Shouting Won’t Help: A Book Review by Judy Bolton-Fasman

When Katherine Bouton was 30 years old she suddenly lost the hearing in her left ear. As she notes in her new book, a mix of memoir and reference guide for the hearing impaired, Bouton was suddenly among the 48 million Americans, or 17 percent of the population, who have some degree of hearing loss.

In “Shouting Won’t Help,’’ journalist Bouton puts a human face on these numbers by chronicling her own long, steady descent into deafness — a word that she claims to describe her “invisible disability.’’ Using her own personal narrative as a kind of locus, she explores the medical and environmental causes of deafness, the social stigma attached to it, technologies to help, and professional challenges faced by those with hearing loss. To broaden her tale she ends each chapter with a short piece titled “Voices,’’ which profiles the stories and hardships of various other sufferers.


In Bouton’s case it took almost three decades to come to terms with what was happening to her. But, as she reports from the front lines, denial is pervasive among people when they begin to lose their hearing. A statistic from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid uses one.

Bouton stubbornly refused to acknowledge how difficult it had become for her to hear. Hearing loss and its consequences invariably bring on stages similar to grief. Denial gives way to anger and family often bears the brunt of that anger. Bouton almost lost her marriage while she tried to keep her hearing loss and the inevitable depression that went along with it at bay.

Next comes acceptance. But before Bouton gets to acceptance she gives her readers a bevy of statistics that illuminate but occasionally slow down her book. She’s at her best when she addresses her dilemma through her own story.

The reader struggles beside her as she goes deaf and scrambles to hear what’s being said at a work meeting or a Broadway show. “Even when I do understand what is being said,” she writes, “the effort of trying to hear eclipses my ability to think. My brain is so preoccupied with translating the sounds into words that it seems to have no processing power left over to dig into the storerooms of memory for a response.”

Bouton eventually got a cochlear implant in her left ear and spent many frustrating visits to her audiologist upgrading the hearing aid in her right. She freely admits that she’s not a cooperative patient. The implant was slow to take, and she was embarrassed to have it embedded in her skull.

Her vanity, she reports, “exasperated” everyone around her and she had a hard time wearing the implant. Her persistent denial led to her departure as culture editor at The New York Times, where one boss questioned her ability to be “a team player.” And still Bouton could not bear to think of herself as a person with a disability and consider the protections and prospect of accommodations guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s understandable why Bouton studded her book with studies and statistics. She has taken it upon herself to educate the public about hearing loss and fittingly ends with a description of a collaborative project dedicated to finding a biological cure for hearing loss over the next decade. But her fascinating memoir deserves more attention because she has an equally important life story to impart.

Published in the February 18, 2013 edition of the Boston Globe



523-0765 by Judy Bolton-Fasman


Until last month, the phone number was in my family for almost half a century. But call the number today and you’ll hear a terse message that it has been disconnected. It took fifteen years for 523-0765 to become a non-working number. The drawn out campaign that my sister, brother and I waged to have my parents sell their two-story colonial—the house on the lovely corner lot—began when my late father’s Parkinson’s disease no longer allowed him to climb the stairs. We pleaded with my mother, who was healthy then and quite a bit younger than her ailing husband, to move into an apartment – one floor, no stairs.

The idea of giving up the ancestral home in Connecticut was anathema to my mother, who had already forever left her first home in Cuba.  Like houses that had been in one family for decades, my parents’ place burst at the seams with memories that were good and bad and ugly and beautiful. There were fights and reconciliations and moments of pure love. There were the deaths of parents and grandparents. There were great hi-fi blasting parties where my parents danced rumbas and drank Cuba Libres. There was my wedding grown that I hung on the living room lintel the night before my nuptials. There were grandchildren who toddled around the house.

But the house also teemed from years of hoarding that my mother mistook for protecting memories. I didn’t understand that even a few years ago. I only knew that she hung on to tests that she administered as a high school Spanish teacher in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and she saved every single greeting card anyone ever sent to her. She saved her children’s baby clothes—clothes practically disintegrated from age. There was my prom gown, the dress I graduated high school in. My mother’s wardrobe grew exponentially, particularly after my father died, She ordered clothes from the Home Shopping Network and catalogues I never heard of. She had more clothes than she could possibly wear in this lifetime and piles of them encroached on every bit of available space in closets and atop empty beds. .

Maybe that is a sign of age—an unkempt house filled with stuff. Or maybe it was a bulwark against leaving. When my father died ten years ago, the house was still habitable and my mother swore she wasn’t budging. The heater broke down and had to be replaced. The sump pump wasn’t up to the task of keeping the basement dry. Weeds shot through cracks in the driveway. The shrubs were overgrown. The window air conditioners—streaked with bird droppings—wheezed asthmatically. The wall opposite the banister was forever scarred after my father’s chair lift was removed. The house was, in a way, diseased. And that disease was progressive. My mother could not take care of the house and the house could no longer shelter her safely.

She argued this was the home she had made with her husband, and for better or worse, she was staying until death did part her from it. We must have looked like the most negligent children in the world as the neighbors watched her haul her pails out every Sunday night, or noticed that her sidewalk was not shoveled after a big snowstorm. She lied to us and said her lawn man did snow removal. She lied to us that she had a lawn man. She lied to prevent her own removal from the house.

My mother’s health deteriorated. At first her gait was halting. Bad knees is what she told us. She refused to use a cane and we lived in fear that she would fall and break a hip, or worse, hit her head. Still, she refused to move, to live near my sister and me in Boston. Hartford was her home. She knew the television stations and the best place to get tuna salad. She was not budging and by the end of her run in the house she was not walking. Once again a chair lift was installed. My siblings and I were bewildered. This was déjà vu all over again.

And then one day my mother couldn’t manage her house anymore, couldn’t care for herself. She called me panicked that she was feeling very unwell. What should she do? I called an ambulance. She’ll tell anyone who will listen that that hospital stay was the beginning of the end for her. I will tell anyone who will listen that the phone call I made for the ambulance saved her life.

Here’s what my siblings and I had to do to save my mother further. During her extended stay in the hospital and rehab center, we used the power of attorney that we had wrested from her the year before. We sold the house with her grudging acceptance. She knew it was time. We promised to salvage pictures and other mementos. She decided to go to an assisted living facility in Connecticut because leaving the area would cause unbearable changes like watching a different local news anchor.


She was disappointed when she couldn’t take 523-0765 with her to the next town. I was devastated. It turns out the house move was as hard on me as it was on my mother. I left the old rotary phone when we cleaned the house out. After all these years, she was still renting it from the telephone company.


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The Secrets of Happy Families by Judy Bolton-Fasman

With the rise of the digital age, and parents caught between raising children and trying to help their own parents, best-selling author and New York Times columnist on contemporary families Bruce Feiler decided that it was time to write a new playbook for the 21st century family. The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More brings together Feiler’s personal experiences as the father of young twin girls with his skills as an investigative reporter to find new sources and innovative ways to strengthen family ties.


Feiler has his work cut out for him. A few years ago New York Magazine published a story, which exposed parenting as one of the least happy experiences in life. The reaction was both outrage and empathy. Was bringing up children really making us miserable? Feiler counters that assumption with a 2010 Pew Study that found that three-quarters of adults said that family was the most important part of their lives. That same 75 percent further claimed to be very satisfied with their home life and 80 percent of the respondents said that they were closer to their family today than their family of origin. So what’s going on?

Are we really happier in the midst of parenting wars where tiger moms are duking it out with more lax French mothers? Feiler credits some of our happiness to positive psychology, the basis of the trendy happiness movement. But Feiler is anything but trendy. His research is solid, his findings sensible. And he has forever endeared himself to me by not mentioning Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

According to Feiler, like successful businesses successful families have the ability to adapt. In Silicon Valley, Feiler explored a concept called “agile development.” He describes it as “a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams, each team huddles briefly every morning to review progress, and the team convenes for a longer gathering at week’s end to critique how it’s functioning and make changes for the future.” Within a family, agile development can translate into a weekly family meeting in which each member discusses what went well that week, what could be improved, and what he would commit to work on for the week to come.


The family meeting is not only a natural outlet for communication; it leads to other healthy activities like eating dinner together. I firmly believe in the salutary effects of the family dinner. I’ll risk repeating well-known research about eating together because I think the facts are so critical to reiterate for families with children still at home. Children who eat with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide and develop eating disorders. Yet according to UNICEF, Americans still rank 23 out of 25 when it came to teenagers eating dinner with their parents at least a few times a week. That’s a missed opportunity because dinners create perfect conditions to talk to one another. Dinners are also the ideal setting in which to develop resilience in children of all ages by sharing stories about parents and grandparents. Can’t have dinner together? Then gather for breakfast or dessert.

One of my favorite sections of Feiler’s book, was about “cultivating a strong intergenerational self” in children. Children should know that they are a part of a larger family continuum. If they know they come from somewhere, they are more likely to know where they are heading in life, which brings me to the chapter on grandparents. As Feiler notes, countless studies have shown the extraordinary influence that grandparents, particularly grandmothers, have on their families. Even infrequent visits from grandparents can increase the chances of a child having a healthier relationship with her parents. A grandmother’s support reduces stress and exhaustion in a family.

Finally, just when I thought I had heard everything there was to say about fighting fairly in families, I learned a few new things. It’s a given that how you fight is important to resolving conflict, but I picked up a few pointers such as monitoring pronouns. For example, using “I and we” during an argument suggests togetherness versus the accusatory “you.” Feiler encourages not only listening to someone else’s side of the story, but also being genuinely curious about their version of events. A “he said, she said” argument should segue into a third story created together by the opposing parties.  That’s a precursor to compromise.

There are other takeaways in The Secrets of Happy Families. Feiler looked to Warren Buffet’s banker for advice on allowances, the Green Berets for planning the perfect family reunion and successful coaches for team building. Yet throughout this entertaining and informative book, Feiler’s message is imbedded in three crucial rules that transcend time and place: Adapt all the time, talk a lot, and yes, go out and play.


Recognizing Signs of Abusive Dating Among Teenagers by Judy Bolton-Fasman

I wish February had been Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month when I was growing up. I might have realized that in the era before e-mails or cellphones, my boyfriend’s demand that we speak on the telephone every night was unreasonable. I was in college and my life revolved around those phone calls.

At 18, I thought his behavior demonstrated intense love for me. Young and inexperienced, it never occurred to me that he wanted to control me. In my mind, this was love and love always hurts, doesn’t it? All I had to do was listen to a pop song or watch a soap opera to see that a love worth having was often portrayed as painful, or at the very least, something mostly difficult to endure.

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Painting a Child’s Spirituality by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Rabbi Sandy Sasso told the following story at Temple Emanuel in Newton:

There were two brothers in town who were always getting into mischief. One day the rabbi got a hold of the younger brother and asked him to face up to his misdeeds by asking him “where is G-d?” In an increasingly stern voice the rabbi asked the boy “where is God” three times until the young lad ran home and hid under his bed covers. When his older brother found him, he asked what his brother was hiding from. The little boy replied “G-d was missing and the rabbi thinks we did it!”

Rabbi Sasso the author of twelve books for children—many of them award winning—recently addressed the ways in which G-d is absent in children’s lives as the weekend scholar-in residence at Temple Emanuel. Rabbi Sasso, who is also a congregational rabbi in Indianapolis with her husband Dennis, tackled children’s religious imaginations and identities in sermons, talks and readings.

According to Rabbi Sasso, the vast majority of youth think there is a spiritual dimension to life, yet only 14 percent of these children feel as if someone is helping them with their spirituality. That number roughly correlates to the adult statistic in which one in five people claims that there is no assistance available when trying to cultivate a spiritual life.

Rabbi Sasso illustrated the interplay of spirituality and religion using a recent Torah portion. Moses’ revelation on Mount Nebo, in which he is profoundly changed internally as well as externally, is a spiritual experience. The Ten Commandments is the religious expression of that deep and holy occurrence. Religion, explained Rabbi Sasso, serves as a “container to hold spirituality and we must learn how to connect the larger questions of life to spirituality.”

Questions lead to open conversations and according to Rabbi Sasso even very young children have the skills to engage in larger, profound inquires about the role of G-d in their lives. The difficulty in talking about G-d may lay at the feet of parents and Jewish educators. “Don’t let your own worries and misgivings stand in the way of conversations about G-d,” said Rabbi Sasso. “What you don’t believe anymore can be an effective way to allow yourself to rethink your beliefs. It’s okay to be unsure. You don’t have to have all the answers and remember that these answers are not ‘googleable’.” To that end, Rabbi Sasso advised adults to “get in touch with what awes you, or as the poet Mary Oliver says, tap into ‘appreciation swelling into astonishment.’”

Parents looking for ways to broach a conversation about G-d, particularly with younger children, would do well to read “G-d’s Paintbrush” to them. Rabbi Sasso noted that her intent in the book was “to broaden children’s creative lives when thinking about G-d.” Illustrated in rich primary colors, “God’s Paintbrush” asks the ways in which G-d is concrete and present in a child’s life.


I wonder if G-d has a big lap to curl up in, just like my Mom’s, and strong arms, just like Dad’s to lift me up and catch me when I fall.

I wonder if G-d has strong hands to hold me tight, just like Mom’s and big shoulders, just like Dad’s to carry me when I am tired.

What makes you safe and warm and loved?

Most of us grew up with the standard names and images for G-d such as King or Lord or Father, but G-d has many different names and images. For a little boy in Rabbi Sasso’s congregation, whose mother was dying of breast cancer, G-d was “Healer.” For a woman whose mother was dying G-d was a comfortable bathrobe. Later that year when the woman’s mother passed away, she felt closer to G-d by wearing her mother’s old robe. Rabbi Sasso was not advocating for jettisoning traditional prayer. She emphasized that the language of the prayer book is an important connection to community and the Jewish people at large. After all she noted, “in our tradition there are 70 names for G-d.”

Most touching for me was Rabbi Sasso’s wisdom on connecting social justice issues to a child’s spiritual coming-of-age. “You cannot have social justice in Darfur,” she said, “when a child is being isolated in school. Bullying is very much a social justice issue. Take a stand on immigration, but also welcome the new neighbor. Inclusivity is part of Tikkun Olam—repairing the world.”

We would do well to remember that as parents we are the single most important influence in our children’s lives. We don’t need to be rabbis or academics to explain G-d to our children. Rabbi Sasso recommended to start simple. State your own ideas about G-d without cluttering those ideas in abstract or philosophical language. As she pointed out, “Noah was an amateur and the builders of the Titanic were experts.”







A Letter to Anna: Balancing Work & Life by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Dear Anna,

I watch you carry on with your dream of going to medical school and I’m already worried about the work-life balance issues you will inevitably face. Having a profession will present you with a unique set of challenges that men don’t encounter. We are socialized to be the family’s primary caregiver; men are ingrained to be the breadwinner. It’s changing, but it’s changing too slowly.


Maybe I’ve come late to the party, but a book by local author Michelle Cove and an article by law professor Anne-Marie Slaughter have me reaching deeply into my own life. Let me start by saying that I want more for you. It’s not that I don’t have enough or I haven’t made a successful go of my writing career. But my earnings don’t reflect the hours and the keen effort that I put into my work. While that’s been a source of frustration for me, on the flipside I have control over my schedule. I can run an errand or stay home with a sick kid. But if I do that, you can be sure that I’m working after dinner to make up the time.

Slaughter was a high government official in the Obama administration who decided to return to her teaching position at Princeton after two years. Her son was in the midst of a rocky adolescence and Slaughter went home to spend more time with her family. She published an article last July in The Atlantic called Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. At first glance that title is very provocative. But that’s not why I resisted giving the article a close read. I was scared to hold myself up to this super woman who worked closely with Hillary Clinton and then returned to a tenured position at Princeton University. Until she went to Washington she was Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. Slaughter and I are not in the same league. But I read on and I found some comfort. “There are genuine super women,” Slaughter writes. “These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”

Let me back up and mention that I read Slaughter’s article after I read Cove’s book, “I Love Mondays.” It’s a unique book for the way it crosses genres as both a handy reference guide and a practical self-help book for working mothers. Subjects range from how a mom should minimize her guilt if she misses a soccer game to moms, like me, who have home offices and must establish strict boundaries. In a recent interview, Cove agrees with Slaughter that having it all is “completely unachievable. It’s not a sustainable state. Power constantly shifts and we need to be much gentler on ourselves.”

Anna, I think the generation between us is dealing more realistically with the work-life balance than my peers or I have. Slaughter quotes a pair of 30 year-old women who realize the importance of linking together every aspect of their lives. I quote them through Slaughter because I want you to hear their bluntness.

If we didn’t start to learn how to integrate our personal, social, and professional lives, we were about five years away from morphing into the angry woman on the other side of the mahogany desk who questions her staff’s work ethic after standard 12-hour workdays, before heading home to eat moo shoo pork in her lonely apartment.

This scenario begs a question you’ll have to grapple with someday—“finding the right sequence of family and career.” When do you marry? When do you have a baby? Slaughter and Cove agree that there is no definitive answer.

Cove has been thinking about these issues for a long time and her book was a natural successor to her documentary “Seeking Happily Ever After.” The film was a retort to media representations of 30-something women who were either career obsessed or so desperate to get married that they were driving men away. Cove notes, “As a journalist and a writer I was interested in why the headlines were proclaiming there were more single 30-something women than ever. I picked up a video camera and did street interviews.” The big take away for you, my dear Anna, is to know that women can define their own “happily ever afters.”

I have faith that your generation will finally tease apart the false morality and promises of “family values.” That by speaking up about implementing family-friendly policies in this country and acknowledging the importance of work-life balance, you and other women will close in on the “leadership gap” in the White House, the corridors of multinationals and yes, even the home.

As for me, I’m starting to understand my choices as part of “the new gender gap”—that is, measuring my success by my wellbeing rather than a paycheck. Maybe I’m not too late to take advice myself. In fact, I think I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article and Michelle Cove’s new book just in the nick of time.




*Dreaming in Cuban by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Dear Mamá:

You came to the United States in 1958, a year before the revolution. Havana is an aerosoled city—Viva la Revolucion 54 is spray painted everywhere. It’s been fifty-four years since Castro came down from the Sierra Maestra Mountains and triumphantly marched into Havana on New Year’s Day. You once waved the Cuban flag for him. He was going to change Cuba for the better. Maybe he did for some people. But in the end your family fled along with 90% of the country’s middle class. You like to say that your mother packed a small bag and closed the door on forty years of her life at Calle Merced 20.

Calle Merced #20

Calle Merced #20

Calle Merced was a storied address in my childhood. It was Never Never Land, the place of your eternal youth. When I finally saw it a few weeks ago, the heavy wooden door you described was still there and I recognized the balcony from pictures you had shown me. You lived in Old Havana. But that too was consigned to fantasy. There were no marble steps that a maid had shined in your apartment. You lived simply on one floor, with a courtyard between the dining room and kitchen. Sometimes your mother brought home a live chicken and called the shochet – the kosher butcher – to slaughter it for the Sabbath meal. I imagine he did it right there in that open area between cooking and eating.

When I think of what is now our Havana, I envision the laundry on the balconies hanging like team pennants. But we are no longer divided into them and us. The people of Cuba hope and dream and cry with you for your country. How often did I hear you say in one long sigh – Hay Cuba como to estrano. I didn’t realize how much I missed Cuba too until I went there.

I saw the synagogue where you grew up. Women in the balcony, men gathered around a raised bima. I also went to the Patronato where you dreamed of being married before Castro took over the country. Your schoolmate Adela Dworin stayed in Cuba. She said that to be a revolutionary before the age of 40 is about passion. After 40 it seems like a foolhardy decision. Adela’s parents, who emigrated from Russia in the 1920s, stayed in Cuba because she was committed to the new socialism and they couldn’t bear another exile. Adela remembers you. Your old classmate is now the head of Cuba’s Jewish Community, much honored by Hadassah and others for her work with the country’s 1500 Jews.

There were only 11,000 Jews when you lived in Cuba, but you were a thriving community. Enough of you were committed to Judaism to fill five Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues. You had Hanukkah parties and Purim balls. That’s still happening, but the community is mostly growing through conversion and the number of functioning synagogues has dwindled to two. There’s an old joke that in the days when the revolution was in full bloom, a Cuban minyan consisted of nine people and a Torah.

A rabbi from Chile comes to Havana every six weeks to minister to the community. If someone is connected to a Jew, usually through marriage, they are encouraged to convert. This past Christmas over 70 people went into the warm ocean and immersed. When they came out they were Jews. There are over 140 children enrolled in the Albert Einstein Hebrew School. Some of those teachers are Jews by choice.

Havana is more beautiful than I had imagined. It’s in gorgeous ruins—an aging beauty queen who hasn’t lost her looks amid the rubble of benign neglect and abject poverty. The place is translucent with pastel colors and light. The outside of your house is a pretty light green. Green is your favorite color — the color of your eyes.

But the people are hungry. Rations are strict. The black market is darker than the Buena Noche, the Christmas Eve sky. People trade all kinds of things for an extra pound of meat or a cup of cooking oil.  Something as simple as a pair of jeans or sneakers that a relative in the States has brought gives a loved one a leg up in the barter system.

You should see the scene at the airport in Miami. Daily charters to Cuba all leave from the same place at Miami International and the check-in is transformed into a veritable marketplace. Cuban ex-pats going back for a visit have emptied Costco or Target or Best Buy, buying televisions, microwaves, bicycles, and air conditioners for their loved ones in Cuba. I saw my fair share of fishing reels too. That old chestnut of teaching a man to fish so he eats for life went through my mind like ticker tape.

God Bless America for all of her materialism and convenience.

“God Bless America,” that’s what my cab driver said in his fractured English as he drove me to the University of Havana. Aside from Calle Merced 20, that was the other place you wanted me to see. How you wish you could have studied at Alma Mater. Maybe you did or maybe you didn’t walk up its famous staircase.  You believed that you did, and that’s all that matters.

My cabbie leaned in close at a light and told me that from one Cuban to another, he was aburrido de esta vida. He prayed that his 30 year-old Russian Lada taxi would start each morning and that he’d catch enough fares to put food on the table for his kids. We both know that aburrido means so much more than just boredom. It’s a kind of lassitude mixed with the same Cuban melancholia I heard when you said how much you missed Cuba.

The driver had a mother-in-law in New Jersey who sent him money every once in a while. It helped more than I could imagine, he said. When I went to pay him he asked me if I had any medicine — aspirin, antacid, anything—that I could spare. He’d take it in lieu of a gratuity. I gave him a half-full bottle of Advil and a 30 percent tip. I had already donated all of the medicine I brought down to the pharmacy run by the Jewish community. The doctor who runs the operation has the same last name as your mother. “We’re all related,” she said jauntily.

Earlier in the day I had passed a state-run pharmacy where a woman beckoned me to come inside. I had an antibiotic prescription with me that I wasn’t going to use. Yes, she would take that, thank you, and did I also have pens to spare? I gave her what I had. She was about your age. Maybe you passed her on the street once upon a time.

“Tell your government we want to be friends again,” she said. “Tell your President Obama, embargo no.”

Aren’t you aburrida of the embargo too, Mamá?



*A version of this essay is forthcoming in the Jerusalem Report