Thursday, February 18, 2010

LadyMama Column: Head over Heels

Suri Cruise, the three-year-old daughter of celebrities Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, has been attracting media attention ever since spotted wearing high heels during casual outings with her mother. While shoe lines carrying all styles of heels and platforms for little girls have sprouted up over the past few years, there’s nothing like a celebrity to push a fad over the edge. Fashion-forward mothers are now scrambling for the perfect heels for their tiny tots, considering them a welcome addition to their daughters’ “cute” and “girly” wardrobe.
But many parents are divided as to whether the added inches are appropriate for their little ones, complaining that heels should be strictly "mommies only." The concern: that heels are forcing our already-quick-to-age children to follow trends and play a part that is years – no, centuries – beyond their age.
But what is so age-inappropriate about little girls wearing heels? Why has Suri’s wardrobe decision incited such controversy? What really irks parents who find the style out of line?
A lot is lost when we force kids to be ultra-conscious of the way they use exteriors to communicate their gender. Being calculated in their dress and mannerisms is something young kids are definably not about, and for good reason. The less they are concerned with their image, the more unbridled their expression will be, ensuring they have the self confidence to better tackle a peer-pressure world that is already making too many decisions for them. For little girls in particular, something as seemingly insignificant as a pair of heels can make all the difference.
Any honest woman knows the power of a good pair of Louboutins. By nature, heels are a tool for getting noticed and communicating womanliness. A successful heel will elongate and slim our appearance and force an altered stance that accentuates our womanliness. The added height puts us on a pedestal that promotes our feelings of confidence and power. A woman slips on her heels and is immediately highlighting all the right features and loudly pronouncing her femaleness. In her song “High Heels,” singer Keri Hilson says it best: “I hate high heels/love how they look/hate how they feel… Starting to think I shouldn't have worn these shoes/What's the price we pay/For looking this way.”
This is exactly the reason little girls get a kick out of trying on mommy’s heels, and not her sneakers or slippers. They inspire a uniquely feminine persona that does not fit in any other shoe. Little girls know that mommy wears heels when she wants to look extra pretty. They know that mommy walks a little differently with those added inches. They know that, in her heels, mommy is more womanly. When they play dress-up and gallivant around the house in mommy’s pointy-toed pumps, they are mimicking their mother’s character when she wears heels – a character they intrinsically know they must grow into. Mommy’s little girl understands she can’t wear heels simply by virtue of being born a female. Rather, it’s a right to be earned.
In other words, our daughters’ feminine self is a work in progress. So what happens when a young girl who is still developing and defining her girlhood starts to wear the confidence and womanliness of heels? We can label it “cute” and “girly” – but at what expense? How does a young girl defining herself understand that wearing heels is feminine, but doesn’t make you feminine?
Today, even the youngest minds are impressed with American culture’s idea of what makes a woman, leaving little room for young girls to build their own identity. Mothers who feel they are nurturing their daughter by allowing them to be “just like mommy” should put their heads over heels. By entitling our little girls to womanly privileges, we’re meddling in the vital process they need to nurture their girlhood and naturally segue into womanhood. Until our daughters actually have true self-awareness and femininity within, let’s keep heels in the dress-up box and encourage what has been truly “girly” until now – unabashed expression, charming innocence….and a good pair of Mary Janes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Poll Results: How is your husband your best friend?

A mother's best friend is her...

Fellow mother
Comfortable (yet trendy!) pair of flats

A whopping 75% of women polled say that their husband is their best friend. Husbands won over comfy flats, your fellow mother...and even coffee! Tell us why! How is your husband the best friend every mother is looking for?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 Untruths about Motherhood

Read the first article of my new column, "LadyMama," in the Algemeiner Journal!

10 Untruths about Motherhood

By Mimi Hecht

When I was expecting my son, the list of opinions, warnings and all around announcements offered by other mothers grew almost as quick as my belly. Spoken as if rules from The Bible itself, these mother-musings floated in my mind as my due date approached. But now, almost six months after the birth of my son, I am here to set the record straight.

1.     “Diapers will be the end of you.” I wasn’t exactly exuberant about what I anticipated to be the constant chore of changing diapers, but all that changed after the first poop taught me something about the nature of love. Yes. Love. It’s the only way to explain why changing a wet or soiled diaper can be so completely satisfying. I have anxiously awaited poops, sung lyrically-advanced songs once they have arrived and admittedly went fishing to examine the contents of diapers my husband changed. Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. If you’re not a mother yet, it’s going to happen to you, too. As it turns out, “Pampers” and “Luvs” are quite the appropriate names.
2.     “Say goodbye to your sleep.” If only! The truth of the matter is, I sleep way more than I need to these days. The little bit of sleep I lose because of the baby’s sleep pattern has thrown me into a nonsensical and desperate sleep-or-die mind-set. I grip to the heels of sleep with the strength of ten pubescent teenagers. As soon as my child hits the hay, do not stand in my way. I make a beeline for my bed like a magnet. Come morning, and – just ask my husband – I snarl at any attempt to let light in before I absolutely have to wake. It’s actually embarrassing. Say goodbye to sleep? I wish I could.
3.     “Being a mother makes you selfless.” When people say that, it just makes me feel like an awful person. How come this hasn’t happened to me? Am I the only one that yaps away on the phone when my child wants to play or uses Babies R Us gift cards to buy myself something?  Sometimes motherhood just comes to highlight how truly selfish we actually can be. And the truth is; we do enough for our children to not feel completely guilty about that.
4.     “It’s hard to get out of the house.” When I imagined leaving the house with my baby, I pictured load-carrying donkeys and caravans. I was worried that the need to drag tons of baby paraphernalia would be an easy incentive to live indoors. But in reality, I’m not carrying more things, just different things. I’ve ditched my perfume for Purell hand sanitizer and lipstick for Desitin. And besides, gallivanting around with a baby has its perks – like a stroller basket to dump shopping bags (and those of your friends, of course) and a magnificent distraction during awkward run-ins with friends you haven’t seen since the commencement of your post-partum hibernation.
5.     “Your body will turn to mush.” There’s a saying that when you see Jewish women dancing at a wedding, they’re all peeing. The thought of such loss of body-control was depressing beyond words, but I was already pregnant and couldn’t turn back. But it’s not true that your body becomes one big sagging sloth after having a baby. My body jumps out of bed with the force of a lion when my baby cries and I do these stretching lunges when he reaches for a choking hazard.  In other words, do not be concerned; you’re baby will reveal the Olympic-medal-winning gymnast within you.
6.     “Don’t listen to your mother.” I realized this was nonsense when the hospital’s lactation consultant tried to convince me that breastfeeding was au natural, and my mother was the only one to make me feel normal for screaming bloody murder. Yes, every mother has to develop her own rhythm, but the more you try to sync yours with your mother, the easier this is all going to be. She may have no idea what a Bugaboo or BabyBoon is and every time she says “we mothers” it might make you cringe, but she did raise you, and the sooner you admit she did an okay job, the better off everyone will be.
7.     “You will never shower again.” I tried not to get too close to the person who told me this. I knew she was exaggerating, but still. I remember thinking, as if a baby can really get in the way of the important task of tending to your personal hygiene. A few months later and I myself was mistaking Herbal Essence for some sort of tea (for all the mothers reading this - it’s a shampoo! Go shower!). Quite often, I would give the baby a bath and say, “We’re all clean!” But this does not do the truth justice. Mothers do shower, just not whenever we please or as often as we’d like. But our showers post-baby are nothing to compare altogether. A mother’s venture under the unfamiliar waterfall is a true clean-a-thons in which she actually removes dirt (aka, baby residue of all kinds). What used to be habit is now an entirely necessary, fulfilling and somewhat messianic experience. Think of this as quantity versus quality.
8.     “It’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.” Anyone who says this has obviously never spent hours cleaning and organizing their entire house only to sit down afterwards and admire their work while drinking an ice coffee. Yes, tending to the needs of a newborn brings with it a truly larger-than-life fulfillment, but things like rescuing the lives of women and children in Darfur might rate just a little higher. And for what its worth, you can still be a great mother and absolutely love motherhood while admitting that there are other things you’d find more gratifying.
9.     “Your relationship with your husband will suffer.” Since having a baby, my husband and I have seen more sunrises (even though we often have no choice) and work as a team like never before (so what if it’s while tending to a spit-up catastrophe?). And if I can be completely cheesy, nothing waters your love for your husband like the sight of him going completely gaga over the baby. And when he goes that extra mile to lend a helping hand, it’s far more meaningful than a candlelit dinner. Yes, I do realize that makes me sound like I could use a lesson on romance, but it’s true – after you have a baby, there’s only more love to go around.
10.    “Motherhood comes naturally.” This was proven wrong right at the beginning – with the epidural. I don’t care if you’re Eve herself; motherhood is not a natural experience. It’s a work in progress. Sure, we have strong doses of intuition and motherly instincts, but we often feel completely out of our wits - and that is perfectly natural.

Every mother is guilty of projecting her experiences on to soon-to-be-moms. But any pregnant woman reading this should prepare to be surprised as she maneuvers her way through the maze of motherhood. The best thing a new mother can do is expect to discover the mom within, all by her motherly self.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Poll Results: Win a Free Manicure!

15 (45%)
Sleeping in
7 (21%)
Going out with friends
3 (9%)
A long bath
5 (15%)
Pamper? I don't even know what that means!
3 (9%)

Almost half of the 33 women polled voted for manicures as their preferred method of pampering. Getting a manicure won over sleeping in, going out with friends or a long bath.

So what is it about manicures? What makes getting our nails painted and pampered such a beloved ritual (or treat!)? Tell us by sending a paragraph submission to All answers will be posted and the winner will be mailed a certificate for a FREE MANICURE!

Don't forget to vote on this week's poll on the right!


Fellow mother
Comfortable (yet trendy!) pair of flats

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Behind Every Man

This weekend, over two thousand women – members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement - will gather in Brooklyn to mark the anniversary passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. Referred to simply as Chof Beis Shvat (the Hebrew date of her passing), the convention weekend features offerings meant to personally inspire participants and embolden their work as community leaders around the globe. Women will spend a Shabbat of togetherness, then glean inspiration from popular Chabad figures and attend workshops and seminars on expertise central to running a successful Chabad House, including preparing lectures, managing schools and cooking large meals.

But a mere glance at Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s existence opens an interesting conundrum about whether a weekend about Jewish community service and leadership is an appropriate way to honor her life. The Rebbetzin was in no way the female equivalent of her husband, a highly public and outward leader whose every move was documented. The Rebbetzin’s voice was contained to the warmth of her own home - delicate whispers in private and personal conversation between few of her friends and family. Her deeds can not be heralded, for they are unknown. Pictures of her are scarce and people struggle to share memories. Essentially, her privacy was the only thing that was loud.

What, then, does the pioneering Lubavitch woman have to take to heart from the Rebbetzin’s life?

Chof Beis Shvat participants will certainly evoke the Rebbetzin’s spirit by hailing her as a great example of humility, an icon of warmth and many other accolades. But honoring merely the details and deeds of her being is missing the point. In actuality, Chof Beis Shvat celebrates not who the Rebbetzin was, but what she selflessly gave.

The Rebbetzin had the wisdom and foresight to make the sacrifice of unwaveringly supporting her husband, a leader that would change the face of Judaism. The Rebbe was able to dedicate his life to inspiring Jewish hearts and minds because the Rebbetzin was willing to forego her entitlement to a “normal” life. By accepting her husband’s exceptional responsibility, the Rebbetzin created the space for the Rebbe to commit himself fully to the revival of Judaism after the Holocaust. She gave herself entirely to the Rebbe, so the Rebbe could give himself to the world.

This weekend’s Chof Beis Shvat participants are outgoing teachers, speakers and directors who dream of teaching Challah-baking on Oprah and for whom family-purity is a public discussion. It’s fair to say that they will never truly emulate the Rebbetzin’s ways. But they were never asked to. Instead, they gather to properly acknowledge what the Rebbe no doubt appreciated and cherished about the Rebbetzin with his entire being – her self sacrifice. Today, Chabad men and women serving in leadership positions have the Rebbe to emulate, but the Rebbetzin to thank. The Rebbe spent every waking hour dedicated to the Jewish people because he had an extraordinary wife who accepted the lifestyle that would come with his mission. The Rebbetzin gave her husband to the world because she had the wisdom and selflessness to understand who he was and believe in his revolution. Because of this, every Chabad emissary recognizes that it is also to the Rebbetzin’s call they are heeding. The conference this weekend, with its leadership theme, is indeed everything she lived for.

The Chof Beis Shvat gathering is a salute to the saying, “Behind every good man is a great woman.” In a time when most women resent the phrase – and a demure and self-sacrificing woman is hardly a national role model – Chabad is celebrating the virtues of a truly altruistic woman…and the eternal gift she gave.

Our Rebbetzin: Personal Encounters

In the 1970's, my father [Mendel Notik] was privileged to work in the Rebbe and Rebbetzin's home. What follows are a few of many stories from my father's narrative. I asked my father what first comes to mind when remembering the Rebbetzin. Right away, he said it was how incredibly in tune and sensitive she was. The following stories capture a fragment of what my father means.

I hope publishing these short stories will aid all who read them in better understanding, appreciating, and exemplifying our enigmatic Rebbetzin.


Special Delivery

(Click image to enlarge)

The Rebbetzin sent this telegram to my father and mother on the day of their marriage. My father points out that even though he received wishes of Mazal Tov from the Rebbetzin in person, she still went out of her way to send it formally in writing the day of their celebration - as was customary in those days.

Around the time of my parents' wedding, the Rebbetzin returned to my father the wedding return envelope, in which the Rebbetzin included a monetary gift for my father and mother. She said they should spend it on something for the house. With the money my father bought an air-conditioner. When he told the Rebbeztin what he had spent it on, she was pleased. She felt that it was money well spent.

Love, Life, and Sacrifice

Once the Rebbetzin described to me in vivid detail how, when Jews were starving in Europe (probably during World War I), her father sent her and her sister sneaking through dark alleys, way past curfew, to deliver food and candles to the Navardoker Yeshiva (of the mussar movement). The two girls literally ran for their lives.

Imagine the Ahavas Yisroel of the Frierdiker Rebbe, that he would put his two beloved daughters in danger to save fellow Yidden from starvation, and to enable them to continue learning.

The Rebbetzin on Money

The Rebbetzin was extremely careful with other people's money.

One of my jobs was to go to the various stores in Crown Heights to pay off her accounts. When I would come to her house, the cash would be laid out on the table together with the invoices, ready for me. Before I would take the money, she would always insist that I count the money again, in case she had made a mistake. When I attempted to tell her that I trusted her – being that I knew she had counted the money carefully, and then probably re-counted to be sure – she would not allow me to leave until I counted the money myself.

She said, "In my home, they would say, 'Gelt Hut Lib A Cheshbon, Un Mit Yenem's Gelt, Darf Men Zich Zeier Hiten.'" (Roughly: "Money loves [needs/seeks] careful accounting," and, "With someone else's money, one must be extra careful.")

Rebbetzin: Such Great People

Because the Rebbetzin was not involved with the day to day goings-on in 770, she did not often witness the boundless love of the Chassidim for the Rebbe. On Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5738, six weeks after the heart attack that kept the Rebbe in bed in 770 (for six weeks) rumors had been swirling that the Rebbe would leave 770 that night for the first time since Shemini Atzeres, when the heart attack took place.

The rumors turned out to be true. When the Rebbe was getting ready to leave 770 at about 9:00 at night, people were packed in front of 770, as the strong desire to see our king was then at fever pitch (since most of Anash had not seen the Rebbe since the events of Shemini Atzeres). The Rebbetzin was watching the joyous spectacle from inside the Frierdiker Rebbe's Yechidus room, upstairs in 770, with the lights turned off in order not to be seen (and perhaps to see better).

Another fellow and I had the zchus to be there with the Rebbetzin, watching. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, a happy niggun burst from the mouths of the assembled throngs, and people were jumping in the air to get just one glimpse of their beloved Rebbe. It was absolutely electrifying – you could feel their love for the Rebbe with your hands. I burst into tears, and out of the corner of my eye, I glanced at the Rebbetzin and it seemed to me that her eyes also became teary. Then she said in Yiddish/Russian, "Ah-zelche maladyetz'n!" (Roughly translated: Such great people!) She repeated this a few times, glowing with love.

When the Rebbe had left and the Rebbetzin was getting ready to leave, I asked her whether she wanted me to come to the house afterwards, in case she'd need something. (She planned to leave 770 after the Rebbe had already left, and the crowds had dispersed.) She did not accept, saying, "You need to rest. Everything will be okay." (Apparently she had seen how I had been so affected moments before.) "I will call you afterwards from the house to tell you that everything is definitely okay, so you won't have to worry." At 11:00 that night the Rebbetzin called me to say, "Everything is fine with my husband. Now get some rest, and we'll speak tomorrow."

Awaiting the Rebbe's call

On the days that the Rebbe went to the Ohel, the Rebbetzin would rarely leave the house. If she did leave, she would come back early in order to be near the phone, the sooner to hear the news that the Rebbe had returned and was fine. She would sit near the phone waiting for that call, and if someone would call in the interim, she would apologize quickly, saying that she could not talk since she was waiting to hear from the Rebbe, and that she would call them back later. (This was before Call Waiting!) She would sit, worried, the entire time. Only after she heard that he had returned safely to 770 would she breathe a sigh of relief and leave her post.

How ironic that the events of 27 Adar 5752 (the Rebbe's stroke, resulting in partial paralysis and inability to speak) occurred at the Ohel. Were her fears due to the fact that the Rebbe stood fasting the entire day until he was back from the Ohel? Was it the driving through unsafe neighborhoods? Or was it because she, being the daughter of a Rebbe and the wife of a Rebbe, knew more than what any of us could ever know about what the future held for her husband?

The Rebbetzin: The Rebbe Doesn't Bite

The Rebbetzin always tried to make me feel at ease in proximity to the Rebbe. In general, I did whatever I possibly could not to be in the house when the Rebbe was home, but there were times when it was utterly impossible not to encounter the Rebbe face-to-face. One of those times occurred on Purim.
There was a constant flow of people bringing Mishloach Manos to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin through either of the two outside doors, plus the telephone was constantly ringing; I was needed to respond to the telephone and the doorbells. I would accept the Mishloach Manos and give the young ones some money that the Rebbetzin had prepared for that purpose.
When the Rebbe was ready to leave, I found myself "stuck," so to speak, at the front door as the Rebbe headed out, and there was nowhere for me to escape in order to get out of the Rebbe's way. So I stood there, shaking in fear. As the Rebbe passed me, he turned to me with a wide smile, and wished me, "A freilich'n Purim!"

The Rebbetzin, just behind the Rebbe, saw my situation and wanted to make me feel a little more at ease, so she commented to the Rebbe with a smile, "That Notik – every time he sees you, he gets all shaken up. I've told him many times that you don't bite!"

After I opened the door and held it for the Rebbe to leave, he turned around and said, "Yasher Koach!"

The Rebbe said Yasher Koach to me several times. In general, the Rebbe would show a lot of gratitude and appreciation to anyone who helped his dear wife in any way.

'Are you sure?'

One summer evening, as I was watering the garden, the Rebbetzin came outside on the back porch to get some fresh air. While talking with me, she mentioned, "I noticed that Rabbi Klein was driving my husband home these past few days, and I want to know if everything is alright with Rabbi Krinsky." I told her that Rabbi Krinsky had gone to a family wedding in Chicago and that he was fine. "Are you sure?" she asked me. I assured her that he was absent for a good reason, a simcha, and she was clearly relieved.