My #MeToo

This post is certainly a divergence from my normal topic of parenthood. But, as a parent, it is still important to be mindful of current events, and the current climate of the world in which we are raising our children.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein press (ignoring the fact that this man shares a name with my super sweet, precious, amazing, dad), there has been an outpouring of social media posts including the hashtag #MeToo as a way to express the experienced sexual assault and/or harassment of the poster. It is, frankly, heartbreaking to see the numbers of men and women who have experienced these things, though I am so proud of my friends, family, and coworkers who have been willing to share, even these two words, with their social media communities.

About a year ago, I wrote down an experience that I had while still living in Baltimore. An experience that I have only shared with a few, and words written, that only a few have read. And as I am typing this post, preparing for the fact that I will be sharing this story, my heart is pounding. I fear the judgement, the shame, the ridicule, and the vulnerability that comes with sharing a story like this. I am sad to say, that this wasn’t my only experience, though this one, sticks with me everyday, when I drive through certain neighborhoods, when I hear certain names, and when I hear certain words.

Please, as you read, keep in mind that this is a true story, and I urge anyone who may experience trauma triggers, to be mindful of their head space before they read. There is also strong language. This won’t be the most graphic, violent, or scary story you hear, but it is mine.

Black Paint

“You’re a fucking bitch, cunt.” At least it was warm outside when he screamed that at my distancing back. I walked down the sidewalk of a neighborhood that I didn’t know when it’s dark out– and tried to find a main street.

My phone was on 4% battery and it was 3 o’clock in the morning. That rules out mom and dad, and the “perks” of living at home. And when most of your friends are married, many have kids, and you’re floating in a sea of online dating, pretty much alone, all you can do is call the one guy who you know might be awake. He answered. He came to get me, thankfully.

I was away from my mom’s Cadillac rental car that she let me borrow for the night. Her Solara had been totaled when my dad drove it into the front of a 711.  Either way, I liked it better than my ’96 Toyota Corolla. The Cadillac was parked at Johnny’s, my least favorite restaurant in Baltimore, which was conveniently located closer to his place than mine.

I am pretty good at red flags. But when you start talking to a guy online who went to the Quaker school in town, right around the corner from where you went, when his mother was your aunt’s law professor, his family has a legacy of partners at a top law firm in the country, and he, himself is a lawyer, maybe you become the kind of color blind that can’t see red. When I say “you” of course I mean me. And maybe color blindness isn’t the issue. The issue is that I was so wrapped up in the possibility of a love story, of being Baltimore royalty, that I didn’t listen to myself. Later I would feel like a pathetic cliché, like I was at fault, like I was asking for it, like I lead him on, which would again, make me feel even worse for not standing up for myself more than I had.

I was asking for it. That is the worst one. I feel that women should be whoever, wear whatever, say whatever, and still feel safe and secure in walking down the street. I was wearing a long sleeved cardigan, and a ankle length maxi dress with a high neck, from the Loft. I honestly don’t know if I showered that day, I can’t remember anything except the late hours of the night. I know I didn’t shave my legs or any other parts, because when he shoved his hand up my dress, as I was blocking his hand with every bit of my strength, my immediate thought, after how uncomfortable I was, was that I didn’t shave. I’m not sure which feeling made me start to tear up.

I felt proud that my redheaded heat and muscles allowed me to fight this man off. That is the only moment I was proud of. There were others when I hadn’t been as strong. He waved his $10k signing bonus in my face when I first got to his house, after we left the bar at Johnny’s. I don’t know if I was impressed. I know I remember it. I remember him making fun of the Cadillac that I came in. He arrived in a BMW.

He made fun of my choice in wine, white over red. He made me stutter. He made me feel weak and self conscious. He made me feel embarrassed and he made me feel small. He also made me feel obligated.

I got in his car and went with him to see his house. I say “see” because he lived in a neighborhood where I had once wanted to live. I thought he was trying to help. To educate me on location. I thought his house kind of looked like my grandmother’s. I remember noticing that he had too many red oriental rugs and antique dark wood future for someone who was 27.

We watched some Game of Thrones, he had another drink, and wanted to wait to take me back to my car, so he could sober up some more. He took me into his basement and showed me the king sized bed, completely made, and told me how he had picked it out with his ex fiancé. It was from IKEA. I led the way back upstairs. He showed me his bedroom, and he pushed me on the bed.

As you know, I was stronger. And as I told him to take me back to my car, walking down his steps, he told me to get an Uber. “I’m not getting a DUI for a bitch like you.” He said– actually scoffing. I wasn’t sure that I knew that people did that outside of books– as it turns out, they do.

I walked out of his house. He actually came after me. At 3am I wonder if his neighbors heard. He laughed through his apology, asking me to come back in. And when he called me a tease, I turned and walked away. It was enough. “You are enough.” I told myself silently, and I walked down the sidewalk. He yelled after me, but eventually went inside.

I felt my breath quicken and I was certain I would faint. I sat on the curb, waiting for my friend, whom I had called with my final moments of battery, praying he would find me. He did.

I got back to my parents’ house at 4am. My sweet mother was up, waiting for me, in her pink t-shirt nightgown. And without the raise of a voice, she asked me why I had been so late, so out of touch. I told her. My heart broke more for the look on her face, than for what he had done.

She took me on a drive the next day, and her words are still clear. “I want to pour black paint all over his car, sidewalk, and house.” All I could think was, “red would be better.”

For anyone out there, experiencing pain, I am here for you. I will be your safe space if you need one.

Peace and love.

 

Thank you, Alma

This is not a typical blog for me; rather, a time to share an article that I recently had published by an amazing online magazine called Alma.

This article is really part of a passion project for me, in that I feel very strongly about the way we interact with others, the way we judge (not a dirty word) each other, and how we, unfortunately, try to make each other fit into boxes.

There is no right or wrong way to have a family. There is no right or wrong way to pray, or worship, or channel your spiritual energy. There is no right or wrong way to learn. But there are right and wrong ways to engage others. Please stop hurting each other. Be aware of your words.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and please enjoy my piece, Please Stop Asking Me, “Are You Even Jewish?”

pleasestopbanner

An Open Letter to My Kids at Camp

Dear kiddos,

Wow it has been a long month! I miss you terribly. It seems kind of weird, you know, missing you so much. When you are here, I am praying to be able to go to the bathroom without interruption.

There have been a lot of thunderstorms so far this summer. I really miss being scared awake by your creepy faces leaning over me in the dark. Speaking of interrupted sleep, I miss you screaming at each other at 6am. I miss you skipping household nap time, and “lightly” knocking on my door to ask me a question. I miss when your sleep pattern gets interrupted, be it staying up late, or getting up early, because I miss that preteen attitude.

I miss arguing with you about fruits and veggies, maybe the most. I know that you love the salad bar at camp, and I am thinking of installing one in the house. I promise I will put real peanut butter on the line, not sun butter. I don’t know how you eat that, but when I was at camp, I missed peanut butter almost as much as I miss you now.

I miss when you walk the dogs. Not just because I miss not baring all of the responsibility, but because I miss the screaming at crying that follows the walk, almost every day, because you two haven’t quite figured out how to walk next to each other without yelling, hitting, and kicking.

I really miss the snuggles. I miss when you get in my bed to watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth. I have thought about watching Beauty and the Beast a few times, but thought better of it, because I couldn’t do it without you.

I miss your sweet laughs, when we make silly faces, and call out our inside jokes during dinner. I miss your paintings, I haven’t gotten a new one since you left, I cannot wait to see your art bags! I miss nail painting parties, and baking, and dancing around in our living room.

I miss how excited you get for pizza and Chinese food. I miss our cupcake dates. I miss singing Shema with you before bed. I miss hugging you, and kissing you, and saying “I love you.”

I mostly just miss the amazing humans that you are. I cannot wait until you come home.

Love,

Ema

Why We Bake Challah

Most folks familiar with Judaism are familiar with challah. If you are not so familiar, it is a beautiful braided bread. Typically we eat it on Shabbat, or on holidays, and it has become a really sweet tradition in our family to make one from scratch, together, and literally “break bread” after sundown on Shabbat.

When Joe and I started dating, and I would fly to Houston for the weekend, we would bake Challah when I got there. We called it our “Love Challah.” It became a joke in our family, mostly because it sounds silly, but upon reflection, that is exactly what this challah is to us. As a family we prepare it, braid it, bake it, anticipate eating it, and actually share it with a meal. It brings us together. We laugh, and argue over who gets to do which task, and we spend time talking about how amazing it tastes, complimenting one another.

shabbat1Before we eat it, we light the Shabbat candles. During that time, we all make a wish. Sometimes we wish for a new pair of shoes, sometimes we wish for more family time, and sometimes we wish for things that come true in a profound way.

Before our kids knew that we were dating, Joe lit the Shabbat candles with them. Joe had them make a wish, as has become our tradition. Later, when they were talking about their wishes, my daughter started to cry. When Joe asked her what was wrong, she told him that she wished for him to find someone to love again. She told him she didn’t want him to be lonely. When he asked her what that someone should be like, she had a clear picture. She wanted her to be tall, have long hair, love to sing and dance, like to laugh a lot, and most importantly, she needed to love them a lot too.

Joe started crying. He called me later that night to tell me that story, explaining that he felt fortunate that our daughter had made a Shabbat wish that would come true, even though she didn’t yet know it.

Fast forward to our first foursome Shabbat, and as we are sitting down to dinner, our daughter leans into me, and whispers, “You were my Shabbat wish.” Then it was my turn to cry.

shabbat2

Our family bakes challah because it gives us time to pause and remember that we love each other, we need to make time for each other in our busy lives, and that braided together we make up a sweet, healthy, [ful]filling concoction that has been created purely by love.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Do you want to make your own Love Challah?

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon of honey

1 pack of active dry yeast

2 eggs (one for dough, one for egg wash)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of salt

1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour

2 1/2 cups of white four (as needed)

1/4 cup of honey (additionally)

1/4 cup of Splenda

Honey to taste

 

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of honey. Let proof.
  2. In a large bowl mix 1 egg, olive oil, salt, 1/4 cup of honey, and Splenda.
  3. Once combined, add in yeast mixture.
  4. Slowly stir in 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour then up to 2 1/2 cups of white flour, as you begin to knead the dough.
  5. Once combined, allow the dough to rise for at least 4 hours in its bowl, covered with a damp cloth.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  7. Once the dough is risen, knead again, separate it into three parts, and roll each part until it is about 10 inches in length, on a clean, floured surface.
  8. Braid
  9. Cover the braided loaf with your egg wash, then drizzle with additional honey.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Enjoy your love challah!

Ownership and Accountability

If parenting has taught me anything, it is that you have to take ownership of everything you do and say, and you will be held accountable. Period. Kids remember everything. They remember that time you chose to sleep in on a Saturday morning, they remember when you didn’t eat your vegetables, and they remember when you forget to (insert a mundane task here.)

Thankfully, they also remember all of the good things you do– but those aren’t the things that require ownership. If you are a parent that needs your ego to be stroked by your child, reevaluate. If you ever ask your child “Do you love me?” or “Are you mad at me?” or “Do you think we have a good relationship?” then you know you don’t. That is where you need to take ownership of your actions.

Unfortunately, I know parents who ask those questions. Who pit themselves against their co-parent(s) because they need validation. To all of the parents who are working their butts off to give their kids a good life: you are amazing. Keep going! You are doing it right! It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always feel good. But your kids are your priority, and they notice and feel that. To all of the parents who question their abilities and have reason to: this is where accountability becomes imperative.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and maybe because I don’t have any biological children, I am off base, but if you choose to have a kids, it is your choice to take ownership of your relationship with them, and if your relationship fails, you are the one who is accountable– not your children. And each time you pose a question to them about how they feel about you, you are inevitably guilting them, regardless of their answer, and misplacing the accountability.

I made the active choice to be a mom to two children, I did not go through a pregnancy, raise them from infancy, or do any of the other things that essentially imprint them on you– so this may be harsh– but if you are not positively contributing to your children’s life, leave. If you think you aren’t a good parent, you may not be, and if you are doing more damage than not, please try to pause, step back, and objectively view the situation. The best friends are the ones who are comfortable enough to tell you when you are wrong– can you provide yourself with the same feedback?

When we talk about doing what is in the best interest of our kids, and helping them to become the person they are, it is perfectly okay to take ownership of your own feelings and say– I don’t want this life. If that is the case, make a clean break. Parenting is not easy, and it is not for everyone. Your kids can tell that they aren’t your priority. They can tell you aren’t happy. It doesn’t matter how much you claim to love them, or actually love them, you are doing them a disservice.

Every time the introvert in me wants to hide in my room, I feel guilty. Regularly when I close my door to lay in bed or watch TV alone, my kids end up coming in to snuggle with me or just say hi. Remember that as a parent you have a duty to role model, support, grow, and educate your children. Your job is to help them. Hold yourself accountable when you aren’t doing those things…your kids will.

arrow2

“Your children are not your children

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

for they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which

you cannot visit, not even in your dreams,

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life does not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves

also the bow that is stable.”

-Kahlil Gibran

 

#CoParent

There are some moments when Joe and I laugh way too hard together. One of those times was when one of our family members described their role in their marriage as being their partner’s “helpmate.” I don’t even remember now, why I thought it was so funny, maybe because I didn’t understand it yet. But, I think it is officially time to talk about co-parenting, and my amazing co-parent.

To me, being a co-parent means being on the same page. Wow that is hard! The number of times that Joe and I have had to pause a conversation with the kids, go into our room, discuss our plan, and return as a united front, is tremendous. Somehow we do it. Somehow, when there isn’t time for the conversation, we manage (most of the time) to defer to the parent who answers more quickly. We have very different parenting styles, which is hard, but I think it makes our team strong.

I am definitely the strict mama. I am the one who yells about fruits and veggies, and I am pretty sure that Joe would like to live off of bread alone. I am the one who requires reading every day, I am the one who enforces punishments, but I am also the cuddler. I am the mom who likes shopping sprees, and late-night movies, and cooking together, and listening to way too loud music. But enough about me, because this is really about Joe.

Joe is the absolute heart of our family. He is the planner. He is the one who intently manages our budget. He is the one who does the dishes, and walks the dogs early in the morning so that the rest of us can sleep in. He is the practical one, but he is also the sweet one. He looks into all of our eyes when he talks to us. He rarely raises his voice, and he works hard to be a good listener. He makes pizza and challah from scratch. He is always thinking about fun for us to do as a family. He is the one who inspires our Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars marathons. He grounds all of us, and holds us accountable. I do mean “us.”

A co-parent? I couldn’t as for a better one. He always listens, and defers to me when I am right. He tells me when he thinks I am wrong, and he really allows us to grow together as parents. I hate to say it, but kids aside, he is also a fantastic helpmate. He opens the mail, he brings home wine and flowers exactly when they are needed. He is also an amazing best friend. He listens and problem solves, and as a family, we are truly lucky to have him.

He is the quintessential helpmate and #coparent

Thank you, Joe, for all of the things that you do for our family.

Conditions for Unconditional Love

My son was upset this week. He has been upset for a few weeks. I am thankful that he tells me everything, even when he cries on my shoulder. He often leaves white snot on my black clothing, but I’m glad. He is almost a teenager, and so, yes, I am glad for this time and for his trust.

He told me that his biological mother regularly reminds him that I am not his real mom. He cried. I asked him what her reasoning was. He said because I didn’t give birth to him. He looked off, he quietly thought. He told me that was a ridiculous reason. Children who are adopted don’t consider their birth mom to be their “real mom,” he said, likely thinking about his adopted, sweet, baby cousin.

Later, he told me that he didn’t care what she said because I was his support. The next morning, working to tread the fine line between being the “cool mom” and talking badly about his mom, I wanted to cry for him. I told him clearly:
I don’t care if you call me mom.
I don’t care if you call me Ema.
I don’t care if you call me Alyssa.
All I care about is being the support you need, when, and how you need it. I want to be the parent you need, whatever that means to you.

He hugged me so close. I felt his snot soaking through my shirt. He lifted his head and smiled at me, his eyes full of water. He walked out of the house, headed to his real mom’s.

He yelled, “I love you, mommy!” And slammed the door behind him.

From day one, my son and I have been connected. Even when I was living across the country he would call me, FaceTime me, talk to me one-on-one when I was in town for the weekend. And I never introduce myself as my kids’ mom or step-mom. I hate those titles. I always say that I am their parent. I am. It is not my intention to replace or interfere– but I think that any parent who actively and responsibility works on their relationships with their kids, gets that. When your kids are your priority, you are happy for the relationships that they have. You know it takes a village. I know it does. I have a great village. I also know that being unpopular, strict, annoying, and a slew of other adjectives, makes me an active and attentive parent. It means that I love them when they are all of those things, too.

The day after this conversation, my fiancé’s aunt told me a story about her daughter and ex-husband, and a conversation they had recently had. Her daughter, in her late twenties, looked at this man in his fifties, and said one of the most insightful things that I have heard in years. He had said “I am your father, and I love you.” And she told him that was untrue. She went on to explain that a parents’ love is unconditional, and he had too many conditions. Asking her to choose between a person she loves or a thing she likes, and a relationship or time with him, is not love.

The parallel feels real to me. Right or wrong, that helped me understand parenting, my real mom counterpart, and perhaps what the next several years will look like. I brace myself every day for the time that one of my kids might say, “you’re not my real mom!” It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope that is because they understand my conditions:
Be kind.
Be honest.
Be the best you that you can.

We are all human. It isn’t my job to convince them not to feel. My job is to hear them, teach them, respect them, and (un)conditionally love them.