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  • Marilyn Saltzman

No resolutions required

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago. After all, I didn’t need to come up with new ones; I just recycled my previous broken promises. Every year I pledged to exercise more, eat less sugar, recycle more, waste less. The resolutions lasted a day, a week, maybe two. Yeah, I did start exercising regularly, but avoiding the box of Russell Stover’s truffles on the kitchen counter, not so much. And more often than not I forgot to bring my reusable bags into the grocery store, opting instead for “paper or plastic.”  It was too easy to fall mindlessly into the old habits.

Then I started studying Mussar, Jewish ethics, with Rabbi Jamie at Congregation Beth Evergreen.  This was an opportunity for real change – to become more patient, generous and kind by approaching life mindfully, by making choices in my responses rather than simply reacting. Talk about hard work!  Mussar is a practice, and I’ve been practicing for over a decade. I take one step forward and two back. Yet I persist, and I have my grandkids to help me learn. It’s the subject of my book in progress, Your Love Is Blasting in My Heart: A Grandmother’s Journey.

Though the manuscript is almost done, my learning will never end.  For example, just last week, the grandkids taught me another lesson in humility.

I’ve always thought of myself as a decent, if not exceptional, cook. After all, we’ve been in a gourmet club for 30 years. And when my son, Kevin, was a toddler and saw the dice in a board game, he thought they were croutons. No, I’m not a gourmet chef like Robin, my son-in-law, but I can whip up a pretty good crustless quiche.

I was standing at the stove, making meatballs and spaghetti (or as Selam insists, spaghetti and meatballs). As I was turning the browning turkey-beef meatballs, they started falling apart. Despite a half-century of experience, I hadn’t added enough bread crumbs to balance the moisture of the egg. Giving up, I let the meatballs morph into meat chunks.

Eight-year-old Dian came into the kitchen and peered into the pan.

“Are you making dog food?” he asked.

I winced. “This is supper. The meatballs fell apart.”

Dian picked up the jar of marinara sauce – I had been too lazy to make homemade that night ­– and began pouring it into my mix. “Needs much more of this.”

A few minutes later, the sauce complete, we spooned it over the whole wheat spaghetti and sat down to eat.

“Mmm. It’s like Sloppy Joes,” Dian proclaimed, asking for a second helping.  Did he like the dinner because he helped create it? I wondered.

For dessert, we savored the muffins that nine-year-old Selam had made earlier in the afternoon. She had asked to cook without my help, and I watched warily from the next room as she followed a recipe in my well-worn copy of  Joy of Cooking.

“I don’t like peanut butter, I’m using cinnamon instead,” she announced.

I bit my tongue and wondered how that would work out. Much to my surprise, the muffins were quite tasty.

Once again I thought of Alan Morinis’ Mussar definition of humility as taking up the right amount of space. By relinquishing pride and ownership in our dinner, and giving the kids some creative space, I had allowed them to feel good about their contributions to the meal. And I got a New Year’s lesson in humility.  No resolutions required.

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