From the mouths of the babes…

Somehow I’ve known all along that kids don’t stay kids for long (I know I’m a genius), but I didn’t expect to get ‘educated’ about various sexual subjects by a twelve-year-old boy.  More importantly… my twelve-year-old boy.  When this school year started, so did the questions, comments and many many talks about girls.  And recently he started to offer his version of what sex is, how and why it’s done.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that he is talking about it at all and especially with me, however he seems to be not only extremely opinionated but also very confident in his understanding of sexual activities…  Today he announced that he understands why boys are always supposed to do nice things for girls, but you never see girls doing anything nice for the boys.  When I asked why that is he whispered: “Girls do nice things for the boys in the bedroom, Mom!”

Not only did I throw up in my mouth a little upon hearing this, I also decided that as much as I wanted to know where, how and who told him that, I probably should end the conversation instead…  Unfortunately for me, my son was not about to let it go as he continued to inform me that he is about to be a man (with his impending Bar Mitzvah coming up), and therefore has the right to talk about sex!  God help me.  So, I went ahead against my better judgement and asked where he heard that, to which he immediately replied: “My friend Michael!  He knows everything Mom”.

Oh well, when you got a friend like Michael… who needs proper sex education?

Holiday Card Etiquette!

When you receive your first holiday card, you realize that you’re officially in the holiday season, or as I like to call it, “The Holiday card nightmare”.  As we enter the holidays, we also enter the awkward holiday greeting card etiquette.  The other day a long-time friend asked me if I get offended when people send me “Merry Christmas” cards, instead of the obvious Hanukkah cards.  Well – I replied, do you like getting “Happy Hanukkah” cards instead of “Merry Christmas” cards?  No need for explanation here…

If you don’t know someone well, I understand the general “Merry Christmas” statement, but if you know that person is anything but a Christian, why not order an extra set of plain “Happy Holiday” cards?  My friend’s reaction was, so am I supposed to order separate Hanukkah cards even though I don’t celebrate it?  No, I like getting the ones with Merry Christmas crossed out and Happy Hanukkah hand-written on them, right next to the baby Jesus and folk chanting: Our savior has been born, let’s rejoice!  But Happy Hanukkah anyway, you sad, sad Jew who’s missing out on all the saving and rejoicing that’s about to go on in here!

We (and by we, I mean the Jews) get that unless you live in Israel, are in the minority in this country and throughout the world, however that does not mean that all Gentiles have to completely ignore the fact that there are millions of people that don’t celebrate Christmas.  Anywhere you go its an automatic “Merry Christmas” greeting; from grocery stores to workplaces.  Do we (the Jews) go around saying “Happy Hanukkah” to strangers and store workers?  Can you imagine checking out at the local supermarket and just as you are about to leave announce: Happy Hanukkah to you and your family, may the spirit of Hanukkah light up your Menorah!  Actually, I have done that last week to a store clerk, just so I could beat her before the usual “Merry Christmas”.  You know the reaction I received?  A blank stare followed by an awkward “I am not Jewish” statement.  Doesn’t feel so good, store clerk, does it? Didn’t think so.

My parents on the other hand take a very different approach to all of this; they just accept and deal with it.  That’s their advice to me as well, just deal with it like all the Jews have dealt with it for thousands of years.  Then they proceed to remind me how we used to “deal” with it back home in Russia: walk home fast during the holidays, making sure that the Menorah you have wrapped in newspaper is tucked far enough into your coat that it doesn’t resemble anything “Jewish”, if anyone asks what you have under there simply reply with a “Oh, this?  It’s just a dead chicken I was able to find at the store on Minskaya and Leningradskaya street.  You might want to hurry, I heard they were about to run out of them!”  Then you proceed to distract the gentile with something as you reposition the Menorah and walk briskly towards home.  Usually the whole ‘they-are-selling-chickens’ routine gets people distracted enough to make them forget they might be talking to a Jew, since chicken was comparable to a diamond in those days.  Another way how the Jews have been so-called dealing with it, mainly in the former Soviet Union is to pretend they are not Jewish or have ever been one.  It’s a very common practice, which many families still participate in to this day…  Our family however did not, only for the simple fact that there was no getting around ‘looking Jewish’ as my Father put it.

As much as I appreciate my parents input on how to deal with the holidays, they very well know I am not the one to ‘just deal’ with anything.  My approach is more of a head-on-attack kind of way, which usually means pissing off a lot of neighbors, friends, strangers and parents in the schools that my kids belong to…  People seem to forget that World War 2 started because people chose to ignore, and deal with the way things were changing in Europe.  Even the Jews went along with what they were told to do by the Nazis, only because they were afraid to rock the boat, and in a way they didn’t want to think that something so awful would ever be allowed to happen to them.  But it did happen, and in a way because people ‘just went along’ with every change that was happening.  That’s part of the reason I refuse to go along with this whole ‘do as you are told, say Merry Christmas and blend in’ routine.  Sorry, but if you send me a Christmas card with baby Jesus on it, you bet I am sending back a Hanukkah card that may say something like this:

” Happy Hannukkah, let’s celebrate our people’s battle from oppression and genocide, after the Greek-Syrians destroyed our Temple for the second time, massacring thousands of Jews, desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls, making the Jewish people pray to the Greek Gods and outlawing Judaism.  But thanks to Judah Macabbee and his brave army of twelve little Jews (all proudly under 5 feet 4 inches), who drove the Greek army (of 1,000 mind you) and finally rebuild the Temple. Let’s celebrate the many failed attempts of trying to wipe out the whole species of Jews – 5772 years later, somehow we are still here!  Happy Hanukkah!  We are still here, Biatches!  Not going anywhere, so stop trying!”

Well, maybe I’d leave out the ‘biatches’ part, but either way you get the point.  So, to quote Adam Sandler: drink your ginatonica, and smoke your marijuanica, and have a happy, happy Hanukkah!

The Russian way of educating children

A distant memory came to mind the other day. Back in Russia, well technically it was in Riga, Latvia my parents decided to get my brother and I English lessons in the anticipation of our future move to the United States. This was about a year before we actually immigrated, so we thought it would give us plenty of time to learn the language… On top of private tutoring, we also had English lessons in school, however as we found out later it was a total waste of time. Not only was I NOT learning how to speak English, but it was confusing the hell out of me to have to go between Latvian language and English. Since Latvian was the main language of this former Soviet Republic, those children whose first language was Russian had to learn it in school. On top of learning Latvian, which by the way has a Latin alphabet where Russian is Cyrillic (more confusion there), going back and forth between English and Latvian made all the pronunciations that much harder.
Take this Latvian word as an example: Piens. In Latvian it means milk, and you would pronounce it just like its spelled: Pii-E-N-S, however in English you would pronounce the same word either: Pie-N-SA, or P-NSA. See the confusion? Also according to my English teacher at school, I was never going to speak English because I was absolutely awful at it. Hmm, well… not much I can say here except for wishing I’d remembered her name so I could send her a very sweet letter, all in English. Unfortunately, I do not.

I vaguely remember forcing myself into her classroom every day, only to hear her monotonously berate the students about their lack of brain cells when it came to English. It was definitely a very effective way to encourage students to apply themselves harder. Now that I look back at all my teachers in Russia, it was almost THE protocol of how they were SUPPOSE to teach: berate, abuse, humiliate.  And it never failed; every chance they got to make fun of you, they took it! Somehow it was supposed to make us better students, which at the time I didn’t understand or care for and it only made all of us more apprehensive and stressed.

The strange thing about all of that is somehow it worked! Not only did I learn how to speak English, but obviously to write and read as well… Maybe this whole verbal abuse is not such a bad thing for children. What I mean is, take a look at most Russians, they are for the most part accomplished, well-read, ambitious, and educated individuals. Sure they are not the most balanced, calm, mild-tempered, soft-spoken, shy, aggressive-less people in the world, but who needs that? That’s why they are one of the most feared people in the world.  And when you got that going for you, who needs to be chemically balanced?

Overcoming my homesickness…

This morning was a bit of a somber morning for me…  Our six-grader headed out to a four-day overnight Science camp today!  I have to emphasize the OVERNIGHT part since it was the only thing I heard when first learning about this little adventure, which might as well had said a six-month-overnight-camp.  It all sounds the same to me, because all I hear is: my child will be without his Mommy!  It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t called me that in years, I still think of him as a three-year-old.  Surely, I am not the only Mother (or the last one) to worry about her child going away for days at a time, however I suspect I might be in the minority when it comes to everything else I did prior to his departure…

That would include:

– packing eight pairs of underwear and socks instead of the recommended four, as specifically stated in the camp flyer

– packing four pairs of pants instead of the recommended two, again as specifically stated in the camp flyer

– packing enough toothpaste to last him til next year instead of the recommended one-trial-sized-tube

– packing shampoo and conditioner to last at least two weeks because it was listed under the “optional items” section

– packing four pairs of pants instead of the recommended two

– packing eight shirts instead of the recommended four

– and of course packing enough snacks for the long 30-minute ride to the camp completely ignoring the section marked “what NOT to pack”, because like a good Jewish Mother I never let my kids leave the house with a little something to nosh on “just in case”.

The last few days leading up to today I kept thinking how much my son will be homesick, and me not being there to comfort him.  The more I thought about that, the more I started to notice that it doesn’t seem to phase him one bit that he will be gone for a whole four days!  All he cared about was getting his friends into the same cabin, and whether or not he can try sneaking in his iPod…  Every night I snuggled next to him telling him not to worry, that he will have a great time and to call me for any reason, no matter how small it may be.  And every night AFTER that I would overhear him telling his brother to be good and “distract Mom as much as possible because she will be a total mess!”  Nice.

When we finally dropped him off at school this morning, I quietly told my son that I love him and that I might cry a little bit when he goes.  He turned to me and with a straight face replied: “I know you love me Mom.  It’s OK, you can cry.  Just go do it over there somewhere, not too close OK?”

Not much more I can say after that, except for: looks like I’m the one with the homesickness problem, not my child.