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Three weeks ago, I read Jodi S. Rosenfeldâ€™s post about peeking through her fingers at her kids during candle lighting instead of focusing on her own prayerful moment with a twinge of envy.Â Rosenfeld’s urge to peek is certainly one I’ve had, too. And recently, itâ€™s the kind of challenge Iâ€™ve longed for in contrast to whatâ€™s been going on at our Shabbat table. For weeks, Ruthie refused to participate in our blessings, sometimes trying to sing (or yell) over our prayers. The only way to welcome Shabbat to our table without protest was to allow her to retreat to her room during prayer time, which broke my heart a little bit. Getting her back to the table required that I stop trying to model the rituals exactly how Eric and I defined them, but instead adapt them so that she felt like a full participant.
Shabbat has always been a special time for our family. It adds a transition into our lives from week to weekend, it reminds us of how nice a family dinner can be, and it creates â€śan eventâ€ť even when the agenda is staying in for the night. Ruthie has always enjoyed the singing and the candles and the food, and her little sister Chaya lights up when I strike the match to begin our celebration.
But in spite of all of the loveliness of Shabbat, Friday nights are hard, and they have become harder since Ruthie started a (wonderful) all-day elementary school program. She is exhausted from a full week of school. Her sister is starving (Chaya is usually ravenous, but it always feels a little worse on Fridays). Often we are running around because Eric or I stayed a little too late at work, trying to wrap things up for the weekend. Our house is usually at its most tired, too, so we are sometimes washing dishes to set the table or moving piles of papers around to clear off our dining space.
In this environment of exhaustion, a couple of months ago Ruthie decided she didnâ€™t want to do Shabbat. When I asked her why, I didnâ€™t get very far at first. â€śBecause it’s stupid.â€ť â€śBecause I donâ€™t like the prayers.â€ť â€śBecause I am hungry.â€ť
And then, finally, an answer I could work with:
â€śI donâ€™t want to be Jewish, Mommy.â€ť
Ouch. That hurt. But I didnâ€™t want to let on just yet.
â€śBecause I donâ€™t understand the prayers. We donâ€™t say them in English, and I donâ€™t know what weâ€™re saying.â€ť
â€śCould we try doing Shabbat again if we said the prayers in English?â€ť
â€śSure,â€ť she agreed.
I remembered that last Passover InterfaithFamily had turned me onto Gateways, a fantastic organization that provides resources for children with special educational needs to engage in Jewish Learning. Turns out, their resources are great for people of all abilities and ages. Their blessing sheets, complete with visual supports, are exactly what we needed to meet Ruthieâ€™s request.
Two weeks ago, I printed out copies of the Gateways blessings for us to use during prayers. With these, we started a new ritual, where Ruthie reads the blessings in English before we chant the prayers in Hebrew. Her enthusiasm has grown, as she leads the blessings with great pride. For now, the protests are over, and I can focus on trying not to peek again.
When I was 17, my family hosted a French exchange student. Isabel had never spent any significant time in the US, and our job was to make her feel at home and to introduce her to American culture. I think we did a pretty good job, engaging her in the hustle and bustle of the life of a family of five, dragging her to school plays and track meets, hitting all of the sightseeing hot spots we could fit in during the short time that she was with us. But I always felt like we gave her an exaggerated view of how Americans celebrate Valentineâ€™s Day, since the Berman Family Valentineâ€™s Day is a far cry from the typical card-and-a-box-of-chocolates event. Every year, on February 14,Â I smile when I remember Isabelâ€™s bewildered look as my mother entered our paper-heart-filled dining room with the Valentineâ€™s cake, the grand finale of a day filled with fanfare for all of us.
Valentineâ€™s Day is not a Jewish tradition, but as it is observed in the US it seems far enough away from its roots to be mostly non-religious. Â As I understand it, St. Valentine was actually one (or more) Christian saints, and there are some Christians who observe a special feast or mass. Â The Valentineâ€™s Day we recognize in the US is an amalgamation based on a little Ancient Roman and Christian tradition, bird-mating season, a few great poems, and the business savvy of a bunch of greeting card companies. In my house growing up, it was a reason to celebrate.
My mother loved a good party. She lost her father at age 19 and carried with her a deep understanding of the fragility of life. Â This motivated her to seize every opportunity to celebrate life. Â She also was a perpetual crafter, and any holiday that involved scissors, glue and paint was for her. So Mom was in on Valentineâ€™s Day. And having Isabel as a visitor only motivated her to make 1994 more special.
So Isabelâ€™s first American Valentineâ€™s Day went a little something like this: We woke up to a breakfast table set with Valentine-themed paper goods, and a gift bag at each seat. The bags were filled with cards, candies, socks, some goofy tchotchke to put on our dressers, and one gift picked out just for the recipient. Mom had on heart-shaped earrings, and we were encouraged by example to deck out our outfits with holiday-themed embellishments. Mom had probably labored with at least one, if not all four of us, to put together Valentineâ€™s for our friends – homemade chocolate lollipops or personalized cards. When we got home from school that day, the dining room was set for a formal dinner, with some heart-shaped confetti on the table and construction paper hearts spread hanging from the chandelier.Â We sat down to a dinner that was unusually polished for a school night, and dinner concluded with the cake. A beautiful, heart-shaped cake with pink frosting, set on the table with a grand presentation from Mom.
Incidentally, that year I had my first Valentineâ€™s Day date (after cake, of course). Â But that was a minor happening in the dayâ€™s festivities.
When we become parents, we have a chance to choose which of the traditions our parents gave to us we want to make our own, which we might make special events between grandparents and kids, and which we let slip away. Â Now that my mother is gone, this choice feels even more complicated, as some days, like Valentineâ€™s Day, I feel pressure to be both Mom and Grandma for my girls. Â When special days approach, I find myself in the aisle at a gift store, contemplating spending more than usual on something that only my Mom would buy for them, or worried on the eve of Valentineâ€™s Day that the decorations just arenâ€™t living up to her memory.
I know many people who hate Valentineâ€™s Day. Â They feel it is a â€śHallmark Holidayâ€ť that encourages needless spending. Â They hate how restaurants bloat their prices, and how crowded and unromantic that evening out can be. Â They feel it creates too much stress about being in a relationship, or if they are in a relationship, they feel it creates unnecessary stress to make a grand gesture.
But I love it for all of the reasons that my mother was trying to get through to me. By making it a family holiday, Mom made it about crafts, about food, about a break from thinking about snow and ice, about spreading joy. The love we celebrated was between people, some of them married or coupled, and some of them not. I love having an official Valentine, and having an excuse to tell Eric about how I love him. But I also think back happily on the years I was single and friends and I would enjoy cocktails together, stuffing quarters into the jukebox in our favorite bar, or the years my best friend and I would put goofy off-color poems into each otherâ€™s lockers.
That night in high school, when I saw Isabelâ€™s puzzled face, I leaned over to her and whispered, â€śThis is not normal.â€ť Â But it was not normal in a completely unobjectionable and totally wonderful way. Â So I am choosing to make this somewhat exaggerated family lovefest a Boatright tradition, too. Â Over the weekend our dining room became a craft-making factory, the heart-patterned tablecloth a mess of construction paper, stickers and glitter glue. Â We had a wonderful celebration with my family, a scrumptious brunch followed with the gift bags Mom taught us to make, and way too much chocolate. Â And this morning, my breakfast table was set for a special Valentineâ€™s meal. Â Regardless of the origin of this day, I just canâ€™t pass up a chance to celebrate the gift of another day together.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about editing the scary stuff from Bible stories when I read them to my 5-year-old. Â I acknowledged that the time when she starts understanding the scary stuff, both in The Bible and in real life, is fast approaching. Â However, for as long as I am in control of the stories, my first instinct is to try to find an age-appropriate way to tell them, and at this age what feels most appropriate is a telling without violence. Â Since I wrote that post, the universe has reminded me that the notion of control is a luxury, and often an illusion.
About a week after my post, Melissa Schorr wrote a lovely reflection on protecting childhood innocence in The Boston Globe Magazine. Â In the article, she talks about the heartache she felt when she had to explain the Holocaust to her 8-year-old before she was ready to do so. Â The piece is also about coming to understand her parents’ choice to shield her from evil as a child, and the rare gift of being able to do so.
In response, KJ Dellâ€™Antonia wrote a piece on The New York Times website about how she discusses tragedy with her kids. Â Dellâ€™Antonia argues that if you want to choose how tragedy is explained to your kids, you canâ€™t wait for the right time. Â She points out that there rarely is a time that will feel right, and that we often donâ€™t have a say in the timing of our kids’ discoveries. Â The article encourages parents to seize opportunities to talk about tragedy when they arise.
Reading these, I first wondered if my declaration to protect my child from Biblical evil was a wimpy one. Â But I donâ€™t think that that was the point. Â These two articles remind us that we arenâ€™t really in charge of everything our children see and hear. Â Because of this, we need a strategy so that when our kids ask tough questions we know what we want to say, and arenâ€™t deciding in the heat of the moment.
And then, on Friday, something awful happened. Â A 14-year old boy fatally shot his 9-year-old brother inside their Boston home. Â I do not know the intimate details, but I do know that it is a terrible tragedy. Â My heart breaks for the boysâ€™ family and friends.
On Saturday, I took Ruthie with me to a community meeting. Â The meeting was not about the incident, so the speaker caught me off guard by beginning the meeting with a report on the shooting and a moment of silence in remembrance of the young boy.
On our way home, Ruthie asked me what the man said about the boy and the gun. Â So I recounted the facts that I knew she had already heard in a direct way â€“ that a boy was playing with a gun, and another boy was shot. Â I waited to see if she had a response. Â She asked me why there was a gun in their house, and I told her that some people have guns in their houses, but that guns are very dangerous, and that kids should never ever play with them. Â I reminded her that I work with a lot of Moms who are trying to help protect kids from guns. Â She was done with her questions and shifted the conversation to the rules around gunplay at school, and we had a great conversation about how we both feel about gunplay.
As we pulled into our driveway, I felt the ache that Schorr described about the potential for Ruthieâ€™s childhood bubble to shrink, even with me trying to blow new air into it at the other end. Â Ruthie seems fine â€“ she got the facts she needed, and she seems much more nervous today about the Louis Sachar teacher who turns children into apples than about guns.
I still think I might edit The Bible stories for a little bit longer, since I hope to nurture my girls’ early romance with them before jumping into the tougher parts. Â But I am going to try to be ready for those moments that I need to seize, when the best way to make my girls feel secure is to tell them difficult things in the context of what they mean for our lives. Â All the while, I will be trying my best to be a reliable primary source as they try to make sense of the world.
In 2003 (five years before I had kids), I read about a project that drew me in for the ways it combined my love of storytelling, my nostalgia for the toys of my youth, and my general admiration for out-of-the-box creativity. Â A guy named Brendan Powell Smith had started a website, and then a series of books, called The Brick Testament, where he re-created biblical stories from with Legos. Â Eric and I were excited to find a big stack of Brick Testament books two years later at the MIT Press Booksale, and we gathered them up, a set for ourselves and a bunch more to give as gifts.
The project is impressive – Smith has amassed tons of Lego sets and re-assembled them into unique collections for each tale. Â As you read it you can see the pieces of a farm set climbing into Noahâ€™s ark, or perhaps the body of Obie-Wan with a new head to look like a biblical farmer, walking across Lego tableaus of the Garden of Eden or the Pharoahâ€™s palace. Â Smith does not use an official translation to tell his stories – heâ€™s made his own based on a compilation of sources – but the stories are very recognizable to those that I have learned over time.
About a year ago, Ruthie discovered these books on one of my bookcases. Â She saw the Legos – toys – and claimed the books for her own. Â I figured there couldnâ€™t be much harm in reading them to her – we frequently talk about the stories behind the holidays, what it means to be Jewish, and conversations about G-d are not foreign to our repertoire. Â But as I leaf through them with her, I am both verbally and graphically reminded that The Bible isnâ€™t all sunshine and roses. Â There are some pretty tough parts – violent parts, sad parts – that I donâ€™t feel completely ready to delve into explaining to a five-year old.
Some kids love the scary, but Ruthie doesnâ€™t, largely because, I am sure, her apple fell pretty close to her horror-movie-hating momâ€™s tree. Â And the challenges of getting the scary out did not start with the nights we read The Brick Testament. Â Even though the Disney stories all end in a happily-ever-after, they also almost all contain a terrifying witch, an evil sorcerer, or my least favorite villain, a stepmother out to destroy her husbandâ€™s children. Â And thereâ€™s bad stuff in these stories because thereâ€™s bad stuff in real life, stuff that Ruthie is getting closer understanding with each passing year.
Intellectually, one of my primary goals as a parent is to make my kids resilient people. Â I know that no matter how hard I try, I cannot prevent them from everything that is scary, I canâ€™t keep them from knowing hardship firsthand. Â But if I can give them tools to know that scary things donâ€™t need to make all of life scary, and that the bad things that happen do not need to define them, I will feel like I have done a good job. Â When push comes to shove, however, and the picture on the page is of biblical bloodshed, my maternal instinct tells me to skip that page – to gather the girls up in my arms and protect them from even knowing that people kill other people. Â If resiliency is the goal, it means that someday, and I am sure a day sooner than I am ready for it, weâ€™ll need to not only read about Cain killing Abel in full, but weâ€™ll also need to talk about it for a while. Â And in the end, The Bible, which is reinforced with thousands of years of commentary about why things happened the way they did, is one of my best tools to open the discussion about why evil happens and how to understand it.
In a great article on this website about introducing Torah to your kids, Kathy Bloomfield notes that â€śThere are times when the Torah portion is just not something you want to discuss with the children. Explaining animal sacrifices, what â€śbegatâ€ť means or why there seems to be so much bloodshed can get very tiresome.â€ť There is also a great animated video series on this site presented by Torahlog, which presents the year’s worth of Torah portions with commentary.
Ideally, I want my girls to start out understanding the richness and the wonder of the stories upon which our faith is built, and gain a comfort level that will make them open to the more complex parts as they are developmentally more ready. Â But for now, Â I am going to purchase a few of the books Bloomfield suggests, along with Brendan Powell Smithâ€™s newer bible stories for kids, and start preparing for the days when all four of us are ready for that complexity.
I work at a Jewish organization, and at a recent meeting a colleague questioned what we mean when we talk about our work being driven by Jewish values.
â€śSometimes when we say that, what I hear is that we think Jewish values are better than others,â€ť she said, â€śand I am not so sure that is true.â€ť
She was speaking specifically about our commitment to the 5th commandment, to â€śhonor thy mother and father,â€ť since we work with seniors. She went on to describe how she has watched the adult children of non-Jewish residents of our communities take great lengths to visit their parents, to bring them groceries and ensure that they are happy, healthy, and not alone. Her story reminded me of my own in-laws’ tremendous efforts to care for Ericâ€™s two grandmothers, an impressive and beautiful endeavor that I have been humbled by over the last several years. Donâ€™t these things prove that the values of many different cultures and religions can be pretty great, too, my colleague wondered?
The short answer to her inquiry is that my agencyâ€™s commitment to Jewish values is not an assertion that those values are better than others. It is simply what we follow because of who we are and our organizationâ€™s history. Our president has written some really wonderful pieces to this point on our website (read this or this). But I was struck by her question not as a colleague, but as a parent in an interfaith family who faces this question all the time.
I know Iâ€™ve spoken before about the challenge that we face alongside all interfaith parents who have chosen a single faith for their kidsâ€“to teach our children our chosen religious framework while lovingly sharing how the different religious lenses of our extended family are good, too. This can be hard with young kids, who often do best when things are packaged up in neat boxes with clear boundaries.
As much passion as I have for Judaism, I know, as my colleague pointed out, that Jews do not have a monopoly on good values. When Eric and I were first engaged and some Jewish friends or family members asked if I was worried about our different religious backgrounds, I would answer with the very true statement that despite some differences, our families raised us with very similar values. It is hard to encapsulate something so core to my being in a blog post. But here are some of the things that were firmly embedded in both of us through our upbringings: to honor your parents, to nurture your family and familial relationships, to be kind, to give back to the world, to find a path to spirituality, and to maintain a sense of humor (this last one might not be found in either the Torah or the New Testament, but it is certainly a part of the codes by which we live).
This is a tremendous oversimplification, but the common threads are what made it easy for us to fit our lives together. And it’s one of the most important things I need to impart on my girlsâ€“that following, and hopefully loving, Judaism doesnâ€™t mean you think others’ beliefs are inferior. Whatâ€™s more, if you dig beneath the surface, we often share more than we donâ€™t, and those commonalities are what build the families and communities that will hold them up throughout their lives.
Thanksgivukkah has come and gone, and we have racked up stories of latke-stuffed turkeys and donuts on the dessert table, and, most importantly, of the beautiful lights of the menorah on the Thanksgiving table. But before it becomes history for another 150 or 77,000 years, depending on how you count, I want to take a moment to appreciate what makes this year different for the Interfaith (Jewish/Christian) family. This year, Thanksgivukkah gave way to an easier holiday season, where we can focus more on celebration than challenges.
As it has for the last few years, the first week in December my inbox has filled up with announcements for events about the â€śDecember Dilemma.â€ť The emails describe great-sounding panels with clergy from all walks of Judaism and Christianity offering to help me determine how to best parent through the month where our multi-faith background takes the starring role in our lives. But I have to say, its star is shining a little less brightly this year, because there is a little less dilemma before me.
As an interfaith couple, at its most challenging moments December forces us to articulate our faith choices in a way no other month does. How do we explain to our kids that they are a part of two families, even though those familiesâ€™ traditions seem so divergent in this month? In putting out a menorah instead of a Christmas tree, are we trying to tell them that one thing is better than another? (We arenâ€™t, by the way.) These questions are symbolic of the complexities of the choices we make for the four walls that define our home, questions that we navigate and re-navigate as individuals, parents and families all the time, the countless questions that probably led you to this website today.
And on top of the biggies that are highlighted this time of year, two slighlty smaller questions, the detail ones, always loom large for me in December. First, how do I make Hanukkah meaningful, when Christmas is just so gosh darn distractingly fun and wonderful? And second, how do I coordinate celebrating both with both sides of the family, and still minimize any â€ślost timeâ€ť with either?
This year, Hanukkah started the night before Thanksgiving, so we squeezed in our candle lighting between packing and cooking the stuffing we needed to drive to New York for Thanksgiving dinner. As I mentioned last month, we spend Thanksgiving with my Jewish family, so the gang was mostly there for the second night. Â And then we had three whole nights on a holiday weekend, a rare occurrence for Hanukkah. With Christmas so far in the future that gift lists havenâ€™t even been written yet, we could fully concentrate on Hanukkah – no Christmas party invites to juggle between candle-lighting, and barely an ornament display between me and the Hanukkah decorations at Target. It has been a lovely, small holiday, with plenty of nights to share with Grampy, a few with cousins, and two with friends. And now it is over.
Hanukkah is over, and I have three weeks to shop for stocking stuffers for my husbandâ€™s family, three weeks to scheme about which holiday events weâ€™ll attend together when we visit them. It is almost like Christmas is in a different season. In our home, we talk about the importance of helping our Christian family celebrate Christmas, because it is an important and joyful holiday for them. This year, weâ€™re done with our holiday, so we can fully focus on the help. Rather than choosing between one holiday or another, we did ours, and now we can move on to other things. Â My two detail questions are answered pretty neatly (although I will miss you on Christmas day, Dad!).
So it feels like I got an extra gift this December. And perhaps it is a reminder that even though we talk about a â€śdilemma,â€ť in the end what most of us are trying to accomplish two things. First, to define our own nuclear familyâ€™s take on observance, and teach it to our kids with clarity and love. And second, between the long checkout lines and travel hassles and decisions about whether to light candles or strings of lights in our own homes, December is about balancing a whole lot of celebration and joy. If we focus more on the celebration and joy, maybe we can push the dilemma part of the equation off of center stage and into more of a supporting role.
Last week, Linda K. Wertheimer wrote for the Huffington Post about how a local grocery chain warmed her heart with a grocery bag featuring a menorah and a Hanukkah greeting.Â Itâ€™s a lovely, warm piece about sharing the holiday spirit.Â And I had two responses â€“ first, an impulsive disappointment, as I remembered how I felt when my community â€śput a menorah on itâ€ť as a weak gesture to acknowledge differences.Â After reflecting for a moment, though, I think I get where Wertheimer is coming from, and I can see how her shopping bag can open a door to appreciation and hope.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Then today it happened. The gesture was ever so simple. There, on one side of a local grocery store’s paper shopping bag was a picture of a menorah and the words, “The Wilson Farm Family Wishes Your Family Happy Chanukah!” On the other side of the bag, the greeting was “Happy Thanksgiving,” with a picture of a slice of pumpkin pie. Wilson’s, based in Lexington, a Boston suburb, is an old-style farmer’s market that grew into a large grocery store. They always have been careful to pay homage to Jewish holidays with Jewish-related foods, but I’ve never seen them put Hanukkah on a shopping bag.
Somewhat environmentally conscious, I had taken a reusable grocery bag to the store, but when I saw the Hanukkah bag, I couldn’t resist. I asked for one and gushed about how I couldn’t wait to show it to my 5-year-old son.”
Reaction # 1: Ugh
In her article, Wertheimer talks about feeling like her Jewish lens was invisible in the rural Ohio town where she grew up.Â My first elementary school was 3 miles from the supermarket in Lexington where Wertheimer got her shopping bag.Â 30 years ago, my Jewishness was just a smidge up from invisible in that community.Â In a school of about 300 kids, there were probably 7 Jews.Â Every December, the school erected a tall pine in the lobby, called a â€śholiday tree,â€ť and put a star on top of it. To decorate the tree, the school asked us 7 Jews to color in paper menorahs, as our friends sat beside us and chose from a variety of Christmas symbols for themselves.Â And in the sea of Christmas symbols on the tree, our 7 menorahs hung lacksidaisically, looking lonely and out of place.Â But the school had checked a multi-faith box, and this holiday tree would welcome our parents into the school for the annual â€śholiday show,â€ť a pageant of children performing skits about pine trees and angels and singing Christmas carols.
And that was the end of the story. Â Putting a menorah on the tree each December satisfied their need as a public school to acknowledge other religious traditions. Â With this childhood chip on my shoulder, for years I have bristled at the menorah amidst the Christmas decorations as a weak gesture towards understanding the richness of my faith.
Reaction # 2: Not so fast, Jessie
Fast forward those 30 years, and maybe I can see things a little bit more through Wertheimerâ€™s eyes.Â One of my favorite parts of her article is when she talks about putting â€śHappy Diwaliâ€ť on the shopping bag when the Hindi festival rolls around in late fall, and suggests that we use more opportunities to celebrate religious diversity.Â Maybe the storyline of the December dilemma could be more of a jumping off point, pushing us to open ourselves up and recognize the multitude of interesting, important, and often joyful holidays that happen for different religious groups throughout the year.Â What better way to build community than to focus a little more on the richness of each otherâ€™s cultures, in place of all of the disharmony and bad news delivered through the media every day?
Another thing hit me through the celebratory tone of Wertheimerâ€™s article.Â Iâ€™ve always been hung up on the idea that Hanukkah is a minor holiday, so trying to acknowledge it along with Christmas is a misaligned attempt â€“ why not give Christmas December but talk about Judaism in April when Passover arrives? But I think Iâ€™ve been focusing on the wrong thing.Â Hanukkah may be minor on the Jewish calendar, but it is beautiful. The lit Hanukkiah in the window makes the same gesture as the Christmas tree, to provide more light and invite warmth and cheer into our homes.Â As the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder, why not focus on every opportunity we have for more light?
So I think I say Thanks for the Hanukkah bag.Â What do you think?
Two months ago, I declared my resolution to unplug with you on this blog. I told you Iâ€™d let you know how it was going along the way. I have been reticent to write about it again, but I feel compelled to come clean. I am doing a pretty bad job.Â I am doing a great job at being mindful of how often I turn to technology, which is one step in the right direction, but I am probably only achieving total shutoff every 1 out of 5 weeks, which is much worse than where I thought Iâ€™d be.
If you are observant enough that unplugging isnâ€™t novel, or if you have your own version and youâ€™re pretty good at it, you may not find this of interest. But if youâ€™re one of the many people who told me, â€śThatâ€™s a good idea, I wish I could do that,â€ť I thought Iâ€™d let you know where I am getting hung up. You can use my hang-ups as a reason to not try yourself, or as a guide to how to create your own unplugging objectives. Up to you.
Here is where I find myself reaching for the things I said I could live without:
Reason # 1 (the one I kind of anticipated): Making plans
Because this is not really a â€śturn off electricity because of our religious observanceâ€ť rule, we are turning off our phones but interacting in a non-religious world for most of Saturday. Saturday is a big day for us to be together as a family and with friends.Â All of these friends have their phones on.Â When my girls were younger, I was home on Fridays, so I could focus on family time and planning for the weekend on Friday during the day.Â But now I work fulltime in the office, and so I am trying to both be in family time and plan family time simultaneously on Saturday.Â Itâ€™s a rarity to have the day all planned by Friday night so that I donâ€™t feel an urge to text a few friends so I donâ€™t miss them at the soccer field, or to plan a spontaneous play-date when naptime is over.
Reason # 2: Getting anywhere
When I was living in LA in my 20s, everyone lived by this incredible map book called The Thomas Guide. Over time, the book was imprinted in my brain in a way that only comes from the act of reading off of a page. Now, I use the map app on my phone to get anywhere. And it hasnâ€™t really imprinted. So I either need to print out directions to anywhere I need to go by sundown on Friday, or fumble my way through Boston by trial and error, both of which I am failing to do.
Reason # 3: Music
We live stream a lot of music in our house (and our car). If the rule is that the phone is off, the Internet radio is, too. I try to draw a hard-line on this one, but I am stuck with commercial radio, which I am not crazy about, and CDs, of which we donâ€™t have many that I am not sick of already.
Reason # 4: Reading
I recently put a real page-turner that I took out from the library on my phone. Sure, I have magazines to read, but I want to finish that book, gosh-darn it.
Reason # 5: Writing
Writing is a diversion I really enjoy. It allows me to clear my head, think differently, and attempt to get interesting things up on this blog. But after over 20 years of relying on word processors, I just canâ€™t write that quickly on paper anymore. And my hand cramps. And then I need to transcribe it on Sunday. So Iâ€™m not writing, but Iâ€™m not crazy about not doing it.
Reason # 6: Winding down
On a good week, Eric and I put the kids to bed and enthusiastically play a board game or talk about whatâ€™s on our minds. But on a regular week, when we are stressed and tired, thereâ€™s nothing that feels more romantic than snuggling up on the couch and watching a movie or six episodes of How Itâ€™s Made. But our resolution was that unplugging means no TV on Friday nights. Some weeks, we just decide to skip that rule, and others, we both just go to bed early, which is good for our health but doesnâ€™t achieve the objective of taking the TV away so that we can better connect to one another.
Because of all of these things, Iâ€™ve cut myself some breaks that feel unavoidable in the moment but don’t help me in achieving my goal. Iâ€™m not ready to change the rules just yet â€“ I want to give it some more time. And even with the rule skirting, I think weâ€™re getting somewhere. When we donâ€™t use the Internet radio, we talk more, read more stories, or remember to look out the car window at the beautiful trees instead of looking at the pictures on the phone. We may not actually ban TV for 24 hours, but we are mindful of not turning it on before we have a conversation to unwind together first. And the phone has pretty much disappeared from our dinner table 7 days a week, when it had crept in a little too much. So weâ€™re getting somewhere. Its just slow going.
Earlier this week, Ruthie, her friend, and I had a heart-warming (for me) conversation about my work in affordable housing.Â We were talking about an event I had for work that night, and I asked Ruthie to explain my job to her friend.Â Of course, she started with the story of the dog that lives in one of our buildings and how he might have to find a new home because heâ€™s peed in the hallway one too many times (they both thought this was hilarious), but she ended with really explaining (in 4-year-old terms) about how some people need help finding and affording decent housing.Â So I had a proud moment of feeling like I am doing a good job in teaching her about the importance of Tikkun Olam, healing the world.
And then this morning happened.Â Ruthie refused her nighttime bath, for fear that weâ€™d sneak in a stealth hair-washing, but slipped into the shower with me this morning.Â When she was done washing, and I reached over to turn off the faucet, she embarked on a mini-tantrum, yelling at me that she just needed 3 more minutes.Â As much as I have modeled good behavior, and dragged her along to volunteer events, charity walks and my own work, I am stumped when it comes to conservation.Â Raising kids in the era of hand sanitizer, it feels harder than ever to teach the tension between the value of cleanliness and the need to protect the earthâ€™s resources.
There was a father in our parenting class who is an environmentalist by trade, and in the session where we discussed teaching Tikkun Olam, I asked him how he taught his three kids about conservation.Â He told a sweet story about how he taught his kids to turn the tap off so that they could save water for the fish (meaning the fish in the sea).Â He made it sound like it was a pretty easy sell.Â So the next time Ruthie started to protest the shower ending, I tried it.
â€śRuthie, sweetie, we need to be careful with the water and not use too much of it, so that we can save water for the fish.â€ťÂ She looked at me, turned off the water frantically, and ran out of the bathroom.Â I followed the pitter patter of her feet and found her in the living room, standing infront of our fish tank.
â€śLook, Mommy,â€ť she said, â€śthe fish have plenty of water.â€ťÂ I am guessing my classmate didnâ€™t have a fish tank in his house.
So we keep trying.Â As we edge closer to her fifth birthday, she is beginning to get the idea of resource conservation a bit more (huge thanks to her schoolteachers on that one!), but we still have a ways to go before the â€ś3 more minutesâ€ť pitch is over.Â The saving water for the fish story isnâ€™t working.Â Anyone have a better idea?
There was a time when Eric and I shared a love for The O.C. In the days before OnDemand, one of the most romantic things that my future husband ever did was to take copious notes of the 2004 season premiere when I was stuck at a community meeting that night and couldnâ€™t watch it myself. It was a nighttime soap opera filled with hyperbole and totally unrealistic situations, the kind of show that I should be embarrassed about loving. But I admit it proudly, we were serious fans.
Even though I think that the prominence of the Cohens, the lovably complex interfaith family at the center of The O.C.â€™s drama, probably helped gain some ground for Jewish/Christian partnerships overall, I cringed when Seth Cohen asked the world to embrace Chrismukkah in the Winter of 2003. Iâ€™m going to show my cards here: I donâ€™t believe that the answer to â€śThe December Dilemmaâ€ť is to combine holidays. Its not because I want to deny either Christmas or Hanukah â€“ its quite the opposite. I love both holidays â€“ and I love how marrying into a Christian family means Iâ€™ve had 14 years to get an inside view of how joyous Christmas is. But the holidays are so profoundly different â€“ especially in their level of import to the religions of which they are a part â€“ that to me combining them feels like a disservice to them both.
I have been reminded of my conflicting love of The Cohens and unease for the Chrismukkah they popularized as a new combination of holidays is coming up this year. With the first night of Hanukkah occurring on Thanksgiving, everyday folks, community leaders, and yes, makers of merchandise, have begun to proclaim 2013 the year of â€śThanksgivukkah.â€ť I first started hearing about the â€śholidayâ€ť via a mouthwatering post of Thankgivukkah recipes on BuzzFeed. Itâ€™s hard to object to a holiday that boasts sweet potato bourbon noodle kugel and pecan pie rugelach. From that first post, it seems to have caught on like wildfireâ€¦.there are t-shirts, limited edition menorahs, a website (put up by Manischewitz), a Facebook page, and even a block party in LA. Not to mention a piece on this site about navigating the convergence of both holidays with Jewish family and those who do not celebrate Hanukkah.
So am I ok with it? Its growing on meâ€¦.this idea that it is phenomenally rare (read this article to see just how rare), that there are totally great menu possibilities, and that my family will conveniently all be together to light the menorah for the first time (like many interfaith couples Iâ€™m sure, we usually spend Thankgiving with our Jewish family and Christmas with our Christian family, so Thanksgiving is already kind of a Jewish family thing). And part of my objection to combining Christmas and Hanukkah is that it forces an importance on Hanukkah that isnâ€™t consistent with the rest of the religious calendar â€“ making it easy to breeze over a true understanding of either Christmas or Hanukkah.
But Thanksgiving and Hanukkah might fit better together â€“ they are both based on lore that donâ€™t necessarily create something new (like a whole new religion!) but allow people to pause in a time of turmoil to consider new hope. And since we usually eat well before sundown but donâ€™t light the candles until sundown, hopefully theyâ€™ll be a moment to pause in between and talk to our kids about each holiday, separately. And, finally, now that I have kids and am navigating life in a multi-generational, multi-faith family where the absolutes of my pre-kid 20â€™s seem a little fanciful, maybe Iâ€™ll soften up on Chrismukkah, too. No promises, Seth Cohen.