Monday, March 29, 2010

A Passover Story

The problem—well one of the problems—with being raised atheist is that no one instills in you a polite respect of others’ religions. Even when slavery and holocausts are involved.

So when in the course of making dessert for a Passover seder you learn, for instance, that 18 minutes is the kosher cutoff point for the fermentation of a bread product—not 17, not 19, but 18—your reaction isn’t so much Well isn’t that interesting? as What the hell? Is 18 minutes exactly how long the Jews fleeing Egypt had for their breadstuffs to rise? And how would we possibly know that? And why the big fuss about getting rid of everything leavened before Passover begins? Surely if the Jews fleeing Egypt had had a bag of bagels in the freezer, they would have brought them along, not burned them, right?

I’m sorry to be irreverent and inappropriate, but I did warn you. Religious custom is no different to me than the cleaning rituals of someone with OCD or the voting habits of a rural Alabaman. All equal targets for questioning and mild mockery.

I apologize. I’m a bad lady.

That said, I cannot abide by all those rules. No, that’s not true—I have trouble half-abiding by the rules. No leavening agents or grains in the meal—but at tonight's seder with two Jewish men and their non-Jewish wives and either half- or 0% (depending on who you ask) Jewish babies—we will drink non-kosher wine. Beef for dinner, but no one minds if the dessert involves dairy and we eat it right after the beef, possibly even off the same plates. (I asked!)

It’s confusing, especially from the outside—and suddenly I understand all those parents insisting that their way is the only right way to raise children. Attend to them every time they fuss, otherwise they’ll have no self-esteem. Or: let them cry themselves to sleep, otherwise they’ll have no manners. It’s tricky—and exhausting—to navigate every modern parenting issue, to figure out what your policies are over and over again each day. It makes sense why so many people choose a philosophy and stick by it. And in sticking by it they come to believe it’s the best way, the right way, and so of course they want others to join them.

When the baby was up four times in the night last night I wished I’d had a guiding set of principles to help me cope—or, more to the point, to successfully get her back to sleep for the rest of the night. Instead I had my own feelings of exhaustion and frustration and confusion—was I spoiling her or eroding her sense of self-worth or making no impact whatsoever?

I have no idea.

All I know is that she always goes back to sleep eventually. And she always greets me with a smile in the morning, even after the nights when I silently curse her for being unable (or unwilling!) to keep a damn pacifier in her mouth for longer than 15 seconds.

And today she was very good company as I made a batch of largely kosher macaroons (no leavening, no grains, no dairy to complicate matters) for tonight’s seder.

And she remained good company as I drove to the local bakery and bought a stash of certain-to-be-non-kosher but also certain-to-be-more-delicious-than-anything-I-could-make-without-butter Parisian macaroons also for tonight's seder.

And while I was there and the baby wasn’t looking, I bought a chocolate bunny to give to her on Sunday—even though she’s not old enough for candy, and atheists most definitely do not celebrate Easter.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I woke up this morning to the smell of coffee and the sound of a coconut being slammed against a rock in the backyard for use as an ingredient in my birthday cake.

Later, my lawyer friend—whose birthday was a month ago—called to wish me well. I asked excitedly how she was enjoying being 35.

A long pause.

Then: “Am I supposed to lie to you because it’s your birthday?”



At least there will be cake.

With fresh coconut, no less.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Why the Word “Miami” Makes Me Queasy

Tomorrow is my 35th birthday. A year ago today two lines appeared on a stick in the bathroom of a cheap boutique hotel in Miami.

Nothing would be the same again--particularly my digestive tract, my boobs, my vagina, and my ability to contemplate Miami, alligators, or Cuban food without feeling nauseated.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Singing in the Raincoat

I finally purchased a raincoat the other day.

Technically, I’ve bought many raincoats since I moved here—I just return them all to the store before ever wearing them or after wearing them once and then realizing they’re so not me. Each one is too sporty and Velcro-y and loud or too beige and old-lady-trench-coatish.

But this one is going to last, I’m sure. It is beige, but—it’s soft and quiet and fitted and features a kicky little three-tiered skirt-type thing that I’ve never seen before on a coat. When our babysitter (a fashionable 18-year-old) saw it, she exclaimed her love. So, if anything, I’m too old-lady for it.

It only took me eight years of living in this famously rainy city, but I think I’m finally set.

By 2018 I'll have found a pair of Wellingtons to match.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

If You’re Happy and You Know It the Itsy Bitsy Wheels on the Bus Clap Your Hands!

We had another guest speaker in our mom’s group today. I for one am against guest speakers, preferring instead to sit around with the others drinking sparkling water eating hummus and complaining about our husbands.

Unfortunately, they didn’t leave me in charge.

Today an “early childhood creative dance” instructor blew into the room with many, many, many cumbersome bags full of many textured vinyl rainbow-colored mats (for traction!) and rainbow-colored balls (for core development!) and metallic rainbow-colored crinkly paper ribbons (for sparkle!) and rainbow-colored scarves (for flair!) and models of the brain (for a condescending lecture!)

Okay, she only had one model of the brain—or she only pulled one out of her bags—in order to illustrate the point that movement is essential to baby brain development otherwise all our children will end up with ADD, especially if we leave their socks on.

How would this occur? I don’t know. I wasn’t able to pay much attention to her lecture, what with all the big bouncy balls! and sparkly metallic crinkly ribbons! and swishing rainbow scarves! and singing! and barefoot crying babies! and the surreptitious nervous glances flashing between the moms!

“I guess it takes a certain kind of special to want to teach dance classes to rooms full of screaming infants,” one of the moms astutely surmised out of the corner of her mouth as the early childhood creative dance instructor packed up her ribbons! and scarves! and balls! and mats! at the end of her presentation.

Yes, indeed. A certain kind of special.

It also takes a certain kind of special to try to convince a room full of intelligent, educated moms that unless we purchase mats and balls and ribbons and scarves, our children will be, and I quote, “Sixty percent more likely to have a sensory integration disorder.”

Or I think that’s what she said. My attention was... Wait. Was that a bell I just heard? Accompanied by light reflecting off the... Woops, a ball is rolling into... Oooh! Look! Shiny!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Putting the "Fun" in "Less Neurotic Than Before"

So. It turns out that despite the challenges of new motherhood, I survived teaching my first class since the baby was born without losing my mind or my patience or my place in the readings or anyone’s homework. I even showed up every week with combed hair and wearing shirts not sporting any spit-up stains. Granted, the quarter was only six weeks long (what can I say?—we’re creative writers), but still. An accomplishment.

Another accomplishment: at the end of class several students told me how much fun they’d had, and I took it as a compliment.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Passing the Time

How in the bloody hell is it March already? My three-and-a-third-months-old baby was born yesterday, I swear.