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Posts from October 2008

A Mother’s Blessings

Tomorrow my younger daughter will, in a religious sense, be recognized as an adult and become a full participant in religious life. (As she says, now she’ll try not to sneak bread during Passover.) This is for me, as well as for her, a milestone. While she had to practice her Torah portion, and the blessings, and write her own sermon, for me it has been a time to think about her finding her way as her own person out in the world (especially since this time has entailed even more driving duties than usual for me). It is a time to reflect on the beauty that is motherhood, and those who I have mothered. Even though I often dwell on the challenging aspect of things (because that is much funnier than the purely praising, and of late so much more in sync with my interactions), I will take a moment to think about this joint life-journey. Since I have two daughters, one 17 and one 13, this reflection comes from being at this game for over seventeen years.

While I have spent 17 years putting my daughters’ needs above mine by wiping, cleaning, cooking, driving, talking, folding, registering, arranging, listening, attending, watching, purchasing, bandaging, and coddling, I can’t say that I have put them above me. Was I supposed to? And what does that cliché mean? Does it mean that I should have esteemed their minds more than mine? Should I have let mine atrophy in order to develop theirs? How does that work? I let my personality wither to grow yours? Isn’t that counter-intuitive? Don’t young girls, especially, need strong mothers to be strong themselves—to put their heads through the ceiling, if need be?

Perhaps because I had to fight against a controlling husband I did not lay on the ground to be walked on by my daughters (well, not full-body walking, at least). I couldn’t let everyone try to diminish me or rewrite who I am, now could I? But is that really the way to go about being a parent? A mother? Giving yourself up for them? Letting the career go or change or transform or take a hiatus, yes, I did that. Letting my fashion sense become even drabber since either they were spitting on me or I am I spending on them, yes I did that. Not go out to play with friends, well, I did that less often but I still did it. Closing the door, sometimes just the figurative door and sometimes the literal door, to escape them and escape into me, yes, I certainly did-do-that. How can that possibly be seen as a betrayal of my role?  

----You know, I’m still drained from being called crazy and stupid. Not from their father, but from them. I thank my daughters for giving me the opportunity to bring forth my knowledge and understanding and love. And to find my knowledge and understanding and love through our relationships. I thank them for letting me get to watch them grow and try to keep them safe as they find their way. But they are teens and I am stressed from this bitter post-divorce process, and so I feel that I have failed. But I tried, I did. I have done all I could—can. And that, too, is the message. We can only do as best as we can, and hope that the rays of love and concern have been transmitted.

Sweetie, I love you and wish you joy and happiness in all that you do. Mazel Tov!

Trying to Keep it Together

I lost it this evening. Sometimes all the encouraging words and thoughts and wishes for a better future are not enough to overcome a present that is just painful. Okay, I don’t have a life-threatening illness, and I appreciate that, I really do, but screaming out in pain from something my child says to me is mighty painful.

I was already drained after agreeing to let the rabbi in ex’s family deliver a few words to my daughter at her Bat Mitzvah. Yes, this is the man who I turned to after slime kicked a bag at my head and asked him to please talk to slime, that he is out of control. This is the man who at that time was studying for his doctorate in pastoral counseling who told me that no, he would not talk to him because he “doesn’t want to take sides, he loves us both.” So the very notion that he really will be there is bad enough, but that he will speak churns at me. Sure, I could say no, you don’t deserve any respect at this venue, but I know my daughter would not be happy about that, and that she would remember that he spoke at her sister’s Bat Mitzvah. Perhaps I am still an enabler.

Then there were the hours spent buying food for the big event at three different supermarkets after work. And no, I do not ever expect to get paid by slime, but my parents have stepped up instead of the man who was supposed to be by my side. (I wonder how father’s feel when they discover the man to whom they entrusted their daughters have so debased that trust?)

When I walked in the house, four hours after leaving work, I realized that I forgot to tell my daughter to walk the dog, since I had not been able to walk him the morning since he was in slime’s room. So after getting one daughter’s nastiness about my yelling, I was blindsided by my other daughter.

After telling her that no, she can’t have my car to buy something for her camera so she can take pictures this weekend, and no she can’t have my credit card she turned  so very nasty on me. Her survival instincts are truly horrific.

“You put shit on his car.”


“There was shit on dad’s car, obviously you put it there.”

Here’s where all self-control and bladder control is lost. First I asked her, calmly, if she really believes that, then she said yes, there’s no other explanation for it otherwise. That’s when I slammed the utensil that was in my hand on the chopping board, and screamed so loudly or deeply that, I guess, all internal passages opened up and I started peeing. Then I crumpled onto the floor and was just a scene from some movie where “woman loses it.”

Yes she is 17. But that is an excuse for some things, not this, not believing all the things he says to her about me. I am her mother. I have never done anything to hurt her except to be her mother. (And if she finds this when she is older and is embarrassed, good for you. And if she finds this and is embarrassed by her mother, then good for you.)

I am too tired now. Too tired of this ridiculous home situation. Too tired of how trying to get out of a bad marriage has resulted in a far worse divorce.

Please, please let me have a little light in this tunnel. 

Some Bat Mitzvah Preparations

Last week, my daughter and I met with the cantor of our synagogue to rehearse her Bat Mitzvah, which will be on Saturday. We were going over the logistics of the event when we hit a bump. A traditional part of the service (at least as practiced at my synagogue) is to physically pass the torah from generation to generation as a sign of the transmission of the learnings of the torah from generation to generation.

Generally, the grandparents, parents and then the child stand in an arc and the rabbi holds the torah and walks by them as each person reaches out and touches the torah—as a sign of participating in the passage. The cantor asked me if I would be okay to stand next to mr ex. I said No. I did not look at my daughter to see her reaction, this event is also for me, and I do not want to stand next to him. The cantor then asked if my parents would be okay standing next to him. Her tone indicated that she figured that it would be okay, to which I emphatically said NO. Last time they were at my house mr ex yelled at my father and told him that he would call the police because my father is trespassing. No, no I do not want my parents to stand next to him at this solemn occasion—or any occasion. This time I looked at my daughter, her eyes were teary, but who knows, it could be from the allergy that she seems to have to something in the air at temple since the renovations there were finished.

And so the cantor suggested that she will talk to the rabbi and perhaps mr ex will stand on the other side of my daughter, the side reserved for the non-Jewish parent. Yes, put him over there: make him as an outcast, which is what he has made himself by his behavior.

* * *

My mother reminded me that my ex-sisters-in-law and their families might be there and that I need to be nice to them, for my daughter. And I told her again that I hope no one comes near me because I do not want to be nice to them. Although I know that I need to be nice to them, I do not want to because it will feel more like betraying myself than being a good mommy for my daughter.

* * *

Have I commented that mr ex makes twice as much as me but pays nothing for the girls? I know, I know. My court date is November 6th. So much excitement in my life.

Anyway, he told my daughter that he would pay 50% of the costs of the Bat Mitzvah. I presented him (well, I presented the kitchen table) with an accounting and then provided the info for hiring a DJ. What I have paid so far is twice as much as the DJ, and this does not include the food I still need to buy as well as all of the paper products and decorations. He has not mentioned (or given notification to me through her) about paying 50% again.

There is a place in hell for people like him, but I wish it were here, on earth. Only problem, he has no conscience so nothing touches him.

From the Mouth of My Little Babe

"I have to watch my cholesterol because it's high," I said to my daughter as I took my pill.

"Is that because you eat too much?" my daughter asked, but it sounded more like a statement to me.

I looked at her. "I don't eat too much. It's genetic." Hey, I have to cover for myself somehow. But really, I don't. And I am still a potato chip-free zone.

* * *

"You know, you're not doing anything by not taking a bag at the store."

"We each need to do what we can, and together that can have an impact."

"A bag."

"Every bit helps. I need to feel that I am doing something."

She's back to her ipod.

* * *

She has to do a political poster for someone running for office in Virginia; she is doing one for James Gilmore, Republican former governor running for the Senate whose slogan is: Drill Here, Drill Now.

"I think he did some good things. Like making women wait 24 hours before having an abortion. That's good that they think about it."

Steam coming out of my ears, breathe, and then response. "Every woman thinks about it long and hard before having an abortion. It's not something that any one rushes into."

"You're so closed minded."

Back to her ipod. Back to the opera and the fat lady singing for me.

* * *

People keep telling me that in the future they will appreciate me. But it's darn hard in the present.

Israel Story: What’s for Breakfast?

The first breakfast in Israel at the kibbutz was an eye-opening experience, and not because it was in a large L-shaped dining hall where kids were not sitting with their parents and parents were not sitting with their children, but everyone was sitting with their peers. What was eye-opening was the food: all I need to say are two words: matzo and cucumber.

In the center part, where the two sides of the L met was a buffet area. There was a wide variety of foods available, many of which I did not associate with breakfast. There were whole cucumbers. There were whole tomatoes (or what was left of them after I had operated on them). There were big bowls of cottage cheese. There were what seemed to be containers of yoghurt but I was to learn that they were different kinds of white cheeses; in Israel the selection of white cheeses extends beyond the cottage cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese triumvirate that we have in the US. Not only were there kinds I had ever seen, but people were drinking them, they were so liquid. Speaking of drinking, there were little plastic bags of chocolate milk that the kids were drinking out of. They tore off a corner (yes, with their teeth, and since their parents were at the other end of the room, there was no one to tell them to use the scissors). 

There were also green olives although they were unrecognizable at first. I was used to round khaki-green olives with pimentos in their mouths, I hadn’t realized up till then that they were born with pits and they were not of a uniform shape and were a bright green. There were also green peppers and hard boiled eggs (sigh of relief there) and then there was the bread section. I know this will sound incredibly naïve, but I didn’t know that you could eat matzo except at Passover. In my family, we would eat the five one-pound boxes of matzo during the week of Passover and then not have them again until the next year. I was sure that someone had said that you can’t eat them other than at Passover, apparently it was a “should not” rule and more applicable to the weeks leading up to Passover rather than an all year ban. But this was, I guess, my first understanding that Judaism kibbutz-style was another movement altogether.

The choices paralyzed me, I didn’t know what to do with the cucumbers and cheeses and tomatoes for breakfast, so I just took a slice of bread and yellow cheese and sat down. Yes, “yellow cheese” was what it was referred to. It wasn’t American, it wasn’t Swiss, it wasn’t cheddar, it was much milder, I guess more Muenstery, and it was good.

Well, sitting down wasn’t such an easy task because it was like being in a high school cafeteria, and I had not fared well there. But I did see a group of people from my ulpan, so I sat there. Everyone seemed to be sitting with his or her group, and so I was relieved that I had a group to join and was not an outsider, even though that’s certainly how I felt with my bread and slice of cheese.

In the middle of the table was a metal pail about a foot high. Hmm, what’s a pail for I thought and then watched as the people in the tables near me were peeling eggs and putting the shell in the pail. And people were peeling the cucumbers or cutting the ends off and putting them in the pail. Ah, a garbage pail on the table, what a lovely idea. I swore I would never use it. But, as I warmed to the idea of having a salad for breakfast the appeal of using the kolboynic became obvious. So not only did I eventually become a convert to salad in the morning (I never could break the matzo rule) but I used a slopdish too.

Recipe for a great breakfast salad: using a dinner plate as both your cutting board and your eventual plate, cut into very small pieces a tomato and a cucumber, cut up a few green olives and a hard-boiled egg, add a big dollop of white cheese (5%, that was the low-fat version as opposed to the 9%), add some ground pepper, a dash of salt and swirl all around. Enjoy.

Mother-Daughter Conversations

“I don’t have a tone.” Pause. Continuation, “You’re just calling me to take out your anger on me.”

No, that was not part of a conversation that I had with one of my daughters, that was the part of a conversation I overheard in the school parking lot on Friday afternoon. A girl, together with five of her friends, was walking across the parking lot, as I was walking to my car. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard her talking to, I am sure, her mother; it was such a typical-sounding discussion, one that I could be having later in the same day.

Aren’t we supposed to take our anger out on our spouses? Isn’t that part of the traditional role of a spouse: mood deflector? I wonder if this girl’s mother is a single mother. Geez, the more I get into single motherhood, or the more their father steps out of the picture except to yell at them to clean their rooms, I realize how draining it is to be (or attempt to be) a positive influence on your children when you are mentally and emotionally drained. It’s hard to be understanding when you need someone to coddle your ego and body. It’s tough to get the tone out when you have no one with whom to decompress.

On Friday I came home from work, after picking up my older daughter and buying another box of invitations for my younger daughter, and just collapsed on the couch. This was after a confrontation with one of my more difficult behavior-wise students who gets extremely defensive when you ask her to stay on task and who has not learned not to talk back, and I have not learned to let that go, with anyone, especially not my students.

A few minutes after we got home my older daughter went to a friend’s house—she drove herself; my younger daughter went straight from school to volunteer at a haunted house at the local high school. So I was home alone and should have used that time as my time to decompress, but it’s hard to do that by yourself all of the time. It’s hard (yes, I am whining) to be your main support system. And so when they both got back and wanted something to eat and all I had to offer was the noodles and chicken cutlets from the previous night’s dinner I was not up to their complaints. I was actually talking to my mother while yelling at my daughter that that’s what there is and what do you mean you don’t like chicken cutlets you told me last week to make them!? On the phone my mother is telling me to calm down, and in here, at home, I am losing it. Eat the damn cutlets.

Why, why can’t they acquiesce? They have no documented behavioral issues, so what’s the deal here? Someone eat the food I prepared with care, love and thought. Someone say thank you. Someone remember that I am trying. Someone please tell me that the cutlets are great. No, not you mom.

Small Town Socialism

From what I understand of small town life, or what is extolled of it, a big plus is that your neighbors will help you out when you’re having a tough time. You know, we help you and if (God forbid) things are bad for me, then you’ll help me. If that isn’t some kind of small-town socialism, then I must be mistaken on the basic principle of helping each other out, albeit in a more institutionalized way, that socialism represents. I have experience living in a socialist society, since that is what a kibbutz is, so let me tell you about socialism from the perspective of a senior citizen on a kibbutz.

Working in the dining hall was certainly not the peak of my kibbutz experience. I wanted to work in the fields; I wanted to milk the cows; I wanted to live the pioneer experience. I certainly did not want to make sure that the old people had filled the salt shakers and the napkin holders correctly. But that’s what I did for about two weeks. Why, you may ask, didn’t they just give the job to me or the other volunteers rather than the old people who might have been making mistakes or going really, really slowly? Because everyone wants to feel useful, everyone wants to be a part of society, everyone wants to do to the best she can. So rather than tell people that they are making mistakes, that they are no longer useful, jobs are found for them and people make sure that everyone feels useful because that’s how it’s done on a kibbutz. Everyone helps to the best of his or her ability—even as one’s ability changes and represents no more than a desire to help. People are not told they are not doing enough, it is understood that life is a cycle and we need to be respected in each part of the cycle for what we can do.

So maybe all of those naysayers out there don’t realize that they are practicing socialism on a small, private scale. This is a part of the fabric of our society, in small towns and big cities (yes, even in cities people know their neighbors and help them when they can) that has not, yet, been ripped asunder.

* * *

Maybe you could help: I would be interested in hearing someone explain what farm subsidies are if not a form of socialism?

Coffee Shop, Past Tense

My coffee shop no longer comforts me. When I go there, I don’t find an oasis, rather it is a place to feel alone. Maybe it’s because the lovely woman who used to work there on weekend mornings no longer works there. Maybe it’s because I have been going there for too long. Maybe it’s because they no longer serve apple fritters. Maybe it’s because it’s time for me to move on. Maybe I have found comfort in myself and no longer need to go out to find comfort. But I do need a good apple fritter on the weekend.


Driving mr ex

I took my daughter to the DMV to take her written test for a driver's license. I paid for her driving lessons. I drove her to her lessons and back home. I took her out to practice. I took her to take her driver’s test. I paid for her driver's license. I paid for her driver’s insurance. I took her back to the DMV when she lost her driver's license. She uses my car when she wants to go out.

Her father uses her as his personal driver when he is not in the mood to drive. Besides driving him to his office in DC on occasion (I think he works in DC), she has been the driver when they go on mini-trips, so far she has driven to the Shenandoah Valley and Philadelphia. Glad to see that his need to control a woman has changed.

She is now driving him to the supermarket, after I picked her up from her SAT class and she said she was hungry.

Sexual Harassment: A Lose-Lose Situation

I have been mulling over this posting for quite a while. Not that I am concerned that it’s too controversial, but because it bothers me so much that in the twenty years since this happened to me there don’t seem to have been any changes in the way the world goes round. Yes, sure, there are cracks in the ceiling, but if you can still call it a ceiling, then things are still the same.

Why am I instantly bringing together sexual harassment with gender-based workplace discrimination? Well, because it seems evident that that is where so much sexual harassment happens—as in my case. I don’t want to go into the details because they are not what is important, but I was told that I would get a raise and a car if I agreed to meet my boss once a week in a hotel room. A week after the rebuff, I was fired. While the details will make for some fun reading (for example: the business trip to Paris that my boss arranged for the two of us the week of my birthday thinking that this would make me so grateful that I would agree to his intentions—that took place a mere week before the proposition and then the firing) it is, instead, the implications that sexual harassment can have on a woman that I want to discuss. The implications do not “just” extend to losing a job, but to the differently damaging impact on self-esteem.

Up until that time I had believed that if I worked hard, tried hard, had the smarts, was a good girl who did her best and didn’t hurt anyone (intentionally) that I would be treated fairly. But no, that is not right. No, someone can swoop down and take that naïveté from you with a swoop of his own ego and self-interest (lovely term that, for lust). Loss of naïveté is a bad thing for a young woman, how are you supposed to stand before all of the naysayers with confidence when you have just been told that your value is your value as a woman, not as a person?

I was fired from my first real job because I wouldn’t sleep with the boss. Yeah, that’s a bedrock for a confident career.

As I discovered years later in therapy, it was telling, too, that I did not tell my future ex-husband because I didn’t want him to: a) accuse me, b) divorce me, c) handle it himself. So while I was good in not succumbing to the temptations of a car (as if), I was bad in not telling my husband about what had not happened. It was bad that I didn’t trust him. It was bad that I didn’t trust that he would trust me. It was bad that my boss put me in that situation (especially since I was in the blush of married life; for goodness sakes he danced at my wedding). It’s not good that the two men in my life at that time could not be trusted to treat me with the respect I thought I had earned—that I deserved as a woman, as a person.

Sexual harassment, it’s not just about the innuendoes, the pressure, the repugnance, the power-play, it affects one’s being, how one sees oneself. Not only do you second-guess yourself, but you learn to be wary of others, unsure of how you are judged and viewed.

And to be honest, I don’t know how many people are honest about this with their partners. At first you don’t even realize that anything is happening: that the smile might be too big, the sitting too close, the conversations too wide-ranging. How do you even broach the subject to your partner if you are a responsible professional? Aren’t you capable enough to handle your work life without suggestions from your partner? And what if your partner is a bit controlling and would decide for you what to do and say, and if you don’t adhere to his guidelines you have now failed him? Oh, the twisted weave that is woven for us.

I naively do not believe that the victim has brought this upon herself. Someone tell me how a woman who wants to keep her job, who likes her job, who needs to work with her boss can be said to be at fault? At that time my husband was in law school and I was supporting us, so I was scared to quit and be left without a job. There were certainly financial pressures that enabled me try to talk my boss down from his imaginary life without walking out in a huff of self-righteousness.

I was good at that job (technical writing and copywriting), but my confidence in my abilities was sorely shaken. Was I on the fast-track because of my abilities or my potential? And the lie, the lie that I was never able to confront forced me to be other than who I thought I was, and to get a glimpse—without acknowledging it enough—of marital troubles of the personality-clash type.

But I think I am talking to the choir. Where are the men? Are they reading this? Are they acknowledging the damage that they can cause a woman’s esteem just for an ego boost? So is this a win-lose situation: your ego or mine? Maybe they need to realize that it’s a lose-lose situation before things can begin to change. For how can anyone really give himself a pat on the back if he has forced someone to have sex or a relationship just so she wouldn’t lose her job? Do you hear that guys? You lose. Coercion is not a thing to be proud of, it is shameful. Grow some self-respect.

Obama Waved to Me

I'm just back (that is a figurative term because there was so much traffic) from the Obama rally in Leesburg, Virginia. As Obama's motorcade went past where I was standing (which was a mile and a half from the park where he spoke and not quite at my car where I had parked it) I saw the trademark smile and a wave. All of the people around me swooned, the girl next to me even whooped, but I was more reserved, I smiled and clapped. Lovely, lovely end to a rally.

The were thousands and thousands of people in this park in a contested part of Virginia. There were all kinds of people there, but everyone seemed happy and genuinely excited to vote for Obama, to hear Obama, and to be around so many like-minded citizens.

The only thing that I had not heard before was when he spoke of his mother having battled cancer, he said that as she battled cancer, she was also battling the insurance company to pay for her care. He promised that that would not happen on his watch.

What else? There were Disneyesque lines to get in. When I left, there was a sea of people walking down a main street of this town, still chanting, still excited and exhilarated. If you get a chance to go to a rally, I recommend it. There was a lot of traffic driving there, there was a lot of traffic walking there, there was a lot of traffic leaving there, but there was a sense, somehow, that I did something. That I was a part of something.

Two good omens after the rally: an auxiliary sheriff bought an Obama button. And, when I stopped to buy gas at a gas station where I never buy gas (I am very political about the places where I will buy gas), but I was exhausted and there were only two lines to go in the gas tank, so I went there--and there, on the other side of the pumps was a woman I hadn't seen for three years. Yes, a sign, a sign!