Friday, September 30, 2005
We're all butterflies...

There is a story I read about Reb Haskel Besser:

He was at his shabbos table, when he got up to open a window. "Be free, butterfly," he said.

A guest pointed out, "That's not a butterfly, Rabbi Besser, that's a moth."

Reb Haskel smiled. "I know, but it's shabbos. Everybody likes to feel better on shabbos!"

Thursday, September 29, 2005
Random Acts of Kindness

What a day!

I had a whole plan for the morning. First, a trip to Kinkos. Then, a trip to BJ's. Upon arriving at Kinkos, however, I realized I left the BJ's card at home. I resigned myself to going to Costco instead. On my way to Costco, the heavens opened up. It was raining so hard, I decided to just go home.

On my way home, I saw this poor lady walking in the rain. I rolled down my window to offer her a ride, which she gladly accepted. I thought to myself "Now I know why I missed my other errands, G-d wanted me to help this lady." Then I thought of something I heard in the name of Reb Shlomo Carlebach. "What do we know?" he said. We might think we understand the Divine Providence of a situation, but we really have no clue.

Tonight, I was going over our finances. Uh oh, I realized, we have much less money than I thought we did (not an uncommon occurence in the Maven household). I started mentally reviewing all the things I still need to get for yom tov. It's gonna be tight.

Knock, knock - two fine Israeli Chassidim, looking for tzedoka. It was wonderful, they brought a whole photo album of their mossad. It was an honor and a treat to have them in our home. We wrote them a check. Aha! I thought to myself. Now I know why they came! G-d was giving me the opportunity to do chessed! Right when I was doing the checkbook! Right when I was worrying about how we were going to manage, G-d gave me the chance to open my heart (and wallet) to someone else! Coincidence?

What do I know?


There's a Ba'al Shem Tov story about 2 Jews who were viciously arguing. The Besht asked his Chassidim to make a circle around the pair, hold hands, and close their eyes. The opponents, involved in their melee, failed to notice this holy circle gathering around them. One Jew screamed at the other, "I'M GOING TO TEAR YOU APART LIKE A FISH!" The Chassidim - still in their circle - saw a vision of this poor Jew literally being torn apart by the other.

What was the Ba'al Shem Tov's lesson to his students? Words are so powerful. Words create worlds. Words create realities that we may not even be in touch with.

One time I was in the post office, and they had a TV on. Anyway, there's this talk show host named Dr. Phil, and I'm standing there on line watching him. Dr. Phil was trying to help some people make major changes in their lives. People who had been through terrible ordeals. People whose pain nobody should know from. So Dr. Phil was talking to each person individually, asking them to describe their feelings on their situation. One lady started talking, and Dr. Phil interrupted her. "I have absolutely no idea what you're saying to me," he said. "You're saying so many words, I don't understand what your real feelings are." BOOM! That hit me like a ton of bricks. An epiphany in a Brooklyn post office.

Sometimes, when speaking, I can create a whole facade around my feelings. I'll try and talk to someone, and I'll be afraid to let the naked truth out. I'll do a little dance around my emotions, elaborate a little, be euphemistic. I can't let my words out without ribbons. They need to be pretty, and shiny, and a little unreal.

I went to hear an amazing speaker last night, and she was talking about change. Radical shifts in our personae. She was saying that it's okay not to dress up our words so much. Why do we have to be slaves to hyperbole? To nurture a place of insecurity within ourselves! For example, I couldn't just say "thank you" to someone if they did me a big favor. I would have to say it several times, and tell them how much they helped me, how much it meant to me, la dee da. I need that person to feel valued, perhaps so they in turn will value me.

I also realized that my own "self-words" are debilitating. (For those in the know, "labeling is disabling.") I think I'm anxious, therefore, I'm an anxious person. I like to do chessed, so I'm kind. I make parenting mistakes, maybe I'm not a good mommy. You know what? These are just characteristics, they aren't the real me. I don't have to define myself like that.

The real me is my holy Jewish soul, forever bound up in G-dliness.

The real me is untouchable.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Race, Religion, Reality

I checked out a book from the library: "Black, White, Other - Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity" I was actually perusing the Jewish books when I came across it.

It made me think a lot.

What does it mean to have a racial identity? These people had some very interesting things to say. Some of them looked totally white, yet self-identified as black. How does that work?

If you asked me to use only one adjective to describe myself, I would say "Jew." It is the very essence of my being.
I never thought of myself in terms of color. Would I identify more with my color if I was a racial minority?

I know this girl who has a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She thinks she's Jewish. According to Jewish law, she is not. What if someone said to her; "Hey, I know you think you're Jewish, but..." How would that make her feel? She has built a large part of her identity around her "Jewishness." That means her whole self-concept is false!

If someone told me I wasn't really a Jew, I'd want to die - or else I'd be in therapy for the rest of my life. Dying would probably be cheaper.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Worth Her Weight in Gold.

So I'm on the plane, and they have these little "Direct TV" monitors. Since I don't have a television, I was completely fixated.

There was this show on The Learning Channel about a woman - Jackie - considered perhaps to be the largest woman alive. She weighed 627 pounds. I nebech felt SO sorry for her. There was something about her story that was so compelling, I wanted to hug her. Firstly, I instinctively felt she was a Yid.
She had this delicious Jewish face, she could have been a relative. This suspicion was borne out when the cameras followed her around her house - lots of Judaica. She hadn't left her home in over a year, as every step she took required massive effort.

Jackie had tried countless times to arrange for bariatric surgery, but no doctor was willing. Too risky. Finally, she found a specialist who would. Jackie had this very sweet nurse who took care of her, who was helping her get out of the house to go to the hospital. Watching Jackie get into the van was killing me. She was brought in a wheelchair, but she looked at the open van and said "I can't. Please G-d help me, there's no way I'm getting in there." Gevalt! My heart was breaking for her - her pain and fear were obvious. Baruch Hashem, Jackie did get in that van and did survive her surgery. Then my plane hit the runway. I was in seat 1F, right there in front. I decided I was going to sit there and watch, and let everybody else off first. JetBlue wasn't interested in Jackie's plight, however. They shut off the monitors.

I wanted to see a fast-forward to a year later, with Jackie being one or two hundred pounds lighter. I wanted to see her moving a little easier, breathing a little easier, feeling better about herself. I wanted to see her on the road to weight loss and health. I wanted a happy ending, damn it! I wonder if The Learning Channel has a website?

Jackie, wherever you are, I LOVE YOU.

Monday, September 26, 2005
The Holy Beggars

One thing about the Avenue is all the tzedoka personalities. There's this one lady there - definitely some mental issues going on. Anyway, I was walking by her and I gave her all my silver change. It was probably about a dollar. Well, she got so mad at me, she started screaming. Right there, on the Avenue. "I'm trying to make Rosh Hashana and this is what you give me? GIVE IT TO YOUR MOTHER!" And she threw it back at me. It was startling and embarrassing. Part of me felt indignant. Another part felt ashamed.

What was G-d trying to tell me?

No Sleep 'til Brooklyn

I just returned home from the old neighborhood.

The whole weekend was run, run, run. I went in late Thursday night. Friday morning I was out the door at 8:30 and hitching a ride to Monsey for a bris. Then it was back to Brooklyn and shopping on the Avenue. I didn't get home until 2 hours before shabbos. Shabbos morning I left the house at 12:30pm and didn't get back home until 1:30 in the morning. I was visiting everybody (everywhere!), walking all over the place. Motsei shabbos there was a farbrengen to attend. Sunday morning it was off to my Rebbe's kever. Out the door at 9:30, back home at 3, in a cab at 4, on the plane at 5. I did so much walking and rushing and hugging and kissing and talking and laughing and not enough resting!

The whole weekend was amazing and exhausting. I saw so many old friends and familiar faces, all who welcomed me with so much love. I got home late last night, and had to teach today.

I am so tired, I could plotz.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Gut Yom Tov!

In the zechus of our holy tzaddikim, The Ba'al Shem Tov and The Ba'al HaTanya: May their lives be a source of blessing forever. Their righteousness should radiate (royally!) throughout G-d's creation.

Happy birthday, Rabosai!

And...a very happy anniversary to the village cutie and her red-headed rebbele.

Ed. note: This post was written with the aid of a tequila l'chaim.

Death Don't Have No Mercy

Last night I got a call from Rebbetzin Plony - "Can you do a tahara tonight?" "You bet," I said, without hesitation. 15 minutes later, I was in the car with the other members of the chevra, on my way to the funeral home. It was all weird from there.

Firstly, there were cops EVERYWHERE. Blocking neighborhood roads on both ends. That was unusual. Then, right as we arrived at the funeral home, I noticed it was surrounded by churches. Kind of metaphorical, I decided upon reflection. Then, when we got in, we met "the phone squad." These are college girls who spend the night in the funeral home, taking late night phone calls from distraught families. They were watching the movie "Mommy Dearest" (it's basically about this kid who grew up with an abusive, psycho-mom). That was VERY disturbing.

It was the actual time spent doing the tahara that weirded me out. Normally, I am unruffled by this mitzvah. It's one of the holiest things I've ever done, and I feel honored to do it. Last night, however, everything seemed strange and macabre. Firstly, the woman we were preparing was only 11 years older than my mother. I noticed the tag on her ankle with her date of birth; 1939. She also had a name in common with one of my kids. Then I looked in the corner, and noticed the laundry detergent was the same one we had at home - Costco brand "institutional size" powder. I found that disconcerting. Then I noticed the dry erase board. Names of the deceased and what their "plans" were. 3 holy Jewish names under the heading "Cremation" - bad news for the Jews. One guy's note read; "shave beard, leave mustache." Then I noticed the sign for casket close-outs. Things were getting weirder by the minute.

The actual tahara was very quick and relatively easy. All of us had done this job before, and we work well together as a team. The woman was also in good condition, making our job easier. But when it was time to immerse her, I got whacked by a piece of the machine. There's a pulley contraption that helps lift and lower the body into the mikvah, and it has a remote control. Somehow, the remote came unhinged. It went flying through the air, pausing only when it reached its destination: my arm. I felt like G-d was giving me a zetz: "Wake up, Maven! This is not all about you!"

The saddest part of the night was seeing another body in the room. For whatever reason, the people who brought this person in didn't completely cover him. His legs and shoes were sticking out. Tan, muscular legs, with brown curly hair, and very hip shoes. This was not an old person. He didn't even seem dead, looking at his legs. Maybe he was just sleeping under there. That made me feel very deflated. I kept glancing at his cool shoes.

On my way out, I gave the phone squad girls my number. They were still watching their movie. "Come for shabbos sometime," I said. "They're a very nice family," one of the chevra ladies piped in. "I've eaten by them before."

When I got home, I sat down with a book and ate leftovers from dinner. I just wanted to reconnect to life and to relax. I probably should have been saying tehillim.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Counting my blessings.

Such a day. We lost power at about 9:45am, so I headed out the door with the kids. Much of the day was spent with a friend in my neighborhood, in her air-conditioned apartment.

My friend has a beautiful baby girl, who happens to have down syndrome. This is a young woman - only 27. Yet Hashem decided to give her this special soul. Often I have thought, maybe Hashem would give such a child to me? What would I do then? My Canadian sister-friend and I talked about it once. She and I are very often on the same wavelength, it's uncanny. Many times when she calls, we discover we're having the exact same issues. Anyway, one time she said to me, "Sometimes I think I'm going to give birth to a special needs child." I told her I've often felt the same, bli ayin hara. "What would you do?" I asked. "Love him," she said. I agreed. That's what I would do, too. Some families give babies like that away. They are ashamed, or overwhelmed, or who knows why else. But Canada-friend and I agreed, we could never give up such a child. How could we give up our babies, we both wondered? So this mother said to me today, "This may sound weird, but I think my baby is such a blessing."

I learned from my Rebbe that such souls come from very high places. It's hard to make the long, arduous descent into a physical body. They get "jarred" along the way, and this manifests in various "defects".

Nobody asks for such blessings.

Saving the Princess...

My kids and their father have a minhag. Every night before the kids go to bed, they play a couple of rounds of nintendo together (usually Super Mario Brothers). I used to object to this - quite strenuously, in fact - but then I got over it. This is harmless, fun time that they have with their father. They all enjoy it. The computer is in our "guest room", so last night I was laying on the bed watching them. Then I fell asleep.

I had a very strange dream. I was in the mall with an acquaintance from the neighborhood, and she turned to me and said, "I want you to marry my son." (Never mind that her son is only 2, and I'm already married.) She continued, "I want to buy you a pair of earrings to seal the engagement, but I only have 10 dollars." No problem, I thought, 10 bucks can get some pretty cute earrings. So we went into this store that sold dragons and black lights and heavy metal posters (and earrings). Who's working the register? My rav, Rabbi Plony! He approved of the engagement. I was just at the part of the dream where I was going to ask if I could buy a bracelet instead, since I found one I really liked. It cost 16.99, but I figured I'd chip in the rest. Then I woke up.

I can't help but wonder if Mario made me dream this.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Everybody has their own. My schtick is anxiety. I'll get anxious about things that most people just disregard. Anxiety and guilt are best friends, so I have a big dose of guilt, too. I have friends whom I'll call when The Anxiety Maven makes an appearance, friends who will talk me down. Friends who will tell me I'm feeling guilty over something that isn't that big of a deal. I call them when I need a reality check.

Yesterday we made a birthday party for Srulik, and the family came over. Yaakov's father and stepmother, my mom and brother, and my grandparents. So we're all there, and I realized that there was some pretty serious schtick afoot.

Yaakov's stepmother has major inferiority issues. She is always insinuating that no one wants her around, that her children don't appreciate her, that's she's just a "step" mother and grandmother. I sat outside with her for awhile and we talked. I want to make a bigger effort to include her in our lives. Truthfully, I don't speak to her so much. It's not out of dislike, it's just because things are a little awkward. With my own mother, things are more natural.

My grandmother is my grandfather's second wife. My own grandmother died when I was 6, and I miss her to this day. She loved me so very much, I can remember the intensity of it. My grandfather remarried when I was 11. She's a very lovely woman, and I am close with her. But she's got her schtick too. She always drops these not-so-subtle hints that Yaakov does too much for me around the house. She also likes to say that our side of the family is "very peculiar." Always that expression; "very peculiar." She also has told me (a number of times) how she and my grandfather are SO much happier in their second marriages. That they love each other so much, this is the happiest time of their lives. I feel like she's rubbing something in, but I'm not sure what. Whenever she tells me that, I feel a burning inside. I want to speak up for my beautiful, dead Nana. But what can I say? Nothing. So I keep my mouth shut.

We've all got our schtick, I guess.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

In honor of my 50th post, I am posting a "50 things about me" list. Here goes:

1. I am petrified of elevators and won't go in one by myself.
2. I used to really be into Russian literature (Solzhynitsyn - woo!)
I still feel embarrassment over getting fired from a job.
4. I used to think found-feathers were messages from Above.
My roomate in South Carolina was a shikse goddess.
6. I feel calmer when my house is tidy.
7. I love Star Wars, episodes 4-6. May the Force be with me.
8. I consider natural childbirth (3 excruciating times!) one of my greatest achievements.
9. I once was asked to model for an art class. I was dressed.
10. Ramen noodles are comfort food. I never let myself eat them.
11. I am totally a child of the 80's - Yay, Martha Quinn.
12. I love shabbos so much. How did I ever live without it?
13. I like to read the dictionary.
14. I used to really be into Greek mythology. In 5th grade, for halloween, I went dressed as a maenad - nobody guessed my costume.
15. I went on a lot of spiritual trips before realizing Torah is the Real Deal.
16. I can play a mean game of Scrabble.
17. I have this irrational fear that someone is going to snatch my wig off in public. I've even considered carrying a scarf around just in case (but I never have).
18. My biggest accessory: earrings
19. My Hebrew birthday is on a yom tov.
20. If I let myself go there, I can really bite my fingernails.
21. I only started developing deep friendships after I became religious.
22. I take my parenting very seriously.
23. Compliments: I can dish 'em out but I can't take 'em.
24. I love having guests.
25. I'm crazy about singing. Uncle Moishy, niggunim, you name it.
26. I am a slave to my bathroom scale. I like to weigh "x", and it bums me out to weigh more. Yaakov has taken the scale away from me before.
27. I was a holier-than-thou vegetarian at one point in life. So lame.
28. I love Billy Joel's song "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." Brenda and Eddie are still going steady.
29. I never tried acid. It scared me. This surprises people.
30. I hope to someday go on a kosher cruise with Yaakov.
31. One of the greatest gifts my grandfather ever gave me was "The Little House on the Prarie" book series. I still read it.
32. I called a friend and told her about this list. She said, "Numbers 1-3 should say: "I'm an Anxiety Maven." I told Yaakov, who added, "Number 4 should be: "Should I be writing this? I'm feeling anxious."
33. Some of my best memories come from a UAHC Reform sleepaway camp.
I have a half-brother (Jewish) from my father's first marriage. We have talked once or twice and sent pictures. I hope to meet him someday.
35. Giving tzedoka anonymously gets me high.
36. Sometimes I can be lazy and selfish. And vain.
37. I have an affinity for Ireland. I have no idea why.
38. Saying "check" while playing chess makes me feel powerful.
39. I cried during space shuttle Discovery's lift-off.
40. Me and my little brother are close. I totally love him. He's 21.
41. Pesach and Chanuka are my favorite chagim.
42. I am a guitar player, but I haven't learned to play yet.
Favorite Latin expression: "In the land of the blind, the cyclops is king."
44. Dream careers: acupuncturist, high school history teacher, midwife.
My mom told me many times that "you can count your real friends on one hand," and I find that to be true.
46. Why doesn't homeopathy work for me?
47. If I pull a stupid move while driving, my hands get all tingly.
48. I love Richard Simmon's exercise video "Dance Your Pants Off."
49. I wish I didn't drop out of college.
50. I really want to be a better Jew.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Yaakov, don't read this.

I made a little shabbos party in my house this morning for some kids I was teaching. We had a shabbos ima and a shabbos abba, we lit candles and made kiddush. Very nice.

I put the tealights on my window ledge above my kitchen sink, as it's not our custom to blow out candles. Then I promptly forgot about them. I went and did carpool, didn't remember anything. I let my kids play at the kitchen sink, completely unaware. 3 hours later, I went into the kitchen and smelled something funny. It smelled like gas to me, and I wondered what it could be. I looked around, and found the culprit. One of the flames had taken over the entire inside of the tealight holder. So I went to blow it out, as I felt it was a safety issue.

The tealight, which was resting atop a candle holder, went flying off its perch. It tumbled precariously all over the ledge, flames everywhere. I WAS SO SCARED. I started blowing frantically, trying to get the fire out. OMIGOD, scary, scary, scary. I finally got the bright idea to pour water on it, which - I am very relieved to report - worked. My heart is racing still.

Thank you Hashem, for protecting ding-bats. Thank you so much.

Boker Tov!

My 2 year old Srulik loves to make on the potty, then run around naked (basically until I pin him down and diaper him). Well, this morning he was doing his thing, when all of a sudden...

POOP. A mushy, messy, poop. In the diaper box, of all places!

I love that kid.

Thursday, September 15, 2005
Cranky Schmanky Anxiety Mommy

As the day wore on I got crankier and crankier. I have been up late every night this week. One of my best friends is in crisis, and I have been glued to the phone. I feel helpless and drained, and terribly frustrated because I can't do a damn thing (except love her and pray for her, which I do). Then there's a community women's project which I'm a part of, and that dynamic is shifting every day. So I'm constantly on the phone with different women about that, too! Being on the phone (and dealing with everything) has basically sucked me dry.

By 5 pm today, I was done. I had no patience for my beautiful children, and I was snapping at them for silly things. Like Chaya threw mud on the back of the house. Not a big deal, but it was for me at that moment. So I yelled. I called Yaakov and said, "Please come home and rescue me, I'm so tired and cranky." Then I called him 20 minutes later to find out what street he was on. Finally (insert heavenly choir music here), he came home.

He waltzed into the backyard with a big smile on his face and started playing with the kids. He tossed Srulik into the air, he rolled on the grass with Chaya and Rivky. His laughter floated gloriously through the back yard, as if to mock my sour disposition. I started to cry.

I cried at the beauty of this little domestic scene. I cried because I was being a witchy mommy and couldn't be as nice as he was. I cried because my crisis-friend couldn't have this special moment. I cried because I was waaaaay overtired.

Shabbos, here I come.

A Grateful Day:

I used to be a Deadhead. What can I say, they're awesome. I know a lot of frum people who used to be into The Dead too, there's a bunch of us. Anyway, I don't listen to them so much anymore. One reason is I'm always in the car with my kids, and that's not appropriate for them. Another reason is because
- spiritually - it's not appropriate for me, either! But it's okay every now and again. So this morning I'm driving to the post office by myself, and I turned on May 8th '77 (a VERY hot show, as any Deadhead can attest). Anyway, I'm listening to Bobby and Donna singing "Dancin' in the Streets," and they get to the line, "Well, they're dancing in Chicaaaaagoooo...down in New Orleans." I got very startled. There's no dancing in New Orleans right now, I thought, people are drowning there. Then I felt very weird and sad.

So I'm at the post office to mail a letter to my insurance company. It's all about a bill they didn't cover - bureaucratic garbage we all have to deal with. I'm reading the sign on the wall about different ways a letter can be sent. All variations on a theme, basically. Delivery confirmation, signature confirmation, certified mail, registered mail, return receipt requested, yada yada. This was turning into another LL Bean moment - I couldn't figure out which way to go! Finally, I decided to just stick a stamp on it and let G-d deal with it. If Hashem wants the bill to get paid, He'll pay it for us. Then I went out to the car and tried to open it from my keychain thingy. I'm standing next to the car pressing the unlock button, thinking, "Jeez, this needs new batteries more than I thought." Then I realized it wasn't my car.

On to the grocery store, where my tired brain is trying to figure out what food we need for shabbos and next week (please G-d help me, gas is so expensive - I don't want to make another trip here). So I'm schlepping up and down the aisles, and I see a lady with matzo meal in her cart. I said "Excuse me, are you Jewish?" and she said "No, why do you ask?" I felt really awkward. "Because I was going to encourage you to light sabbath candles." "Well, lots of my friends are Jewish, and they do. Friday night, right?" "Right." We smiled and continued our shopping.

When I got back to my car, next to me was a car with a beat-up "Steal Your Face" sticker on the back. I smiled and looked into the car to see if there was a cd player, so I could leave a cd for the Deadhead parked next to me. So this mommy and kid show up, and I said "Is this your car?" and she said "Yeah, I was wondering if I left something in it, because I saw you looking inside." I laughed and told her I was going to leave a Dead show. "Oh, my husband Tom would love that. He's the one who likes them." So I rummaged around my car and found a Phil show for Tom.

I'm tired. I went to bed late last night, and I put out a lot of energy today. I hope I added a little light to the world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The LL Bean Drama Queen

We got a little extra cash, so I just ordered some badly needed shirts from LL Bean. Although Yaakov gave me his blessing, I am still trying not to feel guilty for spending the money. I mean, Tishrei is right around the corner. Lots of holidays to buy food for. LOTS.

LL Bean drives me a little kooky with all their choices.
Being indecisive is a problem I have in general, so LL Bean just aggravates a pre-existing condition. There are so many colors and fabrics, supima this and interlock that! Heathers and lycras and waffle-knits! Gevalt!

I brought my skirts to the computer and held them up to try and match colors. At that point, Yaakov waved his hand dismissively at me. "You're being nutty," he said, as he went to take out the trash.

If I ever get admitted to a psychiatric facility, please send the bill to LL Bean's corporate office.

One of those days.

This afternoon I was making a ground turkey dish for supper. As soon as my hands were in the mixing bowl, all hell broke loose. Chaya and Rivky were going at it in their room, Srulik climbed on the dining room table and started ripping up the mail. I suppose I could have just washed my hands and restored order, but that didn't occur to me. Then Rivky pished on the floor. By the time I did wash my hands, Chaya was going into the refrigerator to grab some cheese, which I basically had to wrestle away from her. "No," I said, "we're having fleishigs for supper." Well, that became a whole event, too. The kids gathered 'round the fridge, and an expensive bottle of wine got spilled all over the kitchen floor. Don't despair, dear readers - there was enough wine left for me to have a glass. Lord knows I needed one.

Closer to Fine

One time, when I was 19, I had to drive my Rabbi somewhere. I turned the key, and The Indigo Girls came singing out of the tape deck. Well, he hit the "off" button faster than you can say "kol isha." Chutzpadik little me said, "Why'd you turn that off?" and he replied, "I don't listen to women singing." "But you're missing something beautiful," I retorted. He shrugged. "It's like trading a day at the beach for a day in the mountains." One beautiful thing gets traded for another - no big loss. I look back on that now and see the wisdom in what he said - It's all I could relate to at the time. If he had said, "I gave all that narrishkeit up to be frum," I would have really resisted. But he made it simple and sweet, he made it palatable for me.

So that's a Ba'al Teshuva life, I guess. We're all trying to trade a day at the beach for a day in the mountains. We're all trying to trade in our old lives for something more meaningful, more precious, more real.

Now when I turn the car key, it's Good Ol' Uncle Moishy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Life with kids!

Rivky accidentally locked herself in the house this afternoon. We were all outside in the backyard, and she went in to use the bathroom. Somehow she managed to lock the back door, and then couldn't open it again. The front door was locked too, so we were really stuck! She was on one side of the door screaming and crying, and I was on the other side trying to tell her how to open the lock. It was a tense exchange. The back door is located in our hotbox of a laundry room, so when she couldn't open the lock, I told her to get out. Not only is it a zillion degrees in there, but that's where we keep the chemicals. So the Anxiety Maven was kicking in on top of everything else! She got out of the laundry room and went into the play room, where she sobbed behind the window and asked why she couldn't come out. My heart was mamesh breaking for her. Finally, Yaakov - my hero! - came home and rescued all of us.

I really need to give a spare key to Mrs. Stein.

The "S" word

Lately I've been using it. It's not like me to have a potty mouth, not at all. But for the past couple of days, the "s" word has escaped my lips. There's something about its taboo, salty flavor that really conveys my disappointment (much more than my ususal "gee whiz"). Yesterday, a friend called me to tell me a kid in our neighborhood was being hospitalized. A perfect "s" word occasion! Today, a friend called me with more bad news. Again the "s" word emerged.

But this time, it was in front of Rivky. I don't think she noticed at all, she was busy eating frozen french fries. But, oy, the guilt! (Like I don't already have enough?)

Guess what? No more "s" word for Mommy Maven.

Monday, September 12, 2005
To blog, or not to blog: That is the question.

I have felt ambivalent about blogging from the moment I started. My "blog issues" are what kept me from starting one for years. I know there are other frum people who keep blogs, and more specifically, other frum women who do. But there is a real part of me that questions the modesty of it. The fact that I am posting my feelings for the whole world to read. Not that I have such a readership, mind you. But the potential is there! It's something I want to talk to a mashpia about, but first I have to find someone "hip" enough to know what a blog is.

Anyway, today I got an email from a friend. She told me how much she loved me and loved my blog. It gave me so much chizuk! Sometimes my doubts get so fierce that I turn into a complete Anxiety Maven. Then I just want to hit the "delete" key and *POOF!* bye-bye blog. (If this blog ever just disappears, you'll know why!)

So to my California Beauty Queen, you know who you are. Thanks so much!

Sunday, September 11, 2005
I love my Mom.

I hate clutter. My mother - may she live until Moshiach arrives - is a pack rat. The stuff in her house, G-d in heaven! How long its been there, I'll never know. Stuff she never uses. The worst part is that it's just a big mess. Her refrigerator is filled with more food than mine has for a family of 5. And she lives alone! She has tons of plastic containers in her garage, haphazardly perched on shelves and tables. Clothes like you can't believe, closets and closets of them. Body care products collecting dust on her bathroom counter. I think her tendency towards hoarding things is what turned me into such a neat freak. I love to tidy up the house, to get rid of things, to organize. My form of relaxation is reading the IKEA catalogue, dreaming of ways to create more seder in my life. I secretly want to have a garage sale at mom's house. You think I'm kidding? I have it all planned out! She lives right across the street from a big Catholic church, which is very busy on Sundays. Perfect time for a garage sale! I'd put signs near the church to funnel all the worshippers to my clearinghouse event. I would have a big sign on mom's lawn; "10% of all garage sale proceeds go to charity." The Catholics would LOVE that! Then I'd sell everything away. All the cookbooks from 1973, all the clothes and lotions, all the empty margarine containers. GONE. Lest you think I am making fun of my mother (or Catholics), I assure you I am not. I'm just describing her penchant to hang on to things. Forever.

Saturday, September 10, 2005
Dr. Feelgood?

Every shabbos afternoon, Yaakov generously encourages me to nap. I always reply that he could use one too, and offer to let him take one (secretly hoping he'll turn me down, which he always does). Anyway, this shabbos was no different, and I happily left Yaakov and children behind as I snuggled into bed. I proceeded to have a very odd dream:

Yaakov and I were driving along with the kids, when we saw 3 shuls in a row - all connected in one structure. At the third shul, Yaakov said "There's a bas mitzvah going on in there, let's go." So we went inside. Then Yaakov said, "Upstairs there's a psychiatrist, why don't you go visit him?" So I went. I opened the door to his office. There was a short little man behind the desk, who looked very familiar to me. I couldn't place who he reminded me of, though. So I just sat there, looking at him, and he sat there, looking at me. I thought to myself, "This is very weird, why isn't he saying something?" Finally he said, "I like to be silent, because then my patients do the talking." Okay, I thought. Then I realized who he looked like: David Copperfield. (A psychiatrist who looks like a magician: irony?) Eventually, I mustered up the courage to say something. I said, "Sometimes I'm afraid something terrible is going to happen to my children (G-d forbid)." Copperfield gave me a strange look, as if that was something very unusual. I thought to myself, "That can't be right, a mother having this fear is probably very common." So I fell back into silence. Then, all these people started walking in and out of his office, chatting with him casually. I thought, "I'm supposed to be in the middle of a session here, what's wrong with this picture?" Finally, I just left his office in frustration.

One time in Brooklyn, while visiting a friend, she turned to me and said; "You know, I have this fear that someone is going to just walk into my apartment and take my son away, chas v'shalom. Isn't that weird?" "No," I shrugged. "That doesn't sound weird to me at all."

Friday, September 09, 2005
I'm not a therapist, but I play one on TV.

Once in a very blue moon, Yaakov plays with a rock and roll band. This happens when a particular musician is sick (or on vacation, as was the case last night). He's an awesome musician, but I also think the incongruity of seeing a big beard and tsitsis jamming away on guitar is a strange delight for all. People really go for it. (The "Yossi Piamenta phenomenon?") Anyhow, Jews were just crawling out of the woodwork last night to connect with him. We met some very beautiful people and had some very beautiful conversations. One person we met though was extra-special, and it ties into some thoughts I was having yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, I was thinking about how when I first became frum, I was mamesh on fire. I wanted to schlepp the whole world along on my religious trip. Nine years later, I've mellowed out a bit. I'm pretty comfortable being religious now, it's just who I am. I can relate to other Jews from a place of acceptance. "Hey, it's okay to be where you're at. One mitzvah at a time - we're ALL trying to be better Jews." Another thought I had was that maybe, on some deep level, my original ardor was coming from a place of fear. My insistence that every Jew embrace the Torah might have been coming from insecurity (are you with me on this?). Perhaps my zeal to make others become frum was a way of validating my own personal choice. Anyway, this guy came up to Yaakov, and he was saying about how his wife and daughter had become frum but he didn't. Unfortunately, they went through a bitter divorce. So he's telling us how when his ex-wife started becoming frum, she insisted that HE should too. Always hocking him to da'aven, keep kosher, yada yada. "You know," I told him, "I can understand how your wife felt." Then I launched into explaining my own "Ba'al Teshuva Fever." That made it a little more okay for him. I tried to explain what his wife might have been feeling at the time, while also totally accepting him and where he was at. A lot of his anger about the nasty divorce was tied up with (and directed towards) frumkeit. Makes sense, right? By seeing Yaakov and I - in that environment - he felt a little more comfortable about religious Jews. I encouraged him to try to understand those feelings, so he could make his daughter feel okay, too. It was very a healing experience for both of us, I think.

...and if all that wasn't good enough, Yaakov got PAID! Yaaaaaaay!

Thursday, September 08, 2005
The Art of Loving

I've been friends with a certain Jewess for about 6 years. We were friends when we both lived in Brooklyn, and we've remained friends through our mutual moves "out of town." After awhile, though, our friendship started to flounder. We were still connected in a very deep way, but we spoke less and less. Our undiscussed wounds put a gulf between us. Finally, we confronted each other about it. She discovered that I wasn't trying to in-validate her, I just have a certain way of viewing things. I discovered she wasn't trying to belittle me, She just has a certain speaking style. We both understood that we needed to shift a little to make room for the other's needs. Once we addressed our issues, a deeper level of intimacy was created for us. We now speak almost every day.

One time I was trying to help out a homeless person, and I gave her some "basic needs" type stuff - toothbrush and toothpaste included. She smiled at me with her toothless gums, and we both got a good laugh. There was a lesson there: I needed to "tune in" to her a little more to help her in the best possible way.

Sometimes it takes some creative dancing to love somebody; a spouse, a child, a friend, a stranger. Ourselves.


There is a teaching attributed to the holy Reb Yisroel Ba'al Shem Tov: Not a leaf from a tree falls without Hashem willing it so. Not a blade of grass bends without Hashem directing it thus. I sat in my backyard with Rivky this morning, trying to grasp this mind-blowing concept. I watched the grass blowing this way and that, and I almost felt like G-d was asking me to pay attention to Him.


Tonight, at a shiur, I met one of the Chevra Kadisha ladies I've worked with before. She always heads the group when I work with her, and she's a good leader. She asked me about my new schedule. I think we were both pleased to discover that I would have some time to give to the Chevra again. For some weird reason, every time I've been asked to do a tahara, I ate too much for breakfast. I'm sitting around eating Yaakov's Sunday pancakes (Gefen blueberry mix) when the call comes. Then on the drive home, I inevitably think: "What if the dude in the car next to me knew what I just did? I just prepared someone for her burial. What would he think of that?" I mean, what does it matter what the sheigetz in the Honda thinks? The answer to that probably solves my blogging quandary: "why am I doing this?"


Because I'm wondering what the world at large thinks of my little life.

Either that or I'm a complete egomaniac.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Let go and let G-d.

Once I read a questionaire on somebody's blog. You know, the usual dorky blog questions that help readers get to know the author. But the last question hit me really hard. The question was; "if you could have a million dollars OR have all your past mistakes erased, which would you take?" The wise blogger answered, "I'd take the million bucks - hey, we all make mistakes." My choice would be to erase my past mistakes. I am a very sensitive person (not always a plus). When I make mistakes, I have a hard time forgiving myself. This is probably why I have a hard time forgiving others at times. I live with my mistakes for years, and - HELL, NO! - I won't let them go. I'm still beating myself up for things I did when I was 18, and I'm 30 now! The fundamental issue, I believe, is my lack of trust and faith in G-d. If I believed in G-d the way I should, I would know that EVERYTHING happens because He wills it. Sure, I have free choice, but ultimately it's all Him. Everything I've done in my life, and everything done to me, is all because Hashem is saying "Hi Maven, I LOVE YOU." The truth is, I shouldn't beat myself up for this lack of faith. This is the avodah of a Jew. We're all struggling with our "G-d issues." We're all trudging along every day under our burdens. All G-d wants us to do is put them down and let Him do the schlepping.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
I'm a troll, again.

I'm still online. I should be sleeping, damn it.

I just thought of something: The fact that I think my life has been so bizarre. I mean, I look at many of my life experiences as unusual and intense. I feel like things have happened to me that are really, really, out of range. But then I thought; probably everybody has bizarre experiences in life. It's likely that lots of people look back and say "boy, I've had one heck of a strange life!" I guess what I am trying to say is that I'm probably not as exceptional as I think I am (are you listening, Miriam Adahan?).

Once, a good friend overheard a therapist saying that his job was simply "to change people's perspectives." Is that so true? (My friend said hearing that saved her thousands of dollars in therapy). I mean, I can sit here and think "gee, I've had lots of freaky life experiences. I'm a freakazoid." Or, I could think "We're all freakazoids!"

I feel so much better about myself now.

Weird Science

Once in awhile Yaakov finds interesting science/educational videos online, and we watch them. Past exciting topics include the atomic bomb, electrical line work, ancient Peruvian cities, and NASA footage (always a favorite). Tonight's selection was about geologic forces at work. Volcanoes, earthquakes, you get the idea. The interesting thing was the "data" that was given, spewed out as factually as the volcanoes barfed out lava. Numbers that made my head spin! Geologists stating that formations were "65 million" years old. Does G-d conceal Himself that much? My favorite factoid of the night; the tiny ice-comets that pummel the earth every day cause ONE INCH more water to cover the earth's surface every 20,000 years. I mean, how do they arrive at that figure? If people can believe that, surely the story of Adam and Chava is do-able.

Those were the days, my friend.

I used to be much more sensitive towards the environment than I am now - this I was thinking as I threw something in the garbage tonight. How much trash the Maven House produces! The diaper pail alone, va-voy! Then there's the disposable plates and plasticware. The endless parade of Ziploc baggies. The tons of paper napkins. When Moshiach comes, maybe the world's garbage will disappear...

Happy thought: A 7 mile Greenpeace walk/rally in San Francisco, '92. I was walking in the back, enjoying a group of women playing tambourines and singing Jewish songs.

Monday, September 05, 2005
Life goes on...

Tonight I had the weirdest moment. I was helping Chaya with her aleph-beis homework, and I remembered my step-father "helping" me with my math homework. Math was never my strongest subject, so I would have him check my answers when I was done. If I made a mistake, he would emotionally decimate me. With angry words and nasty looks, I was made to feel like garbage. This remembrance floated eerily through me, as Chaya questioned me about a langer chof. I don't want to do that to her, G-d. Please Hashem, help me to come to a place of tikkun.

Hi, we're ba'al teshuvas!

I needed to record some children's da'avenen for some people, so I asked my husband to find me a blank tape. All he could find was a Janis Joplin show. Man, can she sing.

Sunday, September 04, 2005
Bar Mitzvah

I went to a simcha tonight. Somebody poured me a l'chaim - Be'er Mayim cherry soda with cherry Stolichnaya. It was good, I had another. I ate a lot and I danced a lot. My best one was with Chaya, her whole body wrapped around me in our hug-dance. I pondered how amazing a bar mitzvah is, what it really signifies. Amazed at how we move together - one people - in the eternal Jewish circle of our lives.

Hurricane Chaya

Today, Chaya had a meltdown. She didn't get the juice she wanted (it was old and not drinkable anymore). Then, Rivky came out wearing Chaya's skirt. Chaya lost it - between the drink and the skirt, that was too much. She tried to pull the skirt off of Rivky, but I told Rivky to leave the kitchen. So Chaya dropped on the floor and started the show. She wouldn't calm down, so I went to take her outside. She was kicking and screaming the whole way. Yaakov locked the door behind us, and I sat on the front porch with her while she had her category 5 tantrum. She was kicking the door, totally raging. A couple of times I lovingly reached my arms out to her, but got rebuffed. Finally, through G-d's grace, she noticed a dead lizard under her feet. This sent her fearfully running to me, where she sat down in my lap and stuck her thumb in her mouth. Hurricane Chaya had blown over - stopped in her tracks by a lizard carcass. Thank you, Hashem.

Saturday, September 03, 2005
Yoshev al ha Geder

Sometimes I ask, "Why did I become frum? Why did I do this to myself?" It's not always easy being frum, and I resent the hardships it places on my life. The following is a list of things that bother me:

1) The expectation/responsibility to have tons of kids
2) The financial hardship (tuition, kosher food, the yomim tovim)
3) Having to run to a rav for sha'alehs
4) The struggle to repress my yetzer hora

Number 4 is a big one, because that one encompasses all the others. It's my yetzer hora that prompts the original "What have I done to my life?" questions. I don't want you to think that I am constantly walking around resentful or miserable, quite the contrary. There are many areas of my life that are beautiful, meaningful, and enjoyable, and it's because the Torah lifestyle gave them to me. I couldn't imagine ever walking away from this (well, I could imagine it, but I don't think I ever would). The part about having a lot of kids bothers me the most. My kids are, Baruch Hashem, a real handful. Even other people have commented on this to me. I am oftentimes overwhelmed by their intensity - how can G-d expect me to have more? How many times have I cried out to Hashem "How much can one woman take?!!" I get resentful that I'm expected to have more, when we struggle so much financially. I can't afford cleaning help, and I can barely afford tuition. Sometimes we even struggle with grocery money. Just getting our licenses blew a 40 dollar (!!!) hole into our budget! There are women in my community who have full time household help. FULL TIME! Can you imagine? Sure, they can have lots of kids, but what about the rest of us? It's easy to have 9 kids when Maria can help you, but what about us mothers struggling all by ourselves? I'm feeling very bitter right now. G-d gives my family many blessings, and I need to count them, quick.

Friday, September 02, 2005
Drive Happy.

After living out-of-town for a year and a half, I finally got a new license. My NY license expires on my birthday this year, so I had to get moving on it. Anyway, the license office was soooo slow, I think the "M" in DMV stands for "molasses." Yaakov and I (and Srulik and Rivky) went together. We had an appointment at noon, and got out at 2. First of all, Srulik and Rivky were their normal, high-energy selves, they ran around and entertained themselves all over the place. One particular employee kept hassling us to "watch our children. " We were watching them...go nutty in the DMV office. They weren't being unsafe, they were just bored and trying to amuse themselves. I met a nice Jewish lady in front of me on line, and asked her to join us for a shabbos meal. When my turn finally arrived, I had to turn in my NY license. That made me cry. It was a tangible connection to my little Brooklyn ghetto, with the address of my landlord's house on it. They are a very fine chassidisher family, and I miss them greatly. We lived upstairs. I would always find an excuse to go visit them, to borrow an egg or ask a sha'aleh. We lived there for 5 years. I was very sad to leave, sad to turn in my license that somehow connected me to them. The good news is that Yaakov was making corny jokes while I was getting my picture taken, so I have a smiling/laughing license photo. Irma Bombeck once said that "hell is where people actually look like their driver's licenses," so at least I'll look cute in hell.

Soy un perdido. I'm a loser.

Sometimes, when I'm overwhelmed with my house or my kids, I just "check out" emotionally. I become a vegetable, and I neglect my responsiblities. I'll use the internet too much. I'll read a secular book. I'll talk on the phone. Anything but doing what I should be doing. Like last night, Yaakov picked up my share of the work because I basically checked out for the night. It's not such a healthy pattern, and I need to shift. Bad mommy.

The good news is that yesterday I got a call from the mall (to follow up on my complaint). Remember I wrote about a very-not-nice billboard the mall featured? They said they've been getting a lot of complaints about that picture, and they are in the process of taking it down. Yaakov asked me, "do you feel vindicated?" YES! (Especially after he told me complaining wouldn't help!)

Now, I have to start my housework to welcome Her Royal Highness, the Shabbos Queen. She loves a clean bathroom, you know.

Thursday, September 01, 2005
I love my Dad.

My secular birthday is coming up, and my dad sent me a "bluebird of happiness." It's a blue blown-glass bird. I am now the proud owner of 3 of them (all from him, of course). This one, however, is different. She's bigger, and she perches on a blue glass foundation. The inscription reads: "To my wonderful daughter, happy 30th birthday, love always - Dad." A manic-depressive sending bluebirds of happiness - is that bizarre? Also included in the package;

3 pairs of Chinese pajamas for my kids
a coloring book
a Chinese cloth wallet

Yay, Dad! I love him. I called him and told him so.

I'm a troll.

I just spent about 2 hours online looking at frumster, other blogs, onlysimchas, CNN, yada yada. I should have been doing other things. No, really.

My Photo Name: Fancy Schmancy Anxiety Maven
Location: Chutz l'aretz - Outside of Brooklyn

fancymaven at gmail dot com