Minnesota Mamaleh: On Chutzpah


Jason and I have really great kids. They say their pleases and thank yous, share toys well at play dates and have very, very rarely made um- other kids cry.
But every once in awhile our dear sweet angels have some serious attitude. The kind that incites us grown ups to make eye contact and raise our eyebrows at each other in the universal parent look that meaningfully and genuinely conveys, “Crap. What do we do now?
I had one of those moments with Kayli this weekend. And even though I’m fully aware of the rules of engagement: once you’re involved in the discipline mess, you need to send the message that you’re invested. And capable. And in no way giving in to the situation or giving up on the kid. That’s right, show no fear. To your five year old. Yes, even though I know these rules extremely well, I asked Jason to step in. I really, really hate doing that (and rarely do), but I hate losing my cool in front of the kids even more and I was trying to avoid, you know- yelling. Or saying something really wise like. “Because I said so!”
Feeling exasperated by the situation, I asked Jason, “where do you think they get that attitude from?!” And my dear, sweet, loving (and very, very brave) husband replied, “Well, from you.”
Ouch. Have I mentioned that we are, at times, honest to a fault with each other? In this case though, Jason was right on. I do tend to use attitude as a defense mechanism. It’s automatic. And ingrained. And not a trait that I’m proud of. But I am working on it.
I’m an Israeli at the core which means that not only do I have some attitude, I might as well have chutzpah tattooed on my forehead. And that my dear friends, I am proud of.  Chutzpah: gutsy audacity. Brazen nerve. Incredible guts. Impudent cheekiness. Or, interestingly enough, in Arabic: sound judgment.
Now being the Israeli Mama that I am, I’m not looking to change my kids’ chutzpah-ish demeanor. Because I think that a healthy dose of chutzpah gets you through tough moments, thickens your skin and do I dare say, helps girls survive other, well, girls. But I do, indeed, think that there is a difference between chutzpah and attitude.

This face is easier to say no to than you might think

Kayli, at the ripe old age of almost six, has given us the “well, duh” look. She has used that inflection when asking, “But, why?!” You know the one. You can hear it right now and it’s either making you cringe or laugh depending on how old your own kids are. And while 99.9% of the time she’s absolutely incredible, for that other .01% she leans on the side of attitude. And I’m not going to lie to you, that I wouldn’t really mind squashing.
Other times, though, when my kids are cheeky. Or spunky. Or quick-witted. Or even sarcastic, “squashing” is the last parent ammo on my mind. Israelis need chutzpah to face the political and meteorological climate of their everyday lives. How do you face seven million plus people squished into a country smaller than New Jersey? With chutzpah! The heat? The guns? The recent high school graduates in the army? The danger? The in-fighting? The stress? Why, with chutzpah, of course.
Now I realize that my kids don’t have this type of stress in their everyday lives in America. But comparisons aside, life can indeed  be tricky. And challenging. And let’s just face it, a big fat struggle to get through sometimes. I think that just the right amount of chutzpah can secure your spot in the sledding line, give you the courage to face your friends when they’re all (yep. every single one of ’em) mad at you or help you make that “I just can’t help you out, ma’am” return at Target. Life skills. Chutzpah gives you life skills. Also, chutzpah gets you through the moment but leaves everybody’s feelings intact. It’s really just an all around win-win.
To ensure that our kids understand the subtle difference between attitude and chutzpah we’ve started pointing it out to them. For clarification purposes, of course. Them: Why do I have to clean up? Us: Attitude. Them: I have to go straight to bed? Oh good! I was tired anyway. Us: Chutzpah.
In order to take full advantage of the teachable moments, this week we also took some pictures of our kids’ attitude-y faces. We wanted to show them what they looked like in their scowly, surly glory.

Chloe has had this scowl since she was about 15 months old. Just look at those hands on her hips! 'Atta girl!

We also wanted to use the pictures as a springboard to teach and discuss how powerful our words, facial expressions, tone of voice and body language can be. Sometimes as parents it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the attitude. I’m guilty of taking some of it more personally than necessary, for sure.  And my kids haven’t even hit the teenage years yet! I guess in a-family-that-laughs-together-stays-together-fashion, we also wanted to diffuse some of the attitude induced tension with humor.
You get the idea. In light of the fact that Kayli is oh-so-very much smarter than we are now that she’s crossed the 100th-day-of-Kindergarten finish line, the attitude discussion has come up a lot at our house. But while we are squashing and squishing and whatever else-ing attitude, I want to keep my kids’, especially my girls’, chutzpah spirit alive and well. Because I know that they’re going to need it. And I know that it will help them. And I think that every once in awhile, we could all just use a teeny tiny titch of humorous sarcasm to get us through tricky situations. And that is what chutzpah is for.