Shabbat is a really big deal at my house, as it is for most Syrian Jewish families living in Brooklyn today. At my house, Shabbat is partly about spirituality, partly about family but mostly about food...Read More
Helen Fisher says that couples want to know everything about a potential life partner before they tie the knot. But when I first met my husband, I didn’t care if a closet door was left open. People change. And maybe that’s the point.Read More
Unexpectedly, under a canopy of snow covered trees, a bride and groom, and their photographer, appeared. Being a romantic, I was enchanted. What magic! The scene was entirely perfect—so much hope, love, joy...Read More
What do children know about their parents? I mean, really know about them.
The thought was sparked recently when I mentioned to my 24-year-old daughter that I couldn’t wait for the weekend so I could begin to read the stack of books on my desk.
“Really? You’re into it?” she asked.
“I saw a Post-it on top of the books. I thought you were miserable about it.”
This is what she saw...
I had written myself a note, a reminder, to buy Stephen King’s book, Misery.
How often do misunderstandings like this happen? How often do parents transmit a message that is not true?
Years ago, I wrote about my 8-year-old son asking, “Mommy, when did you turn Jewish?” in an essay with that same name. Throughout his life, he heard my husband and I debate how religion should be expressed and explored in our home, and as a result, my child did not understand where I stood. He did not understand based on what he'd heard that I’d always been Jewish, and that I had a strong sense of Judaism. And so on Purim, when we baked homemade hamentash, he was confused, and asked me that question.
Just as easily, he could’ve wondered to himself, not asked the question at all, and not given me the opportunity to explain.
Over and over again, parents are assured (or warned) that if we are ourselves, our children will know who we are, whether we want them to or not.
But what if they get conflicting messages?
What if they only know part of a story?
I spent a lot of time researching this topic because now that I have adult children, I want them to know me, the real me, not some fake version, a projected, fantasized view that keeps me stuck in a specific role. I want them to know me with all my flaws and strengths and everything else that makes me human.
But there was nothing. I mean nothing. I could not find one article about this topic. No matter what sequence of words I strung together, every article I found focused on parents knowing their children, and not the other way around.
I found articles titled:
What All Children Want Their Parents to Know, Relating to Adult Children and The Bill of Rights for Parents of Adults.
Of course, it’s important for parents to know their children or, at least, attempt to, especially if you are interested in an intimate relationship; but why is it so difficult, or undervalued or maybe even taboo for children to know their parents?
My kids think they know me — and to a large degree they do. But I think they, along with children around the globe, fill in the spaces with their own ideas, create their own narrative, project and assume.
I’d like to change that.
I think this blog post is my first step.
“I’m bi now,” Jasmine told Pam and me. Jasmine was a make-up artist at Barney’s. ( I did not "make-up" her fairytale name to serve this post.)
For fun, Pam and I went there before her first date in over 25 years. Her husband, Sandy, an Emmy Award-winning television writer, best dad and husband, all around great guy, had passed away a year before.
"I’m bi by choice,” Jasmine continued. “Women are more honest, more compassionate. Men are little boys. You," she said to Pam, as she dabbed her eyelids with cover-up, "have great energy."
And it’s true, Pam does have great energy. What she didn’t have was a How To manual for dating. The last time she dated, Boy George was a hit singing Karma Chameleon and Blockbuster Video was opening their first store.
A lot has changed since then.
Men don’t come to the door to pick up women anymore.
They don’t bring their date home.
They might, or might not, pay for the meal, or more likely drinks, because a meal, it turns out, is too big of a commitment.
“You’re going to be fine,” Jasmine said to Pam. “You’re an alpha-female.”
In this strange new world, Pam as a single woman, it was hard to discern if Jasmine was flirting.
That night, Pam’s date was lovely. As men of his generation did, he picked her up, and they went to a restaurant together. Once there, confident and comfortable in her own skin, Pam read the menu with her reading glasses on. Not the skinny bitch type, she wasn’t about to order a salad and a piece of grilled fish— dry. She wasn’t that kind of girl. No, she ordered eggplant parmesan just as an alpha-female should. Pam feeling relaxed, took her shoes off under the table.
The evening went well enough. Until it was time to go.
Maybe there was too much salt in the food or maybe it was because Pam had flown in from California that morning but when she attempted to put her shoes back on, she couldn’t. Her feet, mysteriously, blew up, and both her pinky toes refused to be crammed into her shoes.
Her date locked arms with her as she hobbled, her pinky toes dangling, to a taxi outside.
When my husband heard what happened, he laughed and said, “That’s reverse Cinderella!”
Dating can be tough but dating after 50 is a whole different story.
“You have to kiss a hundred frogs before you find a prince,” my friend Susan said.
Susan who got divorced after 20 years of marriage navigated the single world brilliantly. While she was single, we mused over how impossible it seemed to find someone to spend the rest of your life with, especially at such a late stage of the game. A needle in a haystack.
At 50, you know who you are. You can’t lie to yourself like you did when you were 20. At 20, often, the fantasy took over and you forgot to pay attention to his work ethic, his wandering eye, his fear of intimacy, his tendency to drink everyone under the table or that he was a Momma’s Boy. Maybe he was social and loved to entertain, and you liked a more quiet life, but you got married anyway and figured you’d work it out after.
You don’t do that at 50.
At 50, there are things you can’t ignore. And it seemed like an impossible feat to find a match. There were the big things to consider like chemistry, education, religion and lifestyle. But what about weird things like hygiene?
Susan and I would lament; it seemed like too much. Date after date, there were stories.
Once, a man told Susan, on their first date, about his ex-wife. His fury mounted. “Wait until I get my hands around her neck, I’ll fix her wagon. That bitch.”
But Susan took it all in stride. “Dating is like shopping online for shoes,” she said. “You keep clicking until you find the right pair.”
Susan did find her match.
And just the other day someone responded to the new profile picture Pam put up. He wrote,
“Good Morning, Snow White.”
When my mother-in-law was 70 years-old, she frequented nightclubs with red ropes outside. While people a third of her age waited in long lines, in freezing temperatures, bouncers all over New York City ushered her in. Have you been to Lavo? she’d ask my daughter-in-law and my daughter. (She skipped right over me, the one who enjoys author readings and likes to eat dinner by 7pm.)
Any other fabulous places I should go? she wanted to know.
Obviously, my mother-in-law has spunk. But she has grace and wisdom too.
Widowed, she knew enough about herself to know she didn’t want to be alone. She joined an online dating service, attended fundraisers and parties for singles. At one of these events, she met a lovely man from South Africa, and within a few months, they were married. I am not exaggerating when I say he is one of the most pleasant and kind people I know.
Women who know my mother- in- law say she should give classes.
The class might be titled:
Set Your Sights On A Goal And Never (Ever, Ever, Ever) Give Up.
I've learned some important things from my mother-in-law.
- Always hold on to the banister when you walk down stairs.
- Everything you say to someone registers. Even if they appear to not be listening, it festers in the back of their head, so say what you have to say.
But mostly, I've learned from watching her.
On Friday nights before Shabbat, Syrian families sometimes gather for what is known as maza, or Syrian appetizers. Maza is a middle eastern tradition and typically, kibbe is served. Kibbe is made of bulgar and is stuffed with spiced chopped meat and deep fried.
There is no telling how far back this tradition goes, centuries I’m sure, but this past summer, in an effort to bring her family together, one of her most important values, she started her own tradition. Wanting to please young and old alike, instead of inviting everyone in her rather large family over for maza (nobody wants to eat fried meat and dough anymore) she invited us for Cookies and Cocktails.
She might be one to do away with kibbe but she definitely hasn’t updated her views on marriage. She thinks everyone should be married. And the sooner the better. So my 24 year-old single daughter is a subject that perplexes her. When my daughter was hesitant to go on a blind date, my mother-in-law told her, “Just go for a drink. What’s the big deal? I would go for a drink with the mailman.”
My mother-in-law is a beautiful woman and she takes good care of herself. Exercise may include a brief walk in high heels, usually the length of 2 department store windows, but she watches what she eats. She is known to eat only half of everything. She eats half a main course, half a cookie, half a muffin.
"But what if it’s a mini muffin?” one of her children challenge. “Then you can have the whole thing.”
But she won’t.
She has her way of thinking.
She’s been travelling a lot lately: South Africa, Israel, Mexico, St. Barthes, Turkey, Spain, Portugal.
But please don't misunderstand. My mother-in-law has had her challenges. Her best quality is her attitude.
The class she should teach: A Positive Mind, A Positive Life.
My mother in law is well balanced. She has a chip on both shoulders.
Is there a family relationship more burdened?
Tempting fate, I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with my daughter-in-law, Margo, last week. We went to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Margo is pragmatic. She is a nurse and scientifically minded. On our way to BAM, Margo rattled off a list of over 32 things she’d done that day, including errands in Brooklyn and New Jersey, tending to her children, helping with homework, meeting with a painter and just before leaving her house, giving an injection to a pregnant friend.
I, on the other hand, tinkered with a story idea for most of the day.
And to tell you the truth, I was feeling a bit down about that. It is hard to stay home, facing an empty screen and have what appears to be nothing accomplished at the end of the day. Of course, I know this is not really true but Elizabeth Gilbert’s message couldn’t have come at a better time. She assured the creative souls in her audience that we were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing and she encouraged us to keep at it.
She talked about fairy dust and inspiration but she also talked about hard work and perseverance.
She talked about the voices in her head, how they take up space and how she lets them come alive: The Doubter, The Critic, Fear—and while that process didn’t sound so crazy to me, Margo diagnosed her with multiple personality disorder.
You’re probably wondering why my not necessarily artsy daughter-in-law wanted to hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creativity, especially considering she is one of the few people in the world who didn't even read Eat Pray Love. Or see the movie.
This is how it happened.
I was supposed to be going to the BAM with my husband but he forgot and bought tickets to the Giants game.
I invited my daughter but she opted out.
My son, Margo’s husband, was going to the football game with his dad and Margo didn't want to stay home. I promised her a drink after the reading and let’s just say it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting.
My oldest daughter kept smirking, doubting the whole prospect.
But she was wrong; because while Margo and I are not exactly alike (I drink vodka, she drinks tequila) we both loved the event, and the hole-in-the-wall bar we found afterwards with live music. Granted, it was a bit awkward when two men started talking to us but we left soon after and found a great restaurant. I know I’m in the right place when there are vegan options on the menu.
It’s not always easy for us to find time to get together much less share intimacies. But that night, we learned new things about each other.
A mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law: loving each other, respecting each other, caring about each other.
Now that’s art.
That’s Big Magic.
The bad news was that the test could be right.
I thought I was the kind of person who’d need to find out if my baby was healthy. I figured I'd have an amniocentesis done and within two weeks, I'd know.
My husband and I went for genetic counseling, a requirement before amniocentesis was preformed at the time, and we learned that our chances for having a sick child were exactly equal to the chance of me having a miscarriage due to the procedure.
Five months in, my stomach the size of a soccer ball, I was already attached to my unborn baby. Wanting it, I decided at the last minute that I could live with whatever my higher power had in store for me but that I couldn’t live with a miscarriage that was my own doing.
The rabbi encouraged me to pray with all my heart as if anything could happen but believe, simultaneously, that everything was going to be okay.
I spent the next twenty weeks of my pregnancy not knowing.
Thankfully, the baby was healthy.
Looking back, I don't how I did that.