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miriamhendeles@gmail.com
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Contact Me

Any time - drop me an email
miriamhendeles@gmail.com
1-323-243-7116

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Should Age Be a Private Matter?

A few  nights ago our family was invited to the100th birthday party of my mother-in-law’s cousin.  To me, the celebration of his becoming 100 indicated that he and all around him were grateful for his blessings of a long life.

It was a time to announce his age to those who were there. Something that is often private was the topic of the event.

My MIL has lots of friends around that age, including someone from our synagogue  who turned 100 a few months ago and celebrated with a party in synagogue on Shabbat. Oh, and did I  mention my MIL’s best friend, Anne who turned 102? That was a milestone which our family and Anne’s children celebrated at a restaurant.

Until about 6 years ago, my mother-in-law’s age was private. No one seemed to know her age and if they did they certainly didn’t discuss it.

After that, her age was officially public knowledge and no longer a taboo subject.

So I’m wondering: Why wait till you’re 90 or 95 to announce your exact age? I think it should be something to boast about when we are still in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond.

I guess this belief stems from my childhood and how I was raised.

The adults in my life always discussed their age. I had two sets of grandparents growing up and I knew all of their ages as a child. And that’s not just because I was a nosy kid who asked a lot of questions! (although that may have something to do with it.)

But seriously, when my maternal grandmother was in the hospital and not feeling very well the last year of her life, she maintained her sense of humor and shall I say, brutal honesty.  When the doctor came in to examine her and asked her how old she was, she said, “90 1/2,” in a decisive tone of voice. No one was going to leave out that half a year that she was proud of.

Every year one of my sisters writes a poem using my mom’s age that year as a takeoff for a theme. That poem gets emailed to all the cousins and friends by my mother herself.

So I grew up with the adults around me treating age as a number denoting an accomplishment.  Nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Another birthday means we have arrived. And thank G-d we have more time on this earth to accomplish things.

Still, age continues to be a taboo subject in some families and cultures. It’s still considered impolite for children or adults to ask one another how old they are. I get that.

But I wonder whether the hiding of one’s age or considering it not a topic of conversation in polite company contribute to unhealthy messages about our aging bodies and souls.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to be open about one’s age, because it helps us grow and move forward emotionally. I believe that when we pretend to be what we are not or forget that we are 56 (that would be me!), maybe we won’t take care of our health. We may neglect ourselves and skip mammograms or colonoscopies or bone density exams or other checkups… because we think we are still 25 or 35.

By contrast, when we focus on the positive aspects of growing old such as having more wisdom and experience we embrace our age.  Rather than getting depressed when we reach a new decade or big number,  I do think it’s better to reach a place of acceptance.

That celebration doesn’t have to be in the form of a party or getting gifts. It can be in the simple acknowledgment of our moving forward. Our growth. It could be a time to take stock of what we’ve achieved the past year or years and what we want to achieve in the next year. A time for gratitude and prayer.

Children are proud of their age because it denotes being more grownup and having more privileges. To them every fraction of a year counts. My young grandson has been keeping track of when his 5 1/2 years became 5 3/4 until he turned 6.

We don’t have to have that kind of glee for a new age or fraction of an age. And some people choose to keep it private. Whether we admit it or not, we feel our age. Every. Single. Day.

But instead of seeing that as a negative, let’s see it as a reminder of our blessings.

So the next time the subject comes up, be proud of your age. Whether you are 20, 30, 40, or 50 +, let’s celebrate our birthdays, not just with a party and lots of cards.

Oh and by the way, my birthday is coming up soon in a few months and I’ve been reflecting as I reach that number and as I watch others have birthdays. It could be this post is my way of working through my unconscious anxieties about the new number. Or maybe I’m just reflecting on a common societal trend of age and privacy. I don’t know.

All I know is that I  pray that we can all embrace and celebrate our birthdays by having our cake and eating it too. That means being grateful, taking care of our physical and emotional health and reaching out to loved ones.

 

 

 

 


In-Law Boundaries Then and Now

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When I was expecting my first child, I once overheard my mother-in-law sharing with a friend of hers that I was pregnant – in the early months. I was so upset; I thought she had violated my privacy. Looking back, I know what I was thinking, but I also know what I wasn’t thinking.

I wasn’t thinking about the other side of the picture. I wasn’t realizing that all in-laws want is to be a part of their children’s life. So she slipped and shared with her two friends about my upcoming event. Big deal.

Boundaries  with in-laws were always a thing, except we didn’t call them that in the old days.

If you crossed boundaries or were over-involved with your kids and in-law kids, you were a meddler, a doter, and interfering parent. If you talked too much, you were a yenta.

When I got married we had a particular preference with our parents and in-laws (which was hardly ever followed because we didn’t enforce it) was that they call before popping in. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and that’s the way it was.

Back in the 1980’s there were no cell phones, so by making that rule I was basically saying to my mil or fil that if they were driving down our block and wanted to stop by they’d have to go home and call us. Which was kind of ridiculous, I think now.

In fact, I look back at those days and I’m a little embarrassed at how unreasonably I acted. I mean, I know what feelings I had that motivated me to be kind of tough and strict in some ways. But still, I think I overdid things a bit.

Lucky for them, my in-laws weren’t pushovers.  And they were smart – they’d be just in the neighborhood and just had to stop by and why bother calling from a pay phone or their home phone? They’d just stop by in the evening for just a minute.

And I would be upset (understandably) and make a big deal (by venting ridiculously  to my husband).

Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t visit my children  without calling first. That goes for my kids who live locally and those who live faraway.

How many times have I driven by my children’s house and wanted to stop by? All I had to do was call or better yet, text and bingo. I would be told “not a good time,” or “Yes, that’s great, come on over.”

Calling or texting to ask for permission to move forward into their turf is really easy now.

It’s easier for us to resist barging in at any hour at our kids’ home. So who am I to criticize my in-laws who had a different set of tools to work with in those days? It’s all about seeing the other side of the picture.

But today, we have other challenges to deal with, things that our own parents, grandparents never even thought would be an issue.  We have social media and the personal computer, and smart-phones each of which lends to lots of sharing and posting. The truth is that our children hate dislike prefer that we don’t share indiscriminately.

And I confess that I don’t follow that rule very well. In the same way that my in-laws would “just” stop by for “just” a few minutes to visit when they had the time or were “in the neighborhood,” in the same way I post a picture “just” on Facebook for “just” this once when I “just” have a great photo to post.

It’s hard for me, and it must have been hard for my in-laws. We parents want to share the good stuff about our grandchildren. And the pulling out of the pictures from our little purse just doesn’t cut it anymore these days for some reason. (that’s what my grandmother did with her friends back in the day!)

Look, with in-law relationships as with any relationship, the key is to do our best. To try to place ourselves in their shoes and understand how they feel. To remain true to our own feelings and needs. And to keep the communication lines open.

With a good dose of understanding, communication, and perspective about the other person’s situation, things can usually work out very well.

 

 


“Nachas,” Grandchildren and Facebook

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I’m a Nachas-ist. Yep. You read right. I’m addicted to “nachas.” Now, nachas – (pronounced nakh-es) according to the dictionary is Yiddish for joy or blessings,pride especially from one’s children and grandchildren.

The truth is that there is no English word or phrase that captures the exact nuance of what nachas is. Not one of the words – joy, pride, blessed feeling – conveys the true meaning of what we know to be “nachas.”

Nachas is so unique to the Jewish culture with the stereotypical grandmother/Bubby or Mom who kvells (there goes another non-translatable Yiddish word) about her progeny.

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So back to being a Nachassist, I believe that I spend most of my existence as a grandmother kvelling (loosely translated as inner boasting, bragging) about the little and not-so-little-anymore boys who were born from my children- otherwise known as grandsons.

Cute ones. Adorable ones. Smart. Talented. Athletic. Perceptive. Kind.

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Oh and handsome and charming too.

And did I mention that I am absolutely NOT prejudiced or biased at all? I mean anyone will attest to the above claims.

So how am I a nachassist? You see, I thrive on nachas. (See above descriptions. We’re showing, not telling here.)

Nachas is what keeps me going. And nachas is what also keeps me distracted from doing what I have to do as in when I tell my 5-year old (irresistible) grandson, “Will you just stop being so cute? I can’t stand it anymore and I can’t get anything done with you around. Go away, okay?”

And he smiles back at me, in that knowing way. He gets it. He knows that I don’t have patience for too much cuteness. Then I tell my daughter-in-law (his mother) that they should make it illegal to be so cute.

The last few weeks, I agonized  at how little I wrote, blogged, read or did anything of significance with my brain because all I could do is kvell.

And you know, kvelling and accomplishing just don’t go together.

Now, in case you think that Nachassists are similar to Narcissists in that they have a personality disorder, think again.

Nachassists are not bad or selfish or damaged. They are simply human and they are just doing what comes naturally when good things come our way in life.

You see, even if you don’t have grandchildren, you can display a healthy dose of nachassism with regard to anything good in your life.

For example, if you have a child who is accepted to an Ivy League university, you have joy and pride in what the child has accomplished. That’s “nachas.” (if you’re not Jewish you call it something else, but you get my drift).

And if you worked really hard to play a Beethoven Sonata on the piano and then you perform it perfectly (or almost perfectly) in front of a large audience, you have nachas from yourself.

Nachas is that good old-fashioned, cuddly feeling you get when  you or someone you love gets or earns something really good and worthy of pride.

Now, sometimes “nachassism” can veer into dangerous territory and perhaps earn a not so nice reputation like its cousin “narcissism.”

How? When a Nachassist gets an urge to post a picture of his or her progeny on Facebook, it can cause some issues. For example, if the nachassist forgets to ask permission from the parents of the cute, adorable and irresistible kids. That can pose a problem of privacy being invaded into the young family’s territory, a feeling of being intruded upon.

And that’s when nachassism gets a little sticky.

The simple way for a nachassist to prevent any problems is to ask permission. Then, the parents of said children can either say yes or no. (hopefully they say yes, right?)

If yes is the response, the nachassist is free to post that photo for all his/her facebook friends to ooh and ahh over said child.

Never mind that each of those facebook friends who are admiring, liking, reacting and otherwise stroking the Nachassist’s ego on Facebook is secretly thinking, “My grandchild is much cuter. Hmph.” It doesn’t matter if each one is eagerly waiting to post his or her own nachas about his or her own life, it doesn’t matter.

Because that just proves how powerful the Nachassist phenomenon is. Later on, the likers, reactors, and strokers can post their one Nachas on Facebook for all to see.

You see, it’s all just a Nachas game, played by nachassists who want to brag and boast, share about their good events in life and/or grandchildren.

And that’s not so terrible, is it?

So the next time something good comes your way, go ahead and share it. Post it. Be proud of it. We are all here to read and share in your happiness.

And just so you know, we begrudge you the good fortune. In Yiddish – that’s called “Farginning.”

Oh, yeah, it’s hard to translate exactly into English. But you get my drift, don’t you?

May all grandmothers, grandfathers, parents and children have nachas from each other and themselves! Amen!

 


I’m Not Telling!

A few weeks ago, I took my grandson to visit someone, and the person asked him the typical questions that one asks a 4 year old: Who is your teacher? What is your favorite color? How old are you? etc.

Nothing unusual about the conversation; in fact it was a very charming conversation, one that both child and adult (and those watching) enjoyed.

Until my grandson decided to cut the interview short. His response to one particular question (a question which I don’t remember specifically), was “I’m not telling.”

That was it. Case closed. Dialogue ended. He didn’t want to “tell.” Was it a secret? Maybe, maybe not. But as far as he was concerned, the conversation was over. He wasn’t telling. Okay?

I have  a hard time saying the above words; I tend to be very open and honest. Someone could ask me a question that I find  inappropriate, but before I give myself a chance to process the question as “rude,” “NTB” (not their business), or just plain worthy of not answering, I blurt out something that satisfies them.

And later I regret it. Usually the question is not necessarily a personal one . In fact, it could be a very innocent question, but still one that produces that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, signalling to me to keep quiet, and to change the subject.

And often, I don’t heed that signal.

Recently, I had a more satisfying experience with this issue; an acquaintance asked me a question regarding one of my  children. The truth was I didn’t even know the answer. All of my children are adults and make their own decisions about certain matters.  I tried telling the person that I don’t know the answer. But the person would not relent. I tried changing the subject. Didn’t work.

And then it hit me to say the following:

“Hey, good question – why don’t you ask him?” (referring to my son).

That worked. My questioner backed off. (Whew). She wasn’t interested in calling my son up and getting her answer. She just wanted to discuss it with me. And I was not interested in going there.

I guess I’m getting better at following the lessons of my grandson – I am learning to convey in one way or another that although I may be an open person to some extent, there is a limit (I hope!)

Whether I use what I heard termed as “non-talk” (basically information that doesn’t really answer the question, but is nevertheless polite), or whether I use simply the phrase, “Hey, I’m not comfortable talking about that,” discretion is always a good thing.

Just because I am part of what is called the “sandwich generation” – does not mean I have to be privy to every detail of the people around me. Thankfully, I am (usually!) aware of that.

I guess there is nothing more to say on this post. Shhhhhhh.


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