Posts in Susan’s Musings

The non-Grandmother

November 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

What kind of grandparent are you? Alternatively, what kind of grandparent do you picture yourself being in the future? We have all read of the different styles of parenting. Like the bowls of porridge that Goldilocks tasted, we are told that authoritarian parents are too rigid, permissive parents aren’t rigid enough and authoritative parents are just right. But what about grandparents? Those categories aren’t necessarily relevant.

I ask this question because over the past few years I have noticed that many of the grand-parenting experiences of my friends and relatives are completely different from what we saw growing up.

Here are the three kinds of grandmothers that I see: .

  1. The grandmother who is in the role of mother
    2. The non-grandmother
    3. The more-or-less traditional grandmother

The saddest type of grandmother-mother is the result of tragedy. The parents are no longer alive, or they are ill or missing in action. The grandmother steps in and for all intents and purposes replaces the mother 24/7.

The type of grandmother-mother that I see more commonly, however, is not the result of tragic circumstances but of choice. I am seeing women in their fifties and sixties retiring from their jobs in order to take care of their grandchildren so that their own daughters can focus on their careers.

Some of these women  were stay-at-home moms themselves. They are now putting ‘all-those-things-I’m-going-to-do-once-the-kids-are-grown’ on the shelf and instead they’re digging out Candyland® and Play-doh® once again.

In most instances I’ve observed, the daughters are professionals. After years of training, they  earn good salaries  but their jobs also demand long hours of work and their student debt is often staggeringly high. Even if they are married to hard-working and productive husbands, making a decision to stay at home now would precipitate  an economic crisis. Did the daughters say, “I’ve signed baby up at a wonderful daycare,” and their mothers responded by insisting that they would take care of everything? Did the daughters plead with their mothers, eventually wearing them down? Was the decision somewhere in between? I don’t know.  However, providing the bulk of childcare for a toddler or school-age child is a big responsibility. The treats and surprises that grandmothers love to deliver must fall into second place behind those parenting realities such as nutrition, manners and discipline.

I am also seeing more and more peers falling into the non-grandmother group. They raised their daughters to be career-minded women. They gave their girls pep talks on how they could be anything they wanted to be and encouraged them to set their sights high. They urged their girls to establish themselves in a profession and enjoy a variety of experiences before “settling down.”  What the mothers didn’t realize is that they failed to impart to their daughters the wonder and fulfillment that can come from being a wife and mother.

Some of these mothers themselves didn’t start their families until they were in their late thirties. If they had one or at the most two children at that point and their daughters behave similarly, simple mathematics decrees that the years available for grandmother-hood are limited. They are hurting now, but it’s as if they never looked down the road to see the path that they were constructing.

I do see this phenomenon much more among my less-religious friends than among those who are traditionally connected with their faith. Whether Jewish, Catholic, or Christian, those of us “mature” ladies who went against the cultural messages beamed out since the Sixties often had had more children than the 2.1 fertility replacement rate. We also saw raising these children as our main profession (even if we worked outside the home) and the major source of blessing in our lives. With God’s grace, many of us successfully transmitted that message to our own daughters and we gratefully reap the rewards.

This means that we fall into category number three. While our lives obviously don’t mimic that of our grandmothers, in many cases, as it relates to our grandchildren, they aren’t that far off either. One of my young granddaughters said this to her mother regarding a standard Grandma Camp lunch offering: “You’re so lucky. You could have a chocolate spread/marshmallow fluff sandwich for lunch whenever you wanted!” She did not understand why her mother burst out in hysterical laughter. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that when my mother and her four siblings were growing up in a small apartment in the aftermath of the Depression, there wasn’t an entire drawer filled with comic books as my cousins and I enjoyed at our grandparents’ home.

There are so many by-products of the belittling of marriage, motherhood, and large families that emerged in the past few decades. Among them is that, at the same time as people are often staying vibrant and healthy to an older age, they are missing out on one of the greatest gifts of those advancing years.

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Change of Heart

November 7th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

This week, the young granddaughter of a friend of mine had a heart procedure, part of the continuing treatment of a condition with which she was born. Within 36 hours, she was home from the hospital and smiling. While I don’t know the particulars of her medical circumstances, I think it fair to say that had she been born in an earlier  time she might not have survived the challenges she faced in infancy. Certainly, the continuing care would not have had her so quickly back at home and feeling well. God’s mercy is good and we are grateful for His medical messengers.

Working on our own hearts, however, has not become any easier over the generations. Whatever our flaws, be they a tendency to anger, to envy, to vanity, to holding grudges, there has been no advance in technology that allows us to quickly overcome our internal adversaries. The list in the previous sentence could be much longer and each individual’s particular challenge presents in a slightly different way. Not only is there no quick fix for our character flaws, but our hearts and minds rationalize our shortcomings so that even acknowledging the existence of our defects requires real  courage and honesty.

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Tempest in a Handshake

October 31st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

Writing and speaking in a public forum is exhilarating. That means it is both exciting and terrifying. When my husband or I put something out before a listening or reading audience, we sometimes find ourselves completely off target in how we think it will be received. It is as disconcerting to see stony faces after making a joke as it is to get laughs after saying something serious. 

When we publish our Ask the Rabbi column each week, we are occasionally taken aback at the lack of interest in what we thought was a fascinating question or, conversely, immense interest when we didn’t expect it. This week’s question was an example of the latter

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When Satire Becomes Reality

October 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

What adjective is associated with British humor—or humour, to spell it more appropriately? Surely, the answer is ‘dry,’ though other than saying that one knows it when one hears it, I’m not sure what the technical definition of dry humor is.

However you describe it, my husband is a master at it. For this reason I don’t get surprised when a rather large percentage of listeners to his podcast don’t recognize when his broadcast  is in parody mode. Our children and I have had our turns of belatedly realizing that our legs were being pulled with such craftsmanship that we had no idea we were participating in a parody.

Like many Jews, our family has just concluded a month full of holydays. We have spent an amazing amount of time praying, eating and enjoying the company of relatives and friends. The days between the holydays were filled with preparation for the next special day as well as trying to keep up with ministry and business on a three-day-workweek schedule. Between not wanting the external world to intrude on these festive days and not having enough hours for everything I needed to do on regular days, I spent much less time than usual following the news.

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Library Shaming?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 39 comments

I have an emotional attachment to libraries.  When I was young, our family didn’t have a car. Before I was old enough to travel by myself, my mother regularly took me on the bus to the library. I was a voracious reader and there was an absurd limit on the number of books one could take out so this trip was a frequent occurrence. 

Libraries stayed in my affection and my routine from that time on. As a homeschooling mom, our family was well known at our local branch. This should help explain why, despite the many momentous events happening in the United States and around the world that will impact millions of lives in frightening ways, I don’t see my concern this week as trivial. Retaining the structure of civilization no matter what turbulent  maelstroms are swirling around our cultural foundations not only keeps us better able to cope with life’s vicissitudes but actually affects the bigger picture as well. 

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Recycle Your Recycling Ideas

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

One of the most influential lower-court judges in American history was Judge Learned Hand who served during the first half of the twentieth century. . If you know Hebrew, his name is an especially intriguing one. As my husband and I explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, the Hebrew word for child, Y-L-D, is composed of the Hebrew word for hand, Y-D, with the letter whose sound is ‘L’ and whose meaning is ‘learned’ in the middle. In other words, when all goes well and you are blessed, your children become extensions of you, extra hands that learned your teachings and can carry them forward. Alas, Judge Hand’s name did not come from his parents deep understanding of the Hebrew language but rather because Learned was his mother’s maiden name. Nonetheless, his name always makes me smile.

The above should give you some idea of the pride with which I read a letter one of our daughters and her husband wrote after hearing that two mothers of girls in their daughter’s class had spoken to the class about the importance of environmentalism and recycling. I have redacted identifying information and added some explanatory words in brackets, but I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

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(Days of) Awe Inspiring

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.

If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her,  she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.

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Defending Justin Trudeau???

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 87 comments

I am a bit nervous about publishing today’s Musing and so will issue the following disclaimer: I am not trying to be provocative. I simply want to ask an honest question. What exactly is wrong with dressing up as someone of another race? I’m not even sure what the word blackface means and I don’t know that anyone else does either.

I used to think that  the word meant a vaguely insulting parody of a black-skinned person in the manner of Al Jolson in the movie, The Jazz Singer. (Disclaimer #2: I haven’t actually seen the movie, but that is my understanding of it.) I’m sure there are dozens of images in movies from the 1920s that would be unacceptable today. I get that. But the assaults on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam using that word, confuse me. Let’s be clear. I do not agree with either of the men’s politics and would not vote for them if I was an eligible voter in a race that included them. Nonetheless, I despise the idea that disagreeing with someone politically, even vehemently, means that you should try to destroy them personally. I also object to combing through people’s pasts and judging them by standards that didn’t exist at that time. However,  I’m even having trouble understanding why today’s standards see what they did as offensive.

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Does Financial Independence Sound Appealing?

September 18th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

I may not be exactly the audience the Wall Street Journal’s money advice for those starting their careers is targeting but, nonetheless,  I was interested in what they had to say. Five successful business individuals wrote short pieces sharing their wisdom. I recognized names like former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson and I had heard of the companies that these professionals lead like Land o’Lakes or a subset of Merrill Lynch. There was only one  exception – Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble.

Ms. Herd stood out on a few fronts. Not only did I have no idea who she was or what her company did but looking at the drawings of the featured three women and two men suggested that she was the youngest of the group. Most importantly, her advice was of an entirely different type than everyone else’s.

If, like me, you aren’t familiar with Bumble, it is a dating app. Its unique property is that it gives women sole control of the first point of contact. What interested me, however, wasn’t the company but its thirty-year-old founder and CEO’s advice. You could file all the other respondents’ advice under the category of financial literacy. They included concepts like understanding debt, valuing savings and measuring job opportunities by looking at growth potential and skill acquisition as well as salary.

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Love Yourself – Forget the Neighbor

September 12th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

The impetus for this Musing came from two disturbing clips I heard on National Public Radio’s This American Life program.  Each on its own is minor, but I wonder if, together, they do represent a larger issue.

A little background. My preferred exercise class is a twenty minute drive from our house. This travel time is perfect for listening to podcasts and This American Life is in my rotation. Each week’s episode has a specific focus and listening for few minutes usually tells me if it will be a worthwhile investment of my time. The show gives me insight into the lives of Americans I might not otherwise meet and topics  I might not encounter.

Two of the shows I recently heard revealed a common problem. It didn’t have to do with the topic of either show, but each show included a throw-away statement that caused me to gasp. Both shows were repeats having first run a few years ago, but I doubt that the troublesome attitude has improved over the intervening years.

The problem was insufferable self-centeredness. Most troublesome was that the hosts interviewing each of the individuals involved didn’t seem in the least bit troubled. They seemed to accept their subjects’ words as perfectly reasonable and possibly even amusing.

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