You take the small triumphs of motherhood where you can get them. Last night, for example, C. wolfed down three bowls of my garlic-tamari stir-fry, proclaiming with vigor: “Mommy, this tofu is yummier than candy!”
Yes, this is a victory to trumpet in Mothering magazine or post on an organic parenting blog. It compensates for the breakfasts I’ve served of ramen or hot dogs, the last-minute frozen mac-n-cheese dinners, the bribes of gum and Oreos. The comment may not atone for my impatience or occasional incidents of swearing at my children, but I let myself savor it a moment.
I cooked the yummy tofu on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a time to take stock of the past twelve months and consider what we’ve done, who we are. Being a slackerly half-Jew myself, I didn’t go to services but by evening regretted my decision, sitting on the front porch in late sunlight with two naked girls, dipping tart Cortland apples into a bowl of raw honey. Both my girls will strip naked at any opportunity, and I’ve given up trying to enforce clothing in the front yard, where they might be glimpsed by neighbors or passing cars.
Is this naïve and neglectful of me? At what age does a child’s innocent nudity become inappropriate? It’s probably a different age in Vermont than in Manhattan, say—but I choose to wait until A. (age 7) grows uncomfortable in her bare skin.
Rosh Hashanah is a holiday I don’t know how to share with my children. My father was an agnostic Jew who renounced religion at age 14; my mother eventually persuaded him to light candles on Hanukkah and play dreidel, but that’s about it. No temple, no Hebrew School, no stories about Jewish ancestors, no sense of lineage running back beyond my grandparents, Ukrainian Jews who immigrated from Kiev. After having children, I felt the gaps in family knowledge as visceral emptiness, and wondered if I could reclaim my inner Jew, if she’s in there at all.
Munching on apples and honey, A. mused, “Mommy, if you’re half-Jewish and Carmen and I are both one-quarter Jewish, then together we make a whole!”
“That’s right,” I said. “Nice math!”
This isn’t the first time A. has expressed desire to be all Jewish—her announcements coincide with the days her friend misses school for holidays or receives a present on eight nights of Hanukkah. I ponder her clever equation but sadly recognize the flaw: there’s not one whole complete Jew in our family, not one whole anything. [Read more →]