Archives for March 2010

Pre-Pesach musings

Last time I wrote a serious post, it was about not taking what people say seriously when they are not being rational (throwing a tantrum). This time I want to talk about taking people seriously, because, in fact, most people do.

Sometimes, we take people too seriously. We allow the nasty comment of a stranger ruin our day. We allow the unfeeling statement of a friend or acquaintance to hurt us.

My mother used to say, “consider the source,” meaning that if the person said something nasty or cruel, chances are he/she wasn’t such a nice person to begin with.

On the other hand, we should pay attention to those who are kind and helpful and to people who we can trust.

Many years ago, my dear friend Susan said only a few words to me that changed (for the better, of course) my whole life. From time to time, I run into people I have had as clients and other acquaintances and they tell me that something that I had told them in the past really helped them.

In Pirke Avot, wise people are instructed to be careful with their words– and even those of us who are not wise, should be careful. Words can hurt and words can heal.

And here is the real challenge that we live with: people listen when we speak. When we say something that helps or hurts them, they remember what we’ve said far longer than we do. A word said in anger can ruin a relationship. A kind word can save a life.

So maybe when we’re thinking of cleaning for Passover, when we rid ourselves of even the tiniest crumbs of what is unfit, it’s a good time to think of the impact of what we say and to realize that even the smallest negative remark can hurt someone a very long time and the smallest expression of support can change someone’s life.

But seriously, folks

Back to the real reason I started this blog– this blog that has wandered around the world, engaged in politics, and has told you how I feel about Israel. Back to talking about family relationships…

Let me begin by saying something rather radical that will summarize what I am about to say:

Don’t take people who are upset seriously.
That’s it. Don’t.

OK, Let me go back and talk about it and then you will understand, I hope.

When we are little and non-verbal, our tantrums usually consist of non-stop crying, flailing, and throwing things. As we get a little older, our parents encourage us to express our displeasure in more socially acceptable ways, i.e., talking about it. So, by the age of twenty or so, we (most of us) stop screaming, yelling and throwing things and instead use words to express our displeasure.

So far, so good.

However, it sometimes happens that we use words in the same way as we used our stuffed toy animals and blocks and little train cars–we take them and throw them at others like weapons.

In response, those who love us are hurt, surprised, and often themselves become angry and hurtful.

So here we are. Mature, adult two year olds having a simultaneous tantrum.

Now what happens in tantrum state?

The person who is having the tantrum has two major objectives
1. To get his/her point across.
2. To let the other person/people know how upset he/she is.

In accomplishing the second, often the message of the first is lost. Not only that, but the listeners may actually be less motivated to hear the message as they move to defend themselves and pay back in kind. Which is why most arguments do not end well.

Few people realize, however, that when someone is in tantrum state he/she often loses control of his/her ability to think clearly and may say lots of things that he/she doesn’t mean. Some of those things may have dire consequences.

Take my uncle.

When my cousin was a freshman in college my cousin decided to grow a beard. My uncle did not like the idea of his son having a beard. He tried to cajole him and finally, in a tantrum state, threatened him- telling him that if he didn’t remove the beard, he couldn’t come home.

Do I have to tell you the rest of the story?

It was not a happy story.

Did my uncle mean to lose his son for a long period of time? I strongly doubt it. He just got carried away.

What could have happened instead:
My cousin could have listened to the tantrum. He could have responded calmly or not at all, he could have gotten up and walked away. Chances are pretty good that once my uncle got back in control of himself, he would have still not liked the beard, but might have realized that it wasn’t worth losing his son over it.

Example two:

When I began studying for my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania at age 42– after having been in clinical practice as a family therapist, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, the idea of getting a doctorate was very exciting. On the other hand, I felt the level of instruction in certain areas was naive and simplistic and since the tuition was high, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the investment of our family’s resources.

I don’t remember what specifically set me off, but one morning, early in November, before we had received any tuition bills, I got really angry and told my husband that I was dropping out and didn’t want any more part of the nonsense going on at the school and that I could think of a lot of things to do with my time and our money that would be more productive etc. I went on and on. He didn’t answer. I’m pretty sure it was because he didn’t know what to say. But after a while, it just ran down. I was finished and I picked up my books and left for school.

Could it have ended otherwise? Surely. Had he gotten sucked into the tantrum, he would have urged me to continue and I would have dropped out just to show him that he couldn’t control me.

Tantrums do bad things to people.

When I was seeing couples in marital therapy, often what the spouses would complain about was what the other one had said at the height of a tantrum. Usually, the spouse either didn’t remember having said it or regretted saying it. In fact, it was not the spouse speaking from his/her rational mind. It was that reptilian brain that all of us have inside of us. It is that primitive fight or flight mechanism that that springs into action when we begin to feel any sort of threat.

So what should we do when someone we care about starts having a tantrum? Don’t respond in kind. Listen, to the message but don’t take everything he/she says seriously. Really. He/she doesn’t mean half of what he/she is saying. There’s no need for there to be more than one two year old in the room. Not feeding the flames helps extinguish them. And once the person is rational again, maybe the problem can even be solved!


I don’t like putting up political posts. Sometimes they threaten friendships, and I really don’t want to lose any friends. But what’s been happening lately is so troubling that I can’t remain let it pass. Here’s one article about it.

Funniest Experiences

Funniest experiences

Rules: Fill in the following. Tag 4 friends to do the same.

  • My funniest dream
    I try really hard not to remember my dreams because in them frequently I find myself in public places having forgotten to put on my clothes.
  • My funniest experience with a pet
    At the time I didn’t think it was funny, but my daughter thought that heating up a piece of chicken for the dog was a bit over the top. I like it warm… I thought he would too.
  • My funniest experience at a job interview
    I applied for a job working with a population that I really didn’t know and the interviewer wanted so badly to hire me that she supplied the answers to the questions she asked me.
  • My funniest purchase
    I’m sure there are funnier ones, but recently on a rainy day I purchased a meter of plastic tablecloth material to cover my shopping cart that was full of purchases and likely to drown in the downpour we were having.
  • My funniest experience in high school
    High school was not funny.
  • My funniest cooking experience
    The first year I was married I made bread pudding with rye bread. Not recommended.
  • The funniest thing I ever said to anyone
    “When you’re a daddy, you get to eat all the ice cream” It wasn’t funny then, but the story evolved.
Everyone tagged

My family and friends are invited to add in the comments any answers that they think I should have given.
fill in this meme


My Travels

I have been tagged for a meme by Rachel and how could I resist?

My travels

Rules: Fill in the following questions & tag 5 friends (try friends who travel a lot).

  • My best trip ever…
    My first trip to China. Astounding. A whole new world. All I could think was “I can’t believe I’ll never come back here.”
  • My worst trip ever…
    Undoubtedly the trip to the mikvah erev Hanuka one year that we lived at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It was a 3.5 hour drive in each direction and on the way there my radiator started steaming and then the gas station attendant in Louisville couldn’t get th
  • Most important thing I ever lost on a trip…
    An earring on the train to Sapa
  • Most important thing I ever forgot to take on a trip…
    Can’t think of anything
  • Thing I miss most when I’m away…
    My family
  • Thing I miss least when I’m away…
    Chores around the house
  • Favorite travel partner…
    My husband
  • Place I hope to travel to someday…
    Maybe Japan or Singapore? Maybe Kiev and Odessa? I would go pretty much anywhere, but probably not to Dubai.

fill in this meme


I tag: Kelli, Bethami, & Vicki

and leave you with some pictures from my most recent trip (to the Galilee)