A Tale of Two Nine Year Olds

On Thursday my nine-year-old came home from school and excitedly asked me, “Did you know there were gunshots in front of D’s house last night.” I did know and I told him that it was all under control, a drug deal from Chicago, a few blocks over had gone bad. Some of the people shooting were hurt, but none of his friends or their neighbors.

We left for the airport to go to D.C. for his cousin’s bar mitzvah. When we got to the airport my husband checked his phone and was greeted by a headline that in Chicago nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee had been lured in to an alley and executed.

Usually when we travel there’s a lot of conversation about sleeping arrangements. My 11 year old likes to sleep by herself. The nine year old likes to sleep as close to another human being as possible and my husband and I naturally like to sleep together. Sometimes we wind up with my daughter and me in one bed and my son and husband in another. Sometimes we start off kids in one bed, adults in another and my son makes his way to our bed during the night. Sometimes we make a bed on the floor for one of the kids, sometimes for my husband.

This trip there was no debate. The room had a king size bed and a pull out couch. The eleven year old got the couch and my husband and I gladly put our nine year old in bed in between us, grateful for his squirminess, grateful for the small arms and legs thrown carelessly over our bodies, grateful for his safety.

On Friday we were D.C. tourists and my son got over tired and overwhelmed as he sometimes does. My husband took our daughter and her cousin ahead and my son and I sat and shared a Coke at the World War II Memorial. We talked about our favorite presidents (Carter for me, Teddy Roosevelt for him) and he informed me that he’d be voting for Bernie Sanders because he cared about poor people. He looked around and saw the Lincoln Memorial, “Wait, is that where Martin Luther King gave his speech?” he asked. I told him it was and he was ready to keep moving on.

We got to the top of the steps and he proudly said, “I could be standing right where Martin Luther King once stood.” On the long walk back to the Metra he repeatedly asked when we would be able to find a Nationals Hat and could he also get a Capitals shirt?

My husband and I worry so much about my son. We worry about his temper, about his new found refusal to eat any vegetables that aren’t cucumbers. We worry about his eczema and his asthma. We worry that the interest in Martin Luther King and justice is so quickly replaced by the interest in what he can have. We worry that he is bored in school. We worry that we are not good enough parents. We have the worries that every parent of every child should have.

We have never once worried that he would be executed in an alley on his way home from school.


Posted in Family Life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Feminism in the Sandwich Generation

The other day my daughter asked me if I thought Winnie the Pooh was sexist because it only has one female character. I told her that any individual work only having one, or or even no, female characters wasn’t sexist. The problem is that the accepted canon of children’s literature doesn’t have equal representations of girls and women.

What I was thinking was, “Eleven seems a little young to be analyzing your childhood.”

Later, we were looking at pictures of her Halloween costume and I said, “I don’t know, you’re awfully pretty to be Ursula.” She said, “Mommy, Ursula is beautiful. She’s evil, but she’s beautiful, the two don’t have anything to do with each other.”

That night before bed she asked me if Peter Pan passed the Bechdel test. I said I wasn’t sure. She thought maybe Tiger Lilly and Tinkerbell might have some conversation at some point.

It was clear that she wanted the story she loves to pass so I told her, “You know honey, it’s not a real test, it’s just something a writer made up as a joke with a friend. Passing or not passing doesn’t make a work sexist or not sexist and just because a work is sexist doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.”

The next day I heard Gloria Steinem interviewed on Fresh Air (or as my best friend and I like to say, FRESH! AIIIIIR!). In the part of the  interview that I heard, Steinem repeatedly talked about the apex of life being from 20-52. She said at 50 women were done raising their children and could return to the way they felt at 9 of 10, free of the constraints of gender.

I’m 46. When I am 50 my children will be 13 and 15. My friend is 50, her youngest child is 6. Most 50 and almost 50 and recently 50 year olds I know are still pretty much in the thick of things, raising children, looking for jobs, wondering what to wear, entering the dating market or working on their marriages.  We are nowhere near free of the constraints of gender.

Speaking of those marriages, Steinem’s newest book includes a passage that essentially says that liberal women who don’t support Hillary Clinton are unhappy with their own marriages.

I can not think of Steinem without thinking of my own second wave feminist mother, a few years younger than Steinem. As a teenager I often asked my mother questions such as, “Why did you get married so young if you weren’t ready?” and “Why did you change your name if you didn’t want to?” She would answer, “That’s just what people did.” And I remember, (with some shame now), throwing Gloria Steinem in her face. “Gloria Steinem didn’t get married.” “Jane Fonda didn’t change her name.”

I was a teenager and it was hard for a teenager in the 1980s being raised as a feminist to understand that if it is 1964 and you are 24 and smart, Jewish, and getting a PhD and your family has always worried how such a smart girl will get married and then a really good looking man who is also smart, Jewish, and getting a PhD asks you to marry him, even if you are not 100% sure that’s what you want, you say yes and you leave Columbia University and move to Indiana and finish grad school at IU. It is hard for a teenager to understand why an adult would spend years fuming at synagogue mail addressed to “Dr. and Mrs.” instead of calling the office and telling them to change it.

But as an adult, I understand. I understand that the world is not perfect and there are only so many battles any one person can wage at any one time. That sometimes you just go with the flow because it is exhausting to fight everything and if you want to live in a community and have friends you can not always fight the community.

So I appreciate Steinem. I appreciate the sacrifices she made. I appreciate that she did things differently. But she is out of touch and I bristle a little at the idea that she is still  trotted out as the voice of feminism. Steinem, and second wave feminism in general, has always faced accusations of ignoring non-middle class women, women of color, queer women. But at this point, Steinem doesn’t even know what’s up with white, middle-age, middle-class, liberal feminists, let alone anyone else.

This morning on BuzzFeed I saw an article entitled, “How to Be a Gender Queer Feminist.” The subtitle reads in part, “Feminism’s focus on women can be alienating to queer people and anyone questioning the gender binary.”

At the bottom of the article you can rate it. Some of your choices include, “Fresh,” “LOL,” “WTF,” a heart and a broken heart.

So on one side, there is my daughter, just learning what it means to look through a lens. On the other side is my mother’s generation, having at one point fought the status quo, now retreating in to their own version of it.

Along the way are today’s young campus feminists who want to censor syllabi and include trigger warnings on The Great Gatsby. Along the way is Nikki Minaj using Twitter to explain intersectionality to Taylor Swift.

I am also along the way, sitting in my work from home office, wondering if I should rate an article about questioning gender binaries with a heart or a broken heart. I am over here registering my kids for activities while I put in a load of wash and call my clients remembering when “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was a feminist anthem.

Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps eleven is not too young to begin analyzing. Apparently, it takes a while to get it figured out.

Posted in Family Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Girl on the Train Has Died

Last night my son was invited to visit a friend who recently moved to St. Charles and my daughter was invited to a costume/slumber party here at home. The plan was that my husband would drive my son out to St. Charles right after school to avoid traffic. I would take the Metra there after getting my daughter to her party. We could have a date in St. Charles and then bring our son home.

I was supposed to take the 5:35 Metra getting in to Geneva at 6:30. When I got to the train station the ticket office was closed, but I wasn’t worried because I knew you could buy a ticket on the train.

At about 6:15 I was alone in my train car when the conductor came through. He asked where I was going, and I told him. He told me the train didn’t go to Geneva, LeFox was the last stop. Apparently, I hadn’t gotten on the 5:35, I’d gotten on the 5:29, because I am always early.

He asked if my car was in Geneva and I explained that my husband was picking me up. He told me to call and see if he could pick me up at LeFox and he’d be back in a few minutes. Of course, my husband agreed to pick me up at LeFox. The conductor came back and asked if it would work out, I said it would. He said, “Oh good, I checked and was going to have them make a special stop for you, but this is better.”

Then he asked where I lived, what I was doing. I explained the situation and mentioned that the ticket office in Oak Park was closed. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “You’re ok with me. Now, you sit here and relax. I’ll be back in a few minutes to get you because you need to change cars, this car doesn’t open at LeFox.” As promised, he came back for me in time for me to get off the train.

I have to say, I was feeling pretty good. Not just because this is the sort of nice, friendly story I don’t get much of in Chicago, but because, to be honest, when I’m treated this well it usually means I look good. Pretty has its own privilege.

So I get off the train feeling sassy and cute and my husband meets me and we go off to a hip tapas restaurant. It’s the kind of place where they don’t take reservations, and you may wind up sharing a table with people you don’t know. Between the “mood lighting” and the teeny type on the menu, neither one of us can see anything. We are fussing with the candle, trying to use our phones, anything to see the delicious cocktail choices we’ve read about. The waitress comes over and asks if she can get us anything.

I’m not sure how, but suddenly I have transformed. I am not a cute girl who does not have to pay for her train ticket, a girl for whom the conductor will make an unscheduled stop, I am a cranky middle aged Jewish woman out to eat. I hear myself say, a little too loudly, “How about a flashlight, honey?”

I am contemplating what has just happened, I am wondering what is going through the waitress’ mind, what is going through the minds of the three thirty-somethings at the end of the table drinking the Margaritas they had no trouble ordering. I am thinking that at least the moment in all it’s mortifying reality is over and then, the waitress offers to show me how to use the flashlight on my phone.

When dinner is over we leave, but not before I have asked the waitress to wrap up the four remaining bites of the delicious corn. Nu? I’ve already come this far, I should let the corn go to waste?


Posted in Random Stories | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Random List of Things I Miss about Having Small Children

Going to the zoo on a beautiful day.

How a trip to the library could be a full day’s activity.

Only working part-time.

The feeling of giddy joy and unlimited possibility that came just from them both being at a birthday party  at the same time.

The look of joy on their faces when I came home, or out of the bathroom.

How easy they were to distract from uncomfortable conversations.

Your backyard friends, the Backyardigans. Also, the Kratt Brothers. And the cute Wiggle.

The heavy ache of someone a little too big falling asleep in my arms.

7:30 bedtime.

Toys and the toystore.

Stopping for a muffin or a cookie on the way home from a class.

The park.

The excuse to never have to go out.

Wondering what it would be like when they were older.


Posted in Family Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Pope, Kim Davis, and Henry David Thoreau’s Sex Life

This morning my Facebook feed was full of people doubting that Pope Francis had really met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky un-clerk. Then, this afternoon my feed was full of people expressing disappointment and disbelief at the news that he had met with her. People are shocked and upset.


I am disbelieving of the disbelief. I was equally surprised to find people surprised to find out that Caitlyn Jenner is somehow transgendered and a Republican and against marriage equality.

Where have all these surprised people been living? Have they never met someone they liked who held beliefs they didn’t like? Do they not have relatives they love who say obnoxious things? Have they never met a gay bigot? An African-American anti-semite? A Jewish homophobe? Did they never learn that Thoreau slept with Emerson’s wife?

Somehow we’ve gotten in to this way of thinking that we are all one thing or another. We think that if we share some beliefs with someone we must share all our beliefs with that person. So we find ourselves shocked that a Pope could espouse income equality and not espouse marriage equality.

I was raised in a somewhat knee-jerk liberal home where all Republicans were considered stupid. This home was in Kentucky, not exactly a bastion of liberal thought (see Kim Davis). It took me until college to start to see shades of grey and nuance in people’s political beliefs. It was finding out that Marx could sacrifice his own family to his cause, that Thoreau could be both self reliant and bop someone else’s wife, that the guy I worked with could be sexist and still be kind that helped me see beyond a simple dichotomy.

But lately it seems that we find ourselves refusing to believe that someone can be intelligent and well meaning and believe anything different than what we ourselves believe. We unfriend and refuse to have conversations with people in different political parties or with different political beliefs because we’re convinced that everything is all or nothing.

When Walt Whitman wrote “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” He was not just talking about himself, he was talking about the country and people in general.

The Pope believes we should work to fight climate change and income inequality. He does not believe in equal rights for women or marriage equality. He is a brilliant and kind man with some noxious views. Maybe all of this shock and surprise is because more of us are like that than we want to believe.



Posted in Advice I'd Like to Give | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Questions about Death on Yom Kippur

Years ago someone told me about a culture where it was considered more of a tragedy when old people died than when young people died. The belief was that when old people died they took a wealth of knowledge and history that the community needed with them. When young people died, it might be sad for their family, but it did not make much of an impact on the community.

It sounds plausible. It also sounds like one of those things that people say to make it sound like other cultures are better than ours, like children in the Amazon can use a machete and our kids have their grapes cut in half for them.

Last week my great-aunt died. She was 95. Many people mentioned how wonderful it was that she lived such a long life. When people expressed their sympathies to me, I made sure to acknowledge that dying at 95 was sad, but not a tragedy.

I did not want anyone to think I was laying claim to more sympathy than that to which I was entitled. But I did think about that mythic culture that mourned the old more than the young. Is it worse to lose a potentially great person than to lose an actual great person?

A few years ago a friend of mine’s father died. In his prime he had been a New York Times bestselling author. There were movie rights sold to his books, he was well known, and then, he slipped in to obscurity. My friend tried to get an obituary of his father published in the New York Times, but they were not interested. At the time I had a freelance job writing book reviews of “literary fiction.” The authors I reviewed were similar to my friend’s father. I could tell you the titles of some books I was the first to review, and you would know them, but not be able to tell me what had happened to the author since. For months I could not stop thinking of the fate of these authors. It seemed tragic to me, to reach success, and then keep going, never really peaking or flaming out.

Today I received a private message on a Facebook account that I manage for a client.

I don’t know who to reach out to about this, but a very dear person in my life worked for you guys and recently passed away. Her name was S. I don’t know if she had close friends from work but if so, I wanted to leave my contact information for anyone that wants to reach out regarding a Celebration of Life. My name is A, and I can be reached by Facebook, email, or phone. I know X Corp is probably a large place but I hope this information can get to the right people.

I wrote her back and expressed my sympathies. I asked her if she knew for what department her friend had worked, or when. She did not. She knew that she had been interested in one day becoming a programmer and that she had left on medical leave some time this summer.

I wondered about that. Was it more of a tragedy to die leaving behind millions who would feel your loss, or to die leaving behind a few friends unsure of where you worked? Is it more of a tragedy to die at the height of your career, to be Jonathan Larson, dying just before the premiere of Rent, or to be S, dying with the hope of one day becoming a programmer.

Here is the answer: Yes.

There is no hierarchy of grief.

Each loss diminishes us, each death is a tragedy.

Posted in Family Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Missing Rosh Hashanah

Today Fidel, who is laying tile in my basement, said the weather feels like winter in Puerto Vallarta, and he is homesick. I know how he feels.

It does not feel like winter in Louisville, it feels like Fall. It feels like it is time to put on a new dress and tights and walk to shul. As a child I received two new dresses a year, for the high holidays. Everything else was a hand-me-down from my older sister and/or saved from the year before. We weren’t poor, but I was tiny and I never grew, everything always fit. I still remember my 6th grade Rosh Hashana dress. A silvery-purplish-grey wool jumper with subtle purple and blue threads woven throughout. The skirt was full enough to twirl and lined so that it wasn’t itchy. I spent services that day tracing the purple and blue threads on my skirt.

I would like to be wearing that dress. I would like to walk to shul with my family, day dreaming about the rare treat of afternoon TV I’ll get later that day. I’d like to sit in my assigned seat in the smaller sanctuary, where on the first day of Rosh Hashanah we get the guest rabbi and our own cantor. I’d like to see my pediatrician in front of me and that weird old man with the nose hairs on the end of the row. I would like to catch my best friend’s eye and in a carefully orchestrated dance not leave at the exact same time and then meet to go hang out in the bride’s room and watch the older girls and younger women primp in the mirror.

I would like to see my first crush, a boy ten years older than me, the son of my first and favorite Hebrew School teacher. She would whisper to me, “Don’t worry, one day he won’t be so old and you can be my daughter.” But of course, he grew up before me and married someone else. She told my mother to tell me when they divorced, and then a few years later he died of leukemia.

I do not want to go to my own temple today. I like the rabbi. He is my age and smart, and kind and thoughtful, I consider him a friend. He does not waste his biggest audience of the year with sermons against intermarriage or for Israel, as the rabbi I grew up with did. He talks about social justice and spirituality, topics that should be discussed on the holidays. Still I sit there bored, longing to be a teenager sneaking out for a cigarette.

This summer I had a bit of a tiff with the temple over a change in their education policy. It has brought up for me all the things I am missing. These things are not the temple’s fault but it has made it clear to me that this temple is not my home and it is not my children’s home. My 6th grader will not go to services today in a lovely new dress to sit on scratchy wool seats. Instead, she has gone off to school. There is no bride’s room or place for young girls to congregate and giggle, and if there were, she has no one with whom to giggle. School is her home and she does not want to miss a day to sit on a folding chair in the back of a cold room for two hours.

Last night I made a honey cake but I cannot go to that temple and long for home.

So today Fidel will work in the basement and I will work upstairs in the study he built me and we will both dream of warmer climates.

Posted in Family Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment