My children and I will be spending the High Holidays apart this year. This is nothing new. When my now ex-husband left our home in Albany five years ago and moved back in with his parents on Long Island, part of our agreement was that our son and daughter would spend most of the Jewish holidays with him and his family. They were 2.5 and 5 years old at the time.
During the first year of our marriage separation, I travelled to Long Island with my children for Passover. I was not ready to let go. It was all so new, this idea of not being with my chubby-cheeked babes every moment of the day. I stayed with a friend-of-a-friend who opened up her house to me, aware of my tenuous grip on sanity as I prepared to leave my kids for a full day with their dad and grandparents for the very first time. I was scared.
Of course the visit went just fine, and subsequent holidays and alternating weekends carried on without me. My children are now 7.5 and 10 years old. They love the car rides down to Long Island, visits to museums, and–most importantly–time with their dad and grandparents. They are truly lucky to be loved by so many caring people. For this, I am blessed.
Which just leaves me. Home on Rosh Hashanah, without my kids. It’s weird, and not a little bit sad. Part of me thinks, “Awesome, I can do anything I want! I can go to any shul I want to, daven (pray) to my heart’s content, and not have to worry about little munchkins whining and pulling on my dress, complaining that it’s boring and asking if it’s time to go yet. But the other part of me laments, disappointed that we are not building family traditions around the holidays, eager to lapse into remorse and self-pity. Poor mama.
I like the hustle and bustle of preparing for Rosh Hashanah–meticulously planning menus, inviting guests, and making the house look special. But only people with whole families do that, and mine is not. I usually receive an invitation or two over the holidays, to share a meal with another couple or family in the community. Sometimes I accept the invitation, but more often, I do not. The truth is, I feel like an impostor or an imposition. I am a mother, yet I do not have my children with me, so my role becomes unclear. I desperately want to belong, but I have simply not figured out how or where I fit in.
While I struggle to navigate the holidays and weekends without my kids, I strive to remind myself that I have the gift of raising my children almost every single day. I sing them wake-up songs in the morning, and lullabies at night. They jump into my arms when they get off the school bus, and call my name when they have something exciting to share. They wrap their arms around me tightly, giggle at my tickles, and beg for my kisses. I love them almost more than my heart can bear.
I may not spend every holiday with my children, but I know that together we have forged our own unique routines and traditions: apple-picking with our cousins in the fall, heading to the pumpkin patch and riding the Moo Moo Choo-Choo, rolling out soft dough and decorating Hanukkah cookies for their teachers.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for new beginnings. Perhaps this year I will find my own. Although my babies will not be at my side, I know they are safe and loved. For this, I am forever thankful.