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“Caller – Are You There?”

Posted by mwallach on June 27, 2013 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,
I think my Bubby called my cell phone last shabbos.

The first problem is that she did not leave a message so I do not know for sure. The second issue is that she died 14 years ago. Ironically, the issue of her calling on shabbos is actually not a problem at all.

While many would contend that their bubby was the best in the world, that’s only because they may not have known mine. Tootsie Eisenberg, as she was affectionately known, was a lady amongst ladies. She and my Poppy enjoyed a storybook love and marriage that served as a paradigm for all who knew them. And they absolutely, positively adored their grandchildren.

Nary a day passes that I don’t think of her in one way or another. It could be seeing a yellow Shop Rite bag that triggers a memory, as she used them to double wrap food before sticking it in the freezer. Or maybe it’s that when I call my daughter’s name that I think of Bubs, because my daughter is named for her. One of the nicest parts of carrying on a name is building in that daily opportunity to reflect, even for a moment, on a loved one you’ve lost.

I went to Israel to see her just days before she died. Frail and far from the once vibrant woman whose powerful, loving hugs could actually squish your internal organs, I showed her a picture of my baby. “I did good,” I said, trying to be cute. “Right, Bubs?” “You did well,” she responded. That was the last thing she ever said to me. Yes: right before she died, my Bubby corrected my English.

Since her passing, I have been convinced that Bubby has contacted me from beyond. These occurrences have come in the form of strange coincidences or random events that simply have no business of ever happening otherwise. At one point I did not hear from her for years. In the last few months, however, I have heard from her twice – one time being last shabbos morning when I’m convinced she called my cell phone.

Now, I know what you’re thinking because I have heard it before. Coincidences are just coincidences and reading into them is foolish. Anything can be seen as a sign, if that is how one chooses to interpret it when, in fact, it may mean absolutely nothing.

On the other hand, signs are there to be read by those who have their eyes open – by those who want to see. If that means that I see my Bubby in places that are actually meaningless simply because I choose to see her there, then that is my choice. I believe that her love for me and mine for her extends beyond mortality. So, sue me – I miss my Bubs.

The two most recent events, however, are hard to just write off. Even the greatest cynic or naysayer will note these examples are weird, even if just to himself. The bottom line is that both actually happened and more than one person was around when they took place. Read into them what you want, or choose not to read into them at all.

A few months ago I was looking through a few old photo albums in our home office with some of my children. The office has two doors, one that leads to the hallway and one for the bathroom,. Sifting through the pictures, I came across one of Bubby, and remarked to my kids that I had not “heard” from her in a while. “Hi, Bubs, ” I said, while looking at the picture and running my fingers across her face. All of a sudden, she spoke.

“Hello?” said a voice. And with that, we froze.

Busy trying to catch our breath, we looked nervously at each other. The bathroom door then unexpectedly opened. My daughter – the one named for my Bubby – walked into the room. She had been the voice we heard and was awaiting a response, but we were stunned silent. No one knew she was in there. No one could figure out why she said “Hello” of all things, such a strange utterance when we weren’t even talking to her or aware she of her presence. But there we were, having all shared the same experience, unable to articulate exactly what happened, agreeing however that there was only one answer: Bubby.

Ah, yes. I hear the non-believers in the crowd rolling their eyes, ignoring the sign, brushing it off as a coincidence. That, again, is your choice. The next story, however, is harder to ignore.

I rarely if ever leave my phone in the kitchen over shabbos to charge. Even rarer is when I forget to shut it off. Last week, however, I did both and my phone remained in my kitchen, plugged into the wall, on. It was on shabbos morning that it rang, startling me as I sat on the couch. If the house phone rings on shabbos or on a chag, we attribute it to a telemarketer or maybe a wrong number. But my cell phone? That was simply too odd and I leapt off the couch to investigate.

The number was not familiar, but the city and state where the call originated from was. My mother grew up in Bayonne, N.J., the place where my grandparents raised a family and where my Bubby lived most of her life. It is the city we associate with my maternal side of the family, often joking that all roads lead to Bayonne. And it seemed that someone from Bayonne was calling me that morning on a day she knew I would never pick up – and there was no voicemail left by the caller in an effort to have me call back. But of course there wasn’t.

I didn’t bother checking or dialing the number. There was no point – I knew who had called, even if the call was a wrong number. Regardless of what the actual reason was for my phone to ring, I knew what had happened. The sign was as clear as day.

I saw my mother the next day. She usually ignores me when I say crazy things, or when I am convinced her mother is sending me messages from the next world.

“Bubby called me on shabbos,” I said. “What?!” she replied in confusion. I explained. “See?” I said, showing her the call log on my phone. “A call from Bayonne – on shabbos!” I smiled. “It’s got to be Bubby,” I said. She, however, wasn’t buying it. Not because she did not believe my grandmother was sending me signals – we never even got that far. Glancing at the log, she quickly dismissed my entire theory.

“That wasn’t even her number,” she said, handing me back the phone.

Nope. You just can’t make this up.
MLW

 
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More Than Words

Posted by mwallach on June 5, 2013 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,
It’s fair to say I’m often unable to correctly spell or even define the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But this year, when a 13- year old boy of Indian descent from Queens, NY correctly spelled ‘knaidel’ and with that won the national championship, I got it right. Arguments have ensued everywhere including in The New York Times as to whether the word should be spelled ‘knaidel’, ‘kneidel,’ or ‘kneidyl.’ Regardless, it has become a source of pride for Jews everywhere.

Making breakfast for my children the next morning, I made sure to tell them the news. Responses ranged from smiles to jokes about why the winning word was not something like ‘rugelach.’ At first they didn’t understand that knaidel is the singular form of knaidlach, a word with which they are familiar, but they quickly appreciated that, if nothing else, ‘knaidel’ as the final word in a nationally televised contest was nothing short of cool. After a few more jokes about words ending in ‘ach’ that my family does not appreciate when I use (see: bletlach), my middle-schooler stopped and said, “Is [knaidel] even a real word?” And of course, the answer was ‘yes.’

New Yorkers of all stripes can be often be heard integrating Yiddish into daily life. A few years ago, I laughed when a reporter on the radio referred to a back up on the Long Island Expressway as meshugah. Beyond that, words like oy, nudge, bubkis, chutzpah and fahrkelmpt – not to mention examples that cannot be included here – have all been heard on broadcasts ranging from NBC’s Saturday Night Live to the evening news. However, the popularity of Yiddish in American life is not really significant for the correct spelling of a particular transliterated word. Rather, it’s about what its integration may tell us about our lives in the first place.

In “Some Say the Spelling of a Winning Word Just Wasn’t Kosher” on page one of The New York Times, Joseph Berger wrote, “If nothing else, the dispute is a window into the cultural stews that languages like Yiddish, not to mention English, become as people migrate and assimilate.” That was like a light bulb over my head. Berger got it exactly right: ‘knaidel’ as a dictionary entry and as the winning word in the spelling bee reflects just how normal and accepted Jews have become in American society.

Remember the Seinfeld episode that explored the unappreciated greatness of cinnamon bobka vs. its more popular sibling, the chocolate bobka? Suffice it to say, I am confident that this episode in the 1990s was lost on millions of viewers in the Midwest (“Bob, who?”), let alone Seinfeld’s subsequent ode to the marble rye. The bobka debate in primetime on a hit show reflected a certain normalcy, with Jewish life as part of the great American melting pot. I am not sure how many Italian-Americans get excited when a character on TV eats lasagna. I can tell you, though, that when fictional Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman (Bradley Whitford) on ‘The West Wing’ picked Yeshiva University over the Dallas Cowboys in the weekly office pool, Jews everywhere cheered.

Okay: I know what you’re thinking. There are plenty of Larry Davids and Woody Allens in Hollywood. One liners or moments such as these should be expected. But that is completely besides the point. These references are so commonplace precisely because writers and producers recognize that Jewish-isms and Yiddish-isms have earned substantive and secured places in society. Because Jewish culture is so deeply integrated into American culture, these references are appreciated by a greater audience.

Consider Jack Lew, Eric Cantor, Chuck Schumer and Joseph Lieberman: four high ranking American politicians whose Jewish identities are well-known. An argument could be made that Jews have been involved in politics since the beginning of time. But then, along comes a cute, young teenager from Chicago who wows everyone as he sings and plays piano on national television on “America’s Got Talent.” Edon Pinchot made it to the semi-finals of this major competition and wore his kippah throughout the process. In this day and age of entitled teens, we were proud of this young man whose menschlechkeit was nothing short of impressive and remains so, and for good reason.

Many remarked at the kiddush Hashem Edon created through his demeanor and by literally wearing his faith on his head for all the world to see. He well represented Jews around the world, but I wondered if anyone else honestly cared. Irish Catholics in Boston could not have been as excited as we were to see Edon’s kippah as he performed. They may not have even noticed it at all. As I thought about it further, I was finally able to ask myself the following question: What does it mean if a Jew wearing a kippah on TV, in a business meeting, in an ER or while screening bags at the airport isn’t that big of a deal anymore to anyone who isn’t Jewish?

The proper spelling of knaidel, with an ‘e’ or an ‘a’ or a ‘y’, continued to make headlines as this column was being written. The mere inclusion of knaidel in the spelling bee should spark a much greater discussion for us as a people. We have too often been persecuted for being different. And paradoxically, in spite of our need to stay somewhat apart in order to maintain our identity and preserve our heritage, we desire acceptance by others.

So now that it looks like we’ve “made it,” are we happy?
MLW

 
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Life Has Not Changed a Bit

Posted by mwallach on March 11, 2013 in My Kids, New To You

Dear That’s Life,
There is a comfort in knowing that crazy still follows me everywhere, even after 5 months of radio silence.

I know: I have been rather delinquent about posting to my blog. And I apologize. But thanks to recent events, I have made time to actually sit down at my computer and do something other than write up a proposal or program a show.

The guilt of a working parent knows no end. That is the beginning and end to this conversation. And we all go to various lengths to assuage that guilt. On the other hand, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and while we often try to do the right thing, or what we think is the right thing, it does not always work out.

Such was the case last week when my son’s class was performing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. I was determined to be there, committed to making the effort, promising to take him out for dinner after the event was over. Working full time has been an adjustment for the entire family, with some taking it harder than others. This was going to be alone time with my son – time we both desperately needed – and we were looking forward.

Despite having left the studio with plenty of time, I should have predicted that my punctual arrival at the museum would still be left to fate. In this case, karma appeared in the form of a NYPD tow truck the size of my house. A UPS truck of similar girth to that of the NYPD vehicle, with numerous parking tickets stuck on its windshield, was in need of a towing.

Besides the inconvenience to all of those UPS customers whose packages would not arrive on time, every car stuck behind these two trucks in lower Manhattan was not going anywhere either. Blocking off the entire street in lower Manhattan during rush hour, the NYPD officer had a job to do, and neither my son’s performance nor the ticking of the clock were concerns of his at all. And so, along with more than ten cars behind me, we waited about 15 minutes until the vehicles were well on their way and the UPS truck was dragged to the pound. Good luck to that UPS driver on being employee of the month.

With less than fifteen minutes left until their slotted performance time, I quickly found the closest parking lot to where I was – which was right near the Staten Island Ferry – convinced that I would have better luck on foot at this point than in my car. “Our credit card machine is not working today,” said the attendant, but I did not care. Fortuitously, I had more than $15 in my pocket for one of the first times in my life and was therefore unconcerned. I left the keys and headed out.

With the clock rapidly ticking, and my working mom’s guilt overflowing, I ran (in heels) from the ferry to the museum. It was not the first time someone looked at me strangely and it was certainly not going to be the last. What – no woman in downtown Manhattan had ever run in boots before? And regardless, my son was expecting me. With all of the sacrifices kids with make for their working parents, and the disappointment they often feel, I just did not want to mess this up.

By the skin of my teeth and in a full sweat, I arrived within minutes of his class’s performance. I was able to see him before they went in and enjoyed the entire event. My blood pressure eventually settled down. I was relieved and he was happy to see me. It was all worth it. As planned, I planned to take him home when it was time to leave and we were going to enjoy some time by ourselves. Dinner without my iphone, talking without checking my email. Just me and my boy. But, as to be expected, that’s not how it worked out.

“Mommy,” he said, “can we go out for dinner another time?” It seems that dinner was provided by the museum, and the chicken was delicious. “I am so full,” he added. “No problem,” I said, smiling. “We can go another time.” But that was not where our conversation would end.

“And Mommy…?” he said, his voice trailing off. “Can I go home on the bus?”

Stunned, my eyes bugged out of my head. “What?!” I asked, totally taken aback. What kid wants to go home on the a bus when he can go home with his parent in the comfort of a car? But he explained.

“The bus company sent a coach bus instead of a school bus,” he said, “and it is SO cool!”

I laughed, appreciating the irony but not surprised that another event in my life evolved the way it did. “No problem,” I said, giving him a hug. “Have a good time.”

“Thanks, Ma,” he said, turning around. “Just don’t forget – you have to pick me up in an hour from school.” And with that, off he went, happy as a clam.

There was nothing I could do but laugh. I thought I was doing everything right, but I just could not compete with a coach bus. Of course, there was no time to linger and enjoy the moment, because I still had to get my car back and hightail it to the Five Towns. Time was ticking and I only had an hour, and it would be hard to make it from Battery Park to Lawrence in 60 minutes. And wouldn’t you know it: I got there ten minutes late.

Life has not changed a bit…
MLW

 
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It’s MIRAM, Stupid.

Posted by mwallach on November 29, 2012 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,
I know I have written about my name before.

And I know many of you are sick of hearing me complain about how people mispronounce my name and how much it bothers me because they butcher your name even worse than they do mine (see: my brother, Ranon). I was particularly perplexed recently by the Sprint representative who asked me if my name was ‘Miriam, with an E’. Nevertheless, the irony of this post is that I was the one to destroy someone else’s name – because I thought her name was Miriam.

I do not understand people who camp out for Black Friday, especially those who set up tents and take vacation days from work in order to do so. Especially in the age of technology, where better deals are often found on the internet rather than in the stores, those who feel the need to be part of the Black Friday frenzy need a reality check. And anyone who made a point of attacking their local Apple store in the hopes of getting some incredible deal on an ipad mini were surely disappointed. Remember Apple’s hidden motto: It is your privilege to own our products. Enjoy.

I had not planned on going to the Apple store over the holiday weekend. When my ipad ceased cooperating, however, and since I depend on it for work, I made an appointment and headed in to the store. Suffice it to say I was confident the store would work like a well-oiled machine, even on such a hectic shopping day, and I was right. Wearing their red fleeces, Apple employees blanketed the floor, providing prompt and gracious service to anyone who headed their way.

The store was run so well, as a matter of fact, that there was an express lane for ipod/ipad purchases. I kid you not. On the one hand, you can appreciate the efficiency with which the store operated. On the other hand, it is a sick commentary on society if ipads are flying off the shelves with such speed that an express shopping lane is required, but I digress…

Of course, the irony is that I found myself on that very lane after being told that my ipad needed to be replaced. The damage was irreparable and there were no other immediate options. Standing on line, I noticed the names of the Apple employees who were manning the lane, including one which caught my eye. Almost instantaneously, I was about to do something I love – develop a kinship with a total stranger. At least, that’s what I thought.

“My name is ‘Miriam’, too” I said to the Apple representative with a smile, ready to have a bonding moment with another person who has the same name. “Doesn’t it make you crazy when people mispronounce your it?”

“My name is MIRAM,” she said. “And yes: it makes me crazy when people mispronounce my name.”

Stunned by what I had just heard, I stood there a moment before being able to speak. “I’m sorry – what??” Then I reread her ID tag only to realize that her name was spelled with one ‘i’ and not two.

“My name is Miram,” she explained. “But don’t worry – people call me Miriam all the time, and I answer to it.” That made me laugh, and we both began to relax.

She asked me where I was from and I said Long Island. She smiled. “I mean BEFORE that,” she said and then I understood. “We’re from Israel,” I explained. “I’m from Egypt,” she said, “but around here, no one gets my name right.”

We continued chatting for a few more minutes, but then it was time to go. I had finished paying for my item and frankly: how long can someone really talk about her name? But before I walked away, I brought the conversation back to one of my favorite topics: what I refer to as my ‘Starbuck’s Name.’

“You know that when I’m at Starbucks,” I said, “I tell them my name is ‘Mary’ because I am so sick of them mispronouncing my name.” She laughed. “That’s funny,” she said, “because I tell them my name is Miriam.”
MLW

 
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Here Comes the Sun

Posted by mwallach on November 14, 2012 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,
You know life has changed when my toddler tells her Morah (teacher) that I did not bring her to school that morning because, “[Mommy] is on line for gas” – and that is a completely acceptable answer, even to my daughter.

It has been almost four weeks since I last posted, with the last two locked in a permanent state of blur. Like the power source to my home, life seems to have stopped and restarted a bunch of times since Sandy came to town. When I stop feeling the need to sleep with a flashlight next to my bed or light a yahrzeit candle before shabbos in case the power goes out again, then I may actually believe we are finally out of the woods. Until then, the oodles of canned food we stocked our cabinets with and the jugs of water my husband filled two weeks ago lest we need them to flush the toilets will stay right where they are, thank you very much.

Sandy took its toll in many ways. As if it was my kryptonite, I was rendered powerless and my greatest strength, the ability to find humor in absolutely everything, was gone. Nothing was funny. I could not laugh. What could be funny about people losing their homes? Their possessions? About neighborhoods being wiped out? There is no silver lining in any of those scenarios nor should there be. They are simply awful. So for days, I made not one joke, and I did not find other people’s jokes to be funny either. This was not a time to kid, but rather a time of mourning. Fourteen days later, utilities are coming back but the pain is still here, and will be remain.

I met two women the other day, one from Oceanside and one from Long Beach. For an unseasonably warm day, the woman from Oceanside was wearing too many layers. Then she explained that she still had no heat in her home and was using the frozen yogurt shop we were in to warm up. Ironic, I thought, but not funny. She ate while her phone and laptop charged on the bench beside her.

The other woman commented that portable toilets had just been set up on her block. With no power and no utilities either in her Long Beach home or in the homes around hers, the town was taking desperate measures. Frustration and sadness in her voice, she wondered where the authorities were and when life was going to get better. And it did not matter that she was venting to anyone who would listen, and to no one she had ever met before. Sometimes, it feels better just to talk and to feel like you are being heard.

In an attempt to get back to myself, I posted a few funny one-liners on Facebook. It still felt strange. Even though power had been restored in my home after ten days of darkness, it was merely an inconvenience compared to the suffering of others. I certainly had nothing to complain about. And in deference to them and the pain in our community, I just could not joke around. Not yet.

Like many others, I found refuge in various coffee houses as I tried to do some work and charge various electronics. Finally able to commute into Manhattan, I went to my favorite Starbucks in Penn Station, figuring I would do some work there before heading off to a meeting. Unfortunately, I was not the only person with that idea as every seat and small table were taken. I then became that person who lurks in a parking lot waiting for a spot to open up.

I was a hoverer, standing in the corner, eyeing fellow customers who might be leaving. I then noticed one table that was not actually occupied. The two gentleman on either side of it were just taking up too much space. Once the man on the left collected his bag, I felt comfortable asking the other gentleman – someone I had never seen in my life – if he’d move over a bit so I could sit down. His response was not what I had expected.

“Well, it’s about time you showed up!” he said, in reference to my request, moving over to give me more room. “I’ve been saving this seat for you!” I could not help but crack up, appreciating the moment and needing a good laugh. “You didn’t write, you didn’t call…” he continued, a little twinkle in his eye. I thanked him for his clairvoyance, since he “knew” to expect me. And with that, I sat down next to this complete stranger and felt completely at ease.

A few minutes later, we exchanged some pleasantries as the gentleman packed his bags to go. Like it had been planned, a musician performing in the corridor for the throngs of commuters passing by began playing The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” as the man walked out of the store. Within seconds, he disappeared into the steady flow of people rushing by.

And that is when it occurred to me that, yes: the sun is coming and New Yorkers are resilient. It will take time, and some people will not recover for a while, but we have seen tragedy before and have bounced back. Some things will never be funny – but that does not mean we do not get to laugh again. I need only look at the Manhattan skyline to know that.
MLW

 
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Oh, Just Be Quiet.

Posted by mwallach on October 24, 2012 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,
I often hear words or phrases coming out of my children’s mouths that I know I have said myself. Sarcastic tone, excellent timing and pitch perfect, it is as if I am a ventriloquist, able to throw my voice and have it come out of the mouths of babes. It is when they use my own words against me that I know I am in trouble.

I have no idea why I never thought of this before, but the ice pack is the world’s best childhood remedy. For years, we have diligently used the ever great bandaid to fix all that ails anyone 6 and under. However, it ultimately became costly and inefficient. We were constantly running out of bandaids when we actually needed them and could not even find them when we didn’t. After a while, our kids were indiscriminately distributing bandaids to each other, covering themselves in them, looking like they had been attacked by a swarm of bees. Something had to be done.

My husband took care of matters the way he usually does: on-line. After finding some close out site with large inventories of various unrelated items, he ordered some 5,000 bandaids and had them delivered to our house. He was very proud of his purchase and impressed by its minimal cost. So fed up with running out of bandaids, this is how he handled the situaion. I was doubtful that the quality of this purchase would be worth even the pennies he paid for them, imagining that they would not stick at all or would just peel off. I was wrong – they were actually pretty good.

Nevertheless, buying 5,000 bandaids was simply crazy. There was no other word for it. I tried to convince him that this was not the answer. In addition, I pointed out that if I was being the adult in this or any situation, that was a bad sign. There had to be a better answer and there was – the ice pack.

Ice packs are incredible. You already have some, they are reusuable and they actually help alleviate the pain of an injury. They have immediate therapeutic qualities and are far less embarrassing than admitting you own 5,000 bandaids.

The lines “Go get an ice pack” and “Do you want an ice pack?” are now heard on a daily basis in our home. They are actually now part of an ongoing joke. When we recently had friends join us for shabbat, they quickly caught on to our ice pack craze. I explained the method to the madness and how much more efficient they were than using bandaids all the time. Injuries of any size and of any degree of seriousness benefit from the application of ice. An ice pack validates that an actual injury occurred, I said, and costs me nothing. The bag of frozen peas or cranberries that I often offer a “patient” work just as well as Boo Boo Bunny or some other ridiculous product aimed at fleecing parents. And the best part of it all is that I then can avoid the need for my husband to purchase another 5,000 bandaids. They understood where I was coming from, but still thought I was crazy.

About 5 weeks ago, my thumb got caught in a clamp used to secure the rear seats in my car. The bench had been folded up to expand the trunk, but needed to go back down when more seating was necessary. I slammed down the seats as I normally do, which is needed to catch the clamp, but did not realize my thumb was there. It was very bloody and incredibly painful. Even now, it is still black and blue, I don’t have complete sensation and if I hit it the wrong way, I see stars.
Let me fast forward to why that injury is relevant.

Getting dressed the other day and speaking to my middle schooler at the same time, I managed to nick my thumb nail on the edge of my door. Immediately, my face went white and I was unable to speak. A violent pain surged through my finger and my daughter quickly caught what had happened.

“I just saw that,” she said, and asked me repeatedly if I was okay. Still unable to gather any words, I just stared at her. “Mommy, are you okay?” she asked again, but I said nothing. But then, as to be expected by any child of mine, with a twinkle in her eye she said, “Would you like an ice pack? I hear they provide a lot of relief.” My stare changed to a glare.

Funny how my words came back to me right at that moment…

MLW
P.S.. Ironically, I just got a paper cut while typing this article. Luckily, I have a bandaid.

 
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Lights, Camera, Action? No, Thank you.

Posted by mwallach on October 11, 2012 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,
Without exaggeration, I have heard the line “You guys should really have a reality TV show” no less than five times over the last few weeks. From different people under varying circumstance, it seems people around me are being entertained by my life, regardless if I find the moment entertaining or not at all. I can see it now: the Kardashians, Kate Gosselin, moms who parade their toddler daughters around at beauty pageants and me. That’s one helluva holiday party guest list. Sounds like a sick joke.

In my opinion, nothing about my life as a Jewish mom of 6 children would make sense within the reality show world that currently exists. After I had my youngest, a close friend of mine decided we should have a reality TV show, simply because she had come up with a name. “You need to have ONE more,” she explained, “and then you could be Miriam and Stephen – plus seven!” Of course, that would require us to mispronounce my husband’s name every week, and for me to have another child. Neither were options.

On the other hand, I would like to see a reality show smash-up that involved my family. Super Nanny could come spend the week while Gene Simmons joined us for shabbat dinner. Then right before Padma Lakshmi would tell me to pack my knives and go, we will have already voted someone off the island. After that, we could go hang with the guys who star in that show about people who live in a trailer park (did you even know there was a show about that?) and then I’d wrap it all up as I tango across the stage with Drew Lachey, and wave Bristol Palin good-bye. Now, that would be fun, but alas – are not options either.

The first comment came when I was on line in the supermarket with two of my daughters who had different ideas than I did for what I should be buying. My shopping list seems irrelevant to them, because with every item I took out of the cart, they put something else in. For every bag of chips and gallon of ice cream that made me roll my eyes and which were promptly removed, in came another box of cereal. Had these two of my children been the youngest in the family, it might have been understandable. Unfortunately, one of them was my oldest. Barely able to stifle my frustration, it took only a dirty look to end her escapades. My other daughter is significantly younger than my oldest and at this point, my death stares mean nothing to her. Getting her to stop would have required either an act of G-d or abandoning my cart and going home. Neither were options.

The gentleman behind us on line as well as the woman in front began to take note of the steady exchange between me and my daughter. Seems she found any and every item in the store that she had ever been advertised during the shows she watched and put them in my cart. One by one, she brought it over, told me about it and placed it on top of the heap which already existed. And one by one, I handed it back to her. “But Mommy…” she pleaded, but I was not budging. Disappointed but not deterred, she returned the item to its appropriate spot, only to pick up something else.

As if we were unknowingly playing a game, this back and forth continued about ten times, much to the amusement of the man and woman on line with us. I had not even realized anyone was noticing what was going on until I looked up and saw them both giggling. “She’s quite persistent,” the woman said with a smile. “I’ll give her that.” I nodded in agreement, knowing what she was like at home as well.

Returning this time with a box of donuts that we did not need but I could live with, I told her to put it in the cart. Satisfied and excited, the process stopped and the game ended. Looking up at the man behind me, he began to laugh.

“She won!” he said. “I can’t believe it.” Had he known better, he never would have bet against her. “It was like watching a reality TV show!” he added. I smirked. “Thanks,” I said, “but you only found it entertaining because it’s not your life.”

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Welcome to my world.
MLW

 
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The Shy and Petite Elf

Posted by mwallach on September 28, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
I have been called a lot of things over the years, some of which I can put in print and some of which I cannot. Either way, no matter what someone has said, I have never been referred to as “shy” nor have I been called “petite” and certainly not “dainty”. Leave it to my son, however, to add a new word to the list of things I have never been called before: lazy. That was a new one.

The truth is, it is not his fault he felt that way and it sounds much harsher than it actually came out. From his point of view, it may just appear that way lately, simply because I put my back out. Although I am still not sure how I managed to do it, I am confident it had nothing to do with my 5K run last week. No event or heavy lifting caused the injury, it simply just happened. And instead of allowing my body time to heal, I continued to go about my business and, coincidentally, my daily exercise routine.

The repeated aggravating of my injury only made things worse. My chiropractor, who would be sainted if he wasn’t Jewish, actually banned me from the gym. So not only did my son notice I was not exercising, but he also saw me laying down much more often than normal, and at strange times during the day.

I also have a little known but awful habit of falling asleep during dinner on Friday night. I look forward to shabbat and love the rituals which surround this day of rest, but am completed exhausted by the time it rolls around. While I appreciate how annoying it is that I am unconscious right after we eat dinner, and before the table is cleared, I cannot help it.

Frankly: it is the best sleep I get all week. It is about 3 hours of intense REM, which is more than I can say for my nightly attempts in bed. For some reason, the comfort of my bed does not provide as much sleep success as my living room couch. And so it is and has been for years: when the time comes and I am overwhelmed by exhaustion, it takes no less than about five or six minutes for me to be off in never neverland.

In exchange for my annoying behavior, I insist that everything be left in the kitchen for me to clean up. As long as the table is cleared, I will put it all away when I wake, even if that turns out to be at 2am. That’s life, as we say, and I will sleep in the bed that I make for myself. And so, that is exactly what happens. My husband tucks in the kids and puts them to bed, and I clean up, regardless of the time. When the kids wake up shabbat morning, my son must think the elves had been in my kitchen cleaning up as he was asleep. But that would be another word I have never been called: elf.

Last Friday night, however, even that norm was disrupted because of my back. I had taken so much medication right before shabbat had started to relieve the debilitating back spasms that I physically could not move. When it was time, therefore, for dinner to begin, I was already asleep. Finally feeling no pain, but in no state to operate heavy machinery had it been any other day of the week, I was neatly tucked into bed with no intention of going anywhere, until my son walked in to my room. Apparently, it bothered him terribly that I was not at the table to begin the traditional Friday night shabbat dinner, complete with wine, challah and an enormous meal akin to Thanksgiving.

“Mommy,” he said, tears in his eyes, “please come downstairs.” Without so much as moving my lips, I told him I could not go anywhere. Persistent, he would not give up. “Please, Mommy,” he said. “Please come downstairs.” Listening to his voice, however, made me realize just how upset he was that I was not qt the table with the rest of the family. I told him I needed a couple of minutes, but I would be there. At this point, the medication had taken full effect, I felt absolutely nothing, but was not making complete sense either. It was good enough, however, so off I went.

After settling into my seat which is next to his, my son continued. “Ma,” he said, like a doctor about to deliver horrible news to a patient, “I don’t know how to say this: but I think you might be lazy.”

“Mommy – lazy???” said my eldest she said with disbelief, unable to believe what we had all heard. “I don’t think so.” I was curious, however, what made him say that, and so I asked him why he felt that way. “Because every Friday night, you fall asleep on the couch and never make it through dinner,” he replied, “and now you weren’t going to come at all!”

We laughed. I explained the issue with my back. I knew he had meant no harm and that the comment was said rather innocently. I took no offense at all. On the other hand, he could have said, “Ma, you’re a hyperactive ball of incredibly frenetic energy that many people find overwhelming, scary and often times: annoying.” Now that might have been hard to hear.
MLW
As Seen in The South Shore Standard Sept ’12

 
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Hurricane Miriam. Literally.

Posted by mwallach on September 28, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,

There is much preparation done for Yom Kippur, despite the fact that the holiday is food-free. Getting in the correct mind-set to face one’s Maker on the holiest day of the year is not something to take lightly. Entering the sanctuary, with people dressed in white and the fast having just started, the mood is set as the cantor begins the traditional tunes. And while I knew this awaited me that evening, my mind continued to drift to other matters, and one in particular.

Early Tuesday morning, I received a text message from a friend that piqued my interest and preoccupied my thoughts even though Yom Kippur was just hours away. “Just heard the news!” She wrote. “They’ve named a hurricane after you!” Lo and behold, she was right. I quickly googled the words “Hurricane Miriam,” and the article I found on the Huffington Post said that she, in fact, existed and was looming off the coast of Mexico. Meteorologists were keeping a close eye on it.

As to be expected, I had the opposite reaction to what normal people might have said when they heard that another storm was gathering strength in the Gulf region. I was excited. While I do not wish ill on anyone and I would not want anyone to suffer injury or loss, having a hurricane with my name is, unfortunately, incredibly exciting. Ever go to a place like an amusement park where names are imprinted on various standard souvenirs like mugs, or bracelets or key chains? I always look for my name amongst the others that are available but it is never there. These personalized items never say “Miriam,” and why should they? It is a tough name and it is not all that common. Sharing a name with a hurricane, however, is like having every mug, key chain, placemat and Disney bracelet on the planet having “Miriam” written on it in bold, block letters. It is validating. It means I have a real name.

Of course, as a person whose name is always butchered, however, I knew what would certainly come of Hurricane Miriam. In no time at all, she’d be called Hurricane Marion and Hurricane Maryann by those who could not pronounce her name properly. She’d hang her head in shame and frustration as weather forecasters called her every bastardization of Miriam, but not her actual name. She, too, would develop her own Starbucks name in order to avoid those awkward moments when the person taking her order asked her to spell her name or repeat it, just one more time. While at the beginning it might not bother her at all, by the third or fourth time, she would roll her eyes like the rest of us do and begin to envy girls with names like Rachel, Sarah or Michelle. It is inevitable. Before long, Hurricane Miriam will answer to anything that sounds like Miriam, simply because she has heard it all. Welcome to the club, I’d say.

Of course, the juxtaposition of being told that a hurricane with which you share a name is gathering speed and strength right before you stand before G-d to atone for your sins and plead for mercy is not something to be overlooked. In fact, I began to wonder if that was its own message from G-d. Was I really this destructive? Am I so transparently full of hot air? Believing there are no coincidences in life, I started to ask questions. Of all the days in the entire year for a dangerous storm to be named “Miriam,” why did it have to be the day before Yom Kippur?

I turned to my husband. “You’re not going to believe this,” I said, “but there is a hurricane named Hurricane Miriam!” “And then some,” he responded, without missing a beat. “Now you know how the rest of us feel.” Har, I thought to myself. I should have seen that one coming. What I had predicted, however, was that he was then going to come up with a slew of New York Post-esque headlines that someone could run, none of which could be share in this column. Suffice it to say, he did not let me down.

I spoke to a friend of mine who speaks publicly and specialized in lecturing about spirituality. I asked him what he thought about the announcement of Hurricane Miriam right before Yom Kippur. I told him I was trying not to read into it – he suggested I didn’t. We changed the subject.

Rest assured, I took the day seriously. I prayed for myself and loved ones with all of my heart. When the fast ended, I drank some water, ate some food and then checked on the status of the storm. It seemed that while I was praying, Hurricane Miriam was downgraded to a tropical storm. Apparently, she was not nearly as forceful, strong and potentially destructive as had been originally thought. She may not even make it to Mexico, but will most likely die off at sea. I am hoping this hurricane is not a metaphor.

While I am trying not to read too much into this, it is pretty hard not to. I am relieved that no harm will come from Hurricane Miriam and that she is turning out to be just a bunch of hot air. But before all of this ends and another lifetime goes by before the name is used again, would it be so wrong to have just one “I Survived Hurricane Miriam” t-shirt?

MLW
As Seen in The South Shore Standard Sept ’12

 
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Happy Birthday to Me

Posted by mwallach on September 14, 2012 in New Yorkers

Dear That’s Life,
I have been convinced for years that my birthday brought with it very bad karma. If something bad didn’t occur on the actual date, it happened near or around it. This kept up for a while and culminated with the tragic events of 9/11. Although I knew none of this was actually about me, I could not help feeling I was the common denominator in each of these equations.

This year, however, was different. About two weeks ago, my friend Daniel with whom I share my birthday called with an idea. While he was turning 25, and although I was not, he proposed we do something positive in celebration of our special day. The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s 5K Walk/Run for the Cure in Central Park was taking place the morning of our birthday and what better way, he argued, for us to spend our day than by doing something like this. No convincing was necessary: I was in.

Called the “9/9 Birthday Bash,” Daniel organized our team on-line and we sent out emails asking for support. While my name might have been on the letter, it was Daniel who spearheaded the entire project. And within the short time span from the moment he had the idea until the morning of the race, close to $5,000 had been raised.

While assembling our own team that morning on Central Park West, and having never been there before, we were overwhelmed by the sea of people who had gathered, intent on participating as well. Many teams had their own shirts in memory or in honor of a loved one who served as their inspiration to lace up their sneakers and be part of something greater than themselves. We, too, filled out sheets of pink paper, and honored those who are close to our hearts and had either survived breast cancer, or had lost their battle.

One member of our team had stood by his wife as she battled, and beat, her breast cancer. He wrote her name down on the pink paper which said “In honor of,” adding the words, “I love you” right underneath. The enormity of that paper hit me, and my hands trembled a little as I pinned the paper to his back so that everyone could see it as we ran.

We split up into two groups: walkers and runners. With a birthday sign around my neck as I ran, many runners around me took the opportunity to wish me a “Happy Birthday” as we continued through the park. It felt great. It is one thing to celebrate with family and be surrounded by those you love on your special day. It is another thing altogether to do all of that and participate in something as proactive, inspirational and awesome as running to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. Frankly, it does not get much better than that.

For Daniel, the day continued with a huge win by his beloved Jets. Arriving at Met Life Stadium in anything but his Jets jersey would never have occurred to Daniel, but this day was different. He went to the game in the shirt we had all received from the Susan G. Komen Foundation for participating in the race. Left and right as he walked to and from his seat, Daniel was thanked by complete strangers who had never seen him before, but were clearly close to someone who had suffered with the disease.

Speaking to him after the game, we both remarked what an incredible experience it had been and how we hoped to make it an annual tradition. I took that opportunity to thank him as well, for had he not seen the ad for the race on a bus and taken the initiative to set up our team, none of us would have been there. While efforts such as these are always about the team, every team also needs a leader – and for us, that was Daniel.

Just a few days later, I was able to say thank you again to someone who sincerely deserved it and thought about others before thinking about himself.

I was in Lower Manhattan Tuesday afternoon, long after the 9/11 memorials and ceremonies were over. Driving down the West Side Highway was a solemn experience though the crowds were long gone and the bagpipes all put away. Nevertheless, I took pause as I drove past the Freedom Tower, still in a semi-state of disbelief that they have to be built in the first place. It seems like only yesterday that the Twin Towers were part of that majestic skyline and yet we all remember where we stood when we learned that they were no more.

After parking my car and before heading into work, I went to the corner bodega for a cup of coffee. As I walked in, I noticed a fireman in his dress uniform, taking money out of the ATM located in the store. A member of Engine 14, I had never seen him before in my life but I caught his eye and he caught mine. While I would have otherwise smiled and walked on, I could not let the opportunity pass.

“Thank you,” I said to him, a warm but saddened smile on my face, appreciating the magnitude of the day and the recognition that a simple ‘thank you’ can give. He smiled back the same way. “You’re welcome,” he said, and proceeded out of the store. And just like that, I had shared an intimate and personal moment with a complete stranger, the same way my birthday had been intimate and personal with many others whom I did not know.

And while I am not exactly sure what to make of it all, I am beginning to believe that maybe my birthday may not be doomed after all.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Sept ’12

 
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Being Bold

Posted by mwallach on September 14, 2012 in New Yorkers

Dear That’s Life,
With Rosh Hashannah approaching, the time for self introspection and review of the year past is very much upon us. And as I consider the last twelve months, I lose count of the blessings and opportunities I have been given because there are many. Someone recently told me that G-d must really like me, and I think it is more than that. He has my back.

So when a car comes to my home and takes me to FOX Studios in midtown Manhattan, no one in my house blinks. It does not come every day and I am not on camera all the time. When I am on set, however, it is no big deal. Since crazy follows me everywhere, why shouldn’t something like this happen as well? Anything is possible. The car arrives timely and battling the Van Wyck is not my headache as I sit in the backseat and prepare. Music blaring through my earbuds, I tune out the rest of the world and work.

The scariest thing about being live on national television, besides the moment when you realize you are live on national television, is that HDTV is not forgiving. Having previously declared that I have a face made for radio, I praise the wonderful work of the artists in the hair/make-up department. Besides being lovely to work with, they are good at what they do. Having done most of the preparation myself, I depend on them for touch-ups, and to undo the bad choices I may have made.

The first time I was there, the governor of Mississippi waited patiently in the chair next to me. That was pretty funny. All I could think about was how when my segment was over, I was going to go home, take off my make-up, drive carpool and make dinner. He, and his two staffers who kept calling me “Ma’am”, were going to hop a flight and go run a state while I went to the store to pick up milk. And he was waiting for me to finish having my nose powdered? The irony.

Convinced that I have no sense of style or fashion (and for good reason), one of my daughters suggested I get a stylist. “Are you for real?” I said, rolling my eyes. “I do not need a stylist , “I continued. “And do not even mention Rachel Zoe’s name.” Exasperated, she dropped it. I thought I was doing just fine until someone then reminded me that I wore orange on camera twice in a row. I rolled my eyes again. Seems no one cared what I said as long as I looked good, and the jury was not back on that one. Tough crowd, I thought. Teenagers make the court of public opinion look like Romper Room.

Last week, I invited Nomi, my mentee, to join me at the studio. Determined to give her as many experiences and opportunities as possible, I told her to get permission from her supervisor and meet me in midtown. While having my make-up touched up, I was told that I’d be doing a segment with Steve Forbes. Trying to stay calm, I said that was no problem, while inside I was screaming, “OMG – STEVE FORBES!” I immediately texted my husband. Almost instantaneously, he responded with quick bio information, including Forbes’s two presidential campaigns and that he has 5 daughters. I laughed. “And like a bazillion dollars,” I wrote back.

Camera ready, we then headed to the green room, where I noticed Mr. Forbes standing on the other side. After putting down our bags and seated on the couch, I then turned to Nomi. Forever the educator, I saw a teachable moment and decided to take it. “Sometimes you just have to be bold,” I said to her, and I stood up and walked across the room.

“Hi,” I said to Mr. Forbes, my hand extended. “My name is Miriam Wallach and we’re going to be on set together.” Warm and approachable, he shook my hand. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Steve Forbes.” Next thing I knew, we were exchanging business cards and talking about his tie.

Walking with me over to the other side of the room, he then introduced himself to Nomi. After he went on set, Nomi and I just stared at each other. We had just met Steve Forbes, who was sincerely nice, and I was about to follow him on national television. It was truly unbelievable.

Rest assured, I have put the business card in a safe place, lest it be touched by someone with dirty hands. I have been in touch with his office and intend on continuing a dialogue. Who knows? Maybe he’ll come over to dip an apple in some honey. Stranger things have happened – that is for sure.

MLW
As Seen in The South Shore Standard Sept ’12

 
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Better Late Than Never: Thank You, Ira and Mindy

Posted by mwallach on September 6, 2012 in New To You

Dear Mindy and Ira,
Having been given the opportunity to attend Championsgate again this year, my husband Stephen and I decided to extend our trip to Orlando and enjoy a mini-vacation. While visiting Disney’s EPCOT Center, we met a remarkable woman from Wales and her mother – a happenstance interaction with complete strangers which reinforced my steadfast belief that everything happens for a reason.

They both wore matching light blue rubber bracelets, akin to those made famous by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation. It read “2 Wish Upon A Star” and Stephen thought it was something they had bought there, in the park. She explained the bracelet could be bought on premises, but was actually the name of her website. Upon better inspection, Stephen saw that the bracelet read “www.2wishuponastar.org”. After they had walked away, the young woman’s mother returned to our table to tell him about her incredible daughter and the unspeakable tragedy that served as the motivation for her website.

In February of this year, the woman’s daughter lost both her son – and then her husband – within a mere five days. Out of her personal grief and experience, the young woman started a website that raises money for families in need of various services, including bereavement care. Immediately and instinctively, Stephen reached into his pocket and gave what he had. The woman thanked us on behalf of her daughter, left us the bracelet she had been wearing and went on her way. Rendered speechless and completely stunned, Stephen and I stared at the bracelet and sat quietly for a few moments, thinking. If only to learn about her website, hear her story or gain a new appreciation for our abundant blessings, I knew we were meant to be there at that moment.

People are called to act by a variety of voices, inspirations or needs. Some hear those calls, but choose to ignore them. Others, however, spring into action with a vim and vigor to be challenged by none though marveled at by all. Despite being faced with an unimaginable catastrophe, this young woman proactively sought to better her life and that of her two remaining children. The reality is that she could have chosen to stop living. Instead, through the generosity of others and her personal resolve to overcome, she is committed to living life.

You also sensed a call for action. Understanding the need and urgency within the Jewish community for an increase in leadership, unity and dialogue, you envisioned an opportunity for problems to be faced and challenges met by bringing people together with the sole purpose of solving crises. Simply put, the idea was to put the people in the room from communities across the globe who could effectuate real change. At first glance, such a concept makes perfect sense and is rather logical. When one stops, however, to consider the enormity of that task, the genius of that vision and the courage needed for such an undertaking, it would appear too daunting and virtually impossible to carry-out. Instead, we just celebrated Championsgate VII – a true testament to your resolve and personal commitment to the Jewish people, this generation and beyond.

By partnering with Yeshiva University for this endeavor, you recognized its centrality within our world and how it continues to serve as an incubator for great leaders and creative minds. While the first Championsgate amounted to about thirty people gathered for three days in one conference room, it has blossomed to 450 participants from all over the world, filling spaces in conference centers that could serve as aircraft hangars. Surrounded by torah and the values you share with your family, we gathered, discussed and listened, taking our roles seriously and heeding your call to action. And throughout the weekend, we were given the challenge to come away from the conference with a renewed spirit and motivation to see ourselves as part of both the process and the solution – and we did.

Honored to be part of the mentoring program introduced at this year’s conference in which lay leaders are paired with one of YU’s Presidential Fellows, I take my responsibilities seriously. Not only do I have the opportunity to impact on the life of a future leader, I appreciate how my actions and advice can shape what kind of leader she will become. And as I have shared with other younger members of the Jewish people with whom I have worked, I will encourage her to do three things: speak to be heard, be hopeful and give hope, and always be generous.

For two years in a row, Stephen and I have benefitted from your own vision and generosity. Without both, there would be no Championsgate, no such opportunity to solve many of the challenges faced by the Jewish community. True: we did not succeed in lowering yeshiva tuition or in finding a match for every Jewish single. We did, however, come numerous steps closer to each, and that alone is something of which we can all be proud.

Just like the feeling I had after our serendipitous meeting with the young woman, I know you were meant to do this. So dedicated to your community in Houston and to the needs of the Jewish people at large, it makes perfect sense that – as a team – you would envision Championsgate and generously provide such an opportunity to a massive room of people, many of whom you might not even know.

G-d has blessed both of you with values, commitment and each other. And on behalf of all those who benefit from those blessings, I express my sincere gratitude and heartfelt appreciation. Thank you for making a difference in our lives so that we can make a difference in the lives of others.

My Best,

Miriam L. Wallach

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Animal People

Posted by mwallach on September 6, 2012 in New Yorkers

Dear That’s Life,
As a child, I had always wanted a pet. Not looking for a fish or anything else I could not take for a walk, I asked my parents for a dog. “When you move out,” they said, insinuating that as long as I was living under their roof, it would not happen. The closest thing I was getting to a pet was my stuffed animal, “Scruffy”.

As an adult, I like dogs, not cats, and have no interest in having a pet in my home. With a blessed and full house, I need no more mouths to feed. I even resent when the token goldfish is brought home from the local carnival. I have enough to do. And with every year that passes, I consider myself less of an “animal person,” and more of a “people person.” I will pet my neighbor’s dog as she walks him around the corner and even pick him up on occasion, but I do not want him staying with us while they go away on vacation.

I respect that people love their pets and consider them part of the family, but I do not completely understand the craze of pet outfits and accessories which have erupted like a untapped market akin to striking gold. I am not knocking it nor am I passing judgment – but I just don’t “get” it. I would not buy some of those luxury items for my own children, let alone a puppy. And while I would never think of putting my child in a car without the appropriate car seat or booster, I did not realize until recently that people had car seats for their dogs.

Sitting recently at the nail salon (yes – it seems many crazy things happen when I get my nails done), I received a thorough lesson from a woman near me about the lengths people will go to for their pets.

The woman, who must have been in her 40s, was there with her mother who she says is constantly on her cell phone. She refers to her as a serial caller and even had to get a new phone plan for her mother because she went over on her minutes every month. “She’s like a Kardashian,” says the daughter, admitting that her mother spends even more time on the phone than her own children.

While drying our nails, the woman is informed by her mother that the woman’s daughter is going to be meeting them, and is bringing the dog she is watching for someone. It seems that the dog needs to be taken out for a daily activity beyond just going for a walk and meeting them at the nail salon was the event for the day. “And the dog has a car seat,” she said.

“Really?” I asked, incredulously. Before giving birth to my eldest, I knew the baby would not be released from the hospital if there was no infant car seat present. I began to wonder if people rescuing animals from shelters were held to the same standards. Did anyone really say, “I’m sorry, ma’am – but without a 5-point car seat, we cannot give you the poodle?”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” continued the woman. “My mother has a stroller for her cats.” At that point, I began to stare, unable to blink and certainly unable to speak. It seemed her mother took all of her cats for walks through their neighborhood in a stroller and while the daughter was embarrassed initially, now the community is used to it. The woman’s mother began to defend herself.

Her cats are so good, she said, that “they are really like dogs.” I laughed. “That’s the ultimate compliment cats can get,” I joked. “To be told that they are really like dogs.” She explained that she even sleeps with one of her cats right on her, or even sometimes on her head. I was stunned, but again: I am not an animal person. This might be completely normal, though I could not imagine that it was. “If you treat them this well,” I said, “they’ll never move out and will live with you even as adults,” but I was ignored.

I listened intently as the daughter then explained that her mother will not go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, should it be necessary, so as not to wake the sleeping cat. Again, I began to stare in disbelief, but the mother defended herself.

People say cats rule you and are very bossy, she explained, but said that was not the situation in her case. Her cats were great, she continued, and all get along really well, but she was still in charge. It was at that moment that her daughter had heard just about enough.

“Oh, yeah, Mom” she said. “You’re ready to catheterize yourself in the middle of the night before waking the cat – you are really driving THAT ship!”

I would have responded, but I was too busy crying from laughter. Once someone uses the word “catheterize” in a nail salon, even I am left with nothing to say.

As Seen in The South Shore Standard Aug ’12

 
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Bang Your Head Here

Posted by mwallach on August 24, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
Sunday’s events would have made for a great column. I had adamantly and furiously insisted my husband wear a tuxedo to a wedding I was convinced was “black tie,” only to arrive at the hall and see that only he, and the wait staff, were dressed alike. It was not one of my finer moments. But why would I bother sharing anything besides what just took place about an hour ago, the details of which have left me wondering if my life really is an ongoing practical joke.

To shorten the beginning of a long story, my husband and I had ordered a headboard for our bedroom. Initially told it would take 6-8 weeks to arrive, we subsequently waited about 4 months. Delivery was scheduled and we were looking forward. The day before its expected arrival, we realized there would be no one home at the assigned delivery time for which we had been given a 10am-2p window. Having left two messages in an effort to reschedule, and after the supposed delivery had never been confirmed, our calls were not returned and we went to work.

Throughout the day, I checked in with my husband to see if he had heard from them. He had not, and even after I arrived home, there was no note, message or evidence of an attempted delivery. Approaching 5pm, I again consulted my husband. He sent an email to the salesman who helped us initially. About ten minutes later, we received a response and were informed that the headboard would be delivered in an hour.

At 7pm, our house phone rang. It was the delivery service from the furniture store. He said the headboard was on his truck and he wanted to know if we still wanted him to come. Having already put in a long day and with bedtime approaching for my children, I contemplated asking them to come back another time. I decided to go through with it despite the situation.
“Well,” I said with some frustration at the late hour, “so much for between 10-2pm.” A simple explanation or apology on his behalf would have ended the entire conversation, but instead, all he said was, “Oops.”

“What?” I said, with some disbelief. “Oops??” I reminded him that it was five hours past the latest time for delivery and it was now 7pm. I explained that no one had confirmed the appointment to begin with and my repeated calls were left unanswered. I was about to start putting my kids to bed, and “Oops” was all he could say?

“Oops!” he said again. Shocked at what I was hearing, I grew increasingly frustrated. “OOPS?” I replied. “Are you kidding?” As if to make the events better and offer an explanation, he said, “I am not saying ‘oops’ to you or at the situation, it’s just that I’m high.” And while I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant to say he was “giddy” and not actually “high”, that moment confirmed a long held belief of mine – that I really have heard just about everything.

He promised they were about 5 minutes away and though the hour was late, he did not think it would take long to install the headboard. “Fine,” I said, having decided that my being in the house when these guys were here as opposed to having someone deal with them was of utmost importance, despite my annoyance.

Upon arrival, they inspected my staircase and other areas of the house. I was then informed they did not think there was enough clearance to bring the headboard up the stairs and into our room. After asking him what the other options were, I then noticed he was looking out my bedroom window while something to himself. I immediately figured out his contingency plan.”You are NOT bringing my headboard in through the window,” I said with complete annoyance and total authority. With barely an inch to spare, however, the headboard was successfully brought up to our room. I left them to do the installation.

Returning a few moments later, the three men were muttering to each other. “Is there a problem?” I asked. “We had to move the bed,” said the man with whom I had been dealing. The beds had been pulled out from the wall, which I expected to happen. “They go back,” I said, knowing that they just needed to be pushed back into place. “No,” he said, “we had to move the beds.” All of a sudden, I understood what he meant.

Because of the light fixtures on the wall and the width of the headboard, our beds needed to be moved about 7 inches to the left. Out came the pre-existing furniture and with that, my husband’s side of the room was completely out of whack. Things were scattered everywhere. At that point, however, there was nothing much to do. They finished the installation and I met them downstairs.

“Please sign at the bottom,” he said, presenting the delivery slip. I signed my name in the box at the bottom. “Not in the box!” he screamed. “Not in the box!” Beneath the box was a line that read “Customer’s Signature” which I had not noticed. At this point, however, I could not believe I was being reprimanded in my own home, especially after what had already taken place. “Are you kidding me?” I yelled back. With that, I resigned my name, gave them a tip, ushered them out and closed the door behind them.

Returning upstairs to look at our new headboard, I quickly noticed a terrible odor coming from my room. The smells of smoke and sweat were everywhere – a parting gift left by the delivery men. Even after opening the windows, there was very little relief. Finally, lighting a few matches and then quickly extinguishing them offered relief and the odor was gone.

Of course, I enjoyed the irony of using matches to rid my room of cigarette smell much more than getting yelled in my house by a man who admitted he was high. At least now, when I feel the need to bang my head against the wall out of complete frustration, I have a nice cushy headboard to soften the blow. And thank G-d, it does not smell at all.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Aug ’12

 
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Once in a Lifetime? Not.

Posted by mwallach on August 24, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,

It is official: the summer is over.

It might sound harsh, and you may not have wanted to hear it, but it is the truth. Do not let the humidity or the heat fool you. All the plans I had for my summer are over and each conversation I have about the months to come simply prove I am this close to breaking out my leggings and sweaters. Recently speaking to someone in the garment industry, he explained how they were working feverishly on their spring line. “Spring?” I said, disbelief in my voice. Forget the summer being over, it seemed the winter was as well.

Like many people, my summer is not complete without baseball. While unable to watch most of the Olympics, limited to catching only brief highlights, I made sure to attend as many Brooklyn Cyclone games as possible. Their minor league rating should not fool you – games are great, the event is fun and a good time is had by all. With a park of that size and every seat having a great view, it is hard not to enjoy yourself. Most importantly, you can bring your family without breaking the bank.

It is also the perfect opportunity to teach kids about baseball and condition them for a major league game, where the stadiums are often intimidating and everything costs more than it should. Taking our kids to a Yankees or Mets game comes only after they have graduated from the minors. Of course, it is pretty hard not to make it through a game with flying colors when we bring enough entertainment with us to occupy them through all nine innings.

For some reason, the baseball game itself is not enough to keep them interested. Because I know a number of adults who have likened the excitement of watching a baseball game to watching grass grow, I understand how some of my kids may not find it as interesting as I do. With video games in hand, therefore, we settle into our seats and enjoy the game while they pay minimal attention to the on-field activities. We engage them in discussion, point out exciting plays and teach them the rules as we go along, though we cannot compete with Angry Birds. It seems striking a batter out with a full count and loaded bases is not nearly as enthralling as shooting virtual birds with a slingshot.

At one point during the most recent game to which we brought our children, my youngest son hardly looked up from his game to watch the live excitement in front of him. “Are you having a good time?” I asked him, to which he responded that he was. “Do you even know there’s a game going on?” I asked incredulously. Without looking up, he uttered a “Very funny, Ma,” keeping his eyes fixated on the screen before him. I rolled my eyes.

Regardless, it seemed to have been a very exciting week for baseball lovers in my life, as strange things kept on happening. A friend of mine was given front row seats to a Mets game and brought two of his sons. During the game, the first major league game of their lives, they each caught fly balls. His post on Facebook wondered how he could convince his kids that this experience was one in a million, and that every game did not come with front row seats and fly balls. There was no way they would believe him.

Twice this summer I had the privilege (yes: that is the right word) of taking a few people to their first Yankee games. When I brought my friend into the stadium, he just looked around at the multitude of lights, the massive screens and the hustle and bustle of the crowd. “It’s like Vegas,” he said, a tinge of disbelief in his voice. I laughed.

Most recently, I went with my cousin and his two eldest daughters who were visiting from Israel. They had just been to Dodgers Stadium where they saw their first major league game and were now in New York, about to watch their second. Their first game had been unique, specifically because there was a grand-slam. My cousin tried to impress upon them how rare it is to see a grand-slam and how they should not think it happens at every game. He actually made a very big deal about it. The girls were just about to believe him – and then Nick Swisher hit a grand-slam, blowing our game wide open.

They turned to their father in disbelief, but there was nothing to say. He had no credibility whatsoever, as the evidence seemed to show that he was wrong. To them, it must happen at every game. Two major league games and two grand-slams. If that’s not a “Welcome to Major League Baseball,” I do not know what is. But here’s an idea: How about seeing a grand-slam and then being on the jumbo-tron in left field?

Right before the Yankees went to bat in the bottom of the 8th, a camera man arrived right in front of our seats. Within minutes, our smiling faces and waving hands were up on the larger than life screen. After he walked away, I turned to the girls and tried to convince them this did not happen at every game. “I have sat in these seats a bunch of times,” I said with untold excitement “and have been to countless games in my lifetime and have never been on the jumbo-tron. This is better than being on FOX!”

“It’s really cool,” said his eldest daughter in semi-agreement, though I was still much more excited than she was. I could not help thinking that she did not get this was a really big deal. But to be fair, after all she had already seen and had been promised was literally once in a lifetime, I could not blame her. The most unlikely things had already happened right before her eyes.

The good news is that winter is almost over, too. Knowing these kids, however, they’ll see a the tooth-fairy, the Abominable Snowman, Elvis and a hat-trick – all before May.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Aug ’12

 
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“Smoking Gun…or Knife”

Posted by mwallach on August 10, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to reassure everyone – including members of the TSA – that I have no additional travel plans for months. The longest journey I expect to take for a while is from Long Island to my office in Jersey City, and even that I do not have to do every day. Wouldn’t you know it, however, that even with one flight remaining, a return trip from Orlando to New York, something was bound to go wrong.

As avid readers of this column know, the checklist of things I will no longer take on an airplane spans anything from my Swiss Army Knife to rugelach to body butter. The knife makes the most sense and needs no explanation – if the other items do not make sense, feel free to read the last two previous issues of this column. The one constant in all of these situations, however, is that my husband has always been the responsible adult in our relationship, ensuring that anything important is handled. He does not make the silly mistakes I do. He remembers everything, has check-lists with their own check-lists and programs my Blackberry with dates and times so that I am actually where I am supposed to be. Who knew, however, that despite his superhero like characteristics, he was still human?

Such was what we discovered after checking in at the Orlando airport, but before we approaching security. While I am usually the one forgets something, this time it was my beloved who had reached into his pocket only to find that he had not packed his own Swiss Army Knife. Holding it in his hand like a smoking gun, I did what any wife would do: I began to dance.

Starting first with some simple dance moves, I eventually broke out into a full merengue, holding my arms as if I had an actual partner. People stared, but I did not care. It was not the first time someone looked at me like I was crazy – but it was certainly going to be the last time my husband made this mistake. I was going to milk it for all I could, grinning from ear to ear as I danced around the airport, until he got annoyed. Shooting me a death stare, I stopped my public audition for Dancing With The Stars, but started it again when he turned his back and returned to the check-in counter. Just because he wanted me to stop doesn’t mean that I was done.

Upon returning to the Delta agent who had helped us initially, he learned that our bags had already gone through. Rearranging our items took a few minutes but he successfully checked one of our carry-ons, the knife securely located inside. I had toned down my excitement and enjoyment by this time simply because he no longer found it funny. While the repacking of the bags took a little time, we had arrived early to the airport and were not in a rush. His annoyance was not because of the inconvenience or the time it took to straighten things out, but simply because he had pulled a “Miriam” and that alone was killing him.

Having returned home late that night, we left unpacking until the next morning. After removing all of the various Mickey related items which had been purchased, I realized my Swiss Army Knife was nowhere to be seen. My suitcase was completely empty, as was his, and the knife was still missing in action. I asked him if he had noticed it anywhere, but he said he had not. We both remembered his handing it to me in the hotel room as we packed, but after that, neither of us had a clue as to what had happened. He reassured me that the room had been thoroughly checked before we left, so we were confident the knife had not been left in the hotel. It helped eliminate places it could be, but shed no light as to where it actually was. Needing to get to work, I decided to finish looking for it later.

Gathering my things, I started putting my keys and various other items in my purse. Reaching into my bag intending on pulling out my bag of make-up, I felt something else instead. Out came my knife which had been under my make-up the entire time, including while I was on the flight from Orlando to New York, as my purse had been located under the seat in front of me for the duration of the journey. My jaw dropped.
The knife was not visible to the eye should I, or a TSA agent, have looked in the bag. It should, however, have been clear as day upon x-ray. Standing in my own kitchen, I held out my own smoking gun as if just committing a federal crime- which I did. The tables had turned and my husband began to smile wildly. Guess who was dancing now?

Right before going through security in Orlando the day before, I had joked with a friend as to what he thought the TSA would confiscate from me this time. Standing in my kitchen, I called him immediately after discovering the knife in my bag. Horrified, he told me that I could have been arrested. I reminded him that the bag had been scanned and passed through security. Surely, the agents on shift that night could have been held responsible as well. Of course, I also reminded him of the obvious: the same people who took away my body butter allowed for my pretty large Swiss Army Knife to safely get on board a plane.

I think I should just stay home for a while.
MLW

As Seen in the South Shore Standard

 
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Is This Your Bag?

Posted by mwallach on August 2, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That Life,
A friend of mine who travels often has a firm belief when it comes to going through security at the airport. Whatever they ask of him, he does. Though it might make no sense and may be an inconvenience, he knows that it is ultimately for his own good. The TSA agents are just doing their jobs, he reasons. If he must be frisked, so be it.

There is a clear rationale for such behavior and it takes a true adult to follow through with that logic. Living in a post-9/11 world, no one takes safety for granted. It is often humorous, however, that with the great seriousness that the TSA takes its responsibilities, there are still inconsistencies regarding standards in air travel safety. And if there is anyone I have to defer to at any time, it is the Israelis.

That is why I smirk each time I take off my shoes as I get on line to go through airport security for a domestic flight. No one asks you to remove your footwear before flying to Tel Aviv. According to some anecdotal evidence, Israelis actually think it is funny that Americans are asked to remove their shoes and have them scanned before boarding a flight. When we were going through security on our way to Israel, members of my Birthright group instinctively began to untie their shoes until I told them they could stop. Allowing them to keep their shoes on through security left them a little unsettled, though I reassured them it should actually let them feel safer. It is not that they take security lightly but rather they distinguish between what are real threats and what is general hysteria.

Such was my feeling this morning as I went through security at LaGuardia, heading for a flight to Orlando. (By the way, here’s a friendly note: if you ever actually have to get somewhere on time, do not fly through LaGuardia. There is a reason it ranks so poorly in on-time departures. It has unabashedly won that dubious distinction.) It seems I am unable to get through the screening process without setting off some kind of alarm. I went through my mental checklist of things that have caused me problems in the past. I knew my Swiss Army knife had been packed in my luggage and I was definitely not traveling with kilos of rugelach, or anything else for that matter. I could not imagine, therefore, what the problem was when the conveyor belt stopped and my shoulder bag was set aside for further review.

“What’s the problem with my bag?” I said to the agent reviewing the items as they were scanned. “That bag is yours?” she asked, and I confirmed that it was. “Your body butter,” she replied. “It is too big.” I heard what she said, but did not completely understand. The container of body butter which I kept in my carry-on and had with me at all times as I travelled through Germany and Israel was now the red flag in my bag as it went through security here in New York. “But I just travelled through Europe with it in my handbag and no one else had an issue,” I said, but she had already moved on. “It must be reviewed,” she replied and moved her eyes back to the screen in front of her. I waited.

Under normal circumstances, my husband would be completely annoyed that I had, yet again, successfully failed completing an otherwise rudimentary exercise without causing any trouble. In this case, however, he was busy being patted down by a male TSA agent because he had been tagged. The smartalleck that I am, I told him I was getting on that plane and had no plans to wait for him while he was being searched. Of course, that was before my bag was deemed problematic and my body butter labeled a hazardous material unfit for flight. Me and my big mouth…

“Who’s bag is this?” asked a different TSA agent wearing blue gloves, as though she was ready to truly examine my bag. “It’s mine,” I said as I watched her take the bin with my bag in it and move it to a different area. She opened the bag and pulled out the body butter. “This is the problem,” she said and asked if she could remove the cover. I told her to go ahead, offering for her to smell it is well. She looked at the contents. “This is a 7 ounce container and it cannot be over 3.5 ounces,” she explained. “And while you have used some,” she continued, ” you have not used half.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, slightly perplexed. “I just came back from Europe and had it in my handbag the entire time – and this is not even a liquid.” “International flights are different,” she explained but that only confused me more. “So let me get this straight,” I said with a smile. “The Israelis had no problem with my body butter and the Germans had no problem with my body butter – but the Americans do?” She smiled as well and offered a solution. “Leave security and go back out to the ticketing area,” she said. “Take some out – use it or throw it out – and then come back in with the rest of it. That should be enough.”

“I can’t just do that here?” I asked her, but she said no. “There are cameras everywhere,” she explained, hinting that we were constantly being watched and such behavior would cause further issue, for both of us. I shook my head. “Forget it,” I said, laughing at the silliness. “It’s all yours – I hope you enjoy it.” She laughed. “Everyone thinks we get to keep this stuff,” she said, “but it all gets thrown out.” Alas, such was the fate of body butter and numerous body butters before it. Having finally finished with security, we headed toward the gate.

About to board the plane, my husband asked me how much my container of body butter had cost. Clearly, if I was this annoyed, it must have been expensive. I considered his question for a moment, remembering that I had bought it with a bunch of different items and as part of a promotion. “Probably about $5 or $6,” I said. He wasn’t annoyed before, but certainly was now. “You caused all that fuss over $5 bucks?” he asked incredulously, rolling his eyes. “With the way you were carrying on, I figured it cost about $50.”

I think he’s beginning to prefer that I fly by myself.
MLW

As Seen in The South Shore Standard Aug ’12

 
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Keeping My Eyes on the Prize

Posted by mwallach on July 27, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
There is something about landing in Tel Aviv with a group of 35 Jews who have never been to Israel before and having them welcomed in German because we flew Lufthansa. There is also something to landing in Munich on a stopover to Tel Aviv with a group of 35 Jews who are visiting Israel for the first time and being asked by a German security officer to show her “your papers.” If these had been scenes in a Mel Brooks film or a Monty Python flick, it would have been fine. Instead, of course, they were actual moments in my life.

Having recently returned from leading a Birthright trip, I now have enough writing material for a month. That is not because anything went wrong. On the contrary, the trip was a complete success. The crazier moments were those in which I was involved, having nothing to do with our participants or my co-trip leader. At one point Kasey, a participant, asked me how I have things to write about every week. I reassured her that crazy follows me everywhere. She did not believe me until we got to the airport for our return flight. It was then that she saw a first-hand account of how normal things happen to normal people and not to me.

Our return flight to the United States was scheduled to leave at 5am. Flying with a large group, we needed to arrive extra early and planned on getting to the airport about 4 hours in advance. That meant leaving the hotel at 1am. There would be no sleeping that night until we were seated on the plane. We were completely overtired by the time we got to the airport. It also did not help that I had forgotten my passport at the hotel and we had to turn the bus around and get it. That cost us about a half an hour. Not the end of the world, but it did not help the situation either, as now we were pressed for time.

When we arrived at the airport and were ready to check-in, it was literally the middle of the night. Each of us could have been classified as either giddy, wide awake or asleep on the floor using a suitcase as a pillow. Regardless of the time or one’s general state of mind, Israeli security is not something to mess with. They take it very seriously, and they are right. Standing on line being questioned by an Israeli security officer is not the time to crack jokes. Even I know that. So when I was asked to take my bag and proceed to an additional screening area, I did what I was told.

I was led to a separate area and asked, by a young gentleman wearing a “trainee” tag, to place my bag on the counter. I began to open my bag. “Who told you to open your suitacase?” said the supervisor conducting the interview. Little did I know that its entire contents were already on the screen in front of him. “No problem,” I said, and rezipped it. Pointing to his trainee, he identified a number of things on the screen that were problematic. Then he looked at me.

My bag was particularly heavy and I knew I would have to pay overweight charges. That was not his concern, since it is not a security issue. I could not understand what in my suitcase was such an problem. Our days were packed with touring and we had very little time for shopping. What could I have possibly bought or packed that would be so alarming? Then I remembered.

“Is it my knife?” I asked him, referring to the Swiss Army knife I carry everywhere. “No,” he said. “The knife is actually fine.” He then asked me to open the bag and proceeded to point to a box wrapped in plastic that was near the surface of the suitcase. “It’s that,” he said.

“My rugelach?” I asked him incredulously, semi-annoyed that the cake I had in my suitcase was the reason for this process. “Your problem is the rugelach I have packed in my bag?” He looked at me. “Rugelach? Really?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Four kilo worth from Marzipan,” I added, mentioning the name of the Jerusalem bakery famous for these incredible chocolate pastries. “And where did you buy them?” asked the trainee. Gimme a break, I thought. “From Machane Yehudah,” I said, referring to Jerusalem’s open marketplace. “Would you like to see the receipt?” I asked the young trainee who might have been young enough to be my son, dripping with sarcasm. “That won’t be necessary,” he replied. While I thought we were done, we were not. There was one more thing in my bag which the supervisor wanted to see.

“What is that?” he asked, pointing to a small cubed shaped box. “It’s dressing,” I explained, as I rolled my eyes. “Made from honey?” he continued. “Yes,” I said, adding, “and now are we done?” The trainee smiled. “Yes,” he said. “Have a nice flight.” I zipped the bag and headed to check-in.

Arriving at check-in, I struggled to get my bag on the belt, and for good reason. Weighing in at 17 kilo heavier than it was supposed to be, I was informed I must shed at least 7 kilo from the bag and then I would still pay overage charges. I quickly opened the suitcase, again, and removed a number of items, including the rugelach, and handed them over to Kasey, who laughed hysterically at the events taking place at 3am. By hook or by crook, I was bringing these baked goods back with me, even if it meant making someone else’s bag smell like chocolate.

After shedding 10 kilo, my bag was taken but I needed to proceed to a separate counter before receiving my boarding pass. That counter was where I needed to pay for the overage. The agent at the Lufthansa counter informed me that I was being charged $162.00 and asked for a credit card. “You realize you already took the bag,” I said in disbelief. “This point is particularly moot.” He was not impressed and asked me again for my credit card. After paying he handed me a receipt and told me to return to the ticket agent to receive my boarding pass. “Have a nice flight,” he said, as I continued on my way.

Some people would have forfeited the rugelach and there are those who may wonder if I have truly lost it this time. But just think about it this way: when I bring my kids in sleepaway camp these coveted rugelach that they love, in addition to everything else I brought back, all of the packages my husband has sent will simply fade away. Not only is there a method to my madness, but I may actually be a genius.
MLW
As Seen in The South Shore Standard July ’12

 
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It’s Not Over Yet

Posted by mwallach on July 24, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
With my oldest three children in sleep away camp, our home is quite different during the summer. I would say it is quieter, but that would be an exaggeration. I will say that the house settles down earlier in the day than it usually does, as my younger three children go to bed at reasonable hours. There are certain things, however, that largely remain the same about our summer schedules, particularly because my husband and I are still at home.

One summer tradition we all enjoy is going to Brooklyn Cyclone games. Besides loving baseball and it being a fun night, the tickets are cheap enough that if the kids fall apart during the 5th inning, we can take them home without feeling as if we have wasted a lot of money. Plus, it is a good introduction to sitting through a major league game. Even as a spectator, you need to graduate from the minors before heading to the majors. The seats are just that expensive.

Another important summer ritual is one my husband and I take very seriously. Explaining its origins is almost as important as the tradition itself. Stemming back to the first summer we sent our eldest to camp, a competition ensued between my husband and I as to who could send better and more frequent packages to camp. It started because I would not sign his name to the letters I sent our daughter in camp. “Write your own letters,” I told him. That was enough to spark his competitive nature. “So, that’s how you want to play it?” he said, a twinkle in his eye. “Game on.” And so it began.

Ever since that summer, we have competed to send the best packages to camp. It seems that no matter what I send, he wins. The contents of my packages may cost more, but his are always dubbed better by our kids. It solidifies his place as favorite parent, which is okay with me. Once they started calling his name in the middle of the night, leaving me to sleep, I knew there was a benefit to being coming in second. Regardless, our summer competition is something to which we look forward simply because of our competitive nature. And our kids are aware of the fun we have doing this, as they are the beneficiaries of our playfulness. Lucky for them, he started very early this year. Even before they left, he had hit the ground running.

One night before they left, discussion of the competition ensued. My husband assured them he had no intention of losing and promptly presented each of them with a package. In it contained personalized stationery he had made for each one, complete with pre-typed mailing labels and envelopes for their convenience. I was allowed to by the stamps. Otherwise, he had taken care of everything else already. As to be expected, the kids loved what he had done and were examining the contents of their packages. It became clear that the stakes were going to be high this summer and he was wasting no time. My eldest picked up on this very quickly and, with package in hand, leaned across the table to me and said, “You’re dead.”

Less than a week into camp, he had taken such a lead that I could barely see the back of his head. While I thought I was holding my own, I was sorely mistaken. Part of his tactic was that items were being sent individually or in small groups. Keeping in mind that things he included in packages could be as simple as giveaway items he picked up for free at trade shows, it did not matter. Anything Daddy sends is cool. And while I was proud of my first package, by the time it had reached camp, he had already sent three others. It prompted a letter from my eldest, thanking my husband for doing such a great job while imploring me to get moving. “Give me something to work with here, Mom,” she wrote. Not much of a pep talk, but good enough.

Still refusing to change my game plan, unbeknownst to each other, we were simultaneously prepping packages to be shipped the same day. “I clinch with this one,” he said, beaming. “There is nothing you can do – you are done after I send this one.” It was big talk for a guy putting only one t-shirt into an overnight envelope. “I have my own package,” I said, confident that my most recent endeavor was impressive. “Really?” he said. “What’s in yours?” I smirked and had no interest in showing my hand. “I’m not telling you,” I replied. For just a moment, I thought he was feeling intimidated, worried that I was gaining on him. Silly me, however, as he just wanted to tell me what he was sending.

With the camp Olympics beginning this week and the teams held under lock and key until announced to the campers, he had already found out what countries are children were going to be representing. Somehow, within minutes of it being announced in camp who was on what team, he was already informed. With that information, he went straight to the mall and had t-shirts for each appropriate country made for each of our children. My son, playing for China, would soon be the recipient of his own custom China t-shirt, my daughters to receive their own England shirts as well. And while his efforts were uber impressive, how he got the information was what really piqued my curiosity.

“How did you find out what teams they were on?” I asked him. It seemed he received a call from someone in camp who was aware of our package competition. In short, he has a ringer. “I want you to beat your wife!” he exclaimed, and with that, my husband sent the package to sink my efforts completely.

Rest assured, I am down but not out. I will rise again. But trust me, if my kids continue to wake him at 3:00am, I am just as happy letting him take this one to the finish line. Stupid I am not.
MLW

As Seen in The South Shore Standard July ’12

 
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Vocabulary Lesson

Posted by mwallach on July 6, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
A close friend of mine recently put his oldest on the bus to sleep away camp. This was their first time sending a child away to camp and it was initially unclear who was going to fall apart first – the parents or the child. Within a few minutes, however, the winner was clear as the parents donned their sunglasses and packets of tissues were made available by friends. “I am not ready for his college semester abroad,” the dad told me later, still weepy eyed. Ever the realist, I said “He’s 9 – let’s worry about this later.”

We sent our oldest three children to sleep away camp this year, leaving our younger three at home. This was the first summer away for my older son and while we were concerned he might get emotional when it was time to say good-bye, he boarded the bus like a champ.

After the buses pulled out and I got back in the car with my younger clan, I was curious to see how the new pecking order would emerge. While in many other families the next in line is clearly delineated by age order, our next in line are twins who have just finished kindergarten. True that one child is older than the other, but not by very much. Who came out first and how much earlier does not often matter and rarely crosses our minds, but it obviously matters to some.

As we drove away from the buses, the conversation ensued between them as to who would sit next to our toddler on the bus to and from day camp on a daily basis. My son, the older twin, proclaimed that it should be his job and explained why. “I should sit with her,” he said, “because I am more responsible.” (His word, not mine.) My daughter, his better half, took offense at his comment. Although I am not convinced she knew what the word “responsible” meant, she definitely knew she was being insulted. The ranting and raving began as she asserted that they should switch off sitting with our toddler because that plan was fair. He was not convinced and I decide to wait a little before intervening. When he would not back down, however, it was time for a reality check.

Turning to my son who had quickly gone from “older brother” to “fascist dictator,” I reminded him that he was barely older than she was. “It was only a minute,” I said to him, a tinge of anger in my voice, but he was prepared with a response. “A minute is long enough,” he said, and thus solidified his place in the food chain. Playing the role of Solomon, however, I decreed that they would indeed switch off sitting with their younger sister on the bus. (For fans of “The Ten Commandments”: So it shall be written and so it shall be done.)

Continuing to assume their roles as the oldest children in the house, the conversation in my car then turned to “inappropriate language” they know they are not allowed to say. Being big kids, it seemed to them that the next thing they should know is what all of the bad words were that I do not allow.

There are two words I do not tolerate in my home: retarded and hate. I have no patience for either one and often find myself correcting adults when they say these things as well. All of my children know these words are not acceptable and are rapidly learning that there are other words that bother me as well, though not to the same degree. Fortunately for me, my twins could not remember what those words were and did not have older siblings around for consultation. Instead, they put their heads together in an attempt to figure them out.

“What is the F word?” I heard my daughter ask my son as I froze in horror. He thought for a moment and then it came to him. “FAT!” he exclaimed with a smile on his face, as if hitting the jackpot. I breathed a sigh of relief. Before he could bask in his glory, however, my daughter turned on him the way only a woman could. “Mommy!” she cried, pointing at her brother. “He called me fat!” Truth be told, to any woman “fat” really is the “F word” so I knew exactly what she was talking about. But the conversation did not end there.

“What’s the S word?” asked my son. I have often referred to “stupid” as the “S word” and cannot stand when someone is referred to as stupid. Something can be stupid, like a fool’s errand or a bad movie, but a person may not be referred to that way. Again, I hung back and listened to the conversation unfold instead of intervening. I was convinced they would remember it was “stupid.” This time, it took them longer to come up with an answer and it was not what I had expected. Before long, a light bulb went off over my son’s head. “SHNITZEL!” he exclaimed, and I did all I could to contain my laughter.

A little later, I told my husband about the events in my car. While we both got a good laugh out of the story, I pointed out the obvious: If this is the WORST language we heard the entire summer, we were going to be just fine.
MLW

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