Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
For me, it seems that 43 is definitively the year that things look different. There’s a certain sag to the skin on the front of my upper thighs. My cheekbones are both more and less prominent depending on the lighting and angle (jowls more emphasized in harsh light and diminished in lower light and from high above). The list of things that anger me has grown shorter but more profound. I care more deeply but for fewer people.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
But on this fourth night of Hanukah, I will resist the urge to harvest, will resist the urge to plow and plant and will instead turn my energy to something more productive. I will go catch up with my favorite news sites, catch up on friends’ blogs, perhaps even catch up on much needed sleep. But I will miss my farm and my fellow farmers. And so I take this opportunity to thank my Farmville neighbors for their gifts, which will remain unaccepted and unopened. Happy Hanukah, former fellow farmers. And a very merry Jewmas to you as well.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I was not raised in a religious household. We celebrated Hanukah as a consolation prize to being screwed out of Christmas and periodically I would go to my grandparents’ house for Passover. I liked the food. I knew my father hated religion and my mother opposed it as a polarizing force but was somewhat less reactionary in general.
My rabbi is young. And my rabbi is a woman. The latter thrills me. The former periodically makes me uncomfortable. I have a distinct awareness of the fact that I have a decade of life experience greater than that of my rabbi. But so too am I aware that my rabbi has wisdom of text and of history that I could never approach. My rabbi, in spite of (or maybe because of) her age, has a depth of empathy I will never access. This is the rabbi who calls to check on the health of the children, the rabbi who called when Sig Other’s father died and two months later when my stepfather passed. This is the rabbi who married us. This is the rabbi who will preside over the bar mitzvah of Child Two.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
In class that evening, we were talking about the tension inherent in Judaism. And we were looking at a particular passage from the Torah, which begins with God’s inner monologue about whether or not to tell Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. And that’s weird enough. Why is God talking to himself much less questioning (or strategizing) whether or not he should let Abraham in on his plan? THEN, God tells Abraham and Abraham, in a display of pure hubris, challenges God. And not only does he challenge God, he WINS. And not only does he WIN, he keeps going. First, Abraham gets God to agree to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of fifty good men. But that is not enough for Abraham. He keeps going. What about forty, thirty, twenty, ten? And God agrees. Of course in the middle of this negotiation, Abraham does something brilliant. Abraham says to God, “I am but dust”. He basically kisses God’s ass in the middle of the negotiation and, EVEN THOUGH HE IS WINNING, he takes a moment to compliment God and acknowledge his own subservience. And then he keeps going until he gets what he wants. Fucking brilliant. Of course, there are not ten good men and so God destroys the cities anyway.
But the destruction of Sodom is not the thing I care about. This passage alone is not the thing that haunts me. What haunts me is another passage. The passage where Abraham recognizes that the world was “created for my sake.” This is the thing about Abraham and his story that is so interesting. Abraham acknowledges on the one hand that the world was created “for my sake.” And on the other, he also admits to God, “I am but dust”. My rabbi often talks about the notion that to be a Jew is to walk around with a piece of paper in each pocket – in one pocket is a piece of paper that says “the world was created for my sake” and in the other, a piece of paper that says “I am but dust.”
Clearly, my evening class with the rabbi had my head spinning with this idea. What does it mean to live this paradox? What does it mean to be the most significant and the least in the same moment? Is this meant to be the lesson of Abraham? Maybe. “But,” I said to Sig Other as I continued on my rant about Abraham, “I don’t think is that this duality is what defines our lives as Jews. I think this duality is what defines our lives as humans. To be alive is to walk the knife-edge ridge of hubris and humility. To be alive is to be in constant conflict with overactive ego and crippling lack of self-esteem. To be alive is to be simultaneously aware of the individual vs. the social. Am I for myself or am I for you? And if I am not for myself how can I be for you? The great struggle of my adult life is to try to balance my inherent selfishness with my desire to get outside of myself and do something greater – for my family, for my community, for the world. Likewise the struggle between “I’m great” and “I’m shit” is sort of a constant.”
I paused to take a breath here – I felt I was really getting to something deep – that I was about to uncover something truly insightful about myself through the my newfound spectacular knowledge of three paragraphs of the Torah when suddenly I realized that Sig Other’s breathing had slowed and was being accentuated by an ever-so-slight snore on the inhale. I think I’d lost him somewhere between “Sodom” and “Gomorrah”. Or maybe even at the mention of Abraham. It didn’t matter, really. I would talk to him about Abraham some other time. “M,” I said, “are you asleep?” “No,” he replied in a muffled voice, “I’m listening to every word. Keep talking. Its so nice.” And I did, though I know he had no awareness of anything other than the hum of my voice.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
And of course the children are not interested in the burning hut either. They like company. They like to be close. They don’t like to be alone. They want to share their snotty, sweaty maladies and are blissfully unaware of the petrie dish like environment that follows them around like Pigpen’s dust cloud. The children are germ bombs – deadly little explosives just waiting to go off. I love them. But this is fact.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Child Two started Hebrew School this year. It was his choice to learn Hebrew and begin to study for his bar mitzvah. His sister did not attend Hebrew School and was not bat mitvah. Sig Other was in his Hindu period during her formative years and thus Child One grew up more inclined to lunch at the Krishna temple than to snack time in the sukkah. And Child Two is often drawn to pursuits that are in direct opposition to Child One’s interests – a wise effort to distinguish himself from the glow surrounding his sister. She played piano. He likes drums and is showing an interest in guitar. She loves horses. He likes bike riding and soccer. There is crossover, of course (dogs and cooking and reading and things). But Hebrew is his and his alone. Intellectual and spiritual learning notwithstanding, Hebrew allows him a secret dialogue with his father. In Hebrew they can swear and make fun behind our backs and share things that only father and son should share with one another. Hebrew is his daddy-bond.
But Hebrew School is inconvenient. The Temple of our beloved Rabbi is far away and class often conflicts with soccer, work and sleeping in. But Child Two asks little and endures much. So if Hebrew School he wants, Hebrew School he shall have. Day One arrived and I felt it important to take him myself. Sig Other was out of town and Ex-Wife unfamiliar with our shul. So I took the afternoon off work and schlepped the sweet boy across town for his first day. He seemed calm and relaxed and my anxiety grew and grew as we neared. My own insecurity of not being quite Jewish enough, not being quite smart enough, simply not knowing enough, was taking over and I made light conversation about anything else to cover. We arrived, early of course, and made our way inside where immediately my own fears melted away as familiar faces and warm greetings reminded me, once again, how silly I can be. I deposited Child Two in his classroom with his lovely teacher, John, and made my way downstairs. My plan was to find a nice cozy place to sit and read and make phone calls while Child Two was in class. I’d make myself a nice little mobile office and alleviate the guilt of having left the office early.
I may not have mentioned but our temple is poor. It is young and vibrant and inviting and inspiring. And it is poor. There is no permanent facility so we are housed at the JCC, which may have been chic and sparkly in the 60s, but is now just old and dumpy. So finding a comfortable place to settle was a challenge. I picked a shabby but no longer chic sofa in the corner and hunkered down with blackberry and scripts. Twenty minutes later, a woman came and plopped herself down opposite me, shattering my solitude. “Do you have a child in Limudim?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. Sometimes I just say yes because it’s simpler than explaining that Child Two is my stepson. And sometimes I say yes to avoid the inevitability of what comes next. But the woman was friendly and also had a child in school and we kept chatting and of course the moment came when I explained that Child Two is my stepson and not my bio-son. And she did what most people do when that moment comes – she did exactly what I was trying to avoid. She gave me a “Good for you!” And she meant it quite genuinely.
The woman went on to tell me that she is divorced, that her ex has a new girlfriend and that she is trying to help her kids understand that liking the new girlfriend doesn’t mean they are choosing one woman over another. She’s been trying to tell them there’s room for everyone. She was talking about helping her kids adjust, talking about putting her own anger aside for their sake, talking about coping. And she said something rather profound. She said, “I could never hate my ex as much as I love my children.” She told me this, I think, because she was representing the ex-wife point of view on allowing another woman to care for her children. And I appreciated that.
I should say here that I quite like this woman and expect we’ll be friends. So the fact that I'm pointing out that she did the thing that makes me so uncomfortable is not meant as criticism. It's just the perfect example. And it wasn’t that she was talking about her divorce and her ex and his new girlfriend – I like all of that. Talking about divorced families and how to cope is one of my favorite subjects. The thing that makes me uncomfortable is the conversation that assumes that the ordinary things a parent would do fall into the category of extraordinary once you’re a stepparent. I know it genuinely and sweetly struck this woman as terribly nice that I was taking the time to drive my stepson to Hebrew School. But really, it wasn’t nice at all. It is just what you do. It’s completely normal and a little bit of a pain in the ass. And I also realized it would be almost impossible to say this to the woman without sounding either falsely modest or sort of school-marmish. So I just listened and nodded and smiled and said, “thanks.”
This conversation is not unusual to me. In fact I have it rather often. Often people act surprised and commend me for my exceptional step-parenting skills. But I do not want to be commended for doing the thing you’re supposed to do. I don’t want accolades for doing the same thing a bio-mom would do. And I find it odd that we live in a world in which stepparents doing things that bio-parents do all the time is commendable. It isn’t right. I don’t want to be singled out. I don’t want a pat on the head and I don’t want to be told what an exemplary stepparent I am. These are my children. Of course I drive them around. That’s what people do. The idea that someone would do more or less for a child depending on whether or not there is a biological connection is shocking and gross and foreign to me. Is that what other steps do? If so, then shame on you, bad stepparents, wherever you are. You’ve given the rest of us a bad name.