Kids really DO say the darndest things, y'know? And it's always EXACTLY what you need to hear! Let me give you this little anecdote.
We're sitting at the Shabbos table on Friday night, just shmoozing. That's me and my kids, mind you; hubby's flat out on the couch for a post-chicken soup snooze. And it's one of those lazy, delicious conversations where everyone's chilled and just chatting, when suddenly...DEATH strikes!
Don't you love it? Kids and death. There's this fascination, this macabre romance children have with morbidity and beyond--not unlike us adults, only we suppress it. Here's the way the convo unfolds:
Child: It's so sad that So-and-So died. She'll never see her grandchildren and great grand-children...
Me: Yes she will. People who leave this world aren't gone--they're still living, just in another world.
Another child: Really?
Child: Then why is it sad when people die?
Me: It's sad for US because we miss them here. But it's happy for THEM because they're in the Next World, in Gan Eden (literally: the Garden of Eden, commonly referred to as "Heaven").
Child thinks for awhile.
Child: Mommy, do you think I'm going to Gan Eden?
Me: Of course!
Child: Yeah. Well, I'm just getting started doing mitzvos (good deeds). I think I'm going to go to Gan Eden after 120.
Me: Uh huh.
Child: Mommy, do you think YOU'RE going to Gan Eden?
Me: Hmmmm... Well, I never really thought about it. I sure hope so. Some days are better, some days are harder, but I'm definitely trying.
Child: Well, I hope you go to Gan Eden because I want to see you there!
Now tell me something. Where, in the world, would I be without my kids? Certainly not wondering about whether I'm going to Heaven! :-) But seriously--have YOU ever thought about whether you're going to Gan Eden before?
The house is peacefully, slumberingly quiet, and before I give myself the luxury of a (relatively) early night, I thought I'd write this blog while it's still fresh. (Cuz when they're stale they're so...stale, y'know?) I just came home from my precious daughter's school bat mitzvah celebration. It was, in a word, magical.
The girls sang, they danced; their costumes, sewn specially for the occasion, glittered in the stage lights. The teachers produced a stunning video featuring the girls, shot in various places all across Israel--so professional you could plotz! (And I am one of the biggest critics I know!)
It's so euphoric, so moving, to see all these girls--nearly one hundred of them--up on stage, singing their hearts out; to hear the principal's inspirational words; to embrace that girl who once, not so long ago, was an infant, and who now stands at the threshold of adulthood.
At the same time, it's sobering. Next week, my daughter will become a "bat mitzvah", obligated in performing mitzvos (commandments). Have I prepared her well enough for the task? Is there even a way to properly prepare anyone for it? (Is that second question the real answer to the first question?!)
What has until now been a whisper, roars tonight: Will I be a good role model for her as she takes on her new responsibilities? It's a frightening, soul-searching thought. Those are the best kinds.
Well, at least I have a plausible excuse for neglecting this site for a looooong time. The newest addition to the Pomerantz family is adorable Moshe Yona, born December 18th which makes him about a month old now, baruch Hashem!
It's amazing how many emotions a new baby can spawn. Awe. Joy. Fear. Stress. Love. Pride. Dozens more that can't be named. I'm happy to report that, slowly but surely, we're all getting used to a new rhythm and a new reality. Every time we add a new member to the clan it takes a lot of reshuffling and realignment as everyone--young and old alike--struggles to reclaim their place, to see how the new addition fits into their own world. I remember reading somewhere that introducing a new baby to older siblings is akin to one's husband coming home one day with a new wife. "Hey, honey, I brought home a younger, cuter model. But don't worry--I love you JUST THE SAME!" :-) That analogy definitely helps me hold on to empathy as I go through the sometimes tumultuous fall-out from the other kids who are bravely trying to make it work with a new baby brother.
But it's all good!
One thing that has been hitting me so deeply these days is the absolute trust that only an infant can display. He cries and cries and doesn't give up until changed, fed, or held, and there is something completely peaceful in my baby's demeanor, a deep certainty that his needs will be taken care of. He doesn't wonder where his next bottle will come from, or who will make sure his sleepers are laundered. It's beautiful, this tranquil faith. A full-fledged microcosm of bitachon vs. hishtadlus. Definitely something that even me, in my sleep-deprived state, feels stirred to emulate.
Always wanted to title a blogpost with something Italian! Pass the pasta.
Anyway, I'm working on a really interesting article right now which involved my interviewing a few mothers. And let me tell you, I am blown away. The best part about my job is that I actually get PAID to be inspired and to learn new things. Imagine that!
These are not mothers in the classical sense; they are, as one woman put it, PROFESSIONAL mothers. Mothers who take their job seriously, who invest time and effort in thinking about their parenting decisions, who subdue their own inclinations, needs, and desires because they know all they've got is one shot and it's make it or break it.
I long to be like them.
One woman described how much she invests in bedtime. Now, I don't know about you, but bedtime in our house is more of a chore than anything resembling a bonding experience. But this wonderful woman utilized bedtime as an opportunity to shmooze with her kids, play games with them, spend quality time with them--she regards it as a precious time of the day. In fact, she explained to me that her philosophy (as taught by very respected educators and rabbis) is that when parents and children enjoy a close, beautiful relationship, things like discipline and complaining and hostility fall away as non-issues because mutual respect, communication, and love are the order of the day.
I love it. Now I need to implement it.
My husband is one of the wisest people I know. I guess it's a good thing that I can say that after twelve years of marriage, huh? :-) Well, he's also a really talented psychologist and that makes for lots of very interesting discussions between us. The other night, he told me such a fascinating thing I thought I'd share it with all of you. We were discussing anxiety disorders, especially in children, and how they develop and are treated. Well, apparently, a research study involving monkeys showed that anxiety runs in families (talk about yichus, lineage!). Anxious momma monkeys are more likely to have anxious baby monkeys. And guess what! Anxious baby monkeys are more likely to be eaten!
But here's the good news: when the mother monkeys did not indulge their babies' anxious behavior and reacted by pushing them to face their fears instead of molly-coddling them, the babies actually recovered and raised their own survival rates!
I found this really interesting. As a parent, I often struggle with the balance between love and discipline; when to be soft, when to be firm. Oftentimes, the most loving thing to do is to not indulge a child's wish to be held, consoled, and enabled, especially when his or her behavior is potentially damaging. Of course, even when pushing a child to face fears, it's important that parents be supportive, encouraging, loving, and kind, but sometimes, as painful as it is, to give in would be to subject the child to emotional, physical, or spiritual danger.
Have you experienced this?
There are two boys and a father
Who wait every morning
For the school bus
They are perfectly dressed
In matching clothes
Belts. Polished shoes.
Neatly folded socks.
White, white pants.
Hair perfectly combed.
Little boys, brothers
With their father
And their perfect schoolbags
For their bus.
One morning, there is a perfect cake
Borne aloft by the father
Lovingly prepared by a perfect mother
To accompany one of the perfect boys
On mornings when I wait at the stop for my ride to work
I gaze at the perfection
Of the morning sky
And the luscious trees
And the birds serenading the traffic.
And I watch the perfect boys standing together
With their father
Who gazes at them.
And says, "Stop running around--you'll get dirty!"
And "Be quiet! Sit down!"
And "What's wrong with you? You're being wild!"
And never once smiles.
And I sigh.
Today, I am a woman. What I mean, of course, is that last night I single-handedly chaperoned twenty screaming eleven-year-olds to their teacher's wedding in Jerusalem. Yes, you may have my autograph.
We arrive at the mini-bus to find a group of anxious, cheeping girls who breathe loud sighs of relief upon glimpsing my adult presence, telling me that the driver "looks scary". As I alight, I am handed: two cameras, a cellphone, a card for the teacher's gift plus a pen, an envelope filled with the money for the scary-looking driver, a package of tissues and one of those rolls of gum that looks like tape.
"Can you hold this, Mrs. Pomerantz?"
"Can you hold this, Mrs. Pomerantz?"
"Mrs. Pomerantz, can you hold this, please?"
"Do you have a cold?" I ask Little Miss Entire Packet of Tissues.
"No," she says breezily.
It is a half-hour drive to Jerusalem. A very long and loud and lusty half-hour drive, and the scary-looking driver, initially quite cantankerous, turns out to be a raging speed demon as well. I say Tefillas Haderech (Prayer for the Traveler) with heartfelt concentration. The girls, unused to being out and about town at 9:30 PM, and excited at the thought of seeing their beloved teacher wed, are literally bouncing out of their seats.
Do you remember being eleven? I don't, but I imagine it's something very similar to what I am experiencing.
The "talk", which is another way of saying, "the excessive pitch and volume of twenty hyper voices" turns, of course, to weddings.
"I always joke with my mother about why she never invited me to her wedding!" giggles one girl. When eleven year olds congregate, I notice, they like to giggle.
"Ugh, you should see pictures of my mother's wedding! My aunt was wearing, like, a GREEN shirt! Everything was so old-fashioned!"
"I know. And those HAIRSTYLES! They're so funny!"
I gulp. These girls--y'know, the ones with the mothers with the old-fashioned hairstyles? Their old-fashioned mothers got married the same year I did. It's what? Twelve years ago? And we've already become the object of ridicule.
"Tell them not to leave me any garbage on the floor!" the driver exhorts, keeping a careful thirty kilometers above the speed limit.
I barely hear him. My mind is on another time and place, twelve years ago, when my husband and I swore that WE would always be cool, never old-fashioned. OUR kids would never look back at us and laugh. NEVER! No ridiculous bumps, leisure suits, or frilly-dillies. WE would be the coolest parents to ever hit Planet Earth.
Uh, I think we should start setting smaller goals.
Now they're eleven. They think they're on top of the world. One day I hope they'll have the privilege of overhearing twenty eleven-year-olds burst their bubble. It's a rite of passage.
As I wandered around the party goods store on Tuesday, trying to glean some inspiration to infuse our home with the Shavuos spirit, I overheard a most amazing exchange:
"This vanilla extract is quite expensive here, I think. We'll get it from the other store," came a gentle, warm voice. "Come, children, you're doing such a wonderful job. Let's go now, please."
Okay, so she's one of those nicey-nicey mothers, you're thinking. Right?
Except that she's about 3 feet, 4 inches, and she can't be more than eight. And she has two very little children in tow, whom she is speaking to with all the dignity, maturity, and respect of a person ten times her age. I was so struck by this exceptional child. I tapped her on the shoulder and told her how impressed I was by how she spoke to her siblings. It made me truly wonder: where did this child's mother go right? How was she able to effectively train her daughter in speaking gently and wisely, in the art of patience and thought? I imagine the mother must model it herself; the apple seldom falls far from the tree.
Do you sometimes wonder about how your children treat each other when you are not around? Do you wonder what they are picking up from your personality and parenting? I do.
I was just buckling down to work this morning when I saw it. Y'know--IT. The flamboyant pink and white bag that housed the work of art my ten-year-old daughter has been working on for the past three weeks; the piece-de-resistance of her book report. She put her heart and soul into her diarama and now the poor project, due today, languished on the kitchen floor where she'd apparently forgotten it in all the morning rush. Bummer.
Have I mentioned in earlier posts that we are officially carless? Having come from two cars in our former life in the United States, adjusting to live sans auto was quite a change, I admit. But taxis and buses really aren't bad and a girl could get used to being chauffered, you know. But it does make you think twice before you run an errand, and definitely in the case of El Bag. Should I just pretend I didn't see it? I thought. Is this a good lesson in taking responsibility? Or in accepting life's disappointments?
I pictured my daughter, devastated to discover that she had forgotten her project at home. All the girls would be displaying theirs, and only she would have to say, "I forgot mine at home..." Ouch. And she's a really responsible kid, too; it's not like this is de rigeur for her. (Apparently I am feeling very French tonight!)
So....cut to the meat already, Riva. Stop keeping us in suspense! What did you do already????!!! I know, I know. Okay, here's the deal: After some deliberation, I sent the project over to school in a taxi, paid 13 shekels (roughly $4) for the driver to deliver it to the security guard who would get it to the Office who would get it to my daughter. Whew!
And after the project had exited the house, I was engulfed by the clamor of two voices within. One said: "You good mommy, you! She'll be so thrilled!" and the other one yelled, "You're spoiling the kid! This is what she's going to expect next time too!"
Which voice do you think I should listen to?
Isn't that a great word? It brings to mind a huge drawer, filled with all sorts of odds-and-ends, like bits of ribbon, spools of thread, and some of those discarded pieces of trash that my sons bring home for their clubhouse--but in thoughts rather than physical entities. Are thoughts physical entities? I think I am getting too philosophical for a Monday morning!
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine. Riva also appears, as well as on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books, Green Fences, Breaking Point, and Breaking Free, at www.targum.com. My serialized story, Charades, is really heating up!