Tag : Claire Isaacs

Live from the Lilith Blog

April 16, 2008 by

Maternal Myopia

My children are not perfect. I can say this because I have been a mother for almost seven years, and so have had ample time in which get used to the idea. But my god, how it hurt at first.

Most first-time parents believe that their baby is the most beautiful, the smartest, the most wonderful baby in human history. I know I certainly did. And we all know that everybody thinks that, and that everybody cannot possibly be right, but we’re still sure that we are.

Both sides are true: every child is absolutely perfect, and no child is absolutely perfect. The hardest part of sending my son to preschool when he was three was being forced to view him through other people’s eyes. And other people saw him, quite naturally, as flawed.

My son is now in first grade, and the parent-teacher conference my husband and I went to last week was not so bad. It gets easier as time goes on—I no longer cry in my car after these meetings. In fact, N’s teachers have many good things to say about him.

My daughter, a toddler, is still all mine, though my eyes are a bit clearer this time around. The tragedy—and salvation—of the second child is that her parents know she’s not perfect from babyhood. I am experienced enough now to know where she lags developmentally and to recognize her pigeon-toed, slightly lopsided gait.

I haven’t yet given R over to the system. Unlike her brother, she is not yet bound by institutional rules (however reasonable they are), and she is not one of many. There are days when I drive, exhausted, frazzled, and unwashed, past the daycare center at my husband’s place of work, and think “if only, if only.” And then I keep going.

–Claire Isaacs

Continue Reading

  • No Comments
  •  

Live from the Lilith Blog

March 18, 2008 by

Putting Ourselves Up for Sale?

In Suze Orman’s latest PBS special, the personal finance guru exhorts women not to volunteer, not to “put themselves on sale.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I am becoming increasingly aware of just how much Jewish communal life relies on volunteers, many of whom are women.

To me, Orman’s directive sounds a lot like 1980s second-wave-feminist calls for women to put their kids in daycare and become, essentially, men. And, like some of our foremothers, Orman is missing the point. Real equality between the sexes, true equality of opportunity, will come not from women’s abandonment of our traditional role as caretakers, but from men’s joint assumption of it.

Over the past month I have become involved in a major fundraising effort for my son’s Jewish day school. At the initial meeting, I looked around me at the group of highly educated, professionally experienced Jewish women who were donating their time and talents to the school. Why shouldn’t we be doing this, I wanted to ask Orman. This is good work, important work, even though it is unpaid work.

A few days later I visited an old friend. We’ve known each other from toddlerhood, and, though we are quite different, share a deep bond that comes from years of shared experiences. I told her about the volunteer work I was doing for the school—and she laughed.

Her laughter hurt me, not just because it was rude, but because it was a split-second, unguarded, and thus very telling, response. It went to the heart of the mommy wars, a topic we’ve been delicately mincing around for years. (Seven years ago, our children were born within a few weeks of each other. My friend went back to work on Wall Street after six weeks, whereas I have never returned to my job.) My friend feels that paid work is by definition more legitimate than unpaid work. She sees volunteering as frivolous busywork for bored ladies who lunch. I see it as the least I can do to further the wonderful work the school does in general, and the financial aid it gives my son in particular.

I will always love my friend. She has been in my life far too long for that to change. But I fear that our friendship is devolving into a bond based on where we’ve been instead of who we are.

(For more on the Mommy Wars, check out this article from the Lilith archives.)

–Claire Isaacs

Continue Reading

  • 2 Comments
  •  

Live from the Lilith Blog

March 4, 2008 by

Philanthropy Begins at Home

We all know the stereotypes about Jews and money, but what if you’re Jewish and you don’t have any money to speak of? It’s one thing to help the UJA/Federation raise money for Jews facing persecution in third world countries, but what about when the need for charity lies closer to home?

My son attends a Jewish day school. He gets what used to be called a scholarship but is now called financial assistance.

I love N’s school. I love the warm environment and the excellent teachers. I love it that his principal knows who he is. I love the fact that he reads Hebrew as well as English, love that the songs he sings are Jewish songs. The school both challenges and nurtures my son—it’s true, the platitudes found in school promotional brochures really apply. Of course, for $16,000 for first grade, I should expect nothing less.

I wish that Jewish schools (and synagogues) operated on a sliding scale system. It seems correct to ask people to pay a percentage of their income, rather than charging everyone the same tuition or membership costs. My husband and I have not officially joined the shul we attend because we cannot afford it.

I wonder if the reason the sliding scale system has not caught on is because of the golden rule—the person with the gold makes the rules. If you’re rich, a sliding scale works against you. On the other hand, N’s school has many very generous, wealthy families. With all the money they donate to the school on top of the tuition they pay, they may in fact approximate what a sliding scale payment would be for them.

But then there is what I call the Water Fountain Factor (WFF). If families with lots of money gave more to the school because they had to, there could be no water fountains (or classrooms/libraries/early childhood centers, etc.) named for them. They would not be able to feel particularly good about the money they gave to the school, and their generosity would not be made public.

When I was in college, I read an essay by Audre Lorde called “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In it, Lorde observes that slaves, particularly house slaves, knew much, much more about their masters than their masters knew about them. It has been 20 years since I read that essay, but I have never forgotten Lorde’s message: the have-nots always know more about the haves than vice-versa. Money and status don’t just buy things, they buy a privileged, easy ignorance.

Last year, on N’s first day of kindergarten, I saw that the children’s cubbies were organized in birth order, with the child’s birthday posted above the cubby. N shared his date with another boy, and though their birthdays weren’t until spring, I made a mental note to work out the kids’ party schedule with the other family.

About five weeks before the big day (which fell on a Sunday, making it quite easy to pick a day to celebrate), I called the other mother to work out the conflict. She had no idea what I was talking about; had never realized that the boys shared a birthday. In fact, she told me, she had just ordered the party invitations the day before. (That’s right, ordered the invitations. From a printer. As though it were the child’s Bar Mitzvah.)

Long story short: N shared his birthday with J, the richest kid in the class—possibly in the entire school. J’s party was held in his giant, over-the-top house, which features a full-size gym/basketball court (complete with snack bar, N informed me). There were waiters passing baby lamb chops, carnival games and rides, basketball games, and, instead of goody bags, a giant candy “bar”—bins and bins of different candies—from which the kids could pick the sweets they wanted.

Now, J’s family is very generous to the school—and they get honored for it. But how wonderful would it be if they gave the same amount of money without the fanfare. Biblical tithing—ma’aser—would do much more for Jewish organizations than the WFF model. It is true that “Ein kemach, ein torah” (without money, there can be no torah). But it is also true that “Lo al halechem livado yichyeh ha’adam” (man cannot live on bread alone). Out of the tension between these two principles, both equally true, we must forge a new way of funding Jewish communal life.

–Claire Isaacs

Continue Reading

  • 2 Comments
  •  

Live from the Lilith Blog

February 19, 2008 by

Costco Lessons

My husband and I decided that what was missing in our lives was a Costco membership. And so we went, babes in the woods, with our two babes in tow.

Here is what we learned:

1. Costco on a weekend afternoon is the suburban equivalent of a mosh pit.
2. It costs a minimum of $50 to become a member. Membership buys you the privilege of spending more money.
3. Think carefully before you buy a pallet of toilet paper. True, toilet paper is something you’ll always use, but you may prefer to keep your assets more liquid. (If you don’t mind tying up your money for a year or two, note that CDs give better returns.)
4. Some people feel they need 6lb. cans of corn niblets. I don’t understand it either.
5. Cement floors do not make for a comfortable shopping experience. You will discover this when you are as far from the doors as possible, which is also approximately when your child will need to pee. My own child decided to deal with this by placing a hand inside his underwear and clutching himself.
6. Unless you work as greengrocer, avoid the produce department. I don’t see how it is possible to consume a flat of mangoes before they rot without developing dysentery, but evidently there are legions of Americans out there with bowels made of sterner stuff than mine.
7. Not only are Costco’s containers of grapes huge, the grapes themselves are huge. You know how there are grape tomatoes? Well these are tomato grapes.
8. Guacamole is sold in boxes of three tubs. The label suggests eating one now and freezing two for later. Who freezes guacamole?
9. Melons come in pairs. Seriously.

–Claire Isaacs

Continue Reading

  • 1 Comment
  •  

Live from the Lilith Blog

February 7, 2008 by

Introducing: The Domestic Agenda

I am a mother. I am other things too, of course: a woman, a wife to M, a sister, a daughter, a friend, an American, a Jew, an editor, a reader, a consumer—but ever since my son N was born six years ago, what I am, primarily, is a mother. In the course of an average day I nurse and care for R, our 14-month-old girl, and wage what my mother calls “the battle against entropy.” I wipe little behinds and fold laundry. If I can get dinner cooked, more’s the better. It is not glamorous work, but at its best it is deeply satisfying and joyful. At its worst, it is stupifyingly dull, exhausting, and demoralizing. I try to appreciate the little things: a visit from a friend while the baby naps, a good book and the time to read it, a smile on my son’s face when he gets off the bus in the afternoon.

I am also a writer. It is hard to write at 1:19 a.m., especially with the repetitive melody from the baby’s noise machine coming through the monitor. I am worn out, tired from a day of clashes and truces with a testy first-grader, tired from a day of trips up and down the stairs with a 23-pound baby, tired from a day that begins with one mess and ends with a different one.

Simone de Beauvoir was right: The soiled is made clean; the clean becomes soiled. Again, and again, and again. I feel lucky, though. I can write now because M is cleaning the kitchen. Actually, that’s not quite true—if he weren’t cleaning the kitchen, I’d still be writing, I’d just have a dirty kitchen.

Soon M will go up to bed and the house will be mine. The rest of the day it’s not possible to follow a thought through to its end, to sit still and reflect. Before my children were born, I was a long-range planner—I even had a five-year fold-out calendar insert for my Filofax. (Nothing I wrote down on it has actually come to pass.) Now I live one day at a time, not out of any spiritual practice, but because that’s all I can manage. M doesn’t understand this, doesn’t recognize the woman who greets with genuine surprise the event she has known for weeks was coming.

–Claire Isaacs

Continue Reading

  • No Comments
  •