Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Memories

Everyone always makes comments to me about a "traditional Jewish Christmas," i.e. Chinese food and a movie. I think it's quaint, because, until I was living in DC in my mid-20s and had my first ever Jewish boyfriend, I had no idea what that meant.

My family had a traditional Christmas: stockings, tons of presents, capped off with a giant family celebration. My mother did, however, draw the line at a tree. And Jesus. There was no room for Jesus in our Christmas.

Most of my memories of Christmas revolve around the fireplace in our second house in New Jersey, the big house in the affluent suburb. We always had piles of presents, and the Christmas presents were entirely separate from the Hanukkah presents. (Santa Claus was very careful most of the time to not use the Hanukkah wrapping paper.)

Every year, there was candy and an orange in the stocking, and when I was really good, sometimes something extra special like a bracelet or earrings. Santa was a firm believer that "good things come in small packages." And like my mother, Santa agreed that jewelry was a very good thing.

I had a really good childhood.

Before that house, we lived in a different house, a split-level, without a fireplace. In that house, Santa left the presents by the front door, and we would sit on the stairs and open them. I used to pester my father with all sorts of questions about how Santa got into the house in the absence of a chimney. My dad eventually told me that parents of good boys and girls gave Santa a spare key. Case closed.

The year we moved out of that first house, when my brother was still a baby, I remember my mother taking me into the city to see The Nutcracker. I had just started ballet lessons and was convinced that I was going to be a ballerina. I looked the part: tiny and vaguely Eastern European, particularly in comparison to my larger, blonder siblings and cousins. Unfortunately, despite 11 years of dance lessons, the klutzy gene prevailed. (At least I got the bookish gene to go with it!)

I've written before about the Christmases in Florida. I've told the story of the mutant and pornographic Chrismanukkah cookies. I've also noted that the house in Florida didn't have a fireplace, and so, we'd have Christmas in front of the television.

When I was older, I would wait until everyone else had fallen asleep to sneak out and leave presents from "Santa Claus" for the entire family. It was nice to surprise my mother. The last Christmas I spent with my entire family - in 2006 -- Santa brought us all matching pajamas. Santa was such a dork.

I miss Santa terribly right now. I could use a dose of Christmas magic.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Watches and time

I had just gotten out of the Metro train onto a very crowded platform, when I heard the sound of something hitting the tile. The older woman in front of me had lost her watch.

I stopped to pick it up, to the great annoyance of all of the people behind me, who pushed their way around me, to the escalator. All the time, I was shouting, "Miss! Miss! You lost your watch!"

She didn't hear me.

I ran up to her -- high heels be damned -- still shouting. There was no response until I tapped her on the shoulder. Finally, she acknowledged me, and took the watch. She hasn't heard me because she was wearing earmuffs under her jacket hood.

She thanked me profusely. I meekly said it was no trouble and headed up the escalator.

I have no idea how much the watch was worth; I barely even looked at it. (I do know that it was silver and, by feel, it was somewhat dainty.) Instead, I thought about the watch that I've been wearing day in and day out -- the cheap watch that was once my mother's. I thought about the nicer watches in my jewelry box at home that I don't often wear. I wonder if that watch meant something to her, like my watch means to me. I hope it did.

I wonder why no one else stopped or tried to get her attention. I wonder why everyone just pushed ahead, trying to ignore it. Are those five, ten, maybe fifteen extra seconds really that valuable?

Monday, December 20, 2010


I graduated from law school on December 18, 1998, three weeks after I turned 23 years old. Nineteen months later, after the bar exam and an extra year spent getting my LL.M, I was sitting in my crappy apartment in a complex where one of the Gainesville murders took place, packing up my meager possessions into boxes, and waiting for the movers to come get my stuff to cart it a thousand miles north. Other than continuing education seminars, I was done with school, raring to enter the working world.


Or so I thought.

Which brings us to the beginning of 2010. After the loss of my mom, several painful failed relationships, and interminable work stresses, I found myself looking for something, well, more. That more turned into a graduate degree program at Georgetown. And as of a few minutes ago, I just turned in my final exam for my very first class.

I am proud of myself for finishing that first class, but I have so many more to go if I want to complete the degree program. I have no idea whether I’ll ever make it to the end, with work and responsibilities and (arguably) life. But still, in this moment, I am proud. Exhausted too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Note for Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack Edwards

Dear Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack,

I am so sorry for your loss.

You are probably going to hear a lot of that over the coming weeks, often from people like me who didn't know your mother at all, except for what they saw of her on television and read of her in newspapers and magazines and, occasionally, on the internet. We all feel like we knew your mother, but we didn't -- you did. Remember that when people say things that aren't so kind.

As someone who also lost her mother way too early -- also at age 61 -- I feel so incredibly sorry for you, and I can't help but give advice.

To begin with, you should probably be aware that the next few weeks, and months, and years are going to be really hard -- and really weird. It's hard to imagine right now, but you will eventually get through this. In the meantime, just try to roll with it as best you can. Feel what you are feeling. Talk about it -- to each other, to your loved ones, to your friends. Don't hold it in.

Birthdays and holidays are hard, but that's expected. But be warned: you're going to find yourself crying when you least expect it. Sometimes I cry when I see people with their children -- because I miss my mother, and because I feel sorry for my future children who will never know their grandmother. In the three years since my mother died, that hasn't subsided, and I don't know that it ever will.

You'll also find yourself laughing at times, also when it's unexpected. For me, it was when I was going through my mother's possessions. I was hysterical when I found the random things that she collected, like hundreds of dollars of quarters she had hidden in her nightstand. And I laughed while searching through her disorganized files to find the paperwork about the extension she was building onto the house, only to find my birth announcement and a newspaper clipping from my kindergarten graduation thrown in the wrong file.

Mostly, try to remember your mother -- not the public version that everyone talks about, but the person. Hold on to the stories and the memories. (I tend to write mine down, but that's just me.)

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Scott Baio is my new Twitter BFF!

On Saturday, I attended our annual Christmanukkah party/gag gift exchange.  I wound up getting a Scott Baio poster and a fart machine.

Of course, I took to Twitter to comment on my good fortune. But then a funny thing happened.  Scott Baio responded to my tweet.  For realz, yo:

Now, you should also know that I grew up watching very little television -- until we moved to Florida when I was almost thirteen, all the television I ever watched was:
  1. Saturday morning cartoons;
  2. Shows on Friday or Saturday nights when we had a babysitter;
  3. Growing Pains (because my mom thought Kirk Cameron looked like my brother);
  4. Nickelodeon;
  5. General Hospital;
  6. reruns of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island when I was home sick;
  7. various game shows, also when I was home sick;
  8. Romper Room, Sesame Street, and the Electric Company; and
  9. whatever I was able to watch at my friends' houses. 
I was forbidden from MTV, and a whole lot of other stuff.  So, while I know about shows like "Joanie loves Chachi" and "Charles in Charge," I can honestly say that I might not have ever seen an entire episode of either.  Pretty much all of my pop culture comes from books and movies.

So, of all the 80's teen heartthrobs in the world (query:  is Scott Baio an 80's heartthrob?  Do I even have the years right?  Did I miss it because I am too young?), Scott Baio was not even on my radar.

I do, however, think it's pretty great that he responds to stuff on Twitter.  It was funny and awesome and totally made my day.