E-Guilt: Jewish Moms on Facebook

I woke up the other morning to a Facebook notification announcing that my Mother is now on Facebook. E GUILT

I realize that this is not big news. Most of us Gen X-ers (ew) have embraced the fact that our parents have joined the E-parade, if only to keep up with our speedy lives and to feel like they’re in touch, rather than having to nudge us with a long voicemail message, group texts that include a random aunt, or blank ones  with a mysterious letter “H.”

My mother was on Facebook briefly, about three years ago, before her account got hacked, rendering her profile forever frozen in time. So now Ema (Mom, in Hebrew) actually has two Facebook profiles, which is kind of amazing, even if she doesn’t know how she did it.

When she was on Facebook the first time, the Good Jewish (Divorced) Girl in me didn’t like it. Before posting a picture (nine out of ten were at a bar) I’d have to go home, send the files to my laptop, and crop out the martini in my hand, resulting in an array of posts where I look suspiciously joyous, a bright spark in my eyes and a becoming flush in my cheeks, the evidence amputated. If you’re thinking, “Why should an adult woman care what her mother thinks?” it means you’re not Jewish (or Catholic). Guilt does not need to be delivered in person to have its intended effect.

[For those of you who are just meeting Ema for the first time, there is proof of Mom as “The Alcohol Police” in this post, where you can also see the Jewish Mother’s breathalyzer test in full effect].

I knew Mom just wanted to “keep in touch” but to me it was synonymous with “keeping tabs.” There is an ironic generational reversal here that is worth mentioning. Mom’s today who are my peers; my friends, sisters, and the thousands of “Mommy Bloggers” who are savvy digital pros unlike our Mom’s were, are “keeping tabs” on their own children’s online activities with apps called Mama Bear which advertise “worry-free parenting.” If only there had been a “worry-free partying” app for single divorcees back when I was one.

But this time when Mom joined Facebook, her loving face made me smile and I friended her happily, even though I was the eighteenth person she invited in, trailing behind cousins as far away as Israel and my two sisters (the neglected middle child syndrome never goes away). And when Mom emailed me shortly after with a question: “U were tagged in u picture ?” it didn’t bother me that I did not know what picture she was referring to. And when Facebook asked me to help my mother find her friends, I knew she’d be fine on her own. After all, she’d managed to create two profiles.

I’m glad to see my Mom on Facebook, not because I’ve suddenly grown up and grown out of the Jewish guilt garb, but because I have nothing to hide. I don’t drink that much anymore (I promise, Ema!) and when I do, it doesn’t matter. Somehow, being married, happy, and settled is like a magical guilt slayer. Also, Mom has read my entire blog from its inception (when she didn’t know what a Cougar  – or a blog- was), up until my most recent post about going to Church. If she’s okay with that, I’m okay with her commenting on my wall in Momlish.

But Instagram and Twitter? I might need to find an Ema-Bear app for that.

Kip Kip Hurray! Atonement can be fun.

Yom Kippur is supposed to be a day of reflection, right? Well how about if this year, I feel like I’ve reflected enough for a lifetime? This blog is just the tip of the reflection iceberg. Shouldn’t I get a day off from introspection, self-flagellation (okay strong word but I like the imagery), and atonement?
Atoning for our sins. That means stopping what we’re doing and thinking hard on the wrongs we have committed. If you can’t come up with anything flagrant (lieing, cheating, stealing, etc.), that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. We Jews have the ability to dig and dig until we come up with some good shit. And by that, I mean shit.
Shit like the kind that no matter how deeply we think we’ve buried it, if we stop to put our nose to the ground – as on Yom Kippur – the smell comes wafting up.
It comes in many forms. This year, or rather yesterday, I had a different kind of Yom Kippur, representative of where I am today. Usually I go home to New Jersey to be with my family, or rather with my mother, who, like the dedicated soldier she is, goes to the same synagogue we went to as kids, even if she is to go by herself. My sisters have their own families and shul memberships now, so my mother is confronted with going by herself, without the distractions. It pained me this year to think she might go alone (note: she and my father have a good marriage but he does not pray).
But that didn’t keep me from staying in NYC this year, my first time. I went to services Friday night. It was noteworthy that I motivated to go at all, without the guilt or pressure from my family. I guess on a day as holy as Yom Kippur, I didn’t want to find out what might happen if I stayed home.  I admit I not so subtly scoured the men’s section to see if there were any eligibles. There were a few, but I figured they were probably married to one of the chicks talking and chewing gum behind me. I also think that men look a lot hotter in synagogue than if you meet them at a bar. Wait, I neglected to add “syna-goggles” to a previous blog about “goggling.” But I digress. 
So I attended with a girlfriend of mine and her lovely boyfriend – who is in the process of converting to Judaism. If he can stand sitting and standing and sitting and standing, then who am I not to?
I left early though. I got a taste, and it was enough. Walking out of a place of worship into the heart of the east village, into the throngs of young people partying and drinking on a Friday night was a disconnecting feeling. I felt alone. I thought about my ex-boyfriend, who I missed, and I felt even more alone. But then it occurred to me that since he wasn’t Jewish, it was likely I would have gone by myself anyway. If we were still together, what would he have done? Come with me? Would I have even wanted him to?
These high holidays have a knack for coming at the right time. They force us to ask questions, the kind of self-reflection that only comes due to timing. My ex-boyfriend wasn’t Jewish, and although it would be nice if he was, it was never a deal breaker for me. But I do think the fact that we broke up on Rosh Hashanah is no coincidence. It forced me to consider how I feel about being Jewish; not so much being born into it, but the practices. If my boyfriend and I were still together, what lengths would I have gone to teach him? Would it have been important to me for him to come, or would I have brushed it off, in order to avoid confrontation? In order not to make him uncomfortable? When it’s left up to me and my beliefs – when there is no one else in the picture – what values are essential enough to go out of my way for?
Since I don’t have the answers yet (it’s only been twenty-four hours), I figure that for me, Yom Kippur has delivered on the self-reflection thing. It made me stop and think, what if? What truly matters? What can I do, what can I change, moving forward?
By the way, the whole fasting thing is interesting. If you’re a single New Yorker on the run like I am, it’s the same as any other day. I was hungry, but it was just a nuisance. It was convenient that the light in my kitchen burnt out the night before, and since I don’t have a man around to change it (that’s not me being lazy, that’s me being klutzy. The last time I tried to change it I shattered the fixture and the light bulb all over the stove and floor), it was too hard for me to find my food anyway. 
But this morning, feeling renewed – and hungry as hell – I ventured out to buy a light bulb, and managed to replace it myself (and subsequently made the best omellete this kitchen has ever seen). 
What’s that phrase from the bible? Oh right. And God said, “Let there be light!”
I got me some of that.

The Checklist: insurance or illusion?

We’re all familiar with the checklist. The “on paper” qualities that qualify a person as marriage material. It becomes ingrained in us early, when we first start dating; in high school, college, and in our twenties too. It’s made up of things we are programmed to want, whether we actually want to or not.

The checklist is seductive. It serves to give us comfort, a sense of security that it’s going to be okay. It helps to give definition to an otherwise murky future. It’s like buying relationship insurance that safeguards us against angst, marital discord, and divorce, and provides us with its opposite.

But does it really work? And when it does – at what price? Does subscribing to the list actually generate confusion; impair our judgment of the other person, and our ability to ascertain how we truly feel about them?  

When I got married, I wasn’t asking these questions. I unwittingly bought into the checklist. It was part of what brought my husband and I together.  It was concrete – something tangible that helped strengthen my faltering conviction. When in doubt, I could grab the checklist and feel better. Perhaps it’s what kept us together for close to fourteen years. But when we divorced, I wondered if it was the reason for that too. In the end, was my dependence on the checklist antidote my failure?

Since then, like most people do after a break up, I reacted by going in the opposite direction. I took the anti-checklist approach.  I turned away from the tangible. Instead, I put feeling before function. I chose men that gave me that swoony feeling of butterflies. It inspired the emergence of my inner Cougar, primed to defy the norm and what was expected of me. It didn’t matter whether the men were age compatible, financially solvent, or culturally and religiously different. All that mattered was that I felt in love. I was thinking, for a change, of only the present, because as I learned all too well, you never know what will be tomorrow. Worrying about my future and trying to control it by grasping onto a flimsy piece of paper didn’t work.

This approach was logical. And earned. Because although I was in my thirties, I had missed out on dating in my twenties, so it was okay for me to choose a mate as if I still was.

But here’s the catch. A female in her twenties (pre-Cougar age), looks at the world through a different lens than an older women in her thirties, whose priorities – the checklist criteria – demand adjustment.  The importance of feelings, of butterflies, trumping all, starts to diminish. And function forces its way back onto the page.  Now that you’re a bit more experienced, now that you have more realistic expectations about what you can actually attain in this life, you can’t ignore the checklist’s legitimacy, like it or not. It matters less whether or not you actually want the things on the list, and more that you might need them. Because now you have acquired the undeniable knowledge that certain things can and do make this difficult life just a little bit easier. It sucks, but it’s true.  So what do you do?

I don’t have answers. If I did, I would have nothing to write about.  I know there are some of you who are fortunate enough, or built in a way, to have both the butterflies and the boxes checked. Some of you happen to be my friends, and relatives too. But for those who might not, I am eager to know whether you have experienced this kind of recalibration of wants and needs. Are the qualities that made you fall for your boyfriend or girlfriend at 25, and they for you, still holding up? And if they’re not, is that a deal breaker? Is the checklist tempting you, and if it is, is that a bad thing?

Ultimately I think it comes down to what’s important to you, and accepting that perhaps what once mattered, doesn’t have to matter now. It’s okay to change. It’s okay not to know. I guess it’s that thing called growing up, that we resist, that’s been nipping at our heels and has suddenly tackled us. The time has come to readjust. Perhaps it doesn’t necessitate some earth shattering life change at all. Maybe it’s just a perspective shift, a necessary one that forces us to accept that some things are unattainable, while we continue to reach, and to dream.








My mother, the alcohol police.

My mother doesn’t drink. And she doesn’t understand why anybody would. Especially her own daughter.

Whenever I go out for dinner with my parents, I keep it to a two-drink minimum. Sometimes my father will order a bottle and embolden me. But most of the time, I figure it’s not worth the wrath. Or her sticking her nose in my mouth after dinner to smell how much I’ve actually drank. She almost always gets it right on the nose (pun intended).

So what better place for her to enforce her authority than at a wedding, where I’m locked in a banquet hall with her for six hours, and where the alcohol is free?
 
I knew what was coming. The last time I was at my cousin’s wedding in Israel, where everyone was drinking tequila, my mother kept appearing next to me, no matter who I was talking to, pretending to be interested in the conversation. But really she was interested in what I was holding in my hand. Sometimes she takes the glass from me and takes a sip, as if she enjoys the taste. She then holds the glass awkwardly for a moment and nods her head at who ever happens to be speaking, like she’s listening. And then in a flash, she’s gone. With my glass of wine.

So here we were yesterday, on our way to a wedding. My parents picked me up from the train station. They talked about what kind of food there would be and how hungry they were. But not me. I was thirsty.  My mom knew it. It was the elephant in the car we didn’t speak of. Instead she said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone at the wedding.”

Do you know anyone who’s met their spouse at a wedding? It’s been known to happen, although not to anyone I know. Or to me.

Especially not at a Jewish wedding. In New Jersey. Mom didn’t appreciate that comment. But I deemed it safer than saying I’d be more likely to have the energy to meet someone slightly inebriated, rather than cranky and hungover (I was both).

I wasn’t thinking clearly though. This wedding wasn’t a Jewish wedding. In fact, it was a unique mix of many rituals. It was lovely. The bride was Jewish and the groom Irish Catholic. In a sense, it was Jew-ish. Which meant plenty of interesting foods, eclectic music (ever danced a Jewish jig? It’s like the Horah with bagpipes), but more so, for this Cougel, it meant a vast buffet of attractive goys. Just the way I like em. And instead of a brisket and chopped liver station, we get a vodka station!

My mother was on my heels (should’ve worn my flats). She knows how to find me, no matter my attempts for evasion. This time it was under the guise of meeting her friends, all with Israeli names that blend together. “You remember Chava! From Josh and Rachel’s wedding ten years ago, right?” (The part she left out: “Or were you drunk?”)

No matter that my sister was drinking too, and that we were all having a blast. My sister is married with children. So unlike me, she’s “allowed.” The moral of the story is that once you’re the anointed F-up in your family, there is no getting out of it. So you might as well live up to it. I could have stuck to one glass of wine, and she still would have thought I was overdoing it. Because according to my parents, that’s my thing. Besides, what would they have to worry about otherwise? I’m doing a good deed. At least I’m giving them something to fix, and to bond over on the drive home down the turnpike.

Five hours into the wedding I met some interesting people, guys included. Some Jewish, some not. My parents and sisters were happy though. I wasn’t seated at their table, but rather at the “singles” table right beside them, where they got to watch the show with challah rolls in hand instead of popcorn. And mom got to keep her eye on me and my wine glass. This is akin to trying to make out in your basement when you’re 16 and your parents are upstairs. You can never relax because you’re waiting to get caught.

Mom – if you’re reading this – I am not a drunk. I’m over 21 and single, and that is what people do. I know we’ve had this conversation before, but I figured I’d disclaim it again here, in case your friends are reading this and will think your daughter has a problem. I have many, yes, but drinking is the least of them.

I got a ride home from the wedding with a very nice fellow, and the second I walked through the door, my mother called.
“How was it?”
“The wedding? I was there with you.”
“No, the ride with the guy.”
“It was nice mom. It beats the train.”
“Were you still drunk?”
( You’d think she’d be more concerned whether he was, since he was the one driving).
“No mom. Just tired.”
“You had six glasses, maybe seven. Didn’t you?”

Of course, she was right. As usual.

The upside? At least, with all this talk about drinking, she forgot to ask if I ate.

J-Cougar

What does a Jewish woman in her 30s, who lives in NYC and has parents like mine, do after the breakup haze has cleared? You guessed it. She joins J-date.

Yeah, I’m going there. I’m going to write the post that I think some of you expect, and probably want. Even though I believe I’ve been subconsciously avoiding it because 1) It seems to have jumped the shark in every relationship magazine, blog, column, etc. And I’m trying to do something different, damn it. And, 2) I’m cognizant that some ex’s and others (hi mom!) are reading this blog and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. But then I thought, if I’m worried about that, what am I doing being a writer?

Okay, so what does a Cougel do now that she’s finally succumbed to online dating, and starts perusing the crowded market of profiles in search of a nice Jewish boy (I mean, man)?

She finds the non-Jewish ones.

Apparently I have a talent for this. I’m like a dog that’s been set loose in the yard and immediately sniffs out the one piece of bacon that’s buried six feet under. I didn’t do this on purpose; it was some unconscious instinct. The first five men whose photos I actually stopped at and thought, “Hmm, he seems manly, interesting,” not only had emphatically written, “Not Jewish” on their profile, but more specifically: “Will not convert.”

That’s presumptuous, I thought. I haven’t asked you to. I don’t ever use the word “chillax,” but kinda felt like it then.

That begs another question: What the hell are these goys (I mean guys—that was a typo), doing on J-date? That’s just plain sneaky. It’s no different than them showing up at my temple (if I actually went), when I’m having a good hair day. Or like my Jewy looking self showing up to lunch at a yacht club. Besides, how was I supposed to explain to my parents that I got on J-date to find a Jewish boyfriend, and they should be pleased, only to break the news that instead I found a goyfriend?

The thing is, while they might not be overjoyed, I know they would accept it. They just want me to be happy. And I don’t believe in closing any doors, in narrowing a pool that’s already small and shallow. Come to think of it, my last two boyfriends since my divorce – ironically, my only boyfriends – were not Jewish, and my parents liked them well enough. Although in retrospect, this was deviously well planned on my part. Both guys were young cubs, providing my parents with something more displeasing to focus on instead. My dad referred to one of them as my “oy-friend”(I am not making this up). So yes, the time has come for me to skew Jew.

Not that it stopped me from emailing the three non-Jews who intrigued me. I am a curious person, and when something puzzles me, I must get to the bottom of it. I asked them point blank:“So what are you doing on here?” One totally ignored me (I don’t blame him). The other two had interesting responses, and we’ve since begun a dialogue. One confessed that his boss is Jewish, and said that the caliber of women on J-date was better (no I cannot qualify “better” in this context). The other said he is a wedding photographer for mostly Jewish weddings, for couples who met on J-date. So he thought he’d give it a try. Why should he be on the outside looking in, when it was as simple as signing up?

Which made me wonder, is it really that simple? Can someone just log on, sign up to J?

Although I don’t know what I expected. It’s not like J-date has Jewish Border control, asking for proof of your J-dentity before being permitted entry. Besides, how would that be enforced exactly? That’s a topic for a whole other blog. Passing the Jewish test. Perhaps it could be questions like:“Do you know what shmutz means?” “Do you say “oy” more than once a day, and sigh heavily when doing so?” “Is your mother overbearing? “Do you know what guilt is?”

Or, because this always seals the deal for me: “Do you know what kugel is?”

Embracing the Kugel

I hated kugel growing up. It confused me. Slimy noodles, raisins, eggs, ambiguous looking slop (cheese? potatoes?) disguising themselves as a casserole. I didn’t get the concept of using ingredients for foods normally eaten for breakfast and lunch, for dessert. I like sweet things, but after my meal, not alongside it. Besides, what about kugel makes it Jewish? Is it its blend of conflicting tastes, a metaphor for the love-hate relationship people (oh, admit it) have towards Jews and the weird foods we eat? I just couldn’t get into it.

My picky eating habits used to drive my mother crazy. I didn’t know what was good for me. Was this a harbinger of what my habits would be like when I grew up? Including my selectivity (and bad judgment) choosing a mate? Is there even a connection?

My mother stopped pressuring me to eat kugel long ago, and so I had forgotten the word even existed (I avoid it at all temple kiddishes and Yom Kippur break-fasts)…

Until recently. A twenty-four-year old co-worker (not Jewish or familiar with our particular cuisine), started calling me Cougar. And then, the more comfortable he got around me, the name evolved. First to “Cougs,” and then finally, to “Cougel.”

He meant it as modified term of endearment, uttered casually and fondly. But little did he know what questions he had unleashed. Am I really a cougar? But worse, am I a pain in the ass, picky, conservatively raised, worried about what my parents think, Jewish Cougar?

Maybe the time has come for me to embrace my inner Cougel.