When I stepped away from my job as a rabbi a little over three years ago, I thought I was prepared to handle most of the contradictions inherent to life as a stay-at-home mom. I knew that I was a homebody, but I understood that sometimes I might end up feeling trapped in my apartment. I knew that I loved to traffic in the mundane, but that sometimes the ceaseless day-to-day repetition would drive me insane. I knew that I wanted more time with my children, but that sometimes too much together time could turn us all stark raving mad.
But what I couldn’t prepare for were the feelings that drew me towards home in one moment and then away from it the next, or the voices that scolded me for missing a meal with my children on one hand, but urged me not to lose myself or my identity on the other.
Part of me yearned only to hibernate with my kids, my cooking utensils, and my prized vacuum cleaner all day long; to hang out in my sweats and cuddle and go to the playground on no one else’s time schedule but my own. But, there was another part of me, just as potent, that felt like I needed more, that something was missing from my life. It’s a hard thing to describe, this sense of wholeness that is not quite whole, and this sense of fulfillment that is not 100% fulfilled.
For a while I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I shouldered a vague feeling of malaise, an underlying anxiety that was at first difficult for me to name. I knew it wasn’t a job I was after; I wasn’t ready to go back to work by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the more time I spent at home, the more attached I became to being there.
And yet, what I didn’t completely understand was this sense of partition I sometimes felt from the world at large; I wasn’t lonely, but I sometimes felt alone in my day-to-day loop. While I was at home, zipping back and forth between the dishwasher and the washing machine, and running interference between the kids, I knew many of my colleagues were out and about, lobbying and marching, teaching and preaching. There were times when I had pangs watching my colleagues engage so fully in a life that I had chosen to put on hold. I would read about their trajectories and their accomplishments and their often-extraordinary undertakings on social media, and I would feel wistful for the life I had before. Make no mistake—it’s not that I wanted to be in their shoes; life experience has taught me to never wish that, no matter how incredible another’s life looks from the outside. No, it wasn’t that I wanted to trade places.
It was more that I wanted to find a way to engage with my colleagues, and I didn’t quite know how, given where I stood. (I’m having some serious flashbacks to a certain fourth grade four-square game that I desperately wanted in on but never mustered the courage to join.) Part of me felt unworthy of joining; part of me felt scared. I was out of practice and out of step. I wondered, would my voice even matter? Would it count for anything? Speaking up, even in the semi-anonymous world of Facebook and the internet, felt risky and consequential. But my urge to connect was so strong I knew it couldn’t be ignored.
I wanted to be a part of the conversations I saw happening around me, even though I was knee-deep in totally different conversations at home. It sounds so trivial, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the rabbis’ forum online. I wanted to offer my opinion when one of my colleagues asked a question about ritual or pastoral matters. I wanted to start a dialogue in my women’s professional forum. I wanted to raise my hand when someone asked, “Is there a rabbi who could help us answer this question?” without feeling self-conscious. I was a rabbi after all, but my parental detour had shaken my confidence a bit. More than anything, I wanted to find a way to contribute, despite the fact I had no idea how or where to begin.
It was Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav who once said, “All beginnings require that you unlock new doors.” Slowly but surely, I’ve set out to unlock a few doors for myself. I’ve discovered there are no how-to manuals for “finding-your-voice-while-staying-at-home-and-caring-for-your-children.” (Or maybe there are and I just haven’t read them?) You just have to open your mouth and, well, make some noise.
So, I’ve tried my hand at blogging (thank you, Kveller). I’ve expanded my reach on social media. I’ve consciously worked to embrace my dual role as a mom and rabbi. I’m not going to lie; sometimes the doors haven’t budged. Sometimes the keys have gotten stuck. But every once in a while, they glide right through, and the door opens onto a view that was well worth the wait.