Monthly Archives: January 2010

Family history

Grandpa Alex is on the right, dapper as always.

This is the story of my grandfather. My 10 year old nephew, Jason, wrote this for school with my mother’s help. It is a story of courage, heartbreak, and gumption. Much like the story of Jewish history.

I never got to meet my grandfather.

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Alexander Olenikoff, my maternal great-grandfather, is the person I chose to write about.  When he was sixteen, the Pogram started in Russia.  A Pogrom is an organized persecution or killing off of an ethnic group.  I wish he and his family managed to get out safely but only Alex escaped, which meant two things: he was sixteen, and he was alone.  Alex journeyed onto America by boat and his lonely trip took weeks. How was he able to leave Russia when his family was not, you might ask?  Well, because his parents were wealthy they were able to travel from Russia before the Pogrom began.   While his mother was pregnant with him, they were visiting family in America and presto!  Alex was born an American citizen.   Because he had American birth papers, he was the only family member allowed to leave his country.

So, at sixteen years old, he escaped, alone, sad and scared to the country he was born in, not understanding English and not really knowing the family he was going to live with.  Also, the Russian Government closed off their country.  No mail was going in or out.  Alex was not able to ever, ever contact his family again.  He lived his life not knowing if his family was alive or dead and they knew nothing of his travels.

He came to Detroit, Michigan to live with cousins and he worked as a tailor to earn money.   He and his cousin opened a clothing store, Blocks Clothes, and the family changed their name to Olen because they didn’t want to sound too Jewish.  He eventually married and had my grandmother. He died at 53 on the way to his clothing shop of a heart attack. My Grandparents named my Mom after her Grandfather that she never met.  Alex Olen: Andrea Lynn, A.L.  Thank you for listening to the story of my migrating, maternal great-grandfather, Alexander Olenikoff.

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Put down that corkscrew! Slowly, slowly…

My husband and I quite drinking for January. Bottom line, we were drinking too much. It just wasn’t healthy any more. Speaking for myself, I was using alcohol as a crutch for stress – but now I see that I was caught in a vicious circle. I’d feel stressed, drink some wine…(repeat for three nights in a row)…feel crummy from dehydration and poor sleep…less able to handle stress, I’d drink some wine…stop for a night out of guilt…feel stressed, etc. It just wasn’t working. I didn’t want to admit it because then I’d have to deal with, well, whatever I was avoiding by drinking.

I also have a view of “evening” as “Adult Time,” and I used wine as the delineation of that time. But, at some level, the symbolism became more important than the impact of it. In other words, when I struggled with parenting, having a glass of wine was like my way of saying, “I’m not a parent now because I am drinking.” Which we can also call, “bullshit.”

J easily agreed to this little break because he is trying to get back into good health, too. Instead of wine, I drink tea. Quite a lot of tea.

Here are some things I have discovered so far:

1. I no longer enjoy the taste of cheap wine. I don’t care if it has a decent rating on the card at the grocery store, if it is on sale for $4.99, it isn’t going to taste full, or rich, or pungent or any of those other classy words used to describe a bottle costing $40 or even $20.

2. I have energy all the way through the day, rather than slowing down around 3pm. In fact, I have been significantly more productive and able to handle my busy life.

3. I’m not yelling at L in the mornings about getting ready for school. (That’s worth its weight in gold, really.)

4. I’m not bloated. Enough said.

5. I generally just feel better.

I am not swearing off alcohol. I enjoy the taste of beer and wine. Instead, we will purchase good tasting beverages, enjoying them as special occasions, a choice done with thought and care.  I am very much looking forward to that delicious red wine that’s coming in a couple of weeks, because it will be something earned.

Catwalk vs. Rock Wall

Photo from AP, originally in http://www.dailymail.co.uk

I’ve been thinking a lot about my child’s birthday.  Hard not to, since she has been talking about her 6th birthday since 5 minutes after her 5th birthday. I discovered why that is, why kids are so focused on birthdays: they are a kid’s only source of power.  L says frequently, “I am NOT inviting so-and-so to my birthday!” Sorry, kid, everyone in class gets to come if they want.

Last year, we had a princess party. Friends came and dressed up, got their hair, nails and make-up done. Then, the guests played games and had cake. It was sweet and silly and pretty easy. I was pleased.

Over the summer and into Fall, L was invited to three girl birthdays and all were Princess Parties/Fashion Parties, or a combination. The first one was small – even the boys had knight costumes and, of course, fought with the plastic swords.  Mostly the girls ran around the house playing with toys and trying to get the birthday girl to be with them. It was quite low key.

The next party was similar to Lillian’s own with a twist. The girls dressed up in costumes, got their hair, nail and make-up done, learned a dance and then did a fashion show.  The place was tiny with chairs for the parents facing a small runway. L picked a Snow White dress, and I was relieved she didn’t pick the rockstar mid-driff bearing t-shirt.  Girls who were done being primped stood in a mirror and sang to themselves – they weren’t even playing together! The dance was okay and the fashion show was, well, disturbing. As I watched this display of “confidence” with all the parents cheering and laughing at the adorable kids (and some were really adorable), I had a sinking feeling. I mean, I spend all this time worrying about my child’s self-image while she is drenched in a culture that is set to destroy that self-image. It just seemed…wrong. This is a child’s fantasy? To play out being a model? What are we doing?

The next birthday party my husband attended because I was out of town. Apparently, it was a princess party (girls wore their own costumes) with Cinderella reading as story about manners, and then the girls took a CARRIAGE RIDE WITH A REAL HORSE around the neighborhood.  According to J, the house and the party were quite over the top (pictures show a stage with a movie marquee with the kid’s name on it), which isn’t surprising given the location. It’s a suburb that basically wrote the book on McMansions. At least the party dealt with being a Lady and not a model.

Why are we allowing our children, no, encouraging our children to engage in celebrity culture fantasy play? I have no issue with the general dress-up play, but having a bunch of parents “ooh” and “aah” over glittery eye shadow and an exposed belly is just wrong. What’s next? Fake papparazzi? A fake film premier with fake fans? Fake cocaine in the bathroom stalls?

Even though I told L I won’t discuss her birthday until March (actual birthday end of May), I have been thinking about it. And I’ve decided it is going to be a very athletic birthday. Something where the kids run around and get sweaty. Where they use their bodies in ways that helps their growth. Where they get to laugh and have fun being kids. Thankfully, my child is completely into the idea of having her party at our gym, which could include rock climbing or swimming if we choose.

I’m done pretending that a child’s most special day of the whole year is time to act like a prissy adult. As we know so well, getting to act like a kid is special enough.