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A Greek Orthodox Funeral

 

A few weeks ago, I went to a funeral at a Greek Orthodox Church. The death was expected, though still sad. I’d kept in touch with one of my clients (from my senior center internship), visiting and calling her on a regular basis for the past two years. She had been actively dying for at least fifteen years (from cancer), and inspiring everyone with her persistence and her capacity to live fully within her limitations. But for the last year, things were slowly coming to an end and we talked our way through it together; coming to peace with her death, as much as that’s possible.

The funeral was open casket. Jewish funerals are, traditionally, closed casket, so this was not something I was really prepared for. Even from my seat six rows back, I could see her head clearly (they cranked up the bottom of the casket, with an actual crank, to make her visible during the funeral, and then cranked her back down at the end so they could close the lid). I think I was the only one in the room who didn’t go up to talk to her. They had dyed her hair, and put on makeup, so she looked sort of alive, but not really like herself.

The only people I knew at the funeral were from the senior center, and a few family members; everyone else was a picture I’d seen, or a story I’d been told (she was a great story teller). She told me, often, that I should write her life story for her, and I told her, just as often, that I wanted her to write it for herself. But she never did. I know there are rules about this in the social work code of ethics (avoiding dual relationships), but also just for me, writing her stories would have felt like stealing.

I didn’t start crying until the eulogies started. The director of the senior center talked about my former client as if she was right there in the room (she was!), and I used up all of my tissues within minutes, and had to reuse them, until I was basically wiping my face with snot (don’t judge me, I was desperate).

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The saving grace was the distraction of the Greek orthodox rituals. I could focus on my curiosity and hold the grief at bay, just a little bit. The sanctuary had a domed ceiling, and gold painted apostles on the walls, and hidden doors where the gofer (I’m sure there’s a more dignified title for him, but I don’t know it) would sneak in and hand one of the clergymen something they needed. One clergyman was dressed in all black and stood in front of three microphones. The other one wore dramatic white robes, with an overlaid floor length scarf, and had a microphone attached to his head so he could walk through the room and swing incense around the coffin and down the aisle.

They both kept talking about how my former client had “gone to sleep” (at least in the English, I can’t tell you what they said in Greek or Latin). And with the raised pillows, and the hair and makeup, you could almost believe she really was just sleeping. The fact is, she would have loved to have been there, just to hear what people were saying about her, and of course, to critique all of the performances.

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As they wheeled her (now closed) coffin out of the building, the crowd followed her out through two enormous steel doors into the fresh air. Everything about the setting was so dramatic and impressive. She would have loved that.

I knew she was ready to die, and that her body had been ready for even longer than her spirit, and I was relieved for her when the end came. But she took up such a big space in my heart – as one of my first clients as a social work intern, but also as a friend. And I miss her.

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It was a hard day. I sat with my former supervisor afterwards, both of us trying to absorb the loss and put it into some kind of safe, protected place where it wouldn’t leak out into the rest of our lives. But grief doesn’t really work that way. I remember everything: the times when my client was heartbroken, and enraged, and confused, and as lost as a child. The times when I couldn’t wait to see her, and couldn’t stop laughing, and the times when she cut me so deep I could barely breathe.

The idea that social workers can have a full caseload of clients and not be impacted by them, and not care about them, or miss them, or hate them, or love them – is crazy. We’re human. Yes, we have to choose how to behave, given those feelings, and follow our codes of ethics as far as we can, to make sure we are doing no harm, but the connections are real.

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My former supervisor goes to a lot of funerals. That’s what happens when you work with seniors as your life’s work (and maybe why I’m reluctant to follow her down that path, even though I really like the population). You meet people and make connections and do as much as you can to help them, and then, often, you watch as they slip away. Seniors are just as complicated and troubled as everyone else, but maybe more so because they are usually more aware of death, and sometimes that makes them angry, or depressed, or desperate to fit as much as possible into each day, and it can be hard to live up to their needs and expectations.

The funeral did what it was supposed to do: it let me grieve, and it let me say goodbye. But I feel sad that I never wrote my client’s stories down. Even in my progress notes, I didn’t quite capture her voice, and that feels like a loss. For me, for everyone who didn’t get to meet her, and for everyone who did. But I will always remember her, and that’s a good thing.

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If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

Ellie’s Magic Carpet

 

For a year now, Ellie has struggled to jump up onto the living room couch. It seemed odd, since she can easily jump up onto my bed, which is significantly higher off the ground, but Mom pointed out that there is a rug surrounding my bed, and no rug next to the couch (because when Ellie first moved in she peed through the rugs in the living room and hallway to the point where we were afraid to replace them).

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“Oops.”

But it’s been a year, and we were at Costco recently and saw a (very) cheap area rug that would fit right in front of the couch. It wouldn’t be a terrible loss if the flood of pee returned to wash it away, but, maybe, we thought, it could be the magic trick to allow Ellie to jump up onto the couch instead of needing the Mommy elevator (that would be me) every time.

I was not especially optimistic: one, because Ellie still pees on the exercise mat in my room on occasion, and two, because I didn’t really understand Mom’s logic about wood floor versus rug as effective transport up to the couch. But it was worth a try.

We got home from Costco too exhausted to set up the new rug (this is a constant. I always look forward to going to Costco and I always come home feeling like I ran a marathon in cement shoes), but later in the day Mom set out the area rug, trapping it in place under the coffee table (or whatever you call a low table on wheels that sits in front of the couch and holds all kinds of miscellaneous tchotchkes).

At first, Ellie didn’t seem to notice the new rug. She saw Cricket sitting up on the couch and came over to me, as usual, with her front paws up in the air, asking for the Mommy elevator. But Mom said not to lift her up. “Encourage her to do it herself,” Mom said, sounding loving and sweet despite the horrible cruelty she was asking me to carry out.

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“But why, Mommy?”

I got distracted by something (dinner, TV show, news alert, whatever) and then noticed that Ellie was stretched out next to me on the couch, with Cricket looking extra grumpy next to her.

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“Harrumph.”

And that was it. The magic carpet had done its job! Ellie has been up and down, with no help from me, dozens of times since then. She still can’t figure out how to jump up onto Grandma’s bed – which is no higher than mine and surrounded by a fluffy rug – but I think that has more to do with Cricket’s dirty looks. It is, after all, Cricket’s bed. She kindly allows Grandma to sleep on it, out of noblesse oblige, but that courtesy clearly does not extend to her sister.

There have been no pee puddles on the new rug so far. It’s possible that Ellie has finally figured out that wee wee pads and carpets are not the same thing. Now if only that knowledge could extend to exercise mats…We’ll have to see how things develop.

I might also have to carry a piece of rug with me to place next to the car, so that Ellie will remember that she can jump onto the backseat by herself. Usually she only jumps in after she’s seen her sister doing it, but maybe the rug could work its magic there too.

 

In the meantime, I started to think that this metaphor might fit me too. Just like Ellie only needed one extra, small step to allow her to make a big step forward, something to help her feel a bit more secure and supported, would the same trick work for me?

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Will it work for Platypus?

I’ve been struggling with the social work job search ever since I passed my licensing exam in the spring. I’ve written cover letters and sent out resumes like a good girl, but inside I’m terrified that someone will actually offer me a job, or even an interview, and call my bluff. This next step just seems too enormous to me. Internships and classwork and graduation and the licensing exam were all big things, but they seemed doable. This next jump feels more like jumping off a cliff.

 

But after watching Ellie’s transformation into a jumping bean, I started to think about what could serve as my area rug, or magic carpet, to make the next step in my life seem more possible. And then I got an email from one of the rabbis at my synagogue, asking if I’d be interested in teaching in the synagogue school this fall. They’d only need me for two hours a week, to teach Hebrew language and Jewish holidays, and I thought about it, for maybe a second, and wrote back: Yes!!!!

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“Yes!”

I couldn’t believe I’d written that, and I was even more shocked when I went in for my meeting with the rabbi and couldn’t stop smiling. Teaching? Me? Children?

 

It’s only two hours a week, so that explains some of the doable-ness, but I think the real magic is that the job is at my synagogue. That’s my safe place. I’ve always been able to do things there that feel impossible everywhere else.

Of course, after I accepted the job, the anxiety flowed in and I started feeling like I had to write out all of my lesson plans for the year within the first twenty-four hours, and all of my internal monsters had to have their say: about what could go wrong, and how badly I could fail, and who would hate me, and on and on. But, surprisingly, but I still wanted to do it. How strange!

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“Very strange.”

It’s possible that some part of me is thinking that this two hour a week job will be instead of a part-time/twenty-hour a week job in social work, but I think it’s more that a deal has been struck internally, if I can have this, then you can have social work. I didn’t even know I wanted to do this, or that I could do it. Just like Ellie didn’t know she needed an area rug to get up onto the couch.

I don’t know where any of this will lead, and it’s possible that I will need a few more metaphorical area rugs to get to the long term goal of becoming a therapist, but now I think they might actually be out there, waiting for me to be ready for them, or waiting for me to imagine them into existence.

We’ll have to see. But for now, I really need to memorize the Alephbet (Hebrew alphabet) song, and practice my Hebrew print writing, and figure out what a lesson plan might be. Wish me luck!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. Izzy’s father then sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

Walking the Labyrinth

 

A week ago Tuesday, I went for my social work licensing exam at a nondescript office on Long Island. I was anxious about the exam because it covered a lot of ground (three and a half years of classes, plus whatever else a social worker might need to know), and because the style of questioning is meant to be tricky and confusing. But I had spent months studying and preparing, and I generally do well on tests, so I was managing the anxiety okay. And then I reached the office building and had to find a parking spot. The building I was looking for was in a large complex of office buildings, and even though I’ve been in that area before, I’d never been to that particular building before. When I did my practice drive a week earlier there was a free spot right in front of the building, so I was unprepared for contingencies, like all of the unreserved spots being taken and having to find the underground lot.

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“That doesn’t sound good, Mommy.”

I had no idea where the entrance to the underground parking was, and, at first, I ended up in the underground lot for a different building. After wandering around blind corners for quite a while, and finally finding an exit back to the above ground world, I was tempted to just park in one of the reserved spots and risk being towed. But then I balked. I really don’t want to be towed. Or ticketed. Or have to find an alternative way to get back home (I do not have the uber app, or anything like it, on my phone, nor do I have any idea how one might use it). So, with ten minutes left before I was supposed to be at the exam, I went searching for the entrance to the right underground parking lot, and finally found it. Most of the spots underground were reserved for companies in that building as well, but I found a spot on the lower level that was magically free and unmarked. There were no numbers for the spots, or for different sections of the lot, and I didn’t even see a sign for which level I was on, but I had five minutes to get upstairs so I couldn’t worry about that, yet. I found a stairway up to the ground level, and then another to the second floor office suite where I would take the exam, and I made it with one minute to spare.

Phew.

The pre-test procedures were complex and unnerving: five or six palm scans, two forms of ID, an awkward photo, putting my cell phone into a plastic bag that would have to be cut open at the end of the test, and relinquishing everything except for my ID and my glasses to a locker. I couldn’t even bring my own tissues, or sucking candies (too loud). Then I had to go to a second staff member for more safety procedures: another palm scan, checking my glasses for tech, checking my pockets, and the tips of my ears; I had to push up my sleeves and pat down my pant legs to prove nothing was hiding there either.

Finally I was allowed into the testing room, with my locker key, and my ID for company. I couldn’t make any noise, and I would have to raise my hand if I needed to get up for any reason, which they preferred I not do until I’d finished the exam.

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“No wee wee pad?”

The test was one hundred and seventy questions, and, with the tutorial at the beginning and the survey at the end, took me an hour and a half. I spent half the time stretching and shifting and trying to get comfortable in the supposedly ergonomic chair and staring at the blurry computer screen (Allergies? Anxiety? Stroke?). About two thirds of the way through the test I started to worry that I might fail and have to sit through the horror all over again, but as soon as the final survey was finished (Did you enjoy this test? How was the drive? Did you really need those tissues?), the screen changed and told me that I had passed the licensing exam. The drama was over. I raised my hand to be allowed out and they gave me a print out of my score and wished me well, and sent me to empty out my locker and walk out into freedom. Okay, not freedom exactly, because passing the test meant that I would have to start the job search, which was a crushing weight quickly descending on my head, but, you know, free for the rest of the day.

I called home to let Mom and the dogs know that I’d passed, and survived, and suffered mightily, and then went in search of my car.

 

Except, the route I’d taken up into the building was closed to me in the opposite direction. The actual door that had opened into the building had no handle going the opposite direction, and I didn’t see any other doors nearby. So I went looking for another set of stairs, and went down two levels, and started to look for my car. I didn’t see anything familiar, but I hadn’t paid close attention in the first place, so I wasn’t worried, at first. I walked around the whole floor three times, getting more and more anxious. I called home and got so far as telling Mom that I was lost underground and couldn’t find my way out, when the phone cut off.

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“Uh oh.”

So I did the only thing I could think of and retraced my steps up into the building. My legs were starting to wobble with exhaustion, and my neck and back were still hurting from the hour and a half at the computer, but panic carries a lot of adrenaline, and I was moving pretty fast. I tried another route back down into the parking garage and wandered the floor two more times, nothing.

I went back upstairs, and looked for signs I might have missed, and doors I might not have opened, afraid that my car had been towed, or stolen. Eventually, I tried a different floor of the parking garage. I was sure I’d parked two levels below the ground floor, but I was desperate, so I tried going down only one floor. Suddenly there was a sign that looked vaguely familiar, so I kept walking, and walking, and walking, and there it was! My car!!!! Just waiting there for me, not towed away or stolen or made invisible by aliens trying to mess with my head.

 

I called home immediately and Ellie barked at me, trying to tell me that I had been gone way too long. I felt like a truck was sitting on my back, but at least I wasn’t lost anymore. Mom promised a special celebratory dinner, but I warned her that I could still get lost trying to drive out of the underground labyrinth. But at least wandering in circles in the car took less time than wandering on foot, and I finally made my way out into the sunlight, and on my way home.

I was shaking with leftover tension, but able to drive home safely and get my greeting from the girls and from Mom and eat some dinner. The exam was over, and successful. The trauma of the day was over. But, I didn’t feel any relief. I felt like I was still stuck in that underground lot, with no clear signs telling me where to go or what to do. Even safe at home, with the girls sleeping next to me, I still felt like I was walking that endless labyrinth, and I realized how familiar that feeling has become for me.

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“We’re sleeping, Mommy. The story is over.”

I feel like every step forward in my life has been a step into the dark, with no clear signage, and no certainty that I’m even looking in the right place. Even when I can find clear milestone markers, like graduation, or a passed exam, I still don’t feel a sense of relief, because I don’t know which road to turn onto next.

I wish I could say something reassuring here, about how, eventually, I always find my next step on solid ground, but that’s just not true. What feels like solid ground to someone else doesn’t necessarily feel right or solid to me.

The next step is to send out resumes and tap into any contacts I may have, and network (eek!) to find a good first social work job. Hopefully the labyrinth will be more clearly marked in the future, or else I’ll have to bring Cricket with me on job searches, so she can warn me when I’m going in the wrong direction. Or at least let me know when I’m getting closer to snacks.

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“I’m great at finding snacks. It’s true.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

Studying for the LMSW Exam

 

Scheduling the LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) exam was a four or five part process and cost a truckload of money. I couldn’t get a test date until April, which was actually nice, because it gave me more time to study, which I seemed to need, because most of the testing materials read like gobbledygook to me.

I resent tests like this where there is more than one common sense answer, but you have to figure out which one the testers are looking for. And then there’s all of this incredibly dry information you have to memorize, about the code of ethics, and the names of different theories, and it all has very little to do with the actual practice of social work.

I get different feedback from different people about the difficulty of the exam. Some people tell me not to worry, and others scare me with stories about barely passing, or needing two or three tries. There’s a popular bootcamp class that focuses on tactics for the test, rather than a review of the material, but I feel like if I go that route I’m accepting the test-as-trick philosophy. And it’s one more expense I can’t afford. I don’t understand why becoming a not very well-paid social worker should put me so deeply in debt.

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“Wait, you’ve been spending money on something other than chicken treats?”

If I fail the licensing exam, they require me to wait another three months before taking it again, and part of me wishes that I would fail, just to get another three month grace period before I have to look for a job. My school offers very little guidance on that part of the process. We had a short workshop on resume writing somewhere along the way, and there are some bits and pieces on the school website, but most of the jobs they list are too far away from where I live. I’ve been checking local social work job listings and Facebook groups and newsletters to acclimate myself to what’s out there, but there seems to be a lot of confusion, between clinical social work and general social work. I would not be good at case management: making thousands of phone calls a day, referring clients to all kinds of services I know nothing about, or doing outreach to bring in clients. I’m good at listening to people and getting to know them, but I’m not sure how many of those jobs are available for a beginner who can only work part time.

Cricket thinks I should put off going to work and do another internship instead, with her this time. She’s pretty sure I am deficient in my understanding of complicated personalities, like hers, and how to help them reach their full potential. She has already taught me a lot about having patience and meeting people (or dogs) where they are, so she may not be wrong. Interestingly, they don’t mention dogs at all in my study guide for the licensing exam. Someone really needs to work on that.

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“We have a lot of work ahead of us, Mommy.”

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“Can I play, too?”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

 

 

Required Reading

 

In a recent New York Times article, Alice Walker was quoted as praising an author whose works are notoriously and outrageously anti-Semitic. First this brought up the question, Can you judge a person by what she reads? But, as a result of the publicity, many people went looking back at Alice Walker’s previous works, and found that she had her own history of anti-Semitic writings.

Prior to all of that, I had, of course, read The Color Purple as part of my American education, and the rabbi at my synagogue had used a number of Alice Walker’s poems in religious services over the years. Most likely we won’t be reading her work in our services from now on, but the question is, Should we continue to read her books, or any books by authors that disturb us? My own answer is yes, with the caveat that I always want the chance to speak out about those things that disturb me, or disturb others. I don’t want to shove everything that offends me into the back of a dark closet, where I can’t do anything about it.

But, I still find it very difficult to push myself to read, and watch, things that disturb me. Over the years, I’ve had to develop a way to manage that sort of difficult reading. I’ve put together a pile of books by my bedside that I read a little bit at a time, mixing together books that challenge me and books that I enjoy, as a brain cleanser, so that I don’t have to feel overwhelmed by other people’s points of view, at least when I don’t want to be. I’ve pushed myself to read all sorts of political tomes, including books about the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and when the emotions (anger, frustration, confusion, and often fear), get to be too much, I just switch over to a chapter of something else, to balance the scales.

I’m in a bit of a quandary, though, now that my official schooling is over, to decide which books to put on my required reading pile. I know that I need to continue to challenge myself going forward, but in which particular areas? And exactly how challenging do these books need to be?

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“Can’t we just watch TV?”

 

As of now I have about twelve books on my reading pile, with another thirty on standby. I’m still plodding through Harry Potter in Hebrew, though I’m not sure why it’s so much harder for me to read than the Harry Potter books in French. It undermines my confidence in all of those years of Jewish education that I never learned the Hebrew word for magic wand. I’ve also been reading through the Hebrew bible, in Hebrew, for years now, a page at a time. Biblical Hebrew is even harder to understand than Harry Potter Hebrew.

 

When that gets too frustrating, I can move over to my Beginning Spanish Reader, though that has recently become too hard for me, and I had to go back fifty pages or so for remedial reading. And then there’s a Spanish vocabulary and phrase book for Social Workers, but most of that just flies over my head.

I’m also reading the review book for the social work licensing exam, slowly, because it’s so freaking tedious, and balancing that out by reading a book of essays by David Rakoff that is even funnier than I remembered. Then there are the psychology books, most recently on Addiction and Body Therapy and Non-Directive Play Therapy, which sometimes interest me and other times make me very angry, and then books on Jewish philosophy by Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and others, which I don’t really understand. I’ve been trying to cushion that particular torment with a book of dog essays that I got as a present for my birthday.

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Ellie prefers being a dog to reading about them. Weird.

Oh, and I am very proud of myself for finally finishing Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. It only took me three and a half years. And as a reward for that effort I let myself add a book of memoir essays to the pile, by fellow blogger Sheila Morris, called Deep In The heart. Unfortunately I finished that one too quickly for my own good, and I will need to go and buy her new book to fill the void.

Of course I’m also reading mysteries, but they don’t go on the study pile; they get pride of place next to my writing notebooks, because I can read whole chapters of them at a time without wanting to scream at anyone. I take as much time as possible to revel in books by writers like Rhys Bowen, and Louise Penny, and Jacqueline Winspear, and Donna Andrews, and Ellen Crosby, and Charles Todd, and Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). And more recommendations are welcome!!!!

I’m not quite sure why I need to have such a tall pile of books to read at any given time, except that there are too many parts of my brain that need to be satisfied. Having a brain that likes to run in twenty directions at once is kind of inconvenient, but I don’t really want to go back to having someone else tell me what to read either. I’m sure Cricket would agree with me on the subject of reading autonomy, if she could read. As it stands, she finds all of my reading annoying, and time consuming, and she thinks I would much prefer sniffing individual blades of grass with her for hours at a time. At the very least, she would enjoy that more. Ellie would too, come to think of it. Though she’s more of a squirrel chaser than a grass sniffer.

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“This is the only grass I could find!”

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“There was a squirrel! I had to go!”

 

While we’re on the topic of required reading, if you haven’t had the chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review for the book, I’d be honored!

YG with Cricket

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

Cooking, Again

 

For the past couple of years, with internships and school work, most of the cooking was left to Mom, again, just like when I was little. I had taken over most of the cooking years ago, while she was working and I was huddled in my room, shaking, but switching back to having Mom do the cooking was part of our plan for how I would manage graduate school in social work. I still helped choose the recipes, and did a lot of the food shopping and cleaning, but it was a relief not to have to cook every night. I had spent so many years building up my cooking skills, with classes and recipes and hours and hours of Food Network shows, but I was ready for a break.

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And then my last internship ended, and I should have taken back the responsibility for cooking, at least somewhat, but I was still exhausted and weird and dragging my feet about it. I didn’t even want to bake, though it was summer at the time and there’s no air conditioning in the kitchen, so that was understandable.

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“Cookies?”

Gradually, much more gradually than Mom was probably hoping, I started to help make dinners again by going back to my old job as vegetable chopper. Mom did her best to tolerate my impatient knife cuts, even when she really would have preferred a smaller dice on the onions. And then I made a dinner or two on my own, because I was hungry and Mom was sleeping. And then there was all of the cookie baking around the holidays.

I’m still not reconciled to cooking every day, but we’re closer to a fifty-fifty arrangement than we were before. My favorite things to cook lately are turkey chili (do some chopping and defrosting, dump everything in the pot, set a timer and wait), turkey meatballs (defrost ground turkey, mix with egg, breadcrumbs, and spices, shape into balls, stick in oven, set timer and wait), and Rocky Mountain toast (rip a hole in a piece of bread, break an egg into the hole, cook) which I learned how to make a million years ago at sleepaway camp. I’d still rather make cookies for every meal, or just eat the raw cookie dough, and there are days when I can’t even imagine peeling a carrot because my body hurts too much, but I’m getting there. It’ll be a while before I volunteer to make Coq au Vin, or Maki rolls, or even Risotto (keep stirring, keep stirring).

Miss Cricket is back to her role as sous chef, a.k.a. waiting for red bell pepper scraps to fall on the floor, and Miss Ellie has been trying to convince me to make chicken pancakes with cheese on top, but she has been unsuccessful. The best I can do for her is open a can of tuna and pour the water into her kibble, which is good too. I feel guilty for this lapse in responsibility, but not enough to work much harder to fix it.

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“More, Mommy.”

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“I could eat, too.”

Next task up: fill out the forms to take the licensing exam for social work, which seems to involve a lot of waiting, and then more forms, and then some really stupid questions. But my real objection is that once I have my license I’ll actually have to get a job. I’d like to put that off for a while, or ten or fifteen whiles, if possible. I finished all of my coursework, but there seems to be a delay before the paperwork says I’m an official graduate, which gives me one or two whiles, at least.

If anyone wants two shelves full of really tedious, probably already out of date textbooks, you’ll have to wrestle Ellie for them. She has some art projects in mind.

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I want to thank everyone who read and reviewed and commented on and thought about Yeshiva girl and cheered me on along the way. I feel truly honored! If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

yeshiva girl with dogs

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

 

Who do I want to be when I grow up?

I still want to be a novelist when I grow up. I want to write about people’s lives and about all of the things we don’t usually tell each other about ourselves. I want to connect. My favorite thing about social work is when people stop feeling judged and defensive, and can just tell their own stories, with all of the unique zigs and zags their lives have taken. I’m often surprised when people don’t realize how interesting their own stories are, and how unique their choices and circumstances have been. It’s like reading a really long, really good, book.

I still wish I could be a Mom and a wife, but that’s starting to seem unlikely. The thing is, both social work and writing put me in an observer role, and no matter how much I like my work, I still need some way to feel like my life, in itself, is important. I need the chance to be the star of my own story. Dogs definitely help with that. They seem to make everyone feel more central and more important. I’ve considered having a side practice focused on dogs, where we’d sit on the floor and I would give ear scratches and commiserate with the long journey each dog has had to go through. I would love that.

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“I have a lot to say!”

I’m still unclear about what actually constitutes growing up. I used to think that, at some point, I’d feel more secure and confident in myself, and my choices, and I’d finally feel like I have a clue how to live my life. This has clearly not happened to me yet, and it doesn’t really describe most of the people I know who would generally be considered grownups.

The more external signs of being grown up, to me, were always about career, and home ownership and parenthood. But as time goes by I’ve had to question those markers, because a lot of people do not own homes, or have children, and still seem like grownups to me. And, even though it’s less popular, or possible nowadays, a lot of women still seem very much like grownups to me, even if they never had a professional career outside of the home. It’s something in the way they take responsibility for themselves, or have authority over others, or seem to accept themselves for who they are at a basic level.

In my mind, being sick, with whatever it is I have, prevents me from being a grown up. Grownups are people who can do things all day and take on big responsibilities, not people who need three hour naps and wrap themselves in icy hot strips on a regular basis. Grownups know how to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, and don’t have an excessive amount of anxiety wafting around them at all times.

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“You can fix it, Mommy.”

Cricket has no aspirations towards being a grown up. She’s focused on her daily needs for food, exercise, and love. She insists that being a grown up is overrated if it means spending too much time away from her.

It’s hard to argue with Cricket.

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“Why would you even try?”