Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kid Crying Isn’t Real Crying

The morning started out good. First, I woke up at 7:30. Miracle! The kids went to bed late, and then my baby mama and I stayed up late, and I was sure I was going to be zombieied today. No such luck. I soundly ignored my vibrator-but-not-the-good-kind of an alarm clock, heard the baby singing in her cot, and jumped up to get her. Five minutes later, she was soundly clamped on a maternal boob*, the 3-year-old was clamoring awake, and I was simultaneously packing lunch, getting dressed, getting her dressed, and trying to say the morning prayers.

Our older kid is an impossible dresser. First of all, she has a new favorite color every day, and she will only wear that color. Secondly, she has of late developed an aversion to wearing anything below her waist. Also, she is militantly against eating anything until two minutes before she has to leave.

So you can imagine my surprise when she sprints straight for her clothes drawer. She hands me a shirt (weather-appropriate!) and pants (that match!), and patiently waits for me to tie her shoes. I slam down my upstairs prayerbook — I’m up to the point where I need to put on a tallis and tefilin, and that is downstairs — and yell back over my shoulder to her, “Come on! I’ll make you breakfast or you can play with your toys or whatever!” I touch ground at the first floor. Whereupon I hear her voice over my shoulder, wafting down from the second story: “CARRY ME!”


Could you not have asked me thirty seconds ago? That’s thirty seconds, one flight of stairs climbed, that I’ll never get back.  “Don’t worry about it,” I say. “Just walk down yourself.” After all, she’s been climbing stairs for years. She’s a stairmaster.

And the mouth flies open. And the crying starts.

I don’t know if you know about kid-crying. It’s not like grownup crying (or even like teen-angst crying, which I am way more used to). It’s a combination guttural yell, swallow, choke, and burp. It’s totally tear-less, at first. In fact, behavioral scientists in my imagination have hypothesized that kid-crying is genetically related to crocodile crying, which is to say, it’s not actually sadness-related or pain-related at all, but is instead a technique specifically designed to lure in sympathetic victims until they’re in biting distance.

Actually, I think kid-crying brings on real crying if you do it long enough, thus preparing your child for a bright future as a stage actor with the rare talent to cry on command, or possibly as a manipulative future ex-girlfriend to someone exactly like yourself. Did I say that aloud? Okay, moving on.

I tell her, come on, it’s fine, I can make you breakfast if you want, and we have those new organic Puffins that actually taste good and that you love. The onslaught continues. I ignore her. My day-job beckons, after all. Not to mention G-d. So I wrap myself up in tefilin, grab my downstairs prayerbook, and start prayin’ like there’s no tomorrow.

She keeps crying.

There is a thump. A rhythmic thump upstairs, of clumsy wheels guided by clumsy feet. “What that?” my older daughter demands, and I can hear my wife explaining that the baby just got a walker.

“I want a walker too!” That sentence doesn’t actually end, per se, so much as the too fading into another wail.

And then a pause. “You got the baby a present and if you got the baby a present than you will get me a present too,” she says — and you’ll notice, of course, that there is no breath in between the crying and the talking, no wiping away of tears or swallowing of mucous that comes with real crying; it’s been crocodile yells this whole time — “What present did you get me, Mama?”

Alright, there’s no getting out of this. None of that parenting-book stuff we try to adhere to, where you try not to connect the presents with the temper tantrums, either as a reward or as a punishment. A tantrum is a tantrum, and both work and preschool are calling. In a few minutes, she will trundle down the stairs, on her own, and show me her brand-new baby hammock.

But for now, I close my eyes. I pray. Not drowning out the chaos of our morning, but becoming one more voice in the chorus of it.
* — Yes, she’s still breastfeeding, although we have to supplement. Read here if you’re not yet entirely sick of the whole boob-sucking debacle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Young Adult Author Plot

The Teen Author Festival was last week, and Scholastic held a big reception for all its local and visiting authors. Which basically meant getting a bunch of us in a room and standing back while we plot together and come up with ways to take over the world.

You think I'm joking?

matthue roth

That was part of a little project that the Scholastic online folks had us do, during a break in signing and scarfing down pizza and orange soda (no pizza for me, since it wasn't kosher, which meant twice as much orange soda). They started a sentence and asked us to finish writing it. Here's what we all said:

While I waited my turn, I searched frantically to make whatever I wrote especially relevant to Losers. As a way of promoting my book? Well, yeah, sorta, because I'm so bad at that. Not sure it actually came across. I'm also not sure, in retrospect, that was the best thing for the stereotypical-looking Jew to write. But, hey, I drew a dinosaur too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

San Francisco in 6 Hours

I was in Ashland, at the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre, near where they filmed The Goonies and Short Circuit. Their airport only had one gate. The plane wasn't taking off. To be precise: It was leaving 1 hour late, which means my connecting flight would be 4 hours late. I would get into NYC at 1:30 AM and have to get home from there. I asked the flight attendant: Could I take a red-eye, stay in San Francisco for the day, and land at 7?

She gave me permission.

Heshy picked me up from the airport. We only had an hour before he left for work, so we did everything fast, even the used bookstores. He found a used copy of Yom Kippur a Go-Go, which somebody'd written a really sweet and meaningful dedication inside. I took a picture, but I'm not sure if it's kosher to share it, or if that would be too invasive.

Luckily, there was a ton of graffiti to distract us.

And some of the more boring variety:

But that's also the church I lived across the street from when I first moved to town.

In high school, I wrote stories about how my friend Adam was going to be a computer engineer and change the universe. And then it happened. I waited for him in this communist coffee shop while I wrote a picture book. I'm not just being conservative, it really was a communist coffee shop.

Then Adam picked me up and drove me around Bernal Heights. I think I spent more time in cars that day than I did in 5 years of living in San Francisco. He dropped me off at the rabbi's, and then I took a look at the new digs. I took tons of pictures of the rabbi's night garden, but none of them came out. Like much of San Francisco, I guess, you just had to be there.

Mendel and the new shul! It's actually a garage and it is so punk, yet paradoxically, so clean. They basically saved my life several times over when I lived in SF. Not to mention my soul. I'm overdue to give them a donation. If you've got a couple extra bucks, please donate too -- they give out free Shabbos meals to anyone who shows up.

Then we all made a mess together. And then the rebbetzin came to tell us to clean up, but I couldn't stick around. I was running late for my flight.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anne Frank on Purim (photo)

From my sister-in-law, a vintage picture. I don't know much about it, except that all these kids are wearing Purim costumes, and that one of them is Anne Frank.

(Which, yes, calls up all these feelings -- both the feelings caused by her amazing book, as well as this article about my book about her...)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Breastfeeding Sucks

On the Kveller blog, and in our personal lives, I've been freaking out a bit. Cholov yisroel formula has been embargoed by the FDA, and I've been doing some of my rare journalism to figure out what's going on.

One thing that parents are best at -- and yes, readers, I'm talking about you, and I'm talking about myself as well -- is trying to tell other people what to do.
Maybe it's natural. Maybe it comes from being parents. You're forced to order your kid around. So, why shouldn't the rest of the world do what you say, too?

Kveller recently ran a story on a shortage of baby formula in the Hasidic community. As can be expected, it was summarily attacked, on here and on my way-too-sharey Facebook page. Mostly, it was that knee-jerk "a-ha!"ness of parents who see a mention of bottlefeeding and leap to point out the wrongness inherent in a parenting style not their own.

Breastfeeding has become a badge of honor. A few months ago, when a brand of formula started advertising itself as "the healthiest choice," tons of parent bloggers (myself included) pounced on it. In parent-heavy environs like Park Slope, there's a type of bottle that actually advertises that the milk inside is breast milk -- which is so self-righteously snotty, conceited, and straight-up ill-willed that it's a good thing I wasn't drinking breast milk when I heard about it, or I would've spit it across the room in shock.

My wife is an ardent supporter of breastfeeding. And our baby drinks formula.

Both of our babies started out on a boobs-only diet. In both cases, however, we had at one point to face the reality that she just didn't have enough milk.

My wife was the first to admit it. The fact that I'm saying this is a testament to her openness and honesty. Not to get all sexually-bifurcated on you, but if this happened to men, we would never talk about it. I mean, the male gender invented the term "pissing contest." If someone were to tell us that a part of our bodies were insufficient? A check-outtable, oversexualized part? Forget it, we'd never step outside again.

But my wife, she knows how to face reality. Her mother is one of the top lactation consultants in Australia and a mother of seven, and she had to supplement feeds for all but one of her children. There are a million things that can cause a situation like this -- stress, exhaustion, genetics, or simple dehydration. Or it could be something more sinister. For us, it was one of each.

When our daughter was 6 weeks old, my wife got a virus. It led to her becoming dehydrated, which caused her milk supply to crash. She was in bed for days. I had to get all Michael Keaton on her, playing at being a single father, jumping rooms from the baby to her and back again. I can't imagine how my mother-in-law (or anyone else) dealt with newborn twins. (Actually: Maybe by getting stressed out and losing some of her milk. Duh.) It was hard. She recovered, but her milk supply took months of hard work to build up again. For our second child, the reason was less dramatic, but we had to face facts. There simply wasn't enough.

We were hard workers. We were vigilantes. We only wanted what was best for our babies. We had homebirths, only fed our kids organic food (my wife made most of it herself), and I read the bejeezis out of every parenting book I could get my hands on. That was the hardest part of this recent formula shortage, and the frustrating lack of answers from the FDA -- we'd decided to only give our baby cholov yisroel formula, since we believe it's especially important on a spiritual level.

So yes, breastfeeders and overachievers, I'm with you all the way. I'm on your side. I hear what you're saying.

But sometimes, you need to just shut the hell up.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ashland, Oregon

Oregon is exactly the kind of place it is in The Goonies: clean and pleasant and charmingly run-down, like a well-lived-in shack or a fraying pillow. I came here to do poetry and ended up falling in love. That 12-year-old adolescent love, just like Goonies, where you'll do anything, just because it's there. I'll tell you all about it.

But first, let's get some mood music. Play this loud:

Ashland is a town of 18,000. It's tiny. Maybe not so small, but I live in New York & can't be trusted.

And it's beautiful. And spooky. Tell me this picture doesn't make you want to dig for hidden treasure & do the Truffle Shuffle:

I landed late Sunday night. It was three hours later for me than anyone else. Rabbi Mark and Claudia picked me up from the airport. Whereupon lots of information was exchanged, but the two most vital things: (a) that Zalman Schachter-Shlomi, the Hasidic rabbi turned Jewish Renewal guru (who's the father of a bunch of my friends and whose books continue to blow me away) was also coming to town tomorrow, and (b) that his wife Catherine was the Log Lady on Twin Peaks. Catherine kindly offered an autographed photo. I never actually said "yes," because no sound would come out of my mouth. I was swooning.

I woke up jetlagged at 4 A.M. By sunrise there were deer on the lawn. Mottel challenged me: "Pic or it didn't happen." Here is the evidence.

Ashland is known as a New Age capital. Here's a Unitarian church (a gay one, I think?) that was having a Purim service.

Wherever in Ashland you are, you're never far from the Rogue Mountains. Here's Claudia and me walking to the corner store.

And here's the corner store's marijuana section. (Pot is legal for medical use in Oregon.)

(I've never smoked, and I still think that pot is dumb, and I realize I'm basically the only one on earth who does, although it is great to have it legalized for medical use. Annyway.)

The room where I stayed was amazing. The whole place was kind of like a shrine.

Next: San Francisco. With special guests Frum Satire and a whole bunch of kids!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Puppet Purim

This week, we got ready for our new Purim video, which we're getting prepared and mixed and psyched to show you. It's a big first for MyJewishLearning, where diversity is always important. We've worked with actors and filmmakers from all types of backgrounds before. But several of you have complained that we've been conspicuously human-centric in casting for our videos, and that we've never used puppets before.

Well, we've heard your voices and we've decided to do something about it! Together with Ora Fruchter and Chistopher Scheer, we're putting puppets back on the map. Follow the jump for some behind-the-scenes shots from the making of our Purim movie, starring the classy Mr. Dingo...and an adorable little troublemaker named Joey.

All puppets have a union-mandated coffee break every 15 minutes.

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