The “Cool Mom” moment

It takes a lot to impress my 15 year old son at this phase in his life when he thinks he knows everything. However, today I accomplished something that earned me his admiration, an extra big hug and a bouquet of lilacs. Let me side track briefly by saying that not only did I impress him, but I also overcame all the obstacles Apple puts up to limit us to buying music only from their iTunes Store.

My son enjoys music that most teenagers don’t even know about. He and a friend are fans of King Crimson, who put out their first album in 1969. The group did not sell out to iTunes so the boys searched for the CDs on Ebay and bought as many as they could find. The only problem was that he doesn’t own a CD player and his portable device is an Ipad. This morning he presented me the stack of CDs and told me he would do anything I asked of him if I could load the music onto it. While he was at school I tackled the challenge with determination. Maybe I wanted to prove myself to him in this age of technology, or maybe I just wanted to make him happy. Either way, it was an arduous process which included  backing up his Ipad to the PC and then importing and syncing 11 albums. There were long delays while all his files transferred to the computer and it was frustrating at times. This was not how I had planned to spend my day.

Fortunately , by the time he came home I had managed to complete the challenge and nearly 80 songs from 11 albums were loaded onto his device. I received a huge smile and a big hug, as well as a “Wow, Mom  you did it! Thank you soooo much!”. Now he is happily mowing the lawn with his new music blasting on his headphones. And I am savoring a “Cool Mom Moment”- because I know it won’t last long.

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What is Your Musical Personality?

  What does one’s musical taste say about their personality? My son is a big fan of classic rockers Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Neil Young. The poignant lyrics of their ballads, civil rights or anti-war songs seem to touch his soul. He will be the first to stand up for something he believes is right. My daughter prefers the more cheery melodies and hopeful love songs of the Top 40 Chart. She works hard in school and looks forward to unwinding after a long day by singing her favorite songs in the privacy of her room.

I have always loved music and it continues to be an important part of my life; however it would be hard to pin me down as to any one type. I was trained to play classical music on the piano but also enjoy breaking out the “Great Songs of the   60’s” songbook. At Christmas time, I love to play my favorite carols and will sing along with my Messiah score to a DVD recording. Within the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure of three unrelated musical experiences. You may be puzzled at first, but I think that ultimately you will discover the link to my personality.

During the week I was in Jamaica, every tourist bus, boat or restaurant played Bob Marley. Being in Jamaica brought a whole new light to his lyrics-  not just from an American civil rights perspective. Seeing the poverty on the island and the deprived conditions, as well as the dependence on tourism, gave a truer meaning to his “Songs of Freedom.”  While riding the boat out to the reef for snorkelling, the captain invited us to sing along to “No Woman No Cry”. I love to sing and quickly jumped into the moody tune. My husband joined in, although somewhat more reservedly. My son shot me dagger eyes and elbowed me in the ribs- silently begging me to stop embarrassing him. I restrained myself out of respect for his feelings, although I did keep bopping my head.

When we returned from our trip, my husband and I were thrilled to attend the Springsteen Wrecking Ball Tour in Albany. We had bought the latest CD and been listening to the new music in preparation. The concert lived up to all expectations. The Boss rocked hard for three hours, pulling out old favorites along with the new ones. The emotions were raw and real and the energy of the crowd was radiant. Dancing and singing along to the music was amazing and we left the concert with a feeling of rejuvenation.

 Last night, we attended a completely different musical event. We saw the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s performance of “Carmina Burana”. There were two choral groups and an extensive orchestra, as well as three soloists. The house was packed, which is unusual. My husband and I were excited about the show. I had sung it many years ago (before kids) and he had listened to me rehearse and perform. Some of the songs are our favorites and we could hardly keep from tapping our feet. There was a man a few seats down who went so far as to wave his hands, conductor style. I felt badly for the “naive” sector of the audience who clapped after a movement or solist and were rudely reprimanded by their peers.

As much as I appreciate classical  music and understand the reason for the etiquette of silence, that reaction made me realize why I prefer rock and roll. I want music I can be a part of; music I can sing and dance to. Music is a way to engage myself- heart and soul. The examples of my son letting me know I was embarrassing him or the audience scolding members for clapping inappropriately illustrate the importance of interaction for me. Music should be about expression. In order to appreciate it I have to experience it, vocally and physically. As wonderful as the orchestra and chorus were, it would have been even  more enjoyable if I could have wiggled in my seat.

This observation also makes me realize why my kids think going to the orchestra is boring. They both love music, but sitting quietly is not their way of enjoying it. I can totally relate. I guess it is time to take out my CD and sing and wave my arms when no one else is home. “Oh Fortuna!”

Balancing Traditions in an Interfaith Family

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. It was a busy day, so we didn’t have time for a full-blown celebration; but we did gather in the kitchen to light the first candles of the 8 night holiday tradition. The kids laughed at the hand-painted menorah one of them had made at a very young age and were happy to sing while we lit the lights.

Ever since they were little, my husband and I have tried to find the right balance between his Jewish rituals and my Christian traditions. We bought a combination of holiday story books,  including Twas the Night Before Christmas and The Magic Dreidels. We even had one that was about an interfaith family celebration, Light the Lights.  I found an unbreakable Nativity set which the kids could play with alongside the toy dreidels.

I took them to a paint your own pottery studio so they could each paint a personal menorah. The year my son painted his, my daughter made a Santa candy dish.  We also have a special Christmas tree ritual  (described in an earlier post The Perfect Christmas Tree) I described our Christmas ritual.

Our first ornaments as a couple trying to balance traditions

We often light our menorah in the same room as our tree, so we have all kinds of holiday lights burning. We hang our stockings by the fireplace and decorate our table with a menorah as well as a wreath.

All of these rituals seem to stand on their own without diminishing the importance of any other. The one major difference though, is the lack of Hanukkah music. Singing Christmas carols was (and still is) my favorite part of the holiday. I know I complained about hearing Christmas music after Halloween, but lately I have been listening to it regularly, even singing along when the kids aren’t in earshot. There are so many great Christmas songs and I wanted to balance them with some comparable Hanukkah music. I did find a few cds, but there were only a few catchy songs that you could sing along with.

How can you compare kids songs to Handel's masterpiece?

The rest were either in Hebrew or were spoofs of Christmas songs. You could tell the songs were created just to appease Jewish parents; so I don’t even try matching them anymore. We just commit ourselves to Christmas carols.

The biggest challenge to finding balance, though has been gift-giving. At first, we tried to follow the childhood traditions of each of us. My husband had gotten one present a night, with one of them being a major gift; neither he nor his brothers received their big gift on the same night, so it was always a surprise.  I, of course, had gotten all my presents at once on Christmas morning, still in my pajamas while my parents sipped coffee to wake up at that hour. By the time we went through this painstaking routine twice , we realized that this was overkill and we had to change things.

Unless you are Jewish, you probably don’t realize that Hanukkah is not a very important holiday and that it has only gained recognition because it falls at the same time of year as Christmas. Gifts were really only added to make Hanukkah more child-friendly; it is actually a celebration of a Jewish victory in a war against the Greeks and a reconsecration of a holy temple with a miraculous supply of oil. Taking this historical information into account led us to drop the gift giving, except for some little tokens- candy, an iTunes card, dreidels. While the kids still receive Hanukkah gifts from their grandparents and aunt, we focus on lighting the menorah, playing a rousing dreidel competition and enjoying the traditional meal of latkes (more on this tomorrow).

Tonight we will have a big meal while we light our menorah and in a few days we will head to my sister’s house for our Christmas celebration. It is all a matter of balance, complex but meaningful; loaded with traditions that have been pared down to the most meaningful ones. The good news is that even though the kids really look forward to the Christmas gifts, they seem to appreciate the significance of all the rituals we have chosen to follow. I guess that means we have found a good mix.