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September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Mordechai’

Talking With Your Mouth Full

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Welcome once again to “You’re Asking Me?” – the column that answers all kinds of questions, depending on how loosely you define the word “answer.” Whereas other so-called advice columns are interested in providing you with well-researched advice, my concern is more to get you to stop asking me questions, by whatever means necessary.

This week, we’re going to start with a parenting question, which we advice columns tend to get a lot of, because it’s not like kids are born with little instruction manuals. Sure, there are manuals you can BUY (sold separately), such as Your Baby’s First Year and Your Baby’s Second Year, but then the manuals just sort of stop. There’s no book called Your Baby’s Ninth Year, even though I definitely need one of those at this point. Aren’t they just supposed to have moved out of the house by now?

But this column isn’t really about my important parenting questions. It’s about your important parenting questions, such as this first one from E.G., who has a question about Parent-Teacher Conferences:

 

Dear Mordechai,

I recently attended parent-teacher conferences for my son, who’s in high school, and the good news is that there was cake. So my question is this: Why is the cake at these things always stale?

E.G., Monsey  

Dear E,

The simple answer, no offense, is that “otherwise you’ll eat it all.”

No one’s really coming for the cake. It’s not like parents are rushing out of the house, going, “We have to get there on time or they’ll be out of cake!” No, you’re there to talk about your son, who keeps telling you how boring school is, and how it’s all basically speeches, all day, every day, on topics he knows nothing about. And technically he’s right, but this is a problem.

The cake, for the most part, is there for two reasons:

1. Decoration. The tables themselves are not much to look at, and often contain not-so-cheerful words carefully carved into them. So the school tries to cover them with tablecloths, and once there’s a tablecloth, there might as well be food.

2. Because the parents have driven in from who-knows-where during suppertime, and the faculty doesn’t want them to say, “This is why we came in? There wasn’t even cake!”

So there’s cake. But the last thing they want is to run out of cake. So they don’t put out good cake or else people wouldn’t stop eating it. Parents would be coming up to teachers, their mouths full, bits of cake crumbling out: “What do you mean, ‘I’m not your son’s teacher’?” So they want each person to have maybe one piece, and that’s it.

I think this is also why the soda is always warm. Even if it’s freezing outside.

But the magical thing about stale cake is that even if everyone around you tastes the cake and says, “Whoa! That’s stale!” you’re still going to, for some reason, feel the need to taste it yourself. No one knows why. It’s like wet paint.

And no, I don’t know why the cake itself sometimes tastes like wet paint.

 

Dear Mordechai,

My child refuses to take any medication orally. We’ve even offered rewards and she’s turned them down. Any suggestions?

L.E.R., Facebook Dear L.,

I have the same problem with my kids. Kids are predispositioned not to like anything that their parents say is good for them. And what do you say when you give them medicine?

So why on earth would they want to take it?

Sure, the manufacturers try coming up with flavors they think kids will actually try, but the truth is they really have no idea what kids do and don’t like. These are the same people who put cartoon characters on band-aids, like the kids wouldn’t wear them otherwise. Yeah, band-aids are where the problem is. How about inventing a medicine that tastes good? “Sure, we’ve got a really bad artificial cherry, and popsicle sticks with no popsicles on them, and a bubble gum that you drink!”

But it turns out they do this on purpose. They’re faced with a dilemma: Do we make the medicine good enough that the kids will take it without a fight? But then the kids will sneak into the medicine cabinets when their parents aren’t looking. So we have to make it bad enough that they won’t do that.

So, using the stale-cake logic, they hit upon a flavor balance that’s neither good nor bad, where you’ll sometimes buy store-brand soda and throw it out because it tastes like medicine.

 

Dear Mordechai,

I’ve been called upon to speak in public, but I’m very nervous about it. Can you give me some tips?

M.S., Teaneck  

Gift Wars – December 2011

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Welcome once again to “You’re Asking Me?” It’s pretty much like your typical ask the expert column, with one minor difference (if you want to get technical): I’m not an expert on anything.  Just ask my wife.  A lot of these “experts” kind of talk to you like they know more than you, just because maybe they do.  Is that the type of person you want to ask?  Or would you rather vent in the general direction of someone whose life is just as messed up as yours, and won’t judge you, unless your question is really weird?

We’ll start off today with a really weird question that someone sent in, although I would never say so to his face.

 

Dear Mordechai,

            I was at Kosherfest (a kosher-food trade show) last month, trying and tasting kosher products, but I couldn’t find a single wig on display.  Are wigs kosher?

JB, Brooklyn, USA  

Dear J,

Thanks for your question, and thanks for telling me which country Brooklyn is in.

Yes, wigs are definitely kosher, if by “kosher” you mean “a Jewish thing”.  In the Goyish world, wigs and toupees are extremely socially awkward.  In fact, if you work in an office with a lot of Goyim, at some point they’re going to talk about it behind your back:

“Um…  Is she wearing a wig?  I don’t want to say anything.”

“Quiet!  She’s right there!”

“I mean it!  Is she bald, do you think?”

“I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure that’s a ponytail bump in the back there.”

“You think that’s weird?  That other guy is wearing a potholder on his head!  With his name on it!”

Ok, don’t look at me like that.  Every guy has, at some point, used his yarmulke to hold a pot or unscrew a light bulb or take something out of a toaster, or open a pickle jar.  (Okay, that last one is just ridiculous.)  Mostly it’s yeshiva guys that do this, because even if they remembered, when they bought food, that they also needed to buy a pot, there’s no way they remembered to buy something to hold it with.  They didn’t even buy something to stir what they were cooking, and have been using a series of rapidly-melting plastic forks.

Come to think of it, even if you’ve never used your yarmulka for this, it would actually be a great use for that pile of old yarmulkas under your bed.  You can just keep them in your kitchen drawers.  You already have your old undershirts under the sink for polishing silver, and your kids are using your old Shabbos shirts as smocks.  Pretty soon the entire house will be covered in Totty clothes.

And no, I don’t know what to do with old sheitels, weird swimming-pool pranks notwithstanding.  But if you think I’m going to answer the question you were really asking back there, you’re crazier than I am.

 

Dear Mordechai,

            What is the most unfortunate item you’ve ever gotten as a housewarming gift?

AS, Philadephia  

Dear A,

A houseplant.  Especially since I have kids.  I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but it’s basically like getting a big pot of dirt to keep in the house until it tips over.  Like there’s not enough dirt in my house. 

“No!  There’s also leaves!”

People like getting each other houseplants as housewarming gifts, because it has the word “house” right in the name.  But my feeling is that if Hashem wanted plants to grow inside, He would have planted them inside, like He does at the mall.  The only way to keep plants alive inside is to make them think that they’re outside – to keep them huddled up against a window, remember to open that shade every day AND NOT SPILL THE DIRT.  And that’s besides the fact that the average person can only remember to feed either his kids OR his plants.  Not both.  And the kids make noise when they’re hungry.  So it’s not looking good for the plants.

Seriously, though?  The only people I know that have successfully kept houseplants alive have decent-sized houses with lots of windows and no kids living at home.  Having a house full of plants is the socially acceptable alternative to having 27 cats.

 

Dear Mordechai,

            I have a sibling who I never really got along with, but now that we’re both grown up and have kids, I would like to show her that I’m an adult now.  What should I get her for Chanukah?

LR, Maryland  

Dear L,

A houseplant.  Especially if she doesn’t have a house.  You can tell her it’s an “apartment plant.”  Come to think of it, you can just bring her a pot of dirt and tell her there’s something planted in it, even though there isn’t.

Leftovers Exchange Program

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Welcome to “You’re Asking Me?” where we answer any and all questions — not necessarily in the hopes that we can make your issues go away by waving a newspaper at them, but more in the hopes that if we make enough jokes, you’ll forget what your problem was, unless you reread the beginning of the article, where we helpfully put your problems in bold face.

But you might as well write in, because everyone else who has all the answers is busy driving cabs and cutting hair.  Often at the same time.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Last month, my wife made food for nine days of Yom Tov, plus guests, not all of whom ate.  (Why on Earth are you coming to our house FOR A MEAL if you’re not going to eat?  Why not just come for Yom Kippur?)  And now we’re inundated with leftovers to the point where we have to prop a chair up against the fridge to hold it all in.  Every day the same foods come out of the fridge, and the same foods go back in.  I love my wife, but I’m so sick of leftovers that I’m considering moving back out to the sukkah.  What should I do?

DH, Passaic

 

Dear D.,

You can come to my house if you want.  We’re eating leftovers too, but they’re new to you.  The more you eat, the less I have to.

But the truth is that won’t help.  The real issue with leftovers isn’t that you’ve eaten this food before, it’s that no cookbook ever says, “Cook at 350 degrees for two hours, and then again at 275 four days later.”  And they all show this gorgeous picture that doesn’t look anything like the food you pull out of the fridge a week later.

Of course, there is something to be said for, instead of figuring out what to make after all those days of five-course meals, just taking something out of the fridge and heating it for the eighth time and trying to figure out what it is, based on various clues such as the fork that someone left in there, and whether that fork is milchig or fleishig.  Personally, I eat leftovers mainly to make room in the fridge.

But leftovers are definitely a huge issue for everybody.  What did they do in Europe when they had this problem?  None of the stories about gedolim ever say.

 

 

Dear Mordechai,

I’m a 15-year-old girl with a crazy family.  Every time we go out or someone comes to visit, I’m embarrassed to no end and make it a point to say, “I’m not related.”  How can I make my family more normal?

Red-faced in Monsey Dear Red,

You might not think it’s fair that people judge you based on how embarrassing your parents are, but there’s an expression: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  I’m not sure who came up with that expression.  I think it was Sir Isaac Newton.

 

Of course, saying that people are like apples is like comparing apples to… well… oranges, I guess.  That expression is also from a different time, when most people were home schooled, and they were born and died in the same little town, and there was no outside culture or phones or even texting.  (OMG, right?)  And if you spend your entire life in a perfume factory, you come out smelling like perfume.

But teenagers have always been embarrassed by their parents, because let’s face it – parents of teenagers are embarrassing.  They’ve been living on zero sleep for almost twenty years, and most of their time has been split between trying to put a roof over your head and using that roof as an argument to get you to follow their rules.  The last time they were in contact with anything cool or fun was two decades ago, and the reason your father is still wearing the same shirt that he bought in 1992 is that he hasn’t been able to treat himself to a shirt since then.

Marital Connection Plan (Second Of Two Parts)

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Dear Mordechai,

Our marriage has gotten stale. It’s not that we don’t love each other but with the kids and everything else there seems to never be any time for my husband and me. I’m sure we’re not the only ones but we need some real help. What can we do and how can we go about making time for our marriage. Everyone says just make time but that never seems to work.

Answer (Continued From Last Week)

Connection Plan #3: Have a Weekly Date Night. One night a week, no matter what, you and your spouse should go out alone to enjoy each other’s company. You can do anything, go anywhere and talk about anything, except three things: money, children and work (unless it’s exciting stuff – I got a promotion, our child has been selected as valedictorian, let’s plan our trip to Europe). Many couples laugh and tell me there’s nothing else to talk about. I reassure them that they’ll find something – they didn’t fall in love because of scintillating stressful conversations about kids and money. You fell in love discussing what was interesting to you. On your date nights, it’s time to return to that place in yourself where you are interested and interesting. It is on this night, the same night each week, that no one plans anything else without first clearing it with the other.

If you have young kids, make a standing arrangement with a babysitter or family member for that night of the week, or swap babysitting with a friend, if necessary. And if you must miss date night because you have to attend an event on the assigned evening, you must make it up on another evening that same week. The date must last a minimum of two hours. If a date day works better for you, go for it. If you have a newborn and are uncomfortable using a babysitter, take the infant with you, if you must, but get out of the house. Avoid meeting any other couple for at least the first two hours of your date. The date night is about one thing: enjoying each other’s company. It’s about kindness and tenderness. Talk to your spouse about the things he or she loves to talk about. Be quiet and listen. Enjoy your spouse’s voice, perspective and life energy. Tell a joke. Laugh at yourself. Hold your mate’s face in your hands and smile. With every giggle comes a deeper love and bond.

Take turns planning the date night, or create a “grab bag” of ideas for dating fun: Each of you writes on slips of paper, to put into a “grab bag”, three dates you would like to have. Pick one slip of paper out of the bag three or four days before the date and start planning it together. One couple’s grab bag ideas included painting, reading comic-strip books together and bicycling – three things they had never done since getting married, 17 years earlier. This way you avoid that stale moment in the car when both of you look at each other dumbfounded and say, “Whaddya wanna do?” I dunno. Whadda you wanna do?” which is another way of saying, “I’m not taking this date thing too seriously.”

Get yourself a little charged-up about spending alone time with your lover and soulmate. Make some nights a surprise, and don’t tell your spouse what you’ve planned until you’re already on your way out together. Every time out doesn’t have to be dazzling, just thoughtful enough to say, “I put some effort into this and wanted to find something different to do. Let’s find some new fun together.”

Your date night doesn’t have to be an extravaganza. Sometimes my clients tell me, “I live in a town that closes at 10 p.m.” But walking is a wonderful way to connect or having a drink at a hotel somewhere with music in the background – it lessens the intensity of a dinner out, where couples have to face each other and come up with fascinating material. It’s best to have somewhere to go, something to look at and to chat along the way. If it’s cold, walk in a mall and have fun people watching and window-shopping. Cooking is a creative and sensual experience, research recipes and purchase the ingredients together. Many megabook stores are perfect places for exploring. Have a cup of coffee, play some Scrabble and scan books together. Even a small bookstore offers a wide variety of reading. Sit on the floor between the aisles and share interesting points on many topics. Read each other some jokes, as well as some tips on making your marriage special. Spirit comes from inside: focus on fun and you’ll find the perfect play activities to enjoy together, with laughter.

Marital Connection Plan (First of Two Parts)

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Dear Mordechai,

Our marriage has gotten stale. It’s not that we don’t love each other, but with the kids and everything else there seems to never be any time for my husband and me. I’m sure we’re not the only ones but we need some real help. What can we do and how can we go about making time for our marriage. Everyone says “just make time” but that never seems to work.

Answer:

Every marriage needs a plan, a focusing tool to make sure the marriage is getting the attention it needs and deserves in the midst of the most hectic lifestyles. Following, is a simple plan to ensure that you and your spouse consistently place daily loving energy into your marriage.

This “connection plan” will help you and your spouse feel closer, warmer and more connected.

Connection Plan #1: Have Five Touch Points a Day. Touch your spouse lovingly at least five times a day. Kissing, hugging and hand-holding are all healthy touch points. (If your spouse kisses you and you “kiss back,” or calls you to say, “I love you” and you say “I love you too,” that is not considered one of your touch points. Your touch point must be a gesture you originated.) Try to make each touch point meaningful. Instead of a peck on the cheek, give a gentle kiss on the lips. Give a real-bear hug-hug, and count in your head for six seconds, that says, “I love every inch of you.” Let yourself feel as though you are melting into each other.

Touch points also include any caring activity: bringing your spouse a drink, writing a loving note, making a phone call just to say “I love you,” cooking a favorite meal, getting a favorite magazine, taking a phone call on your spouse’s behalf that your spouse wishes to avoid, or sending a greeting card or note of thanks, a flower or a balloon. Don’t let a day go by without thinking, “What simple thing could I do for my spouse that would put a smile on his or her face?” Then do it. Let your spouse know that he or she is in your thoughts and heart every day.

Leave a Love Note: As one of your touch points, consider leaving this note below as a quick message of loving thoughts. Place it on the fridge, in your spouse’s briefcase or drawer, or anyplace where your spouse will happen upon it.

Just because… • I love you. • Thank you for…. • I am looking forward to….

I can’t wait to… • Hold you. • Kiss you. • Talk to you. • Take a private walk with you. • Run a bath for you. • Give you a five-minute massage. • Make a romantic dinner for you.

Connection Plan #2: Have Four Talk Points a Week. The average couple talks only four minutes per day. It’s no wonder spouses don’t feel close and loved. Four days a week (at any point in the day or night), plan at least 45 minutes when you can be alone together and do something you both enjoy. And no, sleeping does not count. This could be a walk or other form of exercise, watching a video, reading to each other, dancing in your home, playing a board game or cards, cooking, having a cocktail, massaging each other, shopping (only if it’s fun for both of you), or anything else that will take you away from the stresses of life and into each other’s arms.

These activities add spice to life and lead to great relationship-building conversations about politics, community issues, interesting thoughts you’ve had after reading a book or seeing a movie, some deeper thoughts about your past, dreams, spiritual thoughts and how to help your kids grow. These aren’t the times to talk about problems with the kids, financial woes, work headaches, and so on. The purpose of the talk points is to increase your easygoing time together. Talking about the lighter things reminds you that the person you are married to can be the person with whom you enjoy life.

(To be continued)


RABBI NEUMAN is a Florida licensed psychotherapist and author of two books, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way (Random House) and Emotional Infidelity, How to Affair-proof Your Marriage and Other Secrets to a Great Relationship (Crown). He and his work have been featured many times on The Oprah Show, Today, The View and in People, Time and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida. For more information on his work, visit www.mgaryneuman.com or e-mail changingfamilies@mgaryneuman.com.

Being Vulnerable Is Dangerous

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

Dear Mordechai,

This is my first marriage and my wife’s second. She was left during her first marriage and things are now going pretty well with us. But I feel that, after four years, I still don’t know her that well. We spend time together, but not nearly as much as I’d like. She’s very independent and says all that mushy stuff and deep sharing is for teenagers, not mature adults. I understand her point and agree with it to some extent. But it seems that when I tell her something deep about myself — a childhood memory, a fear about our children — she’s a great listener but rarely shares the same. Otherwise she’s a fantastic person. So I don’t know if it’s me and that I should just understand, that this is the way it should be.

Answer: It’s probable that your wife is shying away from this type of sharing because it will make her extremely vulnerable to you. You will know her better than anyone else. She can hide somewhat from your children or from her parents. But you, as her spouse, will know every detail of her weaknesses and strengths. You will know what she really thinks about her parents, boss and friends. You will know the truth about who she is deep down, even when she’s been able to fool the rest of the world.

Being close to your spouse means being an open book. Perhaps she’s not as comfortable with herself as she thinks. Perhaps she’s hiding from herself emotionally and is therefore avoiding the closeness of a loving bond, as it will force her to deal with her own issues. Perhaps she’s afraid to become so close to you. Closeness will make both of you depend on each other. Maybe she can’t handle that, or is afraid she’ll disappoint you. Maybe she feels deep down that she’s just not good enough to deserve a wonderful marriage.

When we love deeply, we lose control, and we’re apt to get hurt and suffer deep emotional pain. Her first marriage may have demoralized her so much that she might still be dealing with guilt and self-blame, even though it may be far from the truth. She is simply afraid of being vulnerable, thus leading to being burned again. Therefore, she’s chosen to diminish her emotional risk.

I’m not suggesting that we consciously use these fears to sabotage our marriages. I don’t believe you get up in the morning and say, “I’ll put time and effort and deeper sharing into every other relationship except my marriage, because that closeness makes me uncomfortable.” I am merely pointing out that the potential push-pull struggle of being so close to your spouse, so much so that all your feelings are bared, can be frightening.

People are surprised to learn that they may be shying away from the very thing they say they desire. But we are complicated beings. We say we want to eat more healthfully and then we sneak a candy bar. We say we want to work harder but we find ourselves leaving the office early. We say we want a fabulous marriage, but we find clever ways of avoiding the necessary emotional intimacy. Your wife has found herself an excuse. In order for her to change, she’ll first have to recognize it as such. You can’t force her to be more open, but you can reassure her of your love and how you’d never use what she tells you against her (i.e. in a fight) and that you’re not going to “leave” her.

She still knows there are no guarantees, but love is always a gamble. All you can do is diminish her emotional risk by helping her know how much you love her and desire to know her deeply. Then you need to be patient. Most important, make sure that when she shares a little more, you simply receive it with kindness and understanding. That will prove to her that she can trust you and, over time, you’ll find her sharing more and being just a bit more like a teenager — in a good way, of course.

RABBI NEUMAN is a Florida licensed psychotherapist and author of two books, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way (Random House) and Emotional Infidelity, How to Affair-proof Your Marriage and Other Secrets to a Great Relationship (Crown). He and his work have been featured many times on The Oprah Show, Today, The View and in People, Time and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida. For more information on his work, visit www.mgaryneuman.com or e-mail changingfamilies@mgaryneuman.com.

Changing Families

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

Dear Mordechai,

My wife has read your articles and books. It sounds so nice to be able to put one’s marriage first. But let’s be real. I have a job, kids, minyanim to catch and daf yomi shiurim to attend. My wife and I are stressed over money. Who isn’t? Don’t you think you’re causing unrealistic expectations for marriages when you say, “put your marriage first?” How much can I work at my marriage when everything else is going on? Shouldn’t the work in my life be what I’m supposed to be doing, namely to make my marriage financially viable? Maybe there are times in a marriage that you shouldn’t expect to be so “in love.” My marriage won’t be happy if I’m broke.

Answer:

I’m happy that your wife has had the time to read my work. It’s a good thing she has a lighter schedule than you. Hopefully, you’ll have enough time to review my limited answer.

The number one myth of marriage is that after you fall in love, you don’t have to work at it anymore. Countless couples have told me, “If it takes so much energy, we must not be made for each other.” Somewhere, we have been improperly taught that true love is supposed to come easily. Once we’ve committed to each other through marriage, our love will take care of itself while we get on with life. We can now focus on jobs, kids and acquiring things like a house, cars and appropriate furniture. We see our spouse less as an individual and more as an ex tension of ourselves — a team dedicated to keeping the physical plant of our lives hearty. We begin to figure that whatever we’re doing is understood as serving the greater good of both of us. This should be enough to keep us madly in love, sexually attracted to each other and wanting to be together forever.

There isn’t one obvious theory that keeps this unfortunate pattern believable, but I think many desperately want to hold onto it to resist having to work so hard at love. It takes enormous energy to create and maintain a wonderful marriage. Great marriages are about “absorption”, a kind of fully-engaged connection that requires constant attention, a deep, soul-searching understanding of yourself and how it affects your ability to love. Giving it everything you’ve got sounds exhausting and disquieting.

We may say we want that wonderful marriage, but deep down we recognize that being sensitive to another human being is harder than most things we do. If all you are giving to your spouse is the energy left over from balancing work and family, you’re cheating your marriage.

Think back to when you fell in love. Do you remember what you talked about? Do you remember loving conversations you had about whether you had enough money to pay the full balance on your credit cards or if you should carry the debt further, or how you needed to spend less money so that you could pay the bills this month? And can you recall any romantic moments at dinner when you each interrupted your conversation at least six times to answer your cell phones, send off a quick e-mail on your Blackberry and discuss important business? You never had those conversations back then, because if you had, you wouldn’t have fallen in love. In fact, you would have run away from each other as fast as possible. Yet, this is life today, and you’re expecting to be happy and in love.

Putting your marriage first is about a state of mind. It’s believing that everything else that you consider important is dramatically impacted by your marriage. Whether you feel in love or lonely will affect every decision and action you make today. Marriage is a foundation for your world. With love in your heart and a sense of someone who cares deeply for you as your partner, you have greater energy and greater abilities to handle all of life’s tasks. Aren’t you a better parent on the day you feel close to your spouse than when you’ve just had a fight? Aren’t you more focused and energized at work the day after a romantic, loving evening with your spouse? Don’t you want to live more passionately when you feel loved and are able to give love? You should and you can. For every ounce of effort you put into your marriage, you will benefit tenfold; not only from the direct love you feel, but from the energy and focus you’ll have for everything else in your life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/changing-families/2006/01/18/

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