Don’t hold your breath on plans for baby


Nothing is more exciting than finding out that you’re having a baby. The moment I found out I was expecting, I began making grand plans. I read the books, spoke to pregnant friends and questioned all the new mommies I knew. Then I made some big decisions.

Disposable diapers were clogging the landfills — I would use cloth. Baby foods had preservatives — I would puree my own. Cavities begin before teeth appear — no bottles in bed.

There would be no junk food, no TV, no yelling, no spanking, no spoiling, no bribing. I would provide only classical music and educational toys. I would never use food for reward or punishment. My baby would never use a pacifier or learn to suck his thumb. The list went on and on, and then our precious son was born.

Shortly after we came home, our son started an interesting habit. When upset, he would cry very hard, turn blue around the lips and make no sound. Then the bluish color would spread until he hysterically gasped for air and turned pink again. I got somewhat used to this routine until he progressed to the point of passing out.

“He’s a breath holder,” the pediatrician said calmly.

“The books said nothing about breath holders,” I wailed.

“It’s not very common, but it happens,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’ll start breathing again as soon as he passes out. Just don’t blow in his face.”

“What?”

“They used to say that if you blow in the baby’s face, he’ll catch his breath,” the pediatrician said. “But it really doesn’t work; it just makes him madder.”

He paused right before administering the vaccination.

“When I give him his shot, he’ll probably start crying,” the pediatrician said as he stabbed the needle into my baby’s thigh.

Sure enough, the crying began, the lips went blue, the face grew ashen and my baby passed out. It happened again with another shot in the other thigh.

As I packed up the diaper bag, sniffling back my own tears, the pediatrician warned me: “Don’t let him manipulate you, or he’ll use breath-holding to get what wants. He’ll grow out of it eventually. See you next month.”

From that moment on, my grand promises were cast aside. Attempting to avoid crying and fainting episodes, I broke my own rules. I kept pacifiers everywhere and shoved one in his mouth at the smallest whimper. When he tired of pacifiers, I taught him how to suck his thumb. When he wanted up, I picked him up.

Diaper changing was a particularly tricky time. He’d be happy and bubbly for the first 30 seconds or so, but if it took any longer than that, he would become frustrated at being on his back and begin to cry. Since I could change disposable more quickly than cloth, I fired the diaper service. Once I had crossed the diaper line, it was easy to give in on anything.

I developed a do-what-works attitude. Why be so rigid? Jar food was just fine. In fact, he ate so much that I switched from organic to whatever was on sale. I used generic wipes on his tender tush.
One time, I found the dog licking his face after a messy spaghetti meal. My son loved it. From then on, I sat him on the kitchen floor and let the dog clean him up after he ate. A mother must find clever ways to make her job easier.

As the doctor predicted, the breath-holding eventually subsided. By the time my second son came along, my child-rearing methods had evolved considerably.

Potty training? M”&”Ms for a tinkle in the toilet. Television? How did we grow up without videos? Spanking? Watch your toddler dash into oncoming traffic and then tell me you never spank. Yelling? Ever seen a cheesecake after 10 minutes in the microwave? Bribery? Try taking two toddlers to the market and see how long it takes before you say: “If you’re good, mommy will buy you….”

That breath-holding baby is now 16 years old. A few thousand dollars in orthodontia fixed the overbite that the thumb caused. He regularly uses the potty without expecting M”&”Ms. The last time he had a shot, he hardly let out a peep.

The only time he holds his breath is when he’s swimming, and the bribery item of choice has progressed from cookies to car keys. He does, however, still eat his way through the grocery store.

So, have your baby, make your plans, set your limits, follow your rules. And when things don’t go the way you expected and the mess is just too big and you feel like crying until you pass out, do what I did — put the baby on the floor and let the dog clean up.

yeLAdim


Mighty Glad to See You!

It was great seeing so many of you at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7 (we hope you enjoyed the fans). Be sure to check out our yeLAdim page on June 30, as we will be printing many of the essays you wrote for our 20th anniversary!

Kein v’ Lo:

Parental Spying?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about people listening to other people’s phone calls, and some people say parents need to check what their kids are doing online and who they are chatting with — because not everyone on the Internet is telling the truth. Should parents be allowed to do that?

The Kein Side:

  • A lot of kids don’t talk to their parents, and the parents want to make sure their kids are safe from drugs, alcohol, bullies and other things that can hurt them.
  • It is your parents’ house, and you have to live by their rules — when you have your own house, you can have your own rules.

The Lo Side:

  • Parents need to trust their kids — otherwise how will the kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves?
  • It is invasion of privacy to listen to their phone calls and look at someone’s things when they aren’t there.

We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com, with the subject line: Parents.

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim page.

Pages & Picks

This month’s pick is the very cute “Kvetchy Boy” by Anne-Maire Baila Asner — the latest from Matzah Ball Books.

Kvetchy Boy joins his friends Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Klutzy Boy and Shmutzy Girl in bringing Yiddish expressions to young Jews (don’t worry, each book includes a glossary of words) and teaching everyone about being a better person:

Even at his birthday party, Kvetchy Boy kvetched and kvetched.

“This ice cream made my cake soggy. I hate soggy cake,” said Kvetchy Boy.

“But Kvetchy Boy,” said Noshy Boy, who loves to eat. “The cake tastes even better that way.”

Kvetchy Boy didn’t agree.

If you haven’t seen your favorite Yiddish expression yet, don’t worry — there are more books on the way, including some for grown-ups like “Mrs. Mitzvah” and “Bubby” and “Zaida Kvelly.” You can even buy T-shirts with the different characters on them!

For more information, visit

Dating by Committee


My guy Scott and I talked every night — until last night. He flew to San Francisco to hear a friend’s band play and I never heard from him. I left a message, he left me hanging. I know. He calls me, he calls me not, is nothing new. But it’s new to me. I’m too cute to be blown off. No seriously — way too cute.

And yet, I haven’t heard from him. I’ve been dating for more than a decade. I should know what this means, but I don’t. I’m Jewish. What do I know from a silent night? So I do what any woman in my sitch would do: I pick up the phone and call — don’t say him. Please, that’d be too logical. I call my girlfriends — ‘cuz women date by committee. When faced with a new crush, a dating dilemma or a relationship 911, we dial our friends and ask for advice.

“I’m gonna be honest, you’re in trouble,” said Amanda, who’s currently juggling two men. “It’s not good. It’s gotta be another girl.”

Scott and I have been linked for awhile. He’s a great guy, an honest guy; he’d never make a behind-my-back pass at another woman. So it’s gotta be — “you,” said Ann, who often goes three dates and out. “You’re probably pressuring him, he wants some space.”

Space? He spent the night in Northern California. That’s unofficially another state.

“If he can’t handle calling you, he can’t handle dating you,” pipes in newlywed Rachel. “What happens if you two get married and have kids? Your son is sick at school, and since Scott’s closer, you call and ask him to pick Morty up. But Scott doesn’t call you back and sick little Morty’s left waiting all alone on the playground. In the rain. Is that what you want?”

I know I don’t want to name my son Morty.

Men don’t do this. Men don’t overanalyze their relationships with their buddies. They don’t compare and contrast their girl’s behavior with that of their friend’s ex. They don’t do a play-by-play analysis of their last date. They don’t discuss. But girls always move in packs. We shop together, workout together, hit the ladies room together — in fact, we do everything in groups, except the one thing men wish we did in groups.

When it comes to relationships, girls are all about group think. We poll all our friends; we share all the evidence. We dissect voicemails men leave on friends’ phones. We decode text messages guys send to friends’ cells. We decipher e-mails that our friends forward in their entirety. My girls and I break down what a guy says, why he says it and why he didn’t say more. We analyze and scrutinize and interpret and debate. We’re like the great talmudic sages poring over a single phrase of the Torah. But hotter.

“Don’t worry. He’s just having fun with his friends. He’ll call when he gets back,” my college friend Kim said. “It’s not a big deal.” She’s right. She has to be right, because I so want her to be right.

See, women don’t really call friends for advice, we call for backup. In times of crisis and indecision, we call friend after friend after friend until we find one who agrees with us, someone who tells us what we’ve already told ourselves, someone who tells us what we want to hear.

It’s like the french fry phenomenon. When girls grab lunch we’re faced with the “Sophie’s Choice” of fruit or fries with that. We all want fries, we all get fruit. But if one girl admits she’s considering fries, there’s a frenzied chorus of “If you get them, I’ll get them.” Suddenly we’re all eating fries. And Macho Nachos. And we go to town on an Awesome Blossom. Girls are always looking for friends to second our motion. Or order seconds. Or dessert. We’re not looking for opinions, we’re looking for confirmation. We want to find someone who interprets a situation the same way we do.

All I want is someone to tell me that I shouldn’t be nervous. That I’m right to believe one unreturned phone call is just that — an unreturned call. Not a bad sign … or a meltdown … or the Love Boat sinking.

But while my friends might be “dating mayvens,” the truth is: No one knows a relationship like the two people who are in it. Sometimes, we shouldn’t let our clique convince us that all is good when it’s going down fast. Or buy in when they say a good relationship’s going bad. We should listen to our gut — or in this case, the message, which Scott left while I was overanalyzing with the girls.

“Hey Carin, it’s Scott. Sorry I didn’t call last night. We were out late. I didn’t want to wake you. But my flight lands around 5. Thought maybe we’d grab Thai food together. Miss you.”

Hmm. All in favor of me meeting Scott for dinner say “aye.” All against say … actually on this one, the only vote that counts is mine.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

 

Lieberman War View Triggers Backlash


Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has earned the appreciation of a Republican administration he has resolutely defended on the issue of the Iraq War. One prominent Jewish activist described Lieberman’s “powerful sense of mission” in supporting the war.

But that steadfastness also has triggered a political backlash for Lieberman. He got a dose of it in Los Angeles last month and could have a fight on his hands this year to win a third term, a race that was initially expected to be a cakewalk.

At a fundraiser last month in Bel Air that included some top Jewish givers, Lieberman faced a decidedly mixed reception. Some participants applauded his staunch defense of the war as public opposition continues to grow — but many others expressed concern.

At the Bel Air meeting, “some were overwhelmingly supportive of his stance, and some deeply unconvinced and skeptical,” said one participant. “Most interestingly, he was so consumed by his sense of mission that he could not distinguish between the two.”

Lieberman’s defense of the war stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish majority. A recent American Jewish Committee poll indicated that 70 percent of Jews now oppose the administration’s Iraq policies, although that number was considerably lower in Lieberman’s Orthodox community.

Lieberman’s defend-the-war mission has also sent up some storm clouds at home.

Former Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), the man Lieberman unseated in 1988, has told Connecticut newspapers he may run against Lieberman on an anti-war platform if no other strong candidates emerge. Weicker — who later served as Connecticut governor — said he could run as an independent.

Lieberman could also face a Democratic Party challenger running on an anti-war platform.

Some Democrats have been further angered by persistent rumors that Lieberman may be tapped to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said, “It’s hard to believe Lieberman has to worry about holding his seat,” but added that Weicker could be “a perfect protest vehicle” if anti-war sentiment continues to rise.

“And a truly contentious (Democratic) primary could open the way for a GOP challenge in the fall, especially since GOP Gov. Jodi Rell will sweep to victory,” he said.

Sabato said while he would “put solid money on Lieberman’s reelection, whatever the obstacles,” Lieberman’s national ambitions are a thing of the past.

“He crashed and burned in 2004, and now he’s on the ‘wrong’ side of Iraq in the Democratic Party,” he said. “It’s over for him. Ironic, isn’t it? He was almost elected vice president in 2000, which would have made him the logical presidential nominee for the Dems in 2008. But close only counts in horseshoes.”

 

Zoning Snafus Keep New JCC Empty


Flashback to last fall, the opening ceremony of YESOD, a first-of-its-kind Jewish community center in the heart of St. Petersburg. This three-story modern stone-and-glass building — built by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) with funds raised primarily from North American federations and private donors — was pitched by the JDC as the new heart of the St. Petersburg community.

Now, four months after the impressive opening ceremony that brought together JDC leadership from New York and Israel, North American donors and local community leaders, the center is fully built — but stands empty.

The center is also the focus of criticism from some of its would-be occupants, who say that they haven’t been kept in the loop about planning the center from the beginning, that its opening has been delayed and that they are unsure about when they will be able to move in.

For its part, the JDC says that the delays are a result of bureaucratic snafus in obtaining zoning approval, and that it plans to move local Jewish organizations into the building later this month. JDC also wants to make the building economically self-sufficient; sources suggest that the project has stalled because JDC is also looking for commercial tenants to help achieve this goal.

YESOD, a bright and open space, is similar to state-of-the-art JCCs in cities across North America. It has space to house half a dozen Jewish organizations, a gym, a concert hall and a kosher cafe.

Although hailed as a landmark space uniting under one roof many Jewish organizations that have been scattered around the city, the center was received with mixed feelings by community leaders.

At the time, some criticized the JDC for organizing the center from afar and of not bringing the local bodies into the organizational process.

When the center held its ceremony, with Jewish federation guests from North America in attendance, its administration hoped that it would be ready for operation by the end of the year at the latest.

But the center is still not open.

“Everything has stalled and it is not certain when and how we are going to move,” said Leonid Kolton, director of St. Petersburg’s Hesed Avraham welfare center, which provides food and other services to Jewish elderly.

The JDC-run Hesed Avraham gave up some of its space in anticipation of the September move — space that it will need in its more active winter months. Hillel’s predicament is more serious: the student group’s lease is ending at the end of the month.

In an e-mail message, Jonathan Porath, JDC’s country director for Russia, said Hillel will move into the JCC before the end of the month.

But according to Leonid Smirnov, director of JDC in St. Petersburg, the finished building is still going through the lengthy process of receiving final approval from the zoning commission.

Local Jewish organizations should be able to move in at the end of January and “general activity” in the building should begin in the late winter or early spring, Porath said. Meanwhile, the amount that local groups will be expected to pay in rent is still unclear.

There are indications that the nonprofit tenants, St. Petersburg Jewish organizations, will need to pay rent for space in YESOD to cover its costly maintenance. Local Jewish leaders worry that the groups will be expected to pay commercial rates that some organizations cannot afford.

Smirnov says such criticisms and fears are unwarranted because most of the organizations relocating to YESOD are funded by the JDC and thus the JDC would just be paying itself.

“We are not interested in transferring money from one of our pockets to another,” he said.

Financial details are still being worked, out, JDC’s Porath said. According to Leonid Kolton, the overall situation puts a stain on JDC’s image and could even damage the structure of the Jewish community.

The JDC’s Smirnov says any large-scale operation spanning almost four years and involving the transfer of many organizations to a newly constructed building will inevitably run into difficulties and complications.

Added Joshua Berkman, a JDC spokesman: “JDC and its partners built YESOD to serve as a first-class facility where Jewish life in St. Petersburg can continue to flourish. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to make sure the organizations that are driving this historic Jewish rebirth can make YESOD their home.”

Jewish Groups Join Quake Relief Efforts


For thousands of young Israelis, the sun-drenched archipelagos of Southeast Asia were the perfect destination to forget the rigors of military service.

But this week, that post-Zionist nirvana became a nightmare. The tsunami that swept India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands on Sunday plunged hundreds of Israeli families into a frenzy of worry over relatives feared lost while touring.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that witness testimony suggested that at nearly 70 of the approximately 500 Israeli tourists still unaccounted for in hard-hit Southeast Asian nations may have been swept out to sea and drowned. At least 33 Israelis are receiving treatment in hospitals in the region, the Foreign Ministry said.

For thousands of families living in or visiting the Indian Ocean region, Sunday’s catastrophe confirmed their worst fears: At least 45,000 people were killed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, mostly in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

A Belgian Jewish couple reportedly lost their 11-month-old son in the disaster. According to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Matan Nassima’s body was found Tuesday near the Thai resort where his family had been vacationing.

Details were not immediately known, but it also was believed that members of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities were missing.

Immediately after the tragedy, Israel and Jewish groups swung into action. Israel’s Foreign Ministry set aside $100,000 in aid for each of the countries hit by the tsunami. Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts but said it would accept a smaller team.

North American Jewish groups also were participating in the relief efforts. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was expecting to send its first shipment of medicine Tuesday to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It has been coordinating with 23 partner organizations in the region to assess needs on the ground. The group is hoping to receive donations to cover the cost of emergency supplies.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with its office in Bombay and elsewhere to coordinate relief efforts. The organization is hoping to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Chabad of Thailand responded to the crisis by dispatching a rabbi to Phuket to aid rescue efforts and turned the three Chabad Houses of Thailand into crisis centers where survivors can call home, get a free meal or receive funds for new clothing and medical help.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a Southeast Asia Relief Fund. To contribute, call (323) 761-8200, or send a check payable to The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 and write Southeast Asia Relief Fund on the memo line.

For families of potential victims, the waiting for news was excruciating.

At Erez Katran’s home in Haifa, a 24-hour vigil was set up next to the telephone in hopes that he would call. His family hoped Katran’s silence was due to the fact that he was incommunicado while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Katran was among the Israelis who remained unaccounted for Tuesday, despite urgent Foreign Ministry efforts to track them down.

In addition to delivering bad news, the Israeli communications industry pitched in with the search efforts. Every major Web site set up a page where pictures of missing tourists could be posted in hope that someone would report their location, and one cellphone company offered its Israeli customers in Southeast Asia 10 minutes of free air time to call home.

JTA staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Relief Donations Sought


The following Jewish organizations are seeking funds to assist in the relief effort:

• American Jewish World Service, ” target=”_blank”>www.jdc.org, (212) 687-6200, ext. 889.

• B’nai B’rith, www.bnaibrith.org or by mail to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St., NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

• Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200; www.chabadthailand.com. For U.S. tax deductibility, checks should be made out to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand.)

When Parents Get Preschool Jitters


It was the first day of preschool and 2-year-old Jessica didn’t know any of other children in her new class at B’nai Tikvah Congregation Nursery School. But the child’s anxiety paled in comparison that of her mother.

“I worried that Jessica would get her feelings hurt or that she would physically get hurt and I would not be there to comfort her,” said Sherri Cadmus. “I am used to protecting her. Now I need to give up some of that control and hope that she will be comfortable enough with her teachers to be comforted by them.”

As many preschool teachers know all too well, school separation anxiety is often harder for parents than children. Adjustments to preschool are always difficult, and for children — and parents — in Jewish days schools, the interruptions of the holiday often make it harder.

“Sometimes parents worry that they are abandoning their child even though intellectually they know the children needs to be in an environment with [his or her] peers,” said veteran preschool director Marla Osband of B’nai Tikvah in Westchester.

To ease the transition easier, Osband encourages parents to visit the school with their child before the child’s first official day. When the child starts, Osband’s “open-door policy” allows parents to either drop by or call in as often as needed. The staff often helps children write letters to their parents to bring home. Teachers take pictures to show that the child had a successful day. Parents can also leave a “transitional object,” like an article of the parent’s clothing or a picture, to remind the child that the parent will return.

According to Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant, the length of a child’s distress holds important information.

“The key question for the parents to ask is how many minutes does it take the child to recover after the huge show of anguish and agony when parent leaves,” Mogel said. “That’s always the key indicator for me.”

If the child cries for just a few minutes and is soon able to calm down and play or socialize, he or she is probably OK. However, if they child dreads going to school and constantly complains of headaches and stomachaches, he or she might be too young.

Mogel advises parents to be cautious about projecting their own fears.

“Children are wonderful at reading cues and playing a part at full theatrical flourish,” warned the therapist.

Since children tend to be more emotional with their mothers, sometimes having the father take the child to school can make for an easier experience.

At some Jewish preschools like Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Early Childhood Program in Encino, life without mom and dad is introduced at age 2 in the toddler-transition program. Since most VBS preschoolers come from this program, which is specifically geared toward separation, starting preschool is usually an easier adjustment.

VBS transition classes are offered two days a week, adding a third day in the middle of the school year. Parents attend the class for a portion of the day with the child and leave together as a group at a certain point. Parents often stay on site to monitor their children’s progress until they feel comfortable departing for a brief period of time — leaving a cell phone number, of course.

“Some children separate easily and some need a longer time,” said Michelle Warner, who runs the VBS toddler transition program. “The same goes for the parents.”

The school brings in speakers who discuss parenting issues while the parents congregate in another room on site.

According to Mogel “interviewing a child for pain” is a common mistake parents make when a child starts preschool.

“The child comes home at end of day and the parent says, ‘How was it this morning — a little better than yesterday?'” Mogel explained. “If you want to talk, tell them about your day. Be quiet and then they’ll tell you about their day.”

By Jessica’s third day at B’nai Tikvah, she no longer needed her mother to stay with her in the morning. While there were a few small setbacks and meltdowns — particularly with the interruption of the holidays — Jessica is now a well-adjusted preschool — a concept that Cadmus is still getting used to.

“On the first day she stayed alone in the class I gave her a sticker for being so brave,” Cadmus said. “Now when she wakes up, she says ‘Sticker, no mommy day’ and sometimes ‘Sticker, no daddy day.’ This makes us think of all the experiences she will be having on her own that we will only learn about secondhand.”

Painted Clowns


I’m drinking at a bar called the Dirty Horse on Hollywood Boulevard. Well, that’s not the real name but I never got a look at the sign and that name seemed right.

It fits the place, with its plastic pitchers of beer, painted clowns on black velvet, bowls of peanuts and the fast-talking, baseball-hat-wearing guy at the end of the bar who clutches a clipboard and swears he can hook you up with tickets to a taping of “Yes, Dear.”

That’s the nature of the place, a bar — where as you can probably imagine — a half-pretty girl in a three-quarters-dark room gets served a pretty stiff drink. I’m drinking martinis for the simple reason that they work fast and I’m on a bit of a schedule. I’ve been on the road working for all but four days of the past six weeks and I’m wound up tight. I keep thinking about my perpetually overheating Taurus, the way the mechanic’s gloved hand slowly loosens the radiator cap and lets the steam out.

At some point, the line between Mickey Rourke and me blurs. I slur. I buy drinks for strangers. I spill the contents of my purse onto the floor. By the end of the night, I have no cash, none.

In the interest of making sure the cliché train doesn’t miss a single stop, I make out with my ex-boyfriend, who is my designated driver and seated on the stool next to mine. It is later reported to me that without warning, I burst into tears and had an impassioned discussion about not much in said ex’s ear.

Hold that thought.

Several months before the Dirty Horse, I was out with a guy my girlfriend dubbed Sexy Pete. Pete’s in the music industry, dresses well, appears to take his workout regime very seriously and would never let you pay for dinner. Sexy Pete has been around. Normally, I’d never go out with a guy who exudes more sex appeal that mensch appeal, but my friend talked me into it.

“Now that you’re 30, things are different. In your 30s, you don’t worry so much. You just have fun,” she explained.

Not to shock you, but it turns out Sexy Pete just “wasn’t into a relationship right now.” Still, we went out a couple times before that last date, which ended up with me back at his place, very late at night. We talked on his couch. It got late, then early. He fell asleep and I was stuck there, not knowing whether to extricate myself from Sexy Pete’s sleepy grip or stay.

I thought to myself, “I’m in the apartment of a guy who couldn’t care less about me. He barely speaks. He has no interest in a relationship; a sentiment I finally understand has no hidden meaning for men. This is about to get really sad if I don’t leave now.”

Out I went. Pete, with all the enthusiasm of a catatonic patient at a hospital square dance, muttered, “Don’t leave.”

The door was already half shut and it closed. I was out on an unfamiliar street in last night’s boots and skirt. I spotted my car in the harsh light of early morning and the old Taurus had a brand new ticket.

This is what I call a Karma Ticket, the kind you get when you are where you shouldn’t be. It never fails. You may also be familiar with the Nobility Ticket, the kind you get when you couldn’t move your car because you were working and didn’t want to lose your flow, listening to a friend discuss her divorce or otherwise doing good in the world. You feel good when you pay these and almost want to write in the memo line of your check, “Fee for being such a good person.”

Because I’m 30, I don’t cram the Karma Ticket in the glove compartment and forget about it until it doubles. I pay it.

Now back to painted clowns.

I wake up after my evening at the Dark Horse. In my 20s, I would have had a series of concerns, sort of a self-administered shame questionnaire: Why did I do that? Should I still be dating that ex? What does it all mean? Why do I have to be such a jackass?

But now, it’s about slack. Just like my friend predicted, I don’t worry so much. I’m old enough to know what it costs to get wrapped up with a guy like Sexy Pete, which doesn’t mean I don’t get close, but it’s three dates and out. I don’t need to interpret what’s wrong with him or with me. I just move on with the mollifying impact of slack easing the way. I call the ex and we go over the highlights of the Dark Horse. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

Here’s the thing, if you spend the night where you shouldn’t or get crazy on martinis once a year, there’s no need to judge yourself. When it comes down to it, a few painted clowns doesn’t make your life a circus.

Teresa Strasser can be seen Fridays 8-10 p.m. and weekdays at 5 p.m. on TLC’s
“While You Were Out” and is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.

They Also Serve Who Wait and Worry


Rabbi Mordechai Finley of Congregation Ohr HaTorah in Los
Angeles has devised a strategy to help his two young daughters cope with
having their big brother, Kayitz, fighting in Iraq.

Kayitz, 21, is a corporal with a front-line combat unit, the
1st Battalion of the 4th U.S. Marine Division, which has already waged bloody
battles against Iraqi units in Nasiriya, south of Baghdad.

Besides limiting the TV viewing of his girls, ages 5 and 9,
Finley said, “I tell them, ‘I’ll let you know when it’s time to worry.'”

“When there’s been a big battle,” the rabbi continued, “I
tell them the next day, ‘It was time to worry, but I forgot to tell you, so now
you don’t have to worry.'”

And so each day goes for the Finleys and thousands of
American families like them, who desperately hope to learn something about the
fate of their loved ones and try somehow to deal with knowing very little.

Kayitz is one of approximately 1,000 Jewish men and woman
serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They represent a fraction of the estimated
20,000 Jews among the 1.5 million in the U.S. armed forces.

The angst of Jewish families is indistinguishable from that
of all families with loved ones serving in the armed services. Jewish families,
though, are finding that the war is hitting home on another front — spiritually
— with the approach of Passover on April 16.

The Finleys usually host 30 to 40 people at their home for
Passover, but this year, the rabbi said, “I haven’t decided what we’ll do yet.”
One thing he knows: With Kayitz in Iraq, “his being there and fighting for
freedom is really a family theme” for the seder.

For her part, Judy Ledger of Atlanta is also sure about one
thing. “We’re not doing seder — I just can’t see doing it without them,” she
said, referring to her son and daughter and their fiancés, all of whom serve in
the military.

Ledger spends much of her time worrying. “It takes up a lot
of my time,” she said.

Her son, Matthew Boyer, 24, is a field artillery specialist
with the 101st Airborne, 3rd Brigade, and is now in Iraq. His fiancée is a
chemical and biological trainer with another unit of the 101st Airborne in Kuwait.

Ledger’s daughter, Ilana Boyer, 21, an Army medic, is
stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., but her fiancé is with the 82nd Airborne in Kuwait.

Not only does Ledger worry about her son’s safety, but the
images of allied POWs in Iraqi hands has not escaped her Jewish radar. When
Matthew was inducted, he originally did not list any religion on his dog tag,
but before going to Iraq, he changed the listing to Jewish.

“I yelled at him — it’s bad enough you’re in a dangerous
position, but I felt that was even worse,” she recalled. “But he said that if
he dies, he does not want a priest standing over him.”

Trying to glean information about their loved ones is
excruciating for these families. Ledger was buoyed late last week by a “cute”
postcard she received from her son, just a few lines scrawled on a torn piece
of cardboard.

In a way, Finley is lucky. He discovered that a reporter
with the Richmond Times-Dispatch is embedded with the 1st Battalion, and so he
studies the paper’s Web dispatches daily to glean clues about Kayitz.

After every battle, Finley, an ex-Marine, braces for the
possibility that within a few hours, military officials could arrive at his
home with bad news.

“When there are battles in Nasiriya, I feel horrible,” he
said. “The two hours after a news flash are the most horrible.”

Allan Rubin of Dallas has even less insight into his son’s
condition. Every day, Rubin and his wife, Linda, send their son, Daniel, 21, a
postcard that includes the phrase, “another day, no word.”

That’s because they have not heard from Daniel since
January, when he shipped out from Camp Pendleton to Kuwait and points beyond
with the Light Armored Vehicle 1st Battalion of the 1st Marine Division.

“It’s a little hard,” Rubin said, his voice breaking. “He’s
just a wonderful young man.”

Daniel, a mechanic and technician, is very likely near Basra
in southern Iraq, from what Rubin has gleaned from news reports and an ABC News
reporter, who is embedded with what he thinks is his son’s unit.

While he’s worried, Rubin said, “I know he’s trained well,
and I know he’s doing all the right things, so in that respect, my heart is
settled with him.”

All of the families have turned to the Brave, a listserv —
kind of an e-mail bulletin board — that the Conservative movement’s United
Synagogue is sponsoring to help Jewish military families connect.

Jews in the military and their families sometimes have different
perspectives on the war. One member of the Brave listserv, who has not yet been
deployed, is Philip, 40, a member of the Army Reserve in Massachusetts.

Still, Phillip dreads leaving his wife and children behind.
“I don’t mind going — I mind leaving,” he said.

Unlike many whose kin are in the military, Becky O’Brien of
Lafayette, Colo., opposes the war. Her husband, Chris, 37, who is not Jewish,
is with the Air National Guard somewhere in the war theater. To find solace,
O’Brien attended a recent peace service at her synagogue, Congregation Har
HaShem.

“Judaism teaches you to question God, your rabbi, it’s the
rabbinic tradition,” she said. “You can have one text and 30 interpretations.
You should be able to question the president.” Â

What Me, Worry?


Let’s not tell grandma.

That’s what my mom said after I fractured my elbow in third grade and had to spend the summer in a cast. “Why?” I wondered.

“Because she’ll worry.”

“About what? That I’ll break my arm? It’s already broken,” I remember saying. Today, as I write this, a copy of “Stop Obsessing” on my desk and a third appointment with an anxiety-management specialist on my calendar, I couldn’t understand more.

Like grandma’s pearls, handed down and worn in, I’ve inherited an opera-length strand of worries. I couldn’t tell grandma I broke my arm because that would start an endless anxiety spiral. The fact that I broke my arm would mean that my school was unsafe, that perhaps my bones were brittle, that my mother was so inept at taking care of me I was lucky to have any limbs left at all. When you’re a worrier, the leap from one broken bone to the apocalypse isn’t very far.

It’s one thing to worry about a child with a broken bone, but it’s another thing to worry about nothing and everything until you suddenly realize you’ve had a stomachache for the last 14 years.

If I had a scrapbook of worries, I could turn to page one and show you my first truly irrational worry, the one that really set the tone for the rest of my life. I wasn’t allowed to eat candy as a kid, but I somehow finagled the acquisition of a huge jawbreaker, white with colored speckles, that I hid under my pillow (I know, very well that chubby kid in “Monster’s Ball”). I would eat a little of the jawbreaker before bed every night and then tuck it in — nighty-night — right back under the pillow. Instead of dozing off to sleep I would begin to wonder, what if the dentist can tell that I’ve been eating sugar? What if he tells my mom? What if she discovers I’ve been lying to her all this time and that it would really be better if she dropped me off downtown so I could live in a “squat” with kids named “Squeeky” and “Sad Eyes?”

When the jawbreaker was gone, I found other worries to chew on. In high school, it was mainly stuff like, what if people are talking about me behind my back? What if my grandpa dies before the thank-you note for my $25 birthday check gets there? What if I run into one of my teachers in the grocery store and it’s really awkward?

Good idea I chose to go into show business, a field rife with stability.

These days, most worry spirals go like this: I didn’t get that job/manager/part, which means I may have no talent, which means soon everyone will notice that I’m a fraud, which means I’ll be an outcast, which means I’ll end up homeless, scouring the gutter for a cigarette butt to smoke before “lights out” at the shelter. You see what I mean about the spiral? What starts out a quasi-reasonable worry picks up steam, picks up speed and ends up on the fast track to the land of guzzling Pepto.

I’m making it sound worse than it is. At least now I know I’m being Worry Girl, and I can usually stop myself from going down a thought path that ends with me and a shopping cart full of empty cans.

Months go by, and I’m fine. I’m fine until something comes along like the show I’m doing this weekend at the University of Judaism. I’m only speaking for 35 minutes; I’ve taken showers longer than that. Still, there have been days the panic is so bad I have to get in bed and take a nap at 3 p.m., or cry for two hours, or seriously plot ways to get out of the gig. When it gets bad, I write in my journal about every crazy thing I think could go wrong, a little trick I picked up from “Stop Obsessing.”

I’m sure it’s going to be fine. It always is. If you come, you might see a meltdown but it’s way more likely you’ll see a nice little talk (and I understand they’re throwing in martinis, too).

The question is this: why worry? If things usually turn out just fine, or at least not nearly as disastrous as I might fantasize, what’s the point of putting myself through the fear spirals at all? Why not just sit back with some incense and let life unfold?

To me, that’s like asking why I have brown hair? Because I just do. Because it’s something I inherited from my “can’t handle a broken bone” grandmother and my “will call the California Highway Patrol to see if there have been any fatalities if you’re 20 minutes late” mother. My kids will probably bite their nails before they can talk, and frankly, though I don’t even have a boyfriend at the moment, I’m worried about those kids already.


Teresa Strasser will be appearing in “The Teresa Monologues,” April 28 at the University of Judaism. For tickets and information, call (310) 440-1246.

+