Cuz Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Posted by mwallach on February 5, 2012 in New Yorkers

Dear That’s Life,
Last Sunday, the New York Times Styles section had a front page article which captured the interest of many. “It’s Not Me, It’s You” by Alex Williams detailed the various approaches taken by some in their effort to lose friends with whom they no longer wish to be connected. Even one person quoted in the article who enjoys, even cultivates, a vast network of friends, admits that sometimes, “some [friends] must fall by the wayside.” I agree with that, while recognizing that the ending of a close friendship is often very complicated and always very painful. Nevertheless, life happens and sometimes, forests are left to burn instead of instructing emergency personnel to working tirelessly in effort to extinguish the flames. And while I, too, have been on the giving and receiving end of such a situation, I never expected I would lose friends to Steve Jobs, especially since he’s dead.

Almost like a movement, some friends have made conscious decisions to abandon their Blackberries and switch to Iphones. Now that I finally have a Blackberry (one that works, that is), it appears my Blackberry comrades in arms are all jumping ship. After I lost three friends in one day, I began to take this personally. “It’s not you – it’s me,” I heard them say sarcastically. No more bbming (Blackberry Instant Messaging), no more chat groups, no more part of the club. I was phone dumped. Apple has managed to produce technology which we do not need, but now cannot live without. Who knows if they’ll miss me and the apparently inferior and unreliable technology they so carelessly left behind. One by one, the grass seems to be greener on the other side and my friends are easily leaving their Berries in pursuit of another fruit, one that has historically represented life’s greatest temptations: the apple. I hope they’re happy.

The article continues to describe how people are using Facebook to rid themselves of deadweight friendships. While the goal of the site is to actually help find, build and maintain relationships, it seems to have this additional use as well. As a person who only turned to Facebook about a year ago, I was given a quick tutorial in some FB etiquette. Included in those lessons was the art of accepting friend requests. While one may choose not to accept every request, no request should actually be rejected. Instead, the softer response is simply to ignore rather than blatantly reject the initial invite. I am not sure what the person whose request has been ignored for months thinks is going on. As one who has certainly sent out her share of invites that have been ignored, however, I have not lost any sleep over any of them.

“Unfriending” someone is a clear message that you no longer wish to be connected. That is a true slap in the face – no way to sugarcoat such a move because the person is informed that he or she has been unfriended. For those not familiar with the lingo, “unfriending” is when you decide to terminate an already existing relationship. For all intents and purposes, you are breaking up with them. It’s divorce, Facebook style, and according to the article it is being employed by some to rid themselves of those they no longer want as friends. In this neighborhood, one has to be very careful who is unfriended. There are small towns – and then there’s The Five Towns. There are only two degrees of separation around here, so you must be wary of who you irritate. As a rule of thumb: if you need to think twice before yelling at the guy who stole your parking spot because you may just find yourself on line behind him in the supermarket ten minutes later, how much more careful must one be before unfriending someone on Facebook.

I found myself in that exact quandary a number of months ago. It was not that I needed to get rid of a friend because there was a falling out or a disagreement of sorts. In fact, this person was more of an acquaintance than anything else – just someone I knew from the area. The reason this needed to end was simply because her posts were incessant, juvenile and annoying. When I first started on Facebook, I went through the same stage as most new pledges where we compulsively and obsessively update our goings on in life. Until its newness and novelty wear off, you find yourself posting more information than one should choose to share. It happens to everyone – and it happened to me. Friends would tell me to, “Step away from the laptop and put [my] hands on [my] head.” The problem with the person I needed to unfriend was that she was not new to FB and was not going through a stage. This is her modus operandi. I am certain many people enjoy her constant posting and encourage her to keep up the good work. More power to them, but this was not for me. To coin a Seinfeldism which would have made for a great episode had the site existed when Jerry and Kramer were still neighbors, she would have been an “over-poster,” and I needed to get rid of her.

Complaining about the situation to a real-life friend of mine, he simply borrowed my laptop for a minute, promising to change my life forever. Without having to unfriend this person, he ended her never ending rants by cutting her newsfeed to my page. If I wanted to know what was going on in her life, he explained, I could simply check her wall, as we were still technically friends. However, I no longer had to endure the constant commentary, nor those of another individual who seems to think he is Confucius. Since making these changes, Facebook has never been sweeter.

Isn’t it ironic that I found someone else’s constant ranting annoying? I guess for those who no longer wish to hear my musings, they can just stop reading this column. Or, they can do what some of my friends have already figured out: buy an iphone. Even from beyond, Steve Jobs is smarter than I am.
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Feb 2012

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Enjoy the Silence? I Don’t Think So.

Posted by mwallach on February 2, 2012 in New To You

Dear That’s Life,

While there are plenty of people who can only work in sterile and silent conditions that make libraries look like carnivals, I flourish amidst noise and chaos. The noisier, the better. Music blaring in my ears, I cannot concentrate unless life is going on around me, with an added dose of Van Halen flowing through a headset. In this case, silence is deafening.

Some people work in an office and others work from home, though I find the latter to be flat-out impossible. It is not because my house is too quiet – Ha! Rather, I find that when I am home, all I wanted to do is housework. I cannot allow the beds to remain unmade, or a toy left out of place or the floor unswept, all resulting from a busy morning getting the kids off to school. Instead, I must finish straightening the house before I sit down to do my other work, the work for which I actually get paid. And as a result, when I leave in the morning to take the kids to school, my work bag is in tow and my mind is already ready to face the assignments before me – all of which will be accomplished outside of my home.

Some treat various Starbucks locations as their place of work, where they meet clients and treat them to lattes. For many reasons, it has become an accepted practice. I, on the other hand, follow that mindset but regularly visit a different location, one that I actually have the chutzpah to refer to as “the office.” A table at Gotta Getta Bagel in Woodmere is where I can often be found clicking away at the keys on my semi-functional netbook, Ipad situated next to me, eating a large salad bite by bite. I am here so often that the staff knows me by name and when I tell certain friends I am at the office, they know where to find me. The hustle and bustle of the store might be distracting to some but it is exactly what I need to be fully productive.

On occasion, my husband stops by to pick up lunch or just to check on me. Recently, in the midst of working on a submission, he walked into the store to pick up his order. Sitting beside me for a moment, he tended to a business call and began to innocently nibble on my salad. My eyes bugged out of my head. He did not even realize what he was doing, as innocuous as it might have been to a normal person. I, on the other hand, am not normal – and I don’t share my food. A couple of minutes later, bag in hand, he was out the door and on his way to work. Stupefied by what had just occurred, I began to rant at a closed door after he was clearly out of earshot. “Do I go to YOUR place of work and eat YOUR food?!” I wondered out loud, the staff behind the counter laughing hysterically. Walking it off, I resumed my work and got back to my salad. This, for me, is just another day at the office.

Knowing many people in the neighborhood, there are few days that go by in which I do not see at least one or two with whom I have a relationship. Some know that I am working, so they smile, allowing me to continue and not break a train of thought. Others ask me if I am writing my next column, hoping I may give them an idea what the topic du jour might be, while others are simply interested in sharing some feedback about something recently published. Either way, I am appreciative that they have taken a moment or two to say “hi”, even when tell me they have not enjoyed what I’ve been writing lately.

Admittedly, maybe I spend too much time at Gotta Getta, though Joel (the proprietor and a friend) swears he does not mind. One woman who has seen me here on numerous occasions told me she does not think it is nice that I plug my computer into the outlet in the store and use Joel’s electricity, something I do not pay for in the cost of my salad. I showed her that, in fact, my computer was not plugged in but was running on battery. I have had to plug my computer in on occasion, I told her, but it is a rarity and, again, Joel did not mind. Upon further review of the evidence, she apologized but still questioned whether treating the store as my regular hangout was acceptable. I thanked her for opinion, reassuring her that I purchase food each time I am here. I don’t loiter – I pay to play.

My friend Julie joked with Joel that for the amount of time I spend here, I should be paying him rent. She may be right. I have sarcastically offered to help behind the counter if necessary, though I am not sure I’d be anyone’s first choice in a customer service industry. It was a few weeks ago, when the store was really full and they were understaffed, I literally heeded Joel’s call when he asked me to pitch in.

The phone was ringing off the hook and high school seniors with limited school hours because of finals had flooded the store. People were waiting for custom salads while others just wanted a bagel – but either way, the place was hopping. My work done for the day and my salad bowl empty, I was ready to pack it in. Cleaning up my space and freeing up a table, I gathered my belongings as the phone continued to ring. Finally, like being called up from the bullpen, it was time to take the mound.

“Miriam,” screamed Joel, “can you get that?!” The rookie that I am, I was taken aback, but ready to help my team. “Really?” I asked him, but he was dead serious. Picking up the cordless phone from the counter, the words “Gotta Getta Bagel”flew out of my mouth as I answered the phone. Of course, I could not help the person with his request and Joel, knowing who it was, told me to just ask him to call back later. A persistent caller, though apparently not a customer, he did not want to take “no” for answer. I kept at it, finally convincing him that he’d be happier speaking to someone who knew what he was talking about if he just called back in a little while. I must have convinced him, or sounded like the complete idiot I seemed to be, because he took my advice, promising to call back in an hour.

I hung up the phone and smiled, satisfied at my semi-competent contribution to the team. “See?” I said aloud, beaming with pride. “I really DO work here.”


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Pizza and Pasta and Poached Eggs – Oh, My!

Posted by mwallach on January 26, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
While some do not appreciate children’s literature as a true genre, they would be sadly mistaken. Out of the classics, cult favorites and timeless literary choices I have read over the years, my all-time favorite is Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” It is perfectly written, with a cadence so characteristically “Dr. Seuss” that it is an immensely enjoyable story to read aloud. More importantly, however, it teaches a valuable that we live by in my home: always try new foods.

As a self-declared food snob, I have made an effort to introduce foods into our home that others may never even attempt with kids. At a young age, my daughter ate poached salmon and my son asked for bruschetta with goat cheese. Last weekend, my toddler ate farro, gobbling it up as if it were pizza, though she did not care for the red quinoa nearly as much. There are plenty of nights where fish sticks and spaghetti take center stage – and that’s just fine. If I can introduce something a little more adventurous another night, however, I am going to give it a try. The worst that can happen is that someone requests I never make that item again. Tofu was a success, but I have yet to live down the orange poppy seed cake.

I do not understand parents who make numerous dinners each night, acting more like caterers and short order cooks than mothers and fathers. While I often ask my children in advance what they would like for dinner, as cooking something they look forward to makes more sense than fighting with them, preparing more than one meal an evening is not an option. Cereal has become the default choice for those who refuse what has been made. If you are not in the mood for steak, please show yourself to the Special K or the Cheerios. Bon appetit.

Years ago, when packing my daughter’s lunch for school, I asked her if she wanted a pear for snack. She informed me that she only liked her pears one way: poached. Most parents would have been horrified. I was ecstatic.

Buying me a gift is a pretty easy endeavor. Anything food related is a sure fire success. Cooking magazines, kitchen trinkets or even a new knife is good enough for me. As such, my husband has often utilized my affinity for the kitchen as inspiration for creative gifts. One year for Mother’s Day, he gift wrapped course outlines for some cooking classes at a program I enjoy, offering that I choose any two as a gift. Score that one as a grand slam.

Most recently, he bought what turned out to be an excellent Chanukah gift, though I initially had my doubts. After having given him his gift, he told me mine had not yet arrived. It seemed his order from Amazon would be a day or two late. Perplexed, I began to wonder if there really was a method to his madness, as an NCIS boxed set was not what I had expected. Knowing me better than I know myself, the gift arrived and it was perfect. Two slabs of pink Himalayan sea salt arrived in a box and while I had never seen them before, they were a culinary dream. As a person who loves salt, I have been enjoying this gift over and over again. More importantly, however, my kids are into the salt slabs as well. They think my gift is just as cool as I do. It no longer seems strange to them when these big pink bricks come out of the cabinet. To them, my new gifts make as much sense as ensuring a tuna steak is still pink on the inside.

No longer extraordinary, sushi has become quite commonplace, transitioning from high end fare to a food that can be found in both pizza shops and supermarket aisles. While my children still view it as a treat, they have all eaten sushi, some even trying to master the art of using chopsticks to pick up, rather than stab, their food. Neither the pickled ginger nor the wasabi interest them and until recently I was confident they thought those condiments were merely decorations akin to the plastic grass that came in the container. (Yes: my daughter tried to plant the plastic grass, but that’s another story for another day.)

We have watched the movie “Cars 2” more times than I care to admit. The cutest scene in the film, however, is when Mater asks for a big scoop of pistachio ice cream, completely unaware that the green food he is about to eat is actually wasabi. As to be imagined, he races around the room screaming from the wasabi’s intensity, announcing to everyone around him not to eat, what he still thinks, is the free pistachio ice cream. Mouth on fire, he emphatically declares, “It [the pistachio ice cream] has TURNED.”

Life imitating art, my son accidentally put a heaping amount of wasabi in his mouth that he scooped from the tray of California roll he was eating. It happened very quickly but as soon as I saw him do it, I screamed. “No!” I shouted and he immediately froze. “Don’t eat that – that’s wasabi!” My antics did not seem to make any impression. While he was not spitting it out, he was not eating it either. All of a sudden, my quick thinking eldest had an idea.

“It’s like the pistachio ice cream in Cars 2!” she cried, and that seemed to do the trick. He immediately spit it out, drank a glass of water and imitated Mater with an exaggerated scream throughout the kitchen. Having not actually ingested any of the wasabi, he was fine and we had a good laugh. The obvious downside of all this, however, may turn out to be that my son will be afraid of pistachio ice cream for the rest of his life.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Jan 2011


Party Rockers in the Car Tonight

Posted by mwallach on January 17, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
Whether you have just come back from winter break, have not left yet or are past the stage in life when you planned a family trip around the school calendar, you know it is not a simple process. Besides the coordination of different schedules and tending to the needs of each child, the packing and unpacking of any family, regardless of size, is not for the faint hearted – and that does not include the post-trip clean-up of your automobile.

There is a distinct difference between what my car looks like before and after we take a drive somewhere as a family. While on any given day a mother’s car may often look like a playroom, with toys and snacks strewn about on the floor, it is deserving of a status change after a trip. Having recently gone away for the weekend, our car was packed to the gills and snacks were at the ready for the long drive ahead. After we unpacked, however, my next stop was the gas station. I was sure my car did not look like we had just taken a drive – instead, it would certainly have looked like we slept in it as well.

At least I clean my automobile. Some parents have a defeatist attitude regarding the state of their cars. If it is just going to be filthy again soon, they wonder what the point is of cleaning it in the first place. My daughter has argued the same logic in regard to making her bed. My response is to suggest we never wash our clothing or even shower because we may just get dirty again. After she wipes the perplexed, and semi-grossed out look from her face, she understands my point. I apply the same reasoning to the state of my car. On the contrary, I have joked that my friend’s car is such a dump that someone could eat a smorgasbord by what she has lying around in its various compartments. Lo and behold, when I said that to her once, she opened up the ashtray to reveal its contents: chocolate chips. Not only could her car provide someone with lunch, now dessert was on the menu as well.
We had never gone skiing with our children, although it is something we have discussed. The opportunity presented itself and we decided to go.

Having not skied since I was a child, my recollection of the equipment we needed to take with us could be summed up as snow gear, all of which we already owned because we were New Yorkers. That was the extent of what was packed since poles and skis were rented. Things have certainly changed because on this trip, our vehicle looked as if we had pillaged the ski gear section of Dick’s Sporting Goods, or that we had been given everything by the Mt. Snow Fairy. Boxes of helmets, goggles, hand/toe warmers and face masks filled our car. Getting the skis and poles was such an event that once everyone was outfitted and set, I was exhausted. There was no need to go down the mountain – it was enough excitement for one day.

Of course, I had already changed into my own requisite ski gear in anticipation of the activity. And no matter how you slice it: there is nothing flattering about a pair of ski pants. Even if you are daily gym goer or think that air is a food group, you simply cannot look good in those pants. Dressed in layer after layer, I took one last glance in the mirror, wondering if I looked just as awful as I thought. Luckily for me, my teenage daughter was nearby as I looked things over before going outside. “Does my butt look big in these pants?” I asked her. “Yup,” she said, without a moment’s hesitation and in total break of the female bond. Staring at her straight in the face, I said, “For real?” but even faster than her first answer came her second. Summing it up all into one word, she looked at me and said, “HUGE.” Despite that reality check, the trip went on as planned.

Back at the gas station, I surveyed my car before placing the quarters in the industrial vacuum provided. I noticed immediately that there was much more than the typical potato chips and pretzel rods stuck in the carpet I have become accustomed to finding. To be expected, numerous food groups could be found in various parts of the car. It also seemed someone had confused a rear console with a sheet of paper because now there was crayon artwork to accompany the mess. Little did I know, however, that would not be the only surprise I received as I cleaned the vehicle.

My husband’s new down jacket (which was part of the previously mentioned mad sporting goods stockpiling) had somehow ripped while he was skiing. It is unclear how it happened, but ultimately it’s irrelevant. We shoved the jacket, along with other random items, in the back of the vehicle right before pulling out and had not thought much of it – until the moment I went to clean up the car.

Upon inspection of the back seat, it looked like a flock of geese had flown straight through my truck, only to get into a fist-fight on their way out. Without exaggeration, amidst the remnants of food and snacks, there were feathers everywhere. Whether in the floor rugs, the cup holders or between the seats, it seemed the Aflac duck and all of his friends had partied in my backseat and, like any good party, there was nothing left but the evidence.

Days later, I am still finding feathers in various unknown places. This morning’s hiding spot ? The defogger. Feathers shot up out of the vent and on to the dashboard, scaring the living daylights out of me. But it does not matter. Regardless of m&ms in the carpet, feathers in my hair or sprinkles embedded in the stitching, the one important thing that remains after any family trip are the memories. That being said, if the anxiety dreams that I’m being attacked by birds would stop, I’d appreciate it.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Jan 2012


Thanks, Zach

Posted by mwallach on January 6, 2012 in Tribe Members

Dear That’s Life,

Since the start of this column, there are numerous stories over the years I have left untold. Some are just for my Shabbat table, meant to be shared only with close friends and family, inappropriate for publication. Despite being excellent material, I have opted to use that internal filter I so rarely employ, each story having its own reason why it could not be printed. There are also those anecdotes I regret having ever put down into words, wishing I could take them back, wondering what I was thinking.

Some stories are vetoed simply because of where they happened or who was involved. In specific, I do not write about work, referring in this case to my classroom. While being a middle school teacher provides more inspiration than could be used in one lifetime, I have always had the, “Whatever happens in Vegas…” principle regarding my students. Adolescents are funny subjects, though often not on purpose. Even the boy who admitted having a staring contest with a photograph on the wall of a famous rabbi, and was convinced he would win, was never given column inches.

Many rules have their exceptions, though I do not consider this story to be one, despite starring a current student. Not only did the event not take place in my classroom, which already makes it permissible, but in this instance I was the one being schooled and not the other way around. I have said over the years that a teacher is only as good as his/her students. I am fortunate, therefore, to be teaching my present group of students because if this one boy is an example of just how fine his classmates are, I must be an exceptional educator.

While life is filled with various rites of passage that shape us as individuals, there is no more seminal moment for a Jewish boy as when he becomes a bar mitzvah. Miraculously turning into a man right before the eyes of congregation, nothing puts hair on a boy’s chest like reading the weekly Torah portion before hundreds of onlookers. It takes a certain amount of guts, a definite leap of faith and a very deep breath before an adolescent boy takes his place before the Torah, pointer in hand, his training on the line. Having never experienced it personally, I can only imagine the stress and anxiety surrounding that moment. Knowing myself the way I do, I am sure there would be plenty of nervous laughter and a slew of one-liners. What I know for certain, however, is that I would have only been thinking of “me,” unable to focus on anyone else.

I had been looking forward to my trip to Montreal for my student’s bar mitzvah, who is also the son of good friends. While they live locally, the simcha was moved to Canada at the boy’s request. His grandparents lived there and as a result of a downturn in his grandfather’s health, a trip to New York was not an option. The only way for his Saba (grandfather) to hear him lain (read) from the Torah would be to move the festivities north. Even though he understood that meant his friends would not be at his bar mitzvah and few of his parents’ friends would make the trip as well, nor would he be in his own synagogue, this was what he wanted. He was willing to give up everything so his Saba could be there – and so it was done.

Sometimes called the “me” years, adolescence is filled with egocentric, often self-centered, behavior. Completely to the contrary, this bar mitzvah boy demonstrated an act of selflessness most adults would have never considered, let alone followed through. He understood what was important, quickly recognizing that family was his priority. More important than a party, his friends or the community celebration, his grandparents trumped it all and so off to Canada we went. As if that was not enough, however, Shabbat morning came and we were all taught the lesson of a lifetime – all from our thirteen-year-old teacher.

Having arrived at the part of the morning services when the bar mitzvah boy begins to lain, the pinnacle of the weekend, many of us in the congregation were struck by an obvious and upsetting fact: the boy’s grandparents had not yet arrived. Physical limitations and illness prevented his grandfather from moving with agility or speed, complicating both his arrival and his wife’s. We were not the only ones who had noted their absence – the bar mitzvah boy and his parents were very well aware. Nevertheless, the torah was open and we seemed set to begin.

All of a sudden, the bar mitzvah boy turned to his father and to the rabbi. A short huddle ensued, a conversation took place, and the rabbi put his arm around the boy. Turning to the congregation, the rabbi explained that the boy had made a request: that we wait for his grandparents to arrive. Because we had come this far so his Saba could be there when he lained, he reasoned, that starting to read from the Torah before his grandfather arrived defeated the purpose – and he was right.

His parents rightfully beamed with pride. Everyone was already impressed with the bar mitzvah boy, now a man, for moving his big day to Canada in an effort to bring his family together. Now we were moved as well. And if all of this had not been enough, there was still more.

To pass the time as we waited for his grandparents’ arrival, the bar mitzvah boy gave an off-the-cuff, completely extemporaneous and totally unscripted d’var Torah (sermon) to the entire congregation. Having already delivered his bar mitzvah speech the night before, this was truly shocking. But again, we were enlightened by this teenager who had the presence of mind – right before a moment in his life that had brought even the toughest of kids to tears – to teach us what was important.

For approximately forty minutes, we patiently and happily waited for the couple to arrive. Family and love were the theme of the weekend, and we were on the same page. When both of his grandparents arrived, we all smiled, as did the boy who finally caught a glimpse of the man for whom all of this was done. As the boy began his laining, it was one of many beautiful moments that Shabbat – all of which were part of an experience no one would forget.

Rarely does a day go by when I do not think of my own grandparents. Their love was unconditional and while I hear they may not have all been the saints I remember them to be, it does not matter to me. There was nothing like a hug from Bubby or pre-shabbat wishes from Grandpa. I would like to think I appreciated their love when I was a young teen, but I would be giving myself too much credit. How refreshing, inspiring and touching was it, therefore, to witness numerous acts of kindness and love by a grandson to his grandparents on a day that should have been all his own but one he chose to share with them instead? While I usually have no shortage of things to say, this time, there are just no words.

Thank you, Zach, for the lesson of a lifetime.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard 2012


Men of Few Words

Posted by mwallach on January 4, 2012 in My Kids, New To You

Dear That’s Life,

As a parent, there are numerous stages in a child’s development that register in my memory as seminal moments. A first step, a solo in the school play or a child’s first night sleeping out of the house all serve as major milestones, each with their own significance. And while we are proud of our children and each of their accomplishments, the personal satisfaction they feel at a job well done is far more important than our own recognition.

The English teacher in me takes an unusual pride in my children as they learn to read. As the world blossoms before their eyes, opportunities present themselves and they begin to see all that is available. Everything is an inspiration and a possibility as they read the words that have surrounded them their entire lives but yet could never “see”. Now, with the number of words they can recognize increasing daily, every day is more exciting than the one before. As if they never realized it beforehand, the world is filled with words, and the world is theirs. Membership in the world of literacy certainly has its privileges.

Context also plays a part in the written word. While a student might not understand a new word initially, he can often discern its meaning by looking at its context. A younger child, however, cannot always appreciate those details and to him, a word is a word. Being able to recognize it is enough of a thrill – figuring out what it means may be for another time.

Pretending we are tourists in Manhattan is one of my favorite treats, one we do not do nearly enough. A number of years ago, however, I took a few of my children on a double decker bus through lower Manhattan. From South Street Seaport to Wall Street, my camera conspicuously located around my neck, we played “tourist” and rode the bus one beautiful spring day. My eldest son, an emergent reader at the time, enjoyed reading signs as we rode along. Some of the advertisements atop the taxis we passed also provided reading material – especially the ones that came with pictures. Stopped at a red light, he read the ad on the cab idling next to our bus. It gave him an idea as to where we could go next on our tour of Manhattan.

“Can we go to the New York Dolls Club?” asked my son, innocently but proud that he successfully read the sign. Without pause, a loud, “No!” came bounding out of my mouth. “She looks real,” he added, referring to the blond woman in the advertisement. “She IS real,” I said, but that just confused him. “She’s not a doll?” he asked, assuming this ad was actually for a doll house museum of sorts. “No,” I said, explaining that this place was not really about dolls nor was a place we were ever going to visit, either as tourists or natives.

It had been years since I thought about that story. With more children learning to read, however, that story was either destined to be topped by some other insanity, or at least repeated in one form or another. Leave it to an innocent shopping trip to provide a new winner, one that proves words are everywhere – even where they should not be.
In recent years, clothing companies have begun printing sweatpants or pajama pants with wording located on the seat. When I was younger, the names of one’s school or even camp could be read on the leg of the pants, but never on the seat. Someone thought that writing on a person’s rear was a good idea, I presume to draw attention to one’s assets and so the trend began. Personally, I think it is in poor taste, but no one asked me. Nevertheless, it does attract interested eyes, especially of those who are just learning to read and for who those words are at eye level.

Standing on line waiting to pay for my purchases, I was accompanied by my younger son. To him, reading has become an Olympic sport. Few things for him are as thrilling as figuring out a new word and when approached by a word that he recognizes, being able to both read and spell it provides great satisfaction. The line moving very slowly, he was able to take in all of the stimulation that surrounded us, including what was written on the tush of the woman directly ahead of us.

“Mommy,” he exclaimed with great pride, “I know what P-I-N-K spells!” One could not blame him for reading what he saw, as the word was right in front of him, staring at him directly in the face. Immediately turning bright red, I was somewhat relieved when the woman with the sweatpants burst into laughter. After all, no one made her put those pants on and if she did not want people reading her rear end, she might have considered wearing pants without words written on them. In addition, my son’s exuberance at being able to recognize the word was also a sign of his innocence. Regardless, she took it all in stride.

“Sorry about that,” I said to her between my own hysterical laughter, but she too was in stiches and in no way offended. “It’s fine,” she said, adding. “It’s not his fault.” I agreed. Not one to leave well enough alone, I said, “I have to tell you, though – I am really happy all it said was PINK.” Suffice it to say, I am pretty sure she is going to think twice before she puts those pants back on.



“I’ll Behave, I Promise”

Posted by mwallach on December 23, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,

It goes without saying that I try to find humor in all aspects of life. Sarcasm, my default setting, often gets me through challenging or difficult situations that could otherwise leave me in tears. That said, I do appreciate that while it may often be entertaining, even humor has its time and place.

Sometimes even my children prefer I shelf the classic sarcastic retort in exchange for a normal response. During a heated conversation with my daughter, I was about to lighten the mood with some sort of comment akin to what I might usually say, but was asked to stop even before I started. “And don’t think you can make this better with some sort of joke or sarcastic line, Ma,” she said, knowing full well with whom she was dealing. “It’s not going to help.”

On more than one occasion, this child has called me out on something I have done, and she’s been right. Stopping me in my tracks at that moment, however, I was at a loss as to what to say. While she may have been correct that humor was not what was called for at that second, all I could come up with was, “It won’t?” Suffice it to say that right before she walked away out of complete frustration, she gave me a good stare, followed by a roll of the eyes – all of which I rightfully deserved.

Although I admit my behavior in that instance was worthy of rebuke, I am not sure why numerous people have decided to deliver stern warnings regarding my behavior in anticipation of an upcoming event. I have not even done anything wrong and despite that, numerous fingers, both literal and figurative, have been waived in my general direction. That is not to say I have not earned myself a reputation. Regardless, I have been convicted of and am being punished for a crime I have yet to commit. (Wasn’t that the premise behind Tom Cruise’s “Minority Report?”)

With a drive north across the border scheduled for the end of the week, considerable preparation has gone into this trip. I have made sure my passport is handy, my car has extra windshield fluid in the trunk and my warmest boots are packed. While the cold does not bother me, there is also no reason to freeze. In addition, extra food and spare blankets have been readied should something go awry. I also reminded my fellow passengers, who are not members of my family that they, too, need to check their passports lest I need to leave someone at the border. Amidst the conversations back and forth between the friends coming with me, it seems there is an underlying concern that when we arrive at the Canadian border, despite our passports being current, we will not all be granted entry by our neighbors up north.

Three separate people have felt the need to tell me not to make jokes when we arrive at the border crossing. It seems that either the border police do not have great senses of humor, they take their job very seriously or they take their job too seriously. Maybe it’s a little of everything. Somehow, my cracking jokes is so ill advised that there is worry it may detain us or even prevent us from making it across the border altogether.

My husband, ever the adult, was the first one to give the advice. “When you arrive at the border crossing,” he said, “refrain yourself from making comments.” He was concerned that my inner repressed comedian would get the best of me. Forget that my jokes could get me in trouble, he was worried they would not let us through. While I assured him I would keep the jokes about the open bottles of booze in the backseat to a three comment minimum, let’s just say, that did not make him feel better. “See?” he replied with more than a touch of frustration. “THIS is what I’m talking about.” I smiled, told him to relax and promised I was just kidding, though I was already satisfied with the reaction I had just received.

While I know I can behave when I need to, others have not been as easily convinced. Another friend who has made this trip often, and met numerous sets of border police, warned me as well. “I know, I know, I know,” I replied, sounding like a petulant teenager whose parents keep telling her to take out her nose ring and cover her tattoos before they arrive at Grandma’s house. Knowing me well enough, she still did not believe me. I had joked with her that I was prepared to leave any of my fellow passengers at the border if their passports were expired, despite my friendly reminder to make sure that was checked. She laughed – and then told me they were not the ones she was worried about. “Just keep your mouth shut,” she said, sternly but with a smile. “They really don’t think things are funny.” I promised I would not do anything to compromise the trip, but I think she is going to have to see it to believe it. Once I arrive safely in Canada, she’ll see I did just fine.

It seems my friends know me well, as a third friend delivered the same warning, prompting me to post their comments on Facebook. “Am I that transparent?” I asked my Facebook friends. After telling someone else about the advice I had received and the comments on Facebook in response to my post, she had something else to add. “And after you get through,” she said, “don’t post anything sarcastic about the border police either!”

Ye of little faith. But if all else fails, I assured one of my fellow passengers he could always use the “Your Honor – she’s an idiot” defense that my husband was prepared to employ in traffic court, had it been necessary. Talk about preparing for anything that my come our way on this journey, one of us in the car is a lawyer.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Dec ’11


The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Posted by mwallach on December 16, 2011 in Tribe Members

Dear That’s Life,

Some weeks are easier to write than others. Whether it is sitting down to write something exciting, intelligent or even intelligible, sometimes the computer screen remains blank longer than I would like before I am able to put my thoughts down on “paper.” Numerous factors often impact on my ability to fluidly and easily write my column.

Within five days, we have had three weddings and two funerals, both for people who died suddenly and had not been ill. To say that these two extremes have thrown me for a loop is an understatement. Faced with my own mortality, sitting next to others feeling the same way, picking myself up has not been as simple as I had hoped. Our community has been fraught with tragedy over the last few months, all of which has taken emotional tolls on many.

Leave it to my life, however; something strange occurs, leaving me in stitches, serving as a clear reminder that crazy follows me everywhere and, more importantly, that life goes on. I interpret these events as sign from G-d that despite the tough ties in which we may find ourselves, this, too, shall pass. What makes some of these events funnier is when they happen to friends of mine, rather than to me. I have warned many of them that if crazy follows me, it may surely follow you as well. And to be honest, it is nice to sit back and watch crazy happen to someone else sometime.

Calling a friend who lives out of state, I told her of the goings on in my life. “Give me some good news,” I begged her, the funerals taking their tolls. Without so much as a pause in her story, she told me of her husband’s cousin who was engaged to be married, for the first time in his life, at the age of 72. Seems he had dated and fallen in love with a woman 40 years ago. Because of complicated circumstance, they did not marry then. She subsequently dated and married another man, with whom she raised a family, while this cousin remained alone.

Upon the recent death of her husband, the 72 year old ex-boyfriend called to express his condolences. What that call rekindled, however, was a spark in both of them which had existed for four decades. They are now engaged, laughing and in love like teenagers. And while my friend joked that all the happy couple will do now is drive each other to doctor’s appointments, so be it: at least they are doing together. “Isn’t that the nicest news you’ve ever heard?” she asked me. “Yes,” I said, meaning that whole heartedly, a true ray of sunshine, just at the right time.

Because of the column, I have become accustomed to random people asking me questions about my life. On a recent train ride into Manhattan, I woman I see occasionally at the gym but whose name I do not know stopped me on the platform at Jamaica. “Does the dress fit?” she asked excitedly. Momentarily taken aback, I quickly remembered previously writing about the gown into which I was desperately trying to fit.

“Yes,” I said, smiling, thrilled no ribs were removed nor did I starve. Of course, when I see “gym people” outside of our usual habitat, I have the same standard remark. “It is so nice to see you wearing clothes,” I said to her, referring to the classic state of sweatpants and spandex we often find ourselves in the wee hours of the morning. And while I’ve made that joke a number of times, it definitely startled many others around us, also waiting for the connecting train to Penn Station. Eyes bugged out, people stared and others simply froze, making me smile wildly. While the line is even funnier when I say it to men, especially in front of their wives, it played out just fine this time, too. I got a good kick out of this event, another brief pick-me up, though the best of what was to happen had not yet even occurred.

Standing with a friend of mine at the third and final wedding to which we were invited, she began to bemoan the pain in her feet. Despite the hopes she had for the shoes she was wearing, they did not turn out to be nearly as comfortable as she would have hoped – and she was a bridesmaid. Her gown required that she wear heels, lest her hem sweep the floor the entire night. Almost immediately after sharing her frustrations, a woman swooped in beside her.

“You’re feet are killing you?” she asked. “Come with me.” Grabbing her by the arm, she led my friend away, without waiting for a response and, it seemed, without even introducing herself. While I assumed from the ease and comfort with which she took my friend’s arm that they were old family friends, it seems this woman was a complete stranger – or maybe an “achy foot superhero” of some sort.

“I am going to change your life forever,” the woman said to my friend, leading her to the bar. “Vodka on the rocks,” ordered the woman while my friend stood idly by, somewhat confused and seriously stunned. While my immediate reaction would have been to give the drink to the person in discomfort, it seems the woman had other plans. “Give me your shoes,” she said, and my friend complied – but what happened next none of us could have predicted.

“A friend did this for me,” she explained, “and it changed me forever.” Without further warning, she placed the shoes on the floor and poured the alcohol all over the insides. My stunned friend could not believe what had just happened, although she was thrilled she had not bought that pair of really expensive shoes she had been considering. “Now put them back on,” ordered the woman, and my friend complied, her nicely pedicured feet now cold and wet, awash in Absolut. We guessed the logic here was to numb the feet from the outside, rather than numbing the entire body from the inside.

“How do they feel?” I asked her, the ceremony over. “Wet,” she explained. It seemed the unexpected activity did not yield numb footsies as hoped, so we took to numbing her from the inside instead. “I think this is the craziest thing to ever happen to me in my entire life,” she said. I smiled, knowing that I have said that way too many times, only for some other crazy to occur. “That may be the case,” I said, smiling from ear to ear, “but now I definitely have something to write about this week.”

Yes, my friends: this, too, shall pass.
As Seen in the South Shore Standard”


Silver Belles

Posted by mwallach on December 13, 2011 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,

A recent article in Prevention magazine caught my eye. It highlighted the beauty of gray hair, citing the numerous actors and celebrities, men and women alike, who wear their silver with pride, using it as a sign of strength rather than something they wish to cover. Having grown up my entire life with a mom who wore her silver streak with pride, until she decided to dye it, I was rather intrigued. Included in the piece were various hair care products to protect one’s grey, allowing it to shine rather than dull, while there were also tips for the woman who was ready to grow out her silver and let it show. Furthermore, the article highlighted wardrobe tips for the silver haired beauty – who knew earth tones were not ideal for women with gray hair?

Also in the article was a poll taken of readers who dye their hair as to why, after having dyed their hair for so long, they resist going grey. A percentage of responders said they were afraid showing their age would have negative effects on them professionally. Showing how old they really were might endanger their jobs or have some repercussions in the work place. Others said that after dying their hair for so long, they were afraid to see just how grey they really were. The impending shock or realization was enough to keep up the dyeing. And of course, the greatest number of responders said they think they would look older if they stopped. In a world where we slow and hide the aging process as often as we can (think Botox), sitting with a colorist in the salon once a month seems to be the least we can do.

I had not dyed my hair in a while, but not because I was attempting to grow it out. I simply had not been paying attention. Then one day, as I was looking in the mirror, I was instantaneously horrified when I noticed the crop of gray hair growing out of my scalp. Having found my first gray hair when I was 21 (and subsequently bursting out into tears), it did not occur to me I had become that gray. At that moment, it hit me – if I did not dye my hair, I just might be completely gray. With that, I quickly made an appointment at the salon.

There are plenty of cultural factors that have aged me as well. Certain trends which have been out of style are now back. If you hold on to something long enough, someone recently mused, youre bound to see it again. Anything from my childhood that is now “cool” has been deemed “retro,” that label rendering the item “trendy” rather than “ancient.” A year ago, my daughters wanted Keds. Besides remembering how I wore those sneakers throughout middle school and much of high school, I was reminded of how Jennifer Grey wore them in “Dirty Dancing” as well. These shoes had nine lives, as if they had been patiently waiting in the wings for their own resurgence. Nevertheless, watching my kids wear Keds – and hearing the shock in their voices upon hearing that I wore them, too – did nothing good for my ego.

Along the same lines are the flannel shirts I wore for about five years of my life, even the night I got engaged. (Defined as a Classic Miriam moment: flannel shirt, Keds and a diamond ring.) Recently walking into a clothing store for kids, I could not help but notice the numerous flannel shirts on display, ready for purchase in various sizes. I was not tempted to buy even one, remembering just how many I had owned, how I had given them all away and how they could have been resold on Ebay for a mint. The newest craze, however, that really took me by surprise was when my teen asked me for a pair of colored jeans. As an adult I think they are ugly, all the while remembering how cool I thought my violet jeans were, when in retrospect, were a definite fashion faux pas. Not every idea was a good one – maybe that’s why I cannot bring myself to buy her a pair.

Unlike fashion, there are certain toys and games which have existed forever. While my kids have recently requested a Snoopy Snow Cone Machine – an item I certainly would have considered “vintage” – other toys such as the Magic Eight Ball or a Rubix Cube are confirmed classics. Like Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly or Othello, I played them as a child and they continue to be current favorites. Newer editions of these games may exist, but so do the originals. If only everything could be baked by the light bulb in a Holly Hobbie Easy Bake oven, life would be a dream.

My son was tinkering with his Rubix Cube the other day, trying to align all of the green squares, struggling to make it work. “Did you play with a Rubix Cube when you were little?” he asked, though the question itself made me sound as though I had full head of silver hair, kept tightly in a bun, with vivid memories of either Roosevelt administration. “No,” I said. “I was the kid who took the stickers off of each cube in order to cheat.”

“But you didn’t like playing with it when you were a kid?” he continued, the Rubix Cube in hand. “Didn’t they have it in 1890?” T’was at this moment that everything in the room seemed to stop while I stared straight, ahead unable to blink. My eldest daughter understood immediately the source of his confusion.

“Don’t you mean 1980?” she asked incredulously. At that moment, everyone burst out in laughter, except for me. I was too busy counting the gray hairs in the mirror.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Dec ’11


“How May I Help You?”

Posted by mwallach on December 8, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life
With the voluntary filing of Chapter 11 by the parent company of American Airlines, recent talking heads bemoaned the state of air travel in the US. “It is hell on earth,” commented one contributor to an early morning show I avidly watch. The host of the program, however, cited Jet Blue as an exception to this rule. He seeks them out as often as he can, making these comments on national television sans an endorsement deal. He knows what to expect out of their flights, knows the planes are new and their staff professional. It seems Jet Blue still appreciates the term “customer service.”

There are a numerous merchants in our area who pride themselves on similar values, reminding us that small businesses deserve our support. Just recently, my husband arrived at a store with our son to buy him new a suit minutes after it had closed. Despite advertisements in the paper stating that they would be open until 7pm, they closed an hour earlier. Still there when my husband arrived, one of the owners reopened the store to accommodate my husband. Seems his wife called a number of times during the next hour to determine when he would be home – they had prearranged plans with their children and he was late. It had not been his fault the store’s hours of operations had been misprinted, but he graciously assisted us nevertheless, smile included.

The most challenging area in which to satisfy a customer is, undoubtedly, the food service industry. That takes a special set of nerves, patience and tolerance. When a friend decided to open a take-out store, I asked him if he had a death wish. Recently reflecting on that anecdote, my brother asked me if I had ever found a hair in a dish I ordered at a restaurant. Seems he found an errant hair in something he had ordered, but decided not to alert the waitress. I said I had been similar situations, to which he added, “Well, did you say something?” I smiled. “When have you ever known me NOT to say something?” I responded.

Even as recently as a few weeks ago, my daughter found two hairs in two different items she had ordered. Since neither hair matched our hair color, it clearly belonged to someone else. The waitress was apologetic and replaced both items. The issue was handled quickly and efficiently, without excuse or silly answers. My husband quickly reminded me of an episode that did not go as smoothly. “There is that one place she won’t go back to,” he said, reminding me of what happened.

A number or years ago, my husband and I tried a new restaurant. When my dish arrived, I got more than I had bargained for. It was not a hair that I found in my salad, but rather a live bug. It was still moving. That bug trumped the used bandaid I had previously found at another establishment. Something about this bug, complete with wings, walking across my lettuce, disgusted me beyond previous levels. Maybe being pregnant at the time made matters worse. Having brought the insect to the attention of our waiter, who was equally horrified, the plate was quickly returned to the kitchen.

If anything can be learned from the current political carnival, it is the Herman Cain principle: what matters most about a scandal is not the scandal itself, but how it is handled. Almost immediately after my salad was returned to the kitchen, one of the chefs joined us at the table. He was not apologetic. Rather, he had an explanation. “That is not a bug that one might find in lettuce,” he said, rationalizing that the lettuce itself has been washed and cleaned before being served to patrons. “That’s a bug that just flew in.” It was unclear to us which part of that entomology lesson we were supposed to find comforting, but it did not work. Had he just apologized, I think we would have been fine. To try and explain it, however, as if there was an acceptable answer, was not prudent.

“It just FLEW in?” I asked, wondering what else they had flying through that kitchen, the image of fly paper dangling from the ceiling filled my mind. “Yes,” he said, adding, “That’s not a lettuce bug.” Unsure where he had gone wrong, he seemed a little surprised when we asked for the bill.

Insisting on paying for the part of my husband’s meal that had already arrived and was eaten, the manager seemed very uncomfortable about taking our money at all. I was already out the door when he said, “I hope you’ll come back.” All my husband could do was smile. “Oh – you don’t know my wife,” he answered. “You’ll never see us again.”

Sometimes, the person responsible for the customer service says exactly the right thing. Last week, for example, I managed to get my tights stuck in the zipper of a pair of boots I was trying on. Yes: if you can imagine the visual, I was literally attached to this boot, unable to extricate myself from the situation. Pulling made it worse, as the zipper would not move in either direction. The only way to fix this was to get the tights off my body, at which point I began ripping them with fervor. The store busy with bargain hunting shoppers, women around me noticed what was going on, as did one sales clerk.

“Do you need some help?” he asked me. Despite being in a complicated situation, unsure how he could really assist, he still offered while others might just have left me to my own devices. Exasperated, I halted all efforts. “I’m literally attached to your boots,” I explained. Once he saw that I was not kidding, and that I had an audience, there was only so much either one of us could do except smile. “It could not happen to a better person,” I told him. “Trust me.” At that moment, I finally freed myself from the zipper and while I was now out a pair of tights, I was at least no longer attached to footwear.

Still standing there, the gentleman asked me if this had happened to me before. I laughed. “No,” I said, the shredded tights dangling from my body. “But trust me,” I added, “this is not the craziest thing about me.”

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Dec ’11


Ipads Cannot Fly

Posted by mwallach on November 27, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,

While two things one can always count on are death and taxes, I would like to add something else to that list: gravity. If I stand at my desk and drop a pencil, ten out of ten times, the pencil will fall. Tried and true, gravity is dependable and can be relied upon. With no interest in space travel, no plans to leave earth’s atmosphere, and unable to sleep standing up, it is safe to say that gravity will always play a permanent role in my life.

A self-proclaimed gym rat, getting in a daily workout is a priority. From the standpoint of my mental health, if I have not made it to the gym or missed a day for some reason, it is readily apparent in my behavior attitude and demeanor. Frankly, I become very crabby, snapping at anyone and everything over nothing, pent up energy inside my body with no chance of release. Those who exercise regularly can empathize.

The dress still hanging in my closet, I have diligently been sticking to diet and exercise regimen, determined to reach my goal. Even while on vacation, I did not allow myself all-you-can-eat nights at my favorite restaurants. My Achilles heel is chocolate chip cookies, especially when they are soft. Because I am a martyr, I will make do with a crunchy one. Put a batch of soft ones in front of me, however, and watch them disappear.

Attending an event while we were away, my daughter served as my wingman, keeping to my side as I perused the food, ensuring I did not go astray. Playing the role of adult and partial baby-sitter, she let me have one cookie, but then made me stop when I went for another. “Mommy!” she yelled at me. “Remember the dress!” Becoming more like an albatross and less like a goal, I put the cookie back. Smiling in approval, she took my hand. “No sweets, Mommy,” she said. “No sweets.”

Sweets, however, are something I cannot and will not do without. Dark chocolate, in specific, has clearly been overlooked by our federal government as a food group. In this case, I was determined to have my cake and eat it, too. Having a piece of chocolate every now and again should not preclude me from getting into my dress. If that meant, however, that the exercise portion of my plan needed to be tweaked, or intensified, then that’s life. So out came the running sneakers, for it was time to get back on the treadmill.

Running is the best form of exercise I know despite what it does to my knees. Upon the advice of my exercise guru, I run often but for short distances. Even if I have the energy to run further than five miles, I stop, having no interest in injuring myself. The system was going just fine, until I managed an injury after only two miles. Here’s where gravity comes in.

Over the past five years, I have used numerous column inches to regale readers with details of my latest stupid move. My talents know no limits, though even I assumed I had seen it all when I gracefully broke my toe and needed stitches. Before this week, the toe was in first place. That, however, has changed. That was before my escapades last Sunday at the gym, before I fell off the treadmill and before I shattered the ipad.

I cannot explain to you exactly how I managed to fall off the machine, though I imagine my foot must have hit the plastic runners alongside the belt as I ran. Somehow, I took a misstep and fell. Luckily, I did not roll backwards and hit the wall behind me, the likes of which I have seen in animated movies, all of which are plausible when I am in the picture. Instead, I somehow lost my footing and fell. In an effort to save myself, I mangled my finger and destroyed the ipad.

As a result of jarring the treadmill, the ipad flew like a Frisbee, landing flat on the floor. As I went to pick up the really expensive toy that had fallen face down, I commented, “This is not going to end well.” Unfortunately, I was right, for as I picked the ipad off the floor, tiny shards of glass fell, the remnants of the screen laying both on the linoleum titles and in my hand. Gravity had struck again, besides my own personal trip to the floor as a result of my grace. True to form, however, this was not the worst part of the experience. The problem was really that the ipad belonged to my husband. I began to prepare for what was sure to be one unfortunate conversation when I got home. As they say: this was not going to be pretty.

Luckily for me, I am not the adult in any relationship. My husband, accustomed to my antics, heard the entire story, and immediately looked at my finger. “Ice and ibuprofen,” he said, as the swelling on my finger increased, the shades of purple intensified. My hand was more important than any toy, regardless of price. A couple of minutes passed before he asked the most logical question, searching for some clarification. “How DID this happen exactly?” he asked. I retold the story, but he shook his head, needing to cut to the chase. Like any good lawyer, he wanted the bottom line.

“Did anything happen to the car or did you cause injury to anyone else?” he asked as if I was on the stand. “NO,” I said, bizarrely proud that in this case I managed only to hurt myself. “Okay, then,” he said, case closed. Having put it in perspective, with no liability and no looming insurance hike, this was not going to be as bad as I had imagined.

Always ready to take advantage of an opportunity, however, this may be the perfect time to tell him about the ticket I just got.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Nov ’11


“Eat, Drink, Be Merry and Give Them Back”

Posted by mwallach on November 27, 2011 in Happy Holidays, My Kids

Dear That’s Life,

Thanksgiving is honestly one of my favorite holidays. I enjoy the preparation, the table decorations and the gathering of friends and loved ones. Unlike all of the other holidays I celebrate, the qualifications for partaking in this one are simply that I am an American. Faith and religion aside, roasting a turkey and sitting down to this meal means I am proud of the country in which I live, appreciating that what joins us together on this day is a love of everything, “red, white and blue,” not how one spends his Saturdays or Sundays.

Like any other neurotic homemaker and host, I spend time poring over cooking magazines, cookbooks and internet sites searching for the newest twist on holiday favorites. And like other holidays, this one has traditions of its own. A friend of mine goes to her aunt’s home where they dress up like pilgrims and Indians (Native Americans?). Many families have a friendly football game or at least enjoy watching those broadcast on national television. Growing up, our Thanksgiving came sans the big game, as it was banned. Seen as a distraction from family time, we were all prohibited from turning it on. A horrible rule, it prompted two responses. To begin, we had to secretly watch behind my mother’s back. Getting caught was never any fun. Secondly, however, it prompted a new tradition in our own homes: the game is now watched in full view of all, on the largest television in the house, in clear defiance of our upbringing. Like petulant children, we need to show that we have changed the rules. Years later, although we are adults with children of our own, my cousins still call on Thanksgiving to smugly ask if we have finally been given permission to watch the game. That phone call, too, has become an honored tradition.

Family time is coveted, although after a certain amount of togetherness, people look forward to returning to their own homes. As someone once explained, the beauty about being a grandparent, aunt or uncle is that you get to play with the children and enjoy their giggles. When the giggles turn to screams, however, or diapers need to be changed, fun time with the kids ends as the children are returned to their parents. They have had their own share of parenting over the years, it was explained. Once those days are over, they are not missed. Have fun, bring them toys, and give them candy – but give them back when they’re bouncing off the walls when their lollypops hit the floor.

Logistics, unfortunately, did not allow for all of us to join together for Thanksgiving. As such, we spent time with some of my family last week. Almost like a pre-Thanksgiving meal, the only thing we missed was the football. My father enjoyed spending some one-on-one time with my son who, out of my six children, is the only one who looks like me. Since I resemble my father, it is three generations of the same face. My father’s baby pictures look just like my son. While it is fun to have a child who seems to be a “mini-you,” except when I feel I am yelling at myself, it can get a little freaky when the three of us are in the same room.

My children all have specific traits that can be attributable to a particular side of the family. Down to their sleeping patterns or affinity for peanut butter, we know who got what from whom. Those who excel at mathematics receive that strength most directly from my husband, while their creativity comes from me. Before my eldest was born, I joked with my husband that if we had a daughter who resembled him but had my (original) coloring, she could be a clone to his mother. Lo and behold, the two are now spitting images of each other. When our next child was born and I was faced with more offspring who looked nothing like me, I did what any other sane woman would do: I dyed my hair to match her color. For years I would be asked, “Does she get her hair from you?” to which I’d respond, “Of course she does.” (Wink, wink.)

Only a number of years later did I get my own clone, and a pretty close replica is he. His personality, however, comes directly from my husband. Although our son often sounds like an 80 year old curmudgeon, as I have described in previous columns, his dry sense of humor and impeccable wit are traits he does not get from me. While some of what he says seems to be lifted right out of my husband’s mouth, even if the words are not his, the tone certainly is.

My son and father walked together Saturday afternoon, the little boy enjoying a lollypop as they went. Inadvertently, he dropped the candy from his hand, landing it in a pile of dirt on the ground. He picked it up, tried to wipe it off, but quickly realized his efforts were in vain. As a result, however, his hands became incredibly sticky. Unlike most children who would wipe their hands on their shirt or pants in an effort to get them clean, my son used my father’s pants as a napkin. Confused, and slightly annoyed, my father called my son out on the offense.

“Why did you just wipe your sticky hands on my pants?” asked the grandfather of his grandson. A brief stare down between the two began, but there was no match. “What?” said the boy, his response laced with sarcasm. “I should get MY pants dirty?”

Ahhh…. So this would be just about the time to give that kid back to his parents…

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Nov 2011


Lessons in Love from Kim

Posted by mwallach on November 11, 2011 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
Much has been said of the Kardashian marriage/wedding debacle. I call it that because marriage is not a sprint – it is a marathon. Anyone who is not in it for the long run should not be in it at all.

Maybe Kim’s marriage should be called a spectacle, rather than qualifying it as an example of this sacred institution. Her wedding’s ratings were beyond network expectations, continuing to be shown in reruns even after the end of the marriage was announced. More is known about the details of her wedding than could ever be necessary. I do not know the cost of my own engagement ring but for some reason, know the original cost of hers, plus its buy-back price.

Dubbed as a fairytale wedding, was the fairytale supposed to last less than 80 days? A friend told me she was concerned that her daughter would look at these celebrity marriages and learn not of the importance and sanctity of such a union, but rather see it as a joke, filled with folly. I reminded her that education begins in the home – her daughter would value marriage because that is what they teach her. And if her daughter wants to get anything out of Kim and what’s-his-name’s wedding, then it should be a couple hours of entertainment. Make some popcorn – then sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Really, that is all it was in the first place.

Having been a young bride, I have always thanked G-d for allowing me to meet my better half early in life. We were not set up on a blind date, we did not meet in some mysterious way nor did our eyes meet across a crowded room. Instead, we had friends in common and I asked him out. Please do not feign your surprise in hearing that I made such a bold move – it makes perfect sense.

It may be a double standard, but if it takes guts for a guy to ask out a girl, it takes even more guts for the opposite to happen. My cousin had a strict rule that if a guy asked her out, even if she did not find him physically attractive, she always said yes. She appreciated the courage it took for a guy to make himself so vulnerable and open to humiliation. Out of respect for that alone, she would agree to a date. She did not want to ever discourage a guy from taking that step in the future because he was embarrassed when someone turned him down the last time he tried. Unfortunately for the guy who asked her out in the elevator at work, she had to break her rule and say no. It’s one thing to ask a girl out and she says no – but it is something totally different when you ask a girl out and she says she’s already married. That’s a whole other level of humiliation.

There are always the childhood friends your kids have that you look at and wonder if, one day, they could end up together. It is not an overt pressure you place on your child, and there is a lot involved in falling in love, but it does cross your mind. You discuss it with your friends. “Wouldn’t it be cute if they ended up together?” you muse. If it only it was that easy. Despite what the on-line dating sites purport on their commercials or Times Square billboards, there is nothing simple about finding your soul mate. And it is not about finding that perfect person, because you are not perfect either. Rather, marriage is about the two of you, with all of your imperfections, being perfect together. I guess Kim never got that memo.

While I do not have childhood memories of playing dress-up or thinking I was a princess, one of my daughters is making up for my lost time. He who dares tell her that she is not, in fact, a true princess will be punished with the fury of a redhead whose voice can reach octaves only dogs can hear. True to her role, she has made it clear that I am the queen, my husband the king, and has assigned all of her siblings’ roles within our kingdom. While she is still too young to imagine her own wedding, if things continue the way they presently are, I am afraid we will one day be paying for a horse-drawn carriage to bring her to the hall on that special day.

Fortunately for her, she has also decided who she would like to marry. Unfortunately for that prince to be, she annoys the living daylights out of him, telling him often that they will be married one day. Having not yet mastered the art of playing hard to get, or at least taking it slowly, she feels the need to harass and harangue him every time we are together as families. It has come to the point that we must remind her to leave him alone even before we see them. The reminders do not always work, however, and he ends up getting understandably frustrated. That never ends well.

Most recently, as we were going to spend the weekend together, I went through the rules. She needed to leave him alone and keep her hands to herself. (Yes: that is also a problem.) While she does not have one malicious bone in her body, she is incapable of leaving well enough alone. Back to her typical modus operandi, she got on his nerves almost as soon as they walked in the door.

The situation came to a head when she would not leave him alone while he was in the bathroom. She was not respecting his privacy, which is not at all acceptable or appropriate. Even before the adults could completely handle the situation, however, he had taken matters into his own hands.

From behind a closed door, he began screaming at her. “Now I’m REALLY not going to marry you!” he said. “I was going to think about it,” he added in a strong tone, “but now I’m NOT.”

Ouch. Rejected in Kindergarten. Maybe she can sell their pictures to People magazine, have the scene replayed on E!and still make something out of this. Ahhh…what dreams are made of.
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Nov ’11


Hello, My Name is…

Posted by mwallach on November 9, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
The naming of a child is not something to be taken lightly, and rightfully so. It is not a creative writing assignment. The name upon which a child is bestowed shapes who he is as an individual, sticking with him for life. I know the care and consideration my husband and I took in the naming of our kids, though I wonder if sometimes, people just pick names out of a hat.

In my opinion, the name “Miriam” is a tough one to take through life. A friend had told me he and his wife had considered it for their daughter but went with a different “M” name instead. I told him that speaking from experience, they had made a wise decision.

Constantly butchered and commonly mispronounced, I often use one of a series of aliases when needing to leave my name somewhere or place an order. It is easier than having to spell my name or face when it is destroyed by someone who has either never heard of Moses and his siblings or by a telemarketer who just cannot read. A good friend calls me “Marriot” because my name could be mistaken for that as well.

“Marion” and “Maryann” are the two names I use as alternates to “Miriam.” A number of years ago, I wrote an article about how a local pharmacist named Marion with whom I was friendly shared that she tells people her name is Miriam because she is often called that instead of her own name. In our local Five Towns enclave, they hear her say, “Miriam” not “Marion” and in an effort to avoid her own personal frustration, she just calls herself by that name. When I told her that I do the exact same thing, except I use her name as a default the same way she uses mine, we both got a good laugh. I could not imagine how she could possibly find “Miriam” to be easier than “Maryann”. In my opinion, hers was the golden ticket to a cleanly spoken name.

The one place where mispronunciations happen most often is at the coffee shop. With so many drinks prepared at once, patrons are asked their names in order for the cups to be properly labeled. In theory, it makes perfect sense. In practice it usually works pretty well and allows the customer to feel that added, personal touch. For me, I get that warm fuzzy feeling when my pretend name is said correctly. That is enough for me.

I stood on line with my husband at a coffee shop in Manhattan about a year ago. “Your name for the cup?” asked the woman behind the counter. “Maryann,” I said, without missing a beat. “REALLY?” said my husband. “Maryann?!” I smiled, explaining that it was just easier than listening to someone get my name wrong or having to spell it out. It is just too complicated and this way was simpler. Success was attained when both my name and my drink were correct.

The irony becomes when I use one of my trusted aliases only for that name to be destroyed as well. Then I get really frustrated.
As if lightning struck twice, I happen to have frequented the same coffee shop twice in one day but at very different times. (And if you think this is an opportunity to give me a lecture about coffee drinking, save it: I drink decaf.) The personnel had changed and I saw no one in common between my visits. Despite that, each visit elicited some kind of funny experience. While a normal person may have only had one such interaction, I am not normal.

A low-maintenance coffee drinker, I only take milk in my cup of joe. Ear buds in and music blaring, I did not notice anyone standing around me as I placed my order. “Name for the cup?” asked the gentleman behind the counter. “Mary,” I said as I took the bud out of my right ear, shortening my alias even further, laughing as I gave my fake name a nickname.

“MARY?” said the gentleman behind me. I turned, only to notice a man, who seemed my age, wearing a yarmulke, standing right in front of me. “Really?” he said with a smile. Taking a good look at me, he did not believe my name was Mary, as it is not a name typically used by Orthodox Jews. I laughed. “It’s much easier than my real name,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. When my drink was ready, “Mary” picked up her coffee at the counter and went on her way. Later in the day, on my way home, I stopped back at the store, needing another drink before my commute. “Mary” was so successful the last time, I tried it again. My iced coffee order placed, I waited for my current name to be called, except it never was.

“Marie?” I heard, only to look up and see my drink on the counter, but with the wrong name. “A decaf iced coffee for Marie?” said the woman again. I could not believe it. Marie? Really? Come on. I knew she meant me, and yet, here I was. My plan to have a simple, understandable name, was over.

Even “Mary” wasn’t safe. I looked at the cup, saw the name and knowing I was back at the square one of name mispronunciations, I took my drink, my name now “Marie”.

My face fell. Even my fake name was getting butchered. Stunned and dejected, I took the drink off the counter. Heading towards the door, feeling as if I needed to defend myself, I said in a barely audible voice, “My name is MARY.”
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Nov ’11


Flying with Kids (and Without a ‘Chute)

Posted by mwallach on October 28, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,

No one wants to be the hated family on a flight. We’ve all been there. The flight when your baby screams for what seems to be a lifetime, with lung capacity rivaling that of opera singers. When everyone stares at you, wondering why you cannot get your child to be quiet, deciding you must be a terrible parent. The time when you discover, the hard way, that your toddler has a raging ear infection. Or, perhaps, when you learn that the Benedryl you gave your daughter to knock her out actually had the opposite effect. So much for being asleep in her seat – now she’s bouncing off the walls. Instead of a flying tin can, you wish for a white padded room, as do all of the people sitting around you.

Only once you have received the stares and jeers of total strangers on a plane can you appreciate the plight of others as their child turns into Damien. We have all shared similar experiences. How many times have you cleaned up vomit on an international flight? Now you never fly without a spare set of clothing for you and every member of your family. Have you ever thrown out soiled clothing on an airplane, having no interest in taking it home with you? I’ve been there, having recently thrown out an outfit in Roosevelt Field, after stripping my toddler down to her diaper in the middle of the mall. A bunch of wipes, a quick wardrobe change and a large dose of Purell later, we were good as new. As parents, we have to learn to go with the flow.

We all have our own in-flight horror stories, either as the parent with the unmanageable child or as the fellow passenger. When my nephew was younger, he became inconsolable, almost enraged, when he awoke mid-flight to find he had missed the dinner service. A boy who never skips a meal and loves his food, he screamed, called his mother a liar and carried on while the darkened cabin that had been filled with sleeping passengers was now waking to a preschooler’s tantrum. Even after he was given a snack and visited the on-board kitchen, he was still in despair, as the many around him can attest.

On our most recent flight, screaming babies seemed to have been carrying on in unison, a cacophonous choir from hell. My daughter had a solo. Bodies of nearby passengers stiffened as one, their weary eyes catching each other’s glances, wondering if this was to be their fate for the next twelve hours on an international flight. I looked around, saw their body language and announced that my daughter would certainly settle down. “Once she falls asleep,” I said, “she’ll be fine.” They did not believe me, not that I blamed them. You have to know your child, however, and we do. Once she calmed down, she slept for almost ten hours, including landing. We actually had to wake her to get her to disembark.

Our arrival on board had not gone unnoticed, as we filled two rows of seats. One woman could not hide her horrified face as we trudged through the aisle on our way to the assigned seats. She, however, had been sitting in the front of the plane as the custom of many airlines is to sit those with small children in the rear of the aircraft. “Don’t worry,” I said to her, “we’re sitting in the back.” The gentleman walking in front of me turned around and said, “Then I guess I should worry – I’m sitting in the back, too.” I raised my shoulders. “Guess so,” I said, knowing full well my kids are good flyers, but having no interest in letting him off the hook that easily.

“You don’t seem like a parent who is fazed by much of anything,” someone said to me recently, specifically about taking my family on a long flight. “No,” I confirmed. “I’m really not.” Neither is my husband. She, on the other hand, had just told her eldest that they went nowhere as a family until everyone was toilet trained. I appreciated that, knowing just how much fun it is to change a toddler on a moving aircraft at 30,000 feet using a changing table meant for Cabbage Patch Kids. In my case, however, if I waited for everyone to be toilet trained before we travelled, we would never leave the house.

A plane is like a moving city. Everything needed is available on board, and no one gets off until all get off. The result is a captive audience, or just captives. The reality is that passengers on a flight are all in it together. No one wants to have an unpleasant experience, and no one wants to be labeled a “bad parent.” It is what it is – and you just have to make the best of it.

After arriving home safely, I happened to meet someone in the supermarket who had been on our flight. “I guess you did not get any sleep,” he said. Confused, I said I had slept for a number of hours, only to realize what he had assumed. “The screaming child was not my daughter,” I said. A bit surprised, he said, “Really?” I smiled. Having had a very difficult flight, we empathized with the family of the screaming baby and the sick child who watched the minutes tick by, praying the flight would end quickly. He agreed, having been there himself as a parent, adding however that he’d take a screaming child on a plane over the problems faced by older kids any day. “Big kids, big problems,” I said, “little kids, little problems.” We smiled.

I felt for that family, but was honestly happy it was not me. He and I spoke for a couple minutes more, confusion cleared. “So, since she was not your kid,” he said, “man, did she have a set of lungs or what?!”

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Oct ’11


A Moving City

Posted by mwallach on October 25, 2011 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,

Taking a long flight overseas requires a certain amount of guts and copious amounts of patience. Akin to a flying city, all of its citizens have signed up in exchange for safe passage to a particular destination. Confined to a small space but with enough room to move around, there are clear benefits to flying business class or even first, if money is no object. For the rest of us, economy class – or steerage – will do just fine.

I flew business class only once, when my son was an infant. Desperately needing to see my ailing grandfather at the last minute, we took the only ticket available. To the chagrin of those around me, I settled into my seat as the faces of the other passengers wondered in horror if I was really seated amongst them. He was an angel the entire trip, never making a peep, even when he was hungry or needed to be changed. After we landed, I was approached by a fellow passenger. “Your baby was perfect,” she said, only to add, “because I have to tell you that when I saw you stop in Business with him, I really was not happy.” As it was her face that stuck out in my mind from when I initially sat in my seat, I said, “I know.”

Because of the challenges faced, the degree of difficulty and the skill needed, flying with children could be declared an Olympic sport. Many professional sports teams will admit that no matter how much preparation one does, sometimes, a good outcome is just not in the cards. It is unfortunate, but the child who gets sick aboard the flight or the angry nearby passenger cannot be predicted nor necessarily helped. Points can be earned by using one’s skills to manage said challenges the same way a downhill skier passes a gate – deftly, accurately and without tumbling headfirst down the mountain. Should you successfully manage these obstacles, advancing to the next round is guaranteed.

Flights to Israel are particularly challenging. They are long, often going straight through the night, and are filled with exhausted passengers. While I am certain other international flights of the same length pose similar if not the exact same problems, I have never flown any other route of such a distance with my children. My point of experience comes only from those flights.

As our family has thankfully grown, the pre-flight preparations have become multi-faceted. There are those who can pull their own clothes after equipped with a list of necessary items, and those whose idea of a good time is seeing if they can physically fit in the luggage, only to pop out of a duffle bag and scream, “Boo!” Once on board, however, everyone needs to be entertained. With the advent of technology, in-flight entertainment takes the form of anything whose sustainable battery power for the flight. While I remember as a child finishing books of Mad Libs, coloring as many pictures as time allowed and getting decks of cards from flight attendants, those days are over. No more plastic junior pilot pins for the young ones on board – now is the time of ipods, ipads and netbooks. Looking around at my family, we look as if we’ve recently robbed a Best Buy.

Before taking my first flight with children, I received additional sagacious advice from my already wise aunt. Everyone needs to stretch their legs at some point or another, she said, and kids are no different. She also pointed out how important sleep is to everyone on board, including young ones. Let them walk the aisles, she advised, going back and forth, back and forth. “They can’t get off,” she said, and so I took that advice. When my eldest was only a toddler and not yet walking I let her crawl up and down the aisles, walking behind her the entire time. “Is that a dog?” someone asked me, a tinge of horror in her voice. “No,” I said, “It’s a little girl.”

When she was older and we had three children, there was a much more challenging situation with a woman who had never before flown the New York – Tel Aviv route. She did not know that the airplane’s aisles, especially towards the rear of the aircaraft, turned into an adhoc synagogue. Without warning, men fill the aisles, don their prayer shawls and begin praying. It can be overwhelming to those who have never before experiences it, and even more unnerving to those who have never before engaged in communal prayer. Seems this woman had not done either –and sitting in front of my 6 year old daughter was not helping matters.

Only a couple of hours into the flight, she proceeded to yell at my child for what seemed were a number of various grievances. Mother hawk that I am, I turned to the woman, sternly asked her to speak directly to me if there was an issue and instructed her not to address my daughter again. With men praying on all sides of us, she began to rant about all of which bothered her on the flight, including the prayer services.

“Is this your first time on the New York City – Tel Aviv route?” I asked her. She confirmed that indeed, it was. While I was certain it would be her last, “Well, welcome aboard!” was all I could respond, my comment dripping with sarcasm. “This is like a moving city,” I explained, “and there is nothing to do about it but deal.”

Resigning not to go quietly into the night, she then proceeded to criticize me as a mother, question my skills and continue complaining about my daughter. Even before I had the chance to return fire, however, my husband joined the festivities. After he intervened, yelled right back and told her just how life was going to be for the duration of the flight, she plopped her head down on her tray in defeat, covering her head with a blanket.

The final scores from the judges were not back in time, but my husband confidently moved into medal contention after that round. To say she was silent until we reached JFK is an understatement. The only sounds that could be her around her were the voices of men praying.

Game. Set. Match.


Yup – She’s Ours

Posted by mwallach on October 15, 2011 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
It is unclear why I am still surprised by what my kids say. They are, in fact, my children, capable of anything. “Out of the mouths of babes” and “Kids say the darndest things” applies here on a daily basis. Somehow, their comments reflect their personalities. “I hope you wrote that one down,” says my husband’s grandmother each time I share the newest pearls of wisdom uttered by my offspring. I confess that I don’t – as the comments come fast and furiously – and then I remember that I write a column.

My daughter, who struggles like many other children with the pronunciation of certain letter combination and sounds, works very hard on those corrections. “Th” continues to be her greatest challenge. It often takes a number of reminders and retries before she pronounces the word, although it comes with great applause and personal satisfaction. To her credit, she does not get discouraged – she is proud of herself when she gets it right. In effort to show her she was not alone, a friend of mine told of her own personal struggle with the same letter combination.
“When I was little,” explained my friend, “there was an ice cream store called Thrifty’s.” Unfortunately, she consistently mispronounced it as “Frifty’s”, forgetting to stick her tongue out from between her lips as she said the TH. Before she was allowed to get ice cream, she had to say the name correctly. “I had to say Thrifty’s instead of Frifty’s before I could have any,” she told my daughter, although my little girl was not following the train of thought. Staring at her blankly, she said, “I go to Carvel,” only to add, “but I don’t have any trouble saying that…”

Her twin brother often has some one-liners that make me cringe, some that make me wonder and some that leave me shocked. Walking into his room one night this week, I noticed the train wreck that seemed to have hit my home. Toys were strewn everywhere, his train set was out, the wreckage seemingly spread out for miles. Annoyed at the destruction and apparent disregard for his belongings, I said, “Why did you trash your room again?” As if he was deep into his teen years, though he is far from it, his reply came with the same tone as one would expect from a true adolescent. “Ma,” he said tersely, “I was working on a project.” Even before I could ask him what he was doing, he readily explained. “I was building Europe,” he said. Stunned, I turned on my heels and walked out of his room. When your preschool son tells you he’s building Europe, there is not much else you can do.

My toddler, too, has come into her own. While I used to sing her a song called, “My Mommy Loves Me ‘Cuz I Don’t Talk Back,” those days are over. She no longer goes silently into the night, content to be towed around and easy to please. Now, she refuses to sit in her high chair, screaming the word, “No!” at anything to which she objects, immediately rejecting food not to her liking. Her newest protest is against wearing a diaper decorated with any character other than Elmo. “No Cookie Monster!” she yelled, grabbing the diaper and throwing it half way across the room. “Are you kidding me?!” I asked her, to which I received a growl and a repeated “No Cookie Monster,” this time in a husky voice. Slightly afraid of the dybbuk that momentarily took over my toddler, I comply, knowing I will have to fight her inner demon another day, hoping it will not be while she lies on my bed without a diaper.

I know it is not their fault, fully aware that if we had brought home a child from the hospital who did not end up being feisty, we would surely be more concerned. I had hopes for her as it seemed she was starting differently from the others. Entering the terrible twos and the youngest of six, however, she does what needs to be done to ensure she is not forgotten. The irony is that she is so loved by each of her siblings, all of whom want to be with her and can’t get enough. Able to hold her own, however, she lets them know when she wants her space or if she has had enough. Even I have been put in my place. Feeling the need to kiss her uncontrollably, she was done with me way before I had filled my need. A loud, “Stop it, Mommy!” could be heard down the stairs, prompting me to both back off and laugh hysterically.

The passing of Steve Jobs affirms a personal realization that I still cannot figure out how to do anything on my ipad besides play music and watch movies. As I reflect on that truth, my two-year old pulls up her favorite Elmo game on my ipad, without help. “My pie-pad,” she says, bopping back and forth as Elmo’s voice comes through the speakers. Now that Jobs has passed, I guess I will have to rely on my toddler for assistance. After all, she thinks it is hers anyway. She told me so.

Guess we brought home the right one after all.
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Oct ’11

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Excuse Me, Are You Jewish?

Posted by mwallach on October 10, 2011 in My Kids, New To You

Dear That’s Life,

There is often a comfort in numbers – a benefit to having shared the same experience with others. While I appreciate that my kids are not the only children to engage in the following behavior, it does not make me feel better to know that your child does this, too. And though I appreciate their curiosity and the general inquisitiveness with which they approach life, it would be nice if they would sometimes function as silent observers rather than the world’s constant commentators.

Often while in public forums, some of my children tend to question people about their own religious beliefs. Could be a stranger or someone they know peripherally, but the youngest in my crew feel the need to poll others around them at inopportune times. I am not sure when a good time would be for my son to take a head count of Jews in a room, or a department store or a crowded elevator. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly causes a rather uncomfortable situation that I wish had been avoided.

Getting a haircut on a Friday afternoon, running quickly out of time, my son plopped himself down in the barber’s chair. Although this was not the store we usually frequented, we were going to take what we could get, appreciating this location was open. Quickly doing a head count – and I mean that literally – my son piped up. “Is this store going to be open tomorrow?” he asked, knowing full well he was inquiring as to whether it would be open on shabbos. “Yes,” I answered, knowing where this was going, afraid of what was coming next. “You mean no one here is Jewish?!” he said loudly. “No,” I answered, hoping this was the end of the interrogation, momentarily relieved when it was.

It does not occur to my son that he, in fact, is often the odd man out. With the soup-bowl like kippah covering his head in truly skullcap fashion, it does not take much to notice him as a Jewish child. His flowing tzizit confirm his identity. We teach our children to be proud Jews and I often shudder when my husband insists they don baseball caps instead of kippot before arriving at a particular destination. It seems I don’t appreciate what it feels like to wear a kippah in public, or so I’ve been told. Apparently, my daily hair covering can be viewed as stylish while the statement being made by a yarmulka is never confused with fashion. 99 out of 100 times, however, my son is dressed exactly how I described. Although he is actually the one who stands out, it is those with no fringes or enormous head covering, in his opinion, who are the strange ones. The irony makes me smile.

That is, until, we are on line in a store and my little pollster is out and about. To clarify: my son cannot be found walking up and down aisles with a clip board, asking, “Are you Jewish?” of every person he sees. It is not as calculated as that but it often seems close. Knowing that check out would not be swift, a full shopping cart in tow, I lifted him onto the counter so he could sit while I kept him within reach. The pleasant staff behind the counter was mostly Indian, my son in his headgear sticking out like a sore thumb. We were certainly not the first Jews they had ever seen or that had been customers. They smiled at my son and I exchanged pleasantries with the woman who began scanning my items. Never to miss an opportunity, my son began a scanning of his own.

“These people aren’t Jewish,” he said to me in a voice more audible than I would have preferred. “No, they’re not,” I said, only to add, “and what difference does it make?” He did not answer, not because he had not heard me, but because he was still mid-thought. Turning his attention to the cashier, he then asked her, “Are you Jewish?” She smiled but did not answer. He is cute and inquisitive – but I would rather he had been cute, inquisitive and silent.

“It’s enough,” I sternly whispered in his ear. “You need to keep your voice down and you’re being rude.” He pursed his lips as if about to motion that he was locking his mouth shut. “It is not polite to ask people questions like that and you don’t need to comment on everything and everyone you see,” I said. “Sometimes you just look and notice – that is all.” Very observant, he heard the ‘noticing’ part of my comment while the ‘don’t comment’ part fell on deaf ears. And like a torpedo that loses its initial target, he continues seeking a new one to destroy. My son needed something else to observe and on which to comment, and he honed in on me.

“What’s that on your neck?” he asked, as if making a complete 180 degree turn with a slight edge of horror in his (again) too audible tone. “It is a beauty mark,” I explained. “We’ve discussed it before.” He gave me one quick nod. “Right,” he said, “All ladies get them when they get old.” The nice cashier burst out in laughter. There was no need for any further uncomfortable comments about religion. I had been a successful detonation.

Struck by his comment, I stared straight ahead. “That’s NOT what I said about beauty marks,” I told him, annoyed that I had just loudly been declared an old lady. “No,” he said, “That’s what I say about them.”

I rolled my eyes. There was nothing left to say. If nothing else, at least his search for a minyan was over. For that, I thanked G-d.


Chocolate is Not a Food Group

Posted by mwallach on October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

Dear That’s Life,

It takes a true sadist, or nutcase, to diet during the holidays. As usual, I qualify for both categories. As I seem to be starring in a food version of “Temptation Island,” the promise to start my diet “tomorrow” has passed through my lips almost as often as the cookies I have eaten. How many slices of challah drizzled with honey is really too many? The jury is still out. Nevertheless, an intervention was necessary – especially since the source of my motivation to diet is hanging in my closet.

The dress is not even mine. That’s the irony. I am stressing about getting into someone else’s dress. It would be one thing if it was my money that had been spent on the garment or if it had fit before I had children. Neither of those are the case. “You’re depressed that you can’t fit into someone else’s dress?” asked my husband. “Yes!” I exclaimed. He shook his head in disbelief. “Even for you,” he said, “this is a good one.” While he asked me to confirm that I knew this was completely irrational, I did not care. Rosh Hashannah or not, if the goal is to get into this dress, there was no time to waste.

One of my closest friends is getting married and I decided to wear a dress of hers that I adore. Yes: I am planning to wear her dress to her wedding. While I appreciate that may not be the classiest move, I am over it. And referring to it as a dress does not do it justice. It is truly a gown, full skirt and all. I knew I would have to diet for it to fit, my friend being narrower that I am. I did not appreciate, however, that I was going to have to remove a couple of ribs as well.

There is a considerable gap between the two sides of the gown. I was sort of hoping it was missing a piece, but alas, it is not and the zipper works fine. The dress is complete the way it is, waiting patiently for me to slim down enough to make it fit. Finishing losing the weight from my last pregnancy has always been a goal, though each time I try, I lose interest. I make progress, until I remember I like cake. As a result, I am still ten to fifteen pounds away from my goal. Like many other Americans, I do not want to be on a diet my entire life. If I totaled the weight I put on with every pregnancy and how much I have lost after each one, it would comfortably exceed 250 lbs. Simply put: I was burnt out. I just did not want to do it anymore. Then I brought the dress home and everything changed.

Not that they get a vote, but my children have made it clear they do not think I can pull off the gown in the first place. It is pretty bold, the skirt filled with swags of ribbons, almost looking like feathers. Everyone has had a chance to take note of the gown, as it hangs so openly on my closet door, serving as a constant reminder. “You’re going to look like Big Bird,” said one of my daughters. “I love this dress,” I responded, reaffirming my commitment to wear it to the wedding. She looked at the dress, took note of my height and repeated herself. “Big Bird,” she said again. “The dress is black – not yellow,” I said, but she could not be convinced otherwise. So be it, I thought. Even if I someone calls me Big Bird, I have been called worse.

There are a number of dieting tag lines that I have been fed over the years. “Nothing tastes as good as being thin makes you feel,” is one I have seen a number of times. There may be some truth to that, but not if you like Haagen Dazs. That is good stuff. Then there’s, “It’s not a diet – it is a way of life.” That may be my favorite because my way of life is having a danish with my coffee. True to being my father’s daughter, chocolate and cake are necessities akin to air and water. Somehow, I am going to have to fit into this dress and eat a Hershey kiss, too.

While the weekly “weighing in” program works for most people, it does not help me as a long term plan. I need to check in more often, as I tend to treat myself right after I step off the scale. If I can be held accountable more than once a week, then I have a better chance of not handsomely rewarding myself. Losing a couple of pounds only to go out for dinner that night and finish a bowl of fettuccine alfredo is clearly counterproductive, but it was not stopping me either. The other problem is that I need someone to check on me and keep me in line. Almost like a weight loss sponsor, I must be able to turn to someone who will ask me how I am doing, what I’ve eaten, how much water I have had to drink and how many Hershey’s miniatures I’ve eaten before noon. Hopefully, the answer will be ‘zero.’

For anyone who has struggled with those last ten pounds or does not even know where to start, weight loss is a battle. Right now, it is not about the scale – it is about the dress. While I have no intention of going over board, I want to put the dress on and have it close. I may look like I belong on Sesame Street when this is all over, but in this case, that will be a good thing.
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Oct 2011


Apples, Ice Cream and Laughter

Posted by mwallach on October 4, 2011 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,

No matter what holiday you celebrate, we all have traditions. They take the form of a favorite set of dishes, kept tucked away for special occasions, or a seasonal recipe, made at a particular time of year. Whatever the case may be, when you see those items, your home is transported and changed. It is no longer just your house – it is a manifestation of the holiday.

In celebration of Rosh Hashannah, I prepare a number of items we do not otherwise eat. A lesson I learned from my aunt in regard to another holiday, when my family sees these foods, they know the New Year is here. It is not as though they would not know otherwise, singing, “Dip the Apple in the Honey” for about three weeks so far and blowing shofars in the house like a call to arms. Food, however, is different. Although I am a weekly challah baker, there is one variation I make only now as part of our wish that G-d bless us with a sweet new year. Cinnamon and sugar top my round holiday challahs, as opposed to the sesame or poppy seeds used for a typical braided one. The combination of this warmed challah shmeared with honey is the perfect way to start the meal, something I could not do without.

A variety of special foods with symbolic meaning are eaten by many over the holiday, all of which represent blessings we hope G-d will bestow upon us. Pomgranates, carrots, beets, white beans, fish and the famous apple are all part of the meal, eaten in stages, a particular blessing accompanying each one. Not enough to simply serve each item, our table becomes a quasi-cocktail hour, appetizers passed around on small plates. Dates wrapped in pastrami or puff pastry filled with sweetened squash are part of the mix, as they are more fun than serving just dates and squash left plainly on a plate, each with their own symbolic meaning. Our meal is different but for us, this is what we do, what we love and what we look forward to each year.

As part of our tradition, we also go apple picking on a Sunday before the holiday starts, returning to the same farm we have visited for years. It is nice to see the owners who often comment on how much the kids have grown. We take pictures in their field of sunflowers, stage shots of the kids being hoisted up to the highest branches, and make sure to pick more apples than one could ever need. With six varieties presently available, we could not resist coming home with overflowing bags and plenty to share. This custom would not be complete, however, without at least one child having a meltdown or someone else protesting against going in the first place. Like Tevye, however, I am my own Fiddler on the Roof and bellow about tradition. Like it or not, we were going and this year, we went with friends.

We stop along the way at certain places near the orchard that, for some reason, have become part of our routine. Included in this illustrious group of establishments is a 7-11 where we often pick up snacks and use the facilities. Although the store had not moved and was clearly where we left it, somehow, we drove right by, forcing us to make a u-turn through a car dealership in an effort to turn around. The ride to the farm had already been longer than usual, and we were all a bit edgy. Confused when we turned into a Porsche dealer, my friend’s youngest son needed confirmation of the day’s activities. “I thought we were going apple picking,” he said, “not looking at sports cars.”

Experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year, the orchard was much warmer than we expected. By the time our bags were filled, our patience were exhausted and we were all in a complete sweat. Setting the air conditioning on “max”, we sat for a moment as our bodies returned to their normal temperatures.

As a person who does not like warm weather, however, and looks forward to shoveling snow, heat often gets the best of me. I love the change in seasons, watching the leaves is one of my favorite perks of living in New York. If our hottest summer days never go higher than 80 degrees, that would be just fine with me. As such, I get incredibly cranky and often increasingly irrational when it gets warm. The weather on the farm was unexpected and I was not dressed appropriately. Long sleeves were not in order, let alone layered with an additional shirt underneath. As happy as I was we had fulfilled this tradition, I was now very cranky and ready to go.

Apple picking, however, would not be complete without one final tradition: stopping for ice cream on the way home. It was already late, however, and I was ornery. (At least I can admit it, right?) Our ice cream order was taking much longer than necessary, compelling me to send furiously impatient texts to my husband. Having remained in the car with our younger children while he waited for our order to be filled, I watched time tick by. In contrast, my kids were remarkably calm and patient, but were ready for a snack.

Knowing the car was filled with our bounty, one of my youngest daughters said, “Mommy, can I have an apple?” Without realizing how this sounded, however, I looked at her and, in all seriousness said, “No apples now – you’re about to have ice cream.” Right after the words came out of my mouth, I stopped, stared straight ahead, took note of the irony, and laughed out loud. Not one of my finer moments, but certainly a funny one.

Here’s to a year of apples, ice cream and all things sweet in between: Happy New Year to us all.

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Sept 2011

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