Category Archives: Nostalgia

I WILL NOT YELL THIS WEEK!! (bli neder)

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One teenage summer, I took a job as a counselor at a summer camp in a Jewish cottage colony. All the campers slept at their cottages, which surrounded the camp, and all the counselors, who also had cottages nearby, slept on-site. The set-up made the camp very exclusive, as rare was the counselor who had not been going to the camp his or her entire life. Still, my BFF, Geddy Lee, whose cottage I had visited many times over the years, convinced me to join her. So, though a bit nervous about how I would fit in, I did.

The camp was (and is) about an hour from the city, and on the day we started our pre-camp training, we threw our sleeping bags and duffel bags in the back of Geddy Lee’s mom’s station wagon (a wood-paneled artifact from around the time Geddy Lee was born) and headed out to the country roads. About five minutes into our drive, Geddy Lee’s argument with her mom began. I think it was about Geddy Lee’s supershort cut-off shorts or maybe her boyfriend (the neighbor’s gardener) or perhaps it was about the clay penis she had sculpted and insisted on leaving out on display in their house. I’m not sure. All I know is that it escalated and escalated and that 70s wagon was vibrating with their voices (OK–or age). I tried to distract myself by thinking about what a fun time I would have at camp.

Finally, the fight hit its climax. “I refuse to have my daughter to talk to me that way!”
“I refuse to have my mother talk to me that way!”

“If you don’t like it, you can get out of my car and walk to camp!”

“We will! Come on, PP!”

The car came to a screeching halt in the middle of nowhere. Geddy Lee’s door flew open. I sat in the back quietly, pretending to be invisible. “Let’s go!” Geddy Lee repeated.

“Do I have to?” The sky was black. I slowly dragged myself from the car.  By the time I was out, I discovered Geddy Lee’s mom had already tossed my stuff out onto the gravel and was gone. The rain began to fall almost immediately.

“Sorry,” Geddy Lee said sheepishly as the rain soaked us. “But I figured you would understand.” Huh? “I mean your house is always high drama.” It was? “It’s just like mine–a yelling house.” She then proceeded to do a perfect imitation of my mother shrieking my name.

It took us about 3 hours to walk to camp. The duffel bags were heavy. I held one handle on Geddy Lee’s bag, one handle on mine, and she did the same, walking in front of me. It poured the whole time. I was starving. And I was thinking. My house was high drama, it would seem. My house was a yelling house. I made myself a promise: when I grow up, and I have kids of my own, my house will be so calm, people will be sure we’re WASPs. No one will call us high drama. No one will call us a yelling house.

So, it turns out that I failed.

That voice Geddy Lee imitated over 20 years ago sounds eerily like my own today.

In truth, I forgot all about that high drama episode between Geddy Lee and her mother, and my internal promise, for the longest time. It was obliterated from my mind by all the fun I had at the camp (and also by a high drama incident of a wholly different kind that happened that very night, involving a drinking game). On Monday, however, staying at my in-laws’ cottage, with my kids attending a similar day camp filled with Jewish kids who summer in nearby cottages, I had a flashback to that stormy day years ago. I remembered, and in so doing, I had a painful realization: I yell almost every day. Sometimes it’s a safety yell (Get off the road!), which I think is OK, but too often it’s a mad yell (Go to sleep already! Who peed all over the floor?).

After dropping off the kids at camp, I was reading this great blog post about Tisha B’av. Now, I actually had no plan to fast (or if I did, it was so fleeting it doesn’t really count), but I decided that to commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple, which has been chalked up to baseless hatred, I was going to do a very unhateful thing: I was not going to yell. All week. No matter what. I was going to have a low drama house. I was going to be a WASP.

Wish me luck, will you? I am on day 3, and so far doing pretty well. Mind you, the kids have been relatively well-behaved. It’s possible (highly likely) that will change. And I will have to keep saying to myself: I will not yell this week. I will not yell this week. I will not yell this week. Of course, I didn’t make any such promise about not leaving them by the side of the road in the rain . . . It’s a good thing their camp bags aren’t too heavy.

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These bags were made for dancing–not schlepping in the rain.

Calling Mom

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PP: “I heard you called a bunch of times. What’s going on?”

Mom: “What’s going on there? What took you so long to call back? I was so worried!”

PP: “Why?”

Mom: “I had no idea why you weren’t calling back! I thought something had happened to you or the boys!!!”

PP: “Nope. Just busy.”

Mom: “Too busy to call your mother?”

PP: “Sorry, Mom. I’m just trying to enjoy the country. I’m, you know, running, biking, taking the baby to the lake and the boys to camp . . . Also, I’m revising my manuscript.”

Mom: “What manuscript?”

PP: “The book I’ve been working on for the past 3 years.”

Mom: “What book?”

PP: “Don’t I talk to you like–every day?”

Mom: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

PP: “Forget it. Anyway, it’s nice here. Quiet.”

Mom: “Do you know anyone there?”

PP: “Actually, today I saw a woman at camp I know from way back. Her kids also come here.”

Mom: “Who?”

PP: “Oh, you wouldn’t know her.”

Mom: “How do you know her?”

PP: “She went to Hebrew High with me.”

Mom: “And she recognized you?”

PP: “Why wouldn’t she? I look the same.”

Mom: “As when you were 5?”

PP: “I wasn’t 5 in high school.”

Mom: “What’s her name?”

PP: “Elisa, but you really wouldn’t know her.” (Mom’s memory is notoriously sieve-like)

Mom: “I remember her.”

PP: “No you don’t.”

Mom: “Does she have a twin?”

PP: “Oddly, yes. But I still think you don’t know her.”

Mom (proudly): “I do. You took ballet with her and her sister.”

PP (sighing): “Her twin is a brother, and you are thinking of Amy and Adina, who were in my class in nursery school.”

Mom: “Weren’t they at Etz Chaim with you for kindergarten?”

PP: “I didn’t go to Etz Chaim.”

Mom: “Yes you did.”

PP: “I went to public school.”

Mom: “Don’t be ridiculous. I never sent you to public school. Dad–” (she calls my dad Dad. He calls her Ma).

PP: “Mom, I have class pictures. I remember my teachers’ names. I–“

Mom: “Daddy confirmed it. You went to Etz Chaim.”

PP: “I did not go to Etz Chaim.”

Mom: “Your teacher was Mrs. Traub. I hear she’s unwell. I saw her brother. I told him you were in her kindergarten class at Etz Chaim.”

PP: “That was your other daughter’s second grade teacher at Hebrew Day.”

Mom: “You have nothing to say about her being sick?”

PP: “I barely remember her. I’m sorry to hear she’s sick.”

Mom: “Hmmph.”

PP: “Mom, I have to go. I want to take the baby into town.”

Mom: “That’s it?”

PP: “That’s it.”

Mom: “Fine. If that’s all you have to say to me–“

PP: “The baby is very restless.”

Mom: “You could call me sometimes. It would be nice if I knew anything about your life these days.”

PP: “I’ll keep that in mind.”

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Dear Self

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Remember how afraid Marty is of meeting his past-self and future-self in Back to the Future? Doc Brown made it sound really bad: he could explode the universe. Or disrupt the space-time continuum. Or erase himself. Or something crazy. Perhaps the effects of such a meeting would be less dramatic in real life.

You never know.

My past-self (though likely not the universe) might have imploded if she were to realize that none of her dream-children would ever be born. After all, she spent months, if not years, very carefully crafting the names of all her future children:

Anastasia Monique Chantal

Charity Ellsbeth (alt. Charity Elisant)

Chayara Nadiva

Little girls, perhaps you live in an alternate universe somewhere, wearing pretty pink dresses and hosting tea parties, or scorning pretty pink dresses and joining the Tea Party.

Today an envelope arrived in the mail. I looked at it, turned it over in my hands a few times, and then put it on the side table. Later, The Scientist came home and said, “Hey! You got mail!” Before I could stop him, he opened it. But to his surprise, inside the envelope he found another envelope.

Which is what I expected.

The second envelope was my reprieve. My chance to say: “Don’t open it!” My chance to collect myself just a little bit more. Not that I haven’t had 13 years to collect myself.

A few minutes ago, at The Scientist’s prodding, I decided to open the inside envelope. The one I had addressed all those years ago. The one from my past-self–Past Princess.

The letter was written near the end of the last century. It was written during a “mentor meeting”–one of the meetings I had with a college teacher who had greater experience than I, and who was an inspirational figure who taught me how to teach. And, apparently, to reflect. Because this letter was my assignment. “I’ll send it to you in 5 years,” he promised. “Just put it in an envelope and use an address that you’re sure will still be valid in 5 years.” I didn’t know that it would take him 13 years to put that envelope in the mail. The family house–our famous house with a Chai (we lived at #18)–has long passed hands, and passed hands again. It has been renovated inside and out, gained an addition, and even bears a new facade, not red brick, but gray stucco. It’s there, but not there, a big stucco sign of what once was. The letter should have disappeared into the recesses of the universe in all this time, like my childhood house.

Of course, I couldn’t forget that little assignment, and so, being the pain in the butt that I am, I found that brilliant mentor on Facebook (where else does anyone find anyone?) and asked for my letter-to-self, hoping, against all odds (13 years–who knows how many moves? how small the New York apartments? how tight the storage space?), he had retained it.

He had.

So there was my letter, ready to be read, and I was holding back. The reason I was so hesitant to open this letter is because I suspected some things: that I had had great ambitions that weren’t fulfilled. That I hadn’t been nice about The Scientist. That I had been nicer about the guy I was dating–some Law Student who had a number of strange quirks. (On the first or second date, he latched on to the fact that our birthdays were 9 days apart, just as his parents’ birthdays were, but when I casually mentioned a few dates later that I had no plans to change my last name upon marrying, he flew into a blind rage and declared that HIS wife and HIS kids would bear HIS name. I’m not really sure why my last name was so relevant to him–he hadn’t so much as given me a peck on the cheek at that point [did I mention this was the 5th or so date?]. Fastforward a passage of time, and we’re on another date/post-date/past-pecks: he picks up the phone to call his dad in California while we are in the middle of engaging in an activity that was not eating dinner to ask Dad about the potential effects of certain meds on certain parts of his body [Dad was not a doctor, by the bye]. . . . The relationship didn’t last long.)

I remembered correctly. I did write about Law Student. And I am pleased to see that rather than declare my sappy, pathetic enthrallment with him, I made a brief prediction and was pretty much dead on: “As for our [Law Student], future icon of the bourgeoisie, I can only imagine he will just be the vaguest of memories . . . some lawyer out in California that I knew . . . once.” CHECK, Past Princess!

As for The Scientist, I was a little off. I claimed that he preventing me from meeting my bashert. How could I have known that he was my bashert? Even then, not dating him, barely speaking to him, I write: “I love him today and have loved him for oh so long!” And yet I didn’t know he was my bashert. How silly I was.

I mean, really silly. Because it was not that I was so ambitious then, but so wrong about how I ought to be pursuing my ambitions. I thought graduate school the holy grail. And yet, I thought, in writing my letter, that I was going to leave grad school, and this idea terrified me:

“What will I be doing 4 mos. from now nevermind 4 years? (Consulting? Studying? Teaching?). It scares me so much to leave this place despite the ‘I’m going out to the real world to make money’ bravado.”

Oh, Fear!

Oh, 24-year-old Self! You should have gone out into the world and made money!

Alas, I did not. And so I became the Poor Princess. Although, also, the happily married Poor Princess.

*                    *                *              *                *              *              *               *              *

I end with an assessment of my world, a philosophical summing up of all that is important, and a question that I think significant enough to allow my future-Self to truly reflect on Life and all that it’s worth:

“Today I’m 24. My grandmother is alone and lonely. My brother-in-law just had his 32nd birthday. My sister is 9 months pregnant. My rent is going up to $1430US next month. Kitty is 12. Daddy should be retiring soon, and Mom leaving her school. And that’s my life, I suppose.

“LOVE, ME.

“PS: Oh by the way, Dear Future Self — Do you still do those teeny bikini waxes, leaving only an itty-bitty Hitler ‘stache?”

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Magic Money Part III: Conclusion

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So how, you might ask, did I keep up with the Canadian Chiquitas in the Big Apple? Was I secretly:

Only a few years older and on the other coast?

Nah. I wasn’t brave enough for such illicit thrills. If I were like Angel here, I wouldn’t be writing a blog. I’d be publishing a scandalous and titillating memoir worth millions.

So how did I do it?

It’s time for the magician to reveal her tricks.

Here goes.

Are you ready?

Whenever I needed money, it appeared. There was no trick. The money was actually magic. Like Jack’s beans or Snow White’s mirror. Like manna.

If you’re anything like The Scientist, you will pshaw this explanation. The Scientist will point out that there is always a logical explanation, even if we can’t always know what it is. He’s not big on the mystical and mysterious (his mother, Bubby Frummy, who gave birth to three boy-scientists, likes to say, with pride, as she watches my kids turn sticks into lightsabers and chairs into spaceships, that none of her kids ever engaged in make-believe play. I’m not sure if that statement is supposed to impress a woman who spent 13 years in higher education studying “make-believe.”). Woe to the sweet, innocent person in our house who might say, in confusion and frustration, “I don’t get science” (Confession: it’s me. If it weren’t the case, I would be the one applying to Sint Eustatius right now). A surefire way to drive The Scientist to distraction? Let’s say we’re back in our Western Canada home and all of a sudden my eyes start watering, and when I try to blink away my tears, my upper and lower lashes freeze together. In my overwrought, blinded state, I might yell, “CLOSE THE DOOR! YOU’RE LETTING IN ALL THE COLD AIR!” Oh boy would that set The Scientist off on a diatribe.

This picture was taken in May. Indoors.

Are you with The Scientist? Looking for a logical explanation for my magic money? Surely that “magic” was my trust fund (did I mention my father was a welder?). Or a side-job (have I mentioned I didn’t and don’t possess a green card?). Or something illegal? (I’m too boring. Was raised with that bourgeois morality of Jewish suburbia. See above re: no bravery).

Well, you’ll say, the obvious source was my parents who continued to spoil me. I will admit there is some truth in that. I would call them up and not beg for money or anything, but just casually mention that it turned out I didn’t have enough money to pay my credit card bill that month and so it seemed I would end up paying the 17 or 22 or 29% interest on my bill. Or was it all my bills?—since owning the credit card? Until eternity? I wasn’t quite sure, since of course I had never failed to pay my credit card in full, which was a given, since no one bearing our family name had ever failed to do such a thing. Boom. Money would show up in the joint account I had with my parents. (In an episode of “Ricki Lake” on mooching, from sometime in that fin-de-siècle, you can find the Poor Princess standing up in the audience to boast about what a mooch she is and how long she’s been one. [It was a dare, people!])

Actually, if we’re going to get all boringly factual, the beans of magic money that built my SoHo beanstock probably came from many sources. Once, I discovered I had been a(n, unbeknownst to me) plaintiff in a class action suit against my phone company, and I deserved money from them. Another time, there was a class action suit against my credit card. Sometimes my grandmother would send cash in the mail—$36 tucked into a Valentine’s Day card, $100 in a birthday card. A few dollars of interest on my security deposit showed up once a year. Old GICs and Canada Savings Bonds, bought from my Bat Mitzvah money and long forgotten, came due. And at seemingly random periods, my Canada Students Loans would be processed (worth, in American dollars, maybe 60% of their Canadian value if I was lucky) and deposited into my account.

So that’s it. There you have it. My fairy-taled single life with the gritty realism of a Zola novel. Minus the mines and deaths and riots and all that.

I miss living in a fairy tale, where you can rub on a brass lamp or wish on a star or ask a fairy godmother or open the mailbox–and your wish will come true. There’s not much in the way of magic money these days. Pity, maybe, but not magic. The other day, I lamented the loss of my favorite Lululemon headband that I had been wearing for five years—it slipped, silently, off my head as I walked home from the gym—and within the hour, my mother was at her local Lululemon buying me gift certificates that are worth about 20 headbands (“It’s your early birthday present,” she tells me). My in-laws, Bubby and Zaidie Frummy, also make me the beneficiary of their beneficence; my horseshoe jeans, jeans for all mankind, and Lulu yoga pants were all presents from them. But otherwise, I’m not in the habit of tripping over $100 bills.

And it’s too bad. After all, I will confess, it was never really the money that was magic. It was the age that was magic. Something about it makes you believe you are economically invincible (or at least, you could never be too financially f*&ed, you could never starve or have nowhere to live), which is probably the thing that makes you believe you are physically invincible (“Skydiving? Jumping out of an airplane? Awesome! SIGN ME UP!!”). But that kind of magic needs its series of mini-miracles to stay believable. . .

The other day I took Cool J to the Y, where he stared longingly at the pool and asked me, so nicely, if he could take swimming lessons. I wanted to say yes. He wasn’t asking for the Imperial Shuttle (again). And doesn’t the Torah only have one demand on parents: “A father is obligated to teach his son how to swim”? (Not even: a father must teach his son the Kaddish. Or a father must teach his son the Shema. Just to swim!). A 6-week session of swimming lessons at the Y costs $90. I wished for the return of magic.

And lo and behold!—it came! When I got home that day, The King of Hearts, a friend from across the continent and over the border called to see if I could do him a small favor. His company was trying out new checks in the US, and would I be able to receive a couriered check for $100, take it to the bank, cash it, and then report on the process to him?

I could keep the money.

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