Let’s talk about the F word…

Every where I go I bump into people who are doing it, on street corners, at the local supermarket, at my kids’ school.

It’s hard to turn around these days and not find somebody asking for money in support of a program or a cause or a trip to the mainland for a championship game. The F word of which I speak has more than four letters. It has 11–FUNDRAISING. But the sound of it is becoming just as distasteful as the vulgar term that usually comes to mind.

I am not unwilling to support a worthy cause. On the contrary. I am an enthusiastic supporter of all causes worthy. I just don’t agree with the  plethora of methods employed to garner my precious support and am not sure that other people’s definitions of worthy match mine.

My husband created an acronym that aptly relates to the title and shares the sentiment. In order to avoid being accused of using profanity, I will spell it out for you: Fundraising Using Children and Kids.

Yesterday I went to the Kapolei Safeway and met a group of cub scouts who were set up next to the entrance. I approached their table without being asked, eager to support an esteemed organization such as theirs. They were selling popcorn. I like popcorn. I was ready to buy. The smallest bag was $10. TEN DOLLARS for a bag of caramel corn? I couldn’t believe it. The one that had nuts was $20. That’s nuts!

That’s what got me thinking about how fundraising has become big business and that too many people besides the actual beneficiary are out there  making money off of my support.

Raise your hand if your kids have had to sell Zippys chili tickets, huli huli chicken tickets or some other kind of tickets for their school or sports team? Then raise your hand again if you ended up buying those tickets, picked up the said chili or chicken and applied it to the next potluck invitation you received.

Or maybe you paid for an entire box of  48 bags of M & M’s because you and your kids ate them over the course of the past month.

I would rather write a check than sell all of those tickets and candy. It is cheaper, so much easier and I can write it off as a charitable donation.

I would also rather support a car wash. That seems like good value for my money and reasonable return for effort.

I wonder how much money each of us spends buying snacks and candy and magazines from every kid that comes knocking on our wallets. What if I applied the money that I spend on your kids to my own and you kept yours to yourself and we all stopped asking everybody to support each other and simply took care of ourselves?

At least these young peddlers  are selling something. I have ranted before about the groups who stand on street corners with scoop nets asking me to drop some cash from my car window so that they can travel to the mainland for “The most amazing opportunity ever.” Usually it is a sports team that has qualified for a national tournament. It looks like begging to me: Children standing on a street corner asking strangers for money so that they can go on a trip to play a game. I say, if you can’t afford it, don’t go.

I also think that these leagues should provide a viable way for their teams to garner support. Find sponsors for these kids. Apply for grants. Give them jobs.

We have come to think of so many luxuries and privileges as necessities for our children and then ask other people to spend money in support of them. Let them concentrate on school and local activities, earn a scholarship for college, get a job and then travel to their heart’s delight.

Please do not misunderstand me. I know that there are many children in our community and beyond that cannot afford even the basic necessities. I am not talking about them. I am the first in line to organize a school supplies drive for these students and to donate money to organizations that feed and clothe and house them. I also think that they deserve the opportunity to participate in extra curricular activities and sports. I am willing to make a donation in support of that too.

I also know only too well that our public schools are under funded and in dire need of support. That is an entirely different blog post.

I just think that our community fundraising efforts have evolved in a  direction that ends up using our children as a means to a somewhat capitalist end and in the process we end up selling ourselves and them a little bit short.

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.

We had a ball anyway…

They no longer call the National Guard Birthday Ball a “Ball.” It is now a “Commemoration.”

Either way, we went on December 11, 2010 and had a great time.

I’m kind of glad that they changed the name. Calling it a Ball is a bit deceptive. It really is more like a banquet.

I remember the first time my husband asked me to join him. He was in the Reserves then and we had been dating for several months. I was very excited. Since I am all about the dress, I asked him about the attire and he said that it was formal. “Like a prom dress,” he said.

Of course I went out and bought a fancy new dress and imagined an evening of dancing and drinking champagne and any other detail a princess fairy tale could conjure. While I was not disappointed in my Prince Charming of an escort, nor the Ball in general, it did not meet my magical expectations whatsoever.

First of all, I did not have to buy a prom dress. Semi formal will do. Every year I swear that I am not going to go out and buy a new dress, but I always do. He not only gets to, but has to wear the same thing each time, so it is no problem for him.

I’ve learned not to spend too much and have finally figured out how to be dressed up and comfortable at the same time.

I had a lot of practice with the UH ROTC Dining Out events. Dining Out is also a better term than “Ball”

2006

2009

My favorite “Ball” was in 2008. It was our first National Guard Ball and I wore my wedding dress from the year before. We were still enjoying the afterglow of newlyweddedness (I like to think we still sort of are.)

We saw our friends Mishan and James and I was perfectly comfortable and relaxed, which always makes for a great evening.

Second of all, dancing is not the focus of the evening. There are several ceremonies to which I have become accustomed over the years: presenting the Colors, toasts and after dinner speeches.

The entertainment is usually a military band, not designed for ballroom dancing. The DJ comes on after the Colors are retired and we are usually so tired ourselves at this point that it is time for us to go home.

This year, they renamed it a Commemoration. That totally works for me. We had a very nice time.

The fact that it was held at the JW Marriot Ihilani Resort and Spa Hokulani Ballroom was a big plus. Not only is it beautiful there, but it is also close to home. We did not have to fight traffic in and out of Waikiki on a Saturday night.

Drive nicely, or GET OFF THE ROAD

I used to be a good driver. At least that’s what I thought.

Other than  a minor fender bender in the middle of rush hour traffic in West L.A. when I was in college a very long time ago that was never even determined to be my fault, I have suffered no major car accidents

The only speeding ticket I ever got was in the spring of 1991 when I was driving the almost 200 miles from Kansas City to Omaha for my Uncle Buddy’s birthday party.

I had never driven that far by myself, but my mother did not want me to miss the party and my work schedule was not conducive to me riding with her or my sister. So I chugged my little rented Geo Tracker (remember those) along the highway as fast I as I possibly could so that I would arrive in time.  That’s when I got pulled over.

I still made it to the party and my family’s side with moments to spare and my mother, in a gracious gesture of understanding, paid the fine. It was altogether a very long time ago.

I do not think that either of these incidents even remotely suggests that I am in any way a bad driver.

It was not until I married my second husband that I got the slightest inkling that I might not be up to standard, in the driving department. According to him, I might even be considered a traffic hazard. But certainly not for going too fast. Speedy Gonzales is not my MO.

He never commented on my skills. I don’t even think he realized this particular shortcoming. It was I who brought it to his attention.

When we got  hitched a few years ago, my husband was an Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He commuted from Kapolei to UH each day which meant he was often stuck in traffic. Yes, Hawaii has traffic, in abundance.

This gave him plenty of time to reflect on the deficient skills of the drivers around him who created much of the congestion that was so understandably annoying.

The drive home was the worst. What should normally take about 30 minutes to drive the 23 miles between our house and the university could easily suck up 90 to 120 minutes of his afternoon. That’s how bad the traffic can get. It totally sucks. Thank goodness he doesn’t have to do it anymore. Now he works  in another direction and comes and goes in about 20 minutes. He is a much happier man.

I noticed that the frustration induced by the demanding commute translated into him becoming a slightly more aggressive driver.

One of the things that I liked about him when we were dating was that I felt safe in his car when we were on the road. He never seemed to be in too much of a hurry. He did not tailgate. He kept two hands on the wheel (most of the time) and his eyes on the road. I’d had a few scary incidents in my past and it was comforting to be in a man’s car with whom I felt safe.

I still feel safe in his car. I simply saw a shift in his driving habits when he worked at UH. Mostly he drove faster and was more likely to change lanes to get around somebody who was traveling too slowly.

Over dinner is when I heard his complaints. From his perspective, a majority of Oahu’s drivers  do not understand what is considered common rules of the road, especially when they are  on the freeway. Due to their lack of consideration for the flow of traffic, they create more congestion than necessary.

As he delineated the details of their violations, his description of how each lane should be traveling faster than the one to the right of it, allowing for lane changes as drivers accelerate or exit, his complaints about people who brake in the middle of traffic for no discernible reason or to look at something happening on the side of the road and the subsequent chain reaction this braking causes for miles behind, hit home.

“That’s me,” I thought–except the “Lookie Loo” part. I do not slow down to look at other people’s problems on the side of the road. I have always thought it was an invasion of their privacy at what is usually a very stressful time.

What I had perceived as protecting the safety of me and my children, my cautious, defensive driving was actually causing problems for others and creating minor hazards on the road. HELLO!

With my new-found  understanding of the rules of the road, I changed several of my habits with great success and little compromise.

Turns out I get places faster these days as I move with the flow of traffic. I still boast a clean driving record. I can also add to that list  that, even though I know he was not directing his criticism at me, I am completely confident that if my husband and I were to meet on the road, he would feel no nagging annoyance at my ignorant driving habits. Instead, I would garner his admiration and appreciation anywhere we go.

Good Car Ma

I often write about “The Carpool” and many might be tired of hearing about it, but it has been one of the most time-saving, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and personally helpful things about my life as a parent.

When I bought a new car in 2004 there were only me and my daughter, who was in second grade at the time, to consider. But I had high hopes of  forming a carpool to take our kids  from our home in Ko Olina to Kapolei’s IPA, such high hopes that I bought “The Pacifica” which seated 6.

The carpool did not come into fruition until 2 years later when I met Laurie Hanan (who is the best blog commenter I know) and began our long-term relationship in what we fondly call the Kapolei Carpool.

It never happened for regular school, but Laurie and I have been shuttling our kids back and forth from the Synagogue on Wednesdays and Sundays and any other chance in between  since 2005.

The Pacifica was on its way to a painful demise so I figured I would finally replace it. It turned out to be a more emotional experience than I imagined. I was pretty attached to that car. It had been my life for six years. We spent so much time driving places and had so much stuff in it that my daughter used to call it our mobile home.

But change was inevitable and it turned out to be all a matter of what I am fondly calling Good Carma. Weeks before I went to buy a car, a friend of mine proudly showed me her new Highlander. It is a very nice car and one that I had considered buying. She told me of her unpleasant experience at several dealerships and how it had influenced her final decision to purchase this Toyota.

I could not imagine how a salesperson’s attitude would be a deciding factor in such a major purchase such as a new automobile. Then I went car shopping one Saturday and learned first hand how right she was. After hours of web surfing and intense perusal of Edmunds.com, I decided to buy a Chevy Traverse. We  rented one in California last August and enjoyed it immensely.

I test drove it again when I returned to Hawaii and confirmed my good first impression. That is until I went to three different Chevy dealers on Oahu and left the last one absolutely disgusted at their inventory, communication and manipulation to try to get me to buy something that I did not want.

I left the Chevy dealer on Nimitz Highway, turned right and saw the Buick dealer a few blocks down. I vaguely remembered seeing a Buick online kind of like the Chevy Traverse and impulsively turned into their parking lot.

Four hours and five phone calls to my husband for emergency online information later, I drove away in my brand new 2011 Buick Enclave and have been thrilled every minute since I bought it. That’s what I call Good Car Ma! Their salesman, Mike Chau, was helpful, honest and went out of his way to help me find what I wanted. And he bought me ice cream while we waited for the car to be prepared by these very nice young men.

The managers were reasonable at the negotiation table and the finance guy was straightforward and honest. I have to say that I never imagined I’d be a big ole’ Buick driving mama, but I float across Kapolei, right onto H1, straight into Honolulu with pleasure ever since my karma kicked in and I made that right turn into the Hawaii Auto Group and traded in my beloved Pacifica for my newly adored Enclave.

Jewaiian Time

I grew up with Jewish Standard Time. That’s the way most Jewish social events don’t ever start on time. If you tell people to come at 7 pm, they show up around 7:20 and you don’t get started until after 7:30.

People have busy lives with jobs and kids and responsibilities. They try to fit in as much as they can. If  Synagogue life cannot be at the center of their lives, at least it is a part. They will get there when they get there and do what they can.

Then I moved to Hawaii. Here they call it Hawaiian Time. Same concept. Most things start late, but for slightly different reasons. Hawaii is “Laid Back.” Not in a lazy sort of way, but with grace and ease. What’s the hurry? We have plenty of time. Just as the tide rolls in, so do the people. And then they stay.

And then there’s being Jewish in Hawaii.

I recently heard the combination of  Jewish Standard Time and Hawaiian Time referred to as “Jewaiian Time”–a powerful combination–certainly in terms of scheduling.

With these two cultural idiosyncrasies working together, it is almost completely impossible for anything to start as scheduled.

Luckily, they create a compelling synergy. The laid back nature of the island culture has definitely had an effect on the local Jewish Community, softening an underlying edge that I might have felt in other places.

Some might come a bit late, programs and meetings may not begin exactly on time, but nobody minds and they certainly stay, transforming our Shul on Oahu into at true Beit Knesset, place of assembly, gathering place.

It’s this sort of “Go with the flow” kind of lifestyle that makes being Jewish in Hawaii such a unique experience, certainly one worth writing about.

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