holidays · Jewish · reading the world · slice of life

An Emerging Jewish Identity

I’ve found navigating pleasantries can be tricky when you’re a Jew living outside of New York City in December.  Nearly everyone I encounter assumes I celebrate Christmas.  I’ve learned to respond to “Merry Christmas” with “Have a happy new year.”  It’s non-denominational and I figure it won’t offend anyone who is an atheist or agnostic.  However, if someone asks me, “What are you doing for Christmas,” I respond with “I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m Jewish.”  Occasionally someone will follow-up with, “So you don’t have a Christmas tree?”  BUT, most of the time, the conversation switches to something else.

As soon as Isabelle was able to sit upright, people began asking her, “Have you been a good girl for Santa?”  I found, “We don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Chanukah” to be a good enough response.  Even though she can speak for herself now, I still pre-empt the conversation and tell the other person why Santa won’t be visiting our house.

Before I tell you about the BIG THING that happened on the Christmas front today, allow me to go back to Tuesday afternoon.  Isabelle and I were at Chocolate World where she was admiring a beautiful red ball with chocolate candies inside.  She wanted the ornament and I had to explain it was for a holiday, Christmas, that we don’t celebrate.  “We celebrate Chanukah,” I told her.  I located the tiny Chanukah display inside of Chocolate World and brought her over to it.  “See the blue and white Hershey kisses and the chocolate bar wrapper with the dreidel?  Those things are for our holiday, Chanukah.”
She was not impressed.  “I want the red ball!”
“It’s a Christmas ornament for a Christmas tree, Isabelle.  We don’t celebrate Christmas.  I am not going to buy you the ornament.”
“I wanna celebrate Christmas!” she declared.
“Well, that’s not going to happen because you’re Jewish!”
“I wanna celebrate Christmas,” she repeated.
{Deep breath.}
“Let’s go find the Chocolate House,” I offered, changing the subject.
She agreed.

Fast-forward to this morning.  I was talking with her occupational therapist at the end of her session in the office lobby.  Isabelle was twirling around and chatting about her Elmo stuffie with four older women who were ogling over her.  Once I was finished speaking with her OT, I told her it was time to get our coats (to go back to Chocolate World — of course).  As we walked away one of the women wished Isabelle a “Merry Christmas.”  Isabelle paused.  In a calm voice she looked at the women and said, “It’s Chanukah.”

None of them responded.  I said nothing.  I just watched as Isabelle articulated herself more carefully.  “It is Chanukah,” she said.

“Oh, well, Happy Chanukah, then!” the lady who said “Merry Christmas” said to her.  All of the other ladies joined in and said, “Happy Chanukah.”

I couldn’t believe it.  My little girl took it upon herself to use her voice to, in essence, say, I don’t celebrate Christmas because I am Jewish.  I was FLOORED.

I took Isabelle aside after I zipped up her coat and told her how proud I was for calmly telling the ladies, in her own way, that Christmas wasn’t her holiday. In the car, I explained to her how I respond when people say “Merry Christmas” to me, but told her what she did was perfectly okay.

My daughter used three small words to send a big message today.  She essentially told a group of women not assume everyone celebrates Christmas.  Her Jewish identify is emerging and I couldn’t be prouder.

* * * * *

Let the record show that when she was at Chocolate World today she saw the Christmas ornaments from Tuesday, pointed at them, and said, “Those are for Christmas.”  She paused.  Then she said, “I celebrate Chanukah.”

OBSERVATIONS · reading the world

Logo Recognition

Somewhere in my brain I have some information about the name of what Isabelle did the other day.  But there’s a lot of stuff in my brain.  Seeing as this information went into it somewhere between 2005-2007, I’m having trouble retrieving the information.

My mom, Isabelle, and I were eating at a table by the window in a local Panera.  I knew I needed to get some work done on my keynote speech that afternoon, so I asked my mom, “Would you mind going to Giant for me?  It’s a short list.”

Just as my mom said, “sure,” Isabelle pointed with her index finger straight ahead.

“Ga,” she said.

Huh?  I looked at where her finger was pointing and noticed she was pointing towards the Giant.

“Oh wow!  You’re right.  That is a Giant store.  But it’s not our Giant.  I’m asking Bubbe if she’ll go to our Giant for me later.  But, yes, that is a Giant too.”

Then I turned to my mom, “How did she know that?  We’ve never even gone to that Giant before.”

My mom looked just as perplexed as me.

“There’s a name for this.  I can’t remember what it is, but there’s a name for when young children can ‘read’ logos and know what they say/mean,” I said.

That was Wednesday.  I emailed one of my grad school professors about this and she said it has something to do with recognition and association, but she didn’t provide me with the technical term.

While Isabelle’s logo recognition surprised me the other day since it happened when she heard the word Giant and associated it with the store in front of her (at which she had never shopped), it’s not the first time she’s recognized a logo.  She knows the Siren from Starbucks since we go through the drive thru there a few times a week.  Anytime she sees the Siren, she says, “Bar-ba,” which means “Starbucks.”  However, that’s a very identifiable brand logo, not a word logo like Giant’s.

I’m going to keep racking my brain trying to figure out what this is called.  Until then, if you happen to know what it’s called or have more insight on the topic, then please leave a comment.

media · politics · reading the world · slice of life

Inauguration Day

We don’t watch much TV, with Isabelle, around these parts. Therefore, rather than stay home to watch today’s media event (I call it that since the official swearing-in happened yesterday.), we were out and about with my parents who were in town visiting for the past few days. By the time we got home, it was 2:00 p.m. Isabelle was overdue for a nap, so why not push off that nap for another half hour to watch the Inauguration Day coverage? Therefore, we snuggled on the couch and watched Senator Schumer preside over the luncheon in Statuary Hall at the Capitol. It wasn’t full of pomp and circumstance like the swearing-in, the speech, or the parade, but it was what was on at 2:00 p.m. It allowed me to say, “Hey, you watched part of the Inauguration Festivities back in 2013.”

We watched for about 20 minutes. The highlight was watching Isabelle clapped every time the invited guests applauded for the photographs, the crystal vases, and other things that were given to President Obama and Vice President Biden. However, after awhile, she got tired of clapping. She laid her head on a pillow on my lap and rested. It was time for her to go upstairs for a nap.

As I walked down the stairs after placing Isabelle in her crib, I thought back to January 1997. I had four tickets to President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. I got them thanks to a connection I had at the White House since I volunteered at the White House Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach for a little over a year. However, I didn’t use the tickets. I gave them to four college friends. Instead, I attended my cousin’s 60th birthday party up in New York. My parents gave me permission to skip the birthday party and go to the Inauguration since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. (Did I mention they were GREAT tickets? I would’ve been able to see the President without binoculars!) After a lot of soul searching, I decided to put family first. There would always be another inauguration, right?

One day, when Isabelle is older, it is my hope that we’ll have the chance to attend an Inauguration as a family. When that day eventually comes, I have a feeling I’ll be watching it on a Jumbotron from the National Mall, rather than ticketed seats. And that will be okay because it will give me the chance to tell Isabelle the story of 1997, the meaning of family, and the importance of waiting for the right moment in time.

Izzy and I watch as Speaker Boehner made a presentation to President Obama during the luncheon.
exploration · OBSERVATIONS · reading the world · technology

Exploring the Universe One Star at a Time

We returned home from dinner a bit after Isabelle’s bedtime. The sky was clear and she was wide awake. We took advantage of the clear night and did some star gazing, which was enhanced by my SkyView App. (She was less interested in viewing Jupiter through the app than I was, but she sure enjoyed looking at the view with us.)


Jewish · OBSERVATIONS · reading the world · rituals · slice of life

It’s all because of the raisin challah.

Every Friday afternoon, I smuggle a freshly baked challah into my house after I pick it up from a local woman who bakes challot fresh on Friday mornings.  . I hide it in my coat and put it on the counter when Isabelle isn’t watching. If she sees it, she will want to eat it.  And we have to wait ’til sundown to bless the candles, her, the fruit of the vine, and lastly the challah.

This past Friday we were driving back to Pennsylvania from Washington, DC.  I called ahead to Marvelous Market and had them hold a raisin challah for me.  Isabelle was napping with my mom in the car when I went in to pick it up.  I placed it in the backseat, where it was out of her line of vision, so she wouldn’t see it even if she woke up on the drive home.

But once we got home, I wasn’t thinking about my usual Friday afternoon smuggling-in ritual. Instead, I was thinking about unloading the car and getting ready for dinner quickly. Therefore, Isabelle saw the braided contraband in my hand as I put it on the kitchen island. She cried. I comforted her. She calmed down, but began crying again. Maybe she’s hungry, I thought, as I placed her in her booster seat for an unprecedented before-dinner snack. She didn’t want to eat. In fact, the crying got louder and louder.

“What’s she crying about?” my mom asked me.  After all, she had just gotten changed and had been offered a snack. What else is there when you’re two!??!

“I don’t know!”

“Maybe she wants to play,” my mom said.

I took her out of the booster and let her play. However, a few minutes later she was crying again.  I lifted her back into the booster and offered another snack. The crying continued.

My husband came home from work and barely got a greeting from Isabelle.  Seeing as he hadn’t seen her for over 36 hours since we were in DC, I knew something was up. As he took off his coat it dawned on me.  The challah!

“Isabelle, do you want to do Shabbat?” (I hate saying “do Shabbat,” but that seems to be the lingo that’s been used when it comes to talking about the Friday night blessings we do at home before dinnertime.”)

“(Ye)sss!”she said.  The crying immediately ceased.

“Oh my G-d!” I exclaimed.  “You saw the challah when you came in and you must’ve wanted to do Shabbat this whole time!  Do you want to help me get ready for Shabbat?”

“(Ye)sss!” she repeated with a smile.

“Well, let’s go!” I reached out my hand to her as soon as I unbuckled her from her booster seat.  “Let’s get ready for Shabbat!  Help me get the prayer book,” I said as I led her into the great room.  I grabbed it from the shelf and said, “Would you liked to carry it?”

She reached out her hands and said “(Ye)sss!”  Said prayer book was a bit heavy, which meant she dropped it. “That’s okay. But when you drop a prayerbook you have to kiss it like this,” I said kissing the spine. “You do.”

She planted a kiss on the prayer book as delicately as I did. I removed the dust jacket — she doesn’t like them — and handed it back to her.  “Put it on the island,” I said as she walked into the kitchen holding on to it tightly. She stood on her tippy toes and tried to reach, but couldn’t, so I assisted.

Next we retrieved the candles and Kiddush cup from their places.  I found my husband’s kipah and had her hand it to him.

Everyone kept moving.  My husband cleaned out the remaining wax from the candlesticks, my mom located the matches, I filled the Kiddush cup.  Isabelle watched as we swarmed around the kitchen getting everything ready quickly to keep her happy.

And she was, until I started singing “Shalom Aleichem,” which was a new tradition my husband and I agreed to start right after she turned two.  By the fourth verse the crying ceased. While she didn’t cover her eyes to bless the candles, she watched their flames dance. I could tell she was relieved Shabbat, which has become a ritual she holds dear, had arrived. Once she saw the challah in the clear bag, she knew it was time since she usually never sees it (since it hides under a challah cover until we’re ready to bless it). Therefore, crying was the only was she was able to use to tell us that she was ready for Shabbat.

This week, life is back to normal. We’re here in Pennsylvania for the next several Shabbats. Therefore, I will once again smuggle the challah into the house this Friday afternoon.

OBSERVATIONS · physical appearance · reading the world

Embracing My Curly Hair So My Daughter Will Too

There are very few photos of me and Isabelle with our backs to the camera. This one, which my father took as I was showing Isabelle an app that makes animal sounds, features both of our curly ‘dos.

“I’d like you to cut my hair to curl,” I told Lani, my stylist, when I went for a haircut in late June.

“Really?” she asked raising her eyebrows.  She’s been cutting my hair for the better part of the past three years and I’ve always been all about long layers, blow-outs, and having her flat iron my hair.

“Well, it’s too hot and humid for me to keep wasting my time straightening my hair everyday,” I confessed telling a partial truth.

“Okay. How much do you want to take off?”

You can figure out where the conversation went from there.  The balmy weather we’ve been having is only part of the reason I’m going curly.  The real reason I’ve decided to embrace my natural curls is because I want my daughter to do the same.

When Isabelle was a baby (i.e., before she reached a year old), she would willingly sit in her Nap Nanny at the doorway of my bathroom, and watch quietly as I blew out and straightened my hair.  As she got older, her willingness to sit and watch dwindled.  Therefore, I found myself trying to do these things before she woke up or after she went to bed.  What a waste of sleeping baby time!  There are so many other things I’d rather be doing (e.g., reading, writing, catching up with family/friends on the phone, exercising) or should be doing (e.g., paying bills, working on the manuscript I haven’t touched in over six months).  Why was I wasting my precious time straightening my hair?

To that end, should Isabelle become interested in watching me straighten my hair with the same rapt attention she used to have, what will she glean from the experience?  Three things came to mind:

  1. Mommy should be playing with me.
  2. Mommy isn’t happy with how she looks.
  3. I have curly hair like Mommy and I want my hair to be straight like Mommy’s too.

NONE of these three messages are ones I want her to internalize.  First of all, if she’s watching me straighten my hair, then shame on me.  I should be playing with her.  Second, I am pretty happy with how I look.  (Sure I’d like to lose a few more pounds, but I’d never say that in front of Isabelle.  I’ve come to believe that straightening my hair in front of her will lead her to believe that I’m unhappy with who I am.  Not the kind of message I want to send to her.)  Third, I love Isabelle’s curly hair!  There’s no way I would do anything to damage her beautiful hair with the kind of heat one would have to use to straighten it.

One of the many things I’m teaching my daughter to do is to read the world.  Right now, mommy is a huge part of her world.  Therefore, I want her to read me in a way that makes her realize I am satisfied with who I am.  Hence, the straightening products on my bathroom vanity have been tucked away and replaced with products for curly hair.  My flat iron hasn’t seen the light of day in nearly two weeks.  I’m now walking through life as the curly haired woman I am.

Inevitably, I will smooth out my hair again.  Maybe it’ll be when we go to synagogue for the high holidays.  Or maybe it’ll be the next time my husband and I hire a babysitter for a date night.  (For the record, my husband, who also has curly hair, prefers my hair curly.)  However, I will think twice before picking up my blow dryer and flat iron again.  I want Isabelle to see me embrace my curls so she will love her own (and be happy with who she is when she looks in the mirror).

OBSERVATIONS · purpose · reading the world

If you give a toddler a purse…

I had an afternoon to myself yesterday. My husband stayed home with our daughter and I got some much needed R&R at a local spa (ie, my Mother’s Day gift). Before we met up for dinner i did some shopping. While I was eyeing some Vera Bradley bags I noticed something: teeny purses. There were two, toddler-sized bags hanging up. I immediately thought, “Izzy and Addy.” (Addy is my best friend’s daughter who is three months younger than Isabelle.)

Maybe it was the price tag ($22) or maybe it was recently finishing Cinderella Ate My Daughter, but I stopped myself. Neither my daughter nor Addy needs a purse! While it’d be cute, at first, I think I could be setting myself up for disaster. What if she got hooked on toting around a purse? Did I really need something else to keep track of when we go out? (Just remembering her sippy cup, diapers, & a change of clothes is enough!) And besides, I don’t think it sends the right message to start buying a toddler purses.

I once taught a group of fifth grade girls who, while in fourth grade, wouldn’t walk so far as to the other side of the room without their purses. (I put the kibosh on that day one of fifth grade.) Visions of a ten year-old Isabelle wanting her purse 24/7 flashed in my mind. That’s when I decided she wouldn’t be getting a purse just yet. There’s no reason to make my daughter any older than she is!


Although, if she were going to use it to carry around some of her small books, then… (Not even for books!)

OBSERVATIONS · reading the world

How do our children read the work we do?

Today was Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.  Back in 1996, when I was volunteering in the White House Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach, it was called “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.”  The name and the concept have changed with time.

Facebook was abuzz today with posts about this special day.  One mom I know, who is a journalist that works from home, lamented about the fact that it was hard to bring her kids to work since she works from home.  Another Facebook friend posted a status update that read (names have been changed):

It’s take your child to work day. Sarah gets to go with Ted even though yesterday she said she wanted to work with me. I told her that most people don’t consider what I do “work.” She said that was stupid, and then apologized for using the “S” word. I agree. It is stupid.

Of course I jumped in and commented, saying, “I love that she wanted to stay home and shadow the work you do. I think you should let her do it next year and call the media to come and watch. This needs to be documented. Sarah is brilliant!”

She wrote back with that “the school would consider her staying with me an ‘unexcused absence.'”  (She also liked the idea about the media coverage, but that’s a whole separate matter.)

Unexcused absence, eh?  If a child chooses to shadow her mother, who happens to be a SAHM, for the day to watch how hard she works, then that should be applauded.  Since when do schools get to decide what constitutes a job for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day?  It’s not as if Sarah wanted to watch her mother break laws as a bank robber.  Quite the contrary, she wanted to spend the day with her mom seeing what she does to keep their household of six afloat.  It makes me sick to think that a school would not excuse Sarah’s absence if she accompanied her mom to work (in the home) today.

Anyone who has paid attention to the Hilary Rosen v. Ann Romney controversy is aware that the mommy wars are alive and well (albeit a bit phony).  Someone’s choice to stay home or decision to go back to work shouldn’t be debated.  The decision over how to raise one’s family is personal.  However, a school that threatens an elementary school student with an unexcused absence for wanting to spend the day with her mom on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is treating the child as a truant.  Furthermore, schools who do not value SAHMs as working women perpetuate the stereotype that a SAHM does not work.  We all know that being a parent who stays at home raising one child or a dozen is working very hard.  Rather than penalizing a child’s curiosity (to determine whether or not being a stay at-home parent would work for him/her in the future), schools should be inclusive of all types of employment whether it’s a desk job, a stay at home parent, or something that doesn’t fit into any other traditional mold.  All work is honorable and valuable!