My unborn children are annoying me

According to Russian tradition, babies are born wearing fur hats.

According to Russian tradition, babies are born wearing fur hats, which they shed only on their watery alcoholic graves.

You know how your mom always tells you, “You’ll know when you have kids someday,” whenever you do something annoying/lifeshattering to her?  My mom did the same thing when I was little.  And now, it’s coming back to haunt me.  Except, we don’t even have kids yet.  We don’t plan to have them for a couple (light)years, but they are already worrying the hell out of us.

“What should we name our 2.33 kids*,” I begin to play the dangerous game with Mr. B, adding, “keeping in mind that people with desirable or attractive names are treated more favorably by others than are those with undesirable or unattractive names?”  He stands and thinks for a minute, and I can already hear his nerd brain going 186 miles/second. “How about Euler?”  I give him a look that clearly signals that I don’t want little Oil to be beat up every day.

“How about Gauss?” I give him a look even more pointed than my sharpest felt-tip Sharpie at work.

“Lucifer?”  “Well, it does mean light-bearer,” I say, breaking out my Latin, “but NO.”  He looks back at me.  “Ok, what would you suggest?”

“Oh, I don’t know, NORMAL names like Ilana or Avi or Gabriel?  You know, names that have meanings in Russian, English, AND Hebrew, like your name?”

“No, those are all stupid.  Our kids will get teased in school,” he says, pensively.

“Yes, because Lucifer won’t.  We can even call him Lucy for short.”

There are other things I worry about, as well.  What if our kids are born with some sort of defect?  Like, what if, for example, they have tree man skin?  Actually, that would be freaking awesome (knock on wood) because I am obsessed with the tree man and really, really want to touch his skin and rubberneck.
What if they are born normal, but don’t want to learn stuff in school and just want to skip geometry class and watch Hannah Montana in the bathroom and get high (this is what I think third graders do nowadays)? What if Mr. B and I are not able to indoctrinate the kids like we want, into learning the value of education, of being decent people, teaching girls that they have every right to be empowered and boys that they should treat girls as empowered, and they run away after college and become impregnated with someone’s anchor baby?  What if, God forbid, they don’t enjoy languages or chess or going to Smithsonian museums for hours on rainy afternoons?  WHAT IF THEY HATE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST?  I don’t think I could live like this for long.  I really hope they make post-natal abortion legal in that case.  What if they turn out all American and are disrepsecting of our traditional Asian values, like the heartbreaking but eventually self-satisfying stories of the Joy Luck Club?

My unborn children are also making me think about saving up money for college.  Every time I go to the store to eye a trench coat, my subconscious tells me, “Guess what you won’t get to buy when you have kids?!  Because you’ll always be broke and pretty much all of the money you now spend on Oiishi Sushi will go to diapers or razor blades or whatever it is that you buy kids these days.”  And then I sigh and buy the trench coat, because, life is short, and it’s still a while before I’m tied down like a slave by the gentle financial chains of a 529 college savings plan.  They are definitely not going to Harvard.  Not unless they’re freakin’ Matt Damon. And even then, they better not be getting with Minnie Driver, because, Oh God.

These are just a sampling of the concerns I have.

Goddamnit, you kids are annoying.

*because two is too few for us, who are both only children, and three is just too many to spend my retirement money on so they can go to college and smoke weed and talk about how Anne Frank is really a metaphor for our whole secret existence while I am shelling out $10k a year out of what could have been my Going-To-Japan and eating real sushi fund.


Movie Review: Amreeka


Go see this movie. As soon as possible.

Amreeka (America in Arabic) is the story of how a Christian Palestinian single mom, Muna, and her son, Fadi,  get a visa to go to America from the West Bank town of Bethlehem because it is clear that there is not much future in the territories for them. They arrive in snowy Illinois to stay with Muna’s sister and her family.  So starts Muna’s process of getting on her feet as an immigrant by working at White Castle (having obtained two degrees and 10 years experience working in a bank), and Fadi’s process of fitting in at his new high school.

I’ll let the trailer speak for itself:

Everything about this movie was achingly familiar and close-to-home for me, both in the scenes they shot in the West Bank and the ones in America.

I’ve been struggling  lately with reconciling my Zionism with the realization that Israel is not only a place of ideals, but a country, just like any other, where ordinary people get up, go to work, drink Aroma coffee, and are screwed over by the beauracrcy of what is ostensibly a state created to protect us.  The fact that Israel, even as a Jewish state, is not perfect, has caused me to struggle between loving it and criticizing some of its actions.

In spite of  this inner conflict,  the minute Israel and the territories were shown in the movie, I became “homesick”.  The director, Cherien Darbis, portrays Israel and the territories with much familiarity.  All the nuances: the pale Jerusalem stone, the small, hot, cramped makoliot with flies on the tomatoes, the constant sunshine, and the crowded markets.  However, Darbis takes all of these things that I am intimately familiar with, and spins them on their head.  She doesn’t show Israel proper. She shows Bethlehem, the separation wall, and the checkpoints.  She shows Palestinians living their everyday lives, and she shows it from their perspective.  True, there is a political tilt, but, for the most part, she just aims to show how Muna and her family live, particularly as non-Muslim Palestinians that have to put up with the same obstacles as Muslims (who are, ostensibly, responsible for 100% of terrorist acts commited in Israel) do.


All of a sudden, everything changes as Fadi pushes Muna to accept the visa.  They fly to Chicago and brought home to live with Raghda, her husband, and their three children in American suburbia.  And this is achingly familiar, too.  The comfortable suburban houses, the American road signs, the snow, and small-town life. Raghda’s children, mostly born in America, are predictably enormously Americanized and look at Muna and Fadi with wild eyes.  They reply in English to Muna’s Arabic and blast rap music.  They sneak out of the house to smoke weed and, what’s most important, the eldest daughter argues passionately about the rights of Palestinians without really understanding what it means to be one.


I really loved this movie because of the way it portrayed immigrant life (with the same type of flavor as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but slightly more serious.) It once again reaffirmed my belief that all immigrants are the same.  Our parents have the same fears that their children will assimilate, that they won’t carry on the traditional cultural mores that they’re used to, that they won’t speak their native language.  At the same time, they know America is really the best place.  Yet, they still have nostalgia.  One scene really stuck with me. Raghda and Muna are in an Arab grocery store, and Raghda says something to the effect of, “Oh, how I want to go back to Palestine.  The food tastes better there,” and Muna replies that everything has changed in the 15 years they’ve been away; the wall is in place now, and the people are much different.  Raghda replies, “It doesn’t matter, it’s still home,” and Muna replies that there’s really nothing left there for them.  This struck such a deep chord with me because the nostalgia, the urge to return, forgetting everything else, is one that is also very prevalent in the Russian community. It also clearly shows the difference between Americanized immigrants and those fresh off the boat, and the sharp difference in family values.

More than relate the immigrant story, Amreeka also humanizes Palestinians, bringing them down from suicide bombers or casualties in the far-away headlines, to real people. They live in Bethlehem, a town that’s in the news a lot, but which we don’t see a lot of in real life.  They laugh, they dance, they are angry, just like normal people.  They’re not all oppressed wretches, and they’re not all Al-Aqsa suicide bombers, just as not all Arabs are Iraqi and deserve to be shunned. Some Arabs, such as everyone portrayed in this movie, aren’t even Muslim.  How do they fit into the web of stereotypes that we construct?

All in all, the honesty, warmth, and genuine hope in this movie make it a must-see for anyone, either to understand Palestine beyond the politics, or to understand immigrant culture in America.  Jews and Zionists, this goes double for you.  It challenged and broadened my understanding of Palestinians as a people, and I hope it will challenge yours, too.


Poem: Autumn

It feels like fall here.  It’s rainy and quiet out on the balcony.  I was inspired. The result is this poem that sounds like it could have been written by a 3-year old doped up on prescription medications.

fall Rain

From ehnmark on Flickr

All things must fade
And so must I,
The summer said,
And turned to fly.
She spread her iridescent wings,
And flew away to better things.
To beaches, scorched with beige-hued sands.
To tropic palm bespotted lands.
To picnic baskets full of gass,
To warmer places, summer passed.
She flew ahead of coming rains.
And left no butterflies in the plains.
She took with her warm sunset glows,
She cleared the trees ahead of snows.
She gathered deer, deep in the moss.
The woods then sighed, and marked their loss.
The sky-so blue and crystal clear,
Turned hazy, murky, shedding tear.
The grass, so green and shoulder-straight,
Turned inwards, and began to wait.
The flowers, roses, lost their thorns.
The squirrels, too, felt it, in acorns.

And all across the summer’s land,
Where warmth and laying in the sand;
Had once prevailed; now came the flood
The heavens cried, out crept the mud.
Out spread the foliage, dark and red,
Like deep wine bottles, spilled and bled.
Out came the quiet autumn calm:
Out came a different sort of sun.

Out came the muted leaf-lit woods;
And it was clear from where he stood.
The transformation was complete,
As every beast stored up their treats.
And as the raindrops slowly fell,
The land was his, Autumn could tell.