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The Big Birthday

            My Mom turned eighty this year. We didn’t celebrate much on the day itself, because I had to go to work, and since it was just before Passover my brother couldn’t come in person – though he made sure to send lots of gifts. When I went to work that day, I really wanted to whine and complain to someone that I couldn’t take my Mommy out for pancakes (because breakfast for lunch or dinner is her idea of Nirvana), but I didn’t tell anyone. In a way, I felt like if I didn’t tell anyone, and avoided the official celebration of the big birthday, the evil eye wouldn’t be able to find us.

“Hurry! We have to hide!

            I’m not usually a superstitious person, but it comes up when I’m faced with things I can’t control.

            My grandfather, Mom’s father, died at 80. And her mother died at 85, after hip surgery.

            I guess I figured that as long as Mom was still in her seventies, everything would be okay. But eighty?

            Mom had a rough time last summer, with hip surgery, and hip revision surgery, and a third hospital stay when the two surgeries and sleeping on only one side for months, led to her left lung filling up with fluid. Pretty much every day of last summer was filled with anxiety that I would lose my Mommy.

            But then things got better. She recovered from the surgeries, and found better doctors, and committed to physical therapy, and even started to take daily walks on her own without any nagging from me. So I focused on other things for a while and forgot to be anxious about her health. I barely even registered the big birthday coming up, until it arrived and the number just walloped me.

            I rely so much on my mom – for my emotional health, for practical advice and support, for dinner. And I want to celebrate her successes, and her obstinate and energetic love of life, and I want to celebrate how lucky I am to have the mother I have, but I’m so afraid of what will happen if I say the word eighty out loud.


            I was in a bad place, but then I started to comfort myself with the fact that Mom has an aunt, her father’s sister, who is now 107 years old and still clever and opinionated and loving; and my mom is the youngest of three sisters, all still alive and kicking. So maybe the evil eye isn’t interested in our family anymore; maybe we’ve had enough trouble for both of our lifetimes.

            And then I heard Mom cough. It was a random cough, probably because the trees on both sides of our building are filled with allergens and we had the fans on, but it sent me back to last summer when she was struggling to breathe. The fear is always there in the back of my mind, asking me if I should worry when she forgets that she already told me the story about the friend I don’t even know, or if I should worry when she gets tired, or grumpy, or when she isn’t up to walking the dogs with me (more often than not, I’m the one who’s not up to walking the dogs, but that’s a whole other story).

“You’re not coming out with us?”

            I’m torn. Do I tiptoe around this birthday and just pretend that Mom is turning seventy-nine every birthday from now on? Or should we celebrate BIG this year, and go on trips and eat pancakes for dinner, and buy enough books and fabric and yarn that it will take her twenty years just to organize all of it?

            But I think the best idea is what Mom’s cousin is doing: buying expensive concert tickets for her 107 year old mother, months in advance, to guilt her into sticking around. Because, really, what kind of mother would want her child to waste so much money?

“Do whatever you have to do!”

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?