On Daughters

One of my strongly held opinions is that everyone has a story. I love following Humans of New York for that reason. It makes me think about who could be sitting right next to me, what they might have gone through, what they might have seen, what they think.

I don’t generally talk to the strangers around me, however. I often prefer to commute in silence, and I know others do, too. There’s nothing worse than waking up too early, planning to sleep during your hour-long bus commute, and finding yourself sitting next to someone who just wants to tell you about themselves.

BUT. Yesterday, the man I sat next to on the bus had so much to say that I couldn’t help but be interested. It started when I asked him about the bus schedule, he answered me, and then proceeded to tell me all about his job, his family, and his religion. It was fascinating.

Early on in the conversation, he told me that he had older daughters, but younger sons. He said he wished it were the other way around, because he would have liked his children to help him shovel the 10 inches of snow that recently fell, but that his sons were too young and “I can’t make my daughters do that”.

I said, half jokingly but actually very seriously, “If your daughters are big enough to hold a shovel, they can help shovel the driveway”. He said, “Nah, I couldn’t make them do that”. I let it go, and he went on to tell me about his life in the military, being shot in Saudi Arabia when he was 18, his view that Jewish women were much more liberated than Muslim women, and many other things.

Then he told me that his oldest daughter is a sophomore in college and she wants to join the Navy when she graduates. He doesn’t think it’s a terrible idea, after all, she’ll go in as an officer and her education will be paid for and she’ll have a great career ahead of her. His wife, on the other hand, is terribly opposed to the idea, fearing for her daughter’s safety.

I just listened as he told me all about his family’s drama, but as I thought about it, I remembered his earlier statement about the snow. This woman is not some feeble lady. She wants to join the Navy. Even if she has a desk job, she’ll have to go through basic training, which is much more physically demanding than shoveling snow. And he doesn’t mind that–he’s even in support of the idea! If his daughter can spend 10 hours a day climbing through ropes courses and learning to shoot, she can pick up a shovel and help her family clear the snow from their driveway. Fathers shouldn’t be afraid to give these chores to their daughters.

My Problem With “Mommy”

I don’t think it’s anti-feminist of me to sit and think about what life will be like in the eventual future when I have kids, because I have already made a choice–an active choice–that I want to have children someday. I don’t know when that day will be, but I know that it will come eventually.

I think a lot about how I want to raise my children, what I want to teach them, how involved I want to be, etc. I also have decided that I want my children to call me “Mom”. This, like all my thoughts, is subject to change when the time comes, but as of now, I just don’t think “Mommy” is right.

My problem with Mommy is that while it’s cute and endearing for a 5-year-old to call her mother “Mommy”, it’s not quite as endearing for a 15-year-old or a 25-year-old. I should know–I was raised by a Mommy and a Daddy, and to this day, I still feel like those are the natural names to refer to them. When I was in high school, I realized it was kind of weird and tried to make an active effort to switch to “Mom” and “Dad”, but it never felt as right or as natural as “mommy” and “daddy”.  Just yesterday I got a message from my father in which he said, “It’s Daddy, call me back when you get off of work”. It’s just so ironic for a Daddy to be requesting that his adult daughter call him back after she gets off of work.

I know kids that call their parents mom and dad, and it does seem a little off. At first, it almost feels like there is some sort of lack of intimacy between the child and the parent, that the kids can’t fully express their love to their parents, because they don’t have cute pet names. But then I realize that sort of thinking is just incredibly archaic. It’s not about the title, it’s about the relationship–and these kids actually do have wonderful, loving, caring parents that would do just about anything in the world for their children, and the children know it.

Maybe it’s a personal thing I have against pet names. I’ve told my husband that I don’t want him to give me any pet names, either. (Hello, I’m not his pet!). I know a lot of women like this sort of thing, but I just feel that names like Baby, Honey, and Sweetie are incredibly condescending. I’m not his baby, I don’t need him to care for me. It works for us-when he wants to be endearing to me, he just tells me what it is that he loves about me–using my name and everything–and I love him for that. Now, I know that sort of reasoning doesn’t work with the Mommy issue, but maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe I just say that I don’t want pet names because it’s anti-feminist, when in reality, I’m just too rational to enjoy pet names.

My mother is a preschool teacher with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She advocates against parents using any sort of baby talk with their kids. She thinks that you’re just teaching children improper language skills, and that by using incorrect words and grammar with your kids, you’re impeding language development. I’ve been taught that philosophy my whole life. So maybe that’s where the mommy thing comes into play: Why reinforce something that you’re just going to want to undo later?

I should note that my issues against “mommy” are my own, and I haven’t yet discussed them with my husband. However, it won’t bother me at all if he chooses to be Daddy, Abba, Tattie, Papa, or anything else–he can be whatever he wants to be, just like I can.

Simchat Bat Ceremonies: Feminist Ritual or Jewish Ritual?

I recently attended both the shalom zachor and brit mila of the son of good friends of mine. As all shalom zachors do, this made me think about how there’s no real female equivalent of a shalom zachor, and how this practice seems like a throwback to the days when families favored boys over girls.

When I was growing up, in a small, out-of-town community with one orthodox shul, one conservative shul, and one reform shul, the process was pretty standard across the board: No one had a shalom zachor. If you had a baby boy, you had a brit, and if you had a baby girl, you had a baby naming ceremony. The ceremonies were fairly similar, both involved the whole community sharing bagels and lox, both involved the parents (or just the father, if the mother was too weak from just having passed a human being out of her body) talking publicly about their child and his/her name and where it comes from and who the baby is named after and their hopes and dreams for their child. There were only two differences: 1. The brit involved a snip-snip and 2. The brit was held 8 days after the baby was born (unless there were medical concerns) and the baby naming was held whenever was convenient for the parents, usually the first or second sunday after the baby was born.

It was pretty fair, if you asked me. I never thought of judaism favoring baby boys over baby girls because we celebrated both babies publicly, and even I, as a kid, understood that the ceremonies couldn’t be 100% equal because, well, girls and boys are not biologically 100% equal.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I heard people talk about simchat bat ceremonies. I assumed that those were just the hebrew version of a baby naming ceremony. Then I started to read about how people have designed special prayers, songs, and passages for simchat bats. What finally made me realize that these ceremonies were viewed a little differently here than where I came from, however, was a comment made by a caterer friend of mine. He does events all over the tri-state area, and was once talking about a simchat bat he was planning. Someone asked him where the event was going to be. He replied, “Riverdale, duh. If it’s a simchat bat, it’s either Riverdale or the Upper West Side.” So, apparently, the only people that celebrate a daughter are feminists. Hm.

This conversation led to more discussions about baby girls and baby boys. Apparently, “most people” up here name their baby girls in shul the first time that the husband goes to shul after the baby is born. There’s usually no coffee and bagels, and no guests are invited. The only parties are for boys.

This is wrong. It is weird that my small town is more “progressive” than the big city, but apparently, that’s how it is. But the thing is, we didn’t think of ourselves as progressive at all. Most of the people would shun the title feminist. I once got ridiculed for studying gemara in shul on simchat torah while all the other women were contentedly watching the men dance around the torah. This is NOT a progressive community. We simply like babies, male or female, and we celebrate whenever ANY new member joins our tribe.

This is the final step for feminism. Feminism has taken great strides lately, has implemented wonderful additions and rituals and services that make judaism welcoming for all genders, and thats great. But the final step is to get these things normalized, to not be seen as a “feminist” practice, but instead, to be seen as simply a Jewish practice.

Working Moms and Busy “Others”

I’d like to be frank about something here. I know what I’m about to say is not popular, but I’m going to say it anyway. I really don’t have that much sympathy for working moms.

I really don’t mean to downplay how hard it is to be a mom and also work full time, but in my world, that’s normal. When I was growing up, my mom worked full time. Both of my grandmothers also worked full time while raising children. Almost all of my friends’ moms worked.

I am not a mom, but I still have a busy schedule. I go to law school full time, and work part time, plus I have an hour long commute each day, meaning that I don’t get home before 9pm most nights. And once I get home, I have papers to write and cases to read and client files to go over.  I often do the grocery shopping while falling asleep, and my laundry hasn’t been done in two weeks because I just don’t have time for that. Forget about ever making the bed. And yet, there are not blogs and magazines and books dedicated solely to coping with my schedule. How come having a busy schedule is only sympathy worthy if part of the schedule includes children?

Still, despite my non-sympathy, being a working mom scares me. When my sister-in-law was recently complaining about a hectic day she had at work, it started with her pre-school age daughter being sick and having to arrange last-minute childcare before she left in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, she had an off-site meeting that went longer than it was supposed to. Since my sister-in-law is nursing her baby son, she pumps milk during the day. The late meeting meant that she had to find a place in the unfamiliar office building to pump, keeping her co-worker (and ride) waiting. Another time, she told me that her office building was closed for repairs, but all employees were expected to report in to a temporary site. She went to the temporary site, and found that she, and the rest of the employees, weren’t able to do a lot of work from there, since they didn’t have their files and other necessary things with them. While her co-workers had to stay and find busy work to fill their time, her boss gave her permission to leave early in order to nurse (there was no place to pump in the temporary location).

I know that my sister-in-law is an incredibly hard worker and very dedicated to her job. She’s also quite smart and good at what she does. Still, often when she talks about work, it’s often about how her children interfere with her ability to do her job well. It scares me that my ability to do my job well will be impacted by my children.

Perhaps, just maybe, this is the real reason why it irks me so much when moms complain about how hard it is to balance their work and home life. Perhaps, every time I hear that discussion, it reminds me that soon enough, that will be my fate as well.

As A Mother, I Run For President

It’s election time, and in the feminist world, that means…time to get mad at all the attention the media puts on the personal lives of female candidates.

I first noticed this while watching last week’s Republican Candidate Debate at Reagan National Library. My roomate and I were watching together, and the first thing she said when the camera turned to Michelle Bachmann was, “Ew. Who did her hair?? I can’t believe they let her on to T.V. like that!!” Now, my roommate is no ditz. She has some very strong, very well thought out political opinions, and she’s not afraid to share them with anyone who asks–or for that matter, doesn’t ask but says something that could possibly, maybe, slightly be construed as a political statement. She is highly intelligent and well educated. And yet, her first comment about Michelle Bachman was about her hair.

I noticed it today in tonight’s Tea Party Republican Candidate Debate. The moderators, while focusing mainly on Mitt Romney and Rick Perry (The media’s selection of “front runners” before most states primaries is another awful part of our media-centric election system, but I digress), asked Ms. Bachmann about her stance on government mandated HPV vaccine for young girls. This question they asked almost all the candidates, but to Bachmann, they introduced the question by saying, “Michelle Bachmann, you’re a mother, as a mother, how do you feel about the government requiring our young girls to get this vaccine?” (I may be paraphrasing the wording, but that was the essence of it.) Ms. Bachman took the bait and responded, “Yes. I am a mother. I have three young girls, and I don’t believe the federal government should be requiring them to inject anything into their bodies that they don’t want to”.

Why, why, WHY must female candidates be viewed in light of their roles as mothers? WHY did none of the other candidates, all of whom are parents, get asked about their perspectives “as a father”? And why must female candidates feel compelled to play into these assigned roles? Why couldn’t Ms. Bachmann have responded, “Yes, I am a mother, but my view of government mandated vaccinations goes beyond my own personal household. I don’t believe that the federal government should require my daughters or any one else’s daughters to inject…” This would have concisely pointed out to the public that she viewed herself as more than just a mother.

In fact, I feel that this is where Sarah Palin started going down hill last presidential election. When she presented herself as a “loving mother of 5” and the all american “hockey mom”, she lost credibility as a politician. People felt that if the only thing she had to boast about was her family (including a pregnant-out-of-wedlock daughter and a down-syndrome baby that was being cared for more by her daughter than herself), then she really must not have all that much to bring to the table. Then of course came the Katie Couric interview and the Tina Fey parodies, and the woman never had a chance.

This is not about me endorsing or rejecting either of the two women above. I actually feel that both of them are way too conservative for me. I refuse to vote for anyone who is pro-choice. But that’s not the point here. These women are not being treated as politicians, they’re being treated as women. America likes to think that it is this wonderfully progressive society (certainly those on the extreme right would say so), but we are ages and ages behind where we should be. I mean seriously, is it really that hard for the elections to be about the issues? Is that REALLY too much to ask?