I like, well actually, I love this photo. I think it is a photo of me looking toward the future. My own as well as the future in the much bigger picture sense. I am someone who– on a feeling level, feels despair and loss often, deeply. Yet I am also a wildly hopeful person. In a very profound way.
I am now officially unemployed, but I do not, lest you think that the life of a Torah-studying mother is otherwise, have any big swath of free time. The time I used to spend working for pay has been effortlessly absorbed by other work; by study and by attention for my daughter. I haven’t blogged in two weeks and then a little.
I am, as I write, sitting at my table in the dining room which is a very good spot in my apartment– with a new laptop which will theoretically make my blogging and other writing a little easier– more accessible to me.
My Torah portion is before me– and I have just finished emailing my Bat Mitzvah sisters my comments on the speech that one of them wrote for us–about the Haftarah portion that goes along with our Torah reading. After I write this, I will return to trying to learn to chant the very last line of my Torah portion before I go to get my daughter at school and go to meet with my Hebrew tutor. This study is interesting– I like the work of it.
My daughter is in school with fourth grade in full swing. And there are things to write about. Big challenges that are already happening this school year, a plan the school has put in place in an effort to find a fix to help her and other students who are struggling with reading. A plan that is, I think, an ill-conceived plan which in trying to do good, may do harm. As parents, my partner and I are again confronted with a set of difficult decisions and challenges about whether to simply say no to this latest invention and with challenges about how to be vigilant and careful in our thinking when our thinking is against the grain.
Since becoming a parent there are things we have believed were problematic, not good, that are not only generally accepted, but are often considered beneficial. We didn’t believe in a pacifier. We didn’t believe she should learn to “self-sooth” to get herself to sleep or back to sleep at night–quite the opposite. We didn’t believe a number of other common things made sense. How to say no to certain things for my daughter has always filled me with anxiety about whether I am right or wrong, whether I am missing something. And ultimately how to say no without alienating teachers, other parents, and a whole range of other people who saw no problem to begin with–with the thing we are refusing has been a source of worry and anxiety. People get defensive. I don’t want them to, but they do.
On this subject, my sister gave me some interesting advice the other day. I was lamenting this situation with the proposed reading program and other similar situations on the phone with her. I said I didn’t want the school staff to not like me. She listened a long time and then she said “oh, the ones you’re worried about? They already don’t like you. Stop worrying about it and do what you think is right.” I have to admit I was waiting for her to reassure me that they would like me. I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of that one. That maybe those who are open to listening will understand and respect me. And those who aren’t open, well maybe they already don’t like me. So maybe there is no good reason, including wanting to be liked– to hesitate in taking a stand.
It is a new year, Jewishly speaking. And it is a new school year and a new year, a new kind of year for me without paid work. With a big open question about what next for me. It’s gorgeous; early fall– my favorite time of year. We are done with services at synagogue–said goodbye yesterday after a visit from my mother from Chicago, done with the things we do for the holidays. I am thinking about some of the highlights of the year past– and the things that bode well for the coming year.
About a month ago we took a trip to Wisconsin where we were part of a weekend gathering of parents, our young people and a group of adult allies. We were there for a workshop which is part of a group we are active in. The weekend workshops are set up to give our children a space to get close to each other, to get close to us, their parents, and to experience a space where the adults make a serious effort to challenge the oppression of young people. We get together every year or two.
We play. We play what they want to play. We wrestle. We stay up late. We laugh a lot. We don’t rush them. We make a mess. We adults don’t take phone calls or do email. The young people invent the kinds of games they always wanted to play and we adults play with them– the things we don’t have the slack for at home. They set up games where they climb to high places– a ledge near the ceiling in a room or the top of a tall set of bunk beds and we gather mattresses and they climb and jump. They find a trolley or dolly and make a makeshift wagon and we pull them around. For like an hour. Not for 10 minutes that feel like an hour but for a real hour or so. Then we take a break and go back to it sometime later for another hour later. (Or some other equivalent activity).
On these weekends I love to watch my partner too– the things she is good at and can do that I can’t. The things I learn from being around her in general and as a mother in specific.
On Sunday during my “special time” with my daughter she chose to build a very hot fire in a fire pit at the camp where we were staying. It was already over 90 degrees that morning. Fire-building was really something. Hot. I was the wood-gatherer and cheerer- on person. I managed to do a minimal amount of barking worries at her as she competently built and lit and relit the fire until she had a roaring flame going. When I was so hot I could hardly bear it, she moved over to a group playing nearby on the lawn with a hose spurting icy water and she drenched herself and then me. In our clothes. We laughed and she chased me over and over with the hose until I was more than partially drenched. Several times.
In a world that is increasingly harsh and busy and in which young people are increasingly schooled and benchmarked and tested and diagnosed– we set this weekend every few years to renew our relationships and to try to figure things out. We try things with them that they want to try. We remember what we love about them. We remember what drives us nuts or what worries us most.
We include adult allies so that there is time where we adults take turns going off in smaller groups and in pairs to talk and laugh and cry and refresh our selves and our minds so that we can keep thinking and playing with and enjoying our children. Sometimes the parents, sometimes the allies, and the young people keep going– keep playing, keep finding ways to connect with each other, with their parents and other adults and with themselves. I do not mean to romanticize. These are challenging weekends. They are complicated. Exhausting. Often without a shower which I hate. But as a parent they are amazing. Hopeful. They are one of the few places where I have a group of people who say collectively–ok, it isn’t the world that is, but let’s make a little space of the world as it should be. Just for the weekend. And run with it. When we leave, we all manage to feel more hopeful and to hang onto the hope somehow. Until next time.
I look at my daughter, and at my nephews who have also come to these weekends and who are like she is, also like the sunshine to me– beautiful, interesting, warm and necessary and at the other children in this group, some of whom I know and others whom I barely know– also trying things, being themselves and feeling some relief from the world as it usually is for young people. I feel hope in this messy world and purpose in my daily work of being my daughter’s mother, my nephews’ aunt, a friend to other young people.
So in many important regards, I do not know what is actually next. Work-wise for me, writing-wise for me, school-wise for my daughter and in many other regards– I really don’t know. But I feel a little bit ready. A little bit excited. Hopeful even. So, like they say when they call you forward after waiting in line or for an appointment… Next?