Saturday, November 29, 2008


Faces stare blankly at teachers shouting out directions en Español. Pantsuits sit on the edge of desk chairs while manicured hands clutching thrice-used hankies lie folded on tan plastic desks. Musky, floral perfume radiates through hallways and between locker grates while endless elevator lines cause increasingly more traffic in the already over congested hallways. We saunter into class five, ten, even twenty minutes late with a nod and maybe a wink, and receive no, “Qué cara tienes?” Not even a disapproving glare, because it’s all perfectly explainable: patent shoes tap half inch heels, cookie crumbs collide onto speckled laminate, and notebooks may even emerge as we take our seats on the floor.

What’s the explanation you may ask? No, we are not dabbing our freshly fuchsia lipsticked mouths floral hankies, nor or we slipping opaque tan stockings from Anne Klein flats—Grandparents’ Day has arrived again!

For years I looked forward to the day when I could bring G & G to school, prove my remarkable intelligence, extraordinary popularity, and, of course, my all around wonderfulness to my cookie-baking, scarf-knitting, child-spoiling elders.

The day started out with breakfast, during which fruit was compulsory put onto a plate for me, despite that fact that I had had breakfast last than an hour before. Three classes followed: two in Spanish, one in English. As I linked arms with Gramma (yes, I do call her that), directing her around the building, translating the goings-on class, even sharing grapes from my lunch, I felt a new sense of power, a control I had never experienced before. For once, I knew more than my grandma. Without me, she would be lost, confused, and possible end up in, gasp, the Lower East Gym (take two lefts, go up the stairs—as if that’s not confusing…) or, even worse, the band hallway.

Seriously though, the day was more than I expected. Both of us Seniors (ironic, isn’t it...), experienced an unprecedented power shift, a new understanding of each other’s lives. I saw her learning, trying something new, being vulnerable, while she saw me struggling, also trying to learn, while trying to maintain responsibility. Unlike years of dance concerts, theatre performances, or voice recitals singing memorized Mozart or Handel, I wasn’t putting on a performance for my grandma but rather showing her what my life was like. I proudly displayed my articles, photos, and layout in the school paper, showed her my daily academic demands, and, most importantly, she saw how I interact with people on a daily basis, not just dressed up in stockings and a skirt for Rosh Hashanah dinner.

While metal walkers, oversized purses, and even chains of connected hands overtook the school, the day was far from uncomfortable. Smiles and laughter broke out continuously; boring would not be a word to describe the hours spent with two hundred and fifty grandparents on Vine Ave. And although I know it was my one and only day to bring my Gramma to school, I look forward to the memories I will create from this: being able to tell her jokes about my teachers that she will finally understand, explaining my next class project, or even just telling her about my day. So as I talk to her on the phone after school, trying to explain I have five AP classes to study for, as well as two papers due, and a meeting agenda to organize, I hope she understands why I cannot devote an entire hour to listening about her weekly Mahjong game.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love = Love = Love

Math has never been my thing. I have never liked math. I have never really understood math. I know how to take an additional 20% off a shirt that’s already 15% off and that’s pretty much all I need. Ironically, I come from a family of mathematicians—math majors, accountants, actuaries—you name it, we’ve got them.

My brother comes home with perfect scores in math, and receives copious amounts of praise, bragging rights to the rest of the family, and maybe even a test attached with a magnet to the refrigerator door. I excel at writing, and get, well, pretty much nothing. Or, even better, “Why can’t you ever write anything normal?” Because normal is what it’s all about. Math is normal. There’s always a right answer. Right answers are normal. 1+1 = 2. That’s it. End of discussion. Normal.

However, despite my lack of mathematical skills, I am still able to see one equation that does not seem to make sense in my mother’s head:

Lesbian ≠ Butch ≠ Transgender

You think a person with high math degrees could figure this out better than one who is struggling in her first AP math class. But so it goes…

Sit on the couch with your best friend. Watch the “I am Smith” video. Eat sorbet out of a frozen pineapple. Invite your mother in to see the nice Jewish girl on the screen, a cute curly haired Israel activist who plans to dedicate her life to community service. G-d forbid. But none of this matters to mother because:

a) All women’s schools = all lesbian schools (if you are not into women already, you will be…)
b) Students at all women’s colleges = LUGs (let’s not get into this…)
c) This girl’s name happens to be a boy’s name as well, so therefore, this girl is transgender

Maybe it is my mathematical deficit that forbids me from reaching these astonishingly accurate conclusions. Perhaps it is not. I can conclude however:

Ignorance ≠ Stupidity

I give her credit; she’s a very intelligent woman. It is so much easier to hate what you do not understand than to learn about it, consider it. It is infinitely more effortless to draw up false equations with fictitious solutions than try to find the real ones. It’s forever frustrating to me that any logical point I try to make is completely disregarded.

“Mom, that makes no sense.”
“Remember when we visited Northampton—they were all transgendered!”
“I’m pretty sure most of them weren’t”
“All these girls were wearing (gasp) boys’ clothes.”
“Well, they probably weren’t transgendered, they were just butch or whatever you want to call them.” (Not that I advocate categorizing anyone, but for the sake of the conversation…)
“Well, how do you know what they had going on DOWN THERE?”
“Because a lot of women just dress that way. It’s not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal. They are getting sex changes. It’s very common over there.”
Etc. Etc. Etc. Lesbian = Butch = Transgender= Bad, Really Bad
“Ok mom, enough.”

And that’s where the non-math people come in. We have to do our best to try not to reduce the world to these silly equations which make absolutely no sense. People are not numbers, not figures that can be substituted in algebraically and solved for a single correct answer. World peace cannot be solved on a calculator. Friendship is not a derivative of imaginary numbers. Love is not measured on an X and Y axis.

So as I go off to study for AP stats, I try to take a long deep breath, remember that there is always tomorrow: a day farther away from yesterday’s equations, a day with new solutions, new probabilities, and most importantly, new questions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Seasonally Songful

There’s something refreshing about driving home from school, seat warmers blazing, watching the whole world bustle around outside of me, while I’m cozy inside my silver sedan heaven.

There’s something even better, however, about tapping the switch on the steering wheel, flipping through plastic surgery commercials and mid-afternoon talk shows when suddenly I hear—for the first time this season—Christmas Carols! I was tempted to shout out the slightly open window with gusto: 93.9 is officially the holiday light!!! But I refrained because of a) good judgment, which I seem to lack lately, so let’s go with b) the intrigue of keeping this a secret all to myself, as if I were the only one listening to “White Christmas” at 3:30 this afternoon.

I let out an exaggerated sigh of relief as I pulled the keys out of the ignition, silencing “Silent Night” as I stopped at the grocery store to buy a challah for Shabbat tonight. Yes, that is ironic. And yes, I like it that way.

There’s something about Christmas Carols that I crave all year long. Maybe it’s the uplifting melodies or the old crooning voices that you no longer hear on the radio? Maybe it’s the familiarity; there are only so many versions of the same lyrics and tune, and they’re all easy enough to sing along to. (Have you tried singing Disturbia?) Maybe it’s just something different, something special reserved for my favorite time of year: my birthday, Thanksgiving, Secret Santas, vacation, snow.

I’m used to holidays filled with new pairs of shoes, weeks spent in the Mexican Riviera baking facedown in the sun, endless parties, celebrations, festivities, and, of course, more presents. But have I lost focus of what the holidays actually mean? Have we all?

Honestly, the first thing I think about when I think of holidays is my annual State St. / Michigan Ave. Black Friday shopping trip. Spending money = holiday time. Obviously.

Each night of my Chanukah celebrations comes full of presents, cards, gift certificates, and promises for even more the following night. And yes, I may be guilty of making an extensive list of each year filled with “definitely,” “maybe, if you’re generous,” and “don’t even think about it,” categories; I too am guilty of the indulgence phenomenon.

I associate holiday time with my birthday (presents), Thanksgiving (food), Mexican Riviera vacations (presents + food), and a variety of other indulgences I neglect to remember are not celebratory but rather extravagances with which I’ve been rewarded my entire life.

I’m not going to disagree that the holidays are stressful (for some more than others). Could it be because we are worried about what to buy for everyone, or, more importantly, what everyone will get for us? Or could it be the awkward social tension, the rare time of year in which uncles, aunts, cousins, democrats, republicans, hunters, vegetarians, teachers, students, lawyers, artists, prostitutes, must be in the same room together and at least try to behave decently.

Let’s be realistic. The holidays weren’t created to sit around tearing off wrapping paper and pretending to be happy with your freshly unfolded royal blue Menorah embroidered socks. Whether you’re slicing a freshly baked pumpkin pie, gathering around the first candle on the Chanukkiah, or putting the star on the top of your Christmas tree, take a minute to realize the significance, absorb the atmosphere around you; appreciate your family, your friends, your loved ones.

We’ve heard it again and again: economic crisis. Stores are closing. Holiday parties are being cancelled. Vacations are unbooked. But for the first time this year, can this be a good thing? Can we bring the real meaning back into the holidays, ignore the superficial smile a new Cartier diamond watch brings to a loved one’s face and emphasize on the hugs, the laughs, the toasts?

I, being the obvious perfection that I am, have taken this all into account (as I stream “Holly Jolly Christmas” through my computer). For a variety of reasons, I decided not to ask for presents this birthday; it seems unfair to ask for more when I already have so much and so many people have so little. Most sincerely, I merely want more love. Love for the world. Love for others. To be surrounded by love. It sounds asinine, childish perhaps, but I know that another pair of shoes strew on the bottom of my closet or more books on my shelves will not bring “Joy to the World” (sorry, I couldn’t resist), more material in my life won’t make others happier and it certainly won’t make my life much better.

So as I start off the holiday season, gliding down Sheridan Road as the first snowflakes strike my windshield, and I hesitate to wipe them away, I smile a little to myself, realizing that this “crisis” as some may call it, may actually be a disguised gift.—a difficult way to get our priorities back on track, a way to be grateful for what we have and acknowledge those in need.

It’s official. ‘Tis the Season. 93.9 has become Chicago’s Holiday Light Station. Snow has begun to fall. I plan to enjoy my favorite two months of the year more than ever before. And if you hear anyone belting out “Jingle Bell Rock” these next few weeks, it’s probably me, feel free to join in!