And a nice one about the girl, then-6.

Also stumbled upon, also made me happy. The girl in question turned 11 two weeks ago.

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Ow! My heart!

circlesI was just snuggling with my daughter in her wee bed, and she had been quiet for a minute or two when she says to me: “How many people draw perfect circles?” (Only she still says “puh-fect suh-cles”).

I say “Oh, not many.”

“Yeah, that’s probably done by machines.”

“You know what honey, you really have to settle down now….”

“Can I just -?”

“One thing,” I say, my cheek against her forehead, my arms around her.

“You know those things that you trace where you make everything just puh-fect?”

“Yeah….”

“Does a machine make those things?”

“Yeah, a machine makes them.”

“I thought so. I knew a puh-son couldn’t make it like that.”

I grin and grin and pull her even closer, kiss her forehead, and say: “You are, just, figuring out the world…!”

And without missing a beat she says: “But I’m only just at the start of it. Because I’m six years old.”

A love letter to my boy, then-11.

I stumbled across the following this morning, and its mood is just so different from anything I’m getting to write lately — and it made me so happy — that I decided to re-up it. The boy in question will turn 15 next week. (And so far, the rough years have yet to appear, with either child. Fingers ever crossed).

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And then I got sick.

I woke up this morning really pretty miserable with a cold, so I declared a sick day.

The boy, aged some 6 months, under a different blanket.

The boy, aged some 6 months, under a different blanket.

One of the beautiful things about being self-employed is that you don’t even have to call anyone. You just get under a blanket with a book, et voila! Sick day!

This one turned out to be a particularly nice one, though. It’s Winter Break for the girl and boy, but the girl was at her grandmother’s, the boy home with me. He and I sat on our massive sectional couch (never mock a sectional. NEVER. That thing is like the beating heart of our family. I love it more than I love our house), he under the blue blanket, me under the green, and we read. And occasionally chatted. I ordered him a pizza and me a sandwich; we ate lunch, reading and occasionally chatting. I picked up a little around the house (creating that very necessary I-wasn’t-a-complete-loser-today feeling), he was on his laptop some (yes, my 11 year old has his own laptop. Don’t you judge me!), he got me water when I asked him to, and brought my coffee cup back to the kitchen, and at one point looked at from his book and/or computer, smiled at me and said “This is fun!”

If I’ve ever heard more beautiful words, I don’t know what they might have been.

As the afternoon wore on, he asked to go to a friend’s house but said he wanted to be back in time to watch a movie with me before the husband/dad brought his sister home, so he did and we did. And then I discovered huge holes in the bottoms of his socks, so we ripped them to pieces while they were still on his feet. And he ran giggling to his dad in the kitchen: “Dad! Check out my new leg-warmers!”

I am crazy about my family. We have so much fun together, all four of us together as well as in our various duos and trios, and I can’t believe how lucky I am. Our plans for New Year’s Eve involve the four of us going out together, and I have to admit, I kind of feel like, well, why on earth would I plan a celebration without the kids? What fun would that be?

And yet, these days will pass. I mean, I know — I think I know — that we’ll always have fun together. Sure, there are bound to be a few rough years (starting any minute now, frankly), but I think we enjoy each other so genuinely that that fun will always carry through. If there are rough years, it’ll wait for us on the other side.

But it will be different. There will boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and there will greater distance, more push, more pull. Our time will grow increasingly limited, and it will increasingly involve additional people. Our foursome — our magical, miraculous foursome, the unit that laughs itself silly over dinner, singing songs and telling jokes, the unit that can travel the world and have fun even in the face of travel disaster — our foursome will become something else.

And for a little while today, that knowledge made me sad.

But then I remembered, as my generous, kind-spirited pre-teen brought my cup to the kitchen, that he had once been a different boy, several different boys, all boys I didn’t want to lose. All boys I loved and wanted to hold on to (even during a couple of pretty rough toddler years) and never let go of.

But now he is this boy, and I suddenly realized, as he settled back in: I don’t know what boys, what men my son will become — but they will be awesome. It will be something different, something wonderful in its own way, something that I cannot see now, but which will be delightful, because they will be him.

Same-same, it goes without saying, for the girl.

So I guess we’ll be ok. I suppose the years of our spending New Year’s Eve together may be numbered, but whatever child I lose each time a birthday rolls around, so far, the child I have gained has been a new kind of terrific — each age with its blessings and its curses, each an adventure and a joy. Even the bad times. It’ll be ok.

If only all my sick days could be this good.

Dear Mike Huckabee: You do know how reproduction works, right?

The original title of this post was Dear GOP: You do know how pregnancy works, right?, and it was my single most viewed post, ever, getting more than 100,000 hits in March, 2012. Apparently, though, Mike Huckabee didn’t get the memo. So I’m re-upping it.

I have been pregnant four times.

These pregnancies led to the following four results, in this order: abortion, baby, miscarriage, baby.

These pregnancies occurred over a span of many years, across two continents, and in three different homes. There were at least seven different health care professionals involved, my hair styles varied widely, as did my levels of nausea. The only constant, in all four cases, other than me, was the presence of a penis.

It happened to be the penis I eventually married, but regardless, that is how reproduction works. No matter who you are, no matter your sexuality, ability to reproduce, or family make-up, if there are children in your life, at some point along the way, there was a penis involved.

I mention this only because it seems the GOP, and star player Mike Huckabee, may have forgotten.

Because as we trundle along, shaming women for having any kind of sex, ever, that is not entirely focused on producing babies — even if we are married, even if it wasn’t so much “sex” as “rape,” even if having a baby would threaten our health and thus the well-being of the children we already have — we are completely and utterly ignoring the fact that the single, solitary way for humans to reproduce is for sperm to meet egg. And sperm, you may recall, come from penises.

Which are attached to men.

If women are having too much sex, so are men. If women are producing babies, so are men. If women are making irresponsible reproductive choices with which they want to burden “the American people” — so.are.men.

Birth control, abortions, prenatal care, postpartum care, child care — whatever we may think, whatever we may have been told — are not women’s issues. They are human issues.

There is a purely incandescent rage that comes over me now on a nearly daily basis over the blatant dehumanization of women that is currently sweeping the nation. It is exhausting. It is heart breaking. It is spirit crushing. And there’s nothing to be done but to continue to feel it, because I refuse to stop fighting for my right, my daughter’s right, my mother’s right, my sister’s right — the inalienable right of all women everywhere — to human dignity.

But every once and a while, a particularly galling aspect of the GOP’s War on Women floats to the top of the filth, and I am gobsmacked anew. And today it is as simple as this: Women do not reproduce on their own. If the libidos of heterosexual women who use birth control are out of control, Mr. Huckabee, you might want to consider the libidos of the men with whom they’re consorting.

If leading members of the Republican Party are so anxious to control women’s sexuality (and they clearly are), they’d better start shaming men, too.

That is, unless its representatives are willing to argue that men are constitutionally incapable of not sticking their junk into the nearest available lady bits, and we gals have all the power.

I, for one, have too much respect for men to buy that.

PS “Uncle Sugar,” Mike Huckabee? Really?

Nelson Mandela – 95 words on the complexity of righteousness.

Mandela strove for nonviolence, yet when forced, resisted violently. He refused to renounce the right of the oppressed to violent resistance, yet after being released from prison, Mandela worked closely with former enemies. His work was fundamentally political, both radical and practical. We should be made uncomfortable by Mandela’s example – not just celebrate it, but study it. We make assumptions, and cherry-pick, and want to file off edges we don’t like, but the work of the righteous should always make us uncomfortable.

Nelson Mandela זצ”ל – may the memory of the righteous be a blessing.

Honesty being the best policy and so on.

As this week has continued, I’ve realized that I don’t honestly know when or if I’ll be posting here again, and I just this minute [3:56 on Friday afternoon] decided that I wanted to say that, rather than appear to disappear. I’m particularly sorry to the people who have just recently followed In My Head — I can’t say that the blog is finished, because I don’t know that it is, but for now, for the next while, I’m not likely to be writing in this forum.

To everyone who’s been in and out over the last 4+ years (and wow, I honestly had no idea it had been that long), thank you so much for being here. I really do kinda love all y’all, but especially those who have hung out and chatted with me, and made suggestions, and corrected me, and supported me, and given me good ideas and all the happy feels. Thank you thank you thank you.

xo
ellaesther

(In which Mary Schmich responds!)

I’ll just leave this here.

mary schmich tweet

(She was responding to this, but I would just like to note that Ms. Schmich does not, typically, reply on Twitter). (Ahem).

/does former papergirl happy dance/

If you’re looking for that viral post about body image….

I had a post go mini-viral today. Why today and not the day on which it was first posted and I flogged the heck out of it? Who can tell? The internet is a brave new world, man.

But if you landed on my front page for some reason in search of that particular post, you’d have to scroll quite a bit. So here you go — click here to go straight to Training the world – on little girls and body image.

And thanks for stopping by!

Programming note: Yom Kippur.

I’m about to disappear into my kitchen to finish making our pre-fast meal, and from there it’s nothing but prayers and services until later tomorrow evening. Functionally what that means in terms of this blog is that I will not be around, not even a little bit, even more than the usual Shabbat, because I’ll be completely gone from when I get up from this desk in 20 minutes until we get home from our break-fast meal tomorrow night.

If you fast: I hope it goes well, and that your time spent in prayer and reflection is good. If you don’t fast: Have a lovely Saturday! The weather in Chicago is looking delightful, and I hope it is by you, as well. : )

Here’s an English translation of some of what we’ll be reading in our services tomorrow – it’s the part that speaks to me the most:

They ask Me for the right way, they are eager for the nearness of God: “Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! Because you fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist! Your fasting today is not such as to make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable?

No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin. Isaiah 58:2-7

גמר חתימה טובה

A post for 9/11: Muslim American heroes.

In honor of all we lost on that terrible day, a short list of just a few Muslim American heroes. I don’t know the first man’s name, but aside from being a hero, it would seem he’s also a very good friend.

  1. 9/11 first-responder

  2. Mohammad Salman Hamdani, 9/11 first-responder - A 23 year old paramedic, Mohammad Salman Hamdani died trying to save lives at the World Trade Center. After his death, Hamdani’s Muslim faith was seen as reason to suspect him of collaborating with the terrorists — thankfully, the truth of his life and death eventually came out. Rep. Keith Ellison evoked Hamdani’s memory at Peter King’s hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, breaking down in tears as he did so.
  3. Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, US Army – Twenty years old when he was killed by an IED in Iraq, Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s military awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, a bronze star, and a good conduct medal. His unit was scheduled to ship home a month before he was killed, but the 2007 surge extended Khan’s combat tour. His story came to the forefront of America’s discussion of Muslim patriotism when Colin Powell discussed Khan’s sacrifice at some length on Meet the Press in 2008.kareem-rashad-sultan-khan
  4. Rep. Keith Ellison – This country’s first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Ellison (D-MN – see above) is sharp, compassionate, and a dedicated advocate for the civil rights of all Americans. On a personal note, I will forever be grateful to him for being one of the very few members of Congress to ever travel to the Gaza Strip, and for defending the good name of Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the much-maligned but little-read Goldstone Report on Israel’s 2008/09 war in Gaza.
  5. Farhana Khera – President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, Farhana Khera previously served as Counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee. She also worked for six years under Sen. Feingold (D-WI), Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee at the time. Her areas of expertise include racial and religious profiling and American civil liberties, about which she has said: “After the horrific attacks of 9/11, and the realization that the American-Muslim community was bearing the brunt of new, overly broad laws and policies, and some of our fellow Americans feeling perfectly fine abridging our rights, it was incumbent on us as Americans and as Muslims to step forward and fight for the founding values of our country.”
  6. Farouk El-Baz – Today the director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing, Dr. El-Baz served as the Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo Program from 1967-1972, and then went on to establish and direct the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum. Perhaps of even greater weight and import, however, Dr. El-Baz had a shuttle named after him in Star Trek: The Next Generation (!):

el-baz-shuttle5And finally a video that I just love, the work of of Muslim-American country singer Kareem Salama and filmmaker Lena Khan. To learn more about the clip (which won the grand prize in the One Nation, Many Voices short film contest in 2008), read this post by my friend Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt.

If you have some names you’d like to add, I’d be very grateful if you did so in the comments. 

السلام عليكمas-salamu alaykum – peace upon you, and on us all.

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If you’re interested in reading some Muslim responses to terrorism (spoiler: they’re against it), click here.

For my thoughts on how we write about terrorists who happen to be Muslim, click here.

And finally, please note that the above is an edited version of a post I first ran in 2011.

Syria – I don’t know.

Middle-East-map
The US is clearly going to be taking some action against the Assad regime in response to its use of chemical weapons. I’ve been following events very closely, but haven’t written about it (other than on Twitter, which is where the rough draft of history is written now, frankly) because I have neither time nor emotional bandwidth. I’ll just say a little bit here, but mostly, I wanted to provide some very, very useful (and easily understood) links.

Let me start by saying that there are genuinely no good options on the table. If the US had intervened early in the war, before it became a full-fledged civil conflict, maybe that could have slowed the carnage and led to something reasonable to replace the current regime. But that’s an enormous maybe, I’m not sure what that “intervention” could have or would have looked like, it would have been tremendously destabilizing to the rest of the region (which is likely why it never happened), and it would have cost the American people, as well. But mostly it didn’t happen, so we’ll never know.

So, having said that, I lean toward supporting military action, which I presume will mean damaging Assad’s capacity to carry out chemical weapons attacks in the future. I believe that doing nothing is the worst of several terrible options, because anything that strengthen’s Assad’s hand (which doing nothing would do) can only lead to greater brutality and the entrenchment of that brutality, not to mention strengthening the hands of other powers not known for their gentle natures: The hardliners in Iran (vs. the current Iranian President – you can read a little bit about divisions in Iran by clicking here), Hezbollah, Russia, etc.

I am painfully aware that such action will neither end the civil war nor unseat Assad, and that Syrian civilians may well die as a result. But a) Syrian civilians are already being mowed down daily as if in a threshing field, b) doing even this little bit of damage is also likely (in some way that we’ll never truly be able to measure) to save lives, and c) it’s possible that such activity could have a domino effect on Assad’s capacity to fight at all. On this last point, I’m genuinely just crossing my fingers, because adding chaos to chaos always produces new chaos — but we can never be sure ahead of time if it will be the chaos we want.

But aside from that, I also agree with Secretary of State Kerry that “it matters here if nothing is done.”

It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will.

I also believe, and I may never be able to prove it, that it matters in a grand, human sense that when people are being slaughtered, someone is willing to do something for them. There is so little we can do — I believe, in some very inchoate way, that it matters that we at the very least try to stand between the Syrian people and chemical weapons.

But mostly, I don’t know. All possible options are bad, all will have consequences we cannot foresee, all will lead to more death and more misery for someone. My only hope is that the limited assault that I believe the Administration is contemplating will ultimately mean that things will be less bad than they might have been. We will likely never know for sure. I am very glad I’m not the one having to make the decisions.

Now for those resources:

  1. Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask – Max Fisher in the Washington Post (the “nine questions” format is a recurrent thing he does, and they’re always excellent)
  2. The U.S. does have nonmilitary options in Syria. Here are four of them – also by Max Fisher. I believe that combining any of these with whatever the Administration has planned would be the better part of wisdom, particularly as concerns aid to the refugees and the countries taking them in. None will end the misery, but all stand a good chance of ameliorating the misery.
  3. The war after the war in Syria – by Joshua Foust, a former intelligence analyst at the Pentagon. Here he discusses who the rebels actually are, and the significance of some apparent splintering in the regime. The reality is that even if Assad disappeared tomorrow, the mayhem would still continue for quite some time.

Finally, a side-note on Iran: Several things have happened lately that look an awful lot to me like signs of a back channel between Tehran and Washington, including (but not limited to) the CIA admission that it was behind the 1953 coup that removed Iran’s only democratically elected leader from office and the CIA admission (coming less than a week after the earlier admission) that it helped Saddam Hussein attack Iran with chemical weapons in the 1980s. These are both things that were widely known, but have never been admitted before.

Bearing in mind all the struggles that the US and Iran have had surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, an issue that the Obama White House seems to want to actually resolve, I believe that the Administration has been trying for some time to quitely improve Washington-Tehran communication — now, add to that the fact that the Iran-Syria relationship is vital to both countries (and to Hezbollah, which serves as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon), and I believe that whatever back channels we have with Iran have been working overtime this week. (Note also that the admission re: the CIA’s assistance to Iraq came after Assad attacked the suburbs of Damascus with chemical weapons — again, that piece I mentioned above re: divisions in Iran is useful here).

Look at that, this wasn’t short at all. It’s very hard to write short about all this stuff, even when your bottom line is “I don’t know.” At any rate, to quote my sister: More will be revealed.

It’ll be awful, but at some point, at least we’ll know what it is.

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PS For running updates on what’s unfolding, James Miller is doing a great job on Twitter.

UPDATE If you want to watch President Obama’s brief comments on the situation, you can click here. “A lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it.”

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