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Miriam’s Well

            Tonight is the first night of Passover, and I’ve been thinking about how this Jewish holiday makes me feel – this weeklong commemoration of the escape from slavery to freedom – and why it doesn’t make me feel free. Maybe it’s because so much of Judaism, both in its ancient and modern forms, leaves out the stories of women; the Hebrew Bible, and the advent of Monotheism, were bathed in misogyny and the distrust and erasure of women, and that absence of women feels especially obvious at the Passover Seder.

“But I’m at the Seder.”

            People have come up with all kinds of ideas for how to make the Seder more inclusive, more fun, more meaningful, or shorter. At the yearly Women’s Seder at my synagogue we add something called a Miriam’s Cup to the table, but there was never an explanation for what the cup was meant to represent and I assumed it was an afterthought, a salve to make women feel included.

The Hebrew Bible describes Moses, and his brother Aaron and sister Miriam, as delivering the Jews from exile in Egypt, together: “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Miriam’s claim to fame is that, as a child, she was the one who stood by the Nile to watch as her baby brother Moses was picked up by the daughter of Pharaoh. And then, after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, she encouraged the Israelites to sing and dance and praise God for the miracle of the splitting of the sea, even as the sea swallowed the Egyptian soldiers chasing after them in Exodus: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her to dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.’”

And yet, there are very few other references to Miriam in the Hebrew Bible, and no traditional rituals to celebrate her, in the Passover Seder or elsewhere. And that made me wonder why, if she was so important, she was largely left out of the telling of the story? There’s understatement and then there’s neglect.

Even her name is a problem: Miriam is a form of the Hebrew word for “bitter.” The assumption is that her parents gave her that name because of their hard lives as slaves in Egypt, but what you call a person matters; it impacts how you see them and how they see themselves.

“What does Ellie mean?”

When used at the Seder, Miriam’s Cup sits next to Elijah’s Cup (of wine) on the table. Elijah’s cup is set aside for the Prophet Elijah to drink when he comes to visit the Seder (Elijah is like a drunken version of Santa Claus, visiting every Seder in one night, through the open door instead of the chimney, but leaving no gifts). Elijah rode a chariot of fire into the whirlwind and was “translated” to heaven, without dying, and his visits to the Seder represent the hope for the coming of the Messiah. But Miriam had her feet solidly on the ground, and she died, like any other mortal, so her placement with Elijah at the table seems strange.

And yet, in 1987, Leila Gal Berber wrote a second verse to the song we sing about Elijah the Prophet, called Miriam the Prophetess, to be sung at the Seder, and weekly at the Havdallah service that ends the Sabbath each Saturday night. Miriam’s verse celebrates her as a redeemer, like Elijah, but that has never been her role. And, to me, it feels disrespectful to act as if the only way to honor Miriam is to tack her onto Elijah’s song, where she doesn’t belong.


Why isn’t Miriam’s role as part of the leadership team that brought the Israelites out of Egypt enough? Why can’t she be celebrated with her brothers instead of with Elijah, who comes from a completely different part of the Hebrew bible? Aaron was the high priest, and Moses spoke to God, and Miriam acted as the first Cantor or prayer leader for the Israelites, teaching a people who had been raised in slavery to celebrate their freedom. Why isn’t that good enough? Miriam, unlike Moses, grew up as a slave. She never lived the privileged life Moses lived as an adopted member of the royal family. And yet, she celebrated God, who didn’t bother to speak directly to her. She had the faith and courage to help lead her people out of Egypt, despite having no experience of freedom to bolster her faith that life on the other side would be better.

            Why can’t we celebrate her for that?

But also, I didn’t understand why Miriam would be honored with a cup of water, while Elijah was honored with a cup of wine. And I was curious enough about that to go a-googling. I found out that Miriam’s Cup is meant to remind us of Miriam’s Well, the source of water that kept the Israelites alive through forty years in the desert, a story I’d never heard growing up. It turns out that the Rashi, a Medieval French Rabbi, derived the idea of Miriam’s Well from the description of Miriam’s death in the book of Numbers: “Miriam died there and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation.” He decided that the juxtaposition of her death and the sudden lack of water meant that while she was alive the Israelites had water, throughout the forty years in the desert, due to her. The connection is tenuous, but some explain it as a result of Miriam’s guardianship of her baby brother by the waters of the Nile, or because of her celebration by the Sea of Reeds. Others see the well as a universal symbol of femininity, like a womb.

The Seder does seem like the right place for Miriam, and the cup of water could be made into a meaningful symbol of her role in the Exodus, because without water there is no survival, let alone freedom. Water is the most basic thing we need in order to stay alive, and yet, it is also something we tend to take for granted, like women.

There’s so much potential here, for water as a symbol of the feminine, and of freedom and survival, but it only works if we spin the story out, and if it expands from just the Women’s Seder (which takes place weeks before the actual holiday) to being included in the official Seders on the first and second nights of Passover; where everyone is included, and everyone can hear.

The story of Miriam’s Well can teach the importance of having water in the desert, and having a sister who looks out for you, and having a prayer leader who reminds you to sing and dance and celebrate, even when you are afraid. There is another song about Miriam, by Debbie Friedman, that celebrates the way Miriam led the singing and dancing after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, which is sometimes sung at the Women’s Seder as well. Maybe if we can sing her song and tell her story at the Seder, Miriam can inspire us to add women back into our history and restore what has been erased. And, maybe then Passover will feel like a true expression of freedom, an experience of being free to speak and to be who we are, for all of us.

“Like us.”

This is a version of Debbie Friedman’s Miriam’s Song, by Project Kesher, working to empower Jewish women around the world –

This is a version of Min Hameitzar, which is often sung as part of Passover services. The words translate, basically, to: From the narrow place I called on God and he answered me in the expanse. God is for me, I won’t fear, what can Man do to me? -

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?

Before and After #MeToo

            I’ve been thinking about the #MeToo movement a lot, especially in the shadow of the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, which has led to both protests and intensive discussions over the past months. The parallels in how discrimination functions are so clear, no matter which group is being put down. The literature on microaggressions and systemic racism gives language to what women face too, especially women who have been sexually abused by men and then have to function in a world that is inherently prejudiced against women’s voices. It is incomplete to talk about sexism in the workplace without acknowledging the deeper wounds many women carry with them into adulthood, because they were born female.

Ellie says, “Me too.”

Violence against women and children is part and parcel with a culture that keeps women from advancement in the workplace, and allows the workplace to be hostile to women in a sexual way, as well as in the form of gender discrimination. We talk as if women experience sexism for the first time as adults, in the work place, as if sexism hasn’t been impacting us throughout our development, creating their expectations and self-perceptions and opportunities. Even though we are more aware of the prejudices women face today, we are barely scratching the surface.

            I grew up in the eighties, when women were supposed to be able to accomplish anything men could, while still being held to many of the older expectations of womanhood. My lived experience as a child wasn’t just about my abusive home life, or my religious Jewish education, but was also deeply impacted by the fact that I watched A Lot of television, where it was clear that women could be anything, yes, as long as they were beautiful or skinny or sexy (or all three!) and willing to work at the pleasure of a man.

There was a show called Three’s Company in syndication when I came home from school each day. It was a sex farce (no, really, that’s what they called it), and the local New York station aired it at Five o’clock on weekdays. It was a sitcom about a man who had to pretend to be gay in order to live with two women, because, you know, they might both be having sex with him all the time if he were straight. The innuendo and misunderstandings centered on the man supposedly being gay and also on one of the women’s “blonde moments.” The women were ALWAYS being groped and demeaned, and while I remember that the man was an aspiring chef, I have no memory of what the girls did for a living.

I didn’t feel like I could turn off the television, because when the TV was off I felt the fear and loneliness of my real life too vividly. I kept it on while I did my homework, or played with my dog, or even read through piles of library books. TV was my constant companion, but it was also my teacher. TV was my way of finding out about the world and learning how I was supposed to think and act in order to fit in.

“Who needs to fit in?!”

Out of desperation, I often watched a show called The Honeymooners at eleven o’clock at night, while I waited for Johnny Carson’s monologue to start. I cringed at all of the screaming from Jackie Gleason who played Ralph Kramden, a New York City bus driver living with his long suffering wife in a gritty Brooklyn apartment building. He was always getting into trouble and blaming other people for his problems, especially his wife. He would scream at her, “One of these days, POW!!! Right in the kisser!” He didn’t actually hit her, and he would eventually apologize, saying, “Baby you’re the greatest,” and give her a kiss and a hug. The excuse for his behavior seemed to be that they were working class and struggling to get by. A comment I read online said that there had been arguments about whether or not the show depicted domestic violence, since the threats were always “comical,” and he never followed up. But even back then, for me, the show was very clearly about man’s right to threaten and blame and demean women and call it funny. I’d been trained for The Honeymooners by watching my father’s behavior, which was very similar. He always praised himself for not actually hitting us. I’d actually watched The Flintstones first (basically an animated version of the Honeymooners, set in the Stone Age, appropriately enough), and found that disturbing too.

My other option at eleven o’clock, when The Honeymooners got to be too much, was MASH, a dark comedy about the Korean War, made during the Vietnam and cold war era. It was lauded for its nuance and political commentary, and when I watched it in syndication in the eighties it was only a few years out of date, but for me, MASH was just another show obsessed with women as sex objects and men as the drivers of all action, thought, humor, and pathos.

            I took some, brief, solace in shows like The Facts of life, which, especially early on, showcased a wide range of girls with different body types and personalities and interests. But it was a rarity. Most shows starred men, or boys, and presented women as sex objects, or money hungry, or both.

            Star Wars, one of my mainstays, was also filled with sexism. Princess Leia, who should have been powerful and in charge, always had to be dressed in skimpy clothes. The whole first act of Return of the Jedi was Princess Leia in a push up bra, locked in chains as Jabba the Hut’s sex slave. It didn’t escape me that, of the twins, only the male had the powers of the force.

            And then there was the music, especially the videos on MTV, where Heavy Metal and Hard Rock and Rap videos all featured scantily clad women draped suggestively over cars, for some reason. Madonna was a huge star back then too, in large part because she was willing to exploit her own sexuality instead of leaving it to the men. Neither of those options were going to work for me.

            Things started to change on TV when I was a teenager, I think. Oprah Winfrey revamped her talk show and started to discuss issues like sexual abuse more openly. And China Beach showed that the skinny, sexy, tipsy nurses on shows like MASH had a lot more going on behind the scenes, even if the men refused to see it.

            But change was slow, and inconsistent, and often, like Madonna, moved from the exploitation of women by men to the exploitation of women by women, to show that women could be powerful too. Even now, we still accept an extraordinary amount of misogyny as normal in our movies and on TV, in our books and certainly in our politicians. And we still seem to accept the trope that men can’t be expected to control their desires, but girls as young as ten (no, younger) are held responsible for choosing to wear outfits that men consider provocative, and are assumed to know exactly what impact they are having on men. But girls and women are also judged for being too plain or prudish in the way they dress. A sixteen year old girl who dresses in baggy clothes, or skips makeup, is clearly just not trying to be successful, and she should be ignored, or hated (just take a look at the backlash against Billie Eilish), whereas a sixteen year old boy can wear whatever he had on for soccer practice and become a superstar.

            The backlash against Billie Eilish, by the way, for dressing in baggy clothes, is constant and virulent, as if she’s a thing rather than a person, because she won’t let us judge her breast size. The fact that girls generally hide under so many layers when they have been sexually assaulted barely gets discussed in favor of how freakin’ weird that girl is; so moody.

“I’m moody too. You wanna make something of it?”

Even this past year, post #MeToo, with half a dozen pre-eminently qualified, charming, accomplished, intelligent, and hard working women running in the presidential race, we still ended up with two old white men, in the DEMOCRATIC primary. (And yes, a woman of color has been chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate, but that’s one man’s choice, not the choice of our whole society.)

            And now, during the pandemic, we’re experiencing what media figures are calling a Shecession, because it’s most often women who have had to quit their jobs, or reduce their hours, to take care of the kids. And since women are more likely to work in hospitality and education, where so many of the jobs have been lost due to Covid 19, more women are losing their jobs than men and a decade of employment gains made by women has been eroded. On top of that, the jobs were low paying to begin with, so those women didn’t have the benefit of savings to make it through the recession safely until their jobs can return, if they ever return.

            I’m tired of being told that we solved sexism with #MeToo, just like we solved racism back in 1965, and we should just get over it. The assumption behind both statements is that if women or people of color are still achieving less, or earning less, it must be because they are as inferior as we thought they were, and not because there is still something wrong with the system.

            I’m not sure #MeToo changed much, actually, other than a few men with egregiously long resumes of abusive behavior being fired from their high profile jobs. As a society, we’re not even reading long lists of books exploring systemic prejudice against women, or discussing what it means to try to pull yourself up by bootstraps that don’t exist, because they’ve been ripped off by force.        

            One of the more startling realities of the Black Lives Matter movement is that even though most of the originators of the movement were women, the movement overall barely addresses women’s issues. Women were also at the heart of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, and then too the issues specific to black women were barely discussed.

            I don’t have a solution to this. And watching the backlash against Black Lives Matter protests, including the killing of protesters in the streets, is demoralizing. I’m tired of the ways manipulation of reality has continued, and worsened, in our current environment. I’m tired of all of the ways being female makes me less likely to be believed or even heard, than the average white man. Maybe having Kamala Harris on the big stage will have an impact on our society’s willingness to listen to and respect women. I hope so. Get your ballots in early if you can.

“I’m ready!”

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?

Why Don’t Dogs Have Gynecologists?

“What’s she talking about?”


I’m supposed to go for a mammogram this month. I went for my baseline last year, and the doctor wants me to go every year now, despite recommendations to the contrary out in the world. I almost fell down halfway through the test last year as they pressed each breast into the squeeze machine three times. How can this be the state of the art? Is someone under the impression that breasts can’t feel pain?

I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to push myself to go to the appointment, and my doctor will be mad at me for not doing it, and I will inevitably develop breast cancer and die and it will be my fault because I didn’t want to faint in the radiology office.

Like this.

Like this.

I’ve never heard of a gynecologist for dogs, though you never know what’s out there, somewhere. My dogs haven’t had to get mammograms. I can’t even imagine how that would work. Cricket thinks that having the goop removed from her eyes is the worst humiliation; can you imagine trying to squeeze some sensitive part of her anatomy until it is flat?


I wish I could be more like Cricket, and feel like I have the right to refuse these humiliating tests, or at least to bite the person who tries to perform them on me. I feel like women need to rise up.


The thing is, veterinarians go into veterinary medicine almost always because they love animals and have compassion for them. Whereas doctors for humans often go into medicine because of the steady income, the prestige, or an interest in science. And gynecology? I don’t think too many kids grow up dreaming of becoming gynecologists.

I went to my first gynecologist when I was in my late twenties. I had been putting it off to avoid the inevitable panic attack and having to talk to a stranger about my sexual abuse history. I told the doctor my story as quickly as possible, and she seemed sympathetic for a minute, but then she told me to get on with my life. She said that my health would be better once I had babies, because that’s what the female body is meant to do. And then she complained that my body made the internal exam “difficult.”


The next gynecologist seemed more down to earth. She listened to my spiel about sexual abuse, and promised to be careful with me, and asked questions. True to her word, she did her best to avoid hurting me during the internal exam itself, but as soon as I sat up, in my cloth gown, on the edge of the metal table, I started crying uncontrollably, and she said, “Are you sad that the exam is over?”

She meant to be funny, but her cluelessness for how that would sound to a sexual abuse survivor was bizarre. I don’t understand why female gynecologists are not more sensitive to this, given that the conservative estimate is that 1 out of 4 women were sexually abused before the age of 18. But, even if I had no abuse history, it would be normal for a woman on a table, being poked internally with a piece of metal, to be uncomfortable and self-conscious. And yet the doctors seem impatient with this.

My current gynecologist is pretty matter of fact. At the first exam, after a discussion, fully clothed, in her office, and changing into paper clothes and having to shimmy down the table, she tried the regular speculum and then said no, let me go get the one we use for the nuns.

She works in a large office, next door to a plastic surgeon, and around the corner from a cancer treatment center. It’s not comforting. It’s like a one stop shop for women: get birth control, have a baby, get cancer, get your breasts redone, get cancer again, go into remission, and then celebrate living a long life by getting a facelift.

I go to the gynecologist because I have to go, but I dread it all year. I’m not saying I’d rather be a female dog, but sometimes I wish I felt free to act like one.


Cricket and the Brown Mouse


            A few years ago, I walked into the kitchen and saw a tiny brown mouse eating from Cricket’s food bowl. Cricket had left half of her breakfast scattered on the floor around her bowl, trusting that she could come back to it later if nothing better came up in the mean time. But there was this tiny brown mouse, holding a twig of her dry food in its hands and getting ready to nibble. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, because I’d never seen a mouse stand still like that, not with a human and a dog nearby.          Finally, Cricket stepped forward and gave a low growl. Not the bark she’d have handed the mail man, but a warning none the less. And the little mouse backed up, dropped the food, and ran away. Clearly it was a baby mouse, just learning the run and hide rules of the tribe.

There may have been mice over the years, but I hadn’t seen them again, until I recently noticed mouse droppings in the corner of my bedroom, near the stairs. Then mom heard scritch scratching overnight in her room. And then we saw a brown mouse scamper behind the plant table in the kitchen. So Mom went to the store to buy mousetraps.

Once, when I was a kid, we had a glue trap. The guy at the store had recommended it as more humane than the regular mousetrap, but then I saw a mouse caught on the glue. It was still alive, but struggling to get free, and with each movement it became more trapped. I almost threw up, and then I cried inconsolably. Mom promised me she’d never use a glue trap again, but she made no promises about regular traps. Because you’re just not supposed to accept having mice in your house. It’s not clean, or healthy, or polite.

Mom put out the new traps, but because we hadn’t used them in years, she’d forgotten how to set them correctly. She placed one on a paper towel and shoved it under the plant table, and the next thing we knew, Cricket had pulled the paper towel out and eaten the cheese, leaving the trap unsprung.

The way Cricket barks at humans and chases squirrels outside of the house, you’d think she’d notice, and mind, the presence of tiny interlopers, especially near her food or by her bed. But she hasn’t been barking at them. They must have been around for months before we noticed, and she never told us.

I wonder if she’s friends with the mice behind our backs, bringing them food, tossing them a ball every once in a while, acting as guard dog for them when humans come near.

But maybe they’re just too small to seem like a threat to her. She doesn’t bark at ants either.

The Story of Sticks


            Sticks was an awkwardly built, wiry haired white dog. She was about sixty pounds, with all of her weight in her sizeable trunk and nothing in her spindly legs – ergo her name, her legs were like sticks.

She lived in the house across the street from us when we first moved into the top half of a house on a hill. We’d found an apartment that would accept our dog and had a lawn for mom’s garden. There were signs that we would be happy there, with the smell of honey in the air, and the flowers starting to bloom in April. There was the librarian at the local library who smiled at me for no reason other than that she was a nice person. And there was Sticks, the calmest dog I’d ever met. I was used to black haired dogs, depressed dogs, angry dogs with psycho-social disorders.

            Sticks wandered down her driveway towards me and she looked like a ball of white steel wool. She wobbled a bit, but she never barked, and she almost purred when I scratched her head. She was sunshine. Not the bright hot sun that burns your skin and wears you out, but like the soft rays of early spring on your face.

            Sticks’ mom was in her late eighties or early nineties, medium height, white hair, and a little cushioned. She spoke with a German accent that made me unsure what she was saying. She lived alone in her house with Sticks and wasn’t up to taking her out for walks, and picking up poop, but Sticks was so well loved that neighbors pitched in, including me.

            A few years later, I noticed that I hadn’t seen Sticks in a while. And then we heard from her owner’s daughter, that Sticks’ owner was in the hospital with end stage cancer. When we asked about Sticks and where she would go, we were told that Sticks had been put down, because she couldn’t live on without her person.

            I couldn’t speak. I was so angry that no one had asked us if we would take Sticks in for her final years. I could have found a way to lift her up the stairs into our apartment if her arthritis made it too hard for her to climb. But no one had asked me, or warned me, and now Sticks was gone.

            I never knew how old Sticks was, or what her health problems might have been. It’s possible that she was on her last legs, just like her owner, but that’s not how the story was told. I’ve never heard of a veterinarian euthanizing a dog because her owner was dying. And Sticks was so sweet, and loving to strangers, could it really be true that her life wouldn’t have been worth living without her person? I don’t know. But the story haunts me.

Cricket’s First Training Class



Mom and I took Cricket to a puppy class at the local pet store when Cricket was three or four months old. I wanted Cricket to stop biting me; that was my most pressing goal.

All of the books said that it would be easier to train her as a puppy, rather than later on, and that I would be a terrible person if I didn’t teach her to heel, come when called, and pee on command. But for me, the thing I wanted most was for her to be able to make friends with other dogs, and people. I wanted her to be a safe companion for her young human cousins, and to not be as isolated as my previous dog had been, with her antisocial behavior and anxiety disorder.

I also had dreams of getting Cricket to do tricks, like ride a skateboard, or surf, or dance with me.

I loved meeting all of the other puppies in the class. There was a baby bloodhound named Baxter, and a pair of miniature Pinschers, and miniature Poodles, and a black Lab or two, and an older Maltese. But Cricket was not as enamored of them as I was, and she didn’t think the treats were worth working for. She ignored the commands and smiled at me and sniffed the shelves at the store and peed in the corners, and then we went home and she chewed through an entire wicker garbage can.

What I remember most about the teacher was that nothing she said made sense to me. I felt like I was listening to a foreign language I’d never studied, or trying to make sense of NASA’s instruction book for how to launch a space shuttle. I can’t tell you even now if that was because she actually didn’t make sense or if it’s because obedience training kills my circuitry.

The teacher had a way of taking my nervous, meant-to-be-funny comments and using them as lessons for the class. Like, I asked her, after a particularly grueling lesson, when do we get the magic pill that makes training just kick in, and she said, in all seriousness and pointing me out to the class, that there is no magic pill and training takes a lot of hard work.

The teacher was impatient with all of us, but especially with Cricket. She told us to flip Cricket onto her back and hold her down, as an intervention. We were supposed to show Cricket that we were in charge and resistance wasn’t going to get her anywhere. But all that did was to make Cricket more frightened and more resistant to the training.

I should have listened more carefully when the teacher told us that her mother used to hit her to keep her in line, and, instead of saying that her mother did the wrong thing, she said, mothers hit us because they love us.

I finally gave up on the class after the fourth week. The teacher had done her “intervention” one time too many and Cricket had learned to hide behind my legs whenever the teacher came by.

It all felt like a way to crush her spirit and mine. I resented the idea that Cricket was supposed to be a pod puppy, with no unique or rebellious characteristics left. And I was exhausted. So we left, and replaced training class with episodes of Dancing with the Stars. Cricket is great at the Tango.


A Dog Named Rachel


            Before I was born, my parents had a dog named Rachel. She was a stray they’d picked up along the way, a black dog of unspecific origin. She was old by the time I came around, but there’s a story that when I was six months old, my mom called for “Rachel,” and the dog hobbled over to Mom thinking she was the one being asked for, and I crawled.

            I like my name, it’s a good name. There are a lot of biblical names with negative connotations, but mine is pretty clean and positive. So I should be happy.

            Except, my brother wasn’t named after a family pet.

            My father said the names were a coincidence. I was named after a great grandmother named Rachel, and Rachel dog was maybe named after Rabbi Ralph or one of the rabbits my parents kept in the backyard before I was born.

            There’s a Jewish custom, or superstition, against naming a child after a living relative. I’m sure there’s a long tractate somewhere explaining the reasons, but I remember being told that it was wrong to take a name from someone who was still busy using it. As if you’d steal some of their years along with their name. And Rachel dog was still alive when I stole her name. She didn’t live much longer after that, either.

            I feel like my father was sending me a message by giving me the same name as the family dog. He made a point of not talking about it, just leaving the truth in the background, for me to discover on my own and guess at the significance. It was a message he could hide from the outside world, who would only see the loveliness of the biblical Rachel, and never see the humiliation.

Cricket’s Vocalizations



            When Cricket sings, she sounds like she’s arguing her case before the court as she gurgles and growls and rolls her R’s and squeaks and skips along the notes. I believe all of these intonations mean something to her. It’s like an aria, with slow pleading sections, and heart wrenching sections at the top of her voice, and trills just to show off.

            When I was a teenager, I thought I might become a singer, so I took voice lessons. But singing actual songs left me frustrated; I couldn’t feel the songs the way I wanted to. I wanted to be expressing the deep clanging in my body and instead I felt like I was a hollow imitation of someone else.

            Vocal exercises, on the other hand, reached me. There were no words, just sounds: mee, may, mah, moh, moo, on different notes, changing the shape of my mouth to round, straight, tensed, loose. Without words, the sounds seemed to be able to express something deep inside of me.

            Dina, my previous dog, used to sing. It was as if she had a button in her brain and if you sang high enough for long enough, she had to sing with you. She’d lift her nose in the air as if the note was over her head and she could only reach it if she could see it. She didn’t growl and roll her R’s like Cricket, she didn’t change pitch or jazz it up; she just aimed at that high note, and howled.

            The circumstances have to be just right for Cricket to start her monologue. Something deeper than food and poop issues, something about being left behind or ignored.

            “Why must you sit at the computer instead of giving me scratchies and a lap to sleep on?” she’ll cry. “Why must you ignore me when I clearly want you to throw this toy for me, so I can catch it and taunt you with it?”

            I listen to Cricket growling and crying and rolling her R’s and I feel like “ain’t that the truth.” It’s not that I always know what she means or what story she’s trying to tell, but whatever she’s feeling, I can feel it vibrating in my bones.

Cricket gets Fixed



            When Cricket was six months old, it was time for her to go to the vet to get spayed. She’d had all of her shots and reached the required weight and the earlier we got it done the less traumatic it would be for her, or so they said.

            My previous dog, Dina, didn’t get spayed until she was eight years old, because my father forbade it. We had to wait until my parents split up and Dina came with me and mom before we could take her to the vet and even find out if the operation would be safe, or helpful at her age. She’d spent years having false pregnancies and hormonal mood swings that left her half crazed and hiding under beds. Finally having the operation meant that her second eight years were much calmer, and happier than her first eight.

            I wanted to do everything right with Cricket and we had no plans to breed her, so the surgery was in her best interest, health and mood wise, but it still seemed wrong to make such a big life decision without her input. It seemed wrong to call such a surgery “being fixed,” as if humans would feel like they were improved by becoming sterile.

            I was conflicted, but we decided to get the operation done anyway.

            The long day started for me the night before the surgery, when we had to search out all of her treats and rawhides and put them away so she couldn’t sneak food after nine o’clock – because having food in her belly would make anesthesia dangerous. No one said she could die, but that’s how it reverberated in my head. I trusted the vet, and the girls who worked in his office, but I was still afraid. They might lose her special squeaky toy, or cut the wrong things out. Or they could return the wrong dog to me and I wouldn’t know the difference.

As soon as we’d dropped her off at the vet the next morning, I went home and started cleaning the apartment; the floors in particular, because Cricket liked to participate too much, chewing on my hands, fighting the broom, destroying the mop, and barking at the vacuum cleaner. This was my one chance to get the work done, unobstructed.

            But with each passing hour, I felt younger and more anxious in the silence of no puppy. I didn’t feel like a warrior mother, ready to break down the walls of the animal hospital if they hurt my baby. I felt inexplicably helpless. Cricket was my fluffy, happy girl, full of life and full of piss and vinegar, and I was afraid that the surgery would change that about her, depress her, make her too much like me.

            We called the vet at One thirty in the afternoon, to see how the surgery went, and they said she was fine and sitting up in her cage, but would need a few hours to recover before we could take her home. I should have felt relieved, but I didn’t. I couldn’t relax, or focus on much of anything. I grated sweet potatoes for a new latke recipe, walked to the library for knitting books, vacuumed again, but I kept thinking: I want puppy. Where is puppy?

            We had to wait a while when we reached the vet’s office, because they’d found her chewing on her stitches and had to clean her up all over again, and add the plastic Elizabethan collar to stop her from reaching the stitches. When they brought her out, she pawed the collar off her head onto the floor. So that was a few more minutes of figuring out how to loop the plastic collar through her own collar to make it stay on and, finally, she was ready to come home.

            I examined her in the backseat of the car while mom drove: her scar was raw, like meat, as if her skin was on inside out. The stitches were black.

            She struggled walking into the house because she couldn’t see past the collar to figure out where the walls were. And she was exhausted. I carried her to her puppy bed, but even then, she couldn’t get comfortable.

            But once the drugs wore off and her stitches started to heal, she was puppy all over again. She didn’t roll her eyes at me and point at her scar and say, Bad Mommy, the way I expected her to. She only hated me a little, and she milked it for a few weeks, asking for extra treats and scratchies and curling up with grandma whenever possible. And of course she healed. I’m just not sure I did.


Saving Little White Dogs

Cricket and I had gone for a short pee trip after dinner a couple of years ago, in Spring I think, during dogwood season. We found Mickey the Maltese digging up the grass on a neighbor’s sidewalk. He was thrilled to meet Cricket. He was a friendly little guy, not suspicious at all when I went to look at the tag on his collar to see where he lived. He was matted and scruffy, but he licked my cheek when I picked him up and carried him in one arm while holding Cricket’s leash with the other.

We walked downhill towards his address and I heard a woman calling out “Mickey! Mickey!”

“I found a little white dog!” I called back, because his tag said, “Mikmous,” and I wasn’t confident I knew what that meant. Cricket led me to Mickey’s Mom.

He’d just run out of the house, leash free, she said, because her sons had left the door open and they didn’t care and they resented him and he was her husband substitute because her husband had died a few years ago. She sounded drunk, actually. I didn’t love handing him back to her, but I had no right to balk, and no one with me to help if I tried to run back up the hill with the two dogs. I had to hand him over and hope for the best. But it stung.

My neighborhood has become more dog-filled in the fourteen years I’ve lived here. When I used to walk Dina, my black lab/shepherd mix, who died five years ago, we would mostly hear dogs barking at us from behind closed doors. Dina was, to be honest, fine with that. But Cricket meets new dogs all the time. There’s Bella and Coco and Toya, there’s Snuggles and Poochie and the twoRockiesand Amber and Taffy, and on and on.

Poochie is a Maltese with a drop of Bichon mixed in to help poof out his waistline. He’s a very slow walker, especially since he hurt his knee. His mom is devoted to him. She gives him allergy baths and forces him outside at regular intervals, to his dismay. He’s not a fan of socializing, or exercise. He’d rather sit on the porch while his mom does the gardening, cleaning, heavy lifting, etc. Whenever Cricket tries to play with him, by jumping and screeching and sniffing his butt, he stands behind his mom and waits for the onslaught to be over.

            But, around the time of the Mickey incident, we were out walking near Poochie’s house and we heard him barking as we passed by. I didn’t think much of it. Cricket rushed ahead, because she thinks barking, from other dogs, is scary, no matter how much she likes the non-barking version of that dog. We crossed the street and started up the hill and only stopped when Cricket needed to sniff an errant pair of purple underwear on the curb. I glanced back, just because I wasn’t as enticed by the underwear, and there was Poochie, alone and unleashed. He stood there, twenty feet away, watching us. I wasn’t sure I was really seeing him. Poochie is the mama’s boy of all mama’s boys and I’d never have imagined him misbehaving, going anywhere without his mom, or, and this was the biggest shock, being so desperate to see Cricket that he ran out of the safety of his house. He stood still as we moved towards him, slowly, and he even let Cricket sniff at him for a moment. But a moment was more than enough and he turned and started to run into the middle of the street. I called to him, but he just stood there, until I aimed Cricket at him and managed to coax him to the side of the street with the threat of her nose about to sniff his butt. When he saw his Mommy running out to find him he raced into his harness and asked for uppies, while Cricket jumped up at his mommy’s legs.

            Now we troll the neighborhood looking for dogs to save. It is such a high. For those few moments, I felt like an actual good person, a brave person with her values in the right place, even an effective person – none of which I get to feel in my life otherwise.