Jeff Astrof has 100 days off. See how he spends them.

Day 84

with 3 comments

If you want to live in the Jewish community in Los Angeles you pretty much live in either one of two places: This Side of Town or The Other Side of Town.  My family and I happen to live on This Side of Town, although in fairness, TheOther Side of Town considers where they live This Side of Town.  To avoid confusion, we’ll just call where I live This Side of Town, since I’m writing this.   Each side of town has distinct qualities: This Side of Town has a lot of old money invested in big old houses with big rolling back yards.  We happen to live in an old house that was bought with middle-aged money and it’s showing its age.  The Other Side of Town has a lot of younger families, is more liberal, and gives up the big houses with big yards in exchange for being able to reach out your bedroom window and shake hands with your neighbor who’s in his bathroom.   Again, there are advantages to both– certainly if you’re out of toilet paper, you want to live on The Other Side of Town.  It so happens that most of the kids who go to school with my kids happen to live on The Other Side of Town, which is a compelling reason for us to relocate there (although it would really confuse which would be This Side of Town), however my daughter for whom changing breakfast cereals is emotionally difficult, has professed her strongest desire not to move.

There were two reasons we spent last night on The Other Side of Town: the first was that friends of our were having a bar mitzvah there.  Mercifully, my kids are two and six years away from the bar/bat mitzvah circuit– I can’t even fathom the anxiety, screaming and tears that that era will usher in– and my kids will probably be upset as well.  The second was that there was a woman whom I saw speak while we were in Israel who was going to be speaking in The Other Side of Town.  This woman is one of the most articulate, eloquent, inspirational, powerful, intellectual,  spiritual and grounded people I have ever heard speak.  There are a few people in this world that when I hear them speak I go, “Yes!  Yes!” inside– and sometimes outside– and she is one of them.  I could only imagine how proud her parents must be to hear her inspire these large crowds of people.  Anyway, as we packed our bags to go four miles from our house for 26 hours– bringing exactly two fewer bags than we brought for our two week trip halfway around the world– I pictured reuniting with this woman– would it be her screaming, “OH MY GOD!  JEFF!”– like Jennifer Aniston once did when she saw me across a crowded hotel valet (I bring up that story every chance I can), or would it be like when the gang from Animal House saw “Otis Day and the Knights” completely out of context, in an African-American soul bar.  (It turns out, our reunion was somewhere in the middle: Me: “Hi, I’m Jeff Astrof.  We met in Israel?” Her: (NO IDEA WHO I WAS) “Oh.  Right.  Good to see you.”  My wife’s concern was different: we were taking our daughter out of her own comfort zone to stay in somebody else’s house, around a lot of kids– a situation that doesn’t usually go well for her.  I told my wife that, unfortunately, this was not going to be about our daughter; it’s one night and she’ll just have to bear it.  I also told her to expect the worst– a lot of crankiness and wanting to go home, but sometimes kids don’t get to make choices, parents do.  And this would include if we ever decided to move.

When we were at the bar mitzvah today it struck me that as a parent, I actually make most of the choices for my kids: I chose their names, to some extent when they were conceived, I put them in a school which limits who their friends are, I buy them their clothes– well, I give money to my wife who does that, but I picked who their mommy would be, I chose– for now– how religious they would be and how they would express that.  Holy crap, no wonder my kids are so uptight– they have no say in anything!  I’m even writing about them right now and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it!  Then, as I started to slip into my comfortable place of self-doubt, I noticed something strange: it was my daughter running and laughing with a friend of hers.  Then someone asked her a question and she answered it, brightly.  What the hell was going on?  She seemed… relaxed.  Why was my daughter so relaxed?!  Shawni and I talked about it later and the truth is, we didn’t know why, completely out of her element, my daughter chose to be seemingly really comfortable.

The bar mitzvah party was held at our friends’ house.  The reason they did it was because their own son– who today became a man but I still won’t let him drive me anywhere or do my taxes– had his own anxiety issues.  The father of the boy gave a speech and talked about why they did it at their home– they wanted their son to be as comfortable as possible.  Then the mother spoke and ripped out our hearts.  She talked about her son so lovingly, using adjectives like “private” and “thoughtful” and “careful” to praise her son.  Not “shy” or “introverted” or “anxious”.  She spoke about how lucky she was to have a son who had all those wonderful traits– traits that I see as  impediments to my kids’ happiness, but in her mouth, it seemed like they were characteristics that you would love for your kid to have above all.  I look at the woman who blew me away with her speaking as the paragon, but that’s not the ideal– that just happens to be who she is.  The bar mitzvah boy– and my own little girl– may never bring down the house with their speeches, but as my wife pointed out, having your daughter be cautious and private in the society in which we live– whether on This Side of Town or The Other Side of Town will probably turn out to be a huge blessing.  And when the Bar Mitzvah boy’s mother finished her speech, she could have looked over at me and said, “You hear that, schmuck?”  But she didn’t have to, I was saying it to myself.  While I was also saying, “Yes!  Yes!”


Written by 100daysoff

May 7, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. And to this I say “Yes! Yes!”


    May 8, 2011 at 10:29 am

  2. This is my favorite post


    May 9, 2011 at 12:14 am

  3. You’re all “over the hill” to us in the Valley.

    Erik Shapiro

    May 9, 2011 at 10:28 am

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