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Mar 21 2014

This Week’s Torah Portion Offers a Glimpse into the Pain of Losing a Child

By at 10:11 am

fire

This post is part of our Torah MoMmentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Shemini. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Maybe it’s my morbid streak, but the darker Torah stories are generally my favorites. After all, if the Torah portrayed a perfect world, I would just feel worse about my own messy life. Instead, reading these ancient stories makes me feel like things are OK. My life isn’t perfect, but no one’s is or ever has been. So I love that Torah stories aren’t all about angels and flowers.

But although I still appreciate stories of veiled seduction and secret weapons, I find that becoming a mother has (somewhat to my dismay) lessened my delight in stories of child sacrifice and gory deaths. And rather than appreciating the drama of this week’s portion, I found myself feeling sort of disturbed by the family tragedy.

Without warning, two of Aaron’s adult sons, Nadav and Avihu, are suddenly killed by God after offering a “strange fire” on the altar. It’s shocking. It seems to come out of nowhere. And God seems so…casual about the whole thing. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 14 2014

My Second Time Pregnant & I’m Even More in Awe

By at 9:47 am

ultrasound

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Tzav. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Well, it’s official–baby #2 is on the way! (And in case you were wondering, yes, I am going to tie this into the Torah portion somehow).

I thought I might be less excited the second time around, but I’ve found the opposite, at least once I got past the exhausting combination of toddler-chasing and morning sickness. For the past couple months, I’ve been feeling even more awe and mystery about what’s happening inside me this time.

Why would this be? Isn’t the second time we do anything usually less dramatic, rather than more? Well, two things are different this time. First of all, I have at least some vague idea of what might be in store. I’m less anxious. And there’s nothing like anxiety to prevent a person from feeling awe. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 7 2014

The Definition of Sacrifice Sounds A Lot Like Parenting

By at 10:51 am

new-baby

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vayikra. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Sacrifice: the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone.

–Webster’s Dictionary

Recently I’ve been thinking about sacrifice and motherhood. First we stop drinking, then we surrender our waistlines…and that’s before they’re born and the real work begins.

But the idea of “making sacrifices” for my daughter makes me uncomfortable. It sounds a little…controlling. After all, I chose this path. I asked to bring a child into the world, and I was lucky enough to receive this incredible little kid. And as I’m sure she’ll point out in her teenage years, she never asked to be born. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 28 2014

On the Other Side of Parental Boredom is Awe

By at 1:54 pm

toys

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Pekudei. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I have to say right away that my daughter is not boring. She’s a little strawberry-blond spitfire who cracks me up with her sense of humor, amazes me with her expanding grasp of language, keeps me on my toes, and regularly blows my mind.

But still. We’re not exactly peers; it’s hard to find activities to equally entertain a 22-month-old and a 37-year-old. Mommy and Me is cool, and we’re both into baking, but there are only so many sing-a-longs you can attend in a day, and if I bake chocolate chip cookies four times a week I’ll never fit into my clothes again. So on our longer days together, a certain amount of boredom inevitably ensues. Sylvie gets bored when I take too long in the grocery store bulk aisle. I get bored pushing her on the swings. She gets bored when I do dishes. I get bored singing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” (again). And so on.

Boredom is generally considered a bad thing. And I can’t say it feels particularly good. But recently I have been experimenting with seeing it as a spiritual teacher rather than an enemy. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 21 2014

Not to be Cliche, But Raising a Child Really Does “Take a Village”

By at 10:35 am

day-care

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vayahkel. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I was recently hanging out with a mama friend who’s been staying home with her toddler. She’s starting to look for day care, to her own surprise. As she put it: “Before I had kids, I thought, why even have kids if you’re going to give them to someone else to raise them? And now I’m like, oh yeah–he needs to do his thing and I need to do my thing and then we’re both happy to see each other in the afternoon.”

I didn’t think I expected myself to be a full-time mom. Although my mom stayed home to raise me and my two sisters, we were taught we could do anything boys could do. Which by implication means we could grow up to be a parent and still continue our careers, right? Just like our dad. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 14 2014

What My Daughter’s Favorite Stuffed Animal Has to Do with the Golden Calf

By at 9:41 am

Torah Momentary: Was the Golden Calf the Israelite's version of a lovey?

This post is part of our Torah MOMentary series, where we interpret the weekly Torah portion through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Ki Tissa. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

As parents (and humans), we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting to grow up. Waiting to meet the right partner. Waiting to move in together, get married, or partner up in a long term way. We wait to get pregnant. Then we wait for our baby to be born. Once our baby is born, we wait for him or her to grow up. We don’t want to rush it, but in some ways, we do. We’re waiting for him to smile, laugh, eat solid foods, sit up, sleep through the night, point, clap, wean herself, talk, walk, run, use the potty, listen to reason, win a Nobel, have kids of her own. But like Tom Petty knows, the waiting is the hardest part. And yet, we have to do it.

Our kids have a hard time waiting, too. Mine are not yet 3, and they cannot wait for anything. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting just a few seconds, as long as it takes for me to finish chewing before I answer their question about icicles, or the letter “M” and how it really does look a lot like a “W.” Sometimes, they cannot wait the two minutes it takes for me to find a missing puzzle piece that is lodged beneath the couch, or the 10 minutes it takes for chicken nuggets to cook in the toaster. They certainly can’t wait five days until our weekend trip or the two months it’ll take before their birthday arrives. For them, waiting is beyond hard. It’s impossible. It often reduces them to tears. (Me too.)

Apparently, the Israelites didn’t like waiting, either. In her commentary on this week’s Torah portion Ki Tissa, Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses writes, “Waiting is difficult. When a child waits…for a parent to come home, the time can feel excruciatingly long.” Cohler-Esses points out that when the Jews waited for Moses to come back down from his tete-a-tete with God on Mount Sinai, they grew impatient, just like a child might. Their leader—their parent, in a sense—had disappeared. “They are anxious that Moses will never return to them, frightened that they will have no leader to lead them to the Promised Land,” Cohler-Esses explains. “They are so scared that they build themselves an idol—a Golden Calf to accompany them through the desert.” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 7 2014

The Self-Conscious Mom & Her Very Observant Kids

By at 9:55 am

hole-in-sock

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Tetzaveh. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I’d like to say that I’m the kind of woman who’s never given much thought to clothing and what I wear. I’d like to say that I’ve always just sort of thrown something on, and effortlessly, look pulled together all the time, or don’t, but either way, no matter. I’d like to remember my child-self as one who didn’t think tights were scratchy, who didn’t notice if her undershirt was tucked in, who didn’t have an obsessive penchant for the colors purple and orange, who didn’t mind wearing headbands, two-piece bathing suits, or ankle socks.

I’d like to say that I was and still am highly unselfconscious.

Except I am totally self-conscious, and have always been a bit of a nut when it comes to clothes. I’m not talking in a clotheshorse kind of way, where I’m off spending money on labels and status pieces. No, I’m talking about the much more existential and far less useful ways in which I obsess about how I look. I’ve never worn a bikini, I don’t really enjoy being photographed, and often notice myself fidgeting–with my clothing, my hair, whatever. While my neuroses are (mostly) in check, a healthy dose of anxiety runs through my bloodstream at all times, just to keep me on my toes. And often, this delightful kind of crazy rears its ugly head as I try and dress myself on any given day. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 31 2014

Torah MOMentary: What is the Point of All These Rules?

By at 9:41 am

girl watching tv

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Terumah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

After binging on Internet reading last Wednesday (thanks in no small part to the polar vortex that kept me and my kids inside far longer than is healthy or recommended), I spiraled down the rabbit hole and beseeched my Facebook friends to tell me if I was letting my kids watch too much TV.

Thirty-six comments later, and I had been reassured that basically, I was within the “acceptable” zone. After the fourth or fifth Curious George episode, I shut the TV off and took the kids to the basement to do some puzzles. I brought my phone. After a half hour of being semi-attentive to them, I realized I wasn’t being even remotely mindful, and spent a few ill-advised minutes panicking about their emotional well-being.

The next morning my husband suggested that we start drizzling the girls’ pancakes (and everything they eat, really) with flax oil. Later that afternoon, my mother intimated that perhaps it’s time to get serious about the potty training. Then I got a call from school that one of my twins had bitten the other one (because we are forever in and out of the biting stage, a Groundhog’s Day of biting, if you will). Sometime around exasperation-o’clock, I read this Forbes.com article about the “crippling” (CRIPPLING!) behaviors that we, as parents, are guilty of. And then after all of that, I read this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, and wanted to cry.

There are too many rules. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 24 2014

Torah MOMentary: Just Like Toddlers, the Israelites Needed Rules

By at 9:50 am

toddler drawing on wall

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Mishpatim. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

As a former wedding-industry employee, I can say with confidence that the Revelation at Sinai would have been a very high-ticket event. It had all the elements of the perfect day: a dramatic natural setting; elaborate sound and lights; and at the center, those simple, moving ten commandments –the vows that would eternally bind the Israelites to God. This all happened in last week’s Torah portion.

Rabbis do compare the revelation to a wedding–it’s not just me–and after such a blowout celebration, you might expect a bit of a honeymoon. But instead, the Torah launches straight into a highly unromantic list of rules and laws, ranging from the mundane to the disturbing. Like what to do if someone asks you to watch their cow and the cow dies (depends what happened to the cow). What to do if a man seduces a virgin (he has to marry her). What about the punishment for violent attacks (“eye for an eye,” though as a side note, the rabbis pretty much legislate that out of existence in the Talmud). There are rules about letting slaves go free every seven years, and not taking interest on loans, and, well, I’ll stop, but the list goes on.

It seems a little weird as a wedding follow-up. On the other hand, as the parent of a toddler, this litany of rules feels disturbingly normal.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 17 2014

Torah MOMentary: How Moses Inspires Me to Ask For Help

By at 10:15 am

help spelled in toy blocks

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Yitro. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Asking for help does not come naturally to me. I’ve always been independent to the point of stubbornness. And that worked for me…until I became a mom. Now, ohmygosh, I need help constantly. And little by little, I’m learning how to ask for it.

I know you’re dying to know how this connects to this week’s Torah portion, and I promise it will, but first a personal litany of top five motherly vulnerabilities:

1. Diapering technique. It all started when a hospital nurse showed me how to diaper my brand new baby. I watched her expertly fasten the tiny disposable diaper, thinking, how the hell did I get through 35 years without learning this? It seemed like the most basic skill in the world, but also entirely mysterious. Even after my hospital lesson, it took me two weeks to remember which side went in the back.

2. Post-partum help. For two weeks after Sylvie’s birth, my mom stayed in our tiny apartment to help us out, sleeping on our couch and sharing our one bathroom. (Yes, she is amazing.) For the first week, I couldn’t bend over because of my c-section incision, so my mom had to help me put on my underwear. That was humbling enough. By the end of week two, I was slowly healing, but when it was time for my mom to leave, I surprised myself by losing it. I still needed her help. I probably hadn’t cried and begged her not to leave since I was 4 years old. This was not exactly how I’d expected to start off my new life as a mother. Read the rest of this entry →

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