“Wonderful! Better than I could ever have imagined. There’s nothing like living in close proximity of parents while you’re raising a family.”
And indeed, there is nothing like sharing the joys of parenting with one’s own parents. Nothing like being able to walk over on Shabbos afternoons, or to send a child or two for some special Zeidy nurturing, or to traipse in with teenage daughters on the way home from a shopping trip to run the tentative purchases by Babi.
Wondrous as it is, though, there’s one particular privilege I truly miss in this otherwise blissful arrangement. Having my parents with us on this side of the ocean means we never get to enjoy them as guests.
Oh, of course, they’ll come over to eat theoccasional seudah with us or pop in for a special event like a birthday or siyum, but gone are the days when we could usher them in as real guests of the move-in–for-a-week-or-two variety. That is an opportunity reserved strictly for children living abroad.
It’s a negligible perk to forfeit for the rich and varied treasures of having them a sprint away. And I would never swap my end of the deal for anything in the world. Still, when I spot a laboriously decorated “Welcome Zeidy and Bubby” banner winking from a neighbor’s door, I am momentarily sucked away by a pang of nostalgia. Lucky family, I rhapsodize, envisioning smiling grandparents stepping over the doorstep, smothered by welcome kisses and hugs.
It isn’t simply the wistful tug of sentimental allure. What I miss is the delicious closeness of having a parent move into my home, the appeal of sharing an extended stretch of my life, colored by all its natural blessings and challenges, on my own turf.
Real life, with its crammed lists and overstretched schedules, doesn’t allow for the luxury of suspending routine in favor of prolonged visits. In fact, real life doesn’t allow for much visiting at all.
Which is why there is something so exhilarating about a mother walking in, plane-weary and jetlagged, poised to expend all of her attentions and energies solely on the details of your life. There’s something focused and thrilling about her getting an honest, close up view of each of your offspring in real time. And, not least of all, there is unique pleasure in her noticing those little nuances that have taken place in your environment over the duration of her absence.
“Wow! You’ve actually replaced those tottering chairs! And installed those shelves in the laundry room we spoke about the last time I was here.”
There’s a sweet wonder in temporarily becoming a child again, gloating in your mother’s recognition of all those tiresome little repairs and improvements that are rarely noticed, let alone credited.
And, I’ll own it, there’s something just plain tempting about having a mother take the reins out of your calloused hands and do the driving for a while. For a short, rejuvenating space of time, you are not quite the one in charge, not quite the one who must know best. You are still a parent, but you are also a child, and the harmonious twining of the two brings new richness and warmth to the mother-daughter duet.
“Mommy, can you show me exactly how you make your challah dough. Mine never seems to come out as light as yours… And let me watch you braid; I follow my neighbor’s method, but I’m not happy with the way they come out…. Mommy what would you use on this stain? And what cycle would you run this blouse on… What can I do about the mold in this corner? Did you see that rash on Chaim’s forehead; what do you think I should do about it?
“Honey, that flame’s too high. Chicken soup comes out best on a slow, low simmer… Give me the baby; I’ll hold him. You can’t do it all… How do you work on that plastic chair; doesn’t your back bother you? Okay, now I know what to get you for your birthday…a good orthopedic chair …You can use new pillows in the boys’ room. Tell me where I can pick them up. That will be on my bill, thank you… ! And while I’m out, let me take that prescription for Gitty’s ointment. Relax, sweetheart. I’m here. Let me help you…”
For all the joys of spending Shabbos afternoons together in my parents’ shady yard, living local has relegated certain pleasures to the realm of happy memories. When’s the last time my mother stood alongside me in my kitchen schooling me in the secrets of perfectly towering chiffon cakes? When’s the last time we shared a trip to the fruit store, leisurely selecting firm-but-soft-enough pears for her famous compote, or that my mother worked her magic on all the stubborn stains that refused to be disciplined by my own measures?
Alas, everything has its downsides, and I gratefully accept this one as a small price to pay for the ongoing boons of familiarity and closeness. But sometimes, when I am overwhelmed and falling apart, I like to fantasize about my mother actually moving into my home and remaining right at my side while I bask in her exclusive attention and support.
Which is exactly what I felt like last Tuesday, when the unexpected news of a cease-fire descended with the first ribbon of sundown. It was as if, upon the announcement of cessation of war, the flow of adrenaline that had faithfully fueled me for the past eight weeks was abruptly cut off, leaving me staggered by the extent of the damage.
Surrounded by a trail of drenched socks, white shirts stamped with muddy shoeprints, puddled floors and a half a dozen dripping, slippery boys who had fled the pool at the dreaded swell of the siren, I felt despair creeping up my chest. How was I going to do this? Chany, my right hand, wasn’t home, the sopping laundry lay in heaps, the little ones kicked in overtired rebellion, the girls sat obliviously reading on the couch, and the boys, still in bathing gear, stabbed rippled fingers at each other in some argument I couldn’t even make out.
How was I going to get out to a wedding tonight? … and I still had to fill out the insurance claims before they expired… and Rivky’s principal was waiting for my call back… and the lab results needed to be picked up and faxed to the doctor….and Shmuly had asked me to exchange his ——
At that moment, without any clear or deliberate warning, my vigilantly coiled nerves simply came apart. The overwhelming disarray coalesced with the chaotic closets and upended sleeping schedules, the echo of sirens blurred with the endless bickering and my ineffective delegating and I felt the unspooling of every thread of my composure as all sense of order and etiquette seemed to unravel for miles around me.
In an inauspicious ending of a rocket ridden summer, I looked around and saw rubble wherever I turned. Half bought school supplies lay scattered around the house; new rolls of wrapping paper carelessly crumpled, and I nearly cried for all my efficient plans of math and reading practice gone up, quite literally, in smoke.
And just to bring all of this over the brink, a glance toward the rapidly darkening window confirmed, rather acutely, that the chuppah I had had my heart set on attending, was taking place at the very moment.
The kids balked.
And I—- well, I prefer not to disclose the precise details of what followed.
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, no less.
I missed the chuppah. I scowled through bedtime. I muttered to myself, slamming items into place in the sour company of Resentment and Failure. Seldom in my whole career as a wife and mother, had I felt so utterly beaten. Criticism and blame wrangled with despair and self-condemnation. I knew this was not where I wanted to be, but I felt too depleted to even dig myself out. Why did I keep getting enmeshed in the web of negativity? Couldn’t I get everyone to cooperate in an atmosphere of love and respect? Where was I going wrong? And how would I ever get to Rosh Hashana when every corner of my life seemed in need of an overhauling?
And then it flooded me; the stark and obvious realization. Rosh Chodesh Elul! Images of welcome signs and rocking embraces and melting relief floated up from somewhere in the recesses of my consciousness. Help was on the way! The Parent I needed so desperately was arriving today to the rescue. He was moving in to help me recoup and recuperate and begin tackling the overwhelming task of getting my life in order.
He would walk in and notice all those little repairs I’ve made since His last visit a year ago, improvements I’ve somehow glossed over in my all-consuming frustration with my flaws. “Wow! Listen to everyone making brachos out loud. I don’t remember that from last time around. And look how confident and positive Yanky’s become. Unrecognizable! What have you done to make that happen?”
What a balm, to be able to relinquish the reins to His capable Hands and take a back seat. To feel the solid reassurance of His presence right at my shoulder, and be able to engage Him in ongoing dialogue.
Hashem, can you show me exactly how to achieve Your middah of Erech Apayim? Much as I try to emulate You, I never seem to get it right… And let me learn how to braid kindness with discipline. I’ve followed many methods, but I’m still not happy with the outcome…. Hashem, what would You use on this habit? And what thought cycle would You run for this disappointment ..What can I do about the resentment growing in this corner? Did You see the frustration in Gitty’s eyes? What do You think I should do about it?
And He, Ever Compassionate, Gracious, All-Embracing Father would take one look at my battle worn face and say, “Honey, that flame’s too high; Teshuvah’s done best on a slow, low simmer. Give me the guilt. I’ll hold it. You can’t do it all….How can you work in that sleep deprived state; doesn’t the tiredness hinder you? Now I know what to get you this Rosh Hashana. You need a cleaning woman. I’ll take care of that… And while I’m at it, I’ll fill the prescription for patience and consistency. And some extra income…
“Sweetheart, you can relax. I’m here. Let me help you.…”
I smile in relief. And open the door.
My Father has arrived.
Never have I felt so grateful.
Welcome, dearest Tatte!