Had to submit a five year reunion class report to Harvard… thought it was too comprehensive not to share… so the blog is back!
I’ve always used the excuse of being a native New Yorker to explain my impatience, my constant rushing, my complete and utter exasperation with the slow walkers in Harvard Square and everywhere else.
My impatience with the supposed pace of the post-college life has realized itself in the most predictable way. Feeling out of step with my peers, I am essentially where my mother was at age 35: married, living the suburban high life (in Cleveland no less – this New Yorker never saw that coming!), working full-time at a non-profit that is changing the world, with two adorable children – the perfect pair, one girl and one boy. But I’m just past 26 years old and two decades after my mother found her life zen, it looks like what was her 35 is today’s 45 — which puts me about 20 years ahead of everyone reading this entry. It’s enough to make one tired of rushing.
But the exhilaration of being a young wife, mother and professional serves as a fitting counter. Each morning (weekdays at least) I make my way to midtown Cleveland where I direct the institutional giving efforts for a charter school management organization with six schools that provide high-quality education to underserved city kids. To my continuing surprise, I have become what my family has always referred to as a “shnorrer” – in English, a fundraiser. True to my experiences, I always loved understanding and crafting a message. At Harvard, it was through the Dems and public policy. At my first job as a fundraising consultant, I realized I could create a message that, unlike with legislation, would provide an immediate return – money! I’ve spent the entire time since graduation working my way up in the non-profit development world realizing that passion and feeling the rush of convincing others of the rightness of a cause I have made my own. And even though it’s nonprofit, the salary isn’t too bad – thank you Harvard degree and my parents for paying for it.
But before I leave for work each morning, instead of my alarm most days, I wake up to the singsong call of my beautiful, brilliant 2.5 year old daughter, Devorah, “Mommy, Mommy – I have to maaaaaaaake.” The elation I have when hearing this is not because I am connecting with the inner fulfillment of being a mother and certainly not because I’m waking from a glorious, uninterrupted slumber, but because we just finished potty training her and I’m so utterly relieved that I don’t have to change her diaper every morning. (With parenting, it’s the little things.) Devorah loves to pretend she’s 22 and constantly says things that awe and amaze her doting parents.
Devorah’s shouts usually prompt loud and demanding cries from the other bedroom, where Eli, the most adorable, absolutely chubbiest one year old in the world has decided he’s not happy that his sister woke him up. He loves his warm bottle in the morning and I love snuggling with him in the glider and mushing his cheeks and kissing him to pieces. Eli is really trying to make this walking thing become a reality and right now, he’s happy to point to his nose and occasionally play peek-a-boo with anyone in the near vicinity.
Oh, and before all of this, I wake up (briefly) at 5:45 a.m. when my husband Eric’s alarm goes off. Why 5:45 a.m. you ask?
You see, somewhere between New York, Harvard and Cleveland, I decided that my inherent love for rituals was most honestly expressed in a return to my roots and observant Judaism. (Now being the least desired Director position – Director of Rituals – in Delta Gamma Zeta Phi makes so much sense!) The urge grew stronger to make a serious commitment to the shift in lifestyle and observance in the last year at Harvard… and as a result I didn’t take as many relationships and friendships with me after graduation – something I regret terribly. But the positive was I found my path, and consequently my husband who made the same decisions during his last year of college.
After my graduation, actually almost 5 months to the day, I was set up on a blind date with Eric, then living in Cleveland, who was coming into New York for the wedding of his Rabbinical school dean’s daughter. (Following me so far?) We hit it off right away – notwithstanding the fact that I was terribly sick with a stomach virus the whole first weekend that we dated. And shocker of all shockers, got engaged exactly one month later on Hanukkah. Our beautiful wedding ceremony was held five months after that at a hall on a Long Island beach. We skipped the honeymoon for the Jewish tradition of “sheva brachos” – translated Seven Blessings – where friends and family made festive dinners for the whole week following the wedding. In retrospect, we should have taken the honeymoon when we had the chance because Devorah was born nine months later and now we won’t be able to honeymoon for another 10 years!
Well that explains how I got to Cleveland, but why am I waking up at 5:45am? Because Eric wakes up early to learn Torah with his study partner each day, then participates in morning prayers and then comes home for breakfast, all before leaving for his job as an educational aide to a child on the autism spectrum and then jetting off to grad school where he’s working on his masters in special education.
And that’s just my morning… the rushing continues at night with dinner, baths, bedtime, chores, keeping a house – which we bought for a steal, hooray for living in an undesirable city during a housing bust! The list goes on and on.
Somewhat regrettably, the freedom I might have envisioned at one point is an independence I don’t have. They don’t call children dependents for nothing. But there is that sense of knowing that I’m fortunate. That in a world where people are searching and needing and scraping by, I’m good. I have everything I could possibly want and it came easy (and all in just five years!). Gratitude is not easy to recognize in a rush, but it’s still something I have. You might just say I picked it up when I decided to become a Midwesterner… And now… I feel like rushing won’t get me anywhere that I’m not already…
My blog has been silent for the past few weeks. Partially because life got crazy and partially because the world got crazy, and I was too busy thinking about it to write about it.
In just the past few weeks, 5 members of an innocent Jewish family were killed in Itamar, Israel by terrorists, Japan had an earthquake and tsunami of historic proportions followed by numerous nuclear meltdowns, we (kinda) went to war with Libya, and then yesterday, yet another horrific terrorist attack in Jerusalem in which someone I know (!), or at least know their family very well, was one of the people seriously injured.
At first, with the slaying of the Fogel family in Israel, including their 3 month old daughter, I hugged my little Munchkin #2 closer and squeezed his mush a little tighter. He’s only a month and a half older than Hadas Fogel. I gave him more kisses and reveled in his smiles. I said my nighttime prayers with a little more attention and I asked myself the question, if this was the last night I went to sleep, would I be content with what I have done?
I almost freaked myself out. And really, it’s because who wants to face their own mortality?? Answer: absolutely noone.
I’ll confess. My biggest fear ever (and I mean EVER) is of dying. There I said it. I’ve known it for years but this is probably the first time that I’ve verbalized it (ok, wrote-a-lized it). The refrain that has been running in my head whenever this fear pops up is: I’m too young. I have too much to accomplish. I’m not done yet with this world and I don’t want to leave it. And I’ve tried to convince myself that G-d and I are on the same page in this matter. When I became frum, there was a little voice that countered with, whatever is G-d’s plan is His plan and I need to be on good terms with that. But that little voice was never strong enough to really counter all the emotions that this topic brings up.
Then, I go through the what ifs. Ok – what if someone (G-d forbid!) broke into our house at night. What would I do. And I’ve planned it out. I would lock the door at the top of the stairs (that should delay them at least a little while), call 911, wake my husband, grab the kids and head outside to the balcony off the guest bedroom to wait for help. (Not necessarily in that order).
Someone tell me that I’m not the only one who has outlined this scenario for themselves.
And depending on the world news that was the impetus to these morbid thoughts, I have a strategy for any fear of dying that might enter my consciousness. (Please someone – you can tell me privately – tell me that I’m not the only one who does this!)
Maybe because I’m a planner or maybe because I need to convince myself that I will triumph over any threat, planning out these scenarios just makes me feel better.
But for all the planning I do for these unforeseen and most dreaded events, the one thing I haven’t done is write a will.
I was recently interviewed by a friend of mine who is writing an article on this exact topic – why intelligent, responsible people can’t seem to get over the hump that exists between knowing one has to write a will and actually doing it.
My parents have been nudging my husband and I to do this since we were expecting Munchkin #1. We didn’t. Then, I got worried when we were waiting for Munchkin #2 and I was going to try to VBAC, so I started getting things together for a Living Will and eventually finished that and had it notarized. I even talked to a lawyer to find out what was involved with a real will. But, I STILL haven’t done anything.
It occurred to me while talking to my friend last night that this is a subject that is so taboo I’ve never heard anyone except my parents and this friend talk about it. And that made me wonder…
Do my peers and friends think the same way I do? Is this more of a necessity for me than many of my college friends because I have children and assets (thank G-d)? And why does noone talk about it? Are they embarassed they haven’t done it? Or is it a truly private matter?
Or is it really because the prospect of facing our own mortality is just too terrifying to contemplate?
For me, I really this it’s the latter. There is so much I would like to do to prepare for what to me is really the worse case scenario of life: write a will, record videos for my family and children saying all the things I want to say to them, make sure everything is financially in order, leave detailed instructions for my children’s future guardians, finally start and finish my scrapbook of my South American travels from now 4 years ago (minor detail, but that would bug me if I left it unfinished), and at least live one day to the best I possibly can in terms of my commitment to the tenets of my faith.
But I think that this fear I have, of even just contemplating my own mortality, will prevent most if not all of that from getting done.
I’m just wondering if I’m not alone in this.
It kinda goes without saying that children are a huge responsibility. But today really drove that point home.
In two (count ‘em – two) separate instances each of my children got a “boo-boo” that resulted in a little bit of blood, a lot of crying and a mommy with her own tears and a lot of guilt.
My 4 month old has been scratching his head – and with his nails that grow quicker than weeds, it means he has a lot of little cuts on his head. It’s one of those baby things. Even when I file and clip his nails three times a day, he inevitably manages to scrape his head with the one nail that has a little sharp corner. It’s a Sisyphean task for sure. This also happens to be one of my husband’s pet peeves. He hates it when the baby is all scratched up. I do too, but since I’m the one cutting the nails all the time, I know that at some point there’s not much you can do to help it.
Today, though, Munchkin #2 was a little more scratched up than usual, so I went to clip his nails again. And my worst nightmare… while I was going to clip his little thumb nail, he moved his little chubby baby hand and I clipped skin instead. oy!
There was a little blood! He was screaming – I was screaming. He was crying – I was crying. He finally calmed down and I kept saying, oh I”m so sorry munchkin…. over and over again, like that was going to undo the boo-boo.
Then just a few hours later, while shopping with the two kids in our trendy double stroller – = that we bought for its claim that it fits through doorways – my toddler, while going through a doorway, stuck out her little chubby handy and got some skin scraped. More blood! More crying. More apologies. Lots of boo-boo kisses.
Today’s lesson – kids are SO vulnerable. They are so little and helpless. And they need so much love and attention.
Yes, I definitely realized before choosing to have kids that they would be a lot of work – the feedings, the diapers, the teething, the colds/ear infections… But even knowing that didn’t prepare me for the emotional work involved.
My kids are not giraffes. They are not born on their feet and walking soon after, eager to explore the world. Only needing a little bit of food and guidance.
My kids started off as little bundles. Every little thing they needed, I had to supply. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed just thinking about all the possible ways in which my children could not be safe.
When putting my daughter on the changing table and evaluating whether I can move two steps away to get something from the shelf, I’m bombarded with all the “what if this happened”s before I can even make my decision.
When they are in pain, my pain is one-hundred fold. Today was really the first time either one of them shed a bit of blood (thank G-d! It should be the last.) And I was really overwhelmed with how much it affected me. My babies! Bleeding! And then I was overwhelmed by how great and how huge my job really is.
I have to keep these kids safe. Not just healthy and fed and clean, but safe. I (and their Tatty [daddy in yiddish]) am the only thing standing between them and the world. Ahhh! Definitely the responsibility of a lifetime.
Sometimes, like today, I wish my kids were giraffes.
And then other times, when I’m snuggling with them, or mushing their baby fat and getting wide smiles in return, and when my kiss makes a little boo-boo better, I don’t mind that they’re babies. In fact, I am in awe and feel pretty privledged that I get to be their mommy.
I thought I would at least get a few comments on today’s post…
anyone out there??
Some of you might know that I was, briefly, a Women Studies major in college. Actually, the major was called Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Suffice it to say, all though the major required a lot of critical thinking, I just felt completely out of place. I disagreed with a lot of the biases the professors had and pretty soon I had hightailed it back to the Government department.
One of the things that always bothered me about feminism – and I’m talking about 2nd wave, classic feminism as most people think of it, which came to a fore in the 1960s and 1970s – is the contention that equality for women meant women achieving what men were achieving. Climbing the corporate ladder, equal pay for equal work, entry into any profession, pushing the Equal Rights Amendment and so on.
Now while, of course!, I champion equality in the workplace, what I didn’t like about this theory (and still don’t) is that there isn’t appreciation for women being women. And the movement didn’t work on creating space for women to pursue whatever life goals they had – just the ones that were career oriented.
One recent event and one blog entry demonstrate this pretty clearly.
First, in a “This Week” article, which my dear friend Audrey brought to my attention, Natalie Portman (a fellow Harvard alum, just a few years behind me) was criticized in cyperspace and the real press for her Oscar night acceptance speech where she called her impending motherhood her “most important role.” WHAT? This seems so strange…. Woman reaches pinnacle of career, receives Best Actress award, expresses appreciation for the ability to bring life into the world and nurture it – and some fellow women are claiming this “undermines her achievements?”
Oh you classic feminists you… aren’t the hoards of women affected by your movement now in their forties and trying desperately to have the children they postponed to pursue their careers enough evidence for you? While every woman is entitled to decide whether they want to have a child or not, should we not embrace the next generation’s insistence on pursuing both tracks and loving it? Isn’t feminism really supposed to be about creating opportunities for women to pursue whichever (or both) path(s) that they desire?
Which brings me to my next point. The Motherlode blog, one of my faves, on the NYTimes website, recently had a post about a study which equated the lack of paid maternity leave in the United States to a gross human rights violation. Now while I probably wouldn’t have gone that far, the statistics Lisa Belkin brought to bear from the study are pretty astonishing…
“at least 178 countries have national laws that guarantee paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 also guarantee paid leave for new fathers. More than 100 offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave for new mothers — including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The 34 members of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), among the world’s most developed countries, provide on average 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, with an average of 13 weeks at full pay. Additional paid parental leave for fathers and mothers is available in most OECD countries.”
We are 178th on the list??? I mean, I knew there was something wrong… but that bad?? Whoa.
Which makes me think back to my classic feminists… While they were agitating for equal right and equal pay, the work/life balance women are struggling with today wasn’t really considered. Granted, women needed to first be able to have careers and be freed of the guilt to also have children before we could deal with this problem…
But then, maybe it’s time for the next wave of feminism to take hold? The one that demands that the State recognize the importance of family and motherhood (and fatherhood) and support it? Yes, there are questions about financing such a program and that’s probably particularly an issue these days… but how much longer should women have to fight to be able to take paid leave to stay home with their children. I know I had to go back to work after only THREE weeks because my organization had no official maternity policy and they scoffed at the idea of paying my entire salary for someone who was just sitting home with a baby. And this is supposedly a family-friendly organization.
What about the women who can’t afford to take unpaid maternity leave? I believe that brings in a whole socioeconomic issue. Is that situation contributing to the downfall of the lower classes?
These are all just questions, but good questions I think. I would love to hear your thoughts.
You will notice that I did not post your most recent comment on my blog.
I want to take a minute to explain why – as I have said, now numerous times, my blog is about fostering constructive debate and expressing my ideas and thoughts. I welcome all opinions, even those that disagree with me, because I believe strongly that the conversation is richer and better because of that.
I will not, however, allow comments that border on vicious and abusive. When we insult and deride other people – and when we suppose to know what is best for others – that is when we can only hurt each other, not help.
I would like you to continue to read, but I will exercise my right to not post any comments that I believe cross the line of civility I believe is essential to this enterprise.
Another note – I wrote to you here in lieu of emailing you because I do not want my email publicized. Please forgive the public forum, but I think this message is one I needed to share with you and the rest of my readers.
Hello everyone. I have submitted my article to aish.com – I’m hoping they publish it without too much editing. But I’m posting the original article here as a preview. Spoiler: There’s a shout out to In Harmony here!!!
Untitled Aish.com Article:
Becoming an observant Jew was occasionally a scary undertaking.
When I was on the road to Orthodox Judaism, I would sometimes worry that I didn’t know enough and would embarrass myself while at the homes of observant Jews. Although to the community’s credit they took any mistakes in stride and made me feel completely comfortable.
I would think a lot about all the stereotypes I had heard about Orthodox women. I would think even more about it when I met women who didn’t fit that stereotype at all!
And I wondered if I, then an Ivy League student with grand ambitions, would find my place in a world that revolved around family, motherhood and exacting parameters for how to live one’s life.
Well, it’s been almost seven years now since I made the leap. And not only have I been able to find my own niche, but I continue to be impressed at the versatility and ingenuity the members of the broad Orthodox community possess.
Rather than the monolithic character that people might perceive when encountering the Orthodox community, underneath the surface lies a vibrant and colorful core.
Case in point. I live in Cleveland, Ohio. We have four major Orthodox Jewish communities and the city is home to about 1000 Orthodox families. The community was recently privileged to host a brilliant performance of song, spirit and flair led by the all-women band In Harmony.
In Harmony was formed after two women in the community, each possessing a beautiful, clarion singing voice (and one with a drum set!) decided they wanted to express themselves and use the talent that G-d had given them. They found a few other like-minded (and like-talented) women and the band was bor
Made up of members who had become religious later in life and those who were born into a religious family, the group breaks down all those barriers I worried about along my own journey. And their performance recently, in front of hundreds of women and girls in the Cleveland community, is proof.
So often, when a woman breaches the first few barriers into the frum world, she is bombarded with the importance of finding a suitable partner, being a wonderful wife and mothering precious children. This is very true. I have two children of my own and really have to work to follow the Torah’s expectations of me when it comes to my family. There is a deep satisfaction in knowing I am, in this respect, doing what Hashem wants from me.
But I also have unique skills and talents – abilities that when activated, make me feel accomplished and fulfilled. At the beginning of my journey, with all the talk of family and mortherhood, I thought I would have to give that up. That working full-time and doing what I love just wasn’t going to mesh with the big family I dreamt of having and the children I wanted to raise in this beautiful lifestyle I chose.
The reality is, though, that the talents that each woman possesses just adds to the quality and beauty of our community. Groups like In Harmony add song and joy, talented women who offer classes for women and girls in dance, art, and music add variety and color, and people like me and my peers whose strength is found in writing, verbal expression and navigating the corporate world can provide professional services and advice to frum organizations who need that to continue their worthy missions.
In living in the frum world I have gotten to truly see the beauty of it. There is no need to suppress or hide one’s talents just because the stereotype might be that you are a wife and mother and nothing more. Every frum woman I know is that AND so much more. Hashem has given us all unique talents and abilities – and His Torah, while exacting in its expectations of us, also provides the space within which we can express those talents.
I am a full-time professional, a wife, a mother and a Torah Jew. And I’m grateful (and relieved) that my identity is in no way a contradiction – rather a beautiful expression of who Hashem meant me to be.