The mother of them all

In a recent dinner conversation, a friend of mine said that she identifies herself as a runner.  It led to further conversation as to how we each identify ourselves.

My husband said all the right things, “Soldier, husband, father, etc.” I did too. I gave several responses: mother, wife, community volunteer, writer, etc…. I even heard myself saying, “Retired Teacher!”

What I found disconcerting, however, is that in all my complexity, I craved some sort of clear-cut, all-encompassing, simple  label that I could use to brand my entire identity.

It wasn’t until days later when I was thinking back on that particular conversation that I came up with the perfect answer: “Jewish Mother.” I am a Jewish Mother, an identity of which I am exceedingly proud.

I remember the first time somebody referred to me as such. I did not feel so grand. I envisioned the stereotypical Jewish mother who interferes in the lives of her children, feeds the world, is demanding and controlling. Think of Fran Drescher’s mom in the TV show The Nanny.

How could I be seen in relation to that?

When I was a teenager in Southern California’s Orange County in the late 1970’s, we joked about another stereotype: The Jewish American Princess, or JAP for short. That’s how my friends and I referred to some of the  girls  who went to the same Jewish weekend camps as we did.

We saw them through the perspective of another stereotype: spoiled, materialistic, whiny and demanding. Semi-privileged that we were, we only viewed ourselves as borderline.

Borderline seemed okay with me, a bit glamorous, a tad alluring, while still human and reasonable (as reasonable as a teenager could be.)

I took that image  with me to college, Borderline JAP, and wore it pretty well. I taught Hebrew School and continued with the camps. I associated with new Jewish friends and learned more about my faith. I enjoyed a reasonable amount of comfort, but  came nowhere near the ostentatious style of others that I met.

This borderline status was still hanging in the back of my closet almost 20 years later when my friend Mark from L.A. was visiting us in Hawaii. He was the first to call me that name, “Jewish mother.”

Like I said before, my reaction was not so positive. While he did not mean it as an insult in any way, I felt a bit rattled.

I had not worn my college clothes in a very long time.  But  they were still hanging around in the back of my mind as a connection to my past. While I had no illusions that  I would fit into them again some day, I had not thrown them out either.

After the initial shock I realized how much I had changed. It has been a VERY long time since I could even be remotely mistaken for some sort of princess, Jewish American or not.

I had been a mother for longer than I had been in college. I wouldn’t let my daughter near a princess dress or tiara or anything. If I were to be described in any royal terms, “Queen Bee” would be a better choice.

I had to rethink my identity.

I quickly cleaned out my closet and left my memories to yearbooks and photo albums. But I was not quite ready to fit into my new skin. I had not made the full transition to Jewish Mother, even one without the negative stereotype.

That term was reserved for the ladies at the Temple who help with the Oneg Shabbat after services on Friday nights, the Sisterhood President, my own mother. But not me, not yet.

That was several years ago. I am happy to announce that I did grow into my own skin. I have a lovely wardrobe and I wear many hats.

After driving the Hebrew school carpool for years, making latkes for the Temple Chanukkah party, feeding my family plus many of Waianae High School’s journalism students and volunteering to donate matzah for the Sunday school’s model seder, I am pretty sure I have earned the proud status of Jewish Mother.

Yes, I might be a bit overprotective of my two precious daughters and I might care very deeply about the welfare of the ones I love. However, I am not meddlesome or overbearing, more like loving and caring.

A Borderline Jewish Mother is a perfect description.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: