Struggling

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I forgive my parents the damage that I realize they inflicted
on me? Not just with the obvious impacts of living in a household
organized around parental alcoholism but also because they made me
think I was “a bad girl,” a characterization I realize that I took in much
too deeply. I’m not. But at age 35 I can still hear their voices.

Struggling

 
Dear Struggling:

We all get told many stories when were young. There are the ones we
think we’re being told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones others
(parents and more) act like are true even if they are far from who we
really are or think we are at the time. These stories all help shape and
define us even if they are stories we run away from me instead of
embracing. Some people’s stories were told with seeming love and
support, but got taken in sideways or in ways that people felt
constrained by having to enact them to satisfy family (e.g. my smart
son the future doctor, who might have preferred to play jazz clarinet).
Other people who have had bad stories beaten and raped into them go
on to become the most tender loving people, while others stay stuck in
pain all their lives. Inside we’re all battling some version of these
stories, regardless of how they were defined or delivered.

 
Every family is organized around some story. A parent’s mental
problems, alcoholism, abuse, fill in the blank. But whether the scarring
and stories come from ignorance or are willfully inflicted, part of
becoming our adult, healed selves is wrestling with them and coming
to our own understanding of who we really are. If you really want to
grow you will make it through this passage, on your own or with
trained help. But please distinguish between the stories that came at
you, and the better stories that you are making and have already
made for yourself.

 
Two practices of the High Holidays might help. Perhaps do a private
tashich ritual around this, and talk it out at a riverbank the way you
might in a therapist’s office. Then during the appropriate prayers, try
to forgive your parents, and also forgive yourself for ever believing the
stories they told that are not true for you. None of this is easy. But
you can become happier.

Boundaries Needed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend with whom I run hot and cold. I suspect she feels the
same about me. For years we were close, but the friendship eroded
over a variety of factors, from disapproval about who was dating
whom and how that impacted the friendship, to matters of synagogue
politics, and because of misunderstandings of a small nature that felt
bigger because we cared less about one another. Nothing fatal but we
drifted apart, except for monthly movie/meal evenings and
conversation between plays watching football. Her house is being
remodeled and she has taken to sending me texts saying, I’d like to
come watch the game, the Emmys, etc etc, without asking if this is
good for me or even suggesting that she will bring anything for the
meal that occurs during those times. I know she is not trying to be
rude, but I feel very taken for granted. In the spirit of the season,
what should I say?

Boundaries Needed

 
Dear Boundaries:

In the spirit of the season you should be honest and also welcoming.
In the Tree of Life there is a very intentional balance between chesed
(loving-kindness) and gevurah (boundaries/discernment). It is fine to
apply both to get to a balance. Tell her you’re glad to be a hostess to
her during her dislocation when it works with your schedule. Ask her to
give you as much notice as possible so you can try to accommodate
what she needs, and say you will alert her asap if her timing doesn’t
work for you.

 
When you have opened your home to her, and are sharing a meal (to
which you may or may not choose to ask her to bring something she
could pick up easily along the way), tell her that you are happy that
you two are closer again, and past the difficulties of the past. Tell he
you enjoy her company when you connect, and, in the spirit of the
season, want to be sure that any past elements of disagreement have
been resolved. That conversation will either bring you closer or less so,
either of which will shift where you place your welcome mat.

Simple Son

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

In temple I’ve been hearing the phrase tikkun olam. Can you tell me
what it means and how to do it? I’m too embarrassed to ask my locals.

Simple Son

 
Dear Simple Son:

Tikkun olam literally means repairing the world. The imagery comes
out of the mystical tradition, which says that in the beginning, when
the Divine essence came into the world, it was poured into vessels, the
spheres on the Tree of Life. The vessels could not hold HaShem’s pure
energy. They shattered, and the Divine sparks were scattered
throughout the universe, into every living thing: you, me, every critter
and blade of grass. Now it’s our job, as conscious, caring beings, to
gather those sparks. To create wholeness. To create the world to
come, whether you believe that means a literal messiah or simply a
happier and more just reality for us all.

 
The concept translates into big ideas like social, economic, and
environmental justice. Also into smaller daily actions, like telling the
truth and helping your neighbor. Tikkun olam is about saying No to
evil, in forms large or small, and saying Yes to goodness, equity, and
compassion. It’s a responsibility that each of us carries, and
sometimes we forget to honor. Tikkun olam is about transcending the
immediacy of personal desire. It’s about shifting your focus, and
raising it higher. To me it always comes back to two aspects of
consciousness that are simple to say but harder to do: live with
greater awareness and greater intention. Living on a higher plane gets
tested by bad politicians or even long lines at Costco. Remind yourself
regularly that what you do makes a difference. Recognize when you’re
living up to your moral standards and when you’re not. Know your
values. Know what you can live with and what you’re willing to stand
up for and against.

 
How to put tikkun olam into action? Pay attention. Speak. Act. Practice
healing yourself and the world in as many ways as you can each day.
If we all practice tikkun olam, perhaps we can avoid more Holocausts
and more 9/11s. Perhaps we can diminish homelessness and hunger in
our communities. Perhaps we can cultivate a greater global
consciousness rather than staying stuck in our small tribal minds. If we
all do that, we’ll heal ourselves, and this place we call home.

Altruist

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am a veterinarian who works with rescue organizations in cases of
major emergencies and natural disasters. In my time in Texas the past
few weeks I have witnessed acts of great heroism and great cruelty
and indifference towards pets. I’m proud to say that I helped a great
many helpless, abandoned creatures that might otherwise have died.
What do I say to my clients and neighbors here who are accusing me
of abandoning them in their time of need and “running off to help
strangers when I needed you!”? I value my clients and my neighbors
in Florida. When I got assigned to Texas no one knew what would
happen here. I trust that my professional peers who were not in Texas
will be just as heroic and diligent as I was when they work in my
community. How can people learn that we are all connected and
should care for one another rather than hoarding and blaming and
being only out for themselves?

Altruist

 
Dear Altruist:

It always fascinates me during periods of great crises, natural disaster
or war, how human nature tends towards the extremes. Hard times
bring out the best in many, even thankfully most, of us, and the worst
in a few who make all problems worse. Compared to physical violence,
looting, and threats and coercion, emotional guilting is a relatively mild
form of acting out. But it speaks to the same limited consciousness
and selfishness as the worst of the bad extreme.

 
You are to be commended for volunteering to go into danger zones.
The whiners should be chastened but I suspect that is not your nature.
I’d like to think they would find greater compassion once they are out
of imminent danger, though sadly that’s likely not going to happen.
Give them a pass for now, and send an email to your clientele both
now and just before you deploy next time. Remind your clients that
you serve a wide population in need, and that if they need help while
you are away, they should contact so-and-so. Wish them good health
for themselves and their critters and remind them of your years of
service. If they choose to leave your practice, wave at their departing
tushies and seek out kinder folks. This is the season to heal the world.
Thank you for doing more than your share of the heavy lifting.

One more Time

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I appreciate in the big picture of the world (like, Will we all get blown
up today?) my issues with dieting may seem small. But they are
struggles I have lived with for a long time and I am seriously trying to
make my peace with them and with my body. I am aging and
shrinking in height, so the disparity between my vertical and horizontal
is getting worse. I have always been an “apple” which I know is
especially bad for women. Now I am working with a nutritionist and
health coach to finally put this issue to rest. I am doing it the long,
slow way, as in the way everyone told me to do it all the years of yoyo
dieting. How can I convince people to stop throwing in my face all the
failures of my past? Yes I know I have failed, but that doesn’t doom
me to perpetually being fat. I want to get this right and I need
support, not nitpickers and naysayers. Is there something nicer than
“Please shit up!” that you can suggest?

One More Time

 
Dear One More Time:

Generally I prefer one-on-one communication to group emails, but in
this case I might make an exception, at least for your general social
circle, family, and folks that you think might carp at you just out of
reflexive buttinsky tendencies. What you want to tell them is what you
told me: don’t think of me as a loser, except in the good kind of way.
A draft email might be brief: Dear Ones: You know I’ve struggled with
weight for much of my life. You have witnessed my attempts to lose
weight and keep it off, as well as my failures. I’m asking you to erase
all the old tapes, to mute what you might think of as good advice for
this round of my efforts, and when we meet simply to wish me well
and ask how I’m doing in all aspects of my life. I am much more that
what I weigh, and if I seem thinner or heavier should not be the focus
of how we interact. Thanks for your love and support, and no thanks
to discussing this further.

Typos

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My neighborhood has a FaceBook page. People post everything from
neighborhood alerts re thefts, look for yard help or babysitters, sell big
items, announce garage sales and rentals, etc. I posted a question
recently to try and help a friend’s son find a rental in the
neighborhood. Somehow the spelling got screwed up and one of the
neighbors tore me a new one trying to correct my posting. I thought I
had proofed it but apparently it didn’t happen. (For the record I’m
convinced that auto corrupt–as I call it–is toxic and changes things
after one proofs.) In her response she had misspellings and weird
words too!! LOL. When I pointed out that hers also had misspellings
her answer was “cheap shot!” I have had no prior dealings with her
incur such enmity, and I don’t want a feud in my neighborhood but I
felt cold the pot calling the kettle black was only fair. Did I do wrong?

Typos

 
Dear Typos:

As someone who has only recently, and I suspect belatedly, discovered
the dictation feature on my smart phone, I am empathetic with
attempts to be efficient. Ditto for trying to help a friend’s son. But
sometimes when we are trying to do too much too fast, things can go
kaflooey. And what is efficient for you may impose unforeseen costs on
others.
In my universe, self-righteous people get what they deserve if their
own foibles are exposed to be the same as those they are pointing
fingers at. If she committed exactly the same error that she accused
you of there’s no problem holding a mirror up and pointing it in her
direction. The high road of course would’ve been to let her mistake
stand in public. But I neither blame you nor do I suspect I would’ve
acted differently. I would add a comment that apologizes for the typos
and be exceptionally careful the next few times you post. Most people
have short memories, and unless this neighbor comes at you again
with anger I would consider the incident in your past. But if she does,
send her a message and ask why she seems to be so angry with you.

Money Man

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in the advice-giving business too, but people depend on me to
protect their life savings, which in these financially perilous times
means I have the burden of their fears as well as their expectations. I
need them to perceive me as smart, reliable, accessible, and
trustworthy. I also have a serious medical condition that has affected
my mobility in increasingly limiting ways. It is a multi-focal motor
neuropathy that it is possible, fingers crossed!!, an experimental
infusion therapy might reverse it but no one know if it will work or how
my body will handle it. I may need several series of these treatments
(five days in a row) and have no control of the timing. How can I
cancel my appointments without alarming my clients?

Money Man

 

Dear Money Man:

You need to communicate everything you told me in an email to your
clients. If there are particular people with very large portfolios you
may wish to communicate by phone as a follow-up, but telling the
basics in an email will allay a lot of their concerns and questions.
Here’s a draft: Dear ___[yes make it personal]___: I need to
reschedule your appointment for ___[date/time]_____. As you may
know, I’ve been coping with a complicated medical condition for the
past year that has impacted my physical mobility, though thankfully
not my cognition or insight. I have a tentative diagnosis of “multi-focal
motor neuropathy” (this means my muscles and my nerves aren’t
speaking well to one another). There is an infusion therapy treatment
option that requires a week of daily treatments, and no one can
predict how I will respond. How all this affects you: I’ll keep my
calendar as up to date as possible. Please reschedule from my website
[link] and I will try to provide you with a replacement appointment
quickly. It’s my intention to continue as your financial advisor as long
as you desire. My assistant [name/number] is available any time I am
out of the office. Thank you so very much for your patience and
support. Most folks will send a polite reply of support. The clients you
lose are not worth worrying over. Work with your assistant to keep the
good ones happy.

In the Middle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband is a pretty good sport about how often his in-laws come to
visit. Luckily for him (or perhaps by design), his sales job often means
he is travelling when they are around, so I get lots of family of origin
bonding they get lots of quality time with the grandkids, and none of
us have to put up with his obvious discomfort around them. He is
Jewish while they are not, and though I never thought of them as
bigoted, I am uncomfortable with how often they ask “How do your
people do such-and-such” which they do regardless of how often I
have asked them not to. Our firstborn is turning eleven so they have
had plenty of time to learn. This trip he will be in town the whole time,
and I am looking for ways to keep the peace. Ideas?

In the Middle

 
Dear In the Middle:

Any household with extra guests is surely in need of additional errands
to be run, to the grocery for example, which would get your
beleagured hubby out of the house. If your son is eleven he might
already be in training for his B’nai Mitzvah, and you could consider
inviting the in-laws to services. I suspect they would decline but it
would make the point that this is a Jewish family, not just an outsider
who married their daughter.

 

 

I recommend that your husband take the kids with him on some of the
errand runs, and to a movie, miniature golf, or just to the gym or the
mall. Keep it civil and do your best to retrain them. Bigotry is ugly the
closer you get to it.

Nana

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

One of my dearest hopes has come true: my granddaughter has come
to live with me for the summer. She is a delightful young woman of
sixteen, intelligent and creative, but sadly she also suffers from a set
of symptoms that make it unpredictable when she will become faint,
weak, and need to take a long rest. It is hard to diagnose and treat
but the doctor recommended that she join me for my morning aqua-
robics class, because the exercise will be good for her and I will be
around to supervise any emergencies. I need the class for my own
medical and go six days a week.

 

In addition, my physical therapist has
added a workout on a specific machine that is surprisingly popular at
the gym. Before Sarah came I was leaving early to get access to it.
That means leaving the house 6:30 latest, which is still a sprint. I
don’t have time to coax a reluctant teenager out of bed, and the
struggle is not helping our otherwise good relationship. We have only
one car. Though she has promised to use it later and go to the gym, in
a week of staying with us she has accompanied me once and gone on
her own only once. That’s not what I promised her mother. Can you
help?

Nana

 
Dear Nana:

It’s time for a family meeting. That means not just you and your
granddaughter, but also your daughter via Skype. I suggest a
discussion with your daughter beforehand, not to alarm her but to
establish what will constitute appropriate agreements and
consequences for failure to comply with the agreements. Teenagers
are notoriously balky about both getting out of bed (and even some
adults might bristle at leaving the house at 6:30) and also complying
with what might seem like reasonable health measure if they are
externally imposed. Hopefully you and momma agree about the
proposed schedule, and that all of you want your granddaughter with
you enough that the threat of returning home will be a sufficient
incentive.

 
Let her air all her “grievances” and excises first and try to listen
respectfully. Then state clearly that the terms of her visit had been
verbal not written, but for her to continue to be in your care requires
adherence to her exercise schedule, as well as whatever other house-
related agreements re helping with cooking, cleaning, shopping etc
seem reasonable. Ask if she wants to stay given those boundaries. And
then act accordingly. A sign on the fridge that says, The gym bus leaves
at 6:30 will reinforce your point.

Boundaries!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My neighbor has allowed a family of wild foxes to nest under her shed,
which borders my property. I have spoken to her several times about
the vulnerability of neighborhood cats, the dangers posed by their
bringing rodents into the area for their young to practice hunting, and
the possibility that they or their prey are carrying various diseases and
fleas, ticks, etc. My husband says I have tried being reasonable, and
my neighbor blew us and another neighbor off saying we couldn’t tell
him what to do on his property. Ideas?

Boundaries!

 
Dear Boundaries:

Start by talking to the state and county wildlife control agencies. My
guess is that there are very strict laws about what you, or your
neighbor, can and cannot do. So educating yourself is phase one. The
agencies may come out and enforce whatever regulations are in place
so you will be just another citizen adhering to their policies. If they say
the neighbor is within his rights, ask if you have the option of live
trapping and relocating the foxes, and what if any specific procedures
are mandated. My guess is that if they do not take care of the problem
directly, that they will refer you to a qualified professional trapper who
knows far more than a typical urban dweller about how to handle what
may be cute to watch outside a zoo but are in reality wild animals who
do not adhere to boundaries that you or your neighbor might want to
impose. For your health, and the health of local pets, sooner rather
than later seems like the right timing.

Tired of Thinking So Hard

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have been at my company for more than 30 years, working my way
up from an analyst to a senior project director. I bring in hundreds of
thousands of dollars a year in net revenue to the firm, but the hours
and continual stress of deadlines have taken their toll on my health
and helped end my first marriage. Now have a new wife, a child on the
spectrum who needs more of my time, and enough money that I
could, as my wife tells me daily, retire today. I don’t want to because I
am senior enough that my firm will need at least three to six months
to hire a replacement, and the extra I could earn this year and as a
consultant for the next few years will help with vacations, extra
therapy for our daughter, etc. Can you help me with a script for the
boss (call him John) when I go in to tell him I want to hang up my
spreadsheets?

Tired of Thinking So Hard

 
Dear Tired:

The key to negotiating is to have something you bring to the table. In
this case it is not only the projects you have already won that have
been contracted with your firm, but your decades of name recognition
in the winning of future projects if you can hammer out an agreement
to keep some kind of consulting relationship. A couple points before
the script. Usually when a bid is submitted, staff substitutions are to
some degree with the approval of the client. Otherwise firms could bid
A-grade labor and substitute wet-behind-the-ear staff. So you have a
little leverage there. That goes too for letting them include your
resume and qualifications on future bids, for which you might want a
very limited role in the future—perhaps in project design or reviewing
draft reports.

 
The convo should go roughly like this: John, I want to review the
status of my department. I’ve brought a spreadsheet that shows the
work we’ve recently won, that gives a good summary of what’s on the
table for the next year plus. You know I’ve worked here for 30 years.

 

 

My wife would love me to return today, but I’d rather work with you to
develop an exit strategy that will allow you to hire someone with
strong qualifications to take my place on these projects. I’d also like to
talk about developing a role for myself in the long run, in a consulting
capacity without benefits but at a higher wage, for as long as you think
it would be good for the company to have access to me. I don’t expect
us to get the details completed today or even this month. But I want
to start the conversation with a goal of getting to closure by the end of
the year. Then shut up and listen.

Private Gal

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just made a new friend from my neighborhood association. She came
to visit and check out my deer fencing and we just clicked, even
though we are decades apart in age and I am retired and she is
working mom. She’s asked to visit, but her timing and mine are very
different. I protect my creative time zealously, even from close friends,
because I am a writer who is very involved with a project that I do not
want to distract attention from. Can I convey this nicely without losing
access to someone I would otherwise enjoy?

Private Gal

 
Dear Private:

Friendships that endure require mutual investment of time. That
almost always involves compromise. It’s certainly worth making a new
friend at any age and of any age if you click, though with person
whose life is radically different the constraints of infrequent contact
may inhibit developing a long-term friendship. It’s certainly worth a
try.

 
Start by email contact with a summary of your regular schedules and
when the best times to connect are. Say you’re happy to make her
schedule apriority given that she has children, but caution her that you
have a busy and overly scheduled life too. Perhaps suggest meeting at
a park or somewhere where the children can play while you cat, and
explore whether there is enough there there to keep investing time.
It’s also good to connect on social media and see if you have any
friends in common. That will help you get a handle on what else you
might share. Tell her what you like about your writing, but (as a
writer) my general advice is to keep your project close to your vest
with people you don’t know well and save a lot for a true unveiling
when it is finished.

Trying to Get Fit

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have recently started attending Silvers Sneakers classes at my local
gym. My Medicare plan gives me virtually free membership and the
classes are a great mix of strength, cardio, and balance training. I’m a
newbie in a class of 50-60 folks that look like all my friends, with the
same graying hair and assortment of limps and leans. I am happy to
be polite but don’t need new friends, and I don’t want to be seen as a
negative new member. Frankly I just want to come, work out, and
leave. I resent the idea that people have “their” spaces and that when
I get there early try to sit up front near the instructor because I am
trying to learn the routines, I am being told”You can’t put your
chair/equipment there because it is So-and-so’s spot.” Do you have a
polite answer? Sometimes people try to hold 10 or more places and it
has begun to move past annoyance to anger. That is exacerbated
because the specific woman in question is a very loud evangelical with
bad politics who annoys me just by existing. I don’t want to yell but
I’m paying dues too, in my fashion.

Trying to Get Fit

 
Dear Trying:

You can try being polite with the offenders over the seating but I
would avoid a public tangle about evangelism or politics. Stick to the
immediate turf issues, and start with, I’m sure you like to work out
with your friends, but this isn’t a theater with assigned seats. We all
like to be close to the instructor, so I suggest that your friends come
earlier if they want to sit up front.

 
If that doesn’t work, then say something to the instructor and ask her
to make an announcement saying club policy allows a member to hold
their own seat and one for a friend, but no more than that. If it’s not
the policy, it should be. You might also ask the instructor about moving
around the room when she teaches. But newbie or not, hold your
ground, and smile and chat a little with the folks who are not part of
the clique. I’m sure you’re not the only person who is annoyed by
them.

Nanette

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have advice for how to graciously fend off a persistent suitor?
He is everything I am supposed to want in a date, but I find myself
putting “shields up” whenever I am around him. There’s nothing
specific I can put my finger on that should make me feel this way, but
it is consistent. The more I say no, the more he tries to woo me with
invitations or appearing in places that I am. It is not stalking yet, but it
feels like it. Short of being abruptly unkind, or threatening him with a
court order, is there a No, No, No that will work?

Nanette

 
Dear Nanette:

Yes, Yes, Yes. But here’s the rub: If you seriously want to get through
to Mr. Clueless, you are going to have to be firmer than you have
been, and risk his ire. If you are willing to be less polite you can
accomplish this. Decide that first.

 
When you are ready to go, plan a multi-pronged approach. Send him a
note that says, I am flattered by your attention and have seriously
considered whether I want a social relationship with you. The answer
is No, I do not. Please stop asking me out and trying to be in places
that I am. My answer will not change. Thank you for respecting my
choice. Then share the note not only with your own friends, but ask
them to convey the message to his friends that he is making a fool of
himself and that there are lots of other fish in the sea, as my mother
used to say.

 

Ask your friends to serve as allies in situations where he
tries to come near you. They should stick to you like glue, or be in
close enough range that if he does approach you directly (which most
people would stop doing after your note), that they can insert
themselves into the situation. If he does ask you out again, and they
are present, you should just say No, and they should say, in a slightly
louder than polite voice, What part of No don’t you understand? It
shouldn’t take more than once or twice to deter him. But if it does not,
talk to an attorney about what your rights are to request a restraining
order.

Sad Mommy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I had to find a home for my beloved cat because my husband couldn’t
overcome his allergies as we had hoped he would when we married.
One of my former employees said that she and her fiancée would be
happy to give him a good home, so we delivered him into their care.
Now I have found out that they are boarding him with some friends
until they can relocate into their new house. I feel terrible for my
sweet old guy, whose life was easy and simple until I got engaged and
started to leave him alone more and more. She is no longer my
employee but I do see her at meetings in the firm. Should I say
something, or just trust that it will all work out in the end? Is this just
maternal guilt speaking?

Sad Mommy

 
Dear Mommy:

It sounds like a bad case of guilt, but also understandable. You
certainly cannot take it out on your employee, but you can use the fact
that you work in the same place to communicate with her. Simply drop
by her office and plop yourself down in a friendly way, and ask How’s
kitty doing? Let her tell you what she wants, and then gently ask
questions until the story comes out. I’ll stress gently, because unless
you are prepared to take the cat back, you are going to to have to ride
out your jitters about the transition. So many pets that are unable to
be cared for end up in shelters and worse, that you can appease your
guilt by knowing you found a good long-term situation for your boy,
even if it isn’t a nice neat one-step process.

 
My recommendation for future pets, especially if you and your
husband are going to have children, is to carefully go through all the
pros and cons before you introduce an animal into the household.
Losing a pet is hard no matter how it happens, and worse when you
have to explain it to kids.