Books

In “The Jewish Daughter Diaries,” True Stories About Fierce and Funny Jewish Moms

A Yiddishe Mameh’s love is not easily tamed. Read More

By / May 8, 2014

“My mom is the only one who gets excited if I tell her I got my bangs trimmed or if I bought a new kind of frozen food at Trader Joe’s,” Rachel Ament jokes, via email. That’s the thing about moms: they love us when we’re grocery shopping or even when we’re editing an essay anthology about them.

Ament, 30, is the editor of the new essay anthology Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much By Our Moms, which features essays from Jewish women of all ages about their beloved mothers and grandmothers, including—but not limited to—actress Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory; Jena Friedman, producer of The Daily Show; Iliza Shlesinger, winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and Anna Breslaw, Cosmopolitan‘s Sex and Relationships editor.

Ament—whose essay “Seth Cohen is the One For You,” about an evening at the infamous Matzoh Ball at her mother’s behest, appears in the anthology—began working on Jewish Daughter Diaries in 2012 in the hours away from her day job as a Social Media Writer for Capital One. ”The hours varied. Maybe an hour or so a night. It just depended on what stage I was at in the process,” she said. “During the final editing process this [past] summer, I probably spent about three or more hours a day on it.”

But what makes someone decide to assemble a collection of essays about Jewish moms? Well, said Ament, the key was realizing how similar the experiences of Jewish daughters were: ”Whenever my Jewish friends tell me stories about their moms, the stories are always so funny and endearing and relatable. I see my mom in their moms. I thought that there was this great universality about Jewish moms that Jewish women could embrace and bond over, instead of ignore.” My own feelings were the same when reading Jewish Daughter Diaries—whether I was on the subway or at the gym, I was cupping my hands over my eyes and laughing, thanking the universe, thinking, “It’s not just me!”

To wit: in the introduction Ament recounts an all-too-familiar phone call with her mother, who doesn’t identify the reason she’s calling, but instead twists winds her way through the conversation with a variety of cockamamie suggestions (“Did you tell Blossom you used to look just like her when you were a kid?”), yells to her father in the another room (“Mark, get on the phone!”) and asks absurd questions about the future (“How do you think you will respond to my death? A loud hysterical reaction or a quiet detachment?”), never getting to the actual point of the call.

I’ve had similar phone conversations with my own mother, who will inevitably call while I’m buried to my ears in work:

“Do you have time to talk?”

“No, I’m sorry, I’m really busy. Can I please call you later?”

“So how are you, how is your day?”

“What can I do for you, ma?”

“Daddy wants to know if you heard from that editor. Oh! And I went to Bloomingdale’s with Aunt Addie today and we found this wild plum lipstick at Clinique we thought you would love so we got it for you. We had lunch at that stir fry place again. What’s it called? Stir Crazy? You know the food there isn’t what it used to be. Maybe they need new woks. You know, they had the best deal on woks at Ikea the other day. Do you want me to get you one? I’ll send it to you in the mail with that bread knife you left here…”

And so on.

But as the reader soon learns, the point is that a Jewish mom doesn’t need a reason to call. She’s your mother, and whether you like it or not, she’s allowed to call you as many times per day as she likes and say absolutely anything or, as it so happens, nothing at all. To her, that’s what love looks like.

Ament draws on this idea throughout the anthology to tie the essays together. In “You Should Be Playing Tennis,” Jena Friedman calls her mother for a chocolate chip cookie recipe—and receives a diatribe about the life mistakes she’s making, interspersed with baking instructions (“Off hand, I don’t know the exact proportions but I bet you can find it online… I’ve actually become quite an internet junkie now that I have so much alone time since neither you nor your sister ever come home to visit me.”) Gaby Dunn’s “Home for the Apocalypse,” recounts the numerous mom-safety emails she’s received over the years (“Did you know that dialing *677 tells you if the unmarked police car trying to pull you over is actually a murderer? You didn’t? That’s because none of these myths are true, but all of these tips have been heralded as life-saving advice by my mother.”) The message is that Jewish moms schmear on the guilt and forward the emails and make directionless phone calls because they miss you and they want you to be safe.

“No matter how much our cultural and political landscape shifts,” said Ament, “mothers still want the same thing for their kids. They will still want them to be happy and find love and success. The difference between Jewish and helicopter moms is in the associations. We think of a helicopter mom as someone who is constantly over our shoulder, buzzing around us, policing and controlling us. There is more warmth and love attached to our idea of a Jewish mom. A Jewish mom is softer. She just wants to feed us.”

The Yiddishe Mameh, the Jewish Daughter Diaries reveals, is not easily tamed, and her daughter is all the better for it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons