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Meet My Coach

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Like many of you reading this blog, I visit dozens of websites looking for interesting news articles, discussion forums and fodder for my own writing.  There are only a few blogs, however, that I read regularly.  I am more of a blog stalker than a blog subscriber.

Why am I so picky about subscriptions? Like you, I try to limit the hours I spend sitting at the computer.  I try to preserve my middle-aged eyesight and allow my middle-aged memory to absorb the information that constitutes my daily Internet intake.

Recently I heard from an old friend that she was launching a new blog for “tennis parents.”  Her youngest child—the only one still at home—is a tennis ace, whom she home-schooled for a time in order to allow him opportunities to develop his skills and to participate in tournaments.  After reading just two posts, I subscribed to her blog via email and began following it religiously.

You may wonder why I am so interested in Lisa’s blog, since I do not have an athlete at home.  Like you, I have discovered that some blogs are worth reading for the life-lessons that transcend the particulars.  Parenting Aces is filled with insights that can be applied to many aspects of parenthood beyond the tennis court. In each post, Lisa shares her observations and expertise in a lighthearted, non-judgmental tone.  Never an advice column; always an honest, personal reflection.

Being a parent is the most challenging and rewarding of human experiences. We all need role-models and coaches.  I am grateful to have this parenting ace in my court.

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A Measured Response

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Since my walking companion injured her leg and can no longer traverse the hills of our neighborhood, I have been forced to find a new exercise buddy.  From the beginning, I was pretty skeptical about the Wii Fit. During the first few weeks of my new routine I would regularly talk back to the virtual personal trainer, by which I mean I would “back talk” in a tone of voice that I would not tolerate from my own students.

I found the daily body tests to be tedious, mostly because they are conducted by a personified sensor.  The small, green figure possesses an alien-like voice that is both weirdly appropriate and incredibly annoying.  Here is what happens on screen after the “step on/stay still” commands are issued:

Wii Fit Body Test

This test pattern quickly wormed its way into my brain–I found myself hearing it while I was waiting for a traffic light to change or a web page to load.  Occasionally, I would fight an impulse to say it aloud. Until one morning last week when I was sifting through my Inbox and came across an email that required a delicate response.  Staring at the screen, fingers poised on the keyboard…my eyebrows involuntarily furrowed as the green figure’s voice tickled my frontal lobe.

“Measuring…measuring…all done!”

“Exactly!” Suddenly my fingers began to fly.  I realized that I had needed a few moments to gauge my feelings, modulate my tone.  Isn’t it funny how the brain makes connections between seemingly disparate things?  Somehow it knew that I needed to hear the Wii Fit’s instructions.

Technology rushes us to think at a hurtling pace. But with each development our thought processes are stunted.  The brain needs time to measure a response.

I thought that I had been working to change my habits of the body; I discovered that I was changing my habits of the mind.

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Who’s In, Who’s Out?

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When my spouse and I merged our libraries nearly twenty years ago, we discovered that—despite his PhD in Physical Chemistry and my background in Talmud and Jewish Education—we each owned a well-loved copy of Milton Steinberg’s As a Driven Leaf.   Steinberg’s life was cut short before he could publish his second novel, so this book stands out among the many achievements of his brief career.   It chronicles the life experiences leading to the apostasy of Rabbi Elisha ben Abuye, whom the rabbis of the Talmud refer to as “Other.” His life story remains a defining narrative of my rabbinate.  I am constantly struggling with the question of otherness; seeking opportunities to blur the distinctions we make between “us” and “them.”

Today I heard a review on NPR’s Morning Edition of this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Clybourne Park.”  I was struck by the comment of Northwestern University professor Bill Savage: “Neighborhoods can be communal places that support the members who live in it or tribal places that attack outsiders, or they can be both.”  I have found this to be true not only of neighborhoods. When we organize ourselves in communities—whether they are religious institutions, professional organizations, political parties—we decide who’s in and who’s out.  Sometimes we are aware that our decisions hurt others, but often we overlook the ways in which we also damage ourselves.

What compels us to define our communities using the stark dichotomy of insider/outsider?  Why do we draw our lines in black and white, resisting the beautifully-blended shades of gray?

My goal is not to answer these ponderous questions. Instead, I hope that my career will be defined—like that of Rabbi Steinberg—by compassionate words and acts of kindness which help us live in the gray.

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