The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Parenting with Heart & Soul: Leading by Example

Posted in soulfish by Juliet on June 29, 2010

The campaign to legalize marijuana in California is underway. Since I’ve chosen to make my support high-profile, and I’m touting my “soccer mom” status to show how mainstream and widespread this campaign has become, I realized it was time to talk to the kids.

Our kids are four and eight. Jane, age four, has a fuzzy understanding of politics and the law. But Eva is eight, and a bright, deep-thinking eight at that, so we can talk at a more advanced level with her.

Like most grade school-age kids, Eva has a strong innate sense of fairness. Kids are born with a keen concept of justice and it blooms until the indignities and injustices of school and their young lives stomp it out. (Or until some boring junior high civics curriculum drums it out.) There are some great government teachers but why are they so thin on the ground?

Here’s an example of Eva’s typical thought process. Her school has three rules: Is it safe? Is it courteous? Would it be fair if everyone did it?

Eva’s analysis is: “Of course it would be fair if everyone did it. That’s what makes it fair!”

(Eight year olds often have a strong sense of semantic literal-ness to go along with their inborn sense of justice.)

Over the next several months, I’m sure there will be events, rallies, and the like, to promote Control & Tax 2010. Is it fair of me to bring my kids?

My initial instinct is to bring them. I believe in teaching by example. I disagree with the current law. In word and deed I can show my kids that we follow the laws, and we advocate to change the ones we think are wrong.

I explicitly tell them, “Our family follows all the laws, big and small. We also follow all the rules of school, clubs, and other activities. Even if we won’t get caught or it doesn’t seem like a big deal, we follow them because it’s the right thing to do.”

Also for the record, I explicitly tell them, “Our family doesn’t do drugs. We take care of our bodies. We only have this one body, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. When you’re 21, you can decide whether you want to drink wine. When you’re 18, you can legally smoke but we really hope you never do because it’s awful for your body. No matter what you decide when you’re legally old enough, you are absolutely not allowed to smoke or drink when you’re underage because it’s against the law.”

[Also for the record, as our girls grow up, we will decide whether to allow them sips or tastes of our wine here at home, before age 21, but we will never allow them to drink-drink here at home, or attend parties where parents serve alcohol to kids because “it’s safer and at least I know where they are.” But we already do a “finger dip” of wine from our glass during shabbat kiddush and I could see allowing a college-age child home for vacation to have a small flute of champagne at home on New Year’s Eve, for example.]

So back to the issue of rallies and events. When Prop 8 was on the ballot, we told the kids about it and explained our opposition. We framed it in terms of fairness, which kids get.

So how to explain the marijuana law?

I started with: it’s illegal right now, to have it and to use it. Some people believe it’s dangerous. Other people, including us, believe that not only is it not dangerous, it actually can be good for some people, especially if they have certain diseases or sicknesses. But, it changes how you think and how your mind works, just like wine does.

Jane lost interest but at eight, Eva could understand and wanted to know more. I explained about drug dealers, Mexican cartels, and the law of supply and demand.

I told her there would be plenty of people who agree with me but there would be others who didn’t.

I told her she didn’t have to have an opinion if she didn’t want to, but I would let her decide whether she wanted to attend rallies or other events. Jane said right away that she wanted to go (she likes anything involving waving signs or honking.) Eva said she wants to decide on an event-by-event basis.

After discussing it with the kids, how do I feel about bringing them along? I need to look deep within: am I teaching them, or trotting them out simply to make a point or put them on display? (“Look! I’m a normal, average mom with my kids.”) Am I teaching my kids a lesson, or trying to teach society a lesson? Basically: what is my motivation? And what will the ultimate outcome be for my kids, who are my priority?

During the Prop 8 controversy, it felt very distasteful to me to see pro-Prop 8 folks use their kids to stand on street corners waving signs and shouting slogans.

Why, exactly, did that feel so very wrong to me, when I had no problem having my own kids do the same thing but on the other side of the debate?

In the final analysis, I think it comes down to the fact that I don’t see Prop 8 as being about sex. We talked about Prop 8 a lot and never brought up actual sex once. On the pro-Prop 8 side, though, it seemed to be about nothing but the sex, and the kids waving signs felt very leering and prurient. In contrast, giving kids signs about love, family, and fairness — the truest of family values, by the way — felt very right.

Much like the Prop 8 debate isn’t about sex, the marijuana legalization debate isn’t about drugs.

Frankly, I haven’t made a final decision yet. I am keeping an open mind and being flexible. Stay tuned.

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Congratulations to Tara Coleman, Salada Tea’s Unbottle Spokesperson

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on June 29, 2010

Well, I’m not Salada Tea’s first ever Unbottle Your Tea spokesperson, but in my opinion from among the ten of us, there wasn’t a bad choice they could make.  Everyone brought different attributes and I think the winner, San Diego’s Tara Coleman, is going to be great.

I really appreciate the opportunity to try something new and it’s been fun connecting with people over a shared love of tea:-)

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Parenting with Heart and Soul: Swimming Lessons

Posted in soulfish by Juliet on June 25, 2010

Are Jews really required to teach our kids to swim?

And if so, why? Of all the things to specifically point out for parents to teach kids, why that one?

The Talmud (collected wisdom of the rabbis) does say parents are obligated to teach their children:

  • Torah (first five books of the “Old Testament”)
  • how to earn a living
  • how to swim

Why single out swimming?

Taking it literally, the answer is “so they won’t drown.”  Every person should know how to swim so he can navigate water safely, for himself, without fear and without danger.

But the obligation doesn’t end there.  Take it metaphorically.  We are obligated to give our kids the skills they need to keep afloat through all of life’s challenges.  We don’t want them to drown:  in unhappiness, uncertainty, debt, ignorance, or helplessness.

The Talmud doesn’t say:  “Carry your child safely in your arms through water.”

It says:  TEACH him.  Teach him to do it for himself.  Our ancient sages knew this is the only way to create self-sufficient, confident, capable citizens.

It also doesn’t say:  “Throw your child in the water and through his terrified struggles he’ll learn on his own.”

We are obligated to TEACH him.  The Talmud assumes a reciprocal relationship of student-child and teacher-parent.   The parent can hire a teacher, of course, but it is the parent’s obligation to lead by example, and to make sure the child is enrolled, shows up, participates, and ultimately learns.

Finally, the Talmud does not say “Learn to swim for your child.”

The lesson to be learned is the child’s own property.  It is his reward.  My sister is an elementary school teacher and we had a heated debate recently about homework.  I respect her perspective as a teacher but we agree to disagree about how much involvement parents should have. Her position is that parents should be very hands-on and do the work alongside their kids, supervising. They should correct the work and go over missed problems, teaching (or re-teaching) the correct method to their kids if problems are incorrect.

I, on the other hand, don’t even like to be asked to sign off on homework. I feel that kids should learn their coursework from their teachers, and reinforce the day’s lessons through homework.  Homework should enhance what they’ve already learned.  The main lesson of homework is the responsibility to do work autonomously. I’m not in third grade; my child is. I’ve already learned my times tables. The homework, then, is for her, and she should know the material already. The main point of the work is to reinforce the day’s lessons and to teach responsibility. Did the paper make it home? Did the child bring the correct assignment? Did she follow instructions? Did the completed paper make it back into her folder and did the folder make it back into her backpack, and did that backpack make it back to school the next day?

Teaching my children to navigate the waters of a complicated world is my swimming lessons to them.

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The Grandmaster

Posted in personal growth, philosophizing by Juliet on June 18, 2010

Part of why I cannot stop myself from taking on new hobbies is a lifelong desire to be the world’s foremost expert in…what? Something obscure. Preferably arcane, esoteric, intricate, and difficult.

I want to earn the title “Grandmaster.”

As in, “Oh, yeah, didn’t you know? Juliet’s an eleventh-degree Grandmaster of…?”

It’s the “…” that trips me up. I’m interested in everything but don’t have the actual patience of perseverance to see my study through to the eleventh degree.

I took two or three trimesters each of four different Romance languages. When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough move on with hope and optimism and a certainty that this next thing will be “the” one. The big thing. Eleventh level.

I have true, actual interest in many arcane topics. But in my heart of hearts I have to admit that a big part of the appeal of the more offbeat pursuits is to stand out. To be different, unique. Why be a Civil War buff when I can know everything humanly possible that there is to learn about Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada? (Did you know he was Jewish?)

So whether it’s Nichiren Buddhism, or fencing, or krav maga, or bellydancing, or Belgian pastry making, I like my hobbies slightly obscure or offbeat. Traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking is a good example. So is ham radio operation.)

I don’t just want to be different, though. I also want to know things that not everyone knows. I was born with a level of curiosity bordering on frank nosiness.  What’s a girl to do?

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Wordless Wednesday

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on June 16, 2010

Camp Ramah, Memorial Weekend, 2010

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