Today I am a (Wo)Man

Everyone chuckles at the bar mitzvah boy’s announcement. Not just because he’s so short that he has to stand on tip-toes to see out of his hat. But because we all know that, bar mitzvah or not, there’s no big black line that you step across to become a mature adult. It happens gradually, and not always at a regular pace.

That was what I was thinking about while reading some of the comments to last Monday’s post (“Are People Pitying Me?“). Far be it from me to say that people who get married at 19 are miserable and stuck in foreclosed identities (though I know there are some). The post was about me, and how I believe the extra time has made me more than ever ready for marriage. However, I know there are many women who didn’t need that extra time, and I don’t begrudge them their marriages.

Some of us are just late bloomers.

I’ve always known I was slow.

In 5th grade we learned about Helen Keller and our teacher asked us to write a composition about what we’d do if we had three days left to see. I didn’t have to think too hard about that one. I was in 5th grade, and had hardly seen a world that I’d read about extensively. I picked some of the sights I thought I shouldn’t die without seeing and wrote a little itinerary for my three days (allowing that my parents would have to  escort me).

The teacher asked who wanted to read theirs aloud, and of course the class goody-two-shoes (G2S) raised her hand. Then she recited an essay all about how she would spend the three days memorizing the facial features of her family. As she read, a smattering of students around the classroom surreptitiously picked their pens back up and oh-so-nonchalantly added another paragraph to their paper.

I was among them.

It would be fair to say that I resented her and her dumb composition (and who needs three days to remember what their parents look like anyway?). She had the right answer – always had the right answer. A right answer that showed me up – not for having the wrong answer, but for lacking… lacking something, some instinct that led her to the right answer. What exactly, I couldn’t say. But it wasn’t something you could learn from a book, or look up in an encyclopedia, or even understand by being told about it. Either you got it or you didn’t. And I didn’t. And that bothered me.

My best friend (BF), on the other hand, didn’t understand why I was so bothered. She’d written about going skiing and hadn’t felt the slightest compulsion to amend her story.

G2S was about a decade ahead of me in emotional development. I should mention that she was in the first wave of engagements and marriages. BF also got married, but a few years later. I wonder when she finally understood G2S’s composition, and if it had been sudden or gradual, early or late, if she’d even noticed at all. I wonder about all the other surreptitious paragraph-adders in the class.

But most of all, I wonder about what else there is that I might be missing. And when I’ll finally learn what they are.

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Paranoia

I was sitting and chatting with a bunch of pregnant women.

Said pregnant women being my MFs, of course. We were yakking about such wonderful bits of nature like morning sickness and stretch marks and I almost said, “Gosh I wish I was pregnant.”

The statement would have been meant to be ironic, considering the the subject matter. But I bit it off at the tip of my tongue because what if they took it to be a hint that I found the conversation insensitive? Or as a piece of self-pity? I was so terrified of this that I choked it back and instead introduced the comparison of shea butter versus cocoa butter.

And a minute later one of the MFs said, “I bet you wish you were pregnant, Bad4.” And everyone laughed.

I heart my friends. Why was I worried?

Friday Repost: Oh the Things That Excite

Life is challenging. Especially if you keep your bar for “challenge” nice and low. So I was understandably proud of this now routine accomplishment.

Request: After reading this post, please rate it below on a scale of 1-5, where one is “wow you were desperate for filler material” and five is “I’m going to bookmark this so I can go back and reread it every day.”

Backstabbing References

There’s a personality of folk who have very narrow definitions of acceptability. I’m not talking about any particular religious subset, as you can find people with narrow definitions of “us” almost everywhere. But life gets really fun when you step outside their line in the sand… and they’re playing at your shadchan.

Take the aidel knaidel Friend who decided to attend Brooklyn College instead of, say, Touro, Stern, or one of the various fake options. She knew it was a controversial step, but she didn’t realize how much until a former high school classmate called up with a shidduch idea. It was for a cousin of hers who was finishing a degree in the University of Southern Mississippi.

“I was like, does he have a chavrusa down there?” Friend related. “And she was like, ‘I don’t know, does it matter?’ So I go online and do some googling and I can’t even turn up any Reform shuls down there, let alone an orthodox one. There isn’t even a Chabad in Mississippi. So I’m like, ‘Why is he down there?’ and she’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ So I’m like, ‘Well find out and get back to me, okay?’ And she never did.”

‘Course it works the other way. Like the guy from Lawrence who decided to go to YU and whose aunt decided he had flipped out and kept trying to set him up with girls from Borough Park. Talk about confused.

Oh, it’s always fun when people try to set you up with the wrong sort of guy (“is he wearing torn cut-offs in that photo or is it my imagination?”) but it can get downright scary when such people are in your reference list. Thus found out the Friend who kept hearing that people were looking into her but never getting a date.

“Oh well, I guess it was never meant to be,” she assured herself while going on with her dateless life.

Until she received a worried phone call from Reference #4. “Friend,” Ref#4 said urgently, “What have you been up to?!”

“Oh the usual,” Friend answered. “Shopping, working, studying… why?”

“Not that,” Ref#4 dismissed, “I mean why do people think you’re modern?”

“What?”

“I keep getting shidduch calls from women who all say that they’ve heard that you’re very modern and they’re worried that you’re not right for their boys.”

Friend mulled that over in a shocked silence for a few moments. Granted, there had been the day she’d worn pink paisley rain boots, and one of her new skirts didn’t have a pleat it in anywhere, and she worked in downtown Manhattan and she’d been seen walking out of the Avenue J library with a DVD but… Seriously?

She passed a sleepless night performing a cheshbon hanefesh. Maybe her high school teachers wouldn’t cite her as a role model, but she wasn’t modern. (Whatever that meant: she knew she didn’t fit her own definition of it.) Morning found her quite decided: it wasn’t her fault. Someone was spreading rumors.

It was like living inside  a serialized Jewish novel. Her shidduch chances were being destroyed by a malignant gossip-mongerer. Someone was out to get her. Her life would be ruined by vicious slander and she’d be an old spinster one day visiting the nursing home for companionship when an ancient crone would come beg her for forgiveness before she died, admitting that she (the old crone) had been the one to tell everyone that she (Friend) was modern.

The most obvious place to start looking was her references list. So she started at the top, making friendly phone calls, discussing oh, life, the universe, and everything, and also all the mothers who had been calling about her recently…

It was Ref#3 who said, “Yes, and they were all planning to learn. I told them you weren’t interested.”

Whoa. Culprit identified!

“Um, what gave you that idea?”

“You did. Remember that conversation we had two months ago when you said that you weren’t interested in kollel learners?”

“Yeah, but I meant long-term learners. Not guys keeping regular sedarim and maybe learning a year or two after marriage.”

They worked out the little misunderstanding to the best that they could and Friend moved Ref#3 to the bottom of the list. So much for the malignant gossiper. Why does melodrama only happen in novels?

Getting Together

I wrote this mostly to annoy my writing professor, who doesn’t seem enamored with rhymes, unenjambed lines, and iambic meter. Still, I think it applies to most of us in the single age and stage, when our friends start scattering.

Getting Together

Leah!

What luck bumping into you out on this street

It seems like forever since our last meet

What do you say that we go out to eat

At six on Tuesday in Brooklyn?

Leah:

It’s so great to talk, so tell me, what’s new?

I’d love to spend time catching up with you

But I’ve got to work late—cuz there’s so much to do

So how about coffee at nine?

Esther!

Esther, my friend, tell me whattaya think—

You, me, and Leah get ourselves a drink?

If that’s inconvenient I won’t make a stink

If we just have dinner at six in Brooklyn.

Esther:

Haven’t seen you or Leah in way too long

I’d love to meet-up—don’t get me wrong

But my thesis is due and the end must be strong

So how about something on Thursday?

Gila!

Gila there’s something I’d like to discuss,

Why don’t you come get together with us?

At nine Tuesday or Thursday or I won’t make a fuss

If we have dinner on Tuesday in Brooklyn.

Gila:

I haven’t seen you in what seems like a year

I’d love to hang out—but choose someplace near.

The long train ride home in the night is a scare

How ‘bout joining me up in the Heights?

Me:

I like all you guys, wanted to meet you at six

But your schedules are such that I must choose betwixt

All of you and I can’t figure out who to nix

So I’ll stay home and reheat some pizza.