Monday, April 26, 2010

We Will Listen

Shabbat #16 - Havdalah

Guests: Just us. And cousin L.

Menu: Easy Grill: Steak, Mixed Peppers & Portabellas, Mache with Fennel & Parmesan, Toby's Challah, Chill Frozen Yogurt

What I Learned:

I'm attempting to run a marathon in every state. Saturday I crossed off Tennessee. I'm well beyond believing that anyone actually cares. I'm not even sure I do. I see the members of this elusive club at races. They're easy to spot. Even without their signature red, white and blue "50 State Marathon" singlets. Limping. Listing to one side. White hair. Is this what I'm headed for?


I hope.

I signed up for Nashville last year. Before the Shabbat resolution. Steve had originally planned to join me. But he was at home. Collecting a squash tournament award instead.

And that was okay.

I didn't have to lay awake listening to him snore the night before the race. And he didn't have to worry whether I was throwing up in my mouth when they dropped the prime rib in front of me at the tournament banquet.

So I ran the marathon. And then out ran a tornado to make havdalah with the family on Saturday.

And the Nishmah Women's Conference at the J on Sunday.

Nishmah is a non-profit organization with a mission to enrich the lives of girls and women in the St. Louis Jewish community through educational, spiritual and social programming. Ronit Sherwin and Karen Sher founded it in 2005. They're also both mothers. They get it.

Nishmah translates to "we will listen."

We will listen.

Are there three more important words?

I started writing this blog for me. Mostly because I'm not good at organizing pictures. Or recipes. I'm only slightly better at writing. So I figured I would write about our journey back -- for my children. And organize the pictures later when they were gone. It'd also be a handy way to file my recipes.

I showed the blog to Steve. Then I started sharing the blog with our guests. They sent it to friends. People wanted the recipes. And the menu for the upcoming week. One thing led to another. Hits across the country. And few other countries. Emails. Handwritten notes. Hugs. And some tears.

Apparently people were listening. Or at least reading.

Yet, not a single week goes by when I don't think ...

Why am I writing this?

Peggy Orenstein was the keynote speaker and a workshop presenter at the Nishmah conference. Remember Jon Lovitz as the Pathological Liar from the old SNL? (When SNL was actually funny). That's how her bio reads.

My memoir Waiting for Daisy is a New York Times best-seller. And I write ... for the LA Times. And Vogue. And The New Yorker. Yeahhh. That's the ticket! Did you see me on The Today Show? And GMA? Oh ... and I'm married to a film maker.

Except it's true.

Her workshop was entitled Princesses, "Perfect" Girls and Pop Tarts: What the New Culture of Girlhood Means for Our Girls. The title alone made me shake in my knock-off Tory Burch flats.

Sure. I knew that I should encourage imaginary play. With dolls. And trucks. That I should shun Palm Beach Barbie. And push Astronaut Barbie. And beware of all Disney-made child stars. Who will inevitably turn out like Britney. And Lindsay.

But when Peggy, dressed west-coast cool, perched on the corner of a table in my midwest J launched into her case, I got a little scared. No. A lot scared. Who knew that the Disney Princesses were created to take my money? And her innocence? That "toddler" and "tween" were terms coined by marketers. Not my pediatrician. Or that American Girl had released Gwen - the homeless doll- for $95. Was it true that now not only did I have to worry whether Sarah was wearing her bike helmet? But also whether it was a red and green one with a dragon on it. And not her pink Hello Kitty helmet. That went with her pink Hello Kitty tutu. And necklace. And singing microphone.

And so I approached Peggy after. Nervously.


(Shuffle knock-off shoes).

I'm not sure I can do this. I don't know where to start. How can I say do as I say ... when I'm not even sure I'm doing what I'm saying?

And this is what she said. Without hesitation. And complete confidence.

You don't have to be perfect.

I took a breath. Maybe she was right? She had, after all, been on NPR. And she was a mother who had gotten a daughter to age seven. So by my standard she was the expert.

An hour or so later we all filed in for lunch. And the keynote address. By Peggy. I started to sweat again. Would I spend the lunch feverishly taking notes on more things to worry about?

But it was different. She was different. Or maybe I saw her differently.

This time she told a very personal story. One that was printed in the The New York Times Magazine eight years ago. I'm certain she must have read it to herself thousands of times. Aloud nearly just as many. But as she stood before us, reading her work, she was real. Speaking with a practiced cadence, but at times pausing. As she swayed -- consciously or not -- behind the podium. Differently than I had seen her in the workshop perched upon the table. She was a woman. And a mother. Who despite (or inspite of) her success had her own struggles.

She told her story. And in the room you could have heard a pin drop. As other women watched. And related. And were validated. That someone had said out loud what they had been thinking. And that felt good. For us. And probably for her.

We were listening.

And that is why I write each week.

Because I have a story. That I am telling.

Because maybe something about it is like yours.

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