Category Archives: Marriage

Dual Academic Parents


Sometimes a friend says to me, “How do you do it? And BOTH of you academics–wow.” By which I know that friend means, “Seriously–how does your family live off those pathetic salaries? As a second salary, ok, I get it, but both of you–?” Or another might mean, “Just thinking about your life makes me reach for my Xanax/calming glitter bottle. You have no job stability, and therefore no life stability. You move every two years, your kids have tried out every Jewish school on the continent, and you apply to 100 jobs a year, hoping that some random place in some random corner of the world might hire you.” Or yet another might mean, simply, “How do you ever have time for your kids?” (but that person is probably a fellow academic, because everyone else thinks we only work 4h/week).

And what do I say? I put on my best Dowager Countess of Grantham voice and tell them my life is just lovely and that our shared profession allows us to inspire our children with lifelong passions for knowledge, education, and self-betterment.

And as long as they have no interaction with my kids . . . they might believe me.

school love

It’s all fun and games here in singlemotherhoodlife


Dear Adon Alom, Master of the World and its Snow and its Viruses,

I got it. I did you wrong. You thought I should go to the UK and be with my husband, my children with their father. You thought that was what shalom bayit was all about–after all, how can there be shalom--peace– without a shared bayit–a home?

So you sent me a series of misfortunes to daily punctuate my life as a single mother. A miserable court date. A death in the family. A babysitter who cancelled at the last possible minute, making me miss work. A babysitter who showed up half an hour late, making me not miss work but just further develop an ulcer. A hunk of baby finger clipped off with a nail that led to more than 24h of bleeding (Me: “I’ve cut off a piece of my child!” Pediatrician: “I’ve never known a mother who didn’t.”). A stomach bug for Cool J. A cold and fever for Baby MoFo. Coupled with a slashed tire that couldn’t be repaired (“Hey, guys, if you can just hold off on that diarrhea for, say, a couple of hours, we’re going to take a field trip to the auto shop to get a new tire!”). Sick days followed by holidays (whenever there’s a Monday holiday at Baby MoFo’s preschool, they also cancel school on Friday–why a 3-day weekend when it could be 4??) followed by snow days. During which I’m not allowed to park on my street (and I have no garage/driveway), so I had to drive the kids to a lot on campus and walk home with them in a blizzard . . . only to get a message that all cars on campus were supposed to be in garages and not the outdoor lots (no, I did not schlep my kids back out. So who knows if I still have my car with its pretty new tire?). Snow days followed by . . . you got it. Sick days. Because why should LL be spared? And what could I be so busy doing at 2am that I can’t be elbow-deep in vomit?

The Scientist has been gone just over 2 weeks.

I am not having fun.

So I’m sorry, Adon Olam, but please, can you give this poor princess-mother a break?

Or an angel . . . but not of this variety.

Or an angel . . . but not of this variety.

The Better Story


life-of-pi-book-coverThe Scientist’s favorite book is Life of Pi. One day, shortly after we were married, I listened to the book on tape (literally tape) during my long commute to work, one that passed several entries into Manhattan and thus could be not only long but gruelingly Shantaram long. The book is about the victory of science: Pi trains the tiger through classical (or is it operant?) conditioning, allowing the two of them to cross the ocean together without either being killed. When I got home, I told my scientist-husband that he would enjoy the book. This was, of course, the same husband who had recently informed the rabbi who married us that he felt uncomfortable with the way the date was written on our ketubah–“in the year . . . since the creation of the world“–since the world had not been created 5000 and change years ago as any good scientist and rational human being recognized (to his credit, Marrying Rabbi, an Orthodox but logical rabbi–not a contradiction in terms, it seems–wholly agreed and soothed The Scientist by telling him that we Jews speak in parables).

That evening, The Scientist bought Life of Pi and stayed up through the night reading it cover to cover.

Afterwards, we discussed it. Back then, we used to hold our own, romantic, two-person book club. As a mom, I go a different route: I hang out with a bunch of other moms so we can drink wine, bitch about our husbands, and discuss how birthing multiple babies ravaged our hot bods. But I was a newlywed then.

Funnily enough, while The Scientist was interested in what or wasn’t an accurate representation of conditioning, he also loved the parable part of the story. It turns out we Jews not only speak in parables; we like reading them, too. But it wasn’t just that the tiger story was a parable. “What I appreciated was the way it came back to the beginning,” reported The Scientist. “To that ‘I was told you have a story that would make me believe in God’.” “Huh?” I say. That was how we discovered that the book-on-tape version excised the “Author’s Note,” which was in no way actually an “author’s note,” to be read as a thing outside of the story itself except in the way that Lolita‘s “Foreword” is an “author’s note” (Oh, Nabby, you tried to confuse us by telling us Haze rhymes with the heroine’s real surname and tease us by inserting your anagrammatic self, Vivian Darkbloom, while incidentally mentioning the death of Mrs. Richard F. Schiller along with the details of a bunch of minor nobodies–you sly dog, you) (And if you were wondering what my favorite book is, now you know). But anyway, after I read the book (and thus ended my brief and inglorious love affair with books on tape), I agreed. It was not just a good parable; it was a great piece of theology. Boy searches for meaning of god through Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, but ultimately Boy uses science to keep alive. Yet, this is not about the victory of science (though perhaps it’s a bit of a Gouldian tale of non-overlapping magisteria?). Boy does not lose love of god using science; instead, he decides that if given the choice between life given meaning through God and life given meaning through science, God is the better story.

(Though you might remember that both the atheist –the believer in science–and the religious man–the believer in God–are held up as believers and therefore people willing to make a leap of the imagination–“Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them — and then they leap” . . . “Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might [when dying] try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying ‘Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,’ and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.”)

Natch, it was more because of all the scary tiger stuff, and the sparkly jellyfish, the Ang Lee show-offy cinematics, that made us think the kids might enjoy the film, which recently came out on DVD. It wasn’t theology.

The truth is, we don’t really talk to our kids about God in any serious way. In fact, the only time I remember The Scientist engaging the idea is when he told LL that Nietzsche killed God. I thought about our aversion to the subject this morning as I was reading this great post at Kveller, a site that was obviously made for me (a small part of me admits that the accuracy of that statement would be much greater were the site called Kvetcher instead of Kveller, but we ought not quibble about the difference. You know what Vladi says: “the comic side of things, and their cosmic side, depends upon one sibilant.”). In any case, the dad in this Kveller post thinks about how he talked to his kids about God when they were younger, and then asks the kids (now teenagers), and the son says, “I think you told us we could believe whatever we wanted about God, and you would support us . . . But then again, that’s the kind of thing you would say.” Shit. That’s a nice dad. I’m such a bitch. I do more of the Hashem-is-here-Hashem-is-there-Hashem-is-always-everywhere-and-he-knows-when-you’ve-been-naughty thing. Like this invocation, shortly after Cool J announced he was going to be a rabbi. We are heading into town, and he is being reckless. I yell at him: “Be careful crossing the street! Get off your scooter! That’s not safe!”Cool J scoots gleefully across the street, hits a rock just in front of the curb, flies to the ground.”You see?” I say (even more gleefully — told you I’m a bitch). “You know why you fell?” Cool J, standing up defiantly, dusting himself off: “Why?””Because you didn’t listen to your mom. So Hashem punished you.” Cool J, dismissively: “Oh please. I fell because there was a rock in my way, not because of Hashem.” And off he scoots. “Oh yeah? And who do you think put that rock there?!” I call out–but he’s gone by the end of “oh yeah.”

So when we show the kids the movie, I am surprised at how fixated they are on the second telling of the story–what I think of as the theological part of the movie. This is the part when Pi retells the story and the hyena becomes the cook, the zebra the sailor, the orangutan his mom, and Richard Parker Pi Patel. This is the part that ends with the Canadian writer asking which story is the real one, and Pi Patel asking which the writer prefers. The boys make me replay this part twice. When it comes to Pi’s question, I pause the film. “So–which do you prefer?” I ask.

They answer in unison: “The real one!”

Now, my kids are, as Mannahatta Mamma recently called hers, “Same recipe, different soup.” So you might imagine I’m surprised by the identical answer. I tease it out a little. “What does that mean?”

“The real one,” says LL. “The one we saw. With the tiger . . . and the hyena . . . you know, the real one.”

Cool J, an all-too-smart 5 year old, looks cynically at his older brother. “Don’t be silly. He wasn’t on the boat with a tiger. That was just the story part” (and I swear he hasn’t even read Tim O’Brien’s great bit on “story-truth vs. happening-truth”). (He’s not always so smart, mind you. The other day he consoled Baby MoFo, newly toilet trained, for hitting the wall with his stream. “I stand too close to the urinal and splash myself in the face–all the time,” reported Cool J).

Cool J continues: “Of course the real story was with his mom.”


“And what do you guys think of the way we’re attracted to a good story? About how God might be a story we’re attracted to, not because the being itself is a true being, as in a being up there or out there controlling us or listening to us, but an idea that gives us comfort because it’s easier to imagine a supreme being than randomness, than nothingness? What do you think of that?”

“Mama, can you press play? I want to see what happens at the end of the movie.”

“Yeah, can you? I want to see if the tiger comes back.”

LL this morning at his Torah Ceremony, happy with his burning bush God and undisturbed by theological questions.

LL (and a pal) this morning at his Torah Ceremony, newly received chumash in hand. He is happy with his burning-bush God and wholly undisturbed by theological questions.

On the Travel Itinerary: Back to Where it all Began


Now that all is booked, and I’m almost ready to go (minus 24 essays to grade and a conference talk to write, a book club to host, a couple of holiday parties and a Chanukah concert to attend–details, details), I find myself reminiscing on my formative years.

This begins as a sob story: I despised my first year of university. I was bored in my classes, and I carried around an obnoxious superiority complex, thinking I was smarter than all my classmates and probably most of my professors. This attitude led me, of course, to do terribly in my courses since I stopped showing up to classes and wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t handing in assignments that were due.

In addition to the lousy academic side of my so-called “college experience” (did such a thing exist for me? I lived at home with my parents, and didn’t make a single new friend, hanging out, as I was, with all my high school friends, who also lived at home with their parents), I was romantically wretched. I was in a warped not-relationship with a hirsute, hateful, rage-driven, confidence-killing, misogynistic, homophobic, Kill-the-Arabs man that a friend of mine affectionately referred to as “ha’Shatiach” (the carpet).


On one of his better days, he told me: “Every time you smile, I remember how ugly you are.” On another occasion, he borrowed a lip balm from a friend of mine who mentioned–who knows why–that a gay friend of hers regularly borrowed it as well, and ha’Shatiach scrubbed at his lips until they bled (he later told me his father said he should have dumped his plate of spaghetti in my friend’s lap–so we know where he got his loving personality from).

To add to this rather unpleasant foreground, the university I attended was and is one of the least architecturally attractive institutions out there–a mishmash of bad styles, most of them dating from the concrete- and industrial-art-loving 60s. All I wanted to be was anywhere but there.

And by my second year, that’s where I was.

Suddenly, school was cool. Surrounded by Jerusalem stone and the gleam of the Dome of the rock; conversing with people who were smart and cosmopolitan, and who went to famous, fabulous schools like Oxford and Harvard; partying at the “Orient Express,” a nightclub at the Hyatt that catered to stupid drunken tourists like me; high on the handshake between Rabin and Arafat (a clipping from the Jerusalem Post featuring that triptych of peace–Rabin, Clinton, and Arafat in camaraderie, Clinton with an arm almost but not quite around each of the Middle Eastern men–hung on my wall); I found, in Israel, two loves–one professional, and one romantic.


I was 19.

One wouldn’t imagine that what happened that year would affect me so profoundly. But I guess it did. One day that year, visiting Tzfat, a beautiful, mystical city where the artists reign, I told my hosts (beneficent strangers who took me in for a Shabbos dinner), as though in a trance, that when I “grew up” I was going to be an English professor. It was the first time such a thought had ever entered my head, and it flew out of my mouth just as soon as it did.

Two days later, I returned to Jerusalem, and I told my boyfriend of the time of my plan.

That was 19 years ago–half a lifetime ago. This was me and my boyfriend:

PP & The Scientist--1994, Israel

THEN: PP & “Boyfriend of the time” in Israel (and yes–I still had the unfortunate eyebrows I had in high school, as Nancy Botwin reminds me every time she sees this picture).

My plan was extensive. I was going to go back to my home university. I would not be miserable because I would go visit my boyfriend whenever I could. And he would visit me. I would do incredibly well in all my classes. I would get into a good graduate program. And then I would get my PhD and become an English professor. And maybe–this part was hazier–marry the boyfriend.

There was one more thing: I didn’t just say I was going to be an English professor. I said I was going to be an English professor in Israel. So much had happened to me there, so many important life changes, I could only imagine that Israel would be a fundamental part of my life forever. I could only imagine that I would live there full-time. Or maybe part-time. But there was no way another year of my life would go by without my spending time in Israel.

But I was wrong. Israel wasn’t a big part of my life after that–not in any kind of physical, tangible way. 19 years went by–the same number of years of my life that led up to my year in Israel. 19 years went by and I didn’t go back to Israel once. I changed. Everyone changed. Even ha’Shatiach, I hear, changed. He found drugs, and through drugs found yoga, and through yoga found peace–and now he’s a peace-loving yogi/naturopath who lives happily in a Muslim country.

And as for me? Well, you all know where I am —


Not tt, but happily teaching at one of the finest and prettiest universities in the world

PP, The Scientist, Cool J, LL, and Baby MoFo--2012

“Boyfriend of the time” and I are now 5: PP, The Scientist, Cool J, LL, and Baby MoFo

And, after half a lifetime, guess where I’m finally GOING?

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be a PROFESSOR there or anything . . . but I am finally going back.

The Worst Tooth Fairy Ever


The Scientist leads a glamorous life. Last week he jetted off West; this week East. Well, OK, the West was Minnesota (be sure to pronounce like a toothless hockey player)–not so glamorous. The East, however, is Portugal–not too shabby. He jets off here, he jets off there, and poor Poor Princess–I jet off nowhere. I stay home playing mommy–chef and chauffeur, judge and jury, teacher and trainer. And tooth fairy. Twice.

It was me who couldn’t handle the tooth.

The first time LL lost a tooth during the Scientist’s trip to Minnesota, all went smoothly. LL wrote the tooth fairy a note kindly asking for $2, put his tooth under his pillow, and I swapped his note and tooth for 2 dollar bills. Fait accomplit. Good Tooth Fairy. Good mommy.

But the second time–the second time The Scientist was also gone a second time–a second time in the span of a week. And this time he wasn’t only gone for 3 days across the country, but 7 across the ocean. And even though it was only a couple of days into those 7, back-to-back full-time mommying was making me tired. Damn tired.

That evening, the kids kept getting out of bed with one excuse or another. “Mama, I’m thirsty.” “Mama, I need to poo.” “Mama, can you come cuddle with me again?” “Mama, can you give me a math problem?” “No fair–I want a math problem!” “Me too!” And then finally, “Mama–come see all the blood!”


“I lost another tooth!”

I debate getting up. “Come downstairs,” I finally say. “Let me see.”

Bloody Hell. It was true.

Bloody Hell. It was true.

“OK,” I say, too tired to even rise from the sofa. “Stick it under your pillow, and I’m sure the tooth fairy will come.”

Only–she didn’t.

She fell asleep on the sofa, and then woke herself up long enough to brush her teeth before collapsing in bed.

The next morning, I’m awoken to a wail. “Maaaammmaaaa! The tooth fairy didn’t come! My tooth is STILL here!”


Cool J sits up in bed. “Did you write her a note? Did you ask for anything? How would she know she had to come and give you something?”

Ah, Cool J. My savior.


That night, LL sat down at the table and wrote the Tooth Fairy a note: “Dear Tooth Fairy, Can I please have $2? Thank you.” He turned the two o’s in Tooth into eyeballs with long eyelashes, and signed his name, first and last.

“I’m sure she’ll come this time,” I say. I write my own notes–at least five, though they’re virtual, not physical–and I plant them in different places in my brain. Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget. “I’m sure she’ll come this time,” I say again.

Only–she didn’t.

Repeat of the previous night. I was watching Kristen Stewart (I’m committed to trashy TV during the Scientist’s absence: the night before it was stuttering Stewart in New Moon, this time in Eclipse) trying to be oh-so-cool in her Northwest grunge (seriously? Is that still in style there?) and wondering how Robert Pattinson is not getting that awful red lipstick all over her, and just feeling generally uncomfortable by their permanently-pained facial expressions (are they constipated??) (Thank goodness for Jacob–Ooooooh, Jacob . . .!). And then my brain went dead.

When the alarm went off the next morning, I hit snooze. But when I started dreaming of teeth falling from the sky, I bolted awake. Shit!!!! I dashed down the stairs, grabbed my wallet, took out 3 one-dollar bills–the kid deserves interest at this point–and ran upstairs to arrive precisely at the moment that LL is sitting up, hands on his pillow, about to lift it. I slide my hand under the pillow just as it rises from the bed. I swap the tooth for the cash. Success! I am unable to grab the note–LL has already noticed its presence and is asking me why the Tooth Fairy didn’t either a) take his note, or b) write him back–but who cares. My mission was a success. A last minute, under-the-wire success.

I am relieved.

LL, however, is not. “Why did she give me $3?”

“I guess she felt bad that she didn’t come the first night, so she gave you extra. Well, that was nice of her, wasn’t it?”

“No, it wasn’t right. I asked for $2.” A child’s justice is highly inflexible.

“Oh, that’s OK. Just be happy you got more.”

“No, I’m not supposed to get more. That’s not right.”

“The Tooth Fairy didn’t do good?”


The whole day LL sat there with the three dollar bills in his hands, wondering aloud what was wrong with the tooth fairy–can’t she read???

That Tooth Fairy needs an early retirement–or at least a vacation!

Dear Scientist, come on home, won’t you?

Multitasking Mom


When I was away on the left coast last week, I was out late in the evenings (talking about research, of course–what else does one do at conferences other than work?), up early (thanks to my routine-addled body, and because of course I wanted to do some work!), taking long runs (to think about my research!), and I was never, never, never tired. Miracle? Or just a case of not-momming?

(While I was gone, The Scientist, poor, poor man, was up late and early too, and everywhere in between, only rather than dealing with drinks, old friends, new friends, wonderful discussions, brilliant talks, and a bit of pool time, The Scientist was dealing with puke–the milky kind, the chunky kind, the now-we-have-wash-everything-we-own kind, the projectile-directly-into-dad’s-mouth kind. He was exhausted. Sorry, husband! But you do know I was working the whole time, right? If not, see above!).

Working outside of the home, working inside of the home, mothers are always too busy. One of my favorite email forwards ever (and rarely do I actually enjoy email forwards!) is the Mom Song, to the tune of the William Tell Overture–

Ah, momhood. Busy, busy, busy. So tiring. And while I couldn’t say working moms are necessarily busier (after all, we get a break from some of the busy momhood activities), there are definitely times when the two different kinds of busynesses of work and home smash into each other.  Such was the case for me this weekend, after I returned the conference, which (career related though it was) actually put me behind on the job front, which in turn brought my work into my weekend–when I should just be momming.

So, I decided, it was high time to cut down on my busyness and exhaustion and be a little French about it. What does Pamela Druckerman say in her book, Bringing up Bébé?–Yes: “French parents are very concerned about their kids. . . . They take reasonable precautions. But they aren’t panicked about their children’s well being.”

And the result? Druckerman tells us “French kids aren’t just more independent in their extracurricular activities. They also have more autonomy in their dealings with each other.”

Notes to self: Reasonable. Independence. Autonomy. No problem. I wasn’t going anywhere but my laptop–that is a reasonable precaution, to be home but set the kids free. The baby certainly needs independence in extracurricular activities. Why not toilet training? The big kids could learn autonomy in their dealing with each other by being left alone to do their own thing, and while I was teaching the kids all these crucial lessons (and therefore momming, really), I could have a little more time to do the things I needed to do.

So, yesterday morning, when The Scientist left to go play a little baseball (one feels one has to grant one’s husband who has done all the parenting for the last week or so a little playtime), I let go. I didn’t tell the kids what they could or could not do. I gave them, instead, a sense of independence and responsibility. And this was good for everyone–I could run a couple of loads of laundry while grading student papers, and the kids could have unstructured time. If I say so myself, I felt I was doing a great job of bringing up bébés and making working momhood really workable.

The result, you wonder? SUCCESS!! LL and Cool J played several rounds of Mille Bornes (see how French we are?), then went to work on putting together Baby MoFo’s new Cozy Coupe; Baby MoFo took off his clothes and diaper and found a green magic marker to occupy himself. And after the naked/marker fallout, Cool J dutifully grabbed himself a whole bunch of wipes (which handily were on the floor since Baby MoFo took them out, one at a time, until the box was empty, and then he filled the box with marshmallows. Such creativity!), cleaned all the pee off the floor (but I’m sure next time Baby MoFo will know where to go when he has the urge!), and LL took another bunch of wipes and began removing Baby MoFo’s self-engraved tattoos. Win-win-win!