La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for February 2014

That’s an article discussing the working mom/SAH mom divide as it relates to volunteering in the classroom. Having just come off a 5-month stint volunteering with Bambina’s school musical, I have concluded that the volunteer/non-volunteer question is not really about working parents vs stay-at- home parents. Rather, it’s about the three kinds of people at the school (and, for that matter, in life): Givers, Benevolent Takers, and Moochers.

There are Givers. Be it time, money, stuff, these are the volunteers. Many of whom are employed, many of whom are not. The director and stage manager of our musical both have jobs. My coproducer is back at college and working a home business. Half the moms and dads in our PTO are full-time employed. So it’s not about the job situation. My husband takes two days off work every year without fail: to chaperone a field trip and to help at field day. So he (and parents like him) give the time they can. Those who can’t give time often give money or goods and services. The dad who owned the coffee shop can’t come to the event, but he donated coffee for us to sell. The parents who can’t give the time to sell the raffle tickets buy a bunch. So you see my point: different people “volunteer” in different ways. All of them valid and important. Our family can’t blithely write a $100 check to the annual fund, so volunteering is how I contribute.

It’s okay to be a Giver of any kind.

Now let’s talk Benevolent Takers. These are the people who, for whatever reasons, can’t or don’t volunteer. I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t or can’t, because what the hell do I know about that person’s life? But here’s the key: Benevolent Takers are appreciative of and gracious toward those who do volunteer. They are the parents whose work schedules don’t allow for volunteering, or who have life circumstances that preclude it, but who recognize that you are giving up something to do this activity with and for their kids. They send emails to say thanks, they stop you to mention how great the show was. They, most importantly, send well-behaved and respectful kids to the activities. They are positive people who just aren’t joiners in your particular venue. I am a Benevolent Taker at our temple. I appreciate every single person there who gives their time and talents, but my contributions are almost zero unless they need store-bought cookies or something. But I send and say thank yous–and ensure my kids behave on penalty of extreme internet shutdown.

It’s okay to be a Benevolent Taker.

Now here come The Moochers. They give not one minute of time to (let’s say) the musical. They offer no materials for costumes, concessions or sponsorships. They just don’t have time! But boy do they have time to craft an elaborate email detailing how you can be doing it more to their liking. This little thing was annoying and inconvenient for them, so we should totally work on that for next time. They complain. They murmur to other parents about all the perceived faults in how we are running rehearsals. They think their child should have a “better” role, failing to notice that their child is disrespectful, difficult to work with, and not super interested in a bigger role anyway, which is why he has the role he has. They sometimes treat us like we are the paid help, as if we are all drawing fat checks for working with their kids and somehow not providing value-added services in exchange for that imaginary fat check. In short, they are miserable, entitled people. They are the ones who make me periodically vow that I’m Never Doing This Again. True story: one hour after our show I received an email from one such mom. To point out an error in the program book. Really? Really? I just spent 5 MONTHS and countless hours with your child. I hand-made 43 costumes. I designed that entire program and spent hours working with the printer to get it completed on time and under budget. And what you have to say to me not 60 minutes after it’s over is “here is something you got wrong.” I mean, who does that?! Moochers is who. Moochers. I SWEAR I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN.

I confess to having been a closet Moocher in the past. About the musical, no less! Aha, my comeuppance. Before I got involved I really felt that they needed to utilize the younger kids more, have better email communication, and properly proofread the playbill since they left out my salutation. I never sent nasty emails or publicly dissed anyone. But in my head the entire enterprise was in need of intervention. Yes indeed, those musical people needed to get more on the ball. I mean, how hard could it be? So I decided to help out. Well, butter my buns and call me a biscuit; because I learned precisely how hard it is to create a musical with 50-80 kids while keeping all the multiple and swiftly-moving balls in the air. Put plainly, it’s a g-damned miracle it ever comes together on our timeline, budget and staffing. But come together it does. To the joy of kids and parents school-wide. And so even though my brain is screaming, “I SWEAR I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN,” I do it again. Because the musical ain’t gonna stage itself. And I have to do penance for the two years I thought uncharitable thoughts about the musical and everyone associated with it.

So, you see, it’s not about what kind of employee you are; it’s about what kind of person you are. If you are Types 1or 2, keep on giving and taking. But If you recognize even a tiny little bit of yourself in Type #3, repent now, sinner. And call me. Atonement begins this fall at auditions!



Posted on: February 3, 2014

“Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole’s emptiness that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the empty space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”

san shi fu gong yi gu.
dang qi wu, you che zhi yong.
shan zhi yi wei qi.
dang qi wu you qi zhi yong.
zao hu you yi wei shi.
dang qi wu, you shi zhi yong.
gu you zhi yi wei li.
wu zhi yi wei yong.
– Pinyin transliteration, Chapter 11, Daodejing (Tao-Te Ching)

“I can’t stop writing about my dead father. He’s 60% of me, like water.” –Sherman Alexie.

My dad passed 8 years ago this month into those misty Scottish Highlands in the sky. “Eight (8) years ago,” he would have written. I could never figure out why he felt compelled to put the numeral in there. What–Was I going to think he’d written Bight years? Or Fight years? It seemed unnecessary. But that’s what he did. I keep a post-it note from him in my wallet. Not a real post-it note, mind you. Those would have cost money. This note is a freebie from my sister’s old accounting job, “Supervalu” taking up a full third of the sticky note’s writing area. In which he advises me that he loves my jokey letters to him, without which “ah’d go aff ma chump” (go crazy). He then draws a Kilroy-style pic of himself captioned “One (1) picture of me.Wot? No Whisky?” It sits stuffed next to a 1x 2 inch fake $100 bill that he has written on the back, “Sorry about this. I was going to give it to you to spend but your mum put it in the dryer and it shrunk.” I keep them both next to the pics of Dada and the girls and the pic of my Dad and Mom all gussied up circa 2003. Best photo of them ever, except for the selfie they took on their road trip to retire in Texas. Leaning up against one of those three-log farm gates, messy-haired and road weary, but clearly and palpably happy. My mom hates it because they both look a hot mess in the pic. But I framed it because the light in their eyes said more than the wind in their hair.

I’ve thought a lot about my Dad since he died. Dreamed that he was speaking to me. Imagined that he was guiding me. Pondered how he molded me. Wondered, Yentl-like, if he could hear me praying, anything I’m saying, Papa can you help me not be frightened? There are days, even these 96 months later, when I feel nothing but the giant, gaping hole in the universe where my father used to be. Such days catch me by surprise always, sadden me often, but depress me never. Because I realize that this is precisely the point of my life (and the life of anyone who has lost someone) going forward. As Lao Tzu said: the emptiness as a means to usefulness.

Things I’d have relied on my father to do, I now must do. Responsibilities that belonged to him now belong to me. Taking care of my mom (although let the record state that she is about to climb through the Internet and smack me for suggesting in any forum, public or private, that she needs taking care of at all–especially since.”I’m 70 and in better health than you! Ha!”), passing forward family legend and lore to the “grandweans,” being a thorn in the side of the nearest rabbi, inculcating a love for Scotland in all his descendants, figuring out how to fix any appliance, and furthering the cause of Noble Eccentricity wherever its flame might be in danger of being extinguished.

There is clearly much to be done. Some of which I delegate. For instance, this will come as news to him, but my BFF Carol’s husband is my New Dad of home repairs (the fact that we are of the same age is irrelevant). If something breaks, I’m pretty much calling him. Then I’ll know the answer for next time. My dad routinely would nonchalantly ask my guy friends stuff like, “hey–you want to help me move a fridge?” So it’s in this spirit of jolly imposition that I have designated my friend’s betrothed as my New Dad for Domestic Affairs.

In the area of rabbinical thornery, I confess to being slightly more concerned with the propriety of hassling clergy than my father was. Luckily, my 9 year old is an articulate, thoughtful atheist, and so I have designated her as the family’s resident Tester of Rabbinical Fortitude. She is, I’m awkwardly pleased to report, making him proud. Choice quote: “Any god who tells you to sacrifice your child and then sends someone else, even if it’s an angel, to say ‘never mind; jklol’ is the rudest god ever.” JP smiles down on this kind of chutzpah. Her Hebrew School teacher, I’m sure, considers binge drinking after every class. JP lives on.

Which is the whole point. The emptiness and what I do with it is precisely what illuminates the memory of the man who did exist and who used to fill that giant space in the universe. The emptiness is where the real potential for connecting with his legacy lies. Whenever I feel burdened by the emptiness of his absence, I try to fill that space with gratitude. I rarely cry about my Dad at this late date, but still cannot make it through a Mourner’s Kaddish without welling up.The prayer, contrary to popular belief, is not the “Jewish prayer for the dead.” It actually never mentions death or dying or your loved one at all. It simply praises God’s name and prays for peace, Tells you that life goes on, that the work continues:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity. Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen  He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

I have WASPy origins, so while this prayer has comforted many a Jew, standing up in temple, surrounded by fellow mourners reciting how awesome God is, brings me no peace and just lays bare in the starkest terms that my father is gone. It is too public, too communal for me and for how I like to think of him. Rather, it is in the quiet moments and the empty spaces that I feel him the most. Sometimes to great joy and sometimes to great pain. But always to a sense of gratitude that he was mine to miss.


He doesn’t realize it, but Seal wrote the best Kaddish ever. I think of my dad whenever I hear this song.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 422 other followers