Ronia was born on the first morning of Hanukkah. She arrived in a Chicago blizzard, a full-fledged miracle who has taught me everything I need to know about the giving of light to others. We couldn’t light candles for the first couple nights because the hospital didn’t allow it, but she finally was able to stare into the dancing lights as a three day old.
Now she is a 3 year old, and as the Maccabees will tell you, what happens after the miracle is the really difficult part. Her mother and I separated last February, but her birthdays and Hannukah have blessedly continued. This was the first one as a family apart. We decided to have it at my home, which used to be our home. Ronia’s mother picked the guest list, but they are all people I like, three pairs of parents and their children.
Of course, being separated doesn’t mean that you don’t fight. Even though I needed help, I was afraid my separated spouse would come early. I was also afraid our guests would contract our unhappiness, would fear for their own happy unions. I was worried my very single sister would feel like she had to defend me.
In the end, Ronia’s mother arrived 15 minutes early, which was actually perfect; she distracted Ronia just as she was shrieking for cake. We resorted to other old habits: my desire to add guests last minute, or her taking the first hour after they arrived to make the salad dressing. I did like my foremothers did and took refuge in the endless frying latkes. And all together, we get through.
And Ronia? She had a blast, leading her friends in an endless leaping loop from couch to beanbag, shrieking with glee. “You have to be 3 or 4 to do this,” she grinned proudly.She seemed to enjoy the novelty of both her parents together under the same roof.
Then it was over, I had already begun to clean up. My sister, who was my ride to the train station, had to go, so I bundled everyone out the door in what I hope was an unhurried fashion. Ronia went home with her mother, meaning we would spend her actual birthday, the next day, apart. I content myself with the Hebrew birthday and getting to host this party. The house was empty. I shut off the heat, and caught an early bus to New York, about to become my boyfriend and activist self, simply by riding for two hours,staying with my ladyfriend, and attending a Rabbis for Human Rights conference.
I have to believe that I am like the candles. That by dividing my child’s life, I have not diminished her brilliant light, and that by splitting myself between a life of fatherhood and romance and activism I am all the brighter.