Savor Every Sweetness; It’s About to Get Nasty

Waiting in line yesterday at a coffee joint in my small-town Los Angeles suburban village,  I scanned newspaper headlines, and was drawn to the most catastrophic: the likely nomination of the Exxon Mobil CEO — a man with as much diplomatic experience as I (then again, maybe he didn’t spend a semester in Spain) —  as America’s Secretary of State. I wanted to shout FORGIVE US THOMAS JEFFERSON! Instead I emitted a muted groan, shook my head, and looked up to see a friend and her little girl at a table in the corner. My friend was reading the same newspaper. I walked over to them, touched her shoulder, and she looked up, aghast. We cupped our hands to our foreheads. Can this be for real?

Seeking solace, we turned to her daughter, a pre-schooler carefully sipping spoonfuls of oatmeal drowned in whole milk. We let our talk turn to baking gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies, and adopting puppies, and wondering when she’ll get a dog. We talked of things that might suck the poison out of our blood; emergency triage for the soul.

We are just two of the the millions of Americans horrified by each new designated Cabinet nominee and the damage they will do to our country — to our natural resources, to our economy, to our rights — and who are pulled by a primal desire to look away. To bury and busy ourselves in cookies and sweet singing and this little girl enjoying her oatmeal in her rainbow-striped sweater, yellow floral dress, and red and white striped tights. Maybe here in this village, in this coffee shop, in this protected affluence, we who don’t depend on the minimum wage, who can buy water flown in from Fiji if the tap turns bad, who might avoid the initial arrows of hate, have the luxury to look away.

But we can’t. I’m sorry, folks, we can’t look away forever. The world is counting on us.

So let’s get R&R, let’s bake cookies and build gingerbread houses and celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, but let’s remember they are not for hiding in, but for restoring us for the fight.

My friend asked as we parted, “Is your sign still up?” I smiled and said, “Yes. It is bathed and sparkling in holiday lights.” It is adorned for the duration.

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(In case you missed it, my lawn sign got the attention of a neighbor who opined in the local weekly paper that it was “silly” of me to keep it up. Thing was, I had just taken it down. After reading the paper, I had no choice but to restore it, lest anyone think I’d been cowed by the unsigned comment. Here it stands. I still think it’s pretty.)

Stronger Together: Four Generations Cast Their Votes With Her

I am sitting in the “Bistro” area at my grandmother’s assisted living home this morning. Picture a grand but casual hotel, a deluxe joint I have told her is like an ideal college dorm, with exercise classes, lectures, parties and movies, staffed by the type of kind, warm folks you’d want caring for your grandmother.

“Really? A college dorm?” she responds with a smile, this woman who hopped a bus to Hollywood at 18 and never attended college.

The Bistro is laid out with tables set for four, with a small kitchen offering light breakfast of fruit, toast, juice and coffee. Some residents are watching CNN. It is 9:00 a.m., and with nine hours to go before “tip-off” for tonight’s Presidential Debate, the pundits are already discussing the potential pitfalls and highlights of tonight’s clash. I am on edge. I turn away. So much rides on this.

The Bistro is awakening with activity, as men and women who have fought in wars, raised children, created industries (and ask for no credit), arrive for breakfast and tune into the debate coverage.

My grandmother sits next to me, a vision. Her auburn hair is set off perfectly by her light green jacket and pants, and her sharp wit reminds you that you can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl.

Two of her favorite friends, Addie and Arlene, join us for breakfast and conversation. Turns out the four of us have a lot in common. We talk about our children, our increasing memory loss, and our strong feelings about the election.

I pull out my laptop to show them a campaign website I had described to my grandmother last night, the one that lets Hillary Clinton volunteers reach out to voters across the country. It’s astounding how easy it is for people to get involved and to connect. I wanted to show my grandmother how far technology has come.

This is a milestone election for our country. It is also special for my family, but not only because we will have four generations voting for President for the first time. (That itself is cool, but mostly a testament to longevity). What’s truly noteworthy is that in this election, my grandmother, born before women could vote, will cast her first ever General Election Presidential ballot for a woman, while her great-granddaughter will cast her first General Election Presidential vote ever, and it will be for a woman. (And it’s not just “a woman.” It’s this indefatigable, qualified, hard-working, smart, tough, compassionate, imperfect-as-humans-are, brilliant, problem-solving, dedicated-to-service woman.)

It shouldn’t have taken so long for my grandmother to get here. But here we finally are, in a world in which my nieces and my sons, and their cousins and friends, can believe that anyone — any-qualified-one — man or woman, can and should follow their dreams, unlimited by the invisible weighty burden that “no one has ever done that before.”

Our table’s conversation turns to voter registration. One woman isn’t sure if she is registered here, or in her home state of Michigan. We do a quick Google search (after she asks me to “Google her”), and get her registered. Two ladies at an adjacent table come over to confirm they are registered;, and they are. My grandmother calls over the activities director and tells him we have to set up another voter registration day. He agrees. She gets things done.

I’ve sat here an hour longer than I expected, and if I could I would stay all day. The activities are just getting started. And with every minute, I’m feeling less anxious about our country’s future.

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“Let’s Grow Our Light”

This weekend, in the darkness separating Saturday night from Sunday morning, our son’s high school was attacked by a hater with spray paint.

Some thug wrote despicable things. I won’t reprint them, but go ahead and presume the typical hate speech (albeit with 1970’s words), attacking the typical scapegoats: Gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Jews. As soon as it was discovered, a few of the good people of Pacific Palisades removed the chilling words from a mural, from a tree, from the walls welcoming people to Palisades High School. They painted over them on the sidewalk in front of school. I wondered, how could we replace them with kind, inclusive sentiments instead?

First thing this morning, Palisades High students did just that, and their chalk expressions filled the courtyard of the school.

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The ugly attack feels like a a piece of the hateful spirit that is infecting public discourse in America 2016. I’ve watched it unfolding with horror and dismay, but done nothing but wring my hands and worry. Today we were reminded of the lesson that bad things happen when good people do nothing. That standing by is not an option.

That’s easier said than done. What do we do? We organize, we speak up, we vote. We teach our children tolerance, and we let them teach it right back to us. We take the high road, peacefully, like the young people of Palisades High, who responded not by hurling louder epithets, nor by raging when they may have wanted to, but with loving each other more loudly.

See for yourself.

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How Trump Inspired Me to Teach My Children

“Did you hear what Trump said about keeping Muslims out of America?” I asked my son the other morning before school. He was looking at the L.A. Times Sports section while I made breakfast. It was the week after the mass murder in San Bernardino, and we hadn’t talked about it. Maybe because I’d been too anxious about all of it, or too busy with getting life taken care of — kids to school, work done, make dinner, repeat.

“Well, they do sort of want to kill us,” he answered softly. His face said, “isn’t that a reasonable move?”

My stomach dropped as I questioned my bona fides as a parent: Had I allowed my child to become a xenophobe? Where had I failed?

Actually, I understand how a young teenager could feel this way. If you read headlines that “Islamic terrorists” are killing people around the world and down the freeway, it is not irrational to agree with the simplistic sentiment “we should stop letting them in until we get to the bottom of this.”

Folks are scared. So the plain notion — keep ’em out, lock the doors — makes sense, unless you read beyond headlines. Unless you are aware of history. Unless you remember America turning away Jewish refugees, and interning Japanese Americans. Unless you know context. And as his mother, that’s where I come in.

I confess, we haven’t talked much about terrorism. His world view is based on many things, but he doesn’t know what I believe, and he needs to know. He may not know that while terrorists claim to be “Islamic” they do not represent Islam. It is not top of mind that targeting any religious group – creating registries, shutting down places of worship, banning refugees – is 100% contrary to American values, and our Jewish values.

I am ashamed of my omission. I grew up in a home where we debated politics, where my parents taught us about initiatives or candidates they supported or opposed, and why. I thought I’d recreated that home just by being myself, but clearly I hadn’t. Or not enough.

How did that happen? It dawns on me that, unlike my parents, I shield my kids from many aspects of my life rather than incorporate them. Where my mom schlepped me with her to the market or dry cleaner or political rally, I go to the market — and call my Congressman — while my kids are in school. It’s easier for me. But the consequence is I am not transmitting my values. We miss opportunities to talk. And in these times, it is more important than ever to talk about what we believe, what kind of world we want to live in.

Back in the kitchen, my heart raced as I envisioned my son slipping into the darkness of Trump-ism because I hadn’t taught him better. I had one minute to set him straight before sending him off to school. I trotted out everything I could think of, not sure what might pierce his focus on the NFL match-ups for the weekend:

“Islam is not a violent religion. Most Muslims are peaceful.”

“Muslims are just like Jews and Christians. We’re cousins!”

“If a bad guy was a Jew, that wouldn’t make all Jews bad, would it?”

“Remember when we visited Manzanar, the internment camp? That’s what happens when we scapegoat an entire group of people, when we act based on fear.”

“Even Dick Cheney thinks Trump is off his rocker!”

He puts the paper away, ties his shoes, and I take a breath.

“Did you hear anything I said?”

“It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”

There is so much more to say. I want to tell him that the world is a safe place, despite the headlines, and that we do not have to live in fear, or act out of fear.

I need to work on my speech, but the conversation has started.