Snow Globes by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Adam was four years old and two days, blissfully playing in pre-school, when the plane hit the first tower on that perfect September Tuesday of the cloudless, blue sky. Anna was in second grade. When I heard the news about the first plane, I thought a small aircraft had veered off course. Then another plane hit the second tower. I needed to be with my children and I had to find Ken.

I called Stockholm and told the hotel operator that I was calling from the United States. “I’m so sorry,” said a woman’s voice. “Today we are all Americans.” Ken was in a meeting and no one there knew that New York City was under attack. “Turn on CNN right now,” I sobbed when he came on the line. Ken hadn’t heard yet. His European colleagues cried with him as they watched the Twin Towers collapse on live television.

I collected my kids early. Anna’s school correctly understood that parents should be the first to tell their children about the terror attacks. I waited until we got home to tell Anna that the Twin Towers were gone. The towers had been her landmark of choice when she was asked to draw a famous building that she liked in first grade.

I will never forget the wide-eyed look that accompanied my daughter’s first question: “Where’s Daddy?”

And then Anna wanted to know if all the people on the planes and in the towers had died. In those days Ken was always on planes. He sent us postcards with exotic stamps. He brought back snow globes from his travels for Anna’s growing collection.

As it happened we had a spectacular snow globe of the New York City skyline, which thankfully helped me explain the enormity of what had happened that morning. When I shook the globe tiny pieces of red, blue and green foil fluttered in the water—pieces of foil that were shaped like the sun, moon and stars that I always want to give to my children.

Like a lot of our culture–kitsch or otherwise–the snow globe originally hails from Europe. The first “snow dome” was exhibited in 1878 in the Paris Exposition. Eleven years later, at another exposition, the Eiffel Tower was the main attraction. Its doppelganger was a ceramic miniature replica swimming in a water-filled dome.

The snow globe took off in Vienna in the 1890s after a man named Erwin Perzy was looking to create a cheap lens. Attempting to enhance the light he added white semolina, which put him in mind of a snowfall. Perzy’s first snow globe was a reproduction of a Viennese basilica. Today the Perzy family is still in Vienna producing 200,000 snow globes a year.

For weeks Anna traced the Twin Towers against her snow globe’s glass. One time I saw her take Adam’s small index finger and trace it for him. The first few days she asked me if the Towers were really gone, each time she looked hopeful that I might change my answer. I was grateful for the way the snowball preserved memory and helped me to explain to my children, and even to myself, how and when the Towers came down. But as a friend of mine says, “Sometimes there is no why.”

The week of 9/11, Ken hopscotched across Europe for six days. When he finally got a return flight to Boston, we went to the airport with flowers and signs to welcome him. Anna was clutching her New York City snow globe. Three years later she would try to bring home a snow globe from Alaska only to have airport security confiscate it. No more than three ounces of liquid permitted through the gate. We mailed the snow globe home and it arrived in pieces.

A lot has changed in a decade. Osama Bin Laden is dead. My children, on the verge of adulthood, know that Bin Laden’s death is momentous, but they wonder how much safer they really are. These past ten years they’ve been to Israel twice and on that first trip they noticed an army at work at checkpoints and street corners. They saw armed security guards posted at restaurants in Jerusalem.

The other day my close friend, a Muslim, linked her arm in mine and said, “Let’s go to Israel together.” She’d love to see the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall. I’d love to go with her. Until then we have to settle for shaking a snow globe and watching confetti-like snow blanket small-scale versions of our holy sites.

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The Jewish Partridge

I will always be the Jewish partridge in a pear tree.

It all started when I had the starring role In The Twelve Days of Christmas, my senior year at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. In head-to-toe brown polyester, I was theatrically camouflaged behind a sweet tall girl, wrapped in butcher block paper, who was my pear tree. Each of the last three times I appeared in front of my pear tree flapping my grocery bag wings, I received a standing ovation. I was the only Jew in my class and I had exquisite timing and stage presence that night.

I came to the Mount from a Jewish Day School. The only thing I wanted after my middle-school graduation was single sex education–a place where I could wear long skirts and go by my Hebrew name Yehudit. I scared my parents with my piousness and ascetic diet of cold food—the only way I would eat in their non-kosher kitchen. But my parents were unwilling to send me away from Hartford to Brooklyn or Providence. If I wanted to go to school with only girls, the Mount was my only local option. No one thought I would last through that first September.

The school was a maze of a place—24,000 gloomy square feet where the student body was down from 1000 girls to less than 200. I loved that the Mount looked like a haunted mansion since I felt like an apparition when I got there. I’d wander the halls staring at the crucifixes. Sister Angela once caught me and said, “I’d love to walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem while you pray at the Western Wall.” At the time I thought she was kind and eccentric. All she wanted was for the Mount to be my school.

I was both a figure of curiosity and pity when my classmates discovered that I didn’t celebrate Christmas. No tree, no presents, no ham. But there were the movies and Chinese food and that sounded pretty good to some of my friends. By our senior year those same friends had seen first-hand that menorah was a blazing beacon of light in cold December.

And yet  I’m just as excited the first time I hear Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” as I am when Sarah Silverman’s “Give the Jew Girl Toys” comes on the radio. And I love Christmas lights. The first December that my son could put two words together, we’d ride around just to get him to scream, “Oh my gosh” every time we’d pass a colorful shower of Christmas electricity. When he was a bit older, he’d ask me to drive slowly because he loved lingering on a lit-up, star-topped Christmas tree in a window.

On the other hand his sister, a born skeptic, almost got me beat up in a mall when she walked up to a little girl and said that Santa Claus was made up. “He’s just a fat guy wearing a costume.” We slowly backed away from an irate mother as I stammered that my girl had confused Christmas with Halloween.

One day on our way home from kindergarten, my son gushed that he wanted to be a Christian.

“And why is that?” I asked cheerfully.

“Because I love the ‘oh my gosh.'” The name had stuck.

“And I loved being a Partridge in a Pear Tree,” carefully explaining that there was no conversion on my part to get the role.

Adam’s quest to become a Christian was short lived, but for years he waged a forceful, yet ultimately unsuccessfully campaign, to string blue and white lights on our bushes. A very American Hanukkah decoration he argued when he was older.

No December dilemma for my boy and his partridge mother.

The Anatomy of a Meltdown

It was a dark and sort of stormy night. There were still miles to go and promises to keep. Who knew when anyone in my house would get to sleep? My better half was living it up in some Mid-Atlantic state. Okay, he was away on business and he had dinner alone at the hotel bar. But I was still driving the kids around at 8:30 at night and he wasn’t.

Anna had a tutoring session for an SAT subject test. There is no rest for the college applicant or her mother. Adam was at home with a chicken roasting in the oven. As I was rushing out of the house, I yelled up to his room that he had to turn off the oven as soon as the timer went off. “Don’t fall asleep,” I warned. In hindsight, the reason why I thought that it was sensible to rely on a sleep-deprived teen-ager to turn off the oven eludes me.

Back on the road, Anna asked if we could stop for Starbucks.

“You really didn’t ask me that question,” I snapped at her.
“I’ll run in and I’ll get you something too,” said my seemingly accommodating daughter.
I must have given her such a look at the stop light, that all she said was, “The light’s green.”

I dropped Anna off and planned to nap in the car. Buzz, buzz went my ancient BlackBerry. A text message from my road warrior. Adam left phone off the hook? Call goes straight to voice mail. Not answering his cell either. I was sure that Adam had fallen asleep, that the house was about to go up in flames.

I interrupted Anna’s lesson and said I had to go home right away. I started the car and the orange light came on. I had less than two gallons of gas. I didn’t care. I had to rescue my son, salvage the house. Ten minutes later I was panting and wild-eyed in the kitchen. The oven was off. Adam was working on his math homework on the dining room table. “You’ve got to be more trusting, Mom,” he said without looking up.

I ran out again to pick up Anna and what do you know—there was that darn orange light again. It was even brighter. I stopped to fill up, which put me back about ten minutes. My cell rang. “Everything okay? Ken asked oh so gently. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” I said. I think I was sputtering.

Only fifteen minutes late for Anna. I can multi-task without breaking a sweat, I said to myself. Anna didn’t quite see it my way. She got in the car and fiddled with the heat until her arm got in the way of the gearshift. “Stop it,” I yelled.

“I’m cold,” she yelled back.

That’s what we said to each other, but if there were thought balloons floating over our heads, the subtext would go something like this:

Me: Why don’t you know how to drive yet? I’m so tired of hauling you around.

Anna: Don’t you understand I’ve been up since six in the morning and played a soccer game where I scored a goal? But how would you know that? You were late for the game too.

I told her that she had broken one of my father’s cardinal rules of driving—Don’t mess with the driver. She told me not to talk to her. That was it. I pulled over, handed her the car keys and proclaimed that I was walking the couple of miles back home.

I walked for about 15 minutes. Every time a car passed by I hoped it was Anna coming to pick me up. What was I thinking? That a kid who doesn’t like to drive, won’t ever drive without her permit, would illegally take the wheel and come looking for me at night. By the time I had figured this out, I had walked pretty far. And my BlackBerry was in the car.

Then I noticed a police cruiser coming down the other side of the street. I flagged down the officer. “I need a ride,” I blurted out. “My 17 year-old daughter and I had a fight and I left her in the car.”

The policeman asked me my daughter’s age three times. “Get in the back,” he said. Have you ever been in the back of a police car? There’s no upholstery and the windows have bars. I deserved to be treated like a criminal, I thought.

We pulled up to my car. The officer pointed out that he had to let me out because the patrol car locked from the inside. “It’s for prisoners, you know.” Then he peered into my car with a flashlight to make sure Anna was really 17 and not 7.

She told the officer she was okay. She had been crying and handed me my phone. “I can’t get a flight out tonight,” Ken said. “Maybe I can catch a train.” He thought he was still speaking to Anna.

What came over me? I guess that I dug myself so deep into a hole that I couldn’t climb out. And I was scared and cold and exhausted. But I’m the grownup. I should always know better.

Anna and I patched things up later that night. I swore to her I would never do something that stupid again. The next day she told me that she and her friends were cracking up over our little mishap. “Everyone said the story would find its way into your column.”

Kids these days are so smart.

Anna’s Nose Pierce

The day my daughter Anna got her nose pierced, my husband Ken remained unequivocal on the subject. He told me that, “if you had had a nose piercing when we met we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”

Obviously Dad had to be convinced that a small stud in the nose was in vogue rather than disgusting. As for me, I bought Anna’s argument that piercing her nose has been the only notable rebellious thing she’s wanted to do as a teenager. And she’d been lobbying for two years. “I have the perfect nose for it,” was one of her key points. “This is your face,” Ken shot back.

I was no help to the home team when I said, “I’d pierce my nose with Anna if it didn’t look so ridiculous on a middle-aged mom.” Besides, I grew up with Latina cousins whose ears were pierced at birth. My Latina mother wanted my ears pierced when I was a baby, but was met with heavy (read: hysterical) opposition from her American mother-in-law.

For two years Anna begged, argued, and yes, threw mild tantrums all in the name of establishing her own identity. She tried to highlight the fact that she would be 18 sooner rather than later and wouldn’t need our permission to pierce any part of her body. To her credit, she also said that she wouldn’t go ahead with the piercing at any age if Ken ultimately objected. When he heard that he got choked up and gave in to his little girl.

Anna did her homework. She found a reputable piercing/tattoo parlor to do the deed. Yes, piercings and tattoos seem to go hand in hand. But I don’t care how old my kids are, tattoos are not on the table at any age. The place that I’ll call I’m Piercing Your Daughter, Inc., looked reputable from its Web site. They’d been in business for over a decade and took pains to emphasize that everything—needles, studs, gauze—was completely sterilized and disposable.

I have to confess that I was feeling more and more nervous as Anna’s appointment drew closer. The waiting room at I’m Piercing Your Daughter, Inc. didn’t do much to put me at ease. It was decorated with scary wooden masks that sported creative ways to pierce the face. But at least I sat. Ken paced. Anna was too excited to notice anything. The song “Super Freak” was playing overhead. (I swear I’m not making any of this up.)

Owen, who was a walking advertisement for his profession, beckoned us into a private treatment room and carefully explained what he was going to do to our daughter’s nose. He was gentle and understanding as well as tattooed and pierced on every part of his body that was exposed to us. In addition to having his own nose pierced in a couple of places, he also had a nose bullring. Yes, his septum was pierced. I caught Ken staring.

Nose piercing is a quick, simple and relatively painless procedure. It took longer for all of us to take our places in the small room and still be able to hold hands. Anna held Ken’s hand and Ken held my hand. Owen pierced. Anna smiled. Ken flinched. And I realized I didn’t have what it takes to get my nose pierced after all.

Owen gave Anna a sheet outlining care instructions that she taped to her bathroom mirror. And the fallout? Not much to speak of. I’m hailed as a cooler than cool mom and Anna is the ultimate hipster, especially when she wears her black framed reading glasses. As for Ken, he’s secure in the knowledge that if Anna’s nose stud is removed, the hole will close up in less than a day.