Mother Daughter Mashup

Mother and daughter respond to life, love, and growth.

Created Families

by Emilia Diamant

My biological extended family has always been spread out — we were in Boston while my mother’s family was in South Carolina and Georgia; my father’s mostly in Florida. I saw my grandparents once or twice a year when I was younger, but as they aged and I grew up that dwindled. While this might sound sad, it wasn’t all bad. It was nice to see my family for large gatherings, we enjoyed each company and had less of a chance to drive each other crazy.

But what I always did have was an extensive network of “aunties” and “uncles”, pseudo-siblings and adult friends. Every Christmas we went to Auntie Renee’s to decorate her tree. The first time my parents went away for a weekend without me, I stayed with EJ and Madeline. Noa, Michael, Zack, and Lev were always my big sibs. These were people we spent Shabbat with, who taught me how to take a shot (at the Passover seder), and who have given me some of my most treasured gifts.

These are people my parents chose–for themselves, and for me. They are in my life because they were carefully selected. Many people have these elective families, and it’s easier to get along with them because they are just that–selected.

As I grow older, I see my own created family beginning to take shape. Ben and Chad are my brothers. Annette, Bryan, Jay, and Pam are other sets of parents/older cousins…. their kids my sibs. Lorel and Arnie are another set of aunt and uncle. Renee is still my auntie, and she brought along Bert and Mike, who are now part of the clan.

What a beautiful gift from my parents.

I look forward to passing along a strong family, in all senses, to my own children one day. v

Children and Art

by Anita Diamant

Turning my kid into a theater nerd was not planned but probably inevitable.

I remember Showboat, too, and the out–of-town gentleman who took such pleasure in Emilia’s delight. She walked out of the theater gob-smacked and hooked.

My first non-work-related overnight away from my one-and-only child occurred in 1993 when Jim and I went to see Angels in America/Millennium Approaches. After reading the reviews, I knew I had to see it with the original Broadway cast, set and staging. It lived up to the hype and it was a life-changing experience. That’s what live theater can do, Emilia learned. That’s why we go to the theater.

Jim and I took her to see a lot of terrific productions on and around Broadway: As You Like It. Kiss Me Kate. Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk and Gypsy starring Bernadette (we love you) Peters. Grown up fare. Sometimes, too grown up.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told had great reviews and it sounded like a hoot, so I got us tickets, good seats, stage left. The curtain rises in The Garden of Eden, revealing Adam and Steve, buck naked.  The three of us sat, eyes straight ahead, frozen. Most embarrassing parenting moment ever. The rest of the show was clothed and we didn’t mention the, uh, incident until we were in the car. Emilia reassured us that she would not be scarred for life. She had known about the existence of penises going in, even seen baby boys in the altogether. Or maybe I’m making that up and she said the evening would be something to discuss with a therapist when she grew up.

I didn’t mean for this to happen, but nudity turned into a theater-going theme for us. A few years later, we saw Wit, another well-reviewed show that ends (unbeknown to me) with the heroine facing into the bright light of her own death, fully, frontally nude. We were all surprised but it was a beautiful kind of shock and we talked about what it meant on the way out.  Take me Out features scenes of a locker room full of naked, gorgeous men – she was in high school and I’d already seen it so she/we were braced. When we she was a freshman at NYU (no surprise there) we took her to Avenue Q, unprepared for the graphic puppet sex, by far the raunchiest, I-wish-I-wasn’t-next-to-my-parents moment of all.

Taking Emilia to plays and musicals was not a sex education strategy. If there was a lesson in taking her to the theater it was that anything can happen: actors forget lines, lights go out, audience members misbehave, minds are blown, hearts are opened, clothing might be shed. You never know. You open the program and you could be transported, you could be bored.  We’re all in the dark when the curtain rises, parents and children, going on the ride, in the same boat.

In Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim wrote a song in which an old woman names the two most important things in her life. The song is called “Children and Art.”


Certified Theater Nerd

by Emilia Diamant

When I was seven, my parents took me to my first Broadway show. It was “Showboat.” It was extraordinary.

My family didn’t go on exotic vacations when I was younger. No cruises, no tropics, no backpacking.

But what we did was, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion, so much better.

We would get in the car and drive to New York to see shows. We’d have one or two planned tickets purchased already, then go to the TKTS booth to fill in the gaps. We’d either stay at low-cost and (ahem) “funky” hotels, or with my parents friends who lived in the Tri-State area. Instead of spending cash on extravagant dinners, I ate up the theater–on and off Broadway, mainstream and off the beaten track.

At “Showboat”, we sat next to a lovely older gentleman who was there alone. He asked if this was my first show, and when I responded yes, I remember he was thrilled for me. The spectacle that followed, with sets and costumes and voices floating above my head, was beyond what I could have imagined.

Years later, I saw RENT. My parents still say I floated down the street afterwards, completely enamored with the score, not even realizing how lucky I was to have seen most of the original cast. My nickname had been Mimi since the third grade. It rang a special bell.

I was a theater nerd because of these trips, and because of my parents. We would listen to Sondheim CDs in the car–”Sunday in the Park with George”, “Merrily We Roll Along”, “Into the Woods”, to name a few. I have his entire library memorized to this day. At day camp, I chose theater classes and jumped at the chance to perform. I loved to sing, to dance, to play a part. We would go to New York every year or so and I would suck up all the culture I could. I would return home renewed and ready to be in the spotlight again.

This part of my identity is inextricably linked to my parents. They have instilled me with a sense of theater right (Sondheim) and wrong (Lloyd Webber). They have encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and stood  behind me when I decided that acting was actually not my calling. They were by my side at every show, especially when we would bookend my academic years at NYU with a show.

The most memorable, and most recent, show we saw as a family in New York was the revival of “Company”. It was there, while Raul Esparza sang “Being Alive” and I blubbered like a baby, I realized the gift of nerd-dom has influenced me in so many ways. My vocabulary is stronger thanks to Sondheim’s ability to turn a phrase. I can speak publicly without rehearsal or a script because I was encouraged to perform. I can dance–thank goodness.

From “Showboat” to “Company” and a million performances in between…NERDS UNITE!

My Tattoo

by Emilia Diamant

I knew when I went to get my first tattoo that the hardest part wouldn’t be the pain (although it did hurt quite a bit), it would be telling my mother. I had the idea when I was living in Israel, where I fell in love with Hebrew–it’s twists and turns and calligraphy were captivating to me. Chazak, strength, meant to me that I would always be strong, even in moments of weakness or distress.

Despite the importance, I knew it would be a challenge to tell my mother. When she saw it for the first time she basically sighed and said “well, okay.” So, that’s where we are with it.

Its funny though, because I forget (quite frequently) that my tattoo is even there. I don’t frequently look at my shoulder blades in the mirror, and when I do it’s almost startling to see the ink there. In summertime I am more aware of my tattoo, when I go to the beach or wear a sundress–thanks to a parental predilection for sighs and tongue clicks.

But the most unexpected byproduct of my tattoo has been that it is a teaching tool. As a Jewish educator, tattoos are a bit of an iffy situation. One of the reasons I inked in a spot that could easily be covered was to avoid questions from teens, bosses, or co-workers. But as I thought about it more and more I realized that my tattoo story was not one of impulse or drunken stupidity, but one of thought and meaning. I had the idea when I was 16, and didn’t get the tattoo until I was 23. I found the design, made an appointment, and brought friends for support. We had dinner to celebrate after–it felt like this hugely adult moment.

So, I can use this story to talk to my teens. About the important distinction between impulsivity and planning. I’ve seen kids get tattoos that are ugly/tacky, misspelled, or not important to them. They regret it later. The thing they all have in common is they didn’t think about it. From a modern Jewish perspective, I think the key is thought, planning, and meaning. I don’t have a need to be buried in an Orthodox cemetery, so why not choose to make careful choices with my body that might preclude me from that? I should be able to do what I want to my body in this life, in a way that doesn’t sully or harm me.

I know my mother disagrees–a tattoo is, after all, done with a needle. The skin is altered. But for me it’s almost as if Chazak was always supposed to be there.

Next up? A giraffe outline on my foot, to remind me always of my grandfather, Maurice, who loved the majestic silent creatures. Maybe she’ll like that one?

Her Tattoo

by Anita Diamant

Emilia was a precocious kid. When she about 8 years old we were sitting on a park bench people-watching, when a teenager wearing a belly-button ring passed by. She said, “You won’t have to worry about that.”

“No belly button piercing?” I asked.

“Silly Mommy.”

“No tattoos?”

“No,” she said and rolled her blue eyes.

You know where this is going. My daughter is 27 years old, and while she has no ring in her navel and has removed the industrial piercing through the cartilage in her right ear, she does have a tattoo.

Jews are not supposed to get tattoos. It’s in the Torah, Leviticus 19: 28. “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves” followed by the words, “I am the Lord,” so you know this rule comes from the top.
The Torah also tells us that picking up bread on the Sabbath and sassing our elders are punishable offences.

In the aftermath of the Nazi holocaust, it seemed that tattooing would be forever associated with numbers burned into the flesh of concentration camp slaves – a mutilation of body and soul.

But those tattoos are no longer a primary point of reference for people under the age of 40. According to a 2007 poll of 1,500 people conducted by the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds and 40 percent of 26- to 40-year-olds have at least one tattoo. I haven’t seen a survey of Jewish 18-40 year-olds, and while the figure might be lower, it’s probably pretty close.

Tattoos on Jews include flowers and butterflies. But if you Google “Jews and Tattoos,” you’ll see stars of David, as well as Hamsas (a hand meant to ward off the evil eye), dancing rabbis, and one famous “Kosher pig.” A friend spotted a full-color diagram of the Kabalistic sepherot (mystical spheres) inked on an upper arm.

My daughter’s tattoo is on her shoulder blade; three Hebrew letters that spell out Chet, Zayin, Kuf, which spells chazak and means “strength.”

She told me she was going to get that very tattoo when she was fifteen years old and returned from a semester-long high school program Israel. Ten years later, she did it.

Emilia says, “It’s the word used when you finish reading one book of Torah and go to the next. It reminds me that we go from one thing to the next in strength. Israel was a time of transition for me, and I feel like it reinforces that message of strength that is inside me forever and ever.

“It’s also about a sense of pride, a display of who I am that you might not be able to tell by just looking at me.”

Emilia’s tattoo makes me feel … wistful.

When she was four months old, I discovered a scratch across the bridge of her nose. It might have come from a toy or her own fingernail. It was nothing and it
healed quickly, leaving the faintest of scars, invisible to everyone but me. But to me, it was a reminder of her vulnerability and my inability to protect her against the inevitable wear and tear of life. An early lesson in letting go of what wasn’t mine to keep.

Chazak, Emilia!

A List of Music

by Emilia Diamant

I have clear memories of my parents dancing together in the kitchen of our two family home in Newton. They were in the middle of cooking dinner when they would stop for a quick dance break. There was always music playing in that house, from the three tiered CD/tape/record player in the living room, over the speakers my dad had wired into the kitchen. The artists below are ones I still associate with watching my parents dance, or swinging my arms around and singing at the top of my lungs in the other room while I waited for dinner:

James Taylor
Shawn Colvin
Buena Vista Social Club
Bonnie Raitt
Billy Joel
Gloria Estefan

There’s probably more I’m forgetting.

The take-away? Music is part of my family. My parents are both music enthusiasts, and they passed it along to me–from singer songwriters to jazz to musical theater and most of the inbetweens.

They do not, however, seem to share my love of Nicki Minaj or Ke$ha.

Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Music that turns anger into solace

by Anita Diamant

A few years ago, I wrote song lyrics with and for jazz composer Bert Seager. It almost seems that those one could have been created for this moment in time.


Last night I heard the music
Songs from a broken heart
Out of a ravaged city
Where the reasons fell apart

Melodies sung by mourners
How does the soul survive
How can we bear not knowing
Will the promise stay alive?

But if someone’s writing music
In the darkness, in the ruins
There a hope of turning anger
Into solace, in a tune

On a piano, with a banjo
Or a lone voice in a room
Someone’s playing, someone’s singing
Morning’s coming, coming soon.

Never forget the sorrow
Never regret the tears
Just as the birds make morning
Voices can banish fear

‘Cause if someone’s writing music
In the darkness, in the ruins
There a hope of turning anger
Into solace, in a tune

On a piano, with a banjo
Or a lone voice in a room
Someone’s playing, someone’s singing
Morning’s coming, coming soon.

The song appears on the album  REQUITED, whichis available for download or CD purchase on CDBaby. Performed by Bert with a great combo and singer Rebecca Shrimpton.

The Marathon Forward

by Emilia Diamant

This is my city. I grew up a Masshole, I will always be one. My earlier posts here have shown just how much I missed Boston, and how grateful I am to be home. I’ve been at a loss the past few days–writing and rewriting, erasing over and over–trying to figure out what to write.

And now it seems like this particular part of the nightmare might be over.

But now comes our marathon of recovery. The mourners have grieving to do, the survivors have rehab to endure and those near the blast will address issues related to PTSD–sleeplessness, anxiety, and more. Our entire city, nay our entire country, will continue to watch with baited breath as details come out, as our justice system (hopefully) does its work, and we get some answers. We’ll examine how this happened, look at every photo, examine every Tweet, and probably come up with the same answers we had on Monday–things like this just don’t make sense.

I say we have a marathon ahead of us because, as runners or those in recovery know, the road is long. There are phases–the beginning is easy, the middle feels impossible, right before the end you almost give up, and then there’s a finish line. But as we learned Monday the finish line isn’t always a safe or good place, sometimes it brings you to a new set of complications and needs and goals. But a finish means something accomplished, something achieved.

Recovery is more than twelve steps. A marathon is more than 26 miles. These things take time, training and re-training, and endurance. We are now in this for the long haul, Boston. My city has been hurt and we are going to take years to recover.

But tonight, just maybe, we can all sleep a little easier knowing that we’ve started the marathon forward.

Primary Colors

by Emilia Diamant

My city is red and blue and yellow and grey now

The gold dome is gleaming like nothing happened, the sun beats down without thought for the dead and maimed

Insensitive sun. Insensitive dome.

And we glance at each other for a millisecond longer than usual

Unsure if we should smile or if a suspecting scan is appropriate

My city is crying with wails of sirens and mourners

They harmonize above the chirps of birds threatening spring showers

The conductors call out for more vigilance and care underground

And I hold my breath at each open and close of the doors

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

My city is empty

Peeking our heads out we walk the dog quickly

Make jokes when we can but really nothing feels funny yet

And our TV screens are exhausted, as we are, as are the brave ones

Who likely haven’t slept in days

My city will return

But not today.

Boston Common Memorial

Boston Common MemorialIMG_5067 IMG_5068 IMG_5070

Pop up Memorials

by Anita Diamant

I’ve been walking into walls the past few days, trying to make myself believe that Boston was a target of terrorism — is a target of terrorism. I had to watch that video 20 times for it to sink in: The plume of white smoke, the screams, the second explosion, the heroic rush to rescue.

Two days later, Commonwealth Avenue in Newton was swept clean of paper cups and orange peels. The trees are budding. The beauty of this spring feels like an affront to the dead, the wounded, the mourners, and all the rest of us who find ourselves walking into walls as we put one foot in front of the other.

On Wednesday night, I took my “little” girl to the Big Apple Circus. Emilia is 27-years-old and has two inches on me but this was our family tradition throughout her childhood and it was planned as a celebration of her move back to Boston after five years in the diaspora. I bought the tickets in February.

On her way downtown on the T, Emilia was reminded at every stop to be vigilant. Passing Massachusetts General Hospital, Jim and I thought about lost limbs and broken hearts.

We were reassured by the K-9 patrol and state troopers posted outside the big top. We were happy to be part of a big crowd of families and children, gasping and giggling at the performance, terror-free for a couple of hours. After the show, we passed a local camera crew interviewing a dad who said something about how we can’t stop living and that’s what we were doing at the circus.

Not that we’re going to forget. There will be vigils and prayer services and moments of silence; plaques and bronze statues in memorium; charities and foundations funded to help and heal. All good. But it’s all still raw.

Before the circus, we took a walk around Boston Common. I wanted to see the gazebo and one of the temporary, do-it-yourself, shrines that now dot our city. Made of candle wax, roses, notes and posters, they serve as temporary memorials to the dead. And though God’s name is invoked, along with quotes from sermons and scripture, these offerings are more civic than religious.

Pop-up memorials owe their meaning and their random beauty to the efforts of a community of neighbors — and strangers. They express the emotional connection and commitment that comes with being a citizen — of Boston, the USA, the human race. They affirm the consolation of solidarity. All are welcome.

We are much too familiar with these heart-breaking shrines. Oklahoma City, 9/11, Tucson, Sandy Hook; I hate seeing Boston added to the list. I hate the list.

But it can’t end with hate. I add a few words to the local colloquy about who we are, I sign up to give blood, and I promise not to surrender to the lie that we are helpless to stop this madness.


This piece was cross-posted on WBUR’s Cognoscenti. 


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