Malkie Grozalsky
Opinionated, post-denominational, NY Jew

I am what I am

“The universe
Is more than just space with no end
Just think of the universe as a female best friend
And you can be like
“Hey, Universe, what’s happenin’, girl?”
And she’ll be like
“Oh, nothin’… just running the world.”
And you’ll be like, “What?”
And the universe will be like “I know!
You’re on the right track, girl
I got your back, girl
I’m helping you grow”
Think positive
Act positive”

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about relationships, parenting, and gratitude. To be more specific, I’ve been thinking about how two people who view the world very differently can come together as partners and as parents.

My spouse and I are very different people. If one were speaking in name phrases, on the surface she would be a “Positive Polly” while I am the proverbial “Negative Nancy”. I am a worrier, a touch obsessive, and a bit of a Type A personality. These qualities serve me well in my job outside the home, and also allows me to manage what goes on inside of it. My spouse will tell you that I am a bit morose; I think it frustrates her that I don’t allow myself to get excited about possibilities. I can’t help it, I prefer to hold my enthusiasm for the sure thing rather than to allow myself to get disappointed when I build my hopes up too high, too fast. Does that make me a Debbie Downer? I don’t think so but ask my spouse and she will tell you differently.

Every morning since our boys were old enough to speak, my spouse asks them what they are grateful for. Although I really disdain everything that smacks of being too ‘touchy-feely’, this is a ritual that I love. I believe that this question can set the tone for the day by framing it through a lens of gratitude. This sounds beautiful, right? Now imagine three grumpy boys at 6:30 am who just want to eat their waffles in peace. While my spouse is super perky and bright eyed in the morning, the boys – like me, are not morning people. We all barely want to make eye contact with another human being before we’ve had a cup of coffee, and we most definitely do not want to have conversations about gratitude. Some mornings though, the boys pull it together and have wonderful answers, a school trip (pre-Covid), a fun after school event, or an upcoming holiday or adventure. When this happens, breakfast continues smoothly, and everyone is left to eat in peace. On other mornings, typical teen/preteen/ grumpy behavior is present at the breakfast table and someone says something snarky. My spouse asks, “what are you grateful for?” and middle son says, “well, definitely not you.” If this were me asking this question, and let’s be clear – it would never be me because I am not a morning person and I also don’t ask questions like that, but let’s pretend. If it were me, and I received an answer like that, I probably would laugh (really). I might respond with a, “hey, that’s not nice,” but more likely than not I would respond with a snarky comment back and we would all move on. But not with my spouse. The scenario does not play out this way at all. She gets upset. She doesn’t see this as a grumpy response from a moody 16-year-old, she sees it as an opportunity for a “life lesson.”

Life-coaching! Nailing it!
Time to take command
You dictate the hand
The universe deals
Science makes no sense
Who needs evidence?
Go with your feels
I’m like a radio
Tuned to the stars
I found my frequency
Crystals speak to me

For Mindi (that’s my spouse’s name), everything in life is an opportunity for a life lesson, and every life lesson is best conveyed in a lecture. I am all on board for a good lecture, but I am a firm believer in the importance of timing. If it is 6:30 am and your audience is a group of grouchy, non-morning people, then that is probably not the best time to pass along wisdom of any sort, other than perhaps “take an umbrella”, or “the milk has gone bad.” If someone is talking at you rather than talking with you, it’s hard to feel as though you are an equal participant in the conversation, because let’s face it, you aren’t. Mindi believes that even if the boys aren’t acting like they hear her, they are in some way absorbing what she is saying and the lessons that she is sharing. I don’t necessarily agree, and I choose to save my wisdom for moments when I know it is truly appreciated; unfortunately, with three teens/preteens those moments are all too rare for me, but I think that’s what really makes those times so special. Mindi is happy with her moments too, she must be because even as she gets rebuffed time after time, she always comes back with another lesson and another piece of wisdom she feels that she must share.

It’s interesting how roles get divided. I wonder sometimes if we consciously choose to be the strict parent or the one who lets the children stay up late, or if we just fall into those roles based on our personalities or upbringing. In our family, I am ‘mean mom’. I am the one who makes sure that homework gets done, that rooms are kept clean, and that bedtime is respected. Mindi is ‘fun mom’. She can’t tell you who our children’s teachers are, but she is the one who takes them to the beach, watches all the sports/action-comedy movies, and taught our youngest to ride a bike without training wheels even though she herself could not ride. Our boys have also established roles for us that we did not necessarily choose for ourselves. They tend to come to me when they have done something wrong, or when they need an opinion or some advice, but when something requires a solution – like a craft project or a tricky problem, they go straight to Mindi. They come to me when they need a new jacket or want a new electronic device, but when they want dessert or wake up sick in the middle of the night, it’s Mindi that they call for.

“Everything, everything happens for a reason
Be a beacon of light in the world
Put a little “alright” in the world
There are spiritual guides above
Look up and see ’em
Perception is reality
Just listen to the melody the universe sings
‘Cause everything, everything happens for a reason”

The boys and I can be so similar in mood and disposition that I think Mindi can sometimes feel left out. While the four us each possess a wry, sarcastic, witty sense of humor – one of Mindi’s favorite phrases is, “sarcasm is the defense of the weak.” I think sometimes she thinks we are making fun of her or ganging up on her because we roll our eyes in unison at some hokey song she sings at the dinner table, or shares a story from her latest podcast, but if you asked any one of us – our best memories and most fun times are with Mindi.

When I started writing this piece, I didn’t intend for it to turn into a post of appreciation, but I guess that’s where I ended up. I think it’s the fact that we are so different that allows us to work together as partners and as parents. I think it takes an optimistic, peppy, morning loving, Julie the Cruise Director on the Love Boat type of person to bring out the best in a sometimes cantankerous, sarcastic, introverted night owl.

‘I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook or the ovation
It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in
Life’s not worth a damn till you can say
“I am what I am”

I am what I am
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity
I bang my own drum
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty
And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle?
Why not try to see things from a different angle?
Your life is a sham till you can shout out
“I am what I am”

I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces
It’s one life and there’s no return and no deposit
One life so it’s time to open up your closet
Life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out
“I am what I am”

I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces
It’s one life and there’s no return and no deposit
One life so it’s time to open up your closet
Life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out
“I am what I am”

I am, I am, I am useful
I am, I am, I am true
I am, I am somebody
I am as good as you, ah ha, ah ha
Ooh ooh ooh ooh, yes I am
Ah ah ah ah, ah I am…

About the Author
Malkie Grozalsky has spent all but 5.5 years of her life living in Brooklyn, NY, and is proud of both her accent and her attitude. Malkie was raised in an ultra-Orthodox home, belongs to a Conservative synagogue, and has a graduate degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. When Malkie is not at her job as a synagogue administrator, she can be found cooking, baking, and micro-managing her spouse and three sons.
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