A response to a very upset commenter here at HH.

March 1, 2011 6 comments

This is in response to a comment posted by Sophia on my last post.  I started to reply in the comments section but when I realized I was going to go long, I figured I’ll just make a post out of it – why not?


First, thanks for reading.  I do want to ask (and this if a request of all my readers) that in the future, please keep in mind that while I do appreciate different opinions from my own, I hope they can be presented in as constructive and non-insulting way as possible. That is what makes this conversation so enjoyable.

Second, I’m moved to respond to a few of your points here.  I will say that your overarching statement that it is impossible to have it all is very true.  It is impossible to have it all.  There will always be an area of one’s life that will be lacking the proper attention and care.  A friend recently told me that as well and I strongly believe it.   However, I also think you have made some assumptions that just don’t hold true.

I never (and I hope my other readers will concur) set out to deride or insult stay-at-home moms.  My true goal is to broaden the conversation so as to create space for woman to feel comfortable whatever their choice is.  Each woman needs to judge her own talents, desires, family situation, and choices – therefore, I withhold judgment except when the dialogue is restrictive of the space I want to create (as you saw from my last post.)

A common misconception that I have heard many times is that if a child is going to childcare/day care, they are being raised by someone else.  I was worried about this too when I sent my first child to the babysitter for the first time at 5 months old or so.  She was there for about 7 hours a day and with me at home for the first hour she was up in the morning and the last 3-4 hours or so in the evening before she went to sleep. I was also the one who got up with her in the middle of the night (sometimes multiple times.)   And the time we spent together was quality time.  No TV watching, no internet surfing (we didn’t have either at the time in our house – we still don’t have TV).  Sometimes we did play dates with other moms, went outside to play or just hung out in the house.  There is no doubt in my mind that she felt quite comfortable with the arrangement.  Day care was a way for her to begin to socialize and be well taken care of so I could work for the income that my family needed to provide for ourselves.

Which brings me to my next point.  Being a SAHM needs to be possible financially.  You say that a man needs to have the responsibility to bring the money home so to speak.  I humbly disagree.  There are thousands (if not more) permutations in today’s day and age which make this not true.  In our case, my husband was first in a full-time Rabbinical program (aka Kollel for my Jewish readers) and now pursuing his MEd to become a public school teacher.  Others I know have different situations  – and frankly, today, it is hard to find any family that doesn’t need two incomes to survive, at least in the socioeconomic class I call my own.

Yes, you do need to find a good man.  But can’t a good man also be one who enjoys being with his family? Or one that wants to pursue higher education before taking a full-time job?  There are some men who just enjoy puttering around the house and spending lots of time with their kids – my husband being one of them.  He even, gasp!, enjoys cooking and used to have to beg me to let him in the kitchen before I realized that there’s nothing wrong with having a night off and enjoying his culinary creations.  I slightly resent that you presume my husband would be happier if…  This is cyberspace after all and chances are you don’t really know him!

I wouldn’t say we go on extravagant vacations – the last vacation was really just driving to my family in NY for Thanksgiving.  Most of that trip was my parents’ treat (Thanks Mom!) so it was low-cost and quite fulfilling in terms of vacations.  We couldn’t afford a “real” vacation really and content ourselves with day trips or driving trips to family.

And as for when my kids are sick or sad, one of us is there.  My husband and I actually rotate who takes off (he also works part-time as a substitute teacher) when one of the kids are sick.  We also miss work/school for drs appointments and the like.  This works the best for us – after all there are only so many sick/personal days to go around.  And honestly, in the middle of the night when my kids are sad, I’m the one up with them – often for hours –  until they can get back to sleep.  Occasionally when my husband tries to help by taking care of our toddler in the wee hours of the morning, I still have to go in because she won’t stop asking for “mommy! mommy!”. And then – guess what? I go to work the next morning.  sleep deprived and all.

But really, Sophia, the point of this post isn’t to respond to your every point (although I think I might have) but to reiterate what I want this blog to be: a constructive space where everyone’s opinion is presented civilly and meaningfully, and where I can express my own personal challenges and perspectives.

I hope you read on and consider these points.  I may not change your mind, but I hope I gave you food for thought.


Categories: Me

The Debate Continues

February 28, 2011 7 comments

I’m happy to share with you my open letter to the editors at Aish.com

Dear Aish editor,

My name is Chavi Cohen and I am both a graduate of Harvard University and of EYAHT.  I have been a long-time supporter of Aish and worked for Rabbi Gluckin and Aish Boston when I was in college.

I am writing now in response to an article posted on Aish.com “Mommy Detour” by Rachel Barmatz.

Although it was easy for me to become frum while in high school and then college, after being frum for a few years I began to feel like I was submerging parts of myself that needed to be expressed.  This feeling became particularly acute when I got married about a year after graduating from college and had my first child about 10 months later.  Adding to my angst was the intense pressure that the frum community exerts that being a stay-at-home mom is the only option – or for second best, one should teach or find a job that allows them to be home as much as possible.  This was clearly Rachel’s perspective.

I want to strongly urge Aish.com to go the extra mile and start either a column or a series to present the opposite side of things.  There are so many truly talented and brilliant women who need the support of the frum community to develop themselves in many different ways.  While, yes, many women might need the chizuk to step away from the career track, there are just as many woman who need the encouragement, support and role-modeling to do the exact opposite.  And outside of careers, there are also women who need to be encouraged to continue playing music, speaking in public, or any other skill they developed before becoming frum.

We do our entire community a disservice if we continue to promote only one right way to be a frum Jewish woman.

I wholly support Rachel’s decisions, but I hope that there is not a woman reading her article out there and being weighed down by the guilt she perceives from making different decisions.

I would appreciate a response.  Furthermore, I would be happy to contribute my perspective on this issue in an article for aish.com or in whatever forum deemed appropriate.

I urge the editors of aish.com to learn more about me and my personal struggles and challenges of being a frum woman on my blog – www.harvardhousewife.wordpress.com.

Thank you,
Chavi Cohen


Use the comments to tell me what YOU think!

Categories: Family, Me, Work

Guest post….

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Head over to http://lifeinthemarriedlane.com/2011/02/24/living-outside-of-stereotypes/ to see my post for today.


Thanks Rivki!

Categories: Me

Education – a right or a privilege?

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

First – just a note that I am featured today on cookingmanager.com in an interview about food, family and all those wonderful things!  Yay for the great blog over there; I’m very excited to be featured.

Next – the real subject of this entry: Education. Or lack thereof.

As many of you know I hail from the only mildly diverse suburbia of Long Island.  I grew up in an upper-middle class home where there was money (not a lot, but some) for extras like vacations, some name brand clothes and accessories, all the extracurricular activities a child could want, and lots of recreation like movies, day trips and the like.  And for those of you who don’t know Long Island very well… it’s… well… let’s just say its pretty posh overall.  It has its icky spots (like Hempstead and Roosevelt.  Hempstead has the distinction of having the first public school named after President Obama – they have about a 98% African American population – and Roosevelt School District was taken over years ago by the state for performing way under failing) but generally, when you think Long Island, you think Great Gatsby, Billy Joel, the Hamptons, rich white Jewish kids with expensive cars, and the usual ethnic mix of middle class communities.

Then I moved to Cleveland where there is a whole other universe.

I like to think that I don’t live in a suburban community so unlike my parents’ and where I grew up.  However, the truth is that it IS quite different.  In our community, the houses might be similar but the population is quite different.  But even more of a contrast is the town/city/community that’s right up the road.  Sure if you head southeast you’ll end up in an area filled with million dollar mansions and ritzy parks and shops (Shaker Heights).

But if you head northeast about 10 mins you’ll find what I consider the worst urban blight I’ve ever seen.

Broken windows, dilapidated buildings, boarded up houses.  Rows and rows of commercial buildings vacant and depressed.  Even on the sunniest day with the most upbeat music on in the car, you can’t help but feel the greatest empathy and compassion for your fellow citizens forced to live in such a bleak environment.  Is there hope for anyone or anything there?

Well the neighborhood is East Cleveland and my exposure to it came in two forms.  One, through a drive on my way to visit a local charter school as part of my work on School Choice and two, through a Harvard alumni interview I did with an aspiring Harvard student from there.

Both experiences left me hopeful, if not seriously contemplating the future for the majority of the residents there are society’s responsibility to them.

My interviewee – let’s call him Will – grew up in a house with just his mom, surrounded by the poverty, drugs and miscreants that inhabit his community.  His mom, through tremendous foresight and sacrifice, got him involved in dramatic performance, and honestly I think that saved his life.  He went on to attend an arts magnet high school and has above a 4.0 gpa and obviously enough talent that he was recommended to apply to Harvard.  He knows what a tremendous opportunity college will be for him.  The most wrenching part of the interview – when he told me that he doesn’t want to be stuck in East Cleveland forever. I want to get out of there and make a better life for myself, he told me.

That broke my heart.  I hope this kid gets into college, Harvard or any other, and really rises up to the top.  This is a kid who has really struggled.

Then there’s my tour of E Prep and Village Prep Academies, smack in the middle of blight-city.  They are charter schools, public schools run by private companies and supplemented by donations to offer children an education that far exceeds what their public school can offer in a million years.

These kids enter school sometimes as much as three grade levels below where they should be in reading and math.  The school has a beautiful way of tracking progress.  Every 6 weeks every child is assessed.  Each child has a gumball on a hallway bulletin board.  When you’re below your grade level, the gumball is on the border of the board.  Then there are four gumball machines.  One for the kids current grade level and one for each grade level higher up to three grade levels.  After every assessment, the hope is that the child’s gumball moves one machine more to the right – and their chance for success in the world gets a little bit brighter.  By the end of one year in this school, every gumball is in a machine.  And every child is in their element.

At the public schools in East Cleveland, failure is the only thing that’s in the lesson plan.

These two experiences just brought up so many different emotions for me – gratitude for where and in what socioeconomic class I was born, and even MORE gratitude for the Harvard education I was able to receive.  I also felt an overwhelming sense of shock and confusion that in this day and age people still have to struggle to raise their children out of poverty and poor public education – something I thought had ended when my grandparents were raising their family, in a time when every subsequent generation got a little bit smarter, a little bit richer and a little bit higher in the class of opportunity America offered.  How is it part of the American dream that the free and glorious education these East Clevelanders are receiving is really worth absolutely nothing at all because the majority of students are failing and/or dropping out?

The fact that there was such a place like East Cleveland still boggles my mind.  Even more perplexing, is what responsibility I have for that community and its residents, after all it’s practically in my backyard, I’m just 10 mins up the road.  But then again, shouldn’t we think of every fellow American, nay, every global citizen as being our neighbor?

What can we do? What should we do?  Must we do anything at all?

Categories: Life in General, Work

Something that is uniquely female

January 11, 2011 1 comment

What is it about childbirth that raises women’s hackles and brings out the momma bird in us all?

A recent post on Motherlode brought up a debate on another website between homebirthers (not to be confused with the Obama-0pposed birthers) and those that believe the hospital is the ideal place to birth (can we call them hospiters? ok maybe not).

This was in addition to a recent CNN article about a woman who chose to give birth at home with a midwife after having three (3!) cesarean sections.

I have a lot of my own thoughts on this, being that I found myself with my own childbirth approach that was surprisingly quite different from how I perceived my general philosophy on life.

Those who knew me as a teenager and college student, wouldn’t say that I was the “crunchy, granola-y” type. In fact, most people would maintain that I was quite the opposite.  I had some friends in college who would literally always follow my name with “Lawng Island” as if my origin clearly conveyed my personality.  The insinuation was that being from Long Island meant high maintenance with a hefty dose of materialism.  And I guess I kinda played that for what it was worth – using it to excuse my extreme phobia of bugs and my general wariness of any outdoorsy type activities.

I mocked those who hugged trees and those that only ate organic.  That just wasn’t me.

Then, I got pregnant with Munchkin #1.  And while I wasn’t running to go camping (much to the dismay of my very outdoorsy husband), I started thinking about childbirth and realized that I was more “granola-y” than I thought.  For some reason, my vision of childbirth hearkened back to the days of ole, where a woman bravely endures the trials of labor, surrounded by women of similar strength and fortitude.

Ok ok… so the tad bit of Long Island in me wouldn’t allow myself to really, sincerely, entertain the idea of giving birth at home, or without the assistance of an OB/GYN (i mean, hey, I went to Harvard. Those degrees mean something to me…!)  But I really wanted to have my baby, as they say, “naturally.”

I went all out – the books, the videos… I practiced squatting (every book says that squatting is the ideal way to birth  your baby, even though i have YET to meet someone who actually delivered that way.), I did my breathing exercises, i even roped my husband into breathing with me. (it worked until i started laughing hysterically, ruining my oh-so-perfect rhythm.

I hired a doula (check out dona.org if you have never heard of a doula) and made it very clear to my dr – NO PAIN MEDS.  I am superwoman.  no epidural. no narcotics. I shall birth my baby using inner strength alone, relying on the fact that surely G-d will spare me the excruciating pain others seem to describe.

Right.  If ever a bubble was popped, it was this one.

In what, looking back, I believe to be a very mismanaged birth there was barely anything natural about it. Things started to go wrong from the beginning.  My doctor was on vacation, the doula we hired came straight from her husband’s birthday party (at a bar), we went in right after Shabbos on no sleep and having not eaten, oh and I never actually went into labor – they broke my water because I was 10 days overdue and then let me labor all night long.

To make a long story short, I was 8.5 cm dilated, they told me to push and I ended up having a c-section after 3 hours of pushing and absolutely no progress.  Official diagnosis: Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD). Translation: my baby was too big for my pelvis.

Excuse me??? Have they seen my hips? I have said for years that my extra wide hips were perfect for childbirth. but oh did they fail me.  This was far from the natural, primal, pain breeds endurance labor I was hoping for. I was pretty devastated. And I kept wondering – maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to handle the pain. Maybe if I pushed for another hour I would have had the birth I dreamed about…

Second time around, I prepared like never before.  I read Ina May Gaskin like she was the Federalist Papers and I was in my Sophomore Seminar.   I read Jennifer Block’s Pushed, about the medical take over of childbirth and the horrific consequences.  I was armed with knowledge, informed, ready to negotiate my next birth experience.

But as much as I talked to people and thought that an epidural or a narcotic like nubane would help me relax and ease the whole process, I kept feeling the undeniable pull towards doing the whole thing naturally. It was like a craving, or an instinctual  desire.

Why? Why did I feel like that? I still wonder!

Meanwhile, my second birth experience was a dream come true.  If you discount the fact that the doctor on call when I went in on Friday morning told me I must be continuously monitored because attempting a VBAC puts me at a higher risk for uterine rupture and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends continuous monitoring. (Meanwhile, I had talked about this extensively with MY doctor who said I could be monitored every hour, no problem.) AND THEN, this doctor asked me why I had a c-section the last time. I gave her the whole shpiel and ended with, I’m pretty sure that they told me to push too early.

Oh no… she said. This sounds like a clear case of CPD.  Well fast forward to the end: Munchkin #2 was the EXACT same size as Munchkin #1 (ok, .5 oz bigger!) and same length and same head circumference!  Lady, your CPD theory is totally disproved.  See? I told you my hips were childbearing hips.

(Aside: I wanted to call this doctor afterwards to tell her about my proof that for sure it was not CPD the first time around, but my husband told me I couldn’t, it would be too mean.  But every once in a while, I still want to tell her!)

Anyway, back to my dream birth.  My labor stopped Friday night and every single doctor and nurse I saw refused to induce me back into labor overnight – so I slept!  it was great!  Then 7:30 a.m. MY doctor arrived at the hospital on her day off (this was Saturday remember) to break my water, which put me right back into labor in just a few hours.  I labored beautifully, had a substitute doula with me who had a 100% VBAC rate and was a dream of an expert, and handled the pain great.

At 8 cm, it was getting kind of rough and I was pretty terrified of another c-section.  I decided to go with the first defense, the nubane, a narcotic – whoo was that interesting!  I walked around, entered transition and started talking about an epidural.

At this point, I knew I wanted to do it without pain meds, but at the same time, I kept thinking, in the moment, if they have something that can take my pain away, why shouldn’t I take advantage of it?

So, I did.

At 9 cm I got my epidural, much to the amazement of the anesthesiologist who could not believe I was at nine centimeters.  And then i slept for an hour.  That’s right – I slept!  it was amazing. My doctor by the way had come back to the hospital with her kids (because she couldn’t find a babysitter) to deliver me because that’s how fantastic she is.

My epidural was fantastic, I was able to feel the “urge to push” everyone always talks about (never felt that the first time by the way) and even squatted to deliver!  That’s right, I ended up with a walking epidural (which many say could never be done).  Munchkin #2 was born completely peacefully and didn’t even cry he was so content.  (Finally the nurse nudged him enough that he did cry, but what a beautiful way to enter the world!)

I was truly amazed at the wonder of birth and extremely pleased with the entire experience.  Yet, it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned.  I had medical intervention and really liked it!  So what is the disconnect between what I wanted and how satisfied I was with what I got?

I came to the conclusion that it’s the doctor.  These stories that make medicine out to be the bad guy, don’t have a doctor like I do who embraces the natural side of birth (and yes, she’s a board-certified ACOG member too!).  Too often, birth is either all or nothing.  Medicated or primal.  But I think the glory of it all is somewhere in between.

And more than anything, it’s the core of what a woman is; every woman being different, so is every birth.


Categories: Me

Am I missing something?

December 26, 2010 3 comments

Raising two kids and being married is hard.

Add to this the fact that I live in what could be considered the middle of nowhere, certainly a far cry from metro-NY where I grew up and where most of my friends and family are located, and you can understand why sometimes I could find this difficult.

Occasionally, I find myself feeling like I’m missing out.  It’s really hard to reconnect with college friends and relive those good ole days when you don’t even live in the same city.  I can’t just call someone up and take a night out with the girls to a nice lounge in NYC or one of our old high school haunts on the Island.  And it doesn’t even have to be about going out with the girls… The only kosher restaurants here in Cleveland are open pretty much until 9pm when the whole city shuts down and the choices are far from spectacular.  Compare that to my friend who lives on the upper west side and has the opportunity to go out to dinner or a drink with her husband to one of the close to one hundred kosher restaurants and eateries/bars in the City.  blah, it makes me feel… just blah.

But tonight I found myself wondering: why do I miss that?  Do I really feel that deprived?

And I don’t really know if I have an answer.  I’m hoping writing this helps me find one.

I wasn’t the type of person who liked going out with friends to skeevy, sweaty, icky bars.. .maybe because me and my friends all had the same kinda taste – nice, upscale, modern (read: pricey) lounge-type places where the drinks and the ambiance were as classy as we thought we were.  (I must mention here a place that embodies this description – POD, right by UPenn, and one of my friends knows exactly what i’m talking about! ;))

So why those? Was it because I liked the illusion of being fancier and richer than I really was?  Was it just a comfortable way to spend an evening with friends?  Was it an atmosphere that allowed my friends and I to open up and really grow as people and in our friendships?

I think maybe the last is the closest understanding.  And maybe that’s what I am really missing most…

Yes, I do have friends but the conversation inevitable centers around kids, whether it be the latest antics or the latest in age-appropriate milestones.  Gossip, while inevitable, is usually limited because, hey we shouldn’t be talking about other people anyway…  And lots of times we are talking just about how we are handling life… juggling maintaining a good marriage, raising our kids in a crazy world, most of us are working at least part-time if not full, and keeping our houses as well.  Who has time to think or deal with anything else?
And as I’m writing now I’m thinking that’s the major problem.  Maybe what I’m really missing is the growth that comes with having smart conversations with smart friends.  The intellectual stimulation that was ‘de rigueur’ in college.  Where we sat around debating the moral rightness of  the “veil of ignorance” and the brilliance of the Federalist Papers.   That was refreshing.  That was reviving.  And just maybe that’s what I feel I’m missing?

It’s a bit difficult to debate political thought with your 21 month old while you’re trying to convince her to simultaneously not stand on the couch (because she will get a boo boo) and to pick up all the Baby Einstein flash cards she has covered the living room with.  And difficult to have a meaningful conversation with your husband while trying to convince him that your toddler scratching, pinching and hitting isn’t just a “phase.”

This is FOR SURE not to say that my Cleveland circle  lacks the capability – I think what we all lack is time and energy.  We desperately need to relate to each other about our children because we need the advice and answers that come with it – that’s the urgency of it all.  We don’t desperately need to spend hours in high philosophical debate, about politics, religious or anything else.

So maybe now coming to this realization I need to be the change I want to see in my world (so to speak) and I’m open to suggestions on how to do this.  Maybe living outside my “box” for bit would start to chip away at the feelings of slight deprivation that have started to crop up.

Just cause I’m a mom doesn’t mean I have to give up my sense of self and what I find fulfilling does it?  It just means I have less time to embrace it.


Categories: Me

Where did I go to high school you ask?

December 22, 2010 8 comments

It’s the question that, interestingly enough, has a variety of answers – depending on who’s asking.

You see – it’s the I’m a Baal Tshuvah* giveaway and usually happens within the first few minutes of introducing myself.  The answer can instantly reveal a person’s origins.  If you say Bais Yaakov*then obviously you’re Frum From Birth (FFB).  Public school, not FFB.

Everyone handles this question differently.  Some are upfront.  Some hem and haw.  And others just outright lie.   My answer usually depends on my mood and what reaction I want to elicit.

There’s the outright admission… goes like this:

Oh Chavi Cohen… Where are you from?

New York.  Long Island.

Oh really?  What high school did you go to? (no really, the question really does come up right there!)

Public school actually.

And then the fun begins as the frum person looks at me with a dropped jaw and wide open eyes, as if to say, but your snood is so perfectly askew, and your yinglish* has just the perfect lilt, and you just look so… so… heimish*!  How could you have gone to public school and, for that matter, not have grown up frum?

huh.. i guess you just never know do you?  
Then there’s the I’m trying to avoid lying but I’m really not interested in giving you my whole life’s story or I just don’t feel like giving you the impression that I’m any different from you.

Option #2

Long Island? Wow. What high school did you go to?

Oh… A co-ed school. (Brilliant Chavi.  Alluding to a modern-orthodox upbringing and implying just a slight shift to the right.  Totally normal.)

Ohhhh… very nice.  Nice to meet you.

Then there’s option #2b.

Oh… a co-ed school.  You know, all the all-girls schools were a really long commute from my parents’ house. (in an effort to be appear less mod-ox and more mainstream).

You know – because not everyone always needs to know your whole background.  But unfortunately, this question and some other things like for example your parents showing up at a family simcha (event), tatoos, even a second pierced hole in your ears (also guilty!) can give it away.

I guess the real question is – what do we have to hide?  Like some people contest, not only did we make a conscious decision to make a positive change in our lives and to live as truthseekers at the very least, but also we, with our varied skills and backgrounds enhance a world where social norms and limitations run the risk of limiting the very quality of our communities. (This is a very big topic, not to be explored in this post.)

I don’t even have to toot my own horn.  There are plenty of baalei tshuva who are doctors, lawyers, writers, and a million other things that add a vibrancy and diversity to the community.

Shouldn’t we be proud of our contributions?  Of our skills and our journey?  Or our newfound commitment and beautiful families?  Of our ability to live in a world where we never quite fit in?  Of facing each and every challenge of being frum with family that’s not – from eating with them to having them know exactly what type of vort/l’chaim to throw you when you get engaged to and having nowhere (not even in your first year of marriage) to go for yuntif*?

But then, every time I think I’ve convinced myself that I’m properly “integrated” and duly initiated, there comes that question again.  And the look that says it all and wonders how did you ever make it here??  The look that says you’re not 100% like us and that’s something you just can’t erase.  The look that is most of the time, but not all, a combination of mild shock and almost completely concealed disdain. But you look so frum.. they seem to be thinking.

Oh…. they say.  Nice to meet you.


*Baal Tshuvah – someone who became religious later in life, Yinglish – the combination of English and Yiddish, Heimish – Yiddish word used to describe someone who looks frum (among other things not relevant to that particular sentence), Bais Yaakov – the general name of most all girls Orthodox Jewish schools, Yuntif – Yiddish for Yom Tov or holiday, used to describe the holidays like Passover and the Tabernacles and Rosh HaShanah.

Categories: Me