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Part the second, in which Gila and Kate try to be helpful but instead pull back the curtains of their brains and the results are…messy.

Now that we’ve sent you over the edge, we are going to have to pull you back. We will feed you kosher for Pesach snacks and everything. Hope you like palm oil in your chips.

Seriously, we don’t want to leave you with the idea that this is insurmountable. You too, have the ability to make Pesach. (Although if your money tree is more like a grove, you can go to a hotel!)

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For the month of Nisan – evergreen.

Actual Real-Life Tried and Tested Tips

So here are Kate’s tips:

  • Spend 10 minutes mentally scrolling through your regular recipes. Pick out anything that can be made without modifications to ingredients or prep methods. Make those things for Pesach. (This works especially well for soups, salads, and some vegetable sides. Plus plain baked chicken – can’t lose.) (We just make the same dang thing every single year. “Monotony is the spice of life” is a thing you often hear.)
  • Be Israeli or just visit. Even if you are super Ashkenazi and don’t eat anything that was ever kitniyot, you can eat kosher for Passover for Sephardim foods up until the last minute. All the rice cakes and Bamba you could possibly want! Although this distinction is apparently growing in America, 20 years ago on erev Pesach you tended to have options like potato chips and yogurt and ??? (Cottage cheese mixed with that canned fruit cocktail is the stuff of my erev Pesach memories.)
  • Another (bazillion) point for Israel: One Seder
  • I didn’t start seriously making Pesach until 2009 (because we were in a different country than our usual Seder hosts), so only then did I start on the LISTS and the SO MUCH EXTRA STUFF IN BOXES OH DEAR. For a couple of years I was diligent about making notes to myself for the following year. Like in 2012 I noted that I would never, ever, ever find Ashkenazi-acceptable cumin. (Still sad about that.) But I am ultimately more of a fly-by-the-seat of my pants sort of person.
    (Translation: There are many, many extra trips to the store. But now my kids can bike to the local shopping center themselves, so it’s less of an issue.)

Gila’s Tips:

My tried-and-tested shopping list saves me. I just print my list, go online and buy exactly what it says on the shopping list. It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand the list now. I will understand it later. Don’t ever go off list. Don’t ever think, “Oh we don’t need [this item].” Because when you’re doing the all-day cooking marathon, and you don’t have the raisins/5 bottles of oil/hot pepper/5 avocados, you will be sorry. Except for broccoli and cauliflower. Here is a note from my shopping list: “Broccoli & cauliflower – why are we buying this? Don’t buy unless we have specific plan for it.” I think this is in reference to the Year the Vegetables Molded.

(Kate says: Roasted broccoli and/or cauliflower is great! Unless you need that oven for a week straight – rest, plus kasher, plus cook – in which case I can see why these would molder.)

We also have a general “Pesach notes” list that we update every year. Right after chag, we add to the list, writing down what we purchased and what we’ll need for next year. Actual excerpts from the List:

Notes for Pesach 2007:

Stop buying cheese graters! We have 2!

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Are you lonesome tonight?

 

Notes for Pesach 2012:

Remember – large black ladle is fleishig. (Because there I was, staring at this ladle, willing it to unlock the secrets of its kashrut status. Either the chalavi/besari sticker fell off or we stupidly thought, “Of course we’ll remember that! OBVIOUSLY black is besari.” We should have noted at that point that as we have to pause before speaking to our children to get the name right, we clearly cannot be trusted to remember which ladle is the chicken soup ladle.)

Need new peeler (this will become important later)

Notes for Pesach 2013

Still need a new peeler! (Seriously, what is wrong with you… can’t you get one?) (told you it would be important)

Notes for Pesach 2014

Take vegetables out of plastic bags or they will get moldy (the above-mentioned Incident)

Notes for Pesach 2017

Milk pitcher (for heating milk) – it’s just fine, stop complaining. (Sometimes we need to slap our future selves in the face like that.)

The Purim-Pesach Timeline

Gila has a plan.

Here is my timeline of How I Get It All Done:

Immediately after Purim: Oh nonononono, we cannot think about Pesach yet. We must sit and recover from the two-week-long holiday of Purim. Must sit. Must rest. Just for a minu-zzzzzzz.

Week after Purim, Sunday/Monday: Yep, this is the week I start to do stuff. For sure. I unearth my shopping and cleaning lists and spend a few moments with my eyes closed, imagining myself getting it all done. “Mmmmm … pantry … sparkling clean … yep, get under the fridge, wow, that was tough but you did it …  scrub that bit off the countertop there, very good … seder plate is all ready and chicken soup is just about come to a boil … good work, everyone!” Imaginary me is very productive. (Me too! Gila and I are spiritual twins. Real me has been known to leave clean, wet clothes in the washer for…a long while.) I wish she could be real-life me. Real-life me is eating all the good chocolates from Purim before the kids come home.

Week after Purim, Tuesday/Wednesday: What? Did I say I was going to clean something this week? Oh god I’m way too tired to do stuff. What was I thinking? I halfheartedly start perusing the Pesach goods online at Shufersal. Actually, I do one thing – I call the butcher and make my meat order (just going off that list, God bless it). Because I have a recurring Jewish mother nightmare in which I call the butcher and they tell me “Oh no we are ALL OUT OF ALL OF THE THINGS THEY ARE GONE PEOPLE BOUGHT THEM ALL BEFORE YOU NEENER NEENER. Enjoy your cheese sticks!”

Week after Purim, Friday: In a rare burst of energy, drill sergeant me rounds up the kids and we clean out the toy drawers and baskets. The kids fight over using the vacuum and tire of the cleaning process in general after about 5.3 minutes and wander off to their electronic devices or to whack a sibling in the head just cuz. (Also my children have learned how to weasel out of helping: Instead of refusing to do something, they just “In a second, Mom!” me until I give up.) However! They have forgotten that Friday is already Yellingday, and I will not give up, so I just continue to yell till it’s all done and now we’re alllll kvetching crying and yelling. Phew. That was exhausting. While the kids are distracted I help myself to more chocolate. (A much-overlooked benefit of too much screen time: Kids are much more distracted, making it easier to access the chocolates.)

Two weeks after Purim: This is it folks. The buying begins for realz. I start to fill my online shopping cart with one of everything from my list. I like to start with buying stuff. Compared to cleaning stuff, buying stuff is relatively easy and painless, until the credit card bill is due and you realize you may have to sell one of your children to pay for it and then you realize, Omigod! Do you think we can sell all of them???

Week before: Now the “stuff” is getting real. (I am using “stuff” instead of a less nice word, if you catch my drift). I am on my hands and knees, becoming imaginary me from a few short weeks ago. Scrubbing grime off the floor behind the oven. Toothpicking the chairs. Scouring the sinks, pantries, countertops, fridge, freezer, omigod I’m so tired just writing all this I need more coffee. No, a nap. JUST GIVE ME BOTH. But when we reach the point where we are tossing boiling water on our counters (guys this religion is WEIRD, yo), we know the end (of the cleaning, at least) is it sight. Yippee!

 

“She likes me, she really likes me!”

Let me take this minute to say something that may not be quite obvious to those reading this vitriol-filled diatribe: I actually love Pesach. If you asked me – go ahead, do it – what my favorite chag is, I would say, “Pesach.” I actually love the holiday and hosting seder and the moment when you sit down at the table and you’re like “Wow, we made it!” It’s kind of like childbirth, but without the option for an epidural. (Pesach epidural; someone get on that!) I love chol hamoed and family tiyulim with the kinder and eating the special foods, at least until we are sick of them (the foods; the kinder seem to stick around no matter what). But in order to get to the special lovely parts, you gotta yank year-old pretzel crumbs and other unidentified, eww-why-is-this-thing-wet substances from in between your couch cushions.

(Kate’s favorite holiday, though you didn’t ask, is Sukkot.)

So, dear readers, if you’re still reading, I wish you the best of luck in your pre-Pesach cleaning/cooking/yelling endeavors and may we all merit to get to the “Wow we made it!” moment with some of our sanity and all of our matzah balls intact (except for the few we sampled while we were cooking).

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What you’re really sampling during cooking. Not matzah balls.

Kate’s Obsession Trap

Rather than focusing on the list of lists (cleaning, shopping – food, new clothes/shoes, disposable products, what am I missing, I must be missing something, help!), I have my own problem. Almost every year I hyper-focus on THE ONE THING I must do or have to make all the things perfect.

Upon making aliyah, I discovered that I could not get a shankbone for the seder plate for love or money. I think I visited every butcher in my fair suburb. I finally consented to use a chicken wing. Lo and behold, that is what normal people do. I did not have to waste so much time and energy on this.

But I am quite slow in the lessons-learned department.

My must-have this year was something that I never dreamed could have existed. A rabbi wrote a Hogwarts/Harry Potter haggadah. My kids’ “desert island” books would be, I’m sure, the Harry Potter series. So naturally I HAD TO HAVE THIS. Amazon doesn’t deliver here; I couldn’t think of a relative who was coming in this direction before Pesach. So when it was announced that a bookseller in Jerusalem would have copies, I stalked various Facebook feeds.

I was literally the first person in the country to own it, less than 12 hours after it was unboxed. (Shh, my kids still don’t know.) Like drop everything, blow off Friday responsibilities, and go to another city, where I asked the very bemused proprietor for 10 copies to distribute among my people.

Totally normal, yes?

(Note: Because I resolved this issue with OVER TWO WEEKS TO GO, now I am on to curry powder. I need curry powder to make my “magic sweet potato soup.” The magic part is that every person in my immediate family eats it. There is no other vegetable soup that fits this description, and I make many, many kinds of soup. So this soup is important to me. Many elements that make up traditional curry powder are things that Ashkenazim cannot have on Pesach (see above for my annual CUMIN LAMENT), so I am debating making my own mix. But this is of course another shopping trip or six. Let me stew on this for another week or so.)

Now I can get back to the lists. As can you! Happy matzah, friends.

 

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In which Kate and Gila procrastinate like a boss. Two bosses.

Note 1: Lest you think we have a giant chip on our collective shoulder, we…might. See our Shabbat takedown.

Note 2: This is not a “how to Pesach,” though there will be some helpful tips for the scatterbrained in our next post. To learn more about the actual laws and customs of the Pesach kitchen, try Chabad or the halachic authority of your choice.

Note 3: Kate is in regular text; Gila is in italics. Except for Gila’s Facebook-related meltdown, which Kate is going to fix with some cookies. (The edible kind, not the Internet kind.)

We have been reminded by Ms. Jamie Geller’s instagram that the festival of Pesach (Passover) is soon approaching. AND YOU SHOULD LOOK YOUR BEST (full makeup, natch) AND GAMIFY EVERYTHING.

Are your cleaning pearls on? ARE THEY???

Not just a plan/prep/cook fiesta, (did you mean fiasco?) Pesach also involves ridiculous amounts of cleaning. As any Jewish authority figure will tell you, there is a wide gulf between dirt, sand, dust, or pet hair and smashed sandwich bites, Cheerios, cracker bits, cookie crumbles, pulverized potato chips, or couscous.

As in, the former list is ok to have around on Pesach; the latter is not. HOWEVER, there are some visual similarities between them. Rather than playing “grain of sand or leftover dried couscous,” (“A game of chance that’s fun for the whole family!”) you spray everything with bleach. Everything. (Even the children. No, especially the children). There’s also an extraordinarily long list of other chores that you’ve probably ignored for the past six to twelve months:

    • Silver polishing
    • Ironing table linens (Not in my house. When is a good time to iron, you ask? At never on your life o’clock.)
    • Scrubbing out the fridge
    • Sorting through the junk drawer* in the kitchen (*drawerS)
    • Cleaning under the kitchen sink
    • Moving the oven and/or fridge to sweep behind it
    • Wiping up the spills in your pantry (this is a good time to get rid of any items that say “Kosher for Pesach 5776” on them)
    • Organizing … anything
    • THE CAR: COULD IT BE ANY MORE GROSS? (omg can we talk about the Car Wash of Shame? When I go with my crumbs-on-wheels and I get a look from the car wash guy? “You need to bring this in more often!” he chides me. The dental hygienist of carwashes. Because in addition to feeling guilty about not nurturing my neshama (see below), I also need to have guilt about not providing for my car sufficiently. Hey buddy, sometimes the twins eat leftover gan cookies they find on the floor and so my car is providing necessary nutrition for my babeez!! What I’m saying is that my car is basically a crockpot.)

 

 

The Giving Tree

But let’s start at the beginning. The day after Purim (which deserves its own post), you must go out and harvest from your money tree.

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Hope you’ve been taking good care of this.

 

Even before you get to the seder, which is two meals in one (two for the price of 15!), and having a “Pesach set” of food items, and a “Pesach set” of kitchen items, the things that make Pesach prep livable cost money. For instance, camp.

“Camp?” you say. “Isn’t camp for summer?” Why, yes. But Israeli kids are out of school for 9-10 days before Pesach even begins. Do you want these endlessly demanding and troublesome short people underfoot as you are trying to work your regular job AND clean all the things? We assure you that you do not. Not. Not.

The people who run these “Pesach camps” are well aware of this and wisely offer to take your elementary-school age kids off your hands for about 5 hours a day. For a price. That price varies from place to place, but as a general rule it is expensive.

“Hey, can you reach the shekels on the highest part of tree, darling? I think they are just about ripe. The kids already used the low-hanging shekels for haimom.” (Haimom = Hey, Mom, can I have 10/20/50 shekel for [it doesn’t matter what is at the end of the sentence, just that you have no cash left.])

More expensive things: Eating regular food the week before Pesach. Because as your available area for prepping, eating, and washing up due to regular meals gets relegated to about one square foot, you are much more likely to say I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE WE ARE GOING OUT FOR PIZZA/BURGERS/FALAFEL/BAGELS/SUSHI. (Breakfast is cereal on the porch or front steps in plastic bowls, thank goodness.) You know you’re doing it right when you run into at least 10 people you know every time you do this. (Kids: Yay! We love the week before Pesach! We go out to eat all the time! Parent: [whimper sob])

You’ve Been Doing This For Years; Shouldn’t You Be Organized By Now?

Hahahaha, no. There are planners and panickers. Pick one. (The Planners usually eat kosher for Pesach food for a lot longer, so enjoy those potatoes and eggs!)

I am actually both. My robust shopping/cleaning list that I use from year to year is extraordinarily helpful, yet I ignore it for a good long time (I don’t want to rouse it from its deep slumber in Word) and meander leisurely through the Forest of Procrastination, smelling the flowers (or unwashed children, either way) until I am forcibly ejected into Panic Lake and I do not have a parachute, or whatever you would use to save yourself during a forcible forest ejection and I am not sure what this metaphor is doing anymore, but it’s not helping me toothpick the kitchen chairs, that’s for darn sure.  

But really there is no good way to do this. It’s a huge balagan to swap two kitchens’ worth of things. Unless you’re supremely organized to begin with (mental inventory of freezer, pantry, fridge, cabinets), it’s going to be rough. (Are we missing a way to put a good spin on this? There is just no nice way to have this happen.)

Example:

Mental inventory of freezer: One lone pan of frozen pizza, because we eat them in pairs but one week it got messed up and this poor pan is growing icicles on its “cheese” particles. Plus a few packages of “Oh we had that?”, a container of Freezer Burn and some leftover “We should eat this at some point, prolly.” Also a half a bag of french fries. And some ice pops that have managed to coat everything in stickiness despite being frozen. Oh, you wily ice pops!

Pantry: A box of lasagna noodles with a single noodle in it. A bag of rock-hard raisins. Last Pesach’s potato starch. A few containers of tomato paste that may be older than some of my children. All The Things That Spilled.

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Just hours upon hours of mind-numbing chores until you can bring these babies home! Also requires money tree maintenance for these yummy treats.

Gila’s Facebook Frenzy: An Invitation to Insanity

For me, Pesach starts with some chipper li’l post on Facebook. Usually ridiculously, cruelly early, like waaaaay before the Pesach-is-in-two-weeks mark. “Pesach is coming! Don’t miss this super inspiring workshop about how to make Pesach e-z pee-z!” (Hint: They are lying or going away for Pesach. There’s no e-z, and definitely no pee-z. Instead of going to the workshop, just stay in your pajamas and prepare for Pesach the old-fashioned way: By ignoring everything, watching TV and dripping cookie crumbs into the couch cushions.)

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Be very afraid

Or maybe it’s a Facebook invitation to some sort of spiritual pre-Pesach shiur, in other words, a way for me to feel bad about how all I do is clean/cook/yell, or sometimes cook/clean/yell, or sometimes just yell, and then we get to the seder and I’m like, “Oh right! The Haggadah! The story of Passover! Forgot all about you!”

(Kate studiously avoids any Facebook post with the word “shiur” in it, preferring instead to contemplate others’ parenting dilemmas. Silently problem solving for other families is low-stakes, unless it cuts into Pesach Panic Time.)

So to save my soul, these lofty women want me to come to some sort of pre-Pesach shiur so we can sit together and learn things and make our seders meaningful and increase our general spiritualness. The problem is I have sort of forgotten how to be spiritual. The closest I get to communing with God is invoking His name while parenting my blessings: “Ohmigod!!!!! STOP FIGHTING AND OR COLORING ON THE WALL!” [depending which children I’m speaking to] I’m not entirely sure He appreciates being dragged into our family fights like that, actually. (“Please leave Me out of this! Just put the markers out of reach, for gosh sakes!”) Oh, and I do take a moment when I light candles before Shabbat (who am I kidding, on Shabbat) to thank Him for allowing us all to survive each other for another week and seeing if He’ll be so kind as do it again next week, but there’s not much more time for convo with God because by this point the twins are helping themselves to the matches.

 

So I blame Facebook for my pre-Pesach panic. By the time we’ve hit that two-week-before mark, Facebook is in full-blown Pesach mode. The shiurim, the “where can I donate food?” posts, the pre-Pesach camp options, the apologists (who are Planners but want to seem like Panickers so the true Panickers won’t stone them with tiny Facebook pebbles (please someone, make tiny Facebook pebbles a thing) “I know it’s still early, but I’ve done all my shopping ….” — THWAP!) and the actual Planners who are sharing their menus (THWAP! THWAP!) …

Well, it cannot be avoided. The time has come for me to … think about thinking about Pesach.

[Pause]

Done.

Soon to come: Even more March Madness: Pesach edition

 

 

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…it is a relief that the natural world doesn’t care for politics.

…it is a relief that rain and sun just do what they do.

…it is heartening that flowers can be cheerful and coexist.

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Happy February, everybody. Take a walk outside.

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Phase: Next

I am one of those people who loves the Facebook “On This Day” app. I find it funny and nostalgic, although the further back it goes the more I apparently vaguebooked. (In the days before restricted lists, I suppose.)

So a few days ago, Facebook served me a message from someone who wrote on my wall in 2009. (We met in third grade, but haven’t seen each other in at least 25 years.)

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So I saw this and nearly doubled over laughing. Because this sweet little girl, who now has two younger sisters, has made it all the way to being a tween. Her parents have (based on the pictures and posts) experienced some lovely times with her.

And soon, God willing, she will be consumed by, as we (read: Miss M) call it around here, The Puberty.

But back to being 3 1/2. Did I angst about this on Facebook? How did Brian know that I had tips? Because at this point AM had just turned 3. (Where tips would mean referrals to Ask Moxie.)

And I am curious as to what I would say. Or did say. (Pinky swear, I have not yet searched my message archives.)

Because now that I’ve done this twice, I would probably just advise to lay in the coping mechanisms of choice (alcohol, sweets, salty snacks, trashy magazines, Netflix, whatever) and stay sympathetic but vaguely detached. Don’t take things personally, because the three-year-old freak outs are so about them, not you. (Those kids are working out some STUFF, and if you get wrapped up in it you will never have the strength to wash those gigantic piles of dishes that show up in your sink EVERY SINGLE DAY.) Get some friends who will listen to all your funny-crazy stories and reassure you that you are not insane and that you have not broken your child.

NEWSFLASH: Your three-year-old is already broken. It is entirely possible that only you can see it, because he or she is so funny and so charming and so willfully adorable to the outside world that you think you might be raising the next Sybil.

(It gets better. Sort of. It gets different, surely.)

In sum, this is not an age I miss in my house, but I find other people’s three-year-olds hilarious.

So what advice would you give yourself, in retrospect?

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Changeling #2, at 3 1/2

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Want to hear something shocking? My most popular post ever was written in 2009. That was eons ago. Nobody really cares about my thoughts on Israel, my struggles with immigrant parenting, or what’s happened since I gave up breastfeeding.

So yes, seven years ago, almost five years into my parenting – and breastfeeding – career, I produced a ranty-though-cogent screed about breastfeeding that still attracts more than 10 readers a day.

I find this stunning.

Nobody comments on or links back to this post. The mommy wars have cycled back over this debate many times in the years since, but I must have inadvertently had fantastic SEO to keep getting page views. Good for you, 2009 me – who didn’t even work in marketing!

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This squishy newborn is almost 10.

Now that I have some emotional distance from breastfeeding (although, to be fair, I don’t really, because one of my best IRL friends has a pretty new and very squishy nursling RIGHT NOW), I am not really encouraged. Women and babies are still unsupported by hospitals, employers, and governments. Formula companies are still backed by the very deep pockets of drug manufacturers and violate the law when it comes to marketing their product.

But in this decades-long debate, I’ve reached a couple of conclusions.

Conclusion One: Taking Sides

If you dis breastfeeding, you might be:

  • anti-science

Breastmilk seems to be one of the most studied substances in the world. Why can’t we just leave it alone already? Because artificial milk substitutes keep trying to imitate it, that’s why. That’s how badass this stuff is. All our 21st century science can’t capture that lightning in a jar.

  • anti-woman

Let’s allow women to do something with their bodies that’s not pleasuring a man. (This is so heteronormative I don’t even want to bring it up, but let’s look at the messaging coming out of, say, the United States government or mainstream Hollywood.)

  • have body image issues

Pregnancy and breastfeeding will change a woman’s body in ways both temporary and permanent. One thousand percent. That is difficult to handle, sometimes, for both women and their partners.

If you dis formula feeding, you might be:

  • anti-worker

Shift work without pumping breaks is a real thing. Family “unfriendly” jobs and industries are real things. Countries without paid maternity/family leave are real things (the United States, in particular, stands out here).

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Nope, not poisonous

  • anti-reality

Families have all sorts of reasons why breastfeeding is not possible – medical issues on the part of the mother or baby, economic pressures, family realities (a widowed father, a two-dad family, a baby being raised by someone other than his or her parents), or other things. Passing your holier-than-thou judgment on these situations doesn’t make you a breastfeeding advocate. Remember that wet-nursing has been a career choice for thousands of years – largely rendered unnecessary by the advent of formula.

  • paternalistic

Really, women can’t make up their minds and need to be told what to do?

Conclusion Two: Check Your Privilege

If you’re busy on the internets vociferously defending your position, this means you are in a privileged position. If you’re dealing with working and pumping breastmilk (like many) OR traded your paying job with people who wear underwear to be an unpaid manager of people who don’t (like many others), you have a certain amount of economic privilege.

I honestly do not know people who have traded one kind of baby milk for another due to being squeezed for money, but it must happen. Sometimes a paycheck or scrimping on childcare is simply more vital than how a baby gets fed.

There’s more.

If you can safely formula feed, it means you have access to clean water or electricity to boil it or money to buy it.

If you can safely breastfeed, it means your partner is on board with it and you are (probably) physically safe.

If you can work and pump, it means that your state or country or employer protects that privilege.

If you can leave your baby with formula and a paid babysitter, nanny, or day care, it means you can afford it. Maybe you’re just breaking even to advance your career, but others who can’t might stay home and breastfeed.

If you have nursing bras, nursing clothes, access to a breastpump, books, and more, it means you have means. Maybe not a lot of means, but possibly good health insurance. Maybe generous friends. All of these are not to be taken for granted.

SO….

If you want to formula feed, nobody should stop you.

If you want to breastfeed, even for years, even at night, even in your bed, even in public, even without a nursing cover, even in a place of worship, nobody should stop you.

And we need to take our righteous indignation for what’s “wrong” and use that adrenaline-driven excitement to support parents and families. If the idea of going up against the drug lobby gets your motor running, do that. If you want to call or tweet your congressional reps to demand family leave, do that. (Canadians and Scandinavians can take a moment to bask in their glorious rights.) If you want to help a mom who is working shifts, struggling to pump, or cluster feeding every evening from five until eleven, bring her family some dinner and offer to fold some laundry (I guarantee she has some). If you hear of a financially struggling family that has requested formula, go buy it.

Perhaps I have mellowed in my old age – though admittedly there are still plenty of things that get me riled up. But babies who are being loved and cared for are not something to sneeze at, regardless of how they’re receiving their nutrition.

See other adorable mammals here and here.

(Thanks to Gila for the advice.)

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Happy Birthday to me!

The fetes and presents have already begun, because I have learned that I have to be aggressively in control of my own celebration if I want one. Cell phone cameras make this process easier. CLICK. SEND.

“Please have the kids buy me this book; it is available at any bookstore.”

(Although, in Taxman’s defense, he did come up with some surprises. And there was cake.)

So in celebration of my 40th birthday (which doesn’t feel nearly as old as When Harry Met Sally made it out to be), I am going to share all my wisdom with you.

Except not all of it — I can’t remember half of what I need to. Because ’80s song lyrics.

  • If you have chance to use a bathroom, use it.
  • Jealousy is usually a wasted emotion. If being envious lights a competitive spark in you that drives you to be or do better or achieve more, great. But if it’s going nowhere, just sitting in the pit of your stomach? Leave it. Seriously.
  • Life is too short to finish a book that you don’t like. (Obviously this applies to books that are voluntary, not compulsory.)
  • Life is NOT too short to read a book that you love again (and again and again).
Those books you love? Don't let them go.

Those books you love? Don’t let them go.

  • Having inside jokes is awesome.
  • Being with someone who holds you when you cry and otherwise makes you laugh is fantastic.
  • Soliciting your child’s giggle is one of the “Top 5” feelings in the universe.
  • Most of the people who are literally saving the world will not have the time or headspace to have their own kids. This makes me really upset.
  • So much hate in the world because people feel compelled to think we are different from one another – and the realization that the divisions are not going away. Yuck.
  • Exercise. Yeah. Even lazy people like me need it.
  • But with enough time and regularity, you’ll be able to meet some, um, physical challenges.
That's me in the green. Running a 10K. The path to this event started in 2001.

That’s me in the green. Running a 10K. The path to this event started in 2002.

  • You will become intimately familiar with your strengths and weaknesses.
  • This means that you will become much, much better at not giving a shit about things that you can’t control or fix.
  • This also means that you will be able to say no and yes much more effectively.
  • (A hugely awesome summary of above three points that I wish I had written is here.)
  • You will learn to appreciate people for their expertise that is wildly different from yours. If you are me, you’ll happily throw money at them to keep being experts as you appreciate it. This can mean anything from contracting a service to clean your house, to hiring someone to teach your kid sewing, to paying someone to do your makeup for a special occasion.
  • Work that is meaningful and world-changing is super, but it’s impossible to achieve for everyone or at every stage of life. Sometimes it’s as simple as work =  money, and money = a roof over your head or food in your fridge or books all over the place. Hopefully all three.
  • I am not exactly saying that money can buy happiness, but it can buy cookie ingredients, which is sometimes all you need. (Oven baking optional.)
  • You will never get over your worst bullying (as the victim). It will pop up at random times.
  • You will never stop feeling guilty about your worst bullying (as the aggressor), because now you, at your worst, are in someone’s head forever.
  • You will never be able to fully understand someone else’s marriage. Or divorce. Or child-rearing. Or life. It’s really hard not to judge, but it’s really better not to.
  • You will try to actively avoid situations that will make you uncomfortable or upset.
  • But you will handle the non-optional uncomfortable situations with more grace at 40 than at 30 and way more than at 20.
  • That single item in your closet that you never wear anymore but can’t part with? It’s not hurting anyone.
  • These kids, man.
  • The greatest part of parenting is not seeing yourself in your children – that’s actually turning out to be the part that makes me want to hide under the bed – but seeing how someone who lives in your house can be so different from you, with totally different interests, talents, and perspectives. You’ll learn a hell of a lot.
  • For example, I now know our solar system contains a dwarf planet called Makemake.
  • You shouldn’t have to do it alone. Whatever “it” is.
  • It is really important to have people who get your situation – work, marriage, parenting, life – and be able to freely contact them just to tell them something that they will understand but others won’t.
  • You’ll learn to avoid people who suck your life-force.
  • You’ll probably be able to rid yourself of one bad habit at a time, but not all of them and certainly not all of them at once.
  • We tend to be our own harshest critics. (I’m hoping, though, that the “reign of not caring so much” will mellow that.)
  • Whatever you do or see in your life that makes you smile? Do it more. Look at it again. You won’t be sorry.
This hide-and-seek chipmunk is my adorableness of the day. Plus it reminds me of a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This hide-and-seek chipmunk is my adorableness of the day. Plus it reminds me of a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • It’s ok that you’re not like everyone else. Fantastic, really.
  • It’s ok that your kids are not like everyone else’s kids, but damn, it is awkward sometimes.
  • It is very difficult to get rid of a reputation.
  • But you usually have one before you realize what’s happening. (Luckily, I can live with “snarky” and “grammatically punctilious” and “espresso-based lifeform.”)
  • You’ll never stop learning.
  • Humility looks good on everyone.
  • If you think the last bite will make you feel ill? STOP.

And, finally:

  • Write that shit down; you’ll never remember. (Trust me. I wish I had.)

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It’s been a long time since I offered unsolicited advice, but now I have some!

My children, once upon a time. Back in their amateur days.

My children, once upon a time. Back in their amateur days.

 

(And it does not involve body parts or baby equipment, so that’s different.)

About six months ago Taxman turned 40. Because I suspect that my mom’s love language is gifts, the specter of WHAT TO GET HIM loomed large. I finally suggested that my parents get him the gift of a family photo shoot.

This is something we’ve been intending to do for a long time – the last “professional” photo shoot (and by professional I mean either Sears, Target, or JCPenney) was in 2008 and did not even include the adults in the family (it was our kids and their cousins). To see a studio snap that contains me and Taxman, you have to climb into the time machine and set it for 2005.

NB: In 2005 we had half the number of children we do now.

So my parents sent us a nice little check, and I crowd sourced on Facebook (OF COURSE) for a photographer recommendation. I settled on a woman who lives in the same city, takes pictures in a forest clearing, has a terrific website, and seemed to be able to capture that sort of relaxed vibe we were going for.

Then I planned outfits, planned haircuts, and planned makeup. People probably thought I was going a little overboard. But goodness gracious, this photo shoot was YEARS in the making. The next time I figure we will all be together with a professional behind the camera will be in 2016. For Miss M’s bat mitzvah. When perhaps we will be a bit stressed. So I wanted to PLAN in order to be RELAXED.

And so it was. It was a slightly overcast day. The forest was in bloom. I wore makeup.

The pictures are so, so beautiful. All I have to do is look at them and I am filled with such love and happiness. Even if we have an awful day, there are these photos. They are filled with light. Not actual light but LIGHT. The lightness of this one afternoon when we had nowhere to be and nothing to do but be together. They are a treasure.

So if you have the chance to have family pictures taken, my unsolicited advice is: do it.

My big kids. Gone semi-pro at it.

My big kids. Gone semi-pro at it.

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