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Introduction to “Mishegas of Motherhood”: A Labor of Love Debuts

When I was in journalism school in the mid 80s and learned how to squeeze who-what-when-where-why-and how into one lead sentence, I had the privilege of meeting the late Erma Bombeck. Actually, I didn’t meet the best humorist writer personally, but I yelled a question to her from the back row of a packed lecture hall. I raised my hand high in the air and yelled out, “How do you deal with writer’s block?” Obviously, she had been asked this question many times before. Right on cue, she says, “Writer’s block is like North Dakota. It doesn’t exist.” Then she breaks up the burst of laughter with: “Well, has anyone ever seen North Dakota?”

Now I get what she means. As a Jewish parent of two young children (my son Jack just turned 11 and my daughter Sari is 7 going on 17), I always have something to write about, and I always have a prayer to turn to.

As I raise Jack and Sari in a public school where they are definitely a minority, I try to plant roots in their Judaism whenever I can, and I’m about as reformed as they come. I know this makes a difference because my daughter insists that the stars she brings home on all her math papers are Jewish ones. And her favorite food is Great Grandma Ruth’s cabbage borscht. The fact that Jack walks around the house chanting the V’ahavta—for the fun of it—makes me think that he knows he is a Jew and is proud of it. The ways that I try to reinforce their Jewish identify goes way beyond dragging them out of bed on a Sunday morning for religious school. It’s the little extras that we do as a family now and then to remember we are special. We are Jews.

For example, going to a Rick Recht concert not only gives us the opportunity to be together and hear great music, but I’m impressed with how my son actually understands the Hebrew words when he sings along. On Rosh Hashanah, especially on a beautiful fall day, we try to make a fun outing to a neighborhood park and perform the ritual of tashlich by casting away our “sins” in a big lake with floating ducks.

Actually, I started writing mom-related material even before my wailing, seven-pound redhead officially came into this world. In between contractions, I fidgeted in the hospital bed and scrawled random thoughts in my spiral notebook. One line reads, “The potocin is dripping into my veins and the pain is getting BAAAAAAAD!” Another paragraph begins, “My mother is serving homemade kamish bread to the nurses, and all I can do is suck on ice chips…”

Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to get paid to write about my experiences as a mom for a variety of local and national publications. In the beginning, I dragged my no-napper to all my assignments. One time we hit every bookstore in town and critiqued storytellers as we sat Indian style on the sticky carpeted floor. My toddler nibbled on rice cakes, while I scribbled notes and guzzled house lattes. I became addicted to caffeine, and Jack got hooked on carbs. When I conducted phone interviews at home and needed privacy, I often locked myself in my bathroom and used the closed toilet seat lid as a desk. Meanwhile, Jack would pound on the door for me to rewind his favorite Barney video.

When Sari came along, the writing slowed down, but never stopped. Since we love to cook together, I wrote a piece for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on festive holiday appetizers to make and munch with your kids. I also wrote for a regional newsletter out of New York about puppy love and how Sari still carries our toy poodle Luci around like a baby.

As my kids get older and the pressures of parenthood continually change, I sometimes find myself looking elsewhere for answers to everyday battles, like how to get everyone to sit down at the dinner table at the same time and actually swallow our food before someone jumps up to go somewhere.

I recently discovered that many of these answers to raising children are found not on the Dr. Phil show, but in the teachings in the Torah, the Talmud and the writings of the ancient sages. Jewish parents have followed these invaluable words of wisdom for thousands of years, and perhaps our parents and grandparents were on to this already. For example, the Fifth Commandment—“Honor Your Father and Your Mother”—is a good place to start, don’t you think?

What do rabbis and scholars from centuries ago know about the hassles of carpool line, the challenges of balancing good grades with batting practice, or the latest trend to hire professional motivators for extravagant bar mitzvahs? It turns out that the most time-tested advice on modern parenting struggles, from overscheduling kids to the focus on materialism, comes from the insights of the learned Jewish thinkers over the centuries.

Especially in today’s fast-paced and complex world, the Jewish lessons that command us to slow down and savor the moment, which is the purpose of Shabbat, have never seemed more appropriate.

This evolving column is a journey for me. So I invite any feedback, suggestions, prayers, or recipes along the way.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.