in NYC and still never got to use those parking Groupons.
        Now I really feel like a total fool.

           *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *  
        NOTE: The deadline for my first-ever NiceJewishMom.com writing contest is this Friday, May 10. At least it was supposed to be this Friday.Bigprize.jpg
        In view of the deluge of entries that I have YET to receive -- OK, so far I haven't received even one -- I am going to extend that deadline for another week, to Friday, May 17. If you want to participate and compete for both PRIZES and the privilege of having you own personal anecdote printed here, then please see my blog from April 11 below for the sample stories and guidelines.
        But if you never hear about the contest again, you'll know why. (Seriously. You don't call, you don't write... Must I do all the work?)
1:18 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.