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Old Feelings and New Settings

At a  luncheon at our synagogue one Shabbos afternoon, after the cake and conversation turned a little stale, my friend suggested an experiment. We’d both stand along the  social hall wall and see who would get approached first by a fellow congregant.

We stood there and waited.

And waited.

You see?” she said, after we waited a good ten seconds. “We’re just a bunch of old ladies whom no one wants to talk to. We’re boring.”

Of course we burst out laughing, admitting that even as middle-aged women we’re sometimes still stuck in high school, thinking that no one likes us, comparing ourselves to others who seem to be more popular.

Come on, admit it. You do that too, don’t you?

I am reminded of an old memory. I’m about ten years old, standing in a row of girls in the gym. The appointed team captain is choosing members for her team. I am not much of an athlete and so I’m last to be picked. It doesn’t feel too great; more like lonely, unwanted and undesirable.

Children and teenagers typically compare themselves to their peers. Maybe it’s part of figuring themselves out: their identities, talents and opinions. All the comparisons are supposed to stop when we grow up and become adults. At the age of 20, 25, 30, or 35, or…55 we know we’re not that child in the gym suit anymore or that rah-rah teenager wanting to be the star of the play. Those days of constant comparison should be over.

Right? Wrong.

Like a tired song we can’t stop humming, old feelings replay in new scenarios. Stories from childhood get rehashed and spun in new settings. That girl waiting to be picked for a volleyball team is now the Shabbos-clothed adult standing at the wall waiting to be picked.

She’s comparing who makes or has the nicest wedding, bar mitzvah, house, status, in-laws, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren. The list goes on and on. Better. Fancier. Bigger. More. She’s always looking over her shoulder and what others are saying or doing.

I catch myself comparing my musical skills to that of my peers. This one is more musical, the other one is more talented, and the other one plays classical, or jazz, or by ear much better than I do. And that young college student who asked me to mentor her has a better voice than I do. She plays more instruments than I do. And my guitar skills are not good enough.

When will the comparing stop?

Thankfully, grandmother-hood is one area where I don’t compete, and I’m blessed to have mechutonim who are all on the same page as my husband and me. But I hear others tell their stories of competing with the “other” grandparents.

I once watched a grandmother’s behavior when she was in the same room as her child’s in-laws. This grandmother hovered, dominated the conversation, and ever so subtly usurped her grandchild away from her mechutaneste.

This kind of competition between sets of mechutonim is all very subtle. Sometimes it’s even veiled with jokes or “humble-bragging”: I have no life these days. My grandchildren ask me to take them everywhere and I just can’t get anything done.Underneath those declarations is the push to be the betst, the busiest and most important and loved grandmother.

Here’s another one: The grandmother who wines and dines the grandchildren so they become the favored grandparent. And that causes feelings of inferiority within the other grandparent, who ends up keeping score.


Competition has its place. When my grandson comes home from a soccer or baseball game, he talks to his brothers and parents, telling them who scored what and which team won. On Election Day 2016, before the results were in, he wanted to know, “What’s the score?”

A little competitive edge helps improve standards on all sides. When I read a well- crafted article, I think, “Wow!” Then, I’m motivated to take courses, get feedback, write and revise.

But competition is not a very healthy thing when it comes to relationships. After all, relationships are not competitive sports.

Let’s realize we are each doing our best in the way we know how, with the gifts we received from Hashem. It’s good to learn from others, but there is no need to feel inadequate or insecure about it.

These days at events, that friend and I reminisce about our little game. But now we’ve changed the rules. We make a point to start a friendly conversation with someone and don’t wait for someone to initiate with us.

Because when we interact with others cooperatively, and not competitively, everyone wins.

This article appeared in Binah Magazine 4 months ago.

The Middle Holiday Syndrome

Recently, I read an article about how Chanukah has become “merchandised” and “Christmasized.” The blogger, Nina Badzin, describes Chanukah as a relatively to-the-point holiday where we eat potato pancakes and donuts, give presents, light the menorah, sing beautiful songs, and say some special prayers. In her article she expresses how she cherishes Chanukah. And she observes with some displeasure,  that these days, folks (mostly stores and businesses)  tend to over-sensationalize the holiday with extra decorations and fussy products,  as if to “compete” with Christmas.

I agree with Nina. I don’t like competition.  I – as a Jewish person and as a women — like to be myself, do my own thing, what I know and believe to be correct, and do it all as best as I can.

You see, I am a Middle Child. There’s my confession. Continue reading

You Get What You Get…

Yes, you get what you get…and you don’t get upset! That’s the chant I’ve used with my music therapy groups of children when I passed out instruments. When some of the kids were a bit disgruntled with the particular maraca or bells they were handed, I used that chant as a reminder.  In fact, my own grandsons use this chant on each other.

“Hey, I got it first! You get what you get! Remember?” — he says to his cousin who has just laid claim to a truck or car that he felt was HIS.

“Everything we need to know in life has been learned in kindergarten” is a saying that keeps popping up in my mind’s eye when I realize how valuable these childlike lessons are.

It is all about my choices and perceptions of my lot in life.

I realize these days how God gives each one of us exactly what we need in life. I could pine and wish for that trip to Israel or Europe, but hey – it’s not happening yet. I could choose to be envious of those who take monthly getaways with their spouses. But I don’t. Instead I’m content with the lifestyle that I have.

I could decide to detest that person who somehow racks up all that mileage and manages to take a cruise to Alaska during the summer. But I don’t. I’m happy for them, and even happier for me for being healthy thank G-d, and able to stay comfortably in one place without traveling.

I could also be extremely jealous of said acquaintance whose husband has a job that enables them to get vacation more often than my own husband’s 3 weeks per year – which are mostly taken up by Jewish Holidays. But instead I tell myself that someday – when G-d means for this to happen – we will afford such a trip.

Similarly, I could be resentful of those who seem to have such an easy time staying slim, (okay, okay I’m a bit angry at those people). I could be mad at those who seem to be so calm, cool and collected and rarely (never?) raise their voices. I could find fault with these people because that would be an easy way for me to put them down (in order to raise myself). Instead, I choose to be happy with my lot.

You get the idea. It’s all in our perceptions. It’s all about how we see things. The cup half empty? Or the cup half full?

It is our choice to either be content with our lot, or not. We might as well appreciate our lot in life for what they are: gifts given to us by God, to be used. Not to be compared with others.

We get what we get. Great chant to sing – from kindergarten up to any age!

Mommy Wars? Maybe. Bubby Wars? Nope

Mommy Wars. Oy, those arguments, debates, competition!

Witness, for example, the endless “war” between a Stay-At-Home Mom and Work-out-of-home Mom:

SAHMom: “I think it is awful when mothers go out to work and leave their kid with a babysitter..”

WOHMom: “Well, I work out of the home, and my kids are just fine. The time that I do spend with them after work is relaxed and loving….which is more than I can say for some mothers I know who stay at home all day with their kids!”

Squabbles have arisen surrounding some of the various modes of parenting: attachment, co-sleeping, and natural parenting.  While proponents swear by these parenting techniques, critics worry that it will produce overly dependent children and parents who are “imprisoned” by their children. Continue reading

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