Helen Maryles Shankman
Helen Maryles Shankman

Postcards from Camp Mommy

Today we’re making ice cream.

There’s another month to go before school begins. This morning, after much checking of Consumer Reports lists and Amazon customer reviews, Son Number 3 and I hop in the minivan and head off to Chef Central, coupon in hand, to pick up an ice cream maker. With Camp Sports and Arts over for the summer, it looks like I’m running Camp Mommy until school starts up again.

We have plans. We’re going to make ice cream. (Chocolate and pretzel! Demerara sugar and smoked maple bourbon! Cucumber and watermelon! And maybe these nifty pareve recipes featuring chickpeas as a base!) After we tire of weird ice cream, maybe I’ll spring for a deep fryer. We want to fry bananas, pickles, avocados, tempura-battered ice cream and oreo cookies.

I should be digging out the cream, blending together the milk and sugar. But hmm, I wonder if there’s anything new happening with the Iran nuclear deal? I put the ice cream maker down and click on the news.

Is it good? Is it bad? Is it a mistake? Is it the only deal possible? Why now? Why must there be a deal at all? As an American, a Jew and the child of Holocaust survivors, I’m alarmed by the ugly confrontations I’m observing between American Jewish organizations, the Israeli government, and the White House. Each player is taking an unprecedented leap over uncrossable lines. From the outset, the Obama administration has done a poor job of selling their own deal. Nor did they explain exactly how they would fight the waves of terrorism financed by a newly sanction-free Iran, or how they would put sanctions back in place if they discovered the Iranians were cheating.

Instead, they villified their opponents as warmongers and snapped superciliously at anyone voicing questions and doubts. As an American, I’m distressed at the way my President is handling this situation. As the child of survivors, I’m aghast at the headlines reporting battles between Israel and the White House on the front page of the New York Times, or on CNN’s website. This is the kind of situation that invites anti-Semites worldwide to say that behind the scenes, Jews run the US government.

Come on, Helen, focus. Focus on Camp Mommy, on the sweet, freckled face of Number 3, on his excitement as he comes up with ideas for far-out flavors. I concentrate on the steps to set up the ice cream maker: Wash special deep-freeze bowl. Place bowl in freezer for 16 – 24 hours, until you can no longer hear special deep-freeze liquid slosh around inside the double-walled stainless steel. 16 to 24 hours? That wasn’t in the reviews, it was supposed to make ice cream in 20 minutes! Uh oh. The wheels are about to come off of the Camp Mommy bus.

Wait. We can handle this. While the bowl chills, I tell Number 3, we’ll prepare the ingredients. We need one cup of milk. Two cups of heavy cream. Vanilla. Dang. “We don’t have any heavy cream in the house,” I inform Number 3. “We need to go to the store.”

When you’re registered at Camp Mommy, the Farmer’s Market is considered a field trip. In the milk and eggs aisle, I can’t help myself. I take out my smartphone and peek at The Times of Israel. I want to know if they’ve found the monsters who set that Palestinian family’s house on fire. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that someone who calls himself an Orthodox Jew could murder a 16 year old girl at a Gay Pride parade, or set fire to a house while a family sleeps inside. We’ve just passed Tisha B’Av. I spent the fast day reading about the catastrophic intra-Jewish hatred that existed towards the end of the Beit HaMikdash. The extremist Zealots refused to allow civilians to exit besieged Jerusalem, forcing ordinary citizens to remain in the city and starve while the rebels fought the Romans. The Sicaari, even more extreme than the Zealots, murdered anyone who disagreed with them. Two thousand years ago, we were exiled from our land on account of Sinat Chinam, hatred of one another. I am anxious for whoever perpetrated this atrocity to be caught and punished, and I feel helpless when I think of how there’s so little I can do to fight blind, contagious, crazy hatred.

I shake my head like I’m shaking off cobwebs. Camp Mommy, remember? Real life happening here.

We’re home again. “Mommy,” pleads Number 3, “can we make ice cream now? Is the bowl frozen yet?” Unfortunately, when I take the deep-freeze bowl out of the freezer, I can still hear the stupid liquid sloshing around inside its stupid double-walled stainless steel body. Luckily, Camp Mommy had the astonishing foresight to stop at Michael’s and buy some Sculpey Modeling Clay. “Why don’t you open up your new clay?” I suggest. “Create some figures for that stop-motion video you wanted to make.”

Number 3 accepts the suggestion. Turns out that instead of making ice cream, Camp Mommy is making a video today.

Today, it is not in my power to do anything about people who set someone’s house on fire, or someone else’s house of worship. Today, I can’t do anything about people who feed on hate, and then use their hate as a justification to kill innocents whose only crime is that they love differently, or believe differently. Today, it is not in my power to do anything about people who choose to see only one side of a situation. Today, it is not in my power to change politicians whose hope that something is true is so strong that it clouds their observation.

Today, only one thing is in my power. Camp Mommy. How I raise my children. How I respond to their questions, or to situations that arise. What I teach them to see. What I teach them to think. To act. To believe.

Today, the only power I have over the news is the power I have to affect the future. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

About the Author
Helen Maryles Shankman is an artist and author. Her book, "They Were Like Family to Me," originally published as "In the Land of Armadillos," was a finalist for The Story Prize in 2016 and won an Honorable Mention for the 2017 ALA Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature. Her stories have been published in many fine literary journals, including The Kenyon Review, Jewishfiction.net, Gargoyle, and Cream City Review. She is a columnist at The New Jersey Jewish Standard.
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