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That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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on a Modern-Day Bimah
                                                                                   
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Saturday, May 23, 2015

 

A Word From the Weiss

 

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      Jews may not as a rule believe in reincarnation, but I finally know what I want to come back as in the next life, should there be one – not a grasshopper, or great world leader like Mahatma Gandhi or Golda MeirJust someone who grapples with life by making decisions firmly and decisively and then moving on. As opposed to what I am.

       Not that.

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       For the past month or so, you see, I have been agonizing over a choice that I had to make. It was a choice that for most grasshoppers, great leaders, and everyone in between would have been what is commonly known these days as a “no-brainer.”

       (I hate that expression and usually think whoever coined it clearly didn’t have one. But to me this choice was so irresistible that there’s almost no other way to describe it.)

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       That is, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to join my daughter on a trip to Japan.

       Granted, Japan might not be everyone’s cup of (green) tea. My cousin Ilene says she still has vivid memories of World War II, and that you couldn’t pay her to go there.

       But for as long as I can remember, I have longed to go there. I adore Japanese art. I love Japanese culture. I love Japanese fashions and God knows I love Japanese food.

       It has always been at the very top of the list of places I would like to go someday. For most of my life, I believed that “someday” would never come because I’d developed a longtime, serious fear of flying. I just couldn’t imagine enduring that long a flight.

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       All that changed when my husband and I went to visit our daughter in Hong Kong. Never mind that this required taking a 16-hour flight in each direction; she’d been there for months, and I missed her so much that I would have flown to the moon to see her.

       As long as we were traveling that far, we decided to extend our trip and visit Beijing and Bangkok as well. That journey kept us up in the air for a total of 48 hours round-trip. To my surprise, those flights, which I’d dreaded for months, ended up being no big deal.

       I watched a few movies, ate, slept a bit, ate some more, and arrived. Big whoop.

      And when I came back, having realized I could do it, I felt wonderfully liberated.

       If I could go there, then I could go anywhere. OK, maybe not the moon. But at least, at long last, Japan.

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       My daughter, Allegra, has always wanted to go there as well, and we agreed to do it together, preferably before she returned from Asia. She’s now slated to come back in June. That made it sound like our going was pretty much now or never.

       We decided to go now.

       After all, she was living in Hong Kong, a mere four-hour flight away from Tokyo. And although this blog keeps me busy, it leaves me free to come and go as I please.

       Although you’d assume she might have preferred to go with her boyfriend, JP, he was very busy with work and only free to join her there for the long holiday weekend. (Yes, Monday was also a national holiday in Hong Kong. No, not Memorial Day. The birthday of Buddha.) She was determined to go to Japan for at least a week.

        That’s where I came in.

Allegra and JP.JPG

       She proposed that I meet her in Hong Kong and accompany her to Tokyo. From there, we planned to take a high-speed train to Kyoto. JP would join us for the weekend. He said he was happy to have me come along. (That’s the kind of mensch he is.)

       And I would have been happy to be there with them. Not just happy. A trip to the place I have always wanted to go, with my daughter? I would have been happier than a non-kosher animal in non-mud (if you get my drift)!

       Adding to the pleasure, I will dare to confess, was the notion of going without my husband. Of course, it would have been fun to have him come along too. But he was busy with work, and he wasn’t nearly as thrilled about seeing Japan as I was. Besides, a girls-only getaway with my daughter would’ve been the ultimate adventure and fun-fest.

       Plus, there was an added bonus – the prospect of getting to meet JP’s parents.

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       They spend about half the year in Hong Kong and the other half in Vancouver. For months, they’d been asking Allegra when her father and I might visit. They were returning to Canada in mid-May. This was our last chance to meet them before they left.

       Allegra and agreed that I would plan to arrive in Hong Kong a day or two before they departed, then she and I would go to Japan for a week and have JP join us at the end.

       For Memorial Day-slash-the-Birth-of-Buddha. 

       But then something unexpected arose.

       It was a good thing, maybe even a great thing, but it was a problem nonetheless.

       I ran into a friend who told me about an opening for a wonderful job. I ran into this friend in my doctor’s office while my daughter was waiting to go in for an appointment.

       Until that moment, I had not known that this friend and I see the same doctor. And had Allegra’s appointment not perfectly dovetailed with my friend's appointment – or had the doctor not kept us waiting… and waiting…and waiting until my friend emerged from hers – we never would have bumped into each other and I never would’ve heard about the job.

       Talk about beshert.

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       I will tell you more about this job at a later date. All you need to know at this point was that I went on an interview for it earlier this month. And the interview went well.

      Very well.

       The people in charge said that I needed to submit a written proposal, however. And after I submitted the proposal, they said that they would get back to me shortly.

       But shortly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. A week went by. Then two.

My roses died and I still didn't hear back.JPG

       My husband was so excited that he bought me roses the day that I had the interview. And long after they had wilted, then shriveled and died, I still hadn’t gotten a definitive answer.

       The job was only a summer job. But if I got it, it would start in late June.

       Japan is 11 hours ahead of us, and the last time that I returned from Asia, I was jet-lagged for weeks. Did I really want to be jet-lagged when I was starting a new job?

       Plus, I would need to prepare for the job if were to get it. Did I really want to go on a major trip while worrying about having to prepare for a new job as soon as I returned?

       Then again, what if I didn’t get the job and missed out on the trip too?

       One night, JP overheard Allegra talking to me about my upcoming to visit and freaked. Sure, he wanted me to meet his parents. Eventually. (I guess.) But not necessarily right now, and definitely not the night before they left for six months in Canada.

       Turns out that his mom is a little nervous about flying, too.

       If I wasn’t going to meet his parents, then I couldn’t go to Hong Kong while they were still there. How rude to them that would seem.

       And I certainly couldn’t arrive the day after they left. That would seem even ruder.

       The only thing that made sense was for me to fly directly to Tokyo and meet Allegra there.

       I spent much of my days checking flightsFlights to Hong Kong. Flights to Japan. They were all extremely pricey and getting pricier by the minute.

       In fact, when Allegra saw the airfares taking flight themselves, she booked a flight for herself. She wanted me to come, she insisted. But she was going whether I did or not.

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      Should I go? 

       Shouldn’t I go?

       How could I go?

       How could I not?

       Every time anyone invited me to do something in late May or early June, I hemmed and hawed. I was afraid to make any plans, since I might be in Japan.

       (A likely story, they must have thought.)

       Meanwhile, the airfares soared so high that JP realized it was sheer lunacy for him to fly over to Japan just for a weekend himself.

      If he wasn’t going to go, Allegra decided, and I wasn’t going to go, then maybe someone else would.

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       She asked her friend Sheray, who happened to recently have moved to Hong Kong with her boyfriendSheray agreed to accompany her provided that they flew back to Hong Kong to spend the upcoming three-day holiday weekend with their boyfriends. This only allowed them time to go to Tokyo and back. I really wanted to visit tranquil and serene Kyoto, which I hear is the most exquisite place imaginable. 

       Sheray happens to be a former student of mine from the years that I served as the faculty adviser to the student newspaper at a local high school.

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       She wasn’t just any old former student. She was the only student on staff who actually wanted to be a journalist when she grew up. So she was particularly close to my heart, and long after she graduated we stayed in touch. I absolutely love Sheray.

       Could there be anything more fun than going to the one place that always had wanted to go with my daughter and one of my favorite students?

       On the other hand, could there be anything crazier than going to Japan for only five days? Not only would it cost a fortune just to fly there, but probably would be jet-lagged the entire time I was there and then jet-lagged for weeks after I returned.

       “You’re worrying too much,” Allegra wrote one night. “Either you come and make it a spontaneous, fun thing, or you just don’t come this time and we plan better next time.”

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       “Are you sure there’ll be a next time?” I responded. What if there weren't? This might be my only chance.

       Should I go? Shouldn’t I go?

       How could I go? How could I not go?

       Less than a week before Allegra left, I finally began to realize the answer.

       Maybe my thinking that this opportunity was a matter of now or never was nuts.

       I always tell my kids that there are no such things as rain checks in life. If you get a chance at something – something that you really want – then you need to act on it right away, because it won’t be here tomorrow. It may not even be here ten minutes from now.

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       That seems to have become even more valid as I advance in life. I’m in good health now, and so is everyone in my family. But you never know what life will bring.

       But life could also bring better opportunities. Better than a whirlwind trip to Japan.

       At least half the joy of almost any journeyfor me, at leastlies in the anticipation. At this point, there was no time for anticipation left. I barely had time to pack.

       Besides, if I actually was going to Japan, I probably wasn’t going to go twice. So I wanted to see a whole lot of the country, and I wanted to plan it well and do it right.

       It wasn’t realistic to plan the trip in five days, or to see the whole country in five more.

       Maybe I should wait until I could.

       I was almost heartbroken bidding Allegra goodbye the afternoon that she left.

       But I wasn’t completely despondent. Because I was excited for her… and Sheray.

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       Besides, guess what? My husband bought me new roses. I finally got the job!

       I’m glad that I will have time to plan for it properly and won’t be drowsy at work.

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       I’m also getting plenty of vicarious thrills as the girls keep me posted night and day.

       They’ve sent shots of the tiny but cute Tokyo apartment that they rented on Airbnb.com, and videos of masterful sushi chefs giving them a true "raw" deal.

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       They’ve sent photoof the jazz clubs they’ve visited at night, at some of which Allegra was asked to get up and sing. They also sent photos of their biggest and craziest indulgence of all, a visit to Tokyo's top nail artist. (It's all there in black and white... and bling.)  

       Seems like I didn’t have to fly halfway around the world to have the time of my life, after all. They’re having the time of my life for me. Japan is all that I expected and more.

       “I want to move here,” Allegra wrote. “I can only live in New York, Paris, or Tokyo.”

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       As they say, how are you going to keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Tokyo?

      No matter. Sounds like she’s definitely going back sooner or later. Probably sooner. And if she’s going, then I’ve made up my

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 mind. Firmly and decisively. I’m going with her.

      Next time. No matter what.

      Job or no job.

      For sure.

12:46 pm 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

 

A Word From the Weiss 

   

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       Happy belated Mother’s Day to all my fellow mothers and others out there from NiceJewishMom.com!

       In the interests of avoiding sadness, self-flagellation, and all those not-so-good things, I decided to not let myself get all choked up (or more than moderately verklempt) about the fact that my daughter would be spending Mother’s Day with her boyfriend’s mother this year instead of with meAfter all, they’re both in Hong Kong, and I’m NOT… so how could we twain possibly meet?

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       Instead, I decided to thank my lucky (Jewish) stars that I had at least one child here with whom to spend my favorite Hallmark holiday. After all, only days earlier, both of my kinder had been out of the country.

       Way out.

       Aidan was on the verge of finishing up his first year of grad school at Columbia, but still managed to find time to spend the week in Paris.

        Yes, actual Paris.

       In April, no less.

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       He has continued working throughout the year as a jazz journalist, on top of his full-time studies (and on top of writing a book about rocker Lou Reed in his “spare time), and JazzTimes magazine had sent him abroad to cover an annual event called International Jazz Day.

       But even with all of that, he managed to get back in time to celebrate with his dear old nice Jewish mom.

      Having two out of two children out of sight, earshotand the continental US of A – even for a matter of only seven days – helped point out to me the cold hard truth: I am clearly no longer a full-time mom with offspring to nurture and mouths to feed. Far from. But as everyone unites to acknowledge once each year, a mother’s work is never done.

      Not even on Mother’s Day.

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      With no mother of my own to pay tribute to anymore, you might think my work was indeed done when it came to making plans for this illustrious occasion. Last yearfor the first timeI let my kids make all of the arrangements and we had a terrific time.

       But I generally hate to leave things to chance. And with Allegra away and Aidan juggling so many balls in the air at once, I decided to take matters into my own hands again. So I booked a restaurant for Sunday brunch and invited my family to join me.

       Since Aidan still had final papers to write, that restaurant was very near to where he lives, in NYC. And as long as we were going into the city from Connecticut, we decided to make a whole weekend of it. Now, that’s a celebration.

       I was hoping that Allegra wouldn’t take it too hard that she was missing yet another family occasionPresumably, way over in Hong Kong, she would not be inundated with constant reminders about the holiday on TV, in stores, and virtually everywhere else.

       No chance.

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       Americans evidently don’t have the market cornered on anything anymore, and that goes for sappiness, national celebrations, and the commercialization of just about everythingValentine’s Day and Halloween are just as big in Hong Kong, she tells me. And Mother’s Day may be even bigger.

      After all, no matter what your nationality, race, or religion, everyone has a mother.

      So the occasion remained very much on her mind, and to my infinite surprise, a box arrived midweek all the way from Hong Kong.

       I didn’t have a clue what was in it, but I knew it was a Mother’s Day gift because it was addressed to me. And all over the box she had scrawled one intriguing word.

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      No, not “mom.”

      “FRAGILE.” 

       “You shouldn’t have!” I texted her after writing to say that a parcel had just arrived. According to the label, it had set her back a full $241 in Hong Kong dollars just to mail it. Fortunately, by my calculation that was only 31 U.S. bucks. If you can call that only.

       “You really shouldn’t have!” I declared.

       But she insisted that it was worth it to be able to participate in the holiday from afar. The cost of doing business when you happen to be an international jazz singer, I guess.

       To make us both feel as though she were actually right here, and to make the day feel even more special, I decided to wait until Sunday to open it. But I couldn’t help gazing at it expectantly all week, as though this fragile thing were an egg about to hatch.

       And standing guard over this presumably precious cargo, I couldn’t help but worry.

       What if I accidentally left it at home and forgot to bring it on our trip to New York?

       What if I dropped it in transit and the fragile item inside it shattered into pieces?

       What if on its journey halfway around the globe its contents had already cracked?

       Just to be sureI picked it up and gave it a good shake. I didn’t hear broken glass.

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       The morning we left, I carried it carefully out and put it into the back seat of my car.

       So I freaked out hours later when I learned that my husband, who had dropped me off to briefly visit a relative, had put the car into a garage for the remainder of the day.

       My box from Hong Kong was sitting inside in plain view. What if somebody stole it?

       I worried about this well into the evening, although the play we saw that night proved to be a wonderful distraction.

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       “The Spoils,” written by and starring nice but clearly neurotic Jewish actor Jesse Eisenberg, had just begun previews at the Signature Theater on West 42nd Street.

       In this dark yet wickedly witty production, a young man named Ben, played with manic intensity by Eisenberg, teeters precariously on the precipice of adulthood. Stalled in his career and abrasive enough to alienate everyone around him but his affable Nepalese roommate, he wallows in inertia while avoiding reality round-the-clock via a steady diet of pot, beer, and other forms of self-medication.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils.jpg

      All that threatens to change when he learns that a former grade-school classmate is marrying his longtime childhood crush, and he resolves to win her affections for himself.

       To tell you any more about “The Spoils” would warrant a spoiler alert. Suffice it to say that the dialogue truly crackled throughout, and all five characterinvolved were portrayed with enormous skill and impressively nuanced complexity. No wonder the audience ultimately erupted in a unanimous standing O.

       It was only after we’d exited the theater that I remembered my package in the car. We virtually ran all 20 blocks to the parking garage. Good thing I was wearing flats.        

       Phew! No need to have worried. It was right where I’d left it.

       Mired in a mysterious traffic jam, we didn’t arrive at our hotel until after midnight. But there we were due for another pleasant surprise.

       I never miss a chance to tout the advantages of spending the night in Long Island City, where you can park on the street for free and hotel rates are only a fraction of those in far tonier Manhattan. However, the chain hotels we opt for there, while perfectly nice, are often a little dingy and out-of-date.

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       Feeling that I deserved at least a small step up for Mother’s Day weekend, I’d chosen to book a hotel we’d never tried before. The Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Queens/Queensboro Bridge turned out to be a revelation. Only two years old, it boasted a bright, modern lobby and up-to-date, spacious rooms that were smartly furnished and pristine. Our king room, including breakfast, was only $151/night, and we managed to make a future reservation for only $143. You won’t find rates like that in Manhattan.

Fairfield Inn & Suites room.jpg

       Unfortunately, while pausing in the lobby to make myself a late-night cup of tea, I put my suitcase down and it toppled over… and right onto the box marked “FRAGILE.”

       Now what had I done?

       There was still no sound of broken glass. But I wanted to make sure, and I had waited long enough. Besides, with Hong Kong 12 hours ahead of us, it was already Mother’s Day there, and I’d be able to thank Allegra before she went out for the day 

      So safely in our room, I dared to slice open the taped corners and open it at last.

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      There, swaddled in bubble wrap, was an exquisite antique jewelry box. And not just any jewelry box. It was the same one I had admired at a street market the day after we had first arrived in Hong Kong last fall. Allegra had remembered and hunted it down.

      And then mailed it in time to arrive for Mother’s Day. How thoughtful was that?

       My favorite part, of course, however, was the card enclosed. The one that pronounced me “completely and utterly brilliant.”

       She, of course, was the utterly brilliant one to have found a card that referenced an inside joke we have about my late mother, a.k.a. Grandma Bunnie, who had been known to exclaim, “I’m so smart! I’m so brilliant!” every time she unraveled some mystery or other conundrum.

Mother's Day card from Allegra.jpg

       Clearly, though, Allegra was in anything but a joking mood about the holiday at hand.

       “I’m so sad not to be there for the Sunday NYC ritual brunch and stroll,” she wrote. “From here on out, I’m sticking closer to you.” Or I maybe I would just have to stick closer to her. “Next year in Japan?”

       For now, we would have to settle for her wishing me a happy Mother’s Day on my iPhone via Facetime just before we met Aidan and Kaitlin at a café the next afternoon.

       As heartbreaking as it was not to have Allegra with us, it was thrilling to have them regale us about their respective recent travels over such brunchy delicacies as eggs Florentine and kale and leek quiche.

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       Aidan told us all about the many jazz concerts he had attended, featuring major performers including Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Wayne Shorter and Al Jarreau, culminating in an after-party at the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

        As he had noted in his JazzTimes article, "A mist hung over the City of Light, but despite the light rain, Paris was abuzz with syncopation for a 24-hour blue period... Public performances, jam sessions, master classes, roundtable discussions, a boat cruise and film screenings provided a rhythmic backdrop across the city long considered the European capital of jazz." 

       He had been privy to all this and more. Then, after filing his story for the magazine, he had managed to nip over to London to visit with a friend who is studying at Cambridge. Just hearing about it gave me a vicarious thrill far more potent and uplifting than the effervescent mimosa I was sipping.

       Kaitlin, who is also getting a Ph.D, had regretfully been unable to accompany him because she’d been scheduled to give a lecture at an academic conference in Toronto.

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      Still, she told us about how lively and cosmopolitan she had found that Canadian city to be, “although it’s not Paris,” she confessed.

      After the meal, Aidan proffered a colorful shopping bag from the popular chain “L’Occitane en Provence.”

      “Is that from Paris?” my husband ventured brightly.

L'Occitane lotion set.jpg

      Aidan looked a little sheepish and just shrugged. No matter. Inside was a yummy Godiva chocolate bar and a lovely assortment of body lotions in scents including “Jasmin & Bergamote” and “Iris Bleu & Iris Blanc,” and presumably they had originally come from France.

Aidan's Mother's Day card 2015.jpg

      Besides, the most meaningful part (aside from knowing that my son had found time to think of me and be with me at such a hectic period in his life) was the card enclosed, which stated in part, “You are the best mom I know… and the best one I’ve got.”

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       Given that he still had final papers due the next day, I fully expected them to bolt the moment that the meal was done.

       But no.

       We exited the restaurant to find a bustling street fair in full swing, and to our surprise the kids spent close to two hours more wandering around with us, just chatting, buying tchotchkes and enjoying being out in the sunshine together.

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       No, that wasn’t Paris, eitherBut it was even better, if you ask me, because we were with them.

       And we had no doubt whatsoever that they wanted to be with us.

        So in the end, I may not have been all choked up.

        But I must admit that I ended up a little more than moderately verklempt.

 

 

 

 

4:30 pm 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

 

A Word From the Weiss 

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     Between drawn-out waits in the waiting room and the dreaded ordeal of being weighed in (fully dressed, no less), going to the doctor can be a real pain in the neck.

     But one day last week I went to the doctor mostly because I had a pain in the neck.

      OK, to be honest, I actually went in order to have my annual physical… and if you haven’t done so within the last year or so, then so probably should you. (I have a friend who never goes to the doctor, which is strange considering that she happens to be married to one. No, I’m not going to name any names. But if you are reading this, you know who you are!)

       Having a physical is not something I typically enjoy, or look forward to in any way. But for once I was actually very glad I was going… because I had a pain in the neck.

       I’d had this pain in the neck for over two months. Maybe even more. It wasn’t there all the time. And sometimes it wasn’t even pain, exactly. It was more of a creepy tingling sensation. But it was there at some point every day, and it was bad enough to worry me.

      It wasn’t ever quite bad enough, however, to make me go to the doctor just for that.

       I really wanted to know what the heck was causing this pain in my neck. But let’s be honest. There was also a part of me that didn’t want to know.

       What if it was something really bad? Then again, what if it was nothing all that bad? If it was nothing all that bad, then it probably would go away by itself in due time. Why subject myself to doctor’s visits, X-rays, MRIs, and other expensive or invasive procedures when it would most likely turn out to be nothing (and go away in due time)?

       Of course, I had my own suspicions about what was causing the pain, and the amount of worry that these caused me was arguably worse than the actual pain itself.

       No, I am not a doctor, but I play one regularly on the Internet… and in this space.

Thyroid gland in the neck.jpg

       And as I once documented here, about three or four years ago I was diagnosed with two small nodules in my thyroid gland, which is located more or less in the neck.

       These nodules were initially detected during my annual physical (one of many reasons that I don't like to go for my annual physical).

       My doctor was doing all of the usual routine stuff with a stethoscope and whatnot. He listened to me breathing audibly and with emphasis from both the back and the front. He tapped my knees with a rubber doohickey to see if I automatically kicked back. (I did.)

Silent movie star stare.jpg

       Then he felt around my neck and the center of my throat as though looking for something he had lost and he asked me to cough.

       At this, he made the kind of horrified facial expression that you only see on Kabuki masks or in old, silent movies and asked me to cough again.

Horrified Kabuki mask.jpg

       Then he told me I appeared to have a thyroid nodule,and he sent me for an ultrasound.

       He also sent me for a fine-needle biopsy, which I would venture was about the most excruciating thing I had ever endured, had not gone through natural childbirth…and heard Ariana Grande perform at The Grammys.

       I don’t want to bore you with the entire story all over again. Suffice it to say that he advised having my whole thyroid removed because, even though it was functioning just fine, it would be too big hassle to keep monitoring those nodules for the rest of my natural life.

Ariana Grande at the 2015 Grammys.jpg

       Preferring to preserve all of my original parts for as long as possible, I decided to seek a second opinion. Dr. Second Opinion told me that he was around 99 percent sure that those nodules were benign, rather than malignant. And in the years since, they have both grown slightly smaller, rather than larger, substantiating his second opinion.

       Just to be sure, though, he has continued to monitor thevia an annual ultrasound, the most recent of whichin December, exhibited no perceptible changes.

       But for some reason I was now in pain, and that pain had given way to anxiety. The discomfort in my neck was on the left side. As far as I could recall, one of the nodules I had was dead center and the other was on the right. But perhaps I was wrong about that. Or maybe there were new nodules now, and these were not quite so benign.

       And so I found myself walking around worrying that maybe I had… you know what.

       Can you spell hypochondriac? I can. But I don’t spell it with a capital H, or honestly believe that I am one. I just knew that I had nodules in my thyroid, and now I had pain in my neck – a mysterious pain that came and went, but would never go away for good.

       As preoccupied as I was with those persistent pains, and my growing fears, I did not mention one word about them to anyone. Even though I was in agony, I kept mum. For months.

I didn't tell my husband.JPG

       I didn’t tell my husband because he actually is a hypochondriac – with a capital H. He would have nixed my wait-and-see approach and insisted I go to the doctor at once.

       I didn’t tell friends because I didn’t want to bore them, particularly with ailments that might not even exist.

      And I didn’t tell my daughter when she came home from Hong Kong recently to visit for three weeks because I didn’t want to alarm her. Nor did I want to alarm my son.

       The pains were so bad that it often felt like there were little knives inside my neck.        

       They were so bad that I couldn’t wear a necklace of any kind – not even a virtually weightless chain – nor any piece of clothing that touched my neck.

       They were so bad that I sometimes found myself on the verge of tears.

A real pain in the neck.jpg

      Late at night, when my husband wasn’t looking, I would stand before the bathroom mirror, craning my neck upward, trying to detect if there were something visibly wrong. Gently and gingerly, I would probe around the vicinity that felt most tender to the touch. But mostly I tried not to touch it at all because that only made the pain worse.

      I did this for a month… then another month… And then another month began.

       One night, about a week before my annual physical, I resorted to taking naproxen. It was the night that I was going out to dinner and the theater with my daughter, and I didn’t want to risk having anything undermine that, including a pain in the neck. I’m not a major fan of taking medications that merely mask pain, but drugs like naproxen and ibuprofen are supposedly anti-inflammatory, so I thought that this might help.

Allegra and me at Gigi.jpg

       To my amazement, it did offer relief that continued into the next day. But then, like a cat stealthily creeping back out from under the bed, the pain suddenly reappeared.

       So, as I said, I was actually happy for once that it was time to go for my physical.

       Well, not entirely that happy. I was still dreading the weigh-in sequence of events. Only the day before, I’d run into a friend who goes to the same doctor as I do, and shed confessed to me that our doctor had admonished her that she needed to lose weight.

       If my doctor (who is no longer the doctor who discovered the nodules) told me that I had to lose weight, I would die.

What is worse than being weighed in?.jpg

       The truth is that I know I need to lose weight because I put on 4 pounds this winter – 4 unwelcome pounds, needless to say – and all 4 are still there. But I want to be the one who says I’m fat. I would be mortified if it got to the point where my doctor said it to me.

       The exasperating thing is that you weigh even more at the doctor’s office than at home because they weigh you fully dressed. (Then they tell you to take your clothes off. Go figure!)

       To minimize the amount to which I would tip the scale at the doctor’s office on top of those 4 unwelcome extra pounds, I dressed for my appointment as lightly as I could.

Pattie in elephant print pants.jpg

       The lightest outfit I could find was a black tank top and a pair of thin cotton pants printed with elephants that I had bought last fall in Bangkok. The cotton in these pants was so thin that I almost weighed less in them than I did when I was completely naked. However, I did not look thin in them. Not thin at all. They made me look like an elephant.

Pattie and Liz in the park.JPG

       When my svelte friend Liz came to visit later that day and she began to complain about the tire that she was developing around her middle – a totally imaginary tire, I might add – I said to her, “Tire? What tire? ---- your tire! I’m wearing elephant pants!”

       But I digress.

      The wait at the doctor’s office wasn’t all that long, and my weight at the doctor’s office wasn’t all that bad – only those 4 extra pounds, thanks to the weightless pants.

      Soon enough, I found myself in an exam room telling the young resident who was assisting the doctor that day about the mysterious pain in my neck.

     I told her it hurt more when I exercised and after I ate. I told her sometimes it wasn’t a pain at all, just a creepy, tingling sensation. I admitted it had been there for months.

     She noted all of this on my chart and left. Then the doctor came in.

     She did all of that usual routine stuff with the stethoscope and whatnot. She listened to me breathing audibly and with emphasis from both the back and the front. She tapped my knees with a rubber doohickey to see if I automatically kicked back. (I did.)

Then the doctor came in.jpg

       She told me that Livalothe statin drug that she had insisted I start taking for my high cholesterol, was working. In only four months, my numbers (unlike my weight) had dropped 50 points!

       Then she asked me about the mysterious pain in my neck.

       I repeated much of what I had told the young resident. She nodded solemnly.

       Then she gently probed around my neck in the vicinity in which it hurt most.

       When she found the spot at the root of the pain, she squeezed it and I screamed.

       “You have a strained tendon there that is very inflamed,” she explained.

       strained tendon? That was it? 

       Yes. It.

       She wondered what Id done to strain it“Have you been talking a lot?” she asked.

      Talking a lot? As a blogger, I mostly stay home alone all day with my dog, Latke. Sure, I talk on the phone a bit. And I talk to my dog. But how much could I really say?

      “Have you been singing a lot?” she asked.

Across the Jewniverse.jpg

      Singing a lot? Yes, actually come to think of it, I had been singing a lot. For the first time this year, I had been given a number of short solos in my temple’s annual Purim spiel – the Broadway-style musical extravaganza that I write the lyrics for each year. This year, I had recast the lyrics to 13 Beatles songs for the show, which we called “Across the Jewniverse.”

       I had been so anxious about those solos that I had practiced them night and day.

      Practiced them for months mostly for my dog.

      One of my solos had occurred in the song “Yellow Submarine.” In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I hadn’t been singing “Yellow Submarine” to my dog. This would have bored her. Rather, I had been singing a song that I had written just for her, “Doggie Submarine.”

     

Doggie submarine.jpg

       We all live in a doggie submarine

       Doggie submarine, doggie submarine.

       We all live in a doggie submarine

       Doggie submarine, doggie submarine.

 

       And our dogs are all aboard

       Many more of them live next door

       And the dogs begin to play…

 

Latke clearly enjoyed my singing.JPG

       She had unquestionably enjoyed this, encouraging me to sing it even more.

       I did not say this to the doctor, thoughNor did I sing it to the doctor.

       Instead I told her that I’d thought the problem might have been my thyroid nodules.

       “Your thyroid nodules?” she asked, clearly mystified. She told me that my nodules were in the center and on the right of my neck. The inflamed tendon was on the left.

       Then the young resident came back into the examination room. “Look!” the doctor told her. “She has an inflamed tendon in her neck!” She reached over to indicate the painful spot that she had located, but I screamed again before she could even get close.

      “I wasn’t going to touch it,” she assured me with a hearty laugh. She went on to say this was no big deal. “Just take Aleve for a week or so, and the pain will probably go away.”

      Oh.

      Then I dared to address the elephant in the room. No, not my pants -- my weight. She shrugged.

The elephant pants in the room.jpg

      “It’s only 4 pounds,” she said. “They will go away, too.”

      I wasn’t completely convinced the pain in my neck had been caused by singing. Perhaps I simply had strained that tendon while lifting a suitcase when we’d gone to Florida in January.

      The good news was that it wasn’t my thyroid nodules. And it wasn’t you know what.

      So I guess I was going to live. Live and take Aleve.

      The fact was, though, that I didn’t actually get around to taking the Aleve. I was so relieved that it wasn't you know what that I stopped peering at my neck, and poking around on my neck. And within a week or so the persistent pain finally did subside and pretty much went away on its own.

Pattie in no more pain.JPG

      In fact, I’m wearing a necklace right now for the first time in several months. And feeling very fortunate.

       But also like a fool.                

       Time doesn’t heal all wounds – or ailments, aches, and mysterious pains -- although many problems do eventually get better and go away on their own.

       But more often than not, putting your head in the sand is no real solution at all. Denial just prolongs your medical problems and maybe even allows them to get worse.

       At the very least, it allows you to spend months consumed with unnecessary worry.

       And that can be a real pain in the neck.  

10:30 pm 

Friday, May 1, 2015

  

A Word From the Weiss      

 

Allegra and me at WhyNot Jazz Room.jpg

        The old adage about trying to live each day as though it were your last is a lovely thought, but a losing proposition. How can you savor every single moment or morsel of life when a sense of impending doom hovers over you, ready to sabotage every second?

       It’s also a losing proposition financially for those who need to “bring home the bacon” (excuse the cliche and trite reference to trayf). I mean, if anyone actually knew they were going to die tomorrow, who in their right mind would go to work?

       But let’s face it – we bloggers don’t bring home a whole lotta bacon (let alone kosher chickens, which are worth more than their weight in gelt). So I decided to treat myself to a rare break last week and live as though it were indeed my last – not on earth, per se, but with my daughter home. For it was. After a three-week respite, beginning with Passover, Allegra was slated to return to her charming b.f. JP and her exotic life as a chanteuse in Hong Kong.

       Given that, the last thing I wanted to do was sit home alone tapping on a computer. Can you blame me for not posting one word?

       Of course, all play and no work might make Mom not just a nice, but a very happy girl, but my daughter – being a rising jazz singer with a new CD to promote – wanted to perform at least once while she was back in the States. No matter. Her going to work merely meant my going to hear her sing. And what could make me happier than that?

       That, at least, is what I believed… until the night of the big gig arrived.

       First, though, the fun.

Allegra went to visit Aidan.JPG

       Following a few fleeting days that she spent home in Connecticut after our family sederAllegra had departed foNYC, her usual milieu, to visit with my son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin and catch up with her many friends.

Allegra with friends Tomas and Aubrey.jpg

 My husband and I planned to join her the following weekend in time to see her perform. Then I came up with a better plan.

       Since Allegra would be away for Mother’s Day, I suggested I come in a day early so we could have our own Mother’s Day celebration.

       Make that Mother’s Night – a mother-daughter night out on the town.

       Thank heaven for little girls, for little girls get bigger every day… but not too big to go to the theater every now and then with their moms.

Vanessa Hudgens in Gigi.jpg

       To our delight, a new stage version of one of our favorite movies of all time, Gigi, had just opened on Broadway. Even better, I’d learned that a girl named Hannah Chin, with whom Allegra had gone to high school, was not just in the show, but the understudy for the lead, Vanessa Hudgens, for whom she is practically a dead ringer.

        How could we resist?

Hannah Florence.jpg

       My good friend Liz, who lives in Brooklyn, agreed not only to let me hitch a ride down to the city on Thursdaybut also to put me up for the night. I met up with Allegra in Manhattan late that afternoon, and we immediately set out to find dinner.

       Not just any dinner, mind you. Sushi dinner. I’m such a big fan that think I could eat it three meals a day. My husband, alas, is notSo raw fish was long ago relegated for me to the realm of Mom’s night out.

       Seeking a restaurant as close to the theater as possible, we stumbled upon Ageha Sushi, on Ninth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets. The decor was pretty yet unpretentious, and the prices beyond reasonable. The portions, however, were not.

Sushi and sashimi for 2.jpg

       I’m not complaining, mind you. Quite the opposite. We ordered a $52 combination platter of sushi and sashimi for two, and were soon presented with a fishy feast not only gorgeous, but so gargantuan that for the first time in my life, I couldn’t eat it all.

      Besides, it was already time to leave this midtown slice of Tokyo for turn-of-the-century Paris.

Gigi on Broadway marquee.jpg

       For those unfamiliar with the classic Lerner and Loewe musical Gigi – based on a novella by the French writer Colette – it is a wry coming-of-age story about a spirited young woman being groomed for the life of a courtesan (a quaint euphemism for kept woman).

       As I had gathered from the New York Times review, this lively and endlessly amusing new stage version incorporates many subtle but key changes from the beloved 1958 movie starring Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdanand Maurice Chevalier. Most of these alterations seem geared to make the production more, uh, politically correct.

Gigi with Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan.jpg

       The title character, for example, played by Ms. Hudgens (of High School Musical fame)is now a relatively seasoned 18-year-old, rather than a mere 15. Meanwhile, her love interest has lost a few years; Corey Cott, the actor who portrays the wealthy, world-weary Gaston, is only 25 (as opposed to Mr. Jourdan, who was a decidedly more mature 37 when the movie was made), making their liaison seem lot less "skeevy," as kids say these days.

Vanessa Hudgens and Corey Cott in Gigi.jpg

       Yet another possible “ick” factor also has been given the axe by putting “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” that anthem to youth and feminityinto the mouths of Gigi’s grandmother “Mamita” and her sister, Aunt Alicia, rather than having it crooned by the middle-aged actor who plays the role originated by a 70-year-old Chevalier.

Allegra and me in show-tune ecstasy at Gigi.jpg

       No doubt there are people who resent having anyone tamper with a single detail of classic shows they love so well that they know every word by heart. Not us. Allegra and I were in sheer show-tune ecstasy, and it took every ounce of self-restraint we possess to resist singing along, not to mention jumping out of our third-row seats during the effervescent number “The Night They Invented Champagne.

        And as if that weren't thrilling enough, knowing someone in the cast added yet another soupcon of drama. That is to say, I must confess that I alternated between being ready to levitate or to almost plotz every time Hannah would appear and approach our side of the stage.

Allegra and Hannah Florence.JPG       Afterwards, we waited at the stage door until she appeared, and Hannah (who has adopted the stage name Hannah Florence) seemed genuinely delighted to see us.

      Then, despite the massive quantity of uncooked sea critters we’managed to consume only hours earlier, Allegra confessed to a craving for a "New York slice." I think it was less a matter of hunger, frankly, than her own version of living each day as though it were her last – in this case, her last in New York, which for the moment it practically was. 

Starita's Margherita pizza.jpg

       With luck, we realized that we were only a block or so away from Don Antonio by Staritaour favorite pizza vendor in New York (the American cousin of a famed pizzeria in Naples, Italy, that purports with ample justification to be the world’s best).

       I agreed to go along with her just for the company and a glass of wine. But one look at the gooey cloud formation of freshly melted mozzarella atop her sizzling Margherita pie and I must confess that I did my share to make it disappear (although once again we had met our match and only managed to down half).

      It was a good thing that by then I'd nearly had my fill of both fun and food, for the next day was gig day and we hit the ground running.

       Being a jazz singer may sound like a life of pure glamour, but like anything else it takes hard work behind the scenes. Allegra had managed to book the club weeks earlier and hire a four-piece band to back her up, all arranged by emailing back and forth from Hong Kong.  She also had already held a rehearsal the day before, but still needed to make copies of all the music they would perform and then go get her hair cut and curled.

Allegra was running late for her gig.JPG

       By the time we had returned by subway to her apartment on Roosevelt Island, we were both already exhausted. But this was no time for a nap. By the time she had warmed up her voice while throwing on a curvy polka dot dress, high heels, and makeup, we were already dangerously late

       This being her only New York show for the foreseeable future, we had compiled a fairly extensive guest list. Many of Allegra’s friends were coming on their own, but my husband and I had reserved 16 seats to accommodate our own group.

WhyNot Jazz Room was completely booked.JPG

      So I was alarmed to arrive at the clubWhyNot Jazz Room in the West Village, at the same moment as two uncles of one of Allegra’s former boyfriends, who remain family friends. No, that isn’t quite accurate. I was absolutely delighted to see them, but alarmed to learn that they didn’t have a reservation. The place was fully booked.

      I promised to try to fit them in at our table, but to my horror the hostess proceeded to usher me to a table for eight beside a table for four. How would we ever fit 16 people there, let alone an additional two? Maybe kids are happy to squeeze in and make room for one more, or maybe even six. Our friends, however, are no longer kids.

Michelle, Allegra and Mystral at WhyNot Jazz Room.JPG

       Moments later, one of my son’s former college roommates turned up unexpectedly with a young woman in tow. They didn’t have reservations either.

      Then our good friends Sally and Dial appeared, only to announce that their son Sam would be joining them. Hadn't he called to let me know?

        He had not.

       I don’t know why I feel like I am throwing a bat mitzvah every time Allegra performs. But as a nice Jewish mom, I want everyone to be happy, and that means everyone needs to have a seat, whether they have reserved one or not.

Allegra's gig at WhyNot Jazz Room.JPG

       My husband would have told me to relax – that it was really NOT MY PROBLEM. But my husband was somewhere stuck in traffic. So for now it was my problem. So was having to explain repeatedly, as people began to arrive, where the heck he was.        

       I stood around sweating and fretting while trying to  warmly greet everyone who walked in. It was a bat mitzvah all over again, minus the Torah portionmotzi and chopped liver.

       But finally my husband surfaced after being MIA and told me that a cousin had canceled at the last minute. Then Sam squeezed in beside his folks and a pair of Allegra’s friends failed to show up, so the uncles got the table saved for them.

Liz and the fam at WhNot Jazz Room.JPG

       And by the time my daughter suddenly launched into her first song, I realized that this wasn’t a bat mitzvah, after all. Nor was it a matter of life or death. It was just fun.

      The fun continued when Allegra invited us to join her friends for dinner after the show at a nearby Italian ristorante.

       And if spending the night before in Gay Paree hadn't been the pinacle of pure fun, we reached it while treating Allegra and her entourage after that to dessert at my favorite spot in the Village, Big Gay Ice Cream. (I recommend the cone called American Globs, soft-serve vanilla dipped in sea salt, chocolate-covered pretzels and dark chocolate. Need I say more?) 

Allegra and friends at Big Gay Ice Cream.JPG

       The succeeding few days continued to be so lively, lovely and action-packed – and yes, fun – that if they had been my actual last days on earth, I would have gone a happy woman to my grave.

Brunch at Stacey and David's.JPG

       My husband and I were invited to an elegant brunch at the exquisite New York apartment of a wonderful couple named Stacey and David, who are close friends of our friends Sally and Dial.

      Then some other friends of our friends took us on an epic tour of the many art galleries in Chelsea, where we spent the rest of the day viewing everything from sleek modern sculptures to framed originals of the incomparably witty and sardonic nice Jewish cartoonist Roz Chast.

Grilling salmon on Roosevelt Island.jpgManhattan skyline from Roosevelt Island rooftop.jpgRoz Chast's Ten Plagues for Today's Seder.jpg

       Then, although I was ready to collapse, we took a subway to Roosevelt Island and had our first lavish barbecue of the year on the roof of Allegra’s building overlooking the city skyline.

       Then we raced down to the West Village because (just when you would imagine our daughter must be getting sick of us by now), she invited us to join her and her friends to hear famed Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez perform at the Jazz Standard.

Allegra and friends with Danilo Perez.jpg

      Never mind the usual, “Are we having fun yet?” Rather, how could it be that we fogies were still having fun? That was the question.

     And still the fun was far from over. It continued. For three more nights… reaching a decided crescendo on our last evening together, when our entire family went out for dinner and dancing at Swing 46, a classy nightclub on West 46th Street where my son plays the bari saxophone every Wednesday night as part of the renowned Stan Rubin Orchestra.

Aidan (far right) playing at Swing 46.jpg

       And still, before turning in for the night, to top it all off we stopped in for, yes, yet another New York slice.

       It is any wonder that my spirits crashed the next afternoon when three weeks of fun came to an abrupt halt in front of an airline terminal at JFK?

       Perhaps it was that Allegra had been home long enough this time for it to seem like old times. We had begun to feel like she was back for good. Then she was gone again in a flash.

Bidding Allegra bon voyage again at JFK.JPG

       Or perhaps the problem was something else. They say that you can’t be too thin or too rich. But perhaps you can have too much fun.

       Oh, well. Given the choice, I would happily have it all over again.

       Thank heaven for little girls, for little girls get bigger every day… but never too big to come home again.

      Those days with my daughter may not have been my actual last days on earth. But at least now I have memories to last… until she comes home again, and the fun begins anew. 

       

4:16 pm 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

10:50 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
    
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LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
                                                                                           
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The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

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