My Jewish Mother

Posted: March 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Other Mothers, Parenting, Working World | No Comments »

Did I ever tell you how I stalked a woman once?

It was back when Mark and I were looking for schools for Kate. And a school we applied to was hosting a conference where authors, experts, and teachers were lecturing and running workshops. It was all about parenting.

The event fell on a Saturday, a few weeks before we’d be finding out whether or not Kate got into the school. Even though anyone could attend the day’s program—and hundreds of amped up, achievement-hungry Bay Area parents did—Mark and I set out all spiffed up and eager to make a good impression if, by chance, we’d have the good fortune of bumping into the Admissions Director at the continental breakfast buffet.

But minutes into the keynote, given by the handsome, cleft-chinned author of Nurture Shock, we were fully engrossed in the topic at hand. Our ulterior motive of showcasing what great members of the school community we’d make had all but melted away. (Though God knows I could have summoned it back in a snap had I bumped into the school’s French teacher in the bathroom.)

We attended a tepidly interesting session on teaching your kids to read, wandered through the Redwood-tree-lined playground, and made our way into a workshop on temperament being given by a nurse-turned-radio-show-host. It was five minutes into her presentation (I’d admittedly lingered at the coffee urn, scanning for school officials), but we slid into two seats at the back of the room.

The woman at the podium, Nurse Rona as she called herself, was talking about temperament. That some people are “intense” by nature, and some less so. Fairly basic stuff we’re all aware of, but she was talking about family dynamics and how our individual temperaments play a role in how we operate as families.

We got hand-outs that listed a long series of scenarios and gave some kind of 1-through-10  reaction rating for each one.

The good nurse asked us to think of one of our children, and fill out the worksheet based on how he or she would react to the different situations. Mark and I did this together, circling something with a number 10 answer for Kate, then circling a number 3 for Mark. We went through each question and answered for ourselves and the girls, even though Paige was only two at the time.

What was amazing was how easy it was to do. We were having a little laugh as we’d whisper “Paige” and then both be pointing frantically with our pencils to the same answer on the spectrum.  Other things Mark would circle about five times while mouthing “you” at me. It was really simple—and actually quite fun—to map our little family all out.

And at the end of the exercise a distinct pattern arose. It was clear that Kate and I have, well… intense personalities. (Duh.) Mark and Paige? They’re on the more mellow side.

This is not rocket science, people. I mean, I guess we’d both realized this on some level, but we hadn’t really thought much about it, ya know? We’d just been so busy with the day-to-day grind of parenting, that we’d never really stepped back to take note of this now-fairly-obvious thing. And now that this came into focus, the nurse was giving us all this smart advice about how we could handle various situations in our family life based on this information.

It was a huge aha moment. It made me realize why, when given a chance to divide the kids up to run errands, Mark gravitated towards taking Kate, and I did the same with Paige. Call it opposites attracting, or personality load-balancing, but there’s just a reason why those groupings tended to form naturally. Even long after the time when I needed to be with Paige for breastfeeding purposes.

I was fascinated. This revealed so much about my growing-up family too. I finally understood why people said one of my sisters and my mom were so much alike—a comment that always confused me since the two of them seemed to clash more often than get along.

So later, in line at the salad bar when I saw Nurse Rona, I made my move.

“Amazing workshop,” I gushed, throwing some mixed greens on my plate I had no intention of eating.  And I went on to overshare all my take-aways from her workshop. It was like I was wedging in a free quick therapy session while blindly piling croutons onto my plate.

Anyway, after that weekend I couldn’t help thinking about that woman and her work. She was a nurse who’d spent decades in hospitals and taught various kinds of parenting courses. I tuned into her radio show the next Sunday morning. I went to her website. And then one day while the girls were napping, I decided to send her an email.

I told her I loved her presentation. Reminded her we chatted at the salad and cold-cuts buffet. Told her all about my media background and recent foray into little more than “nose and butt wiping” for my kids. But that her work was so compelling I was wondering—Did she need a research assistant? A ghost writer? Someone to bring her coffee during her radio show?

I hit send and figured I’d never hear back. Or that she’d think I was mad.

I was deep deep into my stay-at-home mom life. This email was liking tossing a crumpled note over a tall stone wall into the world of the working set. A world that had once been incredibly familiar, but had grown distant and even a bit mysterious. I had dim flickering memories of the place, but could only imagine how vastly it had changed since I’d been there. And it seemed absurd to imagine that someone on that side would want to communicate with someone on my side.

I didn’t expect to hear back from her. But it was thrilling nonetheless attempting to make contact. In fact, after so much at-home childcare time, it was exciting to even feel a rumbling of professional curiosity still lurking in my bones.

I was passionate about motherhood, and had lost interest in my former career. But maybe I could do work that was related to parenting. Chocolate and peanut butter together!

Anyway, it turns out I did hear back from Nurse Rona. The same day even. A lovely and encouraging note, along with an invitation to lunch. “Do you have childcare?” she asked. “If not, I can come to you and talk around the kids.”


Lunch-time Rona was just as fascinating as lecturing Rona. We talked all about her work and my pre-mama career. I heard about her kids and grandchildren and I gushed about Kate and Paige. She told me about the constant funding struggles with her non-profit and keeping Childhood Matters, her radio show, on the air. She promised to read my blog.

There wasn’t any immediate need for my help, but she was at the beginning of a book project and various other endeavors. Who knew what we might be able to collaborate on?

She invited me to an event at her non-profit. I called into her show a few times. I’d see her at farmer’s markets, or we’d grab a cup of tea. She ran a workshop out of my living room. Her daughter started babysitting for my children. In short, over the course of the past couple years we became friends.

I’ve even appeared on her show as a guest a couple times. Once with the author of a book about the importance of family dinners, and once with a family therapist talking about babyproofing your marriage.

And she may not know it—or maybe it’s blatantly plain to see—but she’s become one of the mothers I’ve adopted. You know, I do this now since my mom is gone. “Borrow” other peoples’ mamas for practical or emotional purposes, or just for fun. It’s like I’m hand-picking the village that it takes to raise me, still at age 44.

Rona is so warm and wise, and with a great California sensibility that’s enlightened but not too far out hippie-dippy. Who wouldn’t want her as a mama?

Last Sunday, after more than nine years of bringing great thought-provoking information to parents, Rona’s excellent radio show Childhood Matters went off the air. They finally lost their perpetual funding tug o’ war, and decided to put their remaining resources into their Spanish-language parenting show Nuestros Ninos.

It’s bittersweet for sure, but this change hardly leaves Rona sitting around eating bon bons. She’s got her book project underway, podcasts with Christine Carter (author of my new favorite book, Raising Happiness), workshops, coaching—you name it. You just can’t keep this woman away from work that helps families.

After more than nine years of waking up at the crack of dawn to get to the recording studio, this Sunday Rona will get to sleep in. I hope, for her sake, it’s delicious.

And the way I see it, she needs all the rest she can get. I’m not the only mama out there who’s  eager for whatever wisdom she’ll continue to share, be it by radio, book, or lecture. I’m just lucky to be one of the few who’s also got her cell phone number.

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