Episode 4: Mothering (Transcript)
Avi Rose: I do own pearls and I do play mahjong, but other than that, I am not a stereotypical Jewish mother.
Nahanni Rous: This is Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive. I’m Nahanni Rous. For this Mother’s Day episode, we want to break open the idea that there’s one kind of mother, and celebrate the fact that motherhood takes many forms. This episode of Can We Talk? is in three acts: three stories of motherhood that don’t fit the usual mold. Without further ado, Act One, set in Jerusalem.
Child: Bang bang bang. Adon Mommy! Adon cookie, Adon kakie, Adon flotz, Adon Mommy, Adon vifi.
Nahanni: [whispered] Adon means “Mr.”... Mr. Mommy, Mr. Cookie, etc.
Avi: How about Adon rimon…
Child: Adon Rimon…
Avi: What else?
Child: Adon peepee!!!
Avi: You want me to introduce you? [Laughs]
Binyamin Rose: No!
Avi: So then I’ll start. My name is Avi Rose. I am 51 years old and I live in Jerusalem…
Binyamin: I’m Binyamin Rose, I’m 41.
Avi: We are the parents of two wild and crazy four-year-olds.
Nahanni: Sarai and Atir are their children, born with the help of a surrogate in India.
Avi: The children refer to me as either Ema or Mummy… and the story of how that emerged is that actually Sarai and Atir decided.
Binyamin: Basically what happened was they were in the mishpachton, in the day care center, and they saw that one of the kids was crying out Ema and got lots of attention, so they realized that the word Ima really worked well. And as a consequence, they then started calling Avi Ema.
Avi: Most people that they do their daily life with, like the people they work with, they’re pretty cool about it, most especially the women. The only person to be honest who’s not cool with it is their gay male teacher, who has two kids...
Binyamin: Who has two kids of his own.
Avi: Who has two kids of his own. He sees it exactly the opposite from what we do. We see denying Sarai and Atir the right to do that as a form of heteronormativity and he sees giving in to that as not being cool with the fact that a family can have two dads.
Avi: What’s really neat is that because Hebrew is totally gendered, it should follow that Ema has all kinds of female pronouns, but they don’t ever do that. It’s Ema followed by complete male pronouns. So they get it that I’m a man, and they’re totally down with that. They can’t help themselves, I’m a large, bald bearded man… I do own pearls, and I do play mahjong, I need to say that, but other than that… ok and I worry about everything they eat and every time they cough… but other than that I am not a stereotypical Jewish mother.
Binyamin: He totally is.
Avi: Ok, I totally am. But I’m still male. And I’m male identified.
Binyamin: He’s very male, but he is absolutely the Jewish mother.
Binyamin: One of the things that I see with us being two dads is really that the primary attachment doesn’t matter about gender. It think it just shows there is something very needed in children to have just a primary attachment. They really are in tune with roles rather than with gender. You play the role of Ema, you play the role of Abba. A lot of our friends who are gay dads, they’re so much more aware of the maleness of identity of being a gay dad.
Avi: I get it that there is something off-putting about it— not just because you know the mom is the guy with the beer belly and the beard, but also because it does sort of feel like we’re saying, you can’t do this equally, someone’s gonna take the extra burden, etc., etc. I don’t know that we can build that generalization on our case because there are so many specific pieces of it…
Nahanni: For one thing, from the beginning, Avi’s professional life allowed him to take on the role of primary caregiver, while Binyamin’s hasn’t. And for now, like most parents, they’re doing what works.
Binyamin: Once upon a time we used to have energy for politics and now we’re so exhausted, that generally, we’re just happy when the children just relate to us in any which way, particularly now that they’re four, that they’re nice to each other and they’re nice to us, it’s a miracle day… I think that’s the thing is that there is something very important in allowing them to just relate to us as they wish to.
Avi: I get it that in some ways it’s not fighting the good fight. Once upon a time I was about fighting the good fight. Right now I’m about raising my children. And we are. And I’m lucky that i have a partner who is not threatened by that. You know... he married a man and all of a sudden he got an Ema.
Binyamin: Real men marry Emas.
Avi: Yeah. [Laughs]
Child: Mommy’s Baba and Baba’s Mommy!
Nahanni: That was Avi and Binyamin Rose and Sarai and Atir, four-year-old twins who call one of their fathers Mommy. By the way, to add to the irony, Avi’s name in Hebrew actually means father, my father, to be specific.
Avi: Have you been playing with dragons again? I told you no playing with dragons!
Nahanni: Act Two: A story about my cousin, Dana Rous, who not long ago, found herself being called mother by a teenager from Somalia.
Muna: Hi. My name is Muna. I am from Somalia. I am living Massachusetts with Dana Rous.
Dana Rous: When did you get here?
Muna: I am coming America [whispers] I am coming America 2015. I am living one year.
Dana: My name is Dana and I am a social worker in Boston. A year ago I became a foster parent to Muna who is an unaccompanied refugee minor.
Dana: I always knew I wanted a family and wanted kids and I made a decision a while ago that if I turn 40 and I don’t have the family I thought I was going to, I would adopt. The reality of it and trying to figure it all out… I just didn’t feel like I was able or ready to take on a baby or a kid by myself and financially it was just hard. So I started thinking about fostering, and then because I work with refugees and asylum seekers, I started thinking about unaccompanied refugee minors, and the reality is most are teenagers.
Dana: I mean I was really scared. I mean I always thought I’d have a young kid. Teenagers have always scared me. I never wanted to work with teenagers… and suddenly I got a teenager. So I really did not know what to expect.
Nahanni: Muna told me her story through an interpreter. Her mother tongue is Somali. Muna’s parents both died when she was young. When she was 16, her sister died, and then her sister’s husband wanted her to be his wife. She refused, but he kidnapped her for 20 days. When she escaped she fled to Thailand.
Dana: I knew a little bit about her, I had a little picture and I had one paragraph of information about her. I knew she had been through a traumatic experience, I didn’t know what. Um… She had no idea, she didn’t know who she’d be living with, she didn’t know where. She didn’t know anything. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been.
Nahanni: Muna grew up in Mogadishu, and Dana in Scarsdale, New York, but they share one important experience. They both lost their parents. Dana’s mom died from cancer when she was 12. A few years later, her dad died.
Dana: I can’t compare our experiences, but we both have experienced loss. She talks a lot about her mom. he’s got a little picture on her wall of her mom, she somehow was able to take in her family. When Muna talks about her mom, it has brought up memories of my mom, and that’s been really nice.
Dana: Every night I come home and we usually eat together, and do homework and just talk and laugh. We laugh so much. She’s just so funny.
Muna: Everyday my teacher she’s tell me, good morning. I say I am good! [Laughs]
Muna: And she say, Good morning! And I say, My name is Muna! [Laughs]
Dana: It’s good to be able to laugh.
Nahanni: Muna didn’t immediately start referring to Dana as her mom. The first few months in America, Muna hardly talked at all. But she watched everything. She saw that Dana was there for her, helping her, giving her advice, talking to her kindly. It’s been a year now, and she says Dana is family, and she is home.
Dana: I love her, I respect her, I’m so proud of her. She stresses me out sometimes, but I adore her. I didn’t expect i think to feel as maternal? I didn’t expect for her to care about me as much… She even said the other day that when i’m old she’ll take care of me, which is so sweet. We talk a lot about her having kids and me being their grandmother.
Dana: Muna, can you tell me what your favorite song is?
Muna: My favorite song is.. Somali song?
Muna: And that’s Mom... Mom song.
Dana: It’s a beautiful song.
Muna: I am sing.
Dana: I love the song; it’s so beautiful.
Muna: I remember my mom that one.
Dana: What is it about? You told me a little bit about what it’s about.
Muna: Is beautiful song, I don’t know explain because I can’t do that.
Dana: But it’s about moms, right, your mom who gave birth to you and loves you, right?
Dana: It’s beautiful.
Nahanni: Here’s what the song means: I come from you, mother, and I love you. The world exists. You are the presence of hope. You are like a strong stem that will never break.
Nahanni: What I’ve learned from my cousin is that the most meaningful roles we find ourselves in are not always the ones we expect. When it comes to motherhood and mothering, there really is no formula, no script. How do any of us know how to do it?
Nahanni: In Our Third Act, we meet someone who does have a script for motherhood. In fact, she’s studied the part so much, you might call her a pro. Kim Schraf has played about 20 moms throughout her 30 year career on stage— she’s been Hamlet’s mom, Owen Meany’s mom, Tiny Tim’s mom.
Kim Schraf: I’ve played a lot of moms…I’ve been a mother to, oh, a whole passel of actors in town.
Nahanni: She’s not a mom herself, though.
Kim: Every role you play is a lie. You know, it’s a conceit… but it’s a pretty poignant conceit to embody the roles that you know have been absent from your own life. And I love playing mothers. I love it. But there’s a little pang there.
Kim: Whenever I’m playing a mother, I bring my mom on stage with me. Invoke her before I come on stage, call her up, be with her for a moment, breath with her, and bring her on stage with me.
Nahanni: Kim’s mother is not alive anymore, but certain images conjure her instantly: the way she sectioned a grapefruit and covered it in sugar, the way she beat an egg, or dressed for a party. These images guide Kim on stage. She’s played so many kinds of mothers, and she knows there’s only so far a script will take you. You’ve got to bring your own life story to the role.
Kim: There’s scripts that are out there, that we grow up with. There are cultural scripts… and there are scripts that we try to write for ourselves… and we’re always flying by the seat of our pants to a certain extent. You make a call, and you cross your fingers and you hope it works out well.
Nahanni: And that’s what motherhood is all about.
Nahanni: Dana and Muna have giggled their way through language barriers, woven together parallel histories of loss, and written a new family story. Avi and Binyamin’s twins, calling their father Ema, have cast their parents in roles, and their fathers are playing along. As Kim says, other people’s stories can take us on a journey... When you read other people’s scripts, sometimes you see life interpreted in ways that shed light on your own.
Nahanni: Thank you for joining Can We Talk? for this special Mother’s Day episode. You heard the stories of Kim Schraf, Avi and Binyamin Rose, and Dana Rous and Muna Ali. Our team includes Jewish Women’s Archive Executive Director Judith Rosenbaum and Director of Engagement Tara Metal. Ibby Caputo edited the script, and Hussein Mahmud provided Somali translation. Our theme music is by Girls in Trouble.
Nahanni: Visit us online at jwa.org/canwetalk to listen, subscribe and make a donation. To help others find the podcast, please review Can We Talk? on iTunes. I’m your host, Nahanni Rous. See you again next month.
[Theme Music fades]
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Episode 4: Mothering (Transcript)." (Viewed on December 2, 2020) <https://jwa.org/podcasts/canwetalk/episode-4-mothering/transcript>.