So today marks 9 years since my Dad has been gone. NINE YEARS! I generally try not make a big deal out of it on the principle that my Dad’s life was about so much more than the day he died, so to make a giant anniversary out of it kind of misses the point of who he was and what he created in his too-short time on this earth. It also misses the point of what this day means to me, which is: not much. I love to have a drink for him on his birthday, on Father’s Day, on Burns Night, definitely on Hogmanay. I think it is good and right to note the day he passed because doing so acknowledges that he existed and is now no more, but I prefer to make celebratory days more of a focus simply because that’s what he would have wanted and because they better characterize the wee man with the big personality. He is likely bummed that we mark this day at all, it not having turned out to be a good one for him. ;) But mark it we must, since thems that lives gets to makes the rules.
So what can I say about JP except that I miss him and that when I’m sad about him being gone it’s because I’m sad that my kids don’t get the experience of knowing him. I’m not sure where I land on issues of theology these days, but I do believe that no one is ever completely gone. That they live on, whether in energy or spirit or simply in the memories of the people they influenced while they were alive. Judaism has a phrase, “May his memory be for a blessing.” It expresses the hope that the memory of the person will inspire you to be a blessing to others. That those still living remember what good things that person would want us to do, and then go do them. So I try to do that.
One of the key ways I try to honor my dad is to make sure my kids do whatever they want to with their grandparents and their great-grandmother. My Dad always did whatever the hell he wanted to vis a vis his grandchildren. He didn’t baptize any of them (like Archie Bunker did against The MeatHead’s and Gloria’s wishes in an episode my Dad called ‘one of Archie’s best’), but you know, he just basically told us to go away if we were bugging him and his good time with his grands. I remember him taking Bambina outside to walk around and collect leaves when she was about 1 year old. I was fussing about how cold it was and she should wrap up more and shouldn’t they limit their time outside, blah blah. And he just waved his hand toward his apartment building and told me to “away wi’ yer shite!” If I was cold I should go in but he and “the wean” were doing just fine and I was ruining their fun. So inside I went. But not without monitoring events from the window like any first-time mother does. To see them having a fantastic time without me. I realized then–and reminded myself over the years–that I owe it to my kids to let them have their own relationships with their grandparents. I can manage babysitters. I can manage their friend relationships while they are young. But I need to let them have their own dealings with their grandparents. As long as I know that the GPs aren’t drinking and driving or posting pics of the kids on the open internet, or calling them fatties or whatever, it all just has to be good. Memories of my grandmother trying to spank us with her shoe or my other grandmother sending us to the store to buy her cigarettes would have been impossible had my parents gotten as involved as parents do today. My father believed fervently that having stories of grandparental malfeasance is your child’s birthright. So get out of their way and let them get on with it.
So that’s my plan for this anniversaire. Reminding myself that if my mom wants to keep them up till 10pm; whatever. If their Gram and Pop want to feed them cookies at 10am, whatever. It’s all good. It’s what both God and Nature intended for the grands relationship: that they do whatever the hell they want to and then send them home exhausted and punch drunk (and the kids are a mess too). Ha!
Sounds simple. Sounds trite. But sometimes it’s good to have a reminder: if you are presented with the option to either be kind or be unkind, choose the former. Sounds simple, right? And yet it’s not. Because in the heat of the moment, in the rush of our daily lives, in the push and pull of relationships, it can be all too easy to be thoughtlessly, unthinkingly, capriciously–even unintentionally–unkind.
I’ve been ruminating on this topic (that’s a lie. I’ve been STEWING) since Bambina’s school musical. This is the 6th year I’ve volunteered, and my third in a larger administrative-type role. Long time readers will recall that I volunteered after the first year because I could NOT BELIEVE how inept all the people running the musical were. Just astonished at the lack of organization and attention to detail. So I signed up to “help” but really I signed up to be an a-hole know-it-all who was gonna show them how business is conducted properly. You know, that crucial and life-changing 3rd through 5th grade volunteer musical life-or-death business. Grandiose, much?
Fast forward to me volunteering and realizing that the inept moron in the building was and always had been ME. These moms and dads volunteering for this show were busting their asses in ways I had never noticed (or frankly, never thought to notice). Every single one of them was a truly nice person working on their own time and their own dime trying to create something special for my kid and her classmates. But all I’d had time for was judgment. Unkindness. Never expressed, of course, but carefully nursed and considered. I didn’t characterize it as unkindness of course. It was righteous indignation. Helpful critique. Wise counsel. But in the end, as I look back, it was just lazy unkindness, nurtured by an over-developed sense of entitlement regarding my child. I’m not proud; I’m just coming clean.
Fast forward again to the past three years in which I’ve worked in a larger role for this musical. Fast forward to every single year receiving an indignant email from a parent literally within hours of the show ending. So: three years volunteering for 6+ months on a major project involving upwards of 50-100 children. And three years of not getting to put my head on the pillow that night feeling good about it. Three years of having the sense of accomplishment and joy and shared labor of love poked in the eye by a parent who couldn’t wait even 6 hours before zooming off an email detailing what we did wrong as regards his or her child. And in every case, the email came from a parent who volunteered ZERO hours to the project. ZERO.
The most recent this year really got me off balance precisely because it was truly unkind. Whatever point she wanted to make about how to improve the process or outcome was completely lost in the general nastiness of the message. And all I could think was, “Would you have said this to me if you were standing in front of me?” I imagine not. But who knows? It was just so demoralizing precisely because all of her concerns/complaints were so deeply unfounded as to be demonstrably wrong to any eyes that saw us working with her child over the previous 6 months. And yet it was such a punch in the face not perhaps because it was so very incorrect, but because it was so very unkind. There was no sense that ‘hey, you’re nice people who maybe didn’t think about items A B or C.” It was “you intentionally did A B and C to be petty and mean to a 10 year old.” Which is monstrously unkind.
The Baby Daddy of course had his even-keeled view of things as I closed my computer vowing to never volunteer ever again. I mean, you don’t volunteer because you expect a ticket tape parade. But you don’t volunteer to be shit on either, right? Like, I cannot wait to spend my free time working with 50 kids and spending my own money to create something special so I can feel like a pile of shit within three hours of final bows. No sane person signs up for that. And I vowed this was my last year. Then BBDD reminded me that if 50 kids were in the show and ONE parent is pissed off enough to send a nastygram, those are pretty great percentages. If our kid and her friends learned something from the experience and bonded a little and grew a little as humans, then those are pretty great outcomes. And if I can find a way to not let one person being thoughtlessly, needlessly and seemingly enthusiastically unkind ruin a full year of planning and rehearsing and producing, then that would be the greatest outcome of all.
And so I’m still in. A little bit more cautious in my dealings with other people’s kids. Slightly less willing to make that extra-extra leap simply because no good deed will go unpunished. But on the plus side, I’m reminded of the value of kindness. Of giving the benefit of the doubt. Of assuming the best in others intentions even if I can’t see it in their actions. Of remembering, that just as I get up every day and am doing the best I can, the odds are good that 99% of the world around me is doing the same. That if I ever find myself assuming the worst about someone and feel called by God to send them an email at 11pm cleaning their clock, I will review the following sign that hangs in our house (you know, for the kids):
If the answer to all 5 isn’t an enthusiastic Yes, then err on the side of silence. And kindness.
Boston calling here, dear readers. You know Boston. Cradle of Liberty. Where The American Experiment All Began. Fabulous Sporting Title Town. Site of Cheers, that show your parents liked back when you were 6. Birthplace of such various and astute personages as Leonard Nimoy, Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Franklin and Donnie Wahlberg. Well, we are also unfortunately the Snowiest Effing Town On The Planet. We’ve already had about 6 feet of snow and hey! another foot is on the way! The only thing getting us through this unbearable state of affairs at the moment is the knowledge that spring will come (right? It will come, right?) and funny memes. Please enjoy while your house leaks unrelentingly from all the ice dams on your gutters. 36 DAYS UNTIL SPRING!
Attention all Jews! Attention all Jews! Our leader is approaching!
Oh, you didn’t hear? Benjamin Netanyahu, current Prime Minister of Israel and candidate for re-election to that office, is coming to the US to speak to our Congress “not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.”
I’ll give you a second to get up off the floor before I continue.
Jerk, the entire fundamental basis for being Jewish is that NO ONE PERSON speaks for Jews. Haven’t you ever heard the saying, “One Jew, two opinions?” The very notion that somewhere on God’s green earth there is a human person who Speaks for the Jews is an outrage, theologically and culturally. And the very fact that Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi to his Bubbe) spoke those words tells you everything you need to know about the ego we are dealing with here.
Reminder: Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician. He currently serves as Prime Minister and is engaged in an active campaign for re-election to that office. He himself is not Israel. He himself is not Judaism. He is but one of the candidates seeking elective office in the State of Israel. This man no more speaks for the Jews than the effing Lorax. He speaks for his policy positions as the leader of Israel, as he should. But that’s where it ends. The notion that somehow not supporting Benjamin Netanyahu equals not supporting Israel is as ludicrous as saying that anyone who didn’t vote for Mitt Romney is anti-American. It’s as ridiculous as saying that the 60% of poll respondents (actual Israeli Israelis who live in Israel) who don’t like Netanyahu are anti-Israel. http://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Post-poll-60-percent-of-Israelis-dont-want-Netanyahu-anymore-383724 We go on and on about how Israel is our one democratic ally in the Middle East. What that means, folks, in real time, is that Israel has elections in which candidates compete just like they do here. Which means that no one person has the monopoly on being pro-Israel. Just like here, they have disagreements about policy and process and political means. So the notion that not being in favor of one candidate makes you anti-Israel or anti-Semitic is absolutely unmitigated nonsense.
Which brings us to his speech to the US Congress in March. A speech that should never have been suggested by John Boehner nor accepted by Netanyahu, such a breach of diplomatic protocol is represents. People who are inclined to dislike President Obama want very much to pretend that “diplomatic protocol breach” is shorthand for Muslim King Has Feelings Hurt by Jew He Dislikes. But let’s all grow up here, folks. Diplomatic protocol exists for a reason. It protects our diplomats, it protects our interests, it represents the rules of fair play and of international interaction between nations. The protocol by which we engage other nations is absolutely fundamental to everything we do with those nations. Specifically to avoid misunderstandings, to avoid inadvertent cultural blunders, to avoid international incidents. Diplomacy exists and has existed since time began specifically because it works. There is not an intelligent, thinking person involved in our foreign relations who is supportive of breaching protocol. Because if it’s okay for this one event, then it has to be okay for the next event and the next, and then it’s a free for all. Armchair critics can make this about Obama if that makes them feel smart and superior. But this is about the men and women on the ground in other countries doing the work of our nation on foreign soil. This is about the thousands of individuals who make it their lives’ work to enhance America’s standing in the world of nations. So from your la-z boy recliner in Chicken Choke, Indiana it’s all “eff Obama!” But in the real world these real rules apply for the safety and security of the people doing the actual work. Get off your ass, go live and work in a foreign nation, and tell me you are totally cool with nations being “whatever” to the widely accepted rules of engagement so firmly established over decades and decades of interactions. Please. Make sure you take your kids with you too, to this land where rules are only for people who feel like following them when it suits them. This speech to the US Congress is a breach of international protocol and it therefore should be cancelled.
But if “diplomacy” is too esoteric a notion for you to feel convinced, then let’s try this: This speech is bad for Israel. The US support for Israel has always been bipartisan. It has never been more Republican to support Israel than Democratic. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have always given equal support to the enormous financial and military aid we provide Israel. By accepting this inappropriate invitation from a partisan member of Congress, who did not inform his colleagues in the other party about it, Benjamin Netanyahu has politicized support for Israel. When his Ambassador to the US met with our Secretary of State for an hour and failed to mention that his Prime Minister would be coming to the United States to speak to Congress, Netanyahu politicized support for Israel. By insisting on making this speech in the same trip as his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu has politicized support for Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu bears full responsibility for whatever happens now in terms of US support for Israel.
Remember, folks. Israel received last year from your tax dollars: $3.399 BILLION. $3.1 billion in military aid and $15 million for “refugees settling in Israel.” Plus $284 million from the Defense Department. That’s a lotta cheese. And it’s a whole lotta cheese to give someone who kind of says Screw You to the established protocols by which our nations operate. It’s the kind of aid that could always be counted on because of our mutual goals and mutual respect for each other. But if one guy can decide that the respect isn’t mutual, then it opens the gate for the people holding our purse strings to quite rightly agree. And that is bad for Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu does not speak for me. And the people of Israel ought to be wondering right about now whether he is truly speaking for them.
David Ben-Gurion: “The State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of any other country; and that the Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have no political attachment to Israel.”