Ok, so there’s this thing called “The Paperclip Project,” which was an idea that a middle school in Tennessee had to memorialize victims of the Holocaust. Apparently, a documentary was made about this project. (I had no idea. Can’t wait to see it. I think it’s on Netflix.)

Aaaaanyway. The Who’s school is housed inside a synagogue and last month, the synagogue broke ground to build this giant paperclip statue outside as a nod to this project.** It’s really pretty cool and when I learned what it was all about (after several weeks of speculation and wonder with The Who as we passed it at drop-off) I told him. I didn’t tell him anything specific. Just that it was a paperclip statue for the synagogue.

Fast forward two months. As I’m driving, The Who — out of the blue — asks me about the paperclip. (We weren’t even near the school. I have long since given up on trying to trace the path of his thoughts to figure out where his questions come from.) So, I tell him it’s a memorial.

“What’s a memorial?” he naturally asked.

Well,” I said. “Sometimes, when people want to remember people or honor them or remember something that happened, they will build a statue or something like that to remind them.”

“Statues are of people.”

“Yes. Some statues are of people. Lots of them, but some of them are of things.”

“Why is that one a paperclip?”

I explained that the paperclip reminded people of a story about about a mean man named Hitler who killed lots of people because he didn’t like how they looked or who they were. The paperclip was built so we would remember the story and the people who died and so it would never happen again. (It occurs to me now that I never did quite make the paperclip connection because, as you might imagine, once I mentioned that a dude killed a bunch of people, the conversation took a much different path.)

“How many people did he kill? Ten?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“He killed about 6 million Jews,” I told him, my tone incredulous to match what I knew he had to be thinking.

“Six MILLION? That’s as many can fit in our big purple [exercise] ball! How many people did he kill who weren’t Jews?”

“Another 6 million.”

“That’s so many people!” he said. And then, immediately: “Why did he kill all those people?”

“Well,” I said, knowing I was falling deeper into the rabbit hole than I had bargained for, “he didn’t like people who were different than he was. He didn’t like Jewish people or men who loved men or women who loved women — gay people — or people whose skin was a different color than his.”

He thought about this for a minute and then, clearly latching onto the skin color element, said, “But we’re the same as him, so he didn’t kill us, right?”

“No, actually,” I corrected. “We’re Jews. We’re not the same as him. But he didn’t kill us because people made him stop killing long before we were born. We’re really lucky.”

“Oh, so you mean he killed people when the dinosaurs were here? Did he kill dinosaurs?”

I explained that, no, it wasn’t quite that long ago. To put it in perspective, I said that it stopped happening right before his Grandpa was born. But that it was still happening when his Nana was alive. He chewed on that for a while, too, and then said:

“The Wicked Witch is more wicked than Hitler. He has five pieces of wicked and the Wicked Witch has 100 pieces of wicked.”

I knew that reasoning with him on this was going to be an exercise in futility, but I tried.

“Well, he doesn’t look wicked, like the witch. Or like a monster. If you saw a picture of him, he would just look like a man to you, but he is actually much more wicked than the witch. He killed so many people for no good reason, but the witch was just trying to get the ruby slippers and didn’t actually kill anyone.”

“No, Mama,” he told me, firmly. “You’re wrong.” The Wicked Witch has more wickedness.” (Yes, he said “wickedness.” He turns adjectives into nouns, no big whoop, much to my delight. He also used “otherwise” correctly in a sentence yesterday. But I digress.) I decided not to fight him on it because we were coming up on dinnertime and no one needs to engage in a battle of wills with a hungry, tired four-year-old.

And, so that was that. Then we went into Target and had a little gift-card shopping spree and Hitler was all but forgotten. I had to come home and tell m* all about it, though, in anticipation of the day when he, again out of the blue, says something like, “Remember that time when Hitler killed 6 million Jews?”

No one needs to be hit with that at 7am on a Sunday morning without warning.

** Edited to add: once I began watching the film tonight, I learned that the reason the school collected paper clips is because people in Norway wore paper clips on their collars during the Holocaust as a show of solidarity. So the paper clip really became a symbol of solidarity and that is the reason for the statue. Not actually the middle school’s project.


We decided, before The Who was born, to raise him Jewish. To me, that meant that he would receive a Jewish education and that he would have a Bar Mitzvah. I guess this also meant that we would join a synagogue and enroll him in Hebrew school, but that felt so far off at the time. (More far off than a Bar Mitzvah? Somehow not. Don’t question it. I was a little crazed during those months.)

Tiny Yarmulke. (Getting his Hebrew name at about 6 months old.)

I have never been totally solid on my belief in God. For a really long time, I couldn’t believe in something I couldn’t see and know. I wasn’t willing to believe that anything had more power or control than I. Letting go of the reins has not been easy for me. I have, however, always believed in the power of the universe, insomuch that it could make paths easier or more complicated — open doors to what was meant to be. (Like, for example, getting pregnant with The Who. All of it fell so easily into place that I have always known it was meant to be. The timing was right, the health issues all aligned, it only took two tries, etc.) But the universe is not God. God is heavy duty. God is religion and religion is divisive. I have long seen organized religion as a problem in our society — a fortress behind which people stand as they hurl out icy snowballs. (I think, perhaps, I am beginning to re-form my opinions on this, but that’s another post.)

So, Rosh Hashanah is coming up and The Who goes to a Jewish preschool. Much to my delight, they had a “shofar factory” program the other day where a rabbi came in and showed the kids how to make and blow the shofar. He also talked to them about the holiday and what it means and, after school on the ride home, for the first time, The Who talked to me about God.

Who: The shofar sounds like a seagull! Aarr! Aaaar! Aaaaaar!
Me: You’re right! It does sort of sound like that! Why do you blow the shofar?
You blow it up, up, up right to God.
Oh, cool. Who is God?
God is almost like a giant that’s up in the sky.
Do you know God?
No, I don’t really know him, but I know about him. He lives in the sky.
Is God a man or a woman?
God is a man AND a woman!
So, how do you talk to God?
You cry to him.
You cry to God?
Yeah, we cry like babies to God and he helps us have a good year and we help him have a good year and next week we’re gonna blow the shofar up to God for a good year.

We have never talked to The Who about God. In part because he’s three and he hasn’t asked about it and in part, I’m sure, because we haven’t gotten on the same page about it. I loved hearing his take on it, though, and I think I know what m* and I will be talking about over dinner on our date night this weekend!





By the end of yesterday, m* had really reached the end of her rope and needed a stretch of several hours of quiet, which I totally understood. So, I put myself to bed early last night (to make sure I’d have enough energy and patience) and planned a solo day with The Who. Nothing hugely special because it is Labor Day, after all — and a rainy one at that — so our choices were really limited. But we made it work and had one of the chillest days we have had together in a long time.

Some looking around online last night alerted me to an antique car show that was happening rain or shine at a diner over the bridge, so I figured — breakfast PLUS cool cars? Ok. That’s where we started our day.

I always have a Take-n-Play Thomas set (among other things) in my “backpack o’ fun” that comes to restaurant outings with us. We are very rarely caught without at least a few things with which to pass the time between sitting and eating. Today was no exception.

Once the train novelty wore out, I pulled a few other vehicles from the backpack and we made our very own car show like the one setting up outside our window. The Who drew the parking spots and I labeled them. He named the show: “The C’mon In Car Show.”

He chose grape juice as his drink and ordered challah French toast. Halfway through the meal, he said, “Hey! This is like shabbat! Challah and wine juice!”

Despite the rain having all but stopped while we were inside eating, by the time we were done and ready to look at some cars, it was practically pouring horizontally. The Who, bedecked in his totally weatherproof windbreaker wanted to soldier on, but I just couldn’t.

By the time we got back to the car, this is what my pants looked like. That light spot is the only part that wasn’t soaked through on both my pants and shoes.

In the car, The Who took off his shorts, underwear, socks, and shoes and hung around nudie booty, listening to his namesake book on CD while I blasted the heat, trying to dry my clothes. Once that was over, he slipped into the dry clothes I had brought for him (and neglected to pack for myself) and we headed across the street to the mall for a while. The Who has pretty much never been to a mall, so this was pretty novel.

Although I did bring dry clothes, I did not think about dry shoes. ShoelessWho threw some pennies into the fountain, probably wishing he had some shoes to wear. (But, on second thought, probably not. He kind of loved walking down the mall without shoes. I drew the line at escalators, though, and made him sit in the stroller.)

(We did find shoes, which was my plan. JC Penney totally came through with $5 sale Keens knock-offs, so he wore those for most of the day.)

We hit the Halloween Store and tried on many masks. Perhaps the reason it took him so long to fall asleep tonight is because he was scared by the Romney mask he made me try on after he sported Obama.

As we were leaving, I saw him standing quietly by the Obama masks. When I got closer, I heard him whispering, “Bye, Obama.” I hope it wasn’t a foreshadowing…

We stuck as close to the side as possible so as not to piss off the hoards of back-to-school shoppers, slipping into Abercrombie. One lady was audibly frustrated behind us, so I convinced The Who to let me share the wheel.

Our final mall stop before venturing back out into the deluge was the kid’s shoe section in Nordstrom’s. It was right by the door and had an aquarium in it, so The Who asked to take a peek. Then he noticed the polka dotted seat. Then the collection of cute books. We read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” a couple of times and I might have bought it if I wasn’t so skeeved by pigeons in general.

And that was mostly our day. We drove home, The Who took a quick snooze, and then we met up with m* for a late afternoon movie. (The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, which was kind of weak when compared to Pixar-type kid movies, but he was engaged for the whole hour and a half and was singing along by the end, which is definitely better than when I took him to see Ice Age, which was over his head.)

Tomorrow, The Who starts Pre-K, which is the oldest classroom in his school/day care. He started there at 13 months old and now he’s like a senior in high school. Crazy big. Just crazy.


Having a kid has made me a better Jew.

For example: Passover (which I now feel compelled to only call “Pesach” because apparently “Passover” is really just an English substitution for the actual name for the holiday.) We always “kept” Passover as a kid. My recollection is that we had lots of matzoh, missed bread intensely, and had a big family meal on the first night. I also recall the looooong seder at my grandparents’, trying to contain explosive giggles shared with my brother and cousins while my grandfather rambled in Hebrew, telling the story, which I never learned (or at least never fully committed to memory.)

I ate bread during Passover once I was an adult on my own. I think maybe for a few years, I tried to keep it, but with no one looking over my shoulder, no belief in God, and no one else to feed, I always lapsed. (Also, my birthday often falls during Passover and having suffered through many horrible excuses for a birthday cake as a kid, I have always felt justified in my enjoyment of a totally trayf birthday cake, regardless of whether it fell during Passover or not. This is true this year. My birthday is tomorrow and the plan has been to have my favorite cake from my favorite bakery tomorrow night.)

The Who, as I might have mentioned before, goes to a Jewish daycare/preschool and has since he was 13 months old. He has “Jewish Instruction” and knows more about some of the Jewish holidays than I do. Last week, a rabbi came to his class with his  “Matzoh Bakery” and they made their own matzoh. He came home telling me that “we don’t eat bread during Passover.”

Well, shit.

How am I supposed to have birthday cake in the middle of Passover when my 3-year-old knows better because of his fine Jewish education? (To my credit, I had already switched our weekly menu so that we weren’t making pizza on the first night of Passover. But, I had only moved it ahead a day, so, well…)

At some point during the day yesterday, m* and I looked at each other and both realized at almost the same time that we needed to rethink it all. We couldn’t have pizza on Saturday. And we couldn’t have birthday cake on Sunday. In fact, we really couldn’t eat bread all week. And, well, damn. We had better get some matzoh in the house. I came home and started googling kid-appropriate Passover stories and, finding nothing I really liked that was available immediately, I just opted to write my own. I bought a Seder plate, made a shopping list, and we picked up my favorite birthday cake yesterday. (Since we eat dinner well before sundown, we decided it would be ok to eat it last night, which we did, freezing the rest of it to be thawed after the holiday.)

All of a sudden, I’m a pretty good Jew. I know the whole story of Passover and I have already eaten two sheets of matzoh** (with the requisite shmear of whipped cream cheese.) It’ll be fun to hide the afikomen tonight and who knows; maybe next fall we’ll even build our own sukkah! (Or, y’know, maybe not.)

**I am only a “pretty good Jew” because I bought the “not for Passover” matzoh. It’s totally made with flour.*** The real stuff tastes like packing material. Baby steps.

***ETA: Based on the first comment to this post, I did a little search and saw that it’s not the flour that makes it chametz. It’s the egg. And the possibility that there are both egg and water in the dough. I still feel ok with eating it. But I’ll get the “right” kind for out Seder tonight.


In a brief discussion this afternoon in the kitchen, M and I decided not to lie to our kid.

Nana’s body doesn’t work anymore and she is under the ground. The cats went to live with other families. Santa Claus is not real.

Wait. What?

Yeah, we’re not doing it. And it’s not because we’re Jewish* (although that might make it easier, ultimately.) It’s because it’s a lie. Made up for kids to infuse some excitement into their lives. Listen — Christmas is exciting with Santa or not. Houses are covered in rainbow lights! Trees come right into the living room! There is an abundance of sweets everywhere you look! Parties! Presents! Music! TV Shows! Do we really need to add a story about a big bearded fellow slipping into our house when we sleep? It’s not like we’re not giving him presents from us already. Between his late fall birthday, Hanukkah, and Christmas, there is no shortage of presents for this kid. Plus, Santa is a scary dude. The Who has already woken up in a cold sweat once this week, worried that Santa was coming and it’s only December 3rd. The two “kids-with-Santa” photos I have seen online today were both of toddlers screaming their fool heads off when faced with the Big Guy. I don’t see the good that perpetuating this myth is going to do, frankly.

I’m sort of digressing here, though. I know that lots of families have great memories of Santa and that lots of kids all over the world are delighted by him. I know that parents get a lot of good behavior out of the whole “naughty or nice” thing and that the Elf on the Shelf is the only thing that keeps their kids in line this time of year. I don’t begrudge them that. And I don’t look down on them for creating this fantasy world for their kids; everyone has his or her reasons and I suspect a lot of them have to do with magic and tradition. I’m all for tradition.

But for us? Well, maybe it’s because The Who’s so stressed about Santa already and maybe it’s because Santa  was never a big part of my childhood, but I just don’t feel compelled to encourage belief. We’re not exactly sure yet how we’ll go about letting The Who know that Santa is not real. I’m actually not convinced that he knows the difference yet between a “character” and a real person. (He understands “pretend” because he will often pretend to be a firefighter or pretend to be an animal, but those things he is pretending to be are actually real. I’m not sure if he understands that when he is pretending to be Bob the Builder, for example, that Bob is not actually a real person.) So the way we go about explaining this calls for a little research.

But, yeah. No Santa. And, following with the same logic, I guess there’s no Tooth Fairy either**. Bummer.


* I have always been Jewish. M was raised Catholic and now considers herself Unitarian. We made a decision to raise The Who Jewish and fully plan to join a synagogue and send him to Hebrew School in preparation for a Bar Mitzvah. Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that we have twinkle lights strung across the living room, stockings hung from the banister, and plans in the works for procuring a Christmas tree.

** Please don’t worry; The Who will be handsomely rewarded for losing his teeth. We’ll just make no bones about who is doing the rewarding.


Here’s what happens in my head as I’m driving along lately: I see Christmas decorations somewhere. I feel excited about Christmas! I feel guilty about my excitement because I’m Jewish. I have a momentary crisis about co-opting someone else’s culture by planning to get a Christmas tree. I remember that my wife celebrates Christmas. I remember that we’re raising our son Jewish. I get frustrated about all the rules. I think about God and wonder about my beliefs. I rationalize that Christmas trees have nothing to do with Jesus. I decide it’s ok to love Christmas and have a tree and lights and stockings. I worry about sending a confusing message to The Who. I remember hanging stockings as a kid and never being confused about being Jewish. I remember really wanting a Christmas tree and lights and not having them. I get annoyed that I am thinking this much about this topic every time I pass a display of poinsettias in a storefront. I keep driving. I see Christmas decorations somewhere. I feel excited about Christmas! Rinse. Repeat.

What I want is to not feel conflicted about the holidays and to just enjoy them, angst-free and I’m not sure what I need in order for that to happen. Do I really need to choose?

Swim Club.

What we’ve got on the horizon here is a summer full of fun. (A HOT one — I swear I saw 98 here today, which, forgive me, but it’s still May, Philadelphia. Did you not get the memo?)

Anyway, this season, we joined “the pool.” Now, I don’t know if this is a regional thing or if it’s just a “mom” thing, but either way, it’s nothing I ever knew about before I lived here and had a kid. Where I’m from (Boston) there were no pools to join. Or, maybe there were and because we had a pool in our backyard and all our friends just came to our house to swim, we didn’t know about them. Either way, here in my town is a real live “swim club.” And it’s just as nostalgic and kitschy as it sounds.

The Who and I showed up there yesterday — to this little spot tucked way back in the woods of the pick-your-own orchards (apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, Christmas trees, peaches) and it’s like we were transported right to Kellerman’s (the only difference being the noticeable lack of Jews in my nabe.) There were jillions of kids, no doubt making memories that they will grow up to try to recreate with their own kids, cannonballing off the platforms, dunking their little brothers, licking popsicles on towels on the lawn. The sun pounded down, but it didn’t matter as we slathered more sunscreen on the kids and sent them back into the cold, early-season water.

Just as fun as it looks.

I totally didn’t know what to expect, but I was charmed by the outdated bathrooms and the photos of last season’s swim team posted on a bulletin board. I was enchanted by the all-gravel-and-dirt parking spots and the fact that despite perfect cell reception, almost no one was talking on a phone. I didn’t even see an ipod anywhere. People were reading magazines. Books, even. Staring off into space. Sharing bunches of grapes with their friends. It was like summer camp, only without all the mandatory kickball, poison ivy, and long, sweaty school bus rides. It was fun. Damn.

Now, is this something people are doing all over the place? I know there are community pools in the city, but are there really delightful little “swim clubs” dotting the suburbs across the country? Or, should I be looking for the Flux Capacitor?