On the phone recently, a friend described to me how grown up she felt when she looked at the construction going on in her house. They put down wood floors and are in the process of turning one of their garage bays into a new bedroom for their third child on the way. You’d think the baby – the third one – would make her feel like a grown-up, but the truth is that it doesn’t. The secret of parenthood that our children won’t learn until they become parents themselves is that no matter what we look like on the outside, we’re all children on the inside wondering who in the hell put us in charge.
We went on to talk about how grown up it would feel to have new (i.e. not hand-me-down) things like patio furniture, complex wood grain counter tops, and window treatments (as if interior design is a symptom of adulthood).
She described to me how her kitchen table came from her parents and her dining room table came from somewhere else. I laughed as I told her about our family room coffee table that was Mike’s when he was in college, our bedroom furniture that was also Mike’s when he was in college and Mike’s father’s before that, and the dresser in Dylan and Riley’s room – the one covered in stickers (not my decorating idea, by the way) – that was mine when I lived on my own for the first time in graduate school. My Dad bought it for me at a wood furniture store and stained it himself in the backyard.
“I don’t even have a headboard on my bed!” I let out with a gasp on the phone. I’m nearly 40 and I still don’t have a (new or hand-me-down) headboard. At this point, I’m not even sure I want one. (Unless it’s from West Elm. Then I want it. I’ll pretend to resent it and all it stands for, but secretly a void in my heart will be filled.) Indeed, a headboard would be admitting defeat. To what, I’m not sure, but I won’t give in. I won’t allow it to happen. (Unless it’s from West Elm.)
It’s possible that I’ve confused being grown-up and being stubborn. Case in point, I may or may not have popped into Anthropologie for a quick look around one day last week. As soon as I had one garment of clothing in my hand, a salesperson appeared from behind a rack of tunics to ask me if she could start a fitting room. “No, thank you,” I said. “I can carry it.” The thing is, I was denial about the fact that I was shopping at all and her seemingly innocent request made my debauchery all the more real. Of course, every time I added an item to my growing pile of loot, she appeared again and asked to take it all to a fitting room. I couldn’t help myself. “No, thank you. I’m fine.” Then, “No, thank you.” Then, “No, thanks anyway. I’m good.” Then, “Beat it, lady.” (Okay, I didn’t actually say that last one.)
It wasn’t because I didn’t want the help or that I’m philosophically opposed to having someone assist me with a fitting room. Rather, it was because she kept asking and it irritated me. I refused her help until I was good and ready to walk into a fitting room on my own, and as a result, I was a little bit of martyr and very much an ass.
Perhaps my headboard issue is a result of this same kind of stubbornness, a sign not necessarily of growing up, but rather of getting old. In the end, I bought one shirt, but I digress.
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is tomorrow. When I asked Dylan if he would to go to the children’s service at the temple “…because your friends will be there and it will be fun,” he quickly said, “No. Don’t make me go.” I wish I knew what to do about my son’s disdain for organized religion. If I were a grown-up, I’d know the right thing to do. I’d know whether to force him to go because he can decide what he believes when he’s older and he’s had a chance to learn a thing or two or to accept his lack of interest as a valid choice. If I were a grown-up, I’d see the forest from the trees and not worry today about what to do in the future. If I were a grown-up, I’d know when to calm the “eff” down.
This religion conundrum of mine isn’t new. Every fall at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, every spring at Passover, and every winter when Hanukkah and Christmas collide, I struggle with what’s supposed to be important and what actually is important.
If I were a grown-up, I’d remember that I’ve weaved in and out of interest in religion all through my life and that regardless of whether I was into it or not, I’ve always had pride in my heritage and an interest in my family’s history and roots. If I were a grown-up, I’d be honest with myself about what being Jewish means to me (and what it doesn’t).
It’s about family. It’s about togetherness. It’s about food. (It’s always about food.) Quite frankly, it’s about matzo ball soup. My mom’s matzo ball soup. It brings us together in the kitchen. It begins a family meal. It heals us when we we’re sick and holds us up in good times and bad. A few months ago, my mom defrosted a container of her matzo ball soup for no good reason and fed lunch to three generations of our family gathered together around her dining room table. The soup is our family’s glue, and it’s what being Jewish means to me.
Tonight, Mike and I are hosting Rosh Hashana dinner at our house for the first time. I put Mike on brisket duty because I’m definitely not grown up enough to cook a brisket, and I tackled the soup. The best part about making it – besides the magic that turns chicken, vegetables, and water into soupy, fragrant deliciousness – is that my mom helped me from start to finish. Like 1-800-Butterball on Thanksgiving, my mom was my helpline. How much chicken do I add and what kind? How many carrots? How much water? When should I remove the chicken? When do I add the salt? How much extra matzo meal do I add to make the matzo balls thick and heavy like yours?
My mom and I were on the phone on and off for most of Sunday while I chopped vegetables, simmered soup, and boiled matzo balls. It was a labor of love, and in the process, a family tradition was passed on to a new generation.
I may not have a headboard, I most definitely have an unhealthy relationship with Anthropologie, and I am growing old and stubborn, but now I know how to make my mom’s matzo ball soup and that makes me feel (a little bit) like a grown-up.
Happy New Year!
What makes you feel like a grown-up?