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jewish mother project

That Time I Made a Big Jewish Mother Mistake

trees

Ted Chevalier

So, I missed Tu Bishvat.

I saw references to it on Facebook; various friends who are clearly more observant/aware/motivated/creative/energetic/(insert desirable adjective of your choice here) posted pictures of their children hugging trees and displaying carefully arranged trays of dried fruits and nuts.

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “Tu Bishvat is coming up. I should probably do something about that.” And then I “liked” the picture and as I kept scrolling through my feed I promptly forgot all about it.

But it doesn’t stop there. Last Monday morning didn’t go smoothly in our house, and the girls were right on the edge. One of them complained of a stomachache, the other one was weepy for no obvious reason. It was one of those situations where I could have helped them rally with a clever reminder of something exciting happening at school, perhaps a school-wide holiday in which they would be participating in a variety of activities celebrating the earth and all of her gifts.

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That would have been ideal, had I remembered it was even happening. But I did not, so I ended up spending the day at home with two moderately grumpy girls.

That right there is a #JewishMotherFail on multiple levels.

But it’s also quite interesting to me. Of all the years to totally space out on a holiday, this year—the year in which both of my girls are in Jewish day school and I’m writing the Jewish Mother Project—seems the least likely. I suppose I could chalk it up to general life busyness and tell myself that I’ll do better next year, but let’s be honest. If I’m lucky, I’ll be just as busy next year as I am this year, and seeing as how I haven’t done much to celebrate Tu Bishvat or most other minor holidays since the girls were born (and possibly before that, but I have a hard time recalling my life before I became a mother), it’s unlikely to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a well-intentioned but highly improbable resolution as much as the next guy. In this case, however, I’m far more curious about my experience and how I can understand what it means about who I am and what kind of Jewish mother I am likely to be.

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Here’s what I have come up with: I’m not a planner. Well, sort of. It’s barely February, and I’ve already got my girls signed up for summer camp (I’m a sucker for an early bird discount, people), so I guess when it comes to the preservation of my sanity, I am a planner. But when it comes to holidays and birthdays and other such celebrations, not so much.

I suppose it could be because I didn’t grow up in a Jewishly observant home, so I have little experience to draw from. But I can’t blame this one on my parents. It’s just not who I am. (For those of you who are just chomping at the bit to point out the gendered nature of this post and suggest that my husband step up to the seder plate, the truth is that he’s not much of a planner either, which is one of the things I love about him. However, he is the chef of the family, and when we need a brisket or some homemade sufganiyot, he steps up in a big way.)

We celebrate our daughters’ birthdays with pizza and cupcakes at the local park; I don’t plan activities or pick a theme. I’m happy to let my mother-in-law cook her delicious matzah balls and flourless chocolate cake for Passover each year, and despite my yearly declarations, our Hanukkah celebrations never go much beyond a few pre-boxed crafts, some candles, and that ridiculous Veronica Monica video that I enjoy nearly as much as my daughters do.

Come to think of it, one of the first things I said to my brand new husband once we finally made it back to our hotel room after the reception was that he’d better not divorce me because I just can’t ever plan another wedding. (Remember that, honey? I stand by that one.)

This is a tricky truth for me to accept, as the celebration of holidays and the acknowledgment of the passing of the seasons is so central to Jewish life. And it does make me happy. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, and I find great meaning in developing and observing rituals with my family and friends. So how do I reconcile all of those realities with my apparent complete lack of desire to do anything about it? (Is there a TaskRabbit for this sort of thing? MitzvahMonkey? Can someone please start that company?)

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Short of outsourcing it all out (which if I’m totally honest, I already sort of do, thanks to a fabulous Jewish day school and my in-laws), I don’t have a great answer for this one. Not yet. This may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but I don’t mean it to be. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this issue since I first realized I missed the holiday, and I have come up with a number of possibilities that could wrap up this blog post quite neatly (read a book for each holiday, make a commitment to go to synagogue, etc.). But if I’ve learned anything from this project, it’s that I have no idea if I will actually follow through with any of it.

The good news is that I’ve identified the question, which is the crucial first step. Also, I’ve figured out when Purim is this year: March 24.

Side note: Thank you to everyone who has offered your suggestions for my tzedakah project. I’m currently reading through all of them and coming up with a plan. If you haven’t yet read my post, please do, as I am most grateful for your feedback and suggestions. Thanks!

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