Sunday, October 7, 2012

~ by Jay

There's so much going on that I could write about. Eve is preparing for her bat mitzvah. We're a month away from the Presidential election here in the US, and some of the Republican political rhetoric is straight out of A Handmaid's Tale. I started a post in response to Jennifer Weiner's article in Allure and this video responding to fat-shaming and haven't finished it.

I'm not all that pressed for time, and I'm not tired - I have more energy than I've had in a very long time. I've caught up on a lot of house and work responsibilities that have been waiting for months; when I'm done with this, I'll go back to cleaning out the kitchen cabinets. So why am I so quiet here? I tried to put the guilt aside for a while and think diagnostically instead of critically, and I think I've figured it out.

Five months ago, I changed my eating habits and started to exercise again. The results have been gratifying (that's where all that extra energy is coming from) and have made it easier than I expected to stick to the plan - but now I'm living in a changed and changing body, and I'm feeling the emotions that I used food to avoid. When I have time to reflect and write, that's what's on my mind. I don't really want to write publicly about this process - it's too raw and personal and, for now, too new. The part of my brain and spirit that needed to write here is otherwise occupied.

This all feels remarkably self-centered and somewhat selfish to me. I'm not accustomed to all this introspection. I've never been reluctant to share. I'm spending more time and more mental and emotional energy on me and that feels selfish, even though I know it's necessary and even though Sam and Eve are enthusiastically supporting me.

I'm not shutting the blog down, but I am going to let it go fallow and not feel guilty. This has been - and continues to be - an amazing experience, and I am grateful for everyone who reads and comments and creates a sense of community - especially to MPJ and Tigermom, my dear friends here and in "real" life. I know this conversation will continue. Thank you all.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sex, Rock-and-Roll, and Language
~ by Jay

No sooner do I start writing about kids and language than Lisa Belkin writes this at HuffPo, linking to a blog post from a woman who doesn't want her three-year-old to use the word penis. He's a boy - so he's an owner-operator, but apparently until he went to preschool and was corrupted by the big, bad outside world, he didn't know the word.



We used every correct anatomical term with Eve - including vulva for external genitalia, instead of the usual vagina-covers-everything approach. I don't think I ever had much shyness about using these words, but if I did it was long gone before medical school. I was a dorm health aide in college, and one of our training sessions involved listing every word and phrase we'd ever heard as a euphemism for genitalia or sexual acts or forms of contraception. It was a very interesting afternoon, and by the end, I was perfectly comfortable with all the words I knew, and some I didn't. It was no big deal, after that, for my three-year-old to point to the dog and say "Mommy, he has a penis. He's a boy". (I am aware that not all penis-bearing humans are boys, but I didn't explain that when she was three. She knows now.)

There are words I don't like - I won't ever use cunt, no matter how many women tell me it's been reclaimed - and generally I am far more comfortable with the real, non-euphemized words than with the street vernacular, but I've heard them all and I can repeat them without blushing.

Which is a good thing, because last night we were driving home from shul and Eve tuned the radio to her favorite Top 40 station. A song came on I hadn't heard before - something about a whistle - and she said "Mom, do you know this song is really about blow jobs?"

No, I didn't. Nor did I know that you knew the term "blow job". By the time we got home, she'd learned the correct term (apparently in health class, they didn't teach them the word fellatio), and also been reminded that men also perform oral sex on women - it's not a one-way street. "Have you ever done that?" Yup. "YUCK". I'm glad you feel that way.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Baby Talk
~ by Jay

This post on Motherlode made me smile. It reminded me of me.

I was one of those verbally precocious and fairly obnoxious little kids who speak like an adult. I read well beyond grade level, I read all the time, and I didn't have many friends my own age. Add to that an unusual ability to think on my feet and parents who included their children in almost all adult conversations, and you have an eight-year-old who talks in long, verbose paragraphs, with grammar and vocabulary more often employed by pretentious graduate students. My parents found it amusing and my grandfather found it gratifying. My teachers and my peers were neither amused nor proud.

When I was about 13, and "no friends my own age" was getting old, I made a conscious effort to start talking more like a kid. I never really got there, but it was enough of a change to irritate my grandfather. Mission accomplished. I stopped worrying about it in college, where most of us talked like pretentious graduate students, and I figured I'd found my tribe. Now I code-switch when I'm with patients or non-medical folk to avoid the worst of MediBabble, and the rest of the time I let my word freak flag fly.

When Eve was born, Sam and I did not stop talking in full sentences and we didn't really change our vocabularies. There was a fair amount of "widdle babeee cutieee pieee" because she was a widdle babeee cutieee pieee, but by the time she was two or three that stopped. Eve is much more interested in being one of the crowd than I ever was, so she has always talked like a kid. I didn't take the advice of one friend who suggested that we avoid Dr. Seuss until she was learning to read, and instead read to her from Shakespeare and Frost and Donne - I waited a long time to read "Green Eggs and Ham" to a child, and I intended to enjoy it (although I have to say that "Hop on Pop" goes on way too long). We found lots of other wonderful rhyming books - my favorite was Two Cool Cows  - with more sophisticated language. And we didn't curtail our vocabularies.

Cursing was different. My parents never cursed in front of us - well, no more than the occasional "damn". I heard my mother say "SHIT" precisely once in my first 20 years, and that's when she was vacuuming without her glasses and ran the machine over, yes, shit (the dog was getting old). My father thought this was so funny that he volunteered to clean the vacuum - Mom intended to throw it out. When I was a junior in college, my father commented that someone didn't know "shit from shinola". My mother said "Not in front of the child!" and my father said "She's 21. It's time, Susie". My extensive childhood vocabulary didn't extend to the "really bad words" - I didn't pick those up until college.

Once I picked them up, I had a hard time putting them down, though. I can control myself at work, since it's entirely unprofessional to curse around patients, but at home I can sound like the proverbial sailor. When Eve was born, I eliminated the very worst words but never completely extinguished "damn" and "hell". We never tried to stop her from saying them, either, and by the time she was 10, and we knew she was hearing "fuck" and "shit" on the playground every day, we stopped censoring ourselves. We told her that we didn't care if she used those words, as long as she wasn't saying them at someone. In our house, we don't use "gay" or "lame" or "retarded" as slurs. We don't say "homo" at all. We don't call women "bitches" and we don't tolerate any version of the n-word. We've told her that our standards are pretty much the opposite of other people's, and that she should watch her language at other people's houses. But when the dog tangles his leash under the refrigerator and she's the one lying on the floor trying to unsnare it while the dog licks her face, then I don't see anything wrong with a muttered "holy fuck".

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Sweet New Year
~ by Jay

Brisket, kugel, chicken soup, challah, black beans (for our vegetarian guests) and apple and pumpkin pie (our traditional desserts) are all waiting their turn. The last load of pre-dinner dishes is in the dishwasher and the bowl of apples is on the table. I'm still working on the aliyah I'm supposed to chant tomorrow.

Wishing all of you a sweet New Year. May we be written in the Book of Life for a good year, a year of peace. L'shanah tovah.

Monday, September 3, 2012

With This Ring
~ by Jay

I love weddings. I love the sentiment and the ceremony and the music and the cake and the "how we met" stories. I love the dressed-up little kids and the parents trying not to cry and the one thing that you always forget but it ends up OK anyway.

Most of all, I love sitting next to Sam at a wedding, and leaning into his shoulder or squeezing his hand when something reminds me of us, because I know what he's thinking. I love seeing him mist up when someone uses the same processional we had,  or a similar reading. I love it when our eyes meet and he looks at me the same way he did, all those years ago, when he was so nervous that he said "I do" early because the rabbi paused halfway through the vows.

Every wedding is a chapter in a story, and I love stories, especially when my own has a happy ending.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Justice, Generosity and Boundaries
~ by Jay

We sent Eve to public school in a urban, challenged district because we wanted her to grow up in the real world, not in the upper-middle-class, all-white, all-our-children-are-above-average-and-should-go-to-college bubbles we grew up in. She grew up in the real world - she learned about food stamps and fathers in jail and mothers who couldn't pay the rent and 16-year-old sisters who had babies and kids who couldn't afford pencils and notebooks.

And now she's learning about homelessness.

Eve's friend Marcella lived with her mom and five other kids, some siblings and some half-siblings and at least one cousin, in a rowhouse in one of the most challenged areas of the city. Last week, one of their neighbors left a pot unattended on a stove. Five houses were destroyed in the fire. Everyone in Marcella's family got out safely and a brave bystander rescued their two dogs. The Red Cross put them up in a hotel for three days, and then they had to leave the hotel - and they have nowhere to go. Marcella texted Eve to say "We're out on the curb in front of our house and I don't know what we're going to do".

Sam got in touch with the school district and we gave Marcella and her mom the name and number of the office that assists homeless students; the school district has strong motivation to make sure Marcella and her sibling and cousin are all in school, and they have access to other programs. Eve is packing up some clothes to give to Marcella, along with some extra school supplies. We talked about why it's so difficult to find a new place to live - about deposits and landlords and exorbitant housing prices - and about the ways in which government could do a better job. But we didn't invite Marcella and her family to stay here. Eve didn't ask and we didn't offer.

We have room - we probably have as much room as they were living in. I wish I were the kind of person who could throw my house open to anyone in need. I wish I could really follow the commandment to care for the orphan and the widow and the stranger at our gates. I know I can't. Eve spent a fair amount of time at Marcella's last year; their house is chaotic and full of conflict. I don't know Marcella's mom at all. We live in an area of the city that isn't really served by public transit and it's too far for the younger kids to walk to school. Are those reasons or excuses?

Sam and I like to think we have a social conscience. We give money and we give time and we both work in relatively underpaid jobs because we believe in the value of what we do; we are still impossibly and unimaginably lucky and privileged. We would never be on the street because we have family who could take us in, and who could give us money. We have always had a safety net that Marcella will never know. I can't save everyone; I'm not required to save everyone. I know that. I have a right and even an obligation to keep my own family safe and to give myself a break from the chaos and emotional stress of the stories I hear at work. And yet, somewhere inside, I will always feel that I am not doing everything I could be doing to heal the world.