Thursday, September 27, 2012

I hated being poor

Recently, I read a link to an old blog post about "Being Poor."  Having been poor throughout several points in my infancy, childhood, and adulthood, I'd like to add to the list.  (Note, any that apply to childcare issues were in infancy and childhood.  I've never been that level of poor since I married, thank G-d.)
Being poor is not getting your own room–or your own bed–until the age of 9. And you’re an only child.
Being poor is having your bedroom and kitchen in the same small room.
Being poor is considering taking the bus to work because your car is about to die–and payday is three days away.
Being poor is putting diapers on the bottom rack of the cart and hoping the clerk won’t notice.
Being poor is buying formula for the baby, and using the leftover money to buy food for yourself.
Being poor is living in illegal, substandard housing, and renting from strange people, because the utilities are included.
Being poor is not having furniture.
Being poor is going for years on the “please, G-d, don’t let me get sick” health insurance plan. (Translation: no health insurance)
Being poor is repairing a stranger’s backpack in exchange for a meal–and praying he doesn’t think it’s a date.
Being poor is driving very, very carefully because you don’t want a ticket or an accident–because you have no insurance.
Being poor is thinking that second bedrooms, washers, dryers, working vehicles, telephones, and televisions are luxuries that only the wealthy have.
Being poor is cutting the pictures out of a toy catalog and playing with them. You already know without asking that your parents can’t afford what you want.
Being poor is convincing yourself that wearing outdated clothing (including Mom’s hand-me-downs) is evidence of a strong character.
Being poor is taking the bus home from late-night classes through the seediest parts of town.
Being poor is sleeping on the floor.
Being poor is having to get up at 5: 30 so you can take your kid to daycare before work.  But since the daycare and the office are at opposite ends of town, you spend hours running around on buses with a half-asleep toddler in tow.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stormtroopers or cleaning ladies

Recently, I had one of those discussions with Builder that make me wonder why I signed up in the first place.  I wanted to put Thing 1 in a Girl Scout troop.  Builder refused to allow it, since none of the kids were frum.  In fact, I think there was only one other Jewish family in the troop.  Now, this doesn't bother me in the slightest.  However, Builder doesn't want our children socializing with and learning values from "Goyim."
This breaks my heart.
There is a mindset that seems steeped less in Torah and more in paranoia, that the Gentile world should be avoided at all costs.  There is no "taking the fruit and leaving the rind" because there is no fruit.  At least, no kosher fruit.  So, what happens?  Children of survivors (and that would be about 90% of Hasidic Brooklyn) treat all Gentiles as potential Nazi stormtroopers.  (In fact, my initial mental reaction to Builder's refusal was, "It's the Girl Scouts, not the Hitler Youth!")  Other than the cleaning lady that comes once a week, few of my neighbors see Gentiles at all.
So, what is the outcome?  Children who grow up with this mindset have a mentality that all Gentiles are either rabid anti-Semites, or only fit to clean their houses.  Ethnic jokes and slurs abound.  Families even refer to their housekeepers as "the goyta," as though she has no name.  My friend CeCe, a Jewish woman of color, used to work at the Bronx WIC office.  Those Jewish families that came in for benefits would avoid her and her coworkers of color like the plague.  (Even though these African American and Latino Americans were working and not on benefits). 
My sincerest hope is that my daughters will grow up to see all people, whether Jewish or Gentile, as human beings.  Some are good, some are flawed.  But neither side is perfect.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Focus on the physical

Rosh Hashanah has come and gone.  We are now officially in 5773.
Why is it easy to forget that?
When I was single, Rosh Hashanah was all about the New Year, making a new start, saying "sorry" to G-d and my fellow humans, hearing the shofar as the annual wake up call.  I figured that once I became religious, Rosh Hashanah would be the same, only more so.
This is why kiruv works best on the single.  Now that I'm married, Rosh Hashanah is about making sure the Things have new clothes and shoes, checking to see which dresses fit and which don't, running around to obtain dresses, sneakers, dress shoes, fall jackets and warm pajamas, making sure their everyday clothing arrives on time from French Toast, sewing up their jumpers, buying groceries for the meals, preparing four seudahs, making sure I have all the simanim foods, frantically calling Builder to remind him to pick up the challahs, taking inventory on meats and produce, wondering if four jars of honey is enough, making my honey cakes that require ten minutes of beating eggs, cooking a roast, cleaning the house, mopping the floors, boiling up fish heads, and, oh yeah, in the middle of all this, did I forget Shabbos?
After the first seudah was over, I told Builder that with so much focus on physical preparations, it's easy to forget WHY we're doing all this.  That Rosh Hashanah is not about new dresses and lavish meals, but about teshuvah.  Builder agreed. 
Fortunately, we only have five more days of lessons.  Then I take a break from teaching until after Simchat Torah.  This year, well after.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's in your head?

Builder is concerned about the effect I'm having on Thing 1 and Thing 2.  He's afraid that I want them to be "modern" (whatever that even means anymore).  Last week, he asked me, "How would you feel if one of our daughters married a boy who wears a shtreimel?"
As long as he's a decent human being, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.  I would give the same answer for every type of cover, from a shtreimel to a sruga.  I care more about what's in the head than what's on it.
I'm going to be every shadchan's nightmare when my girls grow up.  I care nothing about externals or how many blatt Gemara my potential son-in-law can parrot back.  I care about the inside.  What kind of person is he?  Is he considerate?  Does he work hard?  Will he respect independent-minded women?  Will he be a good father?  Does he respond well to setbacks?  Is he open-minded?  Is the Torah he studies in him as a way to live?  Does he love and respect his family?  Does he have a good, caring heart?  None of these questions can be answered by looking at shirts, hats, or tablecloths.  They can only come with time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

On the road again

I just got back from a whirlwind road trip to Cleveland.  Builder's parents are buried there, and his brother still lives out there.  We set out with enough food to last the two days, enough Blue Ice to keep said food fresh until we could get to a refrigerator, school in a bag (namely, the Things workbooks, readers, and my Kindle), and enough yarn to keep me happy for at least twelve hours.  Unfortunately, we forgot to bring toys.  Two kids, eight hour car ride, and no toys. 
"Mommeee!  Thing 2 said I'm not going to have a birthday ever again!"
"Maamaa! Thing 1 pulled my hair!"
"Stop fighting!  I'm trying to drive!"  (That last line was repeated endlessly by Builder.)
However, the kids did manage to finish up their lessons.  They actually pulled the books out of my backpack on their OWN, and started practicing their math, writing, and dikduk.
A whirlwind trip through Cleveland.  We saw my brother-in-law (whose wife thought my kids were so mature, she thought that Thing 1 was seven instead of five.  We haven't even been married seven years yet.)  We also saw Builder's parents' graves, and the campus at Telshe Yeshiva.  The Things even got to play at a little park in Wickliffe.
Builder kept waxing rhapsodic about how great it would be to live in Cleveland.  I was quick to throw water on his dreams.  Sure, Cleveland has a nice little community.  But, Builder is absolutely spoiled by the infrastructure in Boro Park.  All the minyan factory shuls, kosher restaurants, grocery stores, fruit stands, synagogues every block, and the eruvs.  As for me, I would cry.  I'm thoroughly spoiled by having the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Intrepid, the NY Aquarium, Broadway (Annie is coming back--soon to be the Things' first musical), Shakespeare in the Park, three libraries nearby, the botanical gardens, Prospect Park, Central Park...the city as a whole.  Besides, I benefit from the Boro Park infrastructure myself.  For me, Boro Park is a nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there.
On the way back, Builder was so exhausted, he did the unthinkable.  He had me drive.  For 130 miles on I-80 East, I dodged semis and navigated through construction based lane closures on a curvy mountain road.  However, it was not really new to me.  As I told Builder, "It's like Hudson with hills."  (Hudson, FL, where I learned to drive, had these narrow two-lane highways with no shoulder and a double yellow line as a divider that snaked around more than a concertina.)
We had such a great time, Builder's up for another road trip.  He's even willing to split the driving.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Getting the city back

Labor Day has come and gone.  The once empty houses are now full again, and most of Thing 1's local playmates have traded their civvies for plaid jumpers and oxford shirts.  School is back in session.
I couldn't be more thrilled. 
Once again, everything empties out.  Once again, I can take my kids shopping for shoes and clothes without competing with half of Brooklyn.  Once again, I can take my kids to zoos and museums without waiting in line.  And, soon, all those fun homeschooler activities will be starting.
Only, this year, we get to enjoy them.  Even with our crazy High Holiday schedule (Monday-Tuesday--yuck!), we have more freedom.  I don't have to go to PT three times a week.  We get our lessons done in the morning, and then the city is ours!  And, who could ask for a better classroom than NYC?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The penis and the germ

Recently, here in New York, there has been a great deal of discussion about circumcision.  Specifically, the need to regulate and/or ban metzitzah b'peh.
For the uninitiated, metzitzh b'peh is a procedure that dates at least as far back as the Gemara.  After the infant is cut, the mohel uses his mouth to stop the bleeding and draw out any stray blood.  Yeah.  Ick.  Gross-out factors aside, there are those who would argue that a bris performed without metztzah b'peh is invalid.  And the Board of Health is concerned about this little procedure because infants have been coming down with herpes--which the Board has linked to metztzah b'peh.  Of course, those on the side of metztzah b'peh argue that the chances of catching herpes from a mohel are impossible or at least very small.
Pardon me while I get all post-modern, but I don't think so.  OK, in the Gemara nothing was understood about germ theory.  Nowadays, we stop the bleeding with sterile sutures, not saliva.
Consider, if you will, the penis.
The human penis is rich with blood vessels.  Blood flow is what causes the physical effects of arousal, colloquially known as an erection, woody, or hard-on.  And these blood vessels, like all others, flow to and from the heart.  Should anything get into those blood vessels, they have a one-way ticket to a mean infection.
Now consider the germ.
Herpes simplex is caused by a virus.  Viruses, unlike bacteria, are not true cells.  They are simply bundles of DNA.  Scientists are not even sure how to classify them.  And they cannot be destroyed by antibiotics.  Herpes simplex is a particularly vicious little bug that has, at this time, no known cure.  Now, in an adult, it manifests itself as sores on either the mouth or genitals.  In the mouth, these are commonly known as cold sores.  However, to an 8-day-old infant whose idea of immunity is whatever got handed down in Mommy's colostrum (and G-d help the bottle-fed, who don't get all their mother's antibodies), herpes simplex can cause brain damage and death. 
So now you have a mohel placing his saliva (which is filled with bacteria anyway, even without the herpes virus) on an open wound, on an organ filled with blood vessels, on a fragile newborn.  Do you want to take the Vegas odds that everything will be fine?