Category Archives: religion

God Is In The Picture

I’m as surprised as you are that I’m writing about God. As Dylan would say, “Awkwaaaaaard.” I feel as qualified to talk about God as I do quantum physics or Minecraft mods. What the heck is a mod, anyway? I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to write God or if I’m supposed to write G-d. The whole thing makes me as uncomfortable as watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” I’m going to stick with the “o” over the dash here, because the dash makes me feel even more anxious, if that’s possible.

I believe in an energy that runs through the universe and that if I’m lucky or fortunate or grateful enough, I can tap into it to feel something larger than myself, but I don’t know if that means I believe in God.

I send prayers to friends and family who are grieving or ill, I whisper a prayer for safe travels every time I get on and off an airplane, and I see my beloved Harry in rainbows and sunsets, but I don’t know if that means I believe in God.

Years ago, a gust of wind knocked me off of my feet after my Great Aunt Glenna died. I felt her presence so fiercely that I lost my breath, but I don’t know if that means I believe in God.

I don’t know why I can’t just say that I do or that I don’t believe in God. Whichever it is, a concrete answer would be a lot easier to live with than the perpetual questioning to which I subject myself. But, I can’t. I simply don’t have an answer, so God and I have an unwritten agreement to keep a safe distance from one another. We avoid eye contact, we’re not friends on Facebook, and we let calls go to straight to voicemail, but regardless of our efforts, something keeps bringing us together.

It’s not motherhood per se. Becoming a mother didn’t sway me one way or the other, although I totally get how it could. I mean, I grew a human being inside of my body! Twice! My molar pregnancy didn’t squash or boost my faith either. It just made me angry and sad. A decade later, it’s a wash. I’ve experienced the devastation of loss and the miracle of life, and I’m still on the fence.

It’s my kids. My children have natural and independent inclinations toward God and the unknown that have nothing to do with me (that I’m aware of). I have parented them the same. I have given them the same foundation of values. I have provided them with the same education. Yet, Dylan questions everything. He’s fascinated with death and insanely inquisitive about the afterlife, so much so that I sometimes wonder if maybe he’s been here (or there?) before. Whereas some kids ask “Why?” on a permanent loop, Dylan’s go-to question is, “What happens after we die?”

Riley, on the other hand, plainly and beautifully accepts God as true. “God is everywhere,” he once told me once while nibbling on Goldfish crackers in the car. “God is in my Goldfish,” he said munching away. How could I argue with that? It was a lovely sentiment, especially considering how many Goldfish cracker crumbs were on the floor of the backseat of my car.

Another time, Dylan asked, “Who makes shoes?”

Riley said, “God makes shoes.”

“Actually,” I piped in, “people make shoes,” to which Riley concluded, “God makes all the things that people don’t know how to make.”

Fair enough.

These conversations happened when the boys were much younger, but I remember them clearly – in fact, I wrote them down – because I never want to forget the authentic and easygoing relationship they have with God. I remain as confused as ever, but my kids and their unabashed honesty – about their certainty or their doubt – have taught me to appreciate my spiritual journey more and worry about my spiritual destination less.

I no longer cower from or cringe over my boys’ questions about life and death and everything in between. I welcome the opportunity to engage their curiosity and confront my own hesitancy. When Riley says, “God is in my heart,” I’m comforted by his faith (how ever long it lasts), and I’m equally reassured by Dylan’s courage to question it all.

Not long ago, Riley and I did an art challenge after dinner. In an art challenge, we choose a theme and then we each draw a picture. When we’re done, Dylan or Dad picks a winner. (Exciting stuff, I know. At least it’s not Minecraft!) That night, I drew a bird per Riley’s instruction and he drew a truck per his whim.

Several minutes into our battle, he said, “I think I’m going to win.”

“Why is that?” I asked as I feverishly drew a bird with colorful feathers surrounded by fall foliage.

“Because God is in the picture,” he said.

“God is in your picture?” I asked peeking over.

“He’s building a house,” Riley explained.

godriley

Indeed, God was building a house in the sky above the truck, Best Buy, and “Targit.”

My little feathered friend and I were totally screwed, because you can’t win an art challenge if your opponent has God in his picture. Still, I felt triumphant because, thanks to my kids, God is in my picture, too.

godmommy

Not that picture. ↑

This picture. ↓

godboys

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Filed under boys, conversations to remember, death, Harry, molar pregnancy, motherhood, religion

Grown-Up

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 begged 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 when it’s time to consider bar mitzvahs, weddings, and other life events.  If I were a grown-up, I’d know when to CTFD.

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?

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Filed under family, food, religion, shopping

‘Tis The Season

Every year around this time, I stress about celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas.  (You can read last year’s post on this topic here.)  I’m Jewish and it’s important to me that my boys – no matter how they choose to incorporate (or not incorporate) religion in their lives – have a strong and proud Jewish identity.  It’s also important to me that they appreciate our family’s diverse heritage, are tolerant and respectful of other people’s religious beliefs, and celebrate what makes people unique.  Hence, the stress.

On Friday night at bedtime, Dylan revealed to us that someone in his class at school called him a Jewish nerd.  More specifically, this child told Dylan that she liked it when he messed up his hair like a “dude” because then he wasn’t a “Jewish nerd” anymore.  Dylan laughed when he told us this story because he thought it was funny.  He didn’t understand that what the girl said was offensive.  He didn’t understand that it was insulting.  That it was anti-Semitic.   Mike and I were horrified, and when Dylan finally absorbed our reaction, he began to cry.

In this sudden and incredibly important moment of parenting, we chose to (delicately) end the conversation.  Neither one of us was prepared to talk to him in an age-appropriate and sensitive way about religion, prejudice, or anti-Semitism without some serious thought and preparation.  We were also angry that someone’s ignorance was thrust upon our child and disappointed because, at such a young age, we can only assume the words she said were learned at home.

Rewind a few hours.  We were in the driveway doing sidewalk chalk and playing basketball when our neighbor across the street walked over and invited us to join her and her friends to celebrate the holiday of the Virgin Mary.

Editor’s note:  I now know the formal holiday name is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  According to about.com, the holiday “…celebrates the saving work of God in preserving the Blessed Virgin Mary from the stain of original sin.” Catholic readers, please feel free to elaborate or clarify! 

Religious details aside, she invited us to help light candles in her front yard and to drink wine and eat pizza and cookies.  Invitation accepted!   With no advanced notice, we couldn’t contribute anything to the gathering, but Riley quickly packed up a bag filled with menorah candles and dreidels to share with everyone.  (Priceless.)

We had a wonderful time.  Dylan and Riley played musical chairs with friends, Mike and I caught up with our neighbors and met new and interesting people, and we even bumped into a girl (not the abovementioned one) from Dylan’s class at school.  Small world!

We lit dozens of candles and listened to our neighbor explain the holiday and what it meant to her having grown up in Columbia and losing her mother at a young age.  She told us she loved the holidays until her mother’s death, but after becoming a mother herself, she realized she needed to give her daughter the same wonderful holiday memories she once had.  Sitting under the starlit sky surrounded by the warm glow of candles and the sounds of our children playing, I think we all had the sense that we were doing just that.  It was an absolutely beautiful experience and a reminder that celebrating our differences is what brings us together.

Back to Dylan.

As my kids get older and begin to have more independence and experiences outside of our cozy, safe cocoon, I’m quickly learning that I’m helpless to control the world around them.  I can’t stop racism or anti-Semitism from happening any more than I can prevent natural disasters, mean kids, or pedophilia, but I can empower my kids to love themselves and accept people for who they are.  I can teach my kids to be the change they want to see in the world.

At bedtime tonight (previous bedtime conversations indicate that this is a good window for giving and receiving information), we will tell Dylan that we love him.  We will tell him that being Jewish is as awesome as being Christian or Catholic or Buddhist or Atheist or big or small or tall or short.  We will tell him that he should always love and be proud of himself.  We will tell him that being open and accepting of everyone is “cool,” and that sometimes that means you get to light candles and eat pizza and cookies outside.

On this second night of Hanukkah, we’re smoking a brisket, hanging Christmas lights, and exchanging Hanukkah gifts with our family.  This year, I’m NOT stressing about religion.  Instead, I’m thinking about how fortunate I am to be a loving, open-minded, and tolerant person and to have the opportunity to pass on these values to my kids.

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Filed under Christmas, Hanukkah, parenting, religion