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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Word From the Weiss


Menorah on last night of Hanukkah.JPG

      Happy last night of Hanukkah! It may be a relatively minor holiday, as Jewish ones go, but considering that there are eight whole nights of it, I hope that yours was happy.

My husband bought me a mermaid blanket.jpg

       I got some very interesting gifts this year, from a novel back scrubber, flamingo pajamas, and a jar of posh truffle salt to a bright fuchsia mermaid blanket from my well-meaning husband. But if there was one thing that I wanted more than anythinthis year – anything at all – it was to not be able to spend my daughter’s birthday or the rest of Hanukkah with her.

      And no, that “not” was not a typo. I really didn’t want her to be anywhere near me on her special day.

      But before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me tell you why.

      Between Hanukkah, New Year’s, and my daughter Allegra having been born on the 18th of the monthDecember tends to offer our family almost too much to celebrate (although one of my best friends from college was known to say, "Too much is never enough!"). Now that Allegra is engaged to JP, who shares not just her upbeat personality but her date of birth, we have even more reasons to raise a glass or two.

Allegra and JP at Lucky Cat.JPG

      Last year, we got to celebrate Christmas with the two of them as well. And not just our usual Jewish approach to Christmas – dinner at a Chinese restaurant, followed by a movie. JP cooked an authentic Chinese meal for us in our home, with Allegra pitching in as sous chef in a Santa hat.

Allegra and JP cooked for us on Christmas 2016.jpg

       But this year, it was his parents’ turn to have them for the joint birthday and holidays. And his parents happen to live far, far away. Halfway around the world, in fact. They spend this half of the year in Hong Kong.

      Normally, JP’s family convenes for the winter holidays in Sydney, Australia, where his brother and sister live. But this year they chose to gather in Hong Kong instead, in large part because it would be relatively easy for Allegra and JP to get there (if you can call the 16½-hour flight from New York to Hong Kong easy in any respect).

      Allegra couldnt wait to see her future in-laws again, especially her little niece- and nephew-to-be, who are 2 and 4 respectively. She and JP spent weeks buying gifts for everyone and counting down the days till they left.

      There was just one little catch.

      JP, who is not a U.S. citizen, applied for a work visa in the early fall, soon after he moved to NYC when he and Allegra got engaged. In late October, he was assured that the visa would be mailed to him in about two weeks. But as of last week, it had yet to arrive.

No one felt like celebrating.jpg

       On Friday, he explained to his family and ours that if he left the country without it, he might not be able to return for several years. Yikes! His entire family was deeply disappointed, not to mention livid that he had failed to mention this before everyone else had booked their own flights. Allegra was heartbroken that they weren't going anymore. She was also mortified that they had offended her future machutunin.

      JP’s parents had arranged to host a lavish luncheon on Monday to celebrate the joint birthday. JP and Allegra were the guests of honor, but they would no longer be there.  

       What were they going to do?

       Our own family was getting together in NYC to celebrate both Hanukkah and the birthdays on Friday night. But suddenly no one was in any sort of celebratory mood.

     It was the fourth night of Hanukkah, and all the way to the city, I fought back tears. My heart ached with pity.

Allegra's lively puppy Luna.JPG

     We had agreed to care for Allegra and JP’s lively little puppy Luna during the 11 days they'd planned be away. We had been kvetching for weeks about this daunting responsibility, and had even recruited our son Aidan and daughter-in-law Kaitlin to split dog-sitting duties with us. But now we would have giveanything to have what had previously appeared to be a bit of an impositionYet we felt powerless to help.

Latkes I made.jpg

      Before leaving home, I'd grated potatoes and onions to make latkes when we arrived. Allegra's tiny kitchen is too small to cook in, so we were going out for dinner. In fact, we were going out for hibachi. No latkes were likely to be there. But what's Hanukkah without the latkes?

     I also had gathered up the many holiday gifts I had purchased for one and all. Even though the kids are now grown, I still give everyone in the family, including our dog Latke, at least one present for each of the eight nights. In fact, with all the sales on Cyber Monday, I got a little carried away this year. Too much in this case might really be too much. They may be unwrapping till Tu Bishvat. No matter. With the travel-ban pall cast over the festivities, I hardly felt like Mrs. Claus, let alone Hanukkah Harriet.

I bought too many Chanukah presents.JPG

      With soggy snow falling all the way from our home in Connecticut to NYC, the drive took over five hours in relentless traffic. But that’s not the reason it felt as gloomy as a walk to the gallows. We arrived to find Allegra looking dejected, her eyelids red and puffy. She admitted that she had been crying for hours. Some celebration.

      Aidan and Kaitlin arrived soon after us, and everyone ate a latke smothered in applesauce. I brightened momentarily when Aidan said that they were my best ever. Whether or not he meant it, he certainly knows the way to a Jewish mother’s heart.

     But there was no time to rest on my laurels as a ballabusta (that's Yiddish for good cook). We were already late for our dinner reservation.

     Dejected or not, we still had to eat.

JP getting sake'd at hibachi.JPG       Between the manic antics of the high-spirited hibachi chef, who hurled morsels of food at us as if we were trained seals and squirted streams of cold, tangy sake into our mouths, things brightened up a bit during dinner.

     Everyone also managed to put on a happy face when we returned to Allegra and JP's apartment to exchange holiday gifts. Even when you’re feeling blue, it’s a lighter shade of blue when the family is all together.

Hanukkah is happier with the whole fam.JPG

    But Allegra and JP soon realized that they had no choice and called the airline and cancel their Saturday afternoon flight. And that turned every's mood from blue to black again.

    Early the next morning, their apartment buzzer sounded off early. There was a special delivery downstairs for them.

     Wait! Could it be?

     Perhaps it could have. But it was not. It turned out to just be a document from JP’s bank. After having their hopes raised, even momentarily, only to be dashed, they now felt even worse.

    Then they got some news from Hong Kong. One of JP’s aunts was in the hospital and gravely ill. JP’s sister, who is a doctor, composed a letter to Immigration outlining Aunt Betty’s condition and saying it was urgent that JP be allowed to come home ASAP.

    A friend of our family who is an immigration lawyer advised us that JP and Allegra needed to get to the Immigration office before it opened at 7 a.m. on Monday morning. There was no guarantee that anyone would even agree to meet with them, but that was their only hope. The lawyer did not sound at all optimistic. An ailing aunt, he said, would not appear as compelling as a sick parent, sibling, spouse or child. But it was worth a try.

       It turned out that poor Aunt Betty was gravely ill indeed. We woke up Sunday to the sad news that she had died. JP was desperate to get home to help console his mother. They would now ask for permission to attend the funeral instead.

Allegra and JP celebrating their birthday.jpg

      Eager to console Allegra and JP, my husband and I took them out for another birthday dinner on Sunday night. Then my husband drove home to Connecticut. But I insisted on staying overnight on the kids' couch in order to watch little Luna while they went to Immigration the next morning. It would help them get out at the crack of dawn if they didn't have to walk her firstI also wanted to be there in the event that they got bad news. It was the least that I could do.

      Meanwhile, Allegra stayed up late packing her bags, just in case there was good news instead. It was the least that she could do.

      They left the apartment at 6:22 a.m. armed with every document that they might need. Even though they arrived well before 7, they were already sixth in line.

The Immigration office in NYC.jpg

      Finally, the office opened. They watched in mounting horror as the five people before them, including a sweet, pregnant young woman who wanted to go see her sick grandmother, were brow-beaten mercilessly by the surly official manning the only reception window that was open. Then, just as it was about to be their turn, an affable young man arrived and took over a second window, and he summoned them to approach.

      Examining JP’s documents, he noticed right away that this happened to be his birthday. JP pointed out that it was his fiancée’s as well. Hearing this and the details of their plight, the man seemed extremely sympathetic. He readily granted JP an audience with the next person up on the totem pole. At least they would be heard.

       “OK, we have an appointment,” Allegra texted me, sounding cautiously optimistic. “But we might need proof of JP’s relationship to Aunt Betty.” The couple in front of them had been told that they needed such documentation themselves. They began freaking out. What would possibly demonstrate this relationship? Would they need to obtain both his mother’s birth certificate and Aunt Betty’s? How would they get those right away?

       The woman who met with them next didn’t request any such documents, though. She just seemed eager to help. She checked JP’s application status in her computer

      That’s when she discovered that his visa had already been approved – last Friday. It was presumably already on its way, in transit in the postal system somewhere. But they wouldn’t have to wait for it to arrive. She issued them another one right on the spot.

Allegra was ecstatic.jpg

       Allegra texted me a little after 10. “It’s a Hanukkah miracle. We’re going!!! 

      They phoned the airline, United, and managed to nab the last two economy seats on the 3:05 p.m. flight to Hong Kong. Never mind that United would call them back soon after to say that there had been some mistake – that the only two seats left were business class and cost thousands of dollars more. They had to go no matter what.





       And so they flew into action, as though someone had fired a starting pistol and actually shouted, "Go!" They raced home ansomehow finished packing within the hour. They crammed all the gifts into a carry-on bag. While I went out to buy them breakfast to go, they even packed for Luna, who would be spending the next few days with Uncle Aidan, Aunt Kaitlin, and their cats. 

       Then we jumped into the car, and I drove them straight to Newark International AirportWe arrived two hours before the plane leftwith just enough time left to check in.

Luna in her bed.jpgIt was a Hanukkah miracle.JPG

       Then I drove back to the city with Luna sleeping beside me on the passenger seat. Never mind that there was heavy traffic all the way there and even more on my way home. I was still only as happy as my least happy child. But with just a little help from the universe, and her nice Jewish Mom, that child was now happily on her way. Although she had spent the morning biting her nails at Immigration and would spend the next 16½ hours sitting on a plane, she was having what might prove to be the best birthday ever. 

       So I would say we definitely have too much to celebrate this year. Guess we're just going to have to party on till New Year's, or even Tu Bishvat. Who cares if Hanukkah's over? Let the celebration begin!

11:04 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.