Friday, October 29, 2010

It gets better*

I just had a conversation with my daughter; one of those big, meaningful conversations which I as a parent want so desperately to get just right, yet I have no idea what to say. So I pause, and I think, and I try to remember what it was like to be 9, when everything seemed so HUGE. When I had secrets, and fears, and no one to talk to about them; when I believe that betrayals, and mistakes, and bad feelings were forever. Then I open my mouth, and speak from my heart. Tonight I said something like this:

I remember what it was like to be 9. When you're a kid, or a teenager, everything is so big and every situation feels like it will last forever. Secrets feel huge, like their eating your insides. You feel like you have no one to talk to and that you have to handle everything yourself. Things can be so scary, and you worry about making mistakes all the time. One day you'll be in a situation where someone is doing something, or wants you to do something, that feels wrong, like a knot in your stomach. If that hasn't already happened, it will, many times throughout your life. In that moment you have to decide what to do. Do you go with your friends, or with what you know is right? It's really hard to do the right thing, sometimes it feels impossible, like you don't have any choice at all. But there is something you need to know: the only person you have to live with your whole life is yourself. Even though it feels like the end of the world if a friend is mad at you, or stops being your friend, it's not. It gets better. No bad situation or feeling is forever. I know it's hard, but I'm here to help. I don't want you to ever feel like you have to go it alone.

My daughter's know I was bullied in elementary school. We moved to the city when I was going into 5th grade, and my unpopular, uncool, country bumpkin self was the perfect target of the mean, popular girls. They put mean notes in my desk, pinched me and hit me when the teachers weren't looking, ripped up my jacket and bag in the coat room. They told all the other kids that if anyone played with me, they would be shunned by the popular girls. So pretty much no one did, except for one other girl who was equally unpopular. It was a year of hell, and I never told anyone. Why? I look back now and wonder why I thought I had to take care of it myself. Was I too ashamed to tell my parents? Did I think they would make it worse? Or were they just so distant that I didn't think they would care? I wonder why they didn't notice anything, why they didn't question and pry until the truth came out. Maybe they did and I just don't remember, maybe I just wasn't willing to tell. Whatever the case, it was awful, and I was alone, and I don't want my daughters to ever feel anything like that.

The ramifications of bullying exceed so far beyond the initial hazing. My bullies left off after a year, and I was even accepted into their clique for a little while. I went to sleepovers at their homes, hung out with them at school. Why they let me in I will probably never know, but I know why I went so gladly into my tormentors arms: I wanted friendship and I wanted to be part of the 'in' crowd. But even then I knew I wasn't really a part of the group. I was conditioned to see myself as a loser, a loner, and a freak. I was broken, and it was just the beginning.

I'll skip the teenage angst and melodrama, this is after all a sort-of family blog. Sufficed to say, I was miserable for many, many years during which ending it all seemed like a very attractive proposition. Thank God, I never went that far, and a long time later I began to realize that life had gotten better. I realized that if I had acted on those feelings back then, I would've prevented just as much good from happening as bad. I wouldn't have had all the wonderful experiences I've had; traveling in Europe, meeting my husband, having my children.

It gets better. It ALWAYS gets better. No matter how dark, how painful, or how devastating our experiences are, they always pass. I promise.

*I'm not trying to co-opt anything with this title, I just believe in the message. These three words, this phrase, say it all really. The rest is just filler.

Friday, October 15, 2010

And the winner is...

lucky number 19! Congratulations Alicia, you are the winner of Ellie's beautiful raindrop ring and earring set. I'll be contacting you to get your shipping details and you can expect to receive your gift sometime after Ellie returns from her conference in LA.

Thanks everyone for participating!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Happy Holidays!

What?! She's talking about holidays?! It's October, is she nuts?!

Let me explain...

I had this idea last night while perusing the etsy shop of a friend. It seems like many people I know have been putting their creativity to work over and have opened online shops. So I decided that this year, I am going to do my best to do all my holiday shopping from friends. Granted, I can't fulfill all of my children's wishes this way, but parents, siblings, teachers and friends will be easy to shop for given the creativity and talent these ladies possess. And because I have a feeling their products will be in high demand come November & December, I decided to start early! Besides, the first day of Hanukkah is December 2nd, and that's right around the corner!

Then I thought, wouldn't it be great if we all tried to shop this way? Instead of heading for Walmart, Target or the mall this year, how about we all try to support our friends and loved ones in their creative endeavors? Hence, this post. I'd like to start a list of all the amazing, talented people we know and love. If you or one of your friends has a shop you'd like to share with us, please link to it in the comment section and I'll update this post to add the link here. Let's support each other and make this a unique holiday season!

To get us started, check out these fabulous ladies shops:

Shining Stones
- Gorgeous jewelry designs by Ellie

Poppy and Prue
- Adorable and affordable soy candles by Kate

Sassy Monsters - the cutest baby and kid clothes ever! Sweet, sassy, and well-made, these clothes in Cristina's shop are the bees knees.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Sorry about the spam title, I am just SO EXCITED about this and I couldn't resist! I am hosting my first ever giveaway, courtesy of the amazing Ellie from One Crafty Mother. I honestly can't remember when I discovered Ellie's blog but I know it was in the last year or so and since then it's been my crack. Kidding! Considering that a lot of Ellie's writing concerns her recovery from alcoholism that joke is in pretty bad taste, but in a way it's true. Ellie is a phenomenal writer. Her experiences and insights have so much to offer anyone, no matter what issues they have in their life. I've found a lot of inspiration from her writing, and from her jewelry! At least once a month I go to her store, Shining Stones just to ogle the pretties. So imagine how psyched I was when I received the honor of being able to giveaway TWO of her beautiful pieces right here to one of my lucky friends! See, aren't they gorgeous?!

So now you want to know how to win these pretties right? It's easy, just do one or more of the below to enter! The contest will run until October 15th when I will pick a winner user

1) Leave a comment with your email address below to let me know you'd like to be entered into the contest (use randomname AT provider DOT com to fool the spam bots)

2) Follow me using Google Friend Connect in the upper left hand corner of my blog, then leave a comment to let me know that you did so.

3) Follow Ellie at One Crafty Mother then leave a comment here to let me know that you did so.

4) Follow Ellie on Twitter : @onecraftyellie then leave me a comment to let me know you did so... but don't ask me how to do it cuz I've never been on Twitter.

5) "Like" Ellie's Facebook page One Crafty Mother and leave me a comment that you did.

6) Go to the shop Shining Stones and leave a comment letting me know your favorite piece with a link back to it. For every comment you leave you get another entry into the contest!

Remember not to nest your comments or they won't count! In addition, for the next two weeks until October 15th you can get a discount in Ellie's shop on any item! To take advantage of the 15% discount, go to Ellie's shop here: and select your item(s). At checkout, click on "other" for method of payment, and put the following promotional code in the message to seller: GIVEAWAY15. You will get a message saying "contact seller to arrange payment", but Ellie will contact you to set up a direct bill (at the discounted rate) via paypal, check or money order.

So go click! Shop! Comment! Enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why convert?

Some background: I was raised in a Christian family but ever since High School I’ve had a problem with the idea of Christ as the Messiah. Over the years that has crystallized in an understanding that I don’t believe in the immaculate conception, the resurrection, the divinity of Christ or the Trinity. I do believe in God though, and I did want a religion, but my beliefs precluded Christianity from ever being an acceptable choice. I tried Unitarian Universalism for a few years, but while I enjoyed the environmental/social/human rights stuff I missed the spirituality. I needed a religion. So I started to read, and in Judaism I found everything I was looking for.

What attracted me to Reform Judaism?

God: The Jewish concept of one infinite, unknowable God perfectly meshes with mine
Torah: ‘The people of the book’, Judaism revolves around Torah, the Tanakh, Midrash and other methods of study. Hey, I’m a librarian, I love books! And I love the idea of having a pattern, a way of life and of worship spelled out for me.
Ritual: Keeping kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, having a Passover Seder, building a sukkah, hanging a mezuzah. I love that I have these ways of bringing God into daily life and making ordinary activities, like eating dinner or walking through a doorway spiritual reminders of God’s presence in my life.
Action: Jews live in this world, here, today. They do not live for some possible future in heaven. They work to make the world a better place daily. Justice, human rights, social action, volunteerism and charity are ingrained into Jewish life.
Worship: I love attending Kabbalat Shabbat services. The pure joy in worship that I experience at each service brings me to tears nearly every week. I have never known such a joyous group of people before.
Sabbath: The concept of taking a day of rest, of allowing oneself to rejuvenate and to celebrate and embrace life instead of just rushing through it is incredibly healing.
Welcome: Everyone I have met and interacted with at my synagogue has been so kind, welcoming and helpful. I have never felt more ‘wanted’ in my life!
High Holidays: Atonement, returning to God, asking forgiveness. What beautiful concepts, what a necessity to live in loving kindness. That these concepts are ritualized during the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur is to me more evidence that this is the right religion for me.

What have I found at Temple?

Really it can be summed up in one word. Home.

Tomorrow morning I enter the mikvah and take my Hebrew name, Chana, along with my youngest daughter. Tomorrow afternoon we will be Jews. Shalom.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Adolesence revisited

Saskia and I went to the bookstore yesterday to pick up a birthday present for a friend, and of course while we were there we got her and her sister a book. It was so much fun for me to see her oohing and ahhing over all the books; she found at least 10 in the first few minutes that she wanted, and as time went on the list just kept getting longer. At the top are 3 of her current favorite authors, Beverly Cleary, Andrew Clements, and Judy Blume. How I remember pouring over these exact same authors as an adolescent and pre-teen! Books like 'Dear Mr. Henshaw', 'Blubber', 'The Report Card', and 'Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing' spoke to me about exactly what I was feeling at that age. The characters could have been me. The fear, the anger, the confusion, the sadness, the changes! How did those authors, those adults, speak to me and other kids so well? How did they remember with such compassion how truly awful it is to go through puberty and to be a pre-teen or teen? I didn't ask those questions then, but I do now, because if I am going to be the best parent I can be, I need to remember too. So with this in mind at the bookstore I picked up the epitome of adolescent literature, 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.' Saskia, seeing it was a book by one of her favorite authors, thought it was for her. I explained that it is for her, but not quite yet. That this book is required reading for a girl, that it is part of the right of passage into becoming a woman, and that she will read it some day soon. Her interest was piqued, to say the least. But she respected that she needs to wait a year or so before she is ready for the book.

Last night I picked up the book and didn't put it down again until I had read it all the way through. Oh, the memories! I honestly had no idea that the book was as relevant to our current religious quest as it is. All I remembered was the sneaking of the anatomy book and Playboy, the 'We must increase our bust' exercises (as an aside, what girl DIDN'T try those exercises in secret at some point?!), the first menstruation, the bra shopping (the horror!). And while as an adult now I recognize the importance of the religious questions pursued by the character Margaret, it is still the issues of puberty which I think the book deals best with (and the reason it is one of the top 100 banned books of the 20th century).

While reading, I was transported back to the time of those firsts for me. I remember I was given the book by a friend in secret because our mothers didn't want us reading such things. Our mothers didn't want to tell us much of anything! The feeling that I remember the most is one of being so alone! Going through these changes in secret, not knowing or understanding what was going on. NEVER talking to my mother, because what did she know (or care!)? As an adult I'm horrified that I, and so many other girls of my generation (and every generation I suspect) went through that time alone. After all, our mothers and grandmothers had been through it before us. Why didn't they talk to us?! Why didn't they prepare us?! Didn't they remember what it was like? The raging hormones, the growth (or not) of our bodies, the feelings, both physical and emotional. What a horrible time of life it can be when you are all alone.

Rereading this book, I vowed to remember what it felt like to go through those changes. I vowed to be there for my daughters, to prepare them, to listen to them, to have sympathy for them when they are raging, or crying, or shutting me out. I hope I do better than my mother did. I hope, for the sake of all the girls about to become women out there that we all do better than our mothers did!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What’s in a name?

***Holy crap, I haven't published anything here since April?! How times flies! I would promise to be better, but I honestly don't know if I can keep that promise, so I'll just say I'll try***

It’s time to pick my Hebrew name. This is a huge deal for me. I want it to represent who I am, what I believe, and the journey I have been on for the last year. I don’t write this for opinions or votes (although don’t let that stop you from commenting if you want), rather to help me define how I feel about each of these names and hopefully feel my heart tug me towards one.

Yo’ana: Means “God has answered”. God always answers my prayers, spoken or not. He has always been there for me even when I didn’t know it or accept it. He has given me a new life in more ways than one. This name also makes me think of the Torah and God’s answer to His people’s cries through Moses. It makes me think of the covenant made between the people of Israel and God, and how by entering into that covenant as a Jew I am answering his call, just as he answered mine.

Yiska: This is apparently the Hebrew equivalent of Christina. Yiska was the sister of Lot in the Bible, more than that I don’t know about her. This is one of the most phonetically pleasing of the names I have chosen. It sounds Eastern European and reminds me of the Ashkenazi Jews who lived in the area where some of my family immigrated from. It makes me feel bound to the European Jews who perished in the Holocaust and reminds me that as a convert I am helping in a very small way to rebuild the people of Israel.

Chana: Means “Grace”; in the Bible, Chana was the mother of Samuel. Ah, I love the name Grace! To steal a quote from the internet: ‘Although there is no Christian notion of saving grace in Judaism, it is taught that God always offers even the most evil men the possibility of repentance (teshuva, "turning"). After such repentance one can atone for one's rebellion against God's ways by positive action.’ This makes me think of Yom Kippur and the Jewish tradition of asking God’s forgiveness for turning away from Him and trying to make the world a better place by making myself a better person. This notion of being a better person is one that has become very, very important to me in the last year! It brings in the concept of acceptance and the understanding that ‘I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.’

Chasya: Means “Protected by God”. This name is sort of a combination of Yo’ana and Yiska for me. It has much of the same connotations for me as Yo’ana but with a stronger focus on how God has protected me throughout my life and continues to do so. I don’t believe that God chooses to save people’s lives but at the same time I do believe that he has a plan for me and my children and has intervened at a couple of key moments to protect my soul. Phonetically this is one of my favorites too, with the same Eastern European feel as Yiska.

Cha’ya: Means “Alive, living” and is related to the name Chava. Living life to its fullest is my goal. Being the best person I can be, living a good life, are important to me. I have had many bouts of depression where I didn’t want to live but I have survived through them and really believe that life is a precious gift which shouldn’t be wasted.

Chava: Means “Life”; is the name in the Hebrew Bible for Eve. Pretty much the same as Cha’ya with the additional representation of my new life as a Jew.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So I've got this other blog which I've posted a whole two times to, which is supposed to be about my relationship with/search for/understanding of God. But since I've only posted there twice and I figure that someday I'll combine this blog with that one anyway, I'm just going to go ahead and post this here.

Tonight we had a fabulous Intro to Judaism class with a fascinating rabbi, we'll call him Rabbi Y for now since I am still not comfortable with giving the internet 100% of the details about my life just in case all those cautious people are right and someone IS stalking me through my blog. Not like I've made it all that hard to murder me in my sleep, but I digress.

At the beginning of class Rabbi Y asked us to go around in a small group and state our understanding of God in a few words. Wowsa, a few words? Me? Hey, I hear you laughing... but this is something like what I was able to say in the time I had

  • I believe God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent
  • I believe God is Good
  • I believe God is ultimately unknowable, and that religions are peoples' way of trying to explain the unexplainable
  • I believe God gave humans free will
  • I believe God presents us with choices every moment we live. He (for lack of a better term) wants us to make the right choice, but doesn't stop us if we make the wrong one
  • I believe this is why bad things happen to good people, because other people made the wrong choice
  • I believe God loves us
Next, Rabbi Y had us make a knot by holding hands with two other people in the group, but not those beside us. Then we had to try to unravel the knot. My group couldn't do it. After we sat down again, Rabbi Y asked us where God was in that knot. Most people answered, 'in the head'. This led to a discussion of rationalism and God as the 'ultimate brain' (as I'm currently re-reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' this was a disturbing image for me!). My answer; God is in the hands, because He is in the relationships and connections we formed. According to Rabbi Y this is the existential way of thinking about God, as put forth by Martin Buber in his work 'Ich-Du' (translation: 'I-Thou'). This entry from the Jewish Virtual Library sums up this thought well:

According to Buber, frequently we view both objects and people by their functions...Rather than truly making ourselves completely available to them, understanding them, sharing totally with them, really talking with them, we observe them or keep part of ourselves outside the moment of relationship. We do so either to protect our vulnerabilities or to get them to respond in some preconceived way, to get something from them. Buber calls such an interaction I-It.

It is possible, notes Buber, to place ourselves completely into a relationship, to truly understand and "be there" with another person, without masks, pretenses, even without words. Such a moment of relating is called "I-Thou." Each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other person. The result is true dialogue, true sharing.

Such I-Thou relationships are not constant or static... [D]escribing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. The most Buber can do in describing this process is to encourage us to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments, to achieve real dialogue. It can't be described. When you have it, you know it....

Buber then moves from this existential description of personal relating to the religious experience. For Buber, God is the Eternal Thou. By trying to prove God's existence or define God, the rationalist philosophers automatically established an I-It relationship...

Like a person we love, we can't define God; we can't set up preconditions for the relationship. We simply have to be available, open to the relationship with the Eternal Thou...For Buber, it is possible to have an I-Thou relationship with God through I-Thou moments with people, nature, art, the world.

Talk about cool! I am so getting me some Buber to read. :)

The last concept was that God was in the hearts, which Rabbi Y equated with our souls. Here he went into a discussion about the name of God, which we are not supposed to speak or write. Hence the observant Jew's use of G-d in writing, especially in the non-permanent world of the internet, and the substitution of 'Adonai' when one comes upon the name of God in a text while reading or reciting. But I'm digressing again, Rabbi Y shared the theory that the name of God, which is all vowels, may have been pronounced like a breath of air. I can't write it... but imagine a sharp, short breath with a bit of a yaw sound to it. In addition, Rabbi Y told us that the first lines of the Hebrew Book of Genesis which are traditionally translated as 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. ' 'the spirit of God' can also be translated as 'wind'. And one of the Hebrew words for 'soul' is neshama. The word neshama comes from nesheema, which means "breath." So we have a soul, which is our breath, and God which is breath or wind, put them together and we have God in every inhalation and exhalation that we make. Double cool!

But this post is getting long, I'm getting tired, and I have a new book I want to get started on (Living a Joyous Life: The True Spirit of Jewish Practice by Rabbi David Aaron) so I'll just close with a few more ideas about what I think God is after having my thoughts stimulated by the class.

  • God is that which is just outside the farthest border of what we can comprehend and/or explain
  • God and science are the same thing, just from different approaches
  • When bad things happen, God is always in the equation. But he's not the one hitting you with the big stick, he's the one that takes the pain from the bruises, if you'll only give it to him

Monday, April 12, 2010

You Don't Know My Kid (so STFU)

Warning: I'm kinda pissed. No one should take this post personally.

Scene One: Picking up a prescription for my little one's anti-depressant at the pharmacy.

Me: "Fiona's doctor called in a prescription, is it ready yet?"
Clerk, checking computer: "I can't give you that, the pharmacist won't allow it."
Me: "Excuse me?"
Clerk to pharmacist: "What's this about, it says "check age"?"
Pharmacist, looking at computer: "She's too young for that medication. Do you know why the doctor prescribed it?"
Me: "She's been on this medication for over 6 months now. She is under close supervision by a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Her psychiatrist prescribed this for her because IT HELPS HER."
Pharmacist: "Well I don't think it's appropriate to put a kid on anti-depressants."
Me: "Well her psychiatrist who is a specialist in childhood depression and anxiety does. "
Pharmacist: "Fine, we just want to make sure you know why this drug is being prescribed."

Scene Two: Our backyard. That dayFiona had been grounded for 2 days from TV for whining, talking back and screaming at me for hours on end...

Fiona, crying hysterically: "I' m sorry!"
Me, calmly: "I know you are sorry."
Fiona: "So I'm ungrounded?"
Me: "No, you are not ungrounded. You need to learn to respect what mama says."
Fiona: "But I said I'm sorry!"
Me: "I know."
Fiona, now sitting in my lap sobbing: "This is all my fault. It's all my fault. It's all my fault."
Me: "Fiona, you need to let this go now."
Fiona: "I can't! It's all my fault. You hate me now."
Me: "I do not hate you. I love you very much. I just don't like the way you are acting today."
Fiona: "No you don't, you hate me. Why don't you like me?"
Me: "I do like you, I just don't like your behavior."
Fiona: "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I want to kill myself."
Me: "Fiona, please don't think that. I love you so much. I would be so sad if something happened to you. Life is good, you have so many people who love you. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Fiona: "I can't stop thinking about it! It's all my fault!"

...This conversation goes on for another hour or so, until I stick her in the bath in a desperate attempt to distract her, which works (thank God). After her bath she had dinner and was finally calm enough to go to bed.

Scene Two was just one example of the ways in which my daughter is extreme in her emotions and behaviors. I could give you a dozen more, but frankly I don't feel like it. I've read books, talked to people, taken her to a variety of specialists and doctors and we've finally found a diagnosis that makes sense. That takes all her unique ways of being so raw to the world and helps her find ways to live without being so freaked out all the time. Therapy is a big part of this, but medication is a part as well. And that's OK. The meds that she is taking help her. They tame the wild beasts of her mental illness and they have given me back the joyous, energized, full-of-life child that I used to know before her disorders began to manifest themselves. I can't stress enough the ways in which my child has blossomed in the last 6 months or so, and it's all thanks to the help she is getting.

So why this post? Because people judge, and I'm sick of it. The pharmacist who doesn't approve of her medicine. The people who think we are crazy for sending her to therapy. The well meaning parents and educators and doctors who make the assertion that too many kids are put on drugs these days (which I do agree with, btw) and then take it too far and say that all kids on drugs don't need them. The strangers in parking lots, grocery stores and even schools who whisper and give unsolicited advice when viewing a tantrum. None of those people knows my child. None of them has the right to say what my kid does or does not need, how I should or should not parent her. All of them need to STFU.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Our first Passover (Pesach) was wonderful, despite the fact that both Fiona and I were seriously ill with strep throat. Actually, she was on the mend with several days of antibiotics in her system, but I was on day one and s.i.c.k. Several Motrin and some allergy meds on top of the antibiotics got me well enough to prepare Passover dinner, and I am so glad! We only had one Haggadah which I don't recommend, which we had to pass around to read from. Since Fiona can't read, we had her recite some of the poems and prayers by repeating after me line by line. She also got to open the door for Eliyahu, and of course both girls got to search for the matzah, for which they demand a reward of chocolate egg creams (they got $5 each instead, I didn't have any club soda). Since my Hebrew is pretty much non-existant and I can't pronounce the transliteration, I found a great website which has audio files of several prayers and songs. We sang along to the songs and listened to the prayers. I think the kid's favorite was Dayenu, but I find Eliyahu HaNavi to be the most touchingly beautiful.

On the menu was a collection of recipes from a new kid's cookbook I got Saskia called "Matzah Meals". We started with matzah ball soup, a huge hit. The main course was gifilte fish (big blech from all of us), potato pudding (yummy, a little like hashbrowns) and tsimmes (apples, yams and carrots baked in a brown sugar sauce). For dessert we had fruit compote and peach kugel. The kugel was excellent, we're definitely making that again!

All in all, we had a great time and learned a few things (like I should really use a fireplace match to light the candles!). Following are a few pictures from the beginning of the evening, in reverse order because Blogger does that! and I am too tired to manually switch around the code. Oh, and no worries, that's grape juice in all of our glasses.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Easter That Wasn't

As I and my family delve more deeply into our exploration of Judaism, we are beginning to celebrate new holidays and stopping the celebration of others. Easter has been the first real test of this.

I didn’t truly realize how Christianized our secular American society is (or how secularized Christian traditions are) until this past week. Sure I knew it, I just didn’t get it. It’s not like we were ever Christians. As a UU with an atheist husband we certainly never celebrated the birth of Jesus or his resurrection. The holidays were primarily secular in nature for us. They were about traditions like visiting Santa at the nearby tree farm, listening to carols while baking cookies, or hiding eggs around the house for the girls to find. They were also materialistic, with Christmas being the primary gift giving day of the year and Easter the primary candy giving one. Mostly, they were about family and community. And because of this I had no qualms defending non-Christian celebration of these holidays to some of my devout acquaintances, who believe that if you don’t believe in Christ, you don’t have any business celebrating their holiday. I also had no problem arguing for the inclusion of things like Christmas trees or carols at the holiday office party. “Yes, I know that there are people in the office that don’t celebrate Christmas, but it’s just music! I’m not a Christian and I love it!”

But a funny thing happened on the way to conversion. All of a sudden it doesn’t seem appropriate for my family to celebrate these holidays. All of a sudden they feel very religious indeed. The thought crossed my mind that we could have baskets, candy and a visit from an oversized bunny on Sunday, but why? Why celebrate an event that I don’t believe happened? And how do you justify baskets and a bunny when they both have “Easter” in the title?

In the days, weeks even, leading up to the holiday I informed the girls whenever the subject came up that “we won’t be celebrating Easter this year”. Thankfully, Passover was the Monday night before Easter, so we had something else to look forward to, and the girls really enjoyed our Seder. Saskia certainly didn’t seem to mind the exclusion of Easter. In fact I overheard her on the phone Saturday night telling a friend, “We don’t celebrate Easter. My mom is becoming Jewish.” The other girl must have asked something because there was a pause and then she said, “I want to become Jewish too.” Talk about a proud mommy moment! But I digress…

Fiona is clearly more confused about the whole thing, and society isn’t helping. In school they have been coloring pictures of Easter bunnies for weeks. On Thursday they dyed eggs and had an Easter party. On Saturday when she went shopping with me the cashiers at every store asked her a variety of “Are you excited for Easter? Have you painted eggs yet? What do you think the Easter bunny will bring you?” questions. She just looked at them and didn’t say anything, partly because she doesn’t really like talking to strangers and partly because well, what could she say? And it was then that I got it. How pervasive Christian holidays are in secular American society. How frankly annoying it is to have everyone around you assume you celebrate them too, even if you’re not Christian.

I’m beginning to think that perhaps all those people who get huffy about celebrating Christmas and Easter in secular settings like schools and offices were right all along. The fact is, they are religious holidays and they are not for everyone. While I can wish my Christian friends a “Happy Easter” and understand that I am expressing my desire for them to enjoy their holiday, I can’t explain to my children why the Easter bunny doesn’t come to our house any more (they haven’t asked yet, but I’m sure Fiona will eventually) and right now, I wish that schools and TV and grocery store clerks didn’t make such a big deal out of it so I wouldn’t have to.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Way to Live

This morning there was an email from my husband in my inbox with a job description he'd like to apply for. He sent it to me under the assumption that I wouldn't want him to apply because of the location. I think I surprised him when I wrote back and said to go for it. Since then I've been a bit day-dreamy, imagining what life would be like if he did get this job. It's in an amazing location, in a place which would require a lot of changes on our part to fit in. I imagined myself not working, at least for the first few months, while I got the girls adjusted. I imagined us taking daily trips around the city, seeing all the sights. I imagined the interactions we'd have with people, the conversations, the life-style. It all is so perfect in my mind. Now I know two things about these imaginings. 1) It's not likely to happen, so I should not get my hopes up and 2) nothing is ever as I imagine it will be.

To the first, I feel I have a healthy attitude. Life is good, with minor exceptions, like what happened yesterday to my eldest. I have a beautiful, loving family, a wonderful home in a great neighborhood, friends, activities and a life that I love. If nothing comes of this I will be just fine with what I have.

To the second, I remind myself that the grass is always greener on the other side. I moved from the US to Europe back to the US seeking that perfect place and I am realistic enough to know it doesn't exist. Some places are more beautiful, more friendly, more fitting for a person than others but everywhere can work if we work at making it do so. But still those pictures of rising early to take the train to a cultural center with my girls in tow, showing them all the wonders they are now old enough to appreciate, well those pictures are very tempting. I imagine that I am wise enough now not to waste such an opportunity, as I frequently wasted my time in Germany. I imagine I would live every day to the fullest. Then it hits me, that I can do that now. I don't have to go to some far off fairy tale land to live. I can do it here, today, by making different choices. Instead of watching TV in the evening, I can take a walk in my lovely neighborhood. Instead of wasting away a weekend doing laundry and shopping, I can take my children skating, or to the DIA, or out to the countryside. There are opportunities everywhere, we just have to reach out and take them. That's a way I'd like to live.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It breaks my heart

Just this morning I was reading Undomestic Diva's post about a kid who was mean to her kid and how crappy it made her feel. My heart wrenched for her and her son and for all the girls and boys out there who suffer(ed) from mean kids. Little did I know then that my heart was going to be stomped all over this evening.

I picked up the girls from school and my eldest promptly told me that her best friend, the girl who she has made countless bracelets and pictures and presents for, the girl she has had spend the night and who she talks about endlessly and loves with her whole heart, the girl who JUST SUNDAY she spent an hour holding hands with at our cookie booth sale told her today that she is no longer her best friend. Apparently this girl is mad at my baby because she doesn't wear her "best friend" bracelet that the girl's mom bought her often enough. At least, that's the story. Who knows if it's the whole story.

Now of course I am seething at this news: How dare this girl hurt my girlie like that? How dare she just dump her for such a stupid thing? My god, they aren't even in Middle School yet! They're eight! Is this where it starts, the meanness, the cliques, the ins and outs and pain? I know for me it started at 10, I was the new, dorky country girl at a city school and I was tormented, tortured and ostracized by the popular girls. I remember that ache, that loneliness. I remember believing them; that I was ugly, stupid, no good. Those were the start of some of the worst years of my life. All of school was a nightmare, but fifth grade, that was the worst.

So I asked my girlie how she felt about this and of course she is very sad. At first the angry me reigned and I told her that the girl was being a drama queen. Then I composed myself a little and tried to be adult and give good advice, but in situations like this I feel so helpless. So I told her that all humans have problems with their friends from time to time, even when they are adults. That if she wants to work it out with this girl, the best thing would be to talk to her; tell her how she made her feel, and ask her why she spoke and acted the way she did.

I'm still outraged. I want to cry, and I feel like I'm going to puke. I want to shake the little brat and tell her to grow the fuck up. Friends don't treat friends like that. And I want to tell her mom a big 'fuck you'.

I'm so scared by this shit. The world is such a hard place, and I hate it so much that my sweet children have to live in it. I hate that they have to experience things like this. It breaks my heart to see them hurt. I want to wrap them in a blanket to dull the sharp edges. I want to surround them with friends who love them, unconditionally for the rest of their lives. I want to collect all the bad things and hide them far, far away. But I can't. And I hate that.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I have been self-diagnosed with DDSD, or Detroit Driving Stress Disorder. Signs that you too, may be suffering from DDSD:

  • You see orange barrels everywhere you go
  • You frequently find yourself driving 20mph over the speed limit, usually in response to someone in front of you driving 20mph under it
  • You suffer from twitches brought on by the need to suddenly jerk your car out of the way of some idiot who is drifting into your lane
  • You find yourself randomly yelling things like: "Doesn't anyone around here know how to merge?!" or "That yield sign isn't there for decoration!"
  • Your children know that "stupid cow" refers not an intellectually challenged bovine, but rather to the broad in the SUV who nearly blind-sided you while texting and driving.
  • Events at the Cobo make you want to cry
  • You life is shortened by one day due to stress for every day you drive into the city
There is no known cure for DDSD, except for moving far, far away. However there is hope; years of therapy coupled with copious amounts of Xanax has proven to improve the condition of DDSD sufferers and turn them from quivering balls of rage to mildly irritated mutterers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


A recent conversation with my eldest went something like this:

Me: Where should we go when your sister comes to visit this summer?
Her: Paris!
Me: Why would Toni fly all the way to America from Germany just to turn around and fly back to France, which is right next to Germany? Besides, I can't afford to fly 5 people to Paris, it's too expensive.
Her: Then let's go to Florida.
Me: Um, think locally dear. No place that requires an airplane.
Her (getting upset): Well there's nothing to do around here! (I have to give her this one)
Me: We could go to Chicago.
Her (disgust dripping off her tongue): Chicago?! What's in Chicago?
Me: Well, the American Girl store is in Chicago. They have lots of cool stuff for your dolls, there is even a restaurant where you can eat with your dolls.
Her (voice full of sarcasm more appropriate for a girl 10 years older): Uh, eating in a restaurant with your doll is so five-years old.

At this point she's pissed and I'm annoyed. We walk into the house and my husband, noticing the mood asks "what's wrong?". I reply, "she's mad at me". She screams like a banshee, "I AM NOT MAD!" and races upstairs to her room, slams the door and, I presume, throws herself on her bed. If she had a cell phone she'd be calling her BFF to tell her how her parents just "don't understand her" and we are "so unfair".

I tell ya, girls can be lovely, and honestly I much prefer them to boys, but they(we) are so high-strung! It's like we live on the edge of our skin, and the slightest disturbance can knock us off balance. Girls are so changeable, so sensitive, so perceptive and so easily pissed off. I have so many memories of behaving exactly like this, oh the drama. And to be honest I still have my moments. I know these sound like stereo-types, and perhaps it's not all girls (and women) but just me and mine? Although I've noticed many of the same behaviors in my girl scouts. Perhaps it's socialization, perhaps it's a hormonal change occurring at this age (eight-nine), maybe it's learned behavior from older female role models and moms (ya think?!) but many of them have become such little smart-asses! They can be so sarcastic, and they are all terribly impressed with their own wit. Oh, wait, that's me again isn't it?

I fear I have a very intense journey ahead of me the next few years. Hell, maybe the rest of my life, if my daughters follow too closely in my footsteps. It's draining, and frustrating, yet funny to (oh WHAT-ever Girl!). Sounds like... life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Fiona is sick. AGAIN. That child has a viral or bacterial infection at least twice a month. Always with the congestion, cough, fever. And the rest of us get sick fairly often too. Why?! I mean, I know I am not winning any housekeeping awards or anything. I dust maybe once a year. Okay, I lie. I never dust. We vacuum our hardwood floors maybe every 2-4 weeks, and the bathrooms get cleaned once a month or so. So yeah, my house is probably germy. But what about all those studies that say that people are getting sick more now because of hyper-cleanliness? So shouldn't my kids' immune system be boosted by the, um, state of my home?

Then there is nutrition, yeah it's not like the kids eat vitamins. No veggies, not much fruit. Their diet consists mostly of carbs, proteins, dairy and sugars. However trying to get my children to eat a vegetable, or take a vitamin, is a true Mission Impossible. It. Can. Not. Be. Done.

And allergies. Fiona is allergic to everything environmental, as am I. Cats, yep, we have 3. Dust, did I mention I don't dust? Pollens should be down since it's winter, but we are both allergic to mites and are supposed to have all hypo-allergenic bedding, mattresses etc but that costs up the Ass and we can't afford that shit. So we take allergy medicine daily and hope for the best.

So I guess you are all laughing yourselves silly right now thinking "and she still wonders WHY her kids are sick all the time?" Well, yeah! I mean I get that our allergies in particular make us more prone to respiratory infections, but still!

I'm hoping that one of my dear friends can give me some suggestions as to how I can make our lives healthier, without, you know, requiring me to dust. Or get rid of the cats. Or feed my kids vegetables. Other than that, all suggestions please!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I'm sitting on the couch (working from home rocks!) listening to Fiona do a word search at the table. She recites the letters she is looking for over and over until she finds them. "N.O.O.D.L.E, N.O.O.D.L.E" etc. She's doing awesome. Have I mentioned lately that she is FIVE?! Maybe I'm out of touch, but it seems to me that being able to do a word search in Kindergarten is pretty cool. Speaking of Kindergarten, report cards came home Tuesday and that girl got "Achieving above grade-level expectations" in EVERY subject except physical education. She is so my kid :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Praise the Lawd

January is finally over! I swear this last month was the longest month I have ever lived. Normally February is the month which seems to drag on like a monster truck being pulled by snails, but this year it was January which just went on and on and on and on... and you get the picture.

I think it's because this January was so very busy, or maybe it was just because I spent nearly every day working from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. Wait, I do that all the time. But this month was extra filled with long days and stressful projects and events of a not so pleasant nature. But it's done! The month is ovah! And while I am a little worried that February, the 32 year-long undefeated winner of Worst Month of the Year may yet prove to be even worse than January I am comforted by the fact that at least there are only 28 days of that bad boy.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I feel as though I am in a dark abyss. Sadness this heavy is something I usually only experience at the lowest lows of my depression cycles. I feel paralyzed, my mind is numb with shock. It's turned off, tuned out, the way a mind does after experiencing a horrifying trauma. Yet as lethargic as I feel, as opposed to tuning in as I am at this moment, I know the healthy thing is to let myself feel these feelings. I need to think, and to act. This is the first step towards that.

This deep, psychological sadness and trauma was not brought about by an event in my life, rather by events which occurred 65 years ago in Poland, Hungary, Holland, Italy and of course, Germany (among other places I'm sure). The events are those which we all know about, which we've all read about, which we've all shook our heads over and briefly thought, "why?" about before going on to our every day lives. The Holocaust. The attempted annihilation of a religion and a race. The mass murder of 6 million Jews and many other human beings. It's just history to most people now-a-days, isn't it? Sure, we remember on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27th) or on Yom Hashoah(the 27th of Nissan, this year April 11th). We are reminded on occasion by television shows, movies or books; which to a greater or lesser extent try to capture the horror of these events. But how often do we let it touch us? How often do we actually feel, even in the smallest of ways, the horror of Auschwitz, of Chelmno, of Birkenau? Of the cattle cars, the showers, the furnaces? The torture, the apathy, the pure evil which spread itself across Europe like the plague from 1933-1945? The fact of the matter is we can never feel the true horror those men, women, children and families felt. But we MUST remember, lest we one day repeat history.

A quote from the preface to "Night" by Elie Wiesel:

"For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time... The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future."

It is my fear, that as Holocaust survivors pass away and Holcaust deniers raise the volume and intensity of their lies, that we will forget. Then God help our children, because humankind will not.


Night, by Elie Wiesel has stirred all this darkness in me and sent it bubbling to the surface. It is hard to believe in a loving God, or in human decency, in the face of such horrors as are described within the pages of this book. Elie documents his family's deportation from Hungary to the concentration camps in Poland by crowded cattle cars. He vividly recalls living children being tossed into fires at Birkenau. Living. Children. Fed to flames, because they could not "work". His mother and sisters, murdered without a second glance. He tells us of the conditions he and his father endured at Auschwitz, where "arbeit" did not set anyone free of anything except a quick death. The way the prisioners were forced to flee, on foot, in winter, from the advancing Red Army. The way they were herded once more into cattle cars and deported to Germany, only to be massacred once they got there. Why? Why? Why? How did so many regular people, normal Germans, go stark raving mad all at once? Don't get me wrong, I know many Germans were not Nazis. Many felt compassion for the Jews among them, tried to help them. But many more DID NOT. And even ignoring them for the moment, what about all those SS officers and military personel. I am sure there was a mob mentality, that men (and women) became conditioned to the cruelty. But even that does not begin to touch on the reality of what those people did to other human beings. To children. No explanation, no psychology, could ever begin to explain the mass insanity that pervaded the Nazi party.

If you have not read Night, I highly recommend it, despite the horror I felt upon reading it, and the sadness I feel now. This is reality. This really happened. It cannot be forgotten. I understand with my whole heart for the first time, the utter necessity for the state of Israel. Jews MUST have a homeland. For centuries, it did not matter how long a Jew had lived in a country. How many generations had been raised there. If they considered themselves Italian, or German, or Dutch. In less than one generation a buried hatred spurned on by poverty, economic depression, war and greed boiled over to an attempt to destroy an entire people. Those people must have a homeland, a safe haven where they can return if ever in danger again. No amount of integration will change that need. I still disagree with many Israeli political and military decisions, (just as I disagree with many American ones!) but I am now ferverently dedicated to the existance of a Jewish state. In that sense, my reading of Night has brought me more than sadness, it's brought me a new understanding and passion.

Thank you, Elie Wiesel, for sharing your darkest hour with the world. May we never forget.

The last words of Night:

"One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto.

From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me.

The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me."