May 13, 2020: Launch of a Book
Life is virtual these days. For me, TODAY, this means that my debut memoir, DARE TO MATTER: Lessons in Living a Large Life is launching via Zoom. Instead of sitting in Baltimore’s brick and mortar Ivy Book Shop with real people, I make myself quite at home on my oversized (well it used to be, pre-quarantine food fest days) living room chair. At my side is one person: Judith Krummeck, author and local radio personality, who will interview me. After that, I read from my book and open the living room floor to questions from our virtual guests. What we still can’t figure out is how to feed virtual guests the calorie-rich cheesecake we had planned to serve at the Ivy launch.
May 13, 2010: Launch of a Bobby
Though not virtual, this occurrence is a new reality for me all the same. I am holding my first grandchild, seven delicate pounds of a dark-haired, ruddy-toned girl named Temima – a Jewish name meaning whole or complete. She is now ninety-days old, confidently dressed in the soft pink floral layette—a coordinating stretchie, hat, and blanket—I bought for her to wear when she left the hospital to meet the outside world. On this spring day, she has come to visit me, and I do the one thing I did well for her mother, my firstborn … I sing to her.
As a young grandmother, I am not prepared to be called Bubby, the popular Yiddish term for a Jewish grandmother; way too mature for me. I was privileged to have a Bubby, in fact, two, whom I adored. (One had passed on, a few years before Temima’s birth, at the age of 102, while the other was in her 90’s when Temima came here, making her a great, great grandmother.) Still, I relished the Hebrew version of grandmother, Savta, but it sounded too similar to the Yiddish word saftig, which translated as plump, an image no American knows how to wear with pride. That left me with little choice: I opted for Bobby, a spin-off of Bubby, to which some of my fashionable friends were also proudly answering.
No matter the title, I was not quite ready for the role. Just as I was figuring out how to mother four younger siblings of Temima’s mother, Temima entered our family picture. How am I supposed to grandmother; I hardly know how to mother? Daniel was fourteen, a free-spirited son upon whom one could not impose one’s will. And Ayala was in fifth grade, beginning to show that school was not in her highest interests. When cluelessly raising my first three children—Temima’s mother and her two younger sisters—I’d often pray “Please G-d, don’t let me destroy my children.” But then with Daniel and Ayala, I noticed my prayers took a telling, little shift, “G-d, please don’t let my children destroy me.”
I’ve heard it said that it would be better to be a grandmother first, before becoming a mother. I am not sure I know what that means, but even so, I don’t agree. I needed to struggle through mothering first, before I could appreciate the value of being a grandmother. Years of therapy had begun when my older sister told me, then a mother of three young children, “You are running with your hands tied behind your back.” That could only mean one thing: Therapy Time. Dr. Norma taught me how to raise myself which would, in turn, help me to mother my children. Mothering small children when I did not value the day to day routine, and could not see past the frustrations of unpaid work that was badly devalued by society because it did not earn money and did not count as credentialed accomplishment, proved to be hugely difficult, draining work.
Now holding Temima, I would finally value my past efforts with raising myself and my children. I could reflect on my ongoing choices and evaluate them in the fullest sense of the word: Did I value what really matters? I could confirm that those things that attract the admiration of others are generally not the things that endure nor yield lasting personal joy. And, I’d recommit myself to continue my battle with all those emotional idols that held undue influence over my ambitions, that would destroy me if I didn’t stand up to them.
And a decade later, all this reflection has found itself packaged in between the pages of my debut purpose-driven memoir, DARE TO MATTER. And though I am proving to be the same kind of grandmother as mother—the one who never in her life baked a chocolate chip cookie, doesn’t do homemade birthday cakes, needs clues that a (grand)child’s birthday is on its way, and limits each grandchild to two lazy pushes on the swing—I am surprised at how effortlessly I value grand-mothering. Maybe it has something to do with this: after letting fourth-grader Temima read about my fourth-grade year from an excerpt in DARE TO MATTER’s "Chapter Six: Finding Friends in the Fall," she turned to me, “Bobby, you wrote this? Could I read more?”
Shifra is fascinated with the inner spaces humans inhabit. As the producer and host of a weekly radio program on social and educational issues that aired live in the Mid-Atlantic region, Shifra was known for eliciting hard, honest responses from her interviewees when posing the questions that others were too hesitant to ask. Underlying these conversations was one pressing question Shifra always wanted to answer: what makes our lives matter? Daring to step right into the heart of life’s complexities, her search for answers to this question is refreshingly approachable and impactful. Shifra resides in Maryland, where she occasionally puts her pen down so that she can roam around in pursuit of her next writing desk. She can be reached at Shifra@ShifraMalka.com. Learn more: shiframalka.com.
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