Friday, March 28, 2014

Double Digit Defiance - The Ugly Side of Raising a Confident Kid

Dear Alex,

Sometimes these blog posts write themselves if you wait long enough.  There was one recent event that I had hoped to relay to you in your ten year old birthday letter from me - and I will get to it here - but in the meantime, several other events nearly identical in what they say about you as a ten year old have emerged.

If one of your dad's nicknames is Easily Excitable Eric, I think one of yours should be Overly Opinionated Alex (Absolutely Arrogant Alex has better alliteration, but is a bit too strong).  As you reach your pre-teen years, you have taken an approach in letting people know exactly where you stand, regardless of their position in life, regardless of whether that opinion might hurt someone's feelings.  You just have an opinion and come hell or high water, you are going to let everyone know.

Of course, my (typical) response to this type of behavior is to try and prove your opinion wrong.  To change what you think because it bothers me that you believe there only to be right and wrong, black and white in the world, with absolutely no shades of grey.  This is, of course, what it means to be ten years old and to find your place in the world, but it still bothers me.

At ten years old you say things like:

  • To your teacher, Mrs. Spiech "Homework planners are POINTLESS. If all of our worksheets are in our homework folders, why should we have to write down in a planner that we need to complete those worksheets!"

  • To your Auntie Dawn who lives in Manhattan (and just treated you to a fantastic night in the city, complete with dinner in the East Village, tickets to Blue Man Group and your very own iPad mini) "New York is a terrible place to live.  It smells.  It's dirty.  Apartments are small.  There is little grass and trees."

  • To me and to anyone who will listen about your future college ambitions "I'm definitely going to live in LA when I grow up.  I'm going to go to UCLA.  I'm going to live near Hollywood.  UCLA is the best/the only/the most fantastic of film schools in the country.  There are no other good places to learn how to become a director, be in the film industry."

As the mother to this ten year old, I respond:

  • Alex, you cannot speak to your teacher that way.  It is inappropriate to speak to a person in a position of authority in that manner. (Although, secretly I'm kind of proud that you feel confident enough to stand up to someone in a position of authority.)

  • Alex, if you hate Manhattan so much, I can PROMISE you that these yearly extravagant celebrations with your Aunt are DONE.  Why should she do so many nice things for you if all you do in return is say horrible things to her about the place she has chosen to make her home.  Oh and by the way, if you're so keen to visit London, you better be prepared because all those things that you say you hate about Manhattan are EXACTLY the same in London. (Although secretly I cannot WAIT to take you to the great cities of Europe.)

  • Alex, do you really think Los Angeles is all that great?  The smog and pollution there from all the cars is WAY worse than the pollution here in Manhattan.  And you better do your research before you go around saying that UCLA is the only school that has the type of program you want.  What about USC?  What about NYU?  You sound ignorant and uninformed when you paint the world as so completely black and white.  (Although secretly, I love that you have such ambition and drive, a true north, at such a young age.)
This is your evolving personality at ten.  However, most of the time you continue to be just who you have always have been - you find joy in both base humor and erudite language, you love movies, you love video games, you love being with friends, you love a good book, you love hamburgers, you often pretend to be annoyed by (but secretly love the attention from) your sister, you feel frustrated by those things at which you are not immediately perfect including spelling, punctuation, handwriting, baseball, basketball.  You are most definitely my child, made in my image, which makes me both love you and feel for you fiercely.

Happy tenth birthday, Alex!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Making me proud

When I think about what idyllic children should be, this is one of the images that floats into my head.

Alex reading to a clean, freshly showered and pajama-clad Avery before bed last night.

Simply heartwarming.

Korean Mikvah

I've been procrastinating writing this post. It has been mulling around in my head for the past two and half months, but still I have been struggling to put the proverbial pen to paper.  Maybe because there is an element of sacrilege to it.

I guess I'll start with the basics.  What is a mikvah?  If you want to learn a lot about it, you can check out this website: 
or you can just go to to read it described as a ritual bath to which Orthodox Jews are traditionally required to go on certain occassions, as before the sabbath and after each menstrual period, to cleanse and purify themselves.

Basically a deep pool like this one:

I think most modern Americans associate water and purity ceremonies with baptism, not Judaism, but here it is, the most observant among us go not once to 'join the club', but rather WEEKLY, before EVERY Shabbat to ensure purity of mind, body and soul.

Sure, I could have the time to do that myself, but then my kids would likely not have Shabbat dinner. :)

Still there is something about water and ritual and silence and meditation that appeals to me.  Maybe not weekly, but certainly this ever elusive me-time would be welcomed monthly? Seasonally?  And then there is reality-I manage to eek out one afternoon a year for this.  Usually the last week of December when things have calmed down at work, but it is not an affiliated mikvah I head to; rather a Korean spa called King Sauna in Palisades Park.

When you arrive, you are given a locker key and a set of utilitarian, almost communist-like uniform.  You head directly to the locker room, take a deep breath and get completely naked to walk into the women's spa, pictured below:

Yes. I wrote completely naked.  But so is everyone else.  And you can just check your ego in that locker along with the rest of your belongings, because there will be women who are older than you and younger than you, ones with more scars than you and less scars than you, ones who are skinnier and fatter than you, ones who are more and less beautiful than you.

There are generations of families (grandmother, mother and daughter) who are hanging out (naked!) in pools that range from boiling hot to icy cold.  There are steam rooms.  There are showers.  There are tables on which you can get the most amazing body scrub, facial and massage from women who speak very little English.

The purification that happens for me in this room is that of feeling better about my own body.  

When I am feeling quite waterlogged, I put on the uniform of pink shorts and t-shirt and head to one of the many co-ed healing rooms.  Below is a picture of the mineral salt room:

In these rooms, you sit on a mat on the ground in silence surrounded by men and women who are also silent.  Some appear to be asleep, but most are just quiet.  There are many rooms with different types of minerals or healing properties like the one pictured above, but there are also recliner chairs in rows in front of televisions where people just lie down in their uniforms to take naps.

The purification that happens for me in these areas is very much connected to the mind.  It is difficult for me to be among a group of people, albeit strangers, and be completely silent.  It is also freeing and after some time I relax into letting my mind wander and be free.

Then there is the food.  Which is fantastic and is served cafeteria style as seen below:

I eat lots of spicy and savory veggies and noodles and drink lots of water and sit on a bright salmon pink oversized chair and watch soap operas.  It is the only day of the year that I would ever consider watching a soap opera and four years into visiting King Sauna, I would say that my trip would not be complete without it.

So I have already written about the purification of body and mind.  Does this mean that the food I eat and soap operas I watch serve as purification of the soul?  As delicious as the food is (and as trashy as the TV is), the answer is no.  For me, connection with the soul has never been in silence and always involves music.  Sometimes it's voices raised in prayer and sometimes it's just a song that strikes me.  

I had not set out to write a review of King Sauna; instead I had intended to write about the importance of ritual across different cultures and faiths.  It didn't work out the way I planned, but I am still pleased because I learned something about myself and the sheer importance of the role of music in my life.  It all makes sense.