I started today by coloring my hair.
The last time I cut and colored my hair was late October. It was the day my husband was returning from a business trip from Japan. I wanted to see if he, tired as he was returning home from the other side of the globe, would notice the greys were gone and my hair was restored to the dark brown my hair was when I was young.
That was before any of us knew or heard the word coronavirus every hour of the day. Before my husband’s business canceled travel to first China, then Japan, then Europe, then, anywhere.
I really meant to color my hair last night. Some self-care would do me good.
But I was just too tired. Now, at week number three, like right after dinner, I get real tired. I excuse myself from the table and go up to my bedroom to … I don’t know. Each night, I have every intent to read, to journal, to color. But I end up watching CNN.
But then CNN gets me upset and then I flip to some mindless TV to distract me from the fear, from the rise in cases, from the dwindling supplies of masks and ventilators. Then I feel bad because, to me, a reporter, turning away from the news is a sign of apathy, so I turned back to watch #ChrisCuomo report from his basement wearing a hoodie.
And the box of Nutrisse #40 just sat there on the vanity in my bathroom.
Today, after I found the energy to color my hair, I felt better.
I visited with my son as I folded laundry. Sterilized bath and dish towels and cleaning rags. Because of Coronavirus, I’ve discovered the “sanitize” settings of my washer and dryer.
My son sat in his Cincinnati apartment and played me a new guitar line he’d been working on while in quarantine. He played for me for about 15 or 20 minutes. He lives with his girlfriend who is a nurse. They, with two other housemates, are quarantined together, only leaving the apartment for groceries and work. We never made it to his campus for his spring performance. I don’t know when I’ll see him perform again. I’m not sure when I’ll see him again. But it was nice to hear him play while I folded laundry.
Today I find myself with less and less work because my freelance writing gigs are all drying up.
But still, I am lucky my husband still has his job, and he “goes” to work, as usual, and is at his desk by 7 a.m. But his desk is now in our son’s empty bedroom. And my daughter works at her Boston job in her bedroom. Nothing is usual.
After lunch, I went for a walk to the CVS. I needed to pick up a prescription for my son, who has asthma. I have barely let him set foot into a store since our state’s shelter in place executive order. Besides from coming down for meals and taking a zoom call for a play that most likely will not happen now that the rest of the school year has been canceled, except in the virtual sense, he does not come out of his room. He’s re-listening to all of the Harry Potter books. His Junior year is over. He never took the SAT’s.
That’s where he’s at.
Back on the trail.
Walking is one thing one can still do, something that has not yet been canceled.
Before coronavirus, I’d take an afternoon walk on the trail, or in my neighborhood, and there’d barely be another soul out and about.
In week three, I’ve never seen so many of my suburban neighbors out and about on a Thursday afternoon. We walk quickly past each other. Some say hello, others just keep their heads down or look straight ahead. Everyone is nervous.
The thing these days that makes me most nervous, aside from overdosing on the news, is going into a store. It’s there that I see people wearing gloves, and now wearing masks.
Today, as I was about to enter the CVS, another woman entered ahead of me. She wore scrubs from head to toe, had some kind of surgical cap on, and a mask. But this was not your average cotton mask, the kind like so many are wearing now, if you can find one to buy. Or have the supplies and the craftiness to construct. This was a full-on respirator mask that had dual filtration vents on either side of her face.
Clearly, this woman was a nurse or a home health aide coming to pick up a perscription. Her mask was on so tight she had to shout the patient’s name and date of birth twice before the pharmacist, standing behind plexiglass, understood her.
I was afraid. Afraid for her, for having the kind of job where she had to wear so much protective clothing. And afraid for me, not knowing from where she was coming from dressed like that.
Tape markings were going down the vitamin aisle indicating the proper social distancing. I stood not one but three tape markings away from this woman. I tried to distract myself by looking at the vitamin offerings. I do not think the one that claimed to boost immunity is going to help us this time.
She got her prescription, then I was clear to get mine. I took my homemade hand sanitizer out of my purse, and swabbed the pen and then the credit card screen with a gob of it while the pharmacist got my son’s inhaler. I could not wait to get out of there. To breathe the outside air, to take off my latex gloves and wash my hands at home.
But this afternoon, on a second walk with my husband, I noticed how the sky was crystal blue. I have not remembered the sky so blue. With so many of us not driving, flying, with all of us in a big cosmic time out, Mother Nature is getting time to breathe.
So, today, the sky was blue, my hair once again is dark brown with no grey.
And my immediate family is healthy.
That’s where I’m at today.
How about you?
About a week ago, a friend back in Rochester asked how the weather has been in Michigan. It’s really not that much different than the winters spent in Rochester. Except this winter, there really has not been much of a break from the frigid cold. In Rochester, I remember weeks of cold, but broken up with weeks (or at least a few days) in the upper 30’s and 40’s.
This winter, we long for a day just in the 20’s.
But extreme cold does have beauty.
Last week I got a call from my son at school. He said his eye was “goopy.” Now, his eyes weren’t nearly as bad as fellow conjunctivitis sufferer Bob Costas,
but it was enough to spring him out of school for a day.
The night before, temperatures plummeted again below zero and created this phenomenon known as freezing fog. The result was a frosty ice-coated world, if only for a few hours:
Two true tales from the coldest winters we’ve seen in decades. One an example of how to treat others. The other, an example of how not to treat others. I hope that someday, both givers of kindness and meanness will receive their Karmic justice in this life or the ones to come.
First tale, as retold by my mother-in-law on an incident that happened to the grown children and grandchildren of their longtime friends:
In December, two families from suburban Long Island, each with two or three children with the oldest of age 12, followed each other caravan-style north to a ski vacation rental in Vermont. There was a winter storm warning and, thinking they could push through, the families drove into the night. Main highways became impassible so the families decided to take alternative routes on local roads.
As the roads began to ice over, one family’s car swerved to avoid another car, slid and became stuck in an embankment.
Witnessing what happened to the first car, the second car in the traveling party pulled over to see if they could be of assistance. In trying to help, the second car also then became dangerously stuck in a snow embankment. On a strange rural street. In the dark. In the cold. In the storm.
All the while, the two stranded families were unaware that a family living on the property was watching them. They approached the families who were stranded on their property – a group of about 12 complete strangers – four adults and their children – invited them in for the night, and gave them dinner and a place to sleep, and shelter until their vehicles could be dug out the next day.
To that angelic New England family who opened their doors to strangers on a stormy winter night, they will most certainly receive good Karma in this life or the next.
Next story. My story.
Funny how appearances change of buildings and streets in the snow. Especially in suburban Detroit neighborhoods you think you’ve gotten to know pretty well in the six months I’ve lived here.
I was on my way over to a good friend’s house to pick up my son from an extended play date. I was not sure of the exact address, and I didn’t feel like punching it into my GPS system. After all, I had been there several times in the summer and fall, to press cider and just enjoy the company of our new friends. I thought I knew my way and knew the house.
But like I said, something very disorienting happens in the low light and snowy landscape of winter. So disorienting that I pulled up the curvy, snow-covered driveway of the wrong house. Just one identical looking wrong house away were my friends, their daughter and son, and my son, happily playing.
Just one house away, I was catching some bad Karma.
I realized my mistake, and started to attempt to back down the driveway. Only, because of the curve and the snow, I missed it, and backed up into a soft, snowy part of the front lawn.
Funny how one can still use the word “lawn” in a polar vortex winter. Because no one has seen their lawn here since November.
So, there I was, on a lawn. If I just eased the car back and forth – Reverse, Drive, Reverse, Drive – I’d be on my way.
Instead, my wheels spun and whirred deeper into the lawn.
A man living next door saw my plight. He bundled up (it was 9 degrees) came out with two shovels, and we both set to work trying to dig me out. He even offered to get some chains and hooks from his car to drag my car out. I thanked him, but turned down his offer, afraid of the damage either of our vehicles might incur.
Finally, after 20 minutes of this, she came out.
A thin, blond woman.
She was not helpful.
She was mad.
“What the hell do you think you are doing to my lawn???”
“I’m sorry, ma’am… I was going to pick up my son at your neighbor’s house and I mixed up the houses and – ”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON MY LAWN? WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS??” She went on and on about her poor lawn and the damage I was doing to it. She did not ask if I was okay, if I had called for help, if I was cold, needed a cup of hot coffee.
In suburban Detroit, some people care about their lawns – even in the winter – more than they care about people.
Angry and embarrassed, I left my car and ran to my friends’ house. I’m not surprised that the two neighbors don’t even know one another. Usually, nice people don’t tend to socialize with mean people.
My car was eventually towed out by AAA, and my friend, her husband, and my husband came to my aid.
But not the mean blond lady, who actually took a photograph of my license plate as I was on my hands and knees trying to dig away the snow to free my car.
Mean blond lady, your lawn will be just fine. I’ll even come over with a bag of dirt and seed in the spring to fix your precious lawn. Because I said I was sorry 10 times. Because I’m that fucking nice.
Mean blond lady, you will also get your Karmic justice. It’s coming.
Has old man winter been a bitch to you? If so, rant away and please SHARE!
Rebecca Nodler, 10, Oak Park; Seymour Zate, West Bloomfield; Adele Nodler, Oak Park; Danielle Nodler, 6, Huntington Woods; Alvin Nodler, Oak Park; and Gladys Zate, West Bloomfield
I’ve lived in my house for nearly four months now. And for the most part, my walls are blank.
After going through the home selling and buying process, I guess I’ve grown used to the “staged” look of a house.
Keep it impersonal.
The seller shouldn’t display too many family photos lest the potential buyer cannot envision their own life in the house.
Every few evenings, I hear a banging sound: it’s my husband’s vain attempt to hang a few more pictures on the wall, only to have ME take them down. No. I’m not ready. I don’t want that picture there. I never liked that baby picture from SEARS in the first place. I’m going to develop more photos on Shutterfly. Big ones. I promise. That was for the old house, now we’re in a new house.
Wall arrangements have become somewhat of an obsession of mine. My blank walls have become empty canvasses I don’t want to screw up. I’ve taken out library books about decorating walls. When I watch TV shows or commercials, I find myself ignoring the dialogue of the characters but looking instead at the set. I know there are set designers who have perfectly adorned the walls with the right balance of small and large frames. More than any other decor, the stuff you hang on your walls makes your house a home.
Maybe I’m not home yet. Because a few weeks ago, I visited a house that was just that.
Adele and Alvin Nodler’s house in Oak Park, the place where I interviewed Adele and her cousins over tea and homemade cookies for an article in the Detroit Jewish News,, is not big or fancy. But it’s been their home for nearly 50 years. No designer was hired to decorate, but what it is decorated with is love. There are family photos from many generations on every possible surface.
I came away from that interview not only with a great story on the importance of keeping family ties,, but a lesson learned in how to make a house a home.
Here is just a little of their story, published in the October 17 issue of the Detroit Jewish News:
Families come in many sizes.
Then there are families like the Levins that are so large and tightly knit that they have their own anthem. And a custom-designed logo.
Last Sunday, Oct. 13, the Levin clan, with most of its 200 members residing in Metro Detroit, sang their anthem and performed an original variety show in their logo T-shirts as they celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Levin Family Club at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
“We have lots of writers and performers, but no directors,” joked Adele Levin Nodler, 72, of Oak Park, who has been treasurer of the club for 48 years.
The Levin story is familiar to many Jewish American families. They are descendants of immigrants who fled persecution in Eastern Europe and wove themselves into the fabric of American society. What is unique about the Levins is how strongly they held onto family ties and Jewish traditions for seven generations.
“Family togetherness is a legacy that was given to us by our grandparents and is one we will pass onto our grandchildren and beyond,” said Nodler, as she sat with her husband of 49 years, Alvin, brother Seymour, 81, and her cousin Gladys Zate, 87, in her Oak Park home.
The love of kin was evident on the walls and bookcases adorned with family photos from every generation.
The Levins can trace their Detroit roots back to 1905 when Adele’s father, Morris Yellen, escaped Poland at age 16 to avoid the Polish draft. Yellen changed to Levin at Ellis Island. Working for years as a baker, he saved enough money to return to Poland and bring the rest of his family to Detroit. The Levins became established bakers and grocers and had stores on Chene Street.
The family would often gather on Saturday nights after Shabbat to play cards. In 1948, those casual card games evolved into the Levin Cousin Club.
Early Detroit Memories Adele and Gladys also recall living upstairs from one another in the same big house on Elmhurst Street. Adele was the oldest of five siblings; Gladys had three sisters. It was there the cousins started writing and performing shows about the funny antics that went on in their family.
The cousins recall fond memories of celebrating Jewish holidays in Detroit.
On Simchat Torah, they danced with flags toped with apples in Beth Jacob synagogue on Pingree Street and dined at kosher restaurants on 12th Street after Shabbat.
They also remember having large family seders — as many as 75 people — at the home of their uncle, Meyer Levin.
“As a kid, you’d have to sit very still at my Uncle Meyer’s seder. If you moved, you would get a knibble, or a pinch on the cheek,” said Gladys, who recalls her mother making gefilte fish for the seder from fish she kept in her bathtub.
The pace of life — and the state of Detroit — has changed since 1948. Parts of the family live out of town. The bakery on Chene Street and the old house on Elmhurst Street are no longer there.
To compensate for the distance, Adele and her siblings and their descendants chat on a weekly Thursday teleconference call to “catch up and wish each other a good Shabbos.”
“No matter what anyone is doing, we stay committed to that call. Even my grandchildren participate, and the one thing they notice is there is a lot of laughter,” said Adele, who taught middle school in Oak Park for 30 years.
“Though we don’t see each other all the time, there is a constant feeling of togetherness because of the Jewish family traditions we have built over the years,” said Michael Nodler, 43, of Oak Park. He offers backstage support to the show with his brother, Harold Nodler, 44, of Huntington Woods.
The family show is all the more meaningful to Michael this year as his son, Joshua Nodler, 12, a seventh-grader at Norup International Middle School in Oak Park, approaches his bar mitzvah.
Joshua created a PowerPoint slide show for the evening that traces his family’s history.
The show comes every five years; every year, they meet for a summer picnic, a summer hot dog roast, Chanukah party and Purim party.
The secret to a close family, Adele advised, is never hold a grudge.
“Our parents taught us you don’t stay angry at each other,” she said.
“Yes, we had fights and disagreements.
Sometimes someone would not play fair at a family card game. But you work it out and stay close — that is what’s most important.”
A few weeks back, I wrote the first part of helping out back in Staten Island
I called it Part I which means, of course, there will be at least a sequel.
Well, it’s been a rough few weeks healthwise in our household so my apologies for the hold up on Part II.
It turns out that my synagogue’s education director in Rochester is childhood friends with David Sorkin, the executive director of the JCC in Staten Island. Our synagogue was collecting donations for Sandy victims in Staten Island. Their only problem: how were they going to deliver the goods?
So, in addition to helping out the fine volunteers at Guyon Rescue, with the help of my husband’s colleagues at General Motors, we borrowed the biggest Suburban you’d ever lay your eyes on and filled it with the gently used and new toys, books, art supplies and toiletries to be distributed through the Bernikow Jewish Community Center of Staten Island.
When I returned home to Rochester, Temple Beth El received the following letter from the JCC in thanks for our donation:
Dear Families of Temple Beth El,
Thank you very much for the toys, books, games and gifts that you collected for the children of our community who have suffered great losses from Hurricane Sandy. Also, special thanks to Stacy Gittleman and family for delivering supplies to the JCC.
As fate would have it, we received a call on Monday morning from a day care center that experienced damage from the storm and they were seeking replacement supplies. In addition, we sent some of the supplies to one of the shelters that are housing families. They were setting up a play room for the children, and your donations helped to create a warm and welcoming space in an otherwise bare and sterile environment. Some of these same children received the cards that were made by the children at your school.
Most of all, we must tell you that your acts of kindness will be remembered by all involved long after these families return to their homes and their lives get back to normal. …..
Thank you again to all my Rochester friends, neighbors and congregants who filled bins and my garage with donations that we brought down to Staten Island. I just wanted to share this letter with you to know how much it was appreciated.
These were the words of my son petitioning me this morning from his bed. These words came from his mouth, which was attached to a head, a head as hot as coal. A head which could not be lifted from his pillow.
“Just give me some Advil, and I can go!”
His concern: An overdue tech project that needed to be completed in school. A CO2 car he has designed and engineered that still needed to still be sawed, glued, and painted.
This project counts as 60 percent of his grade. How do I know it is 60 percent of his grade? He has told this to me at least 10 times since coming down with the flu.
He is also worried, of course, about falling behind in math. And Science. And how will he ever catch up and HOW he will get ready for midterms.
He puts this pressure on himself to not to stay home and recover from the flu but to GET TO SCHOOL no matter how he feels. No matter the consequences to his own health or those around him.
My son is not yet in
Harvard college or even in high school.
He’s only a 14-year-old kid.
He’s only in the 8th Grade.
If you can’t even stay home and rest up from the flu in the 8th grade with a clear conscience, then what does that say about our culture? Is there any wonder we are in the midst of an influenza epidemic?
Now, we all think we have THE most important jobs in the world.
Unless we are at death’s door, don’t even think about skipping work or school.
Even I have come under this delusion of mind over virus.
Last week, in I went to teach afternoon instruction because I felt I HAD to be at work to show my commitment. I was not hacking and coughing. I HAD a prescription for an antibiotic in hand (seems like, if you have flu symptoms and don’t rest them, the darned germs morph into something else, wouldn’t ya know?).
I was just a little stuffy.
And my eyes were sunken in because I had barely slept for two …. no three nights because my sinuses were killing me but
Life goes on and we muddle through.
At the copy machine my boss asked.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m just making copies for this afternoon. Then, I’m going to take my antibiotics. Then I’m going to teach. ”
Fortunately, I have a boss who does have the voice of reason.
“You will do no such thing. You look like hell. I appreciate you want to work but you shouldn’t be here. Now go home and get some rest.”
So rest I did and I am better now, a week later. Even so, my energy is not fully back.
So, when it was my son’s turn to fall ill, I did not let him succumb to our hyper-achievement culture.
He’s home. He has a fever that spikes back as soon as the latest ibuprofen dose wears off. But he is resting and doing his work and playing his guitar when he feels up to it.
Will he go back to school tomorrow? Don’t know. We’ll just have to see.
Fess up: have you ever went to work/school when you know you were too sick?
A little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of writing a story about the father-in-law of a very good friend. At the time, Mr. Lempert, a longtime Brighton resident, was mourning the death of his beloved wife Ruth, an artist and writer in her own rite.
Now, Daniel has also passed on and was given a burial with a full military honor. I was so honored to have written down his story in his final year on this earth. May his memory be for a blessing.
This was published last November in the Democrat & Chronicle:
It is said that a picture paints one thousand words. When Daniel Lempert completes a painting, he wants its viewers to hear music as well.
“I paint what I feel. As a musician, I feel the rhythms and chords of music,” said Lempert in his Brighton home, which is adorned with paintings he started creating in his 40’s.
Now, at 87, the retired music teacher claims to have painted hundreds of works. The paintings above his mantelpiece are filled with intersecting multicolored lines to represent the textures of a jazz improvisation. Other abstract works include pieces of sheet music or actual workings of old instruments layered on top of brightly colored shapes.
Lempert also paints local landscapes such as the lakeshores of Mendon Ponds and Lake Ontario. He does not bring his oils or canvas out to the scene, but rather paints from his mind’s eye. His works are the stuff of memory. That way, his emotions shape the outcome and look of the final painting.
His beloved wife Ruth, who passed away on Oct. 1 at 81, inspired his artistry through their 58-year marriage. “Ruth really pushed me with my art. I had teachers back in grade school that said I was no good at it. If it weren’t for my wife, I never would have painted,” he said.
When he was a music teacher in the East Rochester school district, Lempert came home from work one day quite upset that the custodial staff had left his music room a cluttered jumble of desks and chairs in efforts to empty out another classroom.
“I told this to Ruth and she said, ‘Why don’t you paint it?’” So he did. The result is one of Lempert’s earliest works: a jumble of chairs and desks in an abstract composition, and painted between the furniture is a sousaphone. It remains one of Lempert’s favorite pieces.
It was Ruth who bought her husband his first set of oil paints in 1968. The University of Rochester alumna and author of the 2008 memoir “Fish, Faith and Family,”also encouraged her husband to take art lessons at this time at the Memorial Art Gallery, where he has been taking classes since 1976.
Like his paintings, the photographs in Lempert’s home also tell stories. One is a black-and-white snapshot of Lempert as a young man with a head of thick wavy black hair playing trumpet in front of a tent.
After high school, Lempert enlisted in the U.S. Army during WWII. He finished basic training in North Carolina and was about to get shipped overseas when opportunity came knocking. The army needed a stateside trumpet player. He auditioned before a group of officers. He still remembers playing the “Carnival of Venice,” a folk song that most known as the melody for “My Hat it has Three Corners.”
The complexity of the trumpet solos won the approval of his commanders. Instead of going off to battle, Lempert stayed in North Carolina for the war’s duration playing reverie in the morning and taps each evening.
“The trumpet saved my life,” he said.
Lempert’s son David recalls how his dad had three jobs when he was growing up: He was a school music teacher, a private tutor on Saturdays, and a big band player late at night. “He would teach during the day, head to a club around 10 in the evening, come home at 3 in the morning and then get up to teach. He was tired but he loved it,” said David Lempert.
The talent for the arts runs in the Lempert family gene pool. His late daughter Judith earned a degree in fine arts from RIT. Judith’s daughter Rebecca Zaretsky is now studying art at Wheelock College in Boston. Lempert still practices for up to two hours a day every day. The only time he stopped playing was for a brief time after Ruth passed away.
His advice to young musicians and artists: “If art and music are a part of you, you must keep practicing your craft.”
Getting to Know Daniel Lempert
Education: Graduate of Fredonia Music School and Columbia University
Occupation: 37 years as music teacher in East Rochester. Retired in 1984
Hobbies: Painting. Trumpet player in Jack Allen’s Big Band
This is the solemn 10 days of Awe, days of reflection that start at the Jewish New Year and end at the last blast of the Shofar at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur Fast.
Over and over, Jews on Yom Kippur in synagogues and gatherings throughout the world stand together and recite a litany of transgressions – in Hebrew alphabetical order – as they softly pat their heart with a fist. A sample of them go like this:
For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.
For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.
For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.
And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.
For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.
Perhaps the biggest transgression of our modern age is the sin of being distracted by a screen.
Even now, as I type this, I’m staring at a screen. I should be kissing my youngest good night. Or tending to another child’s homework.
Perhaps the biggest transgression of digital distraction is texting behind the wheel.
According to a recent article in Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle, Rochestarians are some of the most distracted while driving bunch of people in the nation.
If I can confess: No, I don’t have a bluetooth. Yes, I make non-hands free calls when driving.
But only if I have a number programmed into my contacts.
And only if I have to call my husband during harried after school pick up times.
And even then, I place the phone on my dashboard or on my lap and use the speaker feature.
And sometimes, if I hear an old “new wave” song on the radio from the 1980’s, I click the info button, and just for a split second, peek and see who the artist was. Oh yes, OMD, I thought it was OMD.
OMG, I’m sorry I have been distracted.
But never, never will I answer a call when I’m driving, nor will I ever make or read a text.
You see it all the time. The distraction of couples looking at screens instead of looking at each other in the evening at the dinner table.
The distraction of a cell phone going off or someone texting even in houses of worship.
The other day I was walking home and saw a car lingering for a very long time at a stop sign.
Now, I was crossing the street and I needed to know what this driver would so so I could safely cross.
After about two minutes, when this driver was still at the stop sign, I crossed and peeked into the driver’s seat. There she was, oblivious to the world, texting on her smart phone.
I stared at her and she STILL didn’t notice me.
So oblivious this woman was behind the wheel, she didn’t even notice me creeping up behind her to snap this photo on my phone:
On this eve of Yom Kippur, I pledge to do this one change in myself, to be less distracted from my family.
In a nod to D&C Columnist Pam Sherman, I too recently lost my iThing. I just can’t find it. At first I felt lost without it. But, now, I feel liberated. Maybe I’ll find it someday. Or get a new one after saving up. But for now, I’m dealing with the sin of being forgetful and scatterbrained and repenting by trying to live a more mindful, in the moment life.
For those of you who are fasting, I hope you make it a meaningful one.
A note came home in my son’s backpack to state that today, this Friday, the school would be celebrating “International Heritage Day.” Third through fifth grade in my town is a time when students study the cultures of many countries. My child this year studied the cultures of Egypt, Japan, Australia. In successive years they will study about China and ancient civilizations from Greece to Rome to the Inca and Mayan Indians in social studies.
As a culmination and celebration of all this international study, third graders in my son’s school were asked to wear a hat that represents the culture of their immigrant ancestry.
Like most self-respecting Ashkenazi Jews, my family has roots in Russia and Poland. And, if you want to find some real exotic roots in my family, I believe my paternal grandmother was from Vienna, Austria.
But the Polish and Russians never looked upon my ancestors as their fellow countrymen. We were just: Jews. Yids. Pretty much second class citizens. That’s why Jews from Poland and Russia came over in droves to the United States – for economic if not religious freedom.
In my house, we don’t have any connection to Russian or Polish culture. How we identify, ethnically, is through Jewish culture.
So, what hat to use? The Moroccans have the Fez. The Mexicans, the Sombrero and the French, the beret, the Italians have the Fedora (acually, my older son has taken up wearing the fedora because he is so very dapper).
So, this brings me back to the question: What country do we identify?
I should have just put a Yankee Doodle style hat on my son’s head. We are Americans. But are we something else as well? Is Judaism a people? A religion? A Culture?
With what other country do we identify?
I could have chosen an Israeli Kibbutznik style hat, but that would be so … 1950’s.
So outdated. And, as much love as we have for our spiritual homeland, we are not Israeli.
So of course, to show off our heritage, we selected this one.
A kippah, in the Bukharan style, that we purchased this winter in Jerusalem as we made our way to the Western Wall.
This is the hat of our heritage.
These are the last days of school. I’m trying to make the most of them with my youngest by having our morning one-on-one time while waiting for his bus. We did just that today, just talking and waiting as the rain fell.
All I was trying to do was play a little math problem solving game with him, and lo and behold, it turned into the beginnings of THE talk.
I was not going to write about this funny conversation with my youngest child, my eight-year-old boy who is a bit worldly thanks to big brother and sister.
However, Blogher and Venus Embrace are putting bloggers up to the challenge of writing about tips of how to have a talk about sexuality with your kids for a $50 Visa Card giveaway, I would take them up on their opportunity.
So, there we were waiting for the bus when my son asks how old his grandparents, my parents, were when they got married, and how old they were when I was born.
Perfect. Time for a little math while waiting for the bus.
Me: Grandpa was born in 1940 and he got married in 1965.
Son: So… he was 25.
Me: Right. Okay, Grandma was born in 1943-
Son: So Grandma was 22.
Me: That’s right. And I was born in 1968.
Son: Didn’t grandma and grandpa want to have kids right away?
Me: Ummm….maybe, but it takes some time to have a baby.
Son: Why? I mean, why didn’t they, right after the wedding, drive up to a hospital and say “We want a baby, please?”
Me: It doesn’t work like that….
Now, I have to say, I had these conversations a little earlier with my oldest two, who watched my belly grow when I was pregnant with my middle and youngest children.
My youngest, however, never had the opportunity to be around a pregnant woman on a daily basis, so these questions had yet to come up.
The conversation continued:
Son: So just HOW does it work? Does a mommy one day look down at her belly and say, “C’mon, belly, give me all you’ve got!” and then the belly grows and then POP! A baby comes out?
Me: No, um. It takes longer than that. It takes nine months for a baby to be born. You see, a mom and a dad have to lay very close…..
Son: Oh, they have S-E-X??
Me: Yes. (Just what does he know? I wondered. But I didn’t prod.)
Me: You see, a woman has an egg inside of her and a man has a seed, and if the seed goes into the egg, in nine months a baby is born.
Son: AN EGG? Like a Chicken?
Me: No, not like a chicken.
Son: Was I Born this way?
Me: Everyone was born this way. And every thing.
Son: Were trees born this way?
Me: No, but most mammals are born this same way.
….. and so on.
After having three kids, my best advice about THE talk is:
- Be calm. Be matter-of-fact. Don’t brush off any questions.
- You don’t have to have THE talk all at once, but take it up gradually
- Only give them just the right amount of information they need and don’t expand. I didn’t get into the complications of birth control, sex before marriage, having babies between same-sex couples, in-vitro-fertilization. WHY? An eight year old just needs the basic facts.
- When they stop asking, it means they’ve had enough information for now.
One thing’s for sure: I will take out a few books for him on the topic at the library. One good source I found was a blog post by Story Pockets, a blog written by the Children’s Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pa.