Kids don’t get that adults change and grow and develop too. For my repeat Bar Mitzvah Mom performance I seem to have attained a degree of enlightenment sufficient to I know that I’m being a bitch when I’m being a bitch. Whereas, the 17 year old’s public call to the Torah was rather grand, and the last social appearance for both of my parents, Spud’s, as is fitting with his more conservative mien, will be a way toned down affair. Nevertheless, I am preparing the Kiddush lunch for our guests and the temple congregation and fixin’ for an evening house party for Spuds and his friends. This requires extensive shopping and planning and cooking and schlepping, complicated further by the illness of a key employee. Himself is in shreds with a new semester, a boss who is oft compared to the bumptious Michael Scott character on The Office, a brutal schedule and chronic computer failure at the school that bills itself as a premiere technical institute.
The climate at Bar Mitzvah Central is rife for a nasty assed fight but after two decades we seem to have learned to rechannel our ancient resentments and rein ourselves in from the brink of angry explosion. I haul in a trunkload of groceries in a big huff. “No. Don’t help me. I’ll do it.” I still nurture the stupid fantasy that one day I will return from the travails of commerce and my three men will be standing smiling on the curb. They will unload the packages cheerfully and carefully, all the while thanking me for the hours I spend shopping all over town, selecting and lovingly preparing for them three meals a day. I am doomed forever though to arrive at Casamurphy, car laden with excruciatingly carefully chosen provisions, to glowers and grunts and eye rolling. Groceries are toted and stowed by them with the enthusiasm of POWS on the Bataan Death March. I am the only one who appreciates the irony that grocery duty is inevitably followed by a demanding, “What’s for dinner?” and then an impatient “When will it be ready?”
This quarter, due to a teaching marathon, Himself isn’t home for dinner two nights a week. We eat salad and eggplant and other foods the mere presence of which on the table make him woozy. Sometimes we even forget to turn off the TV before we eat, the three of us lined up on one side of the dinette like a family in a sit com, staring at the Simpsons, Mom drinking hard cider directly from the bottle. As an aside, my husband who has contempt for most social conventions has a thing about beer or other beverages being consumed directly from the bottle. “You wouldn’t drink wine from a bottle, would you?” No dear, unless you’re working late.
We e-mail back and forth, even if we are both at home, Himself and myself. We seldom speak on the telephone so my heart leaps when he calls from school during dinnertime. He returns from his afternoon walk between classes to discover his wedding ring missing from his finger. I check the nightstand and when I report back that I can’t find it there is a stricken desperation in his voice that I’ve only heard a few times before in all our many years together.
I am only rarely able to stay awake until he returns from late night teaching. The time of the day I look forward to the most, the moments between getting into bed and falling asleep, is less sweet. I doze off sad at his sadness at the loss of the 50 buck soft gold ring that I bought so many years ago, clueless about what it would come to mean. We rise in the dark morning. He is wan and haggard after relentless days and fitful sleep but he tells me he went searching in the dark for his ring after his night class and located it in the wee hours on the deserted campus. We wear cheap beatup Claddagh rings. They symbolize, heart in hand, love and trust, which we aspired to when we bought them. We said then that we'd replace them with better ones in a few years when we could afford to. We are different people now, although our children do not perceive of us as living growing organisms, and our crummy Irish rings are better than fine. They are better than ever.
For many years, we attended services every Saturday. Now we stop by for an hour on the high holidays or commandeer the temple when we need to host a memorial for a deceased parent, as in my father. I do not speak or understand Hebrew and maybe my eagerness to attend shul regularly back when the kids were tiny was because the older congregants were happy to have the boys running around and it was the only chance I had in the course of the week to sit and space out. I remember rays of morning light streaming through the stained glass and illuminating the worn faces of the elderly minyanmakers as they wrestled the Torah from the ark. It felt remarkable and comforting that Jews all over the planet were reading and interpreting and yearning for guidance from the same exact portion. I wonder now though if the power of this emanated from feeling connected to God or merely feeling affiliated with a dogged, ancient people. On the infrequent occasions I attend services these days, I am still struck by the light on the Torah reader’s craggy faces and the universality of the portion. These moments of exaltation are fleeting though and mostly I find myself bored and have difficulty sitting still.
I encourage Spuds, whose lineage is as much Irish Catholic as it is Jewish, when he chooses to take a step that was never even a remote possibility for his fully Jewish mother. I suspect that when the Bar Mitzvah is over, despite the generosity he’s been shown there, Spuds will not voluntarily return to temple for a while. And if he does, it will be via public transportation because his parents are less than gung ho. Although it obviously means something, I do not know, and presume he does not know himself, what Judaism means to him at this moment.
The meaning for me has ebbed and flowed and morphed for years, ever since I attended free vacation bible school and came home and announced to my father that Jesus was in my heart. It was then that I was informed that Jesus wasn't ok, without any further clarification or alternative answers to a seven year old’s existential questions. I was raised with nothing but when I began to act out as a young teen, my mother foisted me off to the Jewish Community Center, not, out of any solidarity but because it was close and cheap. This did increase my social possibilities but I don’t think made a dent in my enthusiasm for Judaism.
I was shipped off to the attendant sleepaway Camp JCA and while we had to wear white blouses and observe the Sabbath, my Jewish inclinations remained tepid and few of the Jewish activities had any resonance. I adored the camp anyway and returned every summer because it got me out of the house and into a pine forest. I must have been about Spud’s age. I was walking back to my cabin after a campfire and I looked up into a madly star filled sky. Just like there was a jarring memorable quality to my wedding ringless beloved’s panicked voice, nearly forty years later I can still remember the sensation that washed over me, my lungs filled with pine air and the universe and all its promises low over my head. Something changed and opened and even after four decades, my grasp is ephemeral. Whatever did cause that warm adrenalin tingly rush there in the forest had a connection to being Jewish. Not Jewish in the way I wanted to be as a new mother who sat in shul for hours each Saturday, hoping to reach God in that specially sanctified/proscribed time or at least clean up my karma so that I would be less a loser as a wife and Mother. The teenager in the forest was more a precursor to the way I feel Jewish in today’s incarnation.
I have no clue what Spuds will remember about his Bar Mitzvah and I have no idea what role religion will play in his life He is older than the standard issue Bar Mitzvah boy. He decided himself to complete the process and worked at his own pace. My beloved writes, maybe a bit simplistically, about my unwavering faith in God and perhaps he needs to perceive me that way as an anecdote for the doubts that trouble him. I do not live every moment basking in God's love and sometimes even think that our existence here on the planet is some weird quirk of something completely unconnected to a higher power. Or that the higher power which created the universe no longer exists but of course the verb “exist” is too tangible to apply to my perception of God. There are indeed signs that seem to substantiate that God is not never/dead. Some are obvious, like my kids fast asleep on each other in the backseat of the car and some are subtle and surprising, a tiny whiff of a sweet fragrance I can't identify, but reminds me that something larger, beyond my grasp, beyond words IS and has indeed conferred existence.
My God brushes these days don't often run on the Jewish channel. My Orthodox brethren have a clear sense of God's special relationship with the Jewish people and use that perhaps to rationalize their separatism. Our life in the secular world has at this time pretty much precluded our connection to an organized Jewish community. On what would have been my father’s 92nd birthday, I will stand with my husband and my two sons and the Torah will be unscrolled and spread open before us in the morning light. Spuds will publicly avow his connection to an ancient people and demonstrate his openness to the ramifications this choice holds for his life ahead. I suspect this will come in on the Jewish Channel.