“Now we can finally have a normal week,” was what my husband said way back in 2011, as the holidays were ending and my busiest season as a Jewish professional was coming to a close.
The next day, I found out I was pregnant.
The allure of a “normal week” has now followed us through the birth of two children, six more High Holiday seasons, vacations, school transitions — not to mention sick days and snow days too numerous to count.
Through it all, I’ve had my eye on my calendar: I’ve found I’m always looking ahead, in wild-eyed hope of finding a regular, boring week — one in which there are no half days, no absences, no illnesses, and our entire family shows up at school and at work for five entire days.
Here we are in February 2018, and, well, this “normal week” has yet to happen. As I write this, on a Thursday morning, my kids are noisily and anxiously circling around me. This should have been a “normal day.” But we live in Philadelphia, and the Eagles just won the Super Bowl.
In a spectacular celebration of non-normalcy, public school is canceled to allow kids and teachers to attend a massive parade and related festivities. The parade and the cancellation were announced Tuesday — meaning today’s plans were uprooted, and the rest of the week has been about nervous anticipation.
I can honestly say that, at this point, I’m not entirely sure what a “normal week” even looks like. We didn’t have one in November, because of Thanksgiving travel and school break. It definitely didn’t happen in December, with Hanukkah and winter break. We didn’t have anything close to a normal week in January, when the kids went back to school for only one day, followed by two snow days.
The Monday they returned — finally! — schools closed early for an ice storm. (The collective misery that came forth from the parents of Philadelphia was palpable pretty much everywhere.) Then we had MLK Day followed by a bunch of sick days, which then carried into the following week.
On a Shabbat in the midst of this, I spent the afternoon at the playground, as usual. But since I had one kid sitting in my lap still feeling sick — thus another “abnormal” day — I felt grumpy. I complained to a friend about my seemingly endless quest for a normal week.
She replied — more calmly than I’ve probably ever said anything, ever, and especially since becoming a mom — “But how often do you really have a normal week?” Her point was that schedules rarely go according to plan.
Just like that, these nearly seven years of pining for normalcy evaporated. The curtain lifted, the mirage disappeared — and I realized I’ve been waiting for the wrong thing this entire time.
The traditional Jewish greeting when you find out someone is pregnant is b’sha’ah tovah, which is literally “at a good time,” but means, basically, “everything should happen at the right time.” It’s a conveniently non-superstitious way of expressing good wishes — and it’s precisely about the when, not about the what.
Judaism excels at time: marking time, recognizing time, forcing an appreciation for sundowns and seasons, and naming the difference between holy days and regular, old weekdays. And I realized that — even though I’ve gone through the motions of rituals and candle lighting and prayers about time — I’ve totally missed the point.
Looking back on my years of yearning for a “normal week,” I realized I’ve ignored the presence of hundreds of normal hours, thousands of normal minutes, an infinity of normal moments. My kids, like most — and quite possibly more than most — thrive on routine. But in my quest for routine, I’ve undervalued other things that matter: spontaneity, flexibility, an OKness with not knowing what’s going to happen.
Though a week functions as a good marker of time, and weeks are significant in Jewish practice, there’s no prize for accomplishing a particular level of routine for seven days in a row. The more I’ve focused on the intricacies of what’s taking us away from routine, the more I detract from the everyday moments — the normal moments — we could be enjoying.
I realize I’m a month late for New Year’s resolutions, and I’m years too late to change what happened in the past. But I think my cravings for “normal weeks” have finally abated. Take today, in which we will not be at school or at work. Instead we will brave the cold and celebrate with an expected 3 million other people. (I guess that’s what “normal” looks like in Philadelphia today.)
Looking at the calendar, this week is followed by half days for school conferences, President’s Day, and Purim — as well as invisible and unplannable sick days and snow days waiting to reveal themselves. There’s no “normal week” in sight, but I’m looking forward to every minute.