Introducing Jewish Penicillin: Soul Food from a Gen-Y Jewish Mother
What is Jewish Penicillin, exactly?
Jewish Penicillin is a term commonly used for chicken soup. Chicken soup was given this title because of its divine power to cure the common cold and Jewish mothers, especially, are famous for administering chicken soup at the onset of any ailment. Most always, it works.
But first things first: no soup for you.
Sorry, but this isn't a food blog (and if I've ever cooked for you, you're probably pretty relieved to hear that.) I don't write recipes, and there's no actual "soup" to be found here. Instead, I'm all about soul-food, or any piece of writing that gives your soul the warm-fuzzies. Let me explain a little further:
About a year ago, I was struck with an overwhelming desire to become a parent. A blogger since I was about 20, I wrote about spirituality, creativity, and pretty much anything that happened in my life which I thought could be told in a way that contributed to the greater good (or at least made you laugh.) As I anticipated a shift in my identity, I naturally needed a way to incorporate my evolution into a brand new blogging venture. I wanted to write soul food for mamas and non-mamas whose souls needed a meal. My only issue was that I wasn't technically a mother yet (except to our dog, Hampton), but so what? This little technicality only gave me more time to brainstorm-up the blog you're currently reading.
Yes: I came up with this mama-blog called "Jewish Penicillin" before I became a mama, and I'm writing this with a baby that's about to come out of my belly...
My idea for Jewish Penicillin, or "JPen" as I call it in my head, came a out of a desire to chronicle my impending perspective on motherhood, fill an internet void and create a corner of the internet that I could easily fit into. When I previously thought of "mommy bloggers", I thought of extremely organized creatives with Instagram feeds that rivaled the pages of a Restoration Hardware magazine. Since "organized" is probably in the bottom five words in the english dictionary I would use to describe myself and my iPhone photos look like they were taken by a three-year-old, I knew I would need to find another MO to get started. The only other options I really saw were fashion bloggers (tried that and felt I looked utterly ridiculous every time I attempted looking like a street model) and spiritual mamas who wrote about their life lessons with a twist of faith and humor. The latter idea sounded like something I could really pull off since most of what I was already writing was something you might find in a "Chicken Soup" book, but most of these bloggers wrote with either one of two things: 1. specifically Christian undertones or 2. yogic expertise. I'd endeavored into Yoga rather intensely in college and while it was a significant part of my spiritual journey, it wasn't a large enough part of my identity that I would feel comfortable writing as a yogi-mom. Suddenly, I had a better idea.
Newly married and Jewish for all intents and purposes, my potential motherhood would make me none other than an infamous "Jewish Mother." I noticed that for most people, the term "Jewish Mother" brought to mind a middle-aged, much older lady with dark curly hair and a thick New York accent. As much as I've aspired to this stereotype, it's just not exactly me. Sure, you can find me at Houston's local Jewish deli eating pickles and drinking coffee with my husband on many a Saturday morning, and I'm the furthest thing from quiet, but from afar I don't really look or sound anything like the Jewish mother/grandmother I hope to be one day (still working on my collection of stories - see blog - and my library of loud, unwavering opinions.) In fact, until I met my husband, I didn't really think about the fact that I was Jewish all that often: I'd discovered the spirituality section of Barnes and Noble when I was 20 and most of my beliefs could be attributed to Eckhart Tolle and about 17 years of never missing an episode of Oprah. My parents got divorced when I was 13 and one of my favorite yearly traditions living with just my mom was opening gifts on Christmas morning (again, not a drop of non-Jewish blood in either of our bodies, but we loved Santa and Christmas music and basically just thought "why not?") My transition into having a stronger Jewish identity actually began when I was trying to win over the man I'm now married to.
I met Ben on a blind date arranged by our mothers when I was 19 and he was 23 (yes, cue the "Fiddler on the Roof" soundtrack.) Both home only briefly from college/graduate school and both of us in times of transition, we wouldn't meet again until five years later when we ran into each other at a party at one of Houston's beloved department stores, Tootsies. That night, we started talking and I was pretty smitten right away. Knowing my tendency to mess these things up just a bit, I realized I might need a little "insurance" to be sure this guy called me for a second, third and even fourth date no matter how many dating blunders I was guaranteed to make over the course of our initial courtship. I knew Ben was Jewish and even though I hadn't had a Jewish boyfriend ever and was pretty distant from my Jewish identity at the time, I had a sneaking suspicion that Ben was ultimately interested in marrying another Jewish girl. I managed to "off-handedly" remind him during our conversation at Tootsies that I am, in fact, Jewish, and I watched his eyes suddenly begin to twinkle. That'll buy me another month, I thought to myself as I suddenly felt a pang of Jewish guilt at the realization that I might have misled this poor man into believing I spent my Friday nights welcoming in Elijah and baking Challah with my extended family.
I spent the next several months trying to convince him that I wasn't really Jewish in the way I thought he probably thought I was (I'm really just very spiritual, I would say) and he spent those months convincing me that Judaism might exist far outside the box that I'd safely kept it in for most of my adult life. Perhaps my spiritually, he suggested, was even greater than I was allowing it to be every time I wrote off a large chunk of who I inherently am.
Be my journey as it may, I still hesitate tremendously with the idea of having a blog that includes a religion in the title. Why? Because I don't want you to think that 1. I have any intention of weighing in on religious issues (I don't), 2. that I spend any significant portion of my life dedicated to religious practices/am an expert on such (I'm not) and 3. that you'll run off the second you see a reference to any kind of religion because you think I'm going to spend most of my time writing about God as the bearded man who sits atop a mountain with his rod and his staff keeping score on his tiny little underlings (for the record, I think of God as more "BFF" than "bearded man.") Still, I decided to push aside all of those fears when I got the idea for Jewish Penicillin because inside of me I truly believe that what I write is like Jewish Penicillin (medicine) for the soul. If I couldn't find my "brand" of spirituality and Judaism anywhere on the internet, than I wanted to become a voice for it myself. Let me reiterate: you won't be reading very many mentions of Judaism or commentary on Jewish issues in this blog. Instead, I'll just chime in on things from my perspective, which I hope brings another facet to what you think of when you think of a Jewish voice. My aim is that as you follow along, you'll start to come visit me here whenever your soul needs respite - mother or not.
Sorry, does that make sense?
I feel like it might not. Maybe because it's about 5:30 in the morning and our baby is due any day now. Given the time crunch, I don't really have time to keep explaining so I'll just move on to the mandatory "about me" section of Jewish Penicillin that I've been putting off writing for about a year. People keep telling me I have no idea what I'm in for and that I won't have time for anything once this baby arrives. I'm trying to air on the side of safety, so in the interest of getting this done before I spend the next few months sleep-deprived and poop-covered, allow me to keep typing as fast as I can...
About every six-weeks, someone emails me and asks me for my bio. If you look me up on the inter webs, you'll find millions of different versions of "About Laura"s that all seem to cover different parts of my life experiences but don't seem to really adequately give you a sense of who I am. I decided to write you a little list of really "important" things to know about me:
1. I was born with big, open blue eyes and I'd like to keep them that way. What do I mean? Let me explain. I went to Houston's High School for Performing and Visual Arts and it was there that the only teacher with any conservative political convictions promised me that as I got older, my "wisdom" would send me over, slowly but surely, to more conservative political thought. I think of that teacher as one of my first spiritual challengers. Yes, over the years I have been tempted to throw everything up into the air, come up with a plan for hoarding my money and starting a line of tinfoil hats because sh*t feels scary. That said, I'm always challenging myself to be truly wise, which for me has nothing to do with becoming cynical and everything to do with making sure my heart gets bigger as I get older. It is easy to become hardened: staying soft is the real, great challenge. I always aim to remain bright-eyed. Fear is a much easier choice most of the time, but Love is the only thing that really works. That's a little snippet of my politics. And, speaking of politics...
2. My husband Ben is currently running for State Representative of District 134 in Houston, Texas. When I'm not writing or working or doing the pregnant waddle wondering where my ankles disappeared to, you can find me working on his campaign. I believe that young people and change makers have a duty to get involved in politics now if we want to raise our children in a world that is worthy of them. Every day, from our little corner of the world, I am doing my part to "be the change I wish to see in the world" by actively engaging in our political system. Do not let anyone tell you we should all be above politics or that real change isn't possible. Real change is only impossible if no one believes in it. We cannot afford to sit back, my friend. (Interested in helping out? Click here to join Ben and I on the campaign trail.)
3. I went to college for Broadcast Journalism and studied under many incredible professors, most notably Walter Robinson (aka "Robby" from the Oscar-Winning movie "Spotlight.") I wanted to be Oprah when I was 17 and Broadcast Journalism seemed like the closest thing to majoring in Oprah. I traveled a lot in my senior year and decided I wanted a life that offered more flexibility and family time than a career in broadcasting would have offered. That said, you can still find me chiming in on the occasional morning show in Houston and I still find the feeling of home underneath the warm lights of a TV studio.
4. Four years before we started dating, my husband bought our dog, Hampton. Most people who didn't know Ben before they met him through me think that Hampton was a joint purchase. As much as Ben and I chose each other, Hampton and I also chose each other. I would do anything short of throwing myself in front of a train for that dog. Nothing else to say on that, but if we're getting to know each other, I can't let you leave without telling you about Hamps. You'll inevitably see him pop up on my IG feed at least every 4 posts.
5. As I said, I'm writing this to you at around 9 months pregnant and ready to "pop" at any minute. Still, as much as I've been anticipating motherhood, I never really thought I would be here. On my (second) first date with Ben, I told him I didn't want any kids. About a month later, I saw a future with him that included a bunch of little, screaming, adorable rascals. This was one of the many reasons I knew I wanted to marry him.
6. I'm from New York originally and have a sincere nostalgia for "old NYC." Whenever I visit Manhattan, I feel like I've been dated out of it. My parents were much older when they had me and I was raised on Frank Sinatra, 2nd avenue deli and 80s fashion. My mom had a psychic hairdresser when she was pregnant who used to put his hands on her belly and tell her she was giving birth to the two-thousand year old woman. Sometimes, I feel like I'm that old. I still wish I could freeze that time in New York and go visit it occasionally, but every once in a while I'll find a nook or cranny in the city that reminds me of the days of yore and I'll nest there for just a little bit.
7. I moved to Houston when I was 13, left for college at 18 and returned at 23. I never in a million years thought I would "wind up" here in my 20s, but whenever I think about it, I know it's exactly where I was meant to be. I love this city and everything it's given me, and I'm very dedicated to making it an even more thriving place.
Got questions for me? I'd love to hear from you. Click here to drop me a line any time. I hope you enjoy Jewish Penicillin as much as I've enjoyed creating it.