Thursday, April 9, 2009

“I think that Pharoah is my least-favorite person in the whole planet.”

We just had a simple Seder at our house this year, since the first night of Passover fell mid-week and driving an hour north for a full family-wide holiday meal—which surely would involve Jacob interrupting the Four Questions to ask the Fifth Question, “What’s for dessert?” and Rebecca crying hysterically when I refused to let her wear Disney Princess pajama pants to the gathering—seemed like an awful lot of effort to go through for foods we don’t enjoy.

Because—as shocking and scandalous as this will sound—we don’t like Passover foods.

Barry and I are both Jewish, but we eat like we’re Greek or Thai or Italian, preferring garlic and red pepper to boiled chicken fat as our spices of choice. This subversive take on our own cuisine is partially what’s kept us married happily for almost eight years; not liking the foods our grandmothers slaved over the stove to prepare for us when we were kids might be, short of our love for our children—our only shared passion. Barry’s a night owl and a sports nut and I’m an early-to-bed-early-to-rise athletic pacifist, but when it comes to detesting brisket, lamb, chopped liver, gefilte fish and anything involving kippuring or “herring,” we are indeed a match made in Heaven.

So since the Seder meal was only going to be consumed by us herring haters and two picky kids, the menu consisted of: Tilapia Veracruz (sautéed onions, orange peppers, garlic, jalepeno and cumin), a baked potato and steamed broccoli. Matzoh on the side. Our Seder plate had all the usual suspects: the egg, the scoop of haroset (not made by me—purchased from Aroma kosher supermarket), the parsley, the bitter herb and the salt water. We don’t eat lamb and even with chicken, we get the boneless, skinless fillets, so Barry had to make a pretend bone out of paper, scissors and marker. (It kind of looked like the bone Pebbles from “The Flintstones” wore in her hair.)

With unappetizing food no longer an issue, we were able to actually have some fun with the rest of the Passover proceedings. Rebecca did charming renditions of “Oh Where, Oh Where is the Afikomen” and a cheerful song about all the happy frogs that jumped on the evil Pharoah and his soldiers during the Ten Plagues. Jacob read the English translation of the Four Questions and Barry and I sang them in Hebrew.

Then after our meal, we “reclined” in front of the computer to watch “Who Let the Jews Out?” on YouTube. It was a very nice Seder, all things considered. (Not fighting Rebecca about the pajama pants definitely was an improvement over any outing involving leaving the house.)

My mother-in-law had bought the kids a copy of “My First Passover Board Book” a few years ago, and that was what I read them at bedtime. When I read it to Rebecca, I skipped the part about Pharoah killing all Jewish baby boys…but Jacob can read. He was pretty shocked by that. “I think that Pharoah is my least-favorite person in the whole planet, Mommy,” he told me. “He would have killed me when I was a baby.”

Before I kissed Jacob good night, I thought sadly to myself that Pharoah wasn’t the only bad guy in our history. There was Hitler, Haman, the Spanish inquisition...the list goes on. We’ve got a gory past, and in some places of the world, a gory present. I’m just grateful I can provide my children with what I hope will be a safer future.

It’s worth it to choke down some tasteless cardboard, to keep that in mind. Although for the most part, I have to confess I’ll be sticking to recipes from Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet during this week of no bread and pasta. There’s only so much matzoh-meal a girl can take.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Epilogue: Welcome to Weston

To read Part One: Welcome to Weston click here.
To read Part Two: Welcome to Weston click here.
To read Part Three: Welcome to Weston click here.

To read The Grand Finale: Welcome to Weston click here

What a Coincidence.

A few weeks after I finally saw the light and stopped hanging out with Esther and Rosie, Barry and I took a trip back to my hometown, Philadelphia. While we were there, we visited our good friends Margo and Jon—and oh, were they a sight for sore eyes! (When you’re not having much luck in the new friend department, is there anything better than a few hours with old, true friends?)

Margo and I had gone to grad school together. In addition to sharing two years’ worth of academic trials and tribulations—including a weird storytelling elective where the two of us had to act out the emotions of tribal African folk characters, and a master’s requirement that forced us to translate part of Dante’s Inferno with absolutely no working knowledge of Italian—we’d also gone through a lot of personal milestones together, too. We were single together, engaged at around the same time, and knocked up within six weeks of each other. Just to give you a sense of how far back we went: Margo knew me before I waxed my eyebrows. Needless to say, it was comforting to vent to her about my Weston friendship misadventures.

She listened patiently as I told her about the mess I'd gotten myself into with these two fake friends. I think Margo was about to offer me some sage, zen advice about how to take all of this drama in stride, when a friend of the family who had been visiting them at the time—a kind, stylish 60ish woman who was from the West Coast of Florida—interrupted her: “Wait, did you say you live in Weston?”

I nodded.

“Well, you shouldn’t have any trouble meeting nice people in Weston! That’s where good friends of ours live. Do you know a young woman your age named Shari?"

I had to admit, I did not. I only knew Esther and Rosie and a handful of seemingly nice women I hadn’t gotten a chance to get to know very well, with the two of them double-teaming me and bad-mouthing everyone else.

Margo’s Floridian family friend then proceded to tell me all about Shari and Shari's family. She and her husband were just a few years younger than me and Barry, and they had two kids close in age to our kids’ ages. Best of all, this mutual matchmaking friend insisted, Shari was the most down to earth Jewish woman in the state of Florida (quite a feat indeed) and that I would love her. Now by this point, I'd traded in my let's join the Mom's Club enthusiasm for a bit of gun-shy caution, given what I’d just been through, but reluctantly I passed on my contact information.

A few days later, I was indeed sitting across the table from the most down to earth Jewish woman in the state of Florida. Shari was pretty and smart and--get this--a fellow English major! I still remember how tiny her then four month old son was sleeping in his baby stroller. (You should see him now--he's a handsome, brown eyed bruiser at age 2 1/2!) Rebecca was eleven months--I remember her fidgeting in a high chair, chewing on a plain bagel, while we chatted. It was, Shari later joked, our “blind date.” And unlike most blind dates I'd been on, it was going very well, despite my initial skepticism.

In fact, it was going so well that after about an hour of getting-to-know-you chitchat, I blurted out the whole story of my first Weston friendships. Shari stared at me for a minute and then said, “You’re kidding, right? I think I might know who you’re talking about.” Wendy, one of her closest friends, she then told me, had had a similar friendship that sounded uncannily like my relationship with Esther. But she couldn't remember this friend's name...

I told her I doubted it was the same person—and that if anything, Weston must be a breeding ground for these kinds of dysfunctional friendships. Fortunately for the Weston population, it turns out I was wrong: a few days later, Shari invited us over for a playdate with her kids, and to meet Wendy. Who, like Shari, was a sweet, smart, funny, down to earth woman. But unlike Shari…Wendy also happened to be Esther’s ex best friend. [Cue spooky soap opera music.]

Wendy and I, who were then total strangers, proceeded to spend the entire morning swapping Esther stories--to the point that naps were skipped, fussy babies were idly shushed, and several containers of Shari's lemon-flavored Sabra hummus were consumed. Some of Wendy's Esther stories were even crazier than mine—Esther apparently had moved to Weston in the first place to be closer to Wendy, who eventually had to extract herself from their relationship when she felt stalked. But there were a few things all of our stories had in common:

-Esther made sure to tell us that we were the only “smart” women in the entire Ft. Lauderdale/Miami metropolitan region
-With so many dummies, we came to believe that she was the only one worthy of our time/friendship
-Interlopers who hung out with us in Esther’s company were stupid/tacky/poorly dressed/ditzy/materialistic

Pretty crazy, huh? Shari broke out the popcorn.

For me, the best discovery, though, of that morning wasn’t that Wendy and I both were Esther’s exes. It was that we actually had much more in common than that--it might have been what both made us easy prey for Esther, but fortunately, that was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, more than two years after that first playdate, I’d say that Esther is least of what binds us together. Who knew that one of my worst friendship experiences would lead to one of my best? For Wendy and Shari, and the other friends I’ve since made through them, I’ll always have Esther to thank.

OK, I have hereby concluded this epic-length blog about how I became a Westonite. Stay tuned in the future to more posts about my kids and spray butter addiction!