Tag Archive | parenting

The Elephant in the Room



It’s Hanukkah, the time of year when Christmas is all around us. Some may say relentlessly so. Decorations and lights, music, shopping opportunities are everywhere. They prompt me to think a bit more than usual about being Jewish and what that means. For better or worse, I’ve never “looked Jewish,” and many people are surprised to find that I am. I don’t talk about religion much, and I don’t practice the faith outwardly. I tried the Unitarian Universalist church for a long time, but it didn’t take, not in any deeply connecting way (not their fault – I felt like a traitor to my people, a nice Jewish girl going to church on Sundays. What was I thinking?) Living in an area with a heavy Roman Catholic presence and a tradition of Yankee Protestantism, I simply don’t fit in and never have. At least that’s how I feel. I don’t fit in. Never have. Unlikely that I ever will.

In an excerpt from my novel set in 1968, PERSEPHONE IN HELL, Sammy is Glory’s older brother. He’s had a thing for Denise throughout high school and makes no secret of it. Denise is pretty but dull and unaccomplished. She looks good in tight sweaters; that’s the attraction.

“Everyone knew how much Sammy liked Denise, even though he was going off to college in only a few months and Denise would be left working at the dry cleaner in town.

Denise wasn’t so sure about who she liked, especially as she was an inch or two taller than Sammy. She had wanted a taller beau. But her mother said Sammy was a good catch. A college man, destined for success. Didn’t the paper say he’d graduated number three out of the whole class? A brilliant boy, an Ivy Leaguer, maybe law school after that. Good enough by far for her under achieving daughter.

Then Denise told her mother the truth, that Sammy is Jewish.

“He doesn’t look Jewish,” her mother had replied. “He looked perfectly normal, handsome even, in his tux on prom night. And he was so polite. You must have heard wrong, Denise. You must be mistaken.”

Denise told her mother there was no mistake – Sammy is Jewish. You don’t have a name like Samuel when you’re Christian, she’d said. That’s a Jewish name. And she’d driven by his house last winter and had seen blue candles in the window, but no Christmas tree, no wreath on the door. She’d thought that was oddly strange, but then heard that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. She didn’t know what Jews do celebrate, but it is some weird thing involving blue lights. They don’t believe in Jesus, Denise had said.

Denise’s mother didn’t know how Denise knew such things, but she was shocked by the report. She instantly reconsidered her daughter’s future. What had been a clear, smart scenario dissolved into a murky, uncertain view. And she wasn’t about to incur the wrath of Father O’Brien. God forbid her daughter date a Jew.”

Now, times have changed…they’ve changed….times have changed….haven’t they?

Best regards to everyone of every religion, race, nationality, gender, age, weight, height, and sexual preference. It is the content of one’s character that matters. And have a very happy holiday season. If it bothers you that I’m using the word ‘holiday’ instead of ‘Christmas’, well, I mean it with all good will and no, I don’t plan to change the way I wish you well.

Ma the Matchless


Oh, I had the mother of all mothers, had I. A truly brilliant, complex, and often exasperating woman of a mother. Glory in my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL fared no differently. How did we get such compellingly different and difficult mothers?

Certainly it wasn’t of our choosing. What girl would pick a mother who never cleaned the house, who stayed in bed all day reading sci-fi and smoking? Who sat in the kitchen on a hot summer’s afternoon in her underwear reading the New York Times? Who could argue you into the ground on Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and most other subjects? That was my mother. The Ma who would be Cleopatra, floating down the Nile on her barge, purposely all alone, with no kids to drive her crazy. Here she is in her bedroom looking for something to read while Glory is humiliated at the thought of her messy home.

“Joyce wasn’t exactly what you’d call a good homemaker. She felt above it; that cleaning was perhaps meant for someone else but not her. She was comfortable in her mess and didn’t care what anyone else thought about it. She wasn’t bothered that her children were too ashamed of their home to bring friends to it. She’d say, “If they’re really your friends, they won’t care what your house looks like.”

Though technically I have to admit that you have a point, Ma, it’s mortifying to live in such filth. The pits. Really, hell on earth. I rarely bring a friend home. Not even Camille. Why don’t you notice?

Joyce stretched and spotted a neglected title. She dug it out of the pile. Ah, she discovered, “Le Morte d’ Arthur” – how did that get in here? She much preferred the future to the past. Joyce didn’t believe in chivalry, knights in shining armor, silly legends like King Arthur, or a holy grail. Hell, she thought, there’s absolutely nothing holy about this world.”

Ma the Matchless has been gone almost 25 years now. Just this past Mother’s Day, I realized how much I miss her. I miss arguing with her. I miss the woman that I as an adult was only beginning to know when she up and died. Teenage Glory doesn’t know it yet, but someday she’ll remember Ma with love. She will forgive her mother’s transgressions. She’ll take pride in having a mother who was anything but common.





It isn’t always a mother who does the mothering in a family. Sometimes it’s a father; often it’s an older sister who fills in for an absent or lacking parent. In this scene from PERSEPHONE IN HELL, Penny wakes from a terrible nightmare. She’s dreamed her little sister Kit is dead. She hears noises in the dark, and follows them into Kit’s room. Young Kit is crying, perched on the edge of her bed in her favorite green nightgown, herself having just awakened from an awful dream.

“In seeing Kit, it was as though a great weight lifted off Penny’s shoulders. She had never, ever been so happy to see her tiny sister. She held out her arms to Kit, who was miraculously unhurt and alive and safe. She gave her the hug of a lifetime.

Rubbing her eyes, still waking from her dream, Kit cried, “Penny, I’m all alone. No one cares about me. I could be dead and no one would even notice.”

Penny didn’t know why Kit felt this way or why she said the things she said. They were Kit’s feelings, and couldn’t be denied. But she knew that Kit was wrong. There was at least one person who cared that she was alive. She was not alone.

Penny stroked her small sister’s teary cheeks. She rocked her back and forth and softly hummed a favorite tune. “Greensleeves was my heart of gold, and who but my lady Greensleeves?” She sang the words over and over, calmly and sweetly, until Kit returned to the bliss of a young girl’s deep sleep.

Then Queen Penny the Good closed her eyes, and slept like a child until the morn.”

To mothers everywhere, real and imagined, young and old, perfect and not. I wish your families the wisdom to understand that you are trying your best, you are working so hard, you need their love even if you are flawed. Mothering is not easy. I want the world to understand.

Happy Mothers Day


Birth Song

I came screeching into life

On a frigid snowy evening

Winter day in Massachusetts

Winter day in Massachusetts

Not unlike this one
But oh, so many years past
And mother almost dropped me
Right in the car
While father panicked
Sliding down the road with
Rear wheel drive
Another beat up old black Buick
Skating on invisible ice
But she held on
My mother, strong
Determined to control the night
Swearing, carrying the pain of humankind
In her slim and tired form
She held tight
While Dad steered the way
Through the gloomy woods
And cloud laden fields
Cow pastures locked in white
Flakes as big as a baby’s fist
Shielding the murky sullen way
But through the frozen gloom
A wonder world appeared
An oasis in the bitter storm
And the hospital cheered us on,
Praise be!
Or so it seemed
Its glaring bright lights
Full-lit windows
Bigger than any moon
Starred, dotted with smiling faces
And helpful welcoming hands
They took us in

Thus was I born


Slapping the Dough


Apparently I’m obsessed with food. Completely obsessed. I hadn’t a clue how true that statement is until I wrote my book, PERSEPHONE IN HELL. The subject of food permeates my every chapter. Good times, ugly moments, difficult relationships, innocent encounters – food is everywhere in my story.

In Chapter Nannie and Sadie, Glory visits her grandmother and aunt in Boston for school vacation week. She looks forward to this annual trip which helps her escape, if only temporarily, from her cow town out in the country. But this time, Nannie and Sadie aren’t speaking to each other. Glory hasn’t any idea why.

“I should have stayed home. Why did I even come this year? Glory wondered as she sat watching Nannie knead the dough for the challah. Nannie was a good baker. Not as good as Ma, whose cinnamon bread, served warm with melting butter, filled the house with the scent of heaven.

Maybe it was in the forcefulness of Ma’s kneading that the spirit of bread in its full Platonic sense was revealed. Ma always said that slapping and pushing the dough around the breadboard was therapeutic. The idea is to get the dough as smooth and soft as a baby’s bottom, she’d say. Nannie’s hands were old and weak compared with Ma’s. But to give Nannie credit, her bread was good too.

Today, Nannie was silent as she lifted and pushed the dough with the palm of her hand, turned it, lifted and pushed again. Her eyes were angry but she wouldn’t say a word.

…Meanwhile, the silence was deafening. Glory couldn’t hold out much more, waiting for the new world she longed to see. I am bored, so very bored. And savages, all around and deep inside were stirring, moving to reclaim their lost land.”

Glory is a troubled girl. That’s evident right from the beginning of the story. Perhaps if she had learned to slap the dough instead of holding all her anger in, she might not have cut herself. It’s unfortunate that while Ma has learned a way to release some of her stress and anger, she hasn’t taught that trick to her daughter Glory. Slap the dough ‘smooth and soft as a baby’s bottom’ – now there’s a message not so subtle! There is no handing down of sympathies in this family. Each wrapped in her own distress, no one takes notice of another’s. Glory is on her own, truly.


Morning Has Broken


This morning my phone rang at 8 o’clock and woke me up. Out of a deep sleep. On a Saturday, which is one of my two sacred days of morning rest. No one messes with my sleep on a Saturday morning – no one. It’s my sabbath, n’es pas? I value my sleep so much that when my kids were small (and I mean prop-up-in-baby-carrier small) I’d stick them at the end of my bed with bowls of Cheerios and let them watch TV for hours at a time – Bozo the Clown, The Magic of Oil Painting, Jack LaLane. Anything that was on TV on a Saturday morning at 5 a.m. was fair game so long as I could sleep through it. Call me a bad mother, I don’t care. I needed my sleep then; I need it now.

This unflagging self-centeredness reminds me of my character Joyce, Glory’s mother in PERSEPHONE IN HELL, You’ll recall that while Glory craves beauty and power in her fantasy queendom, all Joyce wants is to be Cleopatra and sail down the Nile by herself with no one to mess with her. In this scene, Joyce is smoking in bed on a hot and humid Sunday morning.

“Joyce propped herself up in bed and looked around the room at the piles of her beloved books. They were mostly science fiction. She liked books better than she liked most people, maybe even better than her own kids. In fact her books were like her children in many ways. She treated them the same. Just like her kids, her books were not well kept. Not put properly back on the shelf at night, not always read cover to cover or contents appreciated.

Rather, Joyce’s books were dumped in piles surrounding her. Some with torn covers, others fallen behind the bookcase, pages splayed open with coffee stains. Or in a corner, dust covered and crawling with daddy long legs.

When she chose a book to read, she would devour it with pure pleasure. Nothing else would matter. Then, she’d throw it onto the discard pile where it would lie unseen, quite literally for years.”

Sleep, science fiction, kids…what deep dreams are made of.

PS The call was not important.






The Queen of the Nile. A goddess beholden to no one. Left to float down the river on her own if she so commands, or to read sci-fi novels in bed with a pack of cigarettes. Joyce is Glory’s mother in PERSEPHONE IN HELL, my novel set in 1968. Glory has stayed up late, waiting for her mother to come home from work. It’s hard to gain Ma’s attention. And Glory’s lonely. She despises her name, hates her life, wishes for an existence she can only imagine.

“Ma?” she wondered. “Have you ever wanted to be rich and famous, like a movie star? Have you ever wanted to be someone besides yourself? If you could be a queen, Ma, who would you be?”

Glory’s mother considered the exhausting day she had just finished. “I suppose Cleopatra,” she replied. “Why? Cleopatra floated down the Nile on her own barge. She could be alone anytime she wanted. She made rules to suit herself.”

Ma took a drag on her Chesterfield and flicked the ashes into the kitchen sink. “Oh, and she drank lovely coconut milk and ate figs dipped in honey. Egypt is hot but not ungodly humid like here in summer. She had the gentle breezes of the Nile to keep her cool. Yes, I’d be Cleopatra if I had a chance.”

Joyce scraped her scrambled eggs onto a plate and took a last drag of her cigarette. She looked for an empty ashtray. Every one of them overflowed. She dropped the butt into a coffee cup left on the table from breakfast. She closed her eyes for a moment and luxuriated in the notion of being all alone.”

Joyce doesn’t mean to neglect Glory. It’s just that she, like her daughter, is broken by the circumstances of her difficult life. And don’t we all wish at times that we could be someone else, anyone else?