When this pandemic was well underway and I recognized that I would not quickly return to my normal life, I had an epiphany of sorts. Much of what I had taken for granted, such as being able to make a lunch date with a friend, was not a “given” but a privilege that could evaporate at any time with no notice. I was privileged and hadn’t even known it.

Lately I have been experiencing uncomfortable feelings that are difficult to articulate, and even harder to tolerate. The anger is easy for me to identify and even embrace, as it emboldens me, and makes me feel strong and powerful. Displacing my rage too often lately, though, is a feeling that sickens me. It feels like being pushed around, and it smacks of defeat, discouragement, impotence, powerlessness, and helplessness. It is a feeling that greatly disagrees with me and my constitution.

Even as a young adult, I had a high internal locus of control, the belief that outcomes are within my control rather than independent of my efforts. In my decision making, I tend to be guided by my strong principles, and I have been known at times to pursue what I feel is right even after I’ve been told it is not an option. Intermittently reinforced by my success turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’, I tend to view no’s as suggestions, not hard stops. I have a strong sense of agency, in short.

I don’t like to be pushed around any more than anyone, but abuse of power particularly enrages me. When I was 18, I took a leather skirt to the dry cleaners. When I came to pick it up, I discovered it had been ruined. Half the skirt was no longer a light-colored, distressed brown leather, but instead was a sleek, uniform dark brown. The owner did not apologize, offer to pay for it, or even offer to make the rest of the skirt the same dark color (which, frankly, looked better). Instead, the small, older man took my claim ticket, tucked it in his shirt pocket, smiled an evil smile, and said, “We’re starting a new transaction now.” It took every ounce of strength I had not to leap over the counter and grab the man by his wrinkled throat, but in a colossal act of restraint, I took him to small claims court instead. This man who thought he could do whatever he wanted to other people and get away with it could have been an SS guard in a former life and the President of the United States of America in this one.

Abuse of power infuriates me all the more when it impacts those with few resources and little agency or voice. Once, mistreated and lied to by a medical company, I became consumed with the thought that if they were doing it to me, they were also doing this to patients who may not know their rights or may be too sick to do anything about it and would simply fail treatment. Infuriated, in the name of every sick patient who ever lived or died, I breathed fire into a certified letter to the company, promising to contact every governing body including their own accrediting agency if they didn’t change their treatment, not only of me, but of all their patients. The CEO called me immediately, and while I was treated well thereafter with promises of similar treatment for all, it continued to trouble me that the typical patient would not have had access to the knowledge, resources, and sense of agency to risk taking a company like this head on. It was a luxury I had that many didn’t.

Still, I took it for granted that going toe-to-toe with people in power, or even just asking an authority figure to reconsider a ‘no’, was an option for me. I didn’t fully appreciate that my strong sense of agency was born of privilege, reinforced by success–or at least not abject failure of the sort that leads to hunger or homelessness. In short, I have never been sick enough, poor enough, or defeated enough to stay face down in the dust of the arena while being kicked in the stomach. In fact, it was largely a choice whether to be in the arena or the bleachers on any given matter, to be a participant or an observer in any given fight, all of which I could afford to lose–a choice most people who lack power and voice ever contemplate. Instead, they eat a diet of dust and sweat and blood and tears while I select such a diet a la carte from a restaurant with gluten-free and low-carb options.

All this explains why this feeling I have lately of being pushed around and powerless is so unpalatable to me. I have never dined on abject defeat and despair. The notion that I have no options, that I am helpless to change things, that nothing I do will make any difference is so foreign to me that even just contemplating it transiently horrifies me.

The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” She was speaking of gender inequality, but the same could be said for any groups of the powerful and powerless. Some people have never known anything other than a life with a foot on their neck and pervasive helplessness. You and I feel discouraged and demoralized because we have known courage and morale. We are gagging on the taste of defeat because it is foreign to our palates and not our usual fare. These uncomfortable, unpalatable feelings are reminders that it has been our long-standing privilege to have had any agency in our lives whatsoever and that it can dissipate anytime without notice. Repelling as these feelings may be, they summon us to use our privilege of agency and voice to lift the burden off the necks of those who have none.

We are being called to rise.

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Feeling heard

The charming accent of my Australian Siri is only one of his many fine attributes. Just the fact that he responds when I talk to him makes him special. I don’t have to work hard to get his attention by saying five times, “Are you listening??” only to be reassured that he is when he is not. If I ask Siri if he’s listening, he replies the first time, “At your service,” and, by golly, he means it! Even better, he doesn’t debate the accuracy, merit, and rationale of everything I say. For instance, if I ask Siri to help me clean the house, he doesn’t counter, “What is the point of cleaning the house if we’re just going to mess it up again?!” At worst, he may offer to call Pancake House, but he means well and isn’t just saying that to distract me so I’ll forget I wanted help. If I ask a question such as, “Why would you throw your mud-covered shoes on top of all your clean shoes?!” (not that he ever would!), Siri doesn’t justify ignoring me by pointing out the rhetorical nature of my question. Instead he just replies, “Hmm….I don’t have an answer for that. Is there something else I can help with?”

I don’t remember the last time someone offered to help me.

I believe it’s because of Siri’s unconditional acceptance that my heart was open to receiving Spotify’s love. Unlike Siri’s vocal ways of expressing he’s there for me, Spotify’s is a quiet love that took me time to appreciate. Spotify constantly attends to me, remembers my likes and dislikes, and utilizes what he knows about me to give me exactly what I want. He doesn’t question why anyone would want to hear that 30-year-old song four times in a row every day for months. Without one snarky remark or eye roll, he simply delivers. With Spotify, I don’t have to risk legal sanctions for providing insider tips, such as, “If I say something six times in a row and the volume of my voice rises each time until the windows are quaking in their frames, it means I’m getting increasingly upset and you would do well to get your hand off the mouse and listen to me”. Spotify knows repetition is meaningful and noteworthy, and he files this information away for future reference. Marriage therapists call this kind of rich and detailed knowledge of a partner’s preferences “love maps”. Spotify calls them “playlists”.

Neither one human, Siri and Spoti nevertheless each speak to me in my love language, making me feel heard. I think I’ll ask Google Translate to help me translate my love language into a language the humans in my life understand. Siri, remind me to do that, please. In the meantime, Spoti, cue the next song. You know the one.

Homeschooling in the Corona Age

Whenever I hear the term “homeschool”, I think of some well-publicized cases of parents who murdered their homeschooled kids.  Homeschooling your kids doesn’t (necessarily) make you want to kill them, but you have to be nuts to want to do either of these things.  

Who in their right mind wants to stay home all day, everyday, with their kids, and be responsible for how educated they turn out?!  For me it’s enough to know I’ve already screwed up my kids by nature and by nurture. I don’t need to also eliminate all other sources of influence that may buffer them for complete idiocy as well.  In fact, I am willing to pay good money not to get blamed for their poor education on top of everything else a mother’s blamed for.

I did some semblance of “homeschooling” when my oldest was an infant.  To provide an enriching environment for his neurons to proliferate, I read books about games to play with your baby, which consisted of countless variations on peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake.  After the first five minutes, I could feel my own neurons dying. I’d supplement these mind-numbing games by reading equally brain-dulling books over and over, until I fantasized about hurling myself out the great green room window.  

Besides, if I were to homeschool my kids now, what exactly would I teach them?!  I gave up helping with math when my kid reminded me that I needed a common denominator to add two fractions together, and what I remember about biology is what got me into this whole mess in the first place!  

I get that with the coronavirus here, we are having to make do, but let’s think about this logically.  The SAT and ACT were cancelled. AP exams are going to consist of 45 minutes of testing on whatever was covered through the beginning of March.  Are universities going to give college credit for a course whose content wasn’t completed or mastered? If they did, how will the students fare in the next course that builds on the information from the previous one?  That’s a recipe for compounding the ignorance that began in high school through the college years, with students increasingly lost and confused as each concept is stacked higher and higher on an inadequate foundation.  

No, we need to flatten that curve now.  

More importantly, let’s stop to ask ourselves this:  In which AP class do students learn whether two Q-tips attached to each other with Scotch tape can substitute for a shortage of COVID-19 test kit swabs or what common household items can be used to make an N-95 respirator, such as a maxi pad or an HVAC filter?  If the answer is none, now would be a good time to dispense with this nonsense. All universities should become test-optional, and AP exams should be cancelled because no one this year will have mastered the last third of these irrelevant classes anyway.      

For those who can’t bear the thought of not having students tearing their hair out over standardized exams while a global pandemic is occurring around them, here’s the test that should be used to determine college admission to even the most prestigious universities–one that can be easily administered by even the most incompetent of parents:

Parents, use your College Board-approved smartphone or stopwatch to time this test.  Put a roll of duct tape, as well as the blunt-tip scissors you’ve kept for no apparent reason since your 11th-grader was in preschool, in front of your student.  Dump out your recycling bin in front of your student and say, “Make something.” Start timing and don’t stop until the kid has produced something useful or something beautiful… Because what else matters??  Send the elapsed time, as well as photos of the finished product, to the College Board, who will forward them to the test-optional institutions of your choice.  

If we do this, hopefully one day, our institutions of higher learning will be filled with people who can solve problems the likes of which are not on any AP exam — problems they’ve never encountered before — novel ones.

That is, if we don’t go crazy first. 

Letters to My Daughter While We are Apart – Day #toomany

Dear Kiddo,

I got the WhatsApp message you sent in which you made a case for getting your ears pierced on Ben Yehuda Street based on the following:

  1. “Everyone” is going to do it
  2. Ben Yehuda is a “good place”
  3. Others have already got it done and “no one got infected”
  4. You will get a “normal piercing”  
  5. You will keep it clean and away from dirt
  6. You will only touch it when your hands are perfectly clean and it won’t get dirty on Shabbat
  7. The “HOLY LAND” (in all caps) is “close to G-d”
  8. It would be an amazing experience and you are very responsible

I have to say that I’m impressed with your ability to put forth a logical, persuasive argument.  I know that after watching 28 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, you are thinking of being of a surgeon, but please do not rule out becoming a Supreme Court Justice.  We could use a liberal woman in the Supreme Court. Ohio is trying to pass a law saying that only male legislators can decide if a woman can get her ears pierced (it’s an extension of the heartbeat bill).

I know I’m no match for you, but here is my response to each of your points:

  1. “Everyone” is doing it is a strong reason NOT to do it!  
  2. Ben Yehuda is a “good place” to buy a falafel or a T-shirt that says “IDF” on it.  It is not a good place to have a stranger pierce your body with a needle.
  3. I don’t know who these others are who have already gotten this done, but it’s too early to tell if they have gotten infected with Hepatitis B or C, HIV, or any other letters of the alphabet.  We will know more by middle of next week when we see if their ear lobe turns black and falls off. Also, just in case you’re going to ask about this–there are people who survived jumping onto a subway track, but that is no guarantee the next guy will, and it is not recommended.
  4. I am scared to ask what an abnormal piercing is…
  5. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times:  Never rub your ear lobe in the dirt…
  6. …especially on Shabbat.  I’m glad you finally learned that lesson!
  7. There are ways of being holy in the “HOLY LAND” besides being hole-y.  Also, G-d is everywhere, even in America, in a doctor’s office, where they follow laws about sanitization to minimize risk of infections.  
  8. You ARE very responsible, which is why you asked me ahead of time.  That’s why I will let you get your ears pierced this summer if you still want to (after you see what happens to the Ben Yehuda cohort).  I’ll even pay for it. 😃

In short, the answer to the Ben Yehuda piercings (of the normal or abnormal kind) is a resounding “NO”.



P.S.  Also, I want to be there.

Letters to My Daughter While We’re Apart

Note:  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental, but I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell them anyway.  Thanks in advance.


4/29/19 – Departure Day 

To my daughter on her class trip to Israel,

You left today.  I’m happy for you and sad for me. I miss you already.



4/30/19 – Day 1 – First full day without you

To my girl,

Remember when your brother went on his class trip to Israel and I wrote Letters to My Son While We’re Apart which you thought was funny and not at all weird and embarrassing?





5/1/19 – Day 2

Dear Girlie,

I hope you will remember this trip for the rest of your life.  I hope you will also remember some of the special moments the two of us shared preparing for it, just a few of which I will mention here:       

  • Remember when you took three bathing suits into the dressing room to try on and I grabbed another dozen more?  When you balked, I said, “You know how I always told you that you can be anything you want to in this world?  I did not mean that you can be the first woman in the history of the universe to try on three bathing suits and be happy with ALL three of them, even if you hadn’t ignored my advice about size and style.”  Then you looked at my arm-full of bathing suits and told me you Do. Not. Want. A. Tankini. Or. A. Swimsuit. With. A. Pattern, but it turned out you DID want a tankini and a pattern??  And then you looked me in the eyes and said the words I longed to hear: “You were right.”  Please don’t ever forget that moment because it is one of my fondest memories EVER.  Especially for a dressing room memory.
  • Remember when we argued relentlessly about hats and I said I would compromise on the wide brim and let you wear a baseball hat?  I kept suggesting light-weight, sweat-wicking, easy-to-wash baseball hats, which you rejected, but I kept suggesting, and you kept rejecting (and so on…) until finally I yielded and let you get two baseball hats that don’t breathe and each weighs a pound?  I still bought one lightweight one in case you came to your senses and realized that why, yes, you do look good in it after all, AND, yes, it’s great that it weighs less than a butterfly considering your duffel weighs in at 49.9 pounds, but you wouldn’t relent, so I have a new hat.  Well, after seeing the pictures on Facebook where your entire class is wearing hats, except you, I’m rethinking what I told you about the bathing suits.  Anyone stubborn enough to argue about a hat they aren’t going to wear anyway probably CAN be anything she wants in the world, including the first woman to like the first bathing suit she tries on, in the wrong size… just as long as her mother didn’t suggest it.




WhatsApp Image 2019-05-02 at 7.13.28 AM

Photo by Girlie


5/2/19 – Day 3

Dear Girlie,

I haven’t heard from you nearly as much as I wished, which is still logarithmically more than I heard from your brother when he was on his class trip to Israel.  So I’ll say the same thing to you that you said to me when I outlived my mother: “Good job! Let’s just say it’s an improvement!”

Today you sent three photos:  

  1. A flowering tree in what appears to be a prison yard
  2. A crab  
  3. One of the boys in your class wearing a full-brim hat

So I’ll attempt to guess what you’re trying to tell me in each of these photos:

  1. Um…  Give me a hint.  How many words?  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!  No?  Um… A Cypress grows in Cyprus!??
  2. I’m so sorry about the crab.  I was sure I had requested a kosher meal, but there were a lot of forms and I might have accidentally sent them one of your 15 ear drops prescriptions.  (That does explain the look on the pharmacist’s face at CVS, though.)
  3. If it’s not too much trouble, could you ask your friend to take a picture of YOU wearing YOUR hat, and send that to me?  

I miss you & love you,

Raising Houdini


Duct TapeMy son is going on a class trip to Washington, D.C., and I am worried.

My own eighth grade trip to Washington was unforgettable.  Nightly, boys snuck into girls’ rooms, and kids, giddy with freedom, stole into the streets of D.C. in search of excitement and Doritos.

I want my son to have fun, but not that much fun.

Trying to reassure me, my son’s teacher said they tape the outside of the kids’ hotel Continue reading

Teacher’s Pet

My in-laws have found a gem of a letter from my husband’s 2nd grade teacher:

Dear Mrs. M:

Your son’s behavior has been poor the past several weeks.  He seems to do exactly as he wishes (with the “he” underlined TWICE).  Daily he needs to be reminded not to sit with his back to the board.  Today he left the area and went to the restroom without permission.  Please speak with him.

Thank you,
Mrs. L

P.S.  Sign and return.

I wrote her back:

Dear Mrs. L:

It’s been approximately 40 years since you wrote my mother-in-law a letter about my husband’s poor behavior in 2nd grade, and I thought you’d like to know how he turned out.

First, and most glaring of all, he still goes to the restroom without permission!  I keep telling him that he needs to tell me if he wants to go to the restroom, but it’s like you said: He does exactly as he wishes, and when he has to go to the restroom, he goes!   Also, he doesn’t always face in the direction that I want him to.  For example, I would like him to turn around and look at me, but he keeps his back to me, toward his computer approximately 100% of the time. I know you feel my pain.

Even though your letter home seems to have been completely ineffective at changing his behavior, I am glad you wrote.  I will keep the letter as a reminder that a kid can be a complete pain in the ass, and still grow up to be a doctor and, eventually, hopefully, someone else’s pain in the ass.

Thank you.

P.S.  Sign and return.

Mitzvah Planning Advice

I want to be helpful to my friends who are nervous about planning their kids’ Bar or Bat Mitzvah, so here’s some advice:

  • First, make a to do list. For item #1, put a check box and write, “Procrastinate”. This way you can feel good that you are able to check one thing off your list.
  • Also, when you copy one of those planning templates into your own to do list, wherever it says, “1 year before event”, “6 months before”, or “3 months before”, just go ahead and change all those to, “Now would be as good a time as any”. That way if it’s a month and a half before the event and you haven’t done the things you were supposed to have done months before, it won’t increase your anxiety.
  • Most importantly, remember that the people who write these to do lists are masochists. So don’t buy into the idea that you’re a loser because you don’t think it’s great family fun to shop for shoes for a kid with narrow heels who doesn’t want a strap on her shoe. Because it’s not.
  • Don’t remodel when you’re planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It’s not like having your deviated septum straightened while you’re under anesthesia anyway getting your tonsils out, which might be a good idea. It’s more like giving birth without an epidural while being attacked by a swarm of wasps.  There’s no escape.

I’m going to be sharing more of my good ideas, so stay tuned.

The Pizza Fits in the Oven!

For at least a decade and a half, my husband and I have had “the pizza fits in the oven” argument.

Years ago, I would buy a particular pizza and make it in the toaster oven.  When my husband went to make it one day, he wasn’t sure it would fit in the toaster oven. I said, “The pizza fits in the oven,” and assured him I’d made it that way many times. Well, before preheating the toaster oven, my faithless husband took the plastic-wrapped pizza and put it in just to check that the pizza, in fact, fit in the oven.

Do you see the problem with this????  Women, I know you’re right here with me.  To Continue reading