Mother Daughter Mashup

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

The Menorah on Top

by Emilia Diamant

If you had told 15-year-old Emilia that she would be sitting next to her mother in an extremely crowded theater watching a movie about sex, dating, relationships, and ABORTIONS, she would have slapped you right in the face. But 28-year-old Emilia was thrilled that her Mom wanted to go, and despite some moments of generational translation and slight discomfort, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

I wasn’t a very nice teenager. I slammed doors, I yelled, I withheld important information, I was unpleasant. So it’s funny to think that now, when I saw the trailer for “Obvious Child”, my first thought was that I wanted to see it with my mother. So we went–to Coolidge Corner, where I saw no less than three people I knew (all from lefty Jewish worlds, naturally)–and saw it together. 

The film first–fantastic. Spoke so truly to me, to my experience as a Jewish 20-something, as a woman, as someone who has been in and out of relationships, as someone who cares about my right to make decisions about my body. Jenny Slate has long been a favorite character actress of mine for a while now (see Parks and Rec or The Kroll Show), and seeing her featured in a film was hugely gratifying.

Beyond rooting for Jenny as a professional, watching her in the film felt like looking in the mirror. She may be shorter, skinnier, and have more of a “Jew-fro” than I, but she is me. She references Birthright (hilariously) and has had lots of awkward moments and has dating disasters. She is flawed, loves her parents and sometimes feels lost. And when she’s feeling vulnerable or sad, she turns to her mother. I suspect that Donna (Slate’s character) slammed doors and yelled at her mom as a kid, too. I could imagine the character and her mother having the same conversations that I’ve had with my mother. Finally, a movie that spoke to me.

Second–seeing it with my mother. This felt like a meaningful step in our process of figuring figure out what it means for me as be an adult to live in the same city. This was a movie about a 20-something woman making big decisions, something that I do daily. Id on’t seek advice or counsel  from my parents  everyday, but I do talk to my mother when I am trying to parse the tough stuff. And it seems that Donna found in her mother what I’ve discovered time and time again with mine— It’s good to have your Mom for a cuddle, a cry, and words of wisdom. It was nice to see our relationship reflected onscreen–they were kinda bitchy to each other for a bit there, but in a pinch mom came through. Which is how many of our mother-daughter relationships are–complicated and dynamic. 

So, 15 year old Emilia would have been mortified. But I was thrilled. As a woman, a Jew, and a daughter.

“These days are ours”

by Anita Diamant

Emilia and I saw Obvious Child together. It’s an independent film by director Gillian Robespierre and stars Jenny Slate as Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn, as insecure and nervous as Woody Allen, only charming.

Obvious Child has gotten a lot of ink because it’s described as a movie about abortion – Donna’s abortion. It’s been called “brave,” because Donna doesn’t waver in her decision to abort the result of a night of unprotected sex with a guy she just met at a bar. She’s 28, single, a stand-up comedian trying to make it living with a loyal, sane roommate in a tiny apartment, recently fired from her day job in a bookstore, which is going out of business. Also, nobody wakes up in the morning with her eyeliner intact. Might this be the first “fact-based” romantic comedy ever?

That’s right, romantic comedy. Girl meets boy, girl hooks up with boy, boy pursues girl, girl spurns boy until boy proves he’s more of a mensch than just about anyone she’s ever met. And then it looks like girl is going to get boy.

In the middle of all that, Donna has an abortion, an experience common to one in three American women (by the age of 45). Abortion is a widespread fact,a part of our lives. It may be an unwished-for and sad part, but one in three means that whether or not they know it, everyone in the United States has a daughter, sister, mother and/or aunt who have been through it.

When Jenny tells the sorry of her sad, unwished for and normal abortion during her stand-up routine, the camera pans the audience where the faces of young women radiate recognition, compassion and ruefulness.

I didn’t mean for this blog post to be about abortion. I thought was going to write something cute, comparing the experience of seeing Sleepless in Seattle with Emilia eleven years ago (her first grown-up rom-com), and how actress Gabby Hoffman played the best friend in both of them. I was going to write about the generational differences between the two films and the switcheroo feeling that comes with remembering how I used to identify with the romantic lead but now see myself in the supporting role as mother.

But given recent Supreme Court decisions about contraception and abortion, I had to get this off my chest the same way I had to go to the “Supreme Rally” at Boston City Hall. There were the usual too-many speeches, but for me the most memorable was Governor Duval Patrick’s. His message was, “Don’t be discouraged.”

He acknowledged that was asking a lot since so many of us had been at similar rallies forty years ago, fighting a battle we thought was won.

But I did feel encouraged because it was such a young crowd. I saw many more women and men under the age of 40 than past it. Some of the most compelling speakers –who are also leaders and organizers of the rally and organizations working for reproductive choice — were also young and a few of them were brilliant women of color.

I hadn’t been to a political rally in years, but the fact that Emilia wanted to go but wasn’t able to attend is what got me there. As much as I support women’s rights, as much as I am outraged by the Supreme Court decisions about buffer zones and Hobby Lobby, I was there for her.

 

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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.

ANTHEM

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. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bertseager3

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.

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