Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Birthday Bratz

My niece just turned 6 years old. Yesterday, she and a friend had a "Bratz" birthday party with all the kids from her kindergarten class (and their siblings...roughly 40+ kids). They had a very colorful, peppy, and LOUD clown performing, dressing kids up as Bratz, singing and dancing along to all the latest kids' party tunes. There were plenty of refreshments outside for the parents who chose to stay nearby until the end of the party, and plenty of sweets and snacks for the kids inside.

Now, don't get me wrong - I believe that children's birthdays should be celebrated and made a big deal out of, so that the kids really do feel that it's their special day. And I know that kids love all that raucous music and those sparkly arm-tattooes and balloon animals and the clown with the microphone blasting yet another round of hokey pokey - until it comes out their ears.

The part I could do without, though, is the "afterparty" with the rest of the family. This same gathering that happens after weddings and bar mitzvahs, and other big gift-giving occasions. And I've got to wonder what kind of effect it has on the birthday girl herself. This after-party is when all the guests have gone, when the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins are dying to go home, but must sit through the gift opening ceremony. For "adult" events, it's the envelope opening, counting checks and cash - comparing who gave how much, and whether the amount is considered respectable ("That's nice, Ginny's gift covered the price of her plate, plus the tablepiece"), generous ("Mmm, how very nice of Uncle Moishe to give this gift, he came alone AND lives only on his pension"), or embarassing ("Can you believe that Cousin Yossi only gave such-and-such amount? He came with 3 kids and ate 5 desserts...the nerve!")

I was first exposed to this tradition in my husband's family after our own wedding, and it never ceases to shock and appall me (I heard it happens in other families too, but never actually witnessed it outside our walls). Call me silly, or even naive, I am just happy that people choose to come and celebrate our occasions with us; what they choose to give as a gift is their prerogative - I respect and accept that without a second thought. BUT, I guess not everyone goes with the flow like I do... not in this country, at least.

So there we sat, watching the 6 year old open her presents - with her mother sorting every one. There was the "Bratz"-themed present pile, the other girlie gifts pile, and the exchange or re-give pile. And with every gift there was a comment: "They're good friends, I'm surprised she gave such a skimpy gift" or "Most of the people gave presents worth at least 30 shekels, I saw this water bottle in the store for only 20" or "We gave their son a really nice *brand-name* shirt for his birthday, I would have expected something a little nicer" - and on and get the idea. There were nice, positive comments for some of the gifts that apparently met their standards, but they were the exception.

I love my sister-in-law, she is an amazing and generous person with a really big heart and lots of other more challenging issues to deal with in her life. Maybe that's why it still surprises me to hear her say things like that. Because it's got to have an effect on the girl. She is being raised to judge people on what kinds of gifts they give instead of genuine appreciation for the people themselves. She is learning to compare and compete in an area of life that should be reserved for just being thankful. Once I was even so bold as to say this out loud - everyone agreed, and then continued commenting...

I would probably be a fool to think that this is an isolated occurrence. It is apparently what people are doing everywhere, but especially in the community my sister-in-law and her family live in. The translated name of the town is "Mother of all Towns", and although far from rich or exclusive, this town also seems to be the Mother of all Snobs. I won't go into detail here (maybe save this for another post) about the jeweled flip-flops the mothers were wearing, or the way they wrinkled their noses at the goodie bags handed out at the end of the party - but it's part of a larger, and much more distressing change in values that parents are passing on (or NOT) to their children. Even the fact that my niece wanted a Bratz-themed birthday party is related to this set of priorities, somehow... I think.

Obviously I cannot change these people, but I can do my best to make sure that I transmit more positive messages and values to my own children. There's a lot more to it than just teaching them to say "Thank you".

Saturday, June 14, 2008

To geek or not to geek

Going to MashBash Tel Aviv this past week was great. I finally met in person a bunch of really nice people that I have only tweeted with so far, which was in itself justification to attend. But even more significant was that it exposed me to a slice of the population that I haven't had much contact with at all. The hi-tech crowd. The start-uppers. The web 2.0 following. The geeks.

Full disclosure here - I am a geek! but have apparently kept it somewhat subdued since moving to Israel, since there are so many other personal issues to deal with (no, says husband, it's always been there).

I've slowly been getting into the world of social media, credit going to my big sister, the guru, and realizing there's a whole constellation of sites and concepts and startups and people who are absolutely dedicated to this ever-developing realm. And I've been losing countless hours of sleep trying to learn more about it, since I think the years and years of working in the pharmaceutical industry (in human resources, no less) has distanced me from both the technological and the theoretical aspects of web 2.0.

But then, on the one hand, I'm thinking, how very contradictory it is that all this social media is being built by the stereotypically most un-social kinds of people - those who sit behind a computer all day and communicate mostly with the computer and occasionally with each other (online - no matter how far they actually sit from whoever they're communicating with). I guess that's changed too. Or not, you tell me.

On the other hand, the great thing about web 2.0 is that you can pretty much have a fully satisfying social life with real people online from behind that same computer - choose to socialize when and where it suits you, only with people you choose to meet, yet never have to actually talk to real life people face to face. Phew. Because who likes to deal with people in real life.

Now, I've revealed some of my deeply-embedded anti-social tendencies (we come by it honestly in my family, I refer you to my sister's excellent post about marketing to introverts. We are out there, baby), but I have spent a good portion of my adult years trying to get over them, and get out there. And MashBash made me realize that getting out there is not so bad. Because we're all geeks in some way (except maybe some of those blonde women in skinny dresses that were shmoozing around), meaning that its probably equally uncomfortable for all involved. If I just accept it, I can reap a lot more out of the whole experience.

So I've decided to openly embrace my geekiness and dive into this new world with open arms - attend more events, get to know more people in the business, see what the future holds.

Geek on, dudes!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June weddings

It's June, and wedding season is in high gear. Most of our friends are already married, we're past the "brit" years and are moving into the bar/bat mitzva rounds. But the few remaining bachelor friends or family members still invite us now and again to watch them ceremoniously tie the knot, have a good dinner, then dance the night away.

Last night I went to my previous manager's daughter's wedding. She was my manager for many years right after I moved to Israel, and treated me like her own daughter (not to mention that both she and my husband are of Jewish Iraqi heritage - and once you're in with that tribe, you're in good hands). So as I joined her and about 200 other guests last night at the wedding, it was like being at a family "simcha".

I don't know who had a bigger smile on her face, the beautiful bride or her mother. People were blowing soap bubbles, breaking out spontaneously in song, all around enjoying themselves. The positive vibes floating through the air there were thick enough to slice, and it was great catching up with colleagues that I don't see much anymore.

But, as weddings do, it got me to thinking (yeah, and a little teary-eyed sniffling too). Looking back, I think I didn't enjoy my wedding as much as I should have. We were so nervous, I was so new to Israel, there were so many people... didn't eat, didn't sit, barely remember what happened under the chuppah aside from bright lights and "harav hamezamer" (the rabbi that wouldn't stop singing!) Good thing there's a video of the event, but you couldn't pay the big guy enough to sit down and watch the whole thing again!

You've got to envy the newlyweds, though - they've got the world at their feet, they're madly in love, they're starting a whole new chapter of life together, they have no clue about the struggles that lie ahead (oblivion is bliss) - what could be better?

I'll tell you what's better. Keeping it going for years and years, getting to know each other in even greater detail (for better or worse), raising children together, the wins, the losses, the really bad dinners, the glances that make words unnecessary, and all the little and big things that bond you far closer than a slice of wedding cake ever could.

And so, 15 years, 3 boys, a dog, a house and a minivan later... things are pretty darn good. And with that in mind, I enjoy other people's weddings even more.