Single Parent Rules


When our children were younger, my spouse’s job required that he travel. Not often, but often enough that it disrupted our parenting routines and the egalitarian division of labor in our home. Since I was also working full-time outside the home, I needed to establish some ground rules for when he was away. At first, it was only one rule, really: “Ima needs compliance.”

I would instruct my daughter to perform a task, to help me from becoming overwhelmed by the chaos that she and her baby sister had caused in a matter of hours. The conversation would usually go something like this:

old-tvMe (gently, but insistently): “Okay, as soon as you put away the puzzles, you can eat a snack and watch Arthur while I get dinner started. Please help me collect the puzzles now.”

Her: “Why?”

Me: “Because I need extra help while Abba is away.”

Her: “But why are you letting me watch t.v. again? I already watched Big Bird.”

Me: “Because when Abba is away you can watch extra t.v.”

To myself, I would say all kinds of things, such as, “Because I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, lonely, and I need you to stay occupied while I try to accomplish the housework that Abba usually does when he’s here.” Keeping these words from escaping my lips drained a lot of my emotional energy.

Me (perhaps a bit impatiently): “Now, please help me clean up these puzzles.”

Her: “Why?”

Me: (emphatically) “Because sometimes Ima needs compliance!”

I recognized this response as a slightly more sophisticated version of “Because I said so,” and I wasn’t proud of my skills as a single parent.

Her: “What’s compliance?”

Defeated, I would sink into the couch and watch Arthur with her. But not before explaining that a good rule when Abba travels is to do what Ima asks the first time. At least I could take credit for her expanding vocabulary.

She couldn’t have been more than four years old when she devised the Single Parent Rules.  While it’s possible that she was trying to help me cope with my spouse’s absence, these rules could also be viewed as an opening gambit in a negotiation, a kind of quid pro quo for her compliance:

  1. There’s no such thing as too much t.v.
  2. Desserts are not only for Shabbat dinner.
  3. Baths are optional.
  4. Bedtime? What’s a bedtime?
  5. Caffeine is a food group (for the parent).

When I learned to adhere to this set of rules and to celebrate our somewhat altered routines, we managed to survive each business trip. I also learned to laugh at myself more and lose my cool less.

My spouse is traveling a lot lately, leaving me home with our children, who are now 18, 15 and 11 years old. They are quite independent and easy to manage, but after a day or two of single parenting I usually feel overwhelmed, exhausted and lonely without him. So it’s a comfort to know that I can still invoke the Single Parent Rules—if it becomes necessary—while he’s gone.


My Jewish Learning

flying onion 1 webMany of you will recognize the name of this website. If you’ve ever studied with me, in any synagogue or JCC class, chances are that you’ve heard me recommend as a fabulous resource for additional information about whatever topic we were studying.  In addition, hosts numerous blogs, including one written by alumni of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders.

I was honored to be included in a recent conversation, initiated by Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, Director of Rabbis Without Borders.  She wrote a post titled “Why Rabbis Should Talk About Israel,” to which our colleague Rabbi Ben Greenberg responded in a post titled “Why Rabbis Shouldn’t Talk About Israel.

I decided to take another approach and to write about why I personally do not talk about Israel.  This is not a blanket rule, nor is Israel a taboo topic for me. But, at least for the moment, I have chosen to talk about other things.  I am grateful for the suggested revisions by MyJewishLearning’s editor and delighted that they posted my piece, titled “Why This Rabbi Does Not Talk About Israel.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Israel is a topic that gets people’s blood pumping and, when emotions run high, impulsivity tends to override thoughtful and rational conversation. We sometimes allow ourselves to say things we later regret. As a rabbi who works primarily with adolescents, I strive to nurture the open-minded exploration of questions about Judaism…read more here

I look forward to your thoughts and comments!



Sunday in the Studio


The only thing that I love more than spending me-time in the studio is spending time in the studio with my son.  So when we were batting around ideas for making homemade Valentine’s Day cards for his classmates, I suggested we try a different medium than paper.

Of my three children, my son seems to be the one most drawn to the clay, most willing to get his hands really dirty and least deterred by the dusty floor and damp air of the basement. We agreed to work for a few hours on Sunday afternoon, making heart-shaped pendants with Sculpey left over from a workshop that I recently taught.  Polymer clay does not require the use of glaze or a kiln, which makes it better-suited to a quick project.

I pulled out the red, white, pink and purple clay from a Ziploc bag, set the two heart-shaped cookie cutters and some tools on the table and grabbed a small wooden rolling pin for each of us.  We filled a foil baking sheet with hearts—making  several extra pieces, just in case—and finished moments before dinner was ready.  The baked ziti came out of the oven and the tray of hearts went in.  He told his sisters about our studio time while we ate.

sculpey hearts“Each one is unique, like snowflakes,” he said proudly.

“Tell them what else you noticed,” I prodded.

“Oh, yeah.  Ima had more fun making them than I did!”

“That’s right,” I confirmed.  But I didn’t want to be chided by my kids for being corny, so I didn’t explain why this was true.  As much as the studio is my happy place and escape from real-world pressures—I consider it the only “room of my own” in the house—it is an even happier place when I share space at the work table with my son.