Reality, on a green 3×5 card

As I pulled into the parking lot at the temple, I was amused by the fact that my van, which is being held together by duct tape, string, paper clips and prayer, was parked next to a new Porsche.  The juxtaposition of the two vehicles seemed to represent how I felt about going into my son’s Bar Mitzvah meeting.  I was a little nervous and didn’t feel like I fit in.

I walked in, saw familiar faces, said some hellos, got my folder, sat down and whipped out my knitting.  I knit when I am nervous.  The meeting started right on time (odd, I know).  The Rabbi asked us to introduce ourselves and tell a story about our experience with Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.  I have no story.  The only story I have is the one I am telling you all right now.  Knit, knit, knit.  I messed up the introduction.  Knit, knit, knit. 

The Rabbi begins to go over everything.  He talks about how each ceremony is structured to fit the needs of each child and their family.  I am still knitting, but it is slowing.  I am starting to feel calmer, or maybe the magnitude of the whole event is just so overwhelming that I am in shock, hard to tell.  More talking. Eventually, there is a need for some paper shuffling and I put my knitting away.  I am starting to think this is doable.  Planning is something I am good at.

Just as the calm is beginning to settle in, the dates are handed out.  I am not sure what I expected, but what was printed on that green index card was a shocker for me.  I think I expected that the Bar Mitzvah date would be within a few weeks of my son’s birthday, not almost three months later.  I am sure that the fact that an actual date makes all of this real also contributed.   I was shell-shocked by the information on the card.

I could have requested a date.  I didn’t do that.  I just figured they would give us the right date.  It is two years from now, so really, I don’t have anything scheduled.  When I got the date, all the days that would have been bad flooded my mind.  The anniversary of my father’s death is in the same month as Mac’s bar mitzvah, but it never occurred to me to request it to not be on that date, it was so far away from Mac’s birthday.

While driving home I called a friend and freaked out a bit.  She listened to me go on, and then calmly reminded me that this is G-d’s party and that what will be will be.  The people that are important will be there.  That this is about more than just dates and the potential for blizzards to cause havoc with travel plans.  That in the end, it will be ok, Mac will do great, and everyone who needs to be there will be there.  The people that love him will come.

I asked her to remind me of this over the next two years when I am having some sort of cosmic meltdown.  I also am laying in a goodly supply of yarn, just in case.

A Wedding to Remember

When my husband and I told our kids last weekend that we were going to attend a wedding, they were mildly interested. “Whose?” asked our 12-year-old, barely looking up from the book she was reading. But when we answered with two men’s names, she perked up. “Really? That’s so cool!” Yep, we said, it IS really cool. It was super cool for us, because it was a Jewish wedding in a synagogue close to our home and filled with neighbors, friends and various members of the community.

More than two hundred people gathered to celebrate the marriage of two men who have been devoted to each other for 21 years. They walked down the aisle together, they stood beneath the chuppah together, and best of all, they each broke a glass together! The rabbi did a wonderful job of honoring their relationship and talking about their commitment to each other as a model that any couple–gay or straight–could aspire to.

I have to say it was one of the most joyful events I have ever attended. At one point almost every single person was on the floor dancing while an amazing band played away. There was a couple next to us who appeared to be in their 70s, and my friend and I just jumped gleefully up and down. “This is so fun!” I shouted over the thump of the music. But it was not only fun, it felt liberating, because we all recognized that we were participating in an important event. My favorite moment came when both men danced with their mothers while a friend crooned Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

A sister of one of the grooms delivered the best line of the evening in her toast: “Here’s to the day when we won’t be celebrating a gay wedding, we’ll just be celebrating a wedding.”

Back To “Normal”

It’s been a crazy few weeks since my last post where I described my 7 year old’s 10 day sickness.  About a week after he finally recovered, I got the flu and a horrible cough – not normal since I usually get sick once every 5 years.  Then the weekend of Halloween, the Northeast, and Connecticut in particular, got hit with a crazy and very unexpected Fall snowstorm that left a foot of snow on the ground and us and most of our friends without power for 10 – 12 days.  School was cancelled for 7 full days – not normal.  The JCC, where I work, was closed for 10 days so I had no work and my 2 year old son had no day care – not normal.  Halloween was cancelled in our town and many others close-by due to downed trees, branches and power lines – not normal.  And we moved in with my in-laws for 8 days – definitely not normal!  Don’t get me wrong – I love my in-laws – but to be in someone else’s home, with no schedule, strange sleeping arrangements and no routine was tough on all of us.  Many of my friends and co-workers left town to stay with friends or relatives in other states  and those who did stay or had generators had multiple families over to shower, eat hot meals, charge their phones and computers and simply warm up on a daily basis.  Things that we all had planned to enjoy in these 10 days were cancelled – my son’s Consecration ceremony where he and all of his first grade classmates receive their own Torahs, soccer games, family get-togethers and birthday parties.  Finally when power was restored to our home, places of work and to our schools – things were FINALLY back to normal.  I had never wanted to go to work that badly in my entire life!

I also had a chance to reflect on the word “normal” at a training I attended in Boston last week for Jewish educators who work with intermarried couples and families.  The training started off with a panel of four intermarried couples who were all raising their children as Jews and had all found synagogues that they consider “home”.  They seemed to all feel normal as intermarried families in these synagogues because these synagogues and clergy were warm, welcoming, caring and respectful of them as an intermarried family – like any other family who is a member at that synagogue.

This got me thinking about how I feel like a perfectly normal family in my synagogue and in the Jewish community at large.  Our synagogue has many intermarried families as does the JCC pre-school where my younger son attends.  I get asked all the time by JCC members that I have just met “Are you Jewish?” because of my last name – MacGilpin.  When my husband and I got married I knew that I wanted to take his name because I felt like one day if we had kids, I wanted us all to have the same last name.  At that time, about 10 years ago, Soledad O’Brien was the news anchor on the TODAY Show and I thought, if she could have a Spanish and Irish name then I could have a Hebrew and Scottish name.  Completely normal, right?

A few thoughts as my son naps

My son, thank G-d, was born September 13, 2011.  Eight days later was his Brit Milah, his circumcision.  He was so good.  He slept.  I cried. 

The Mohel included my husband in the ceremony.  We recited a beautiful prayer, asking G-d for help in parenting, for helping our son live a wonderful life and of course thanking G-d for our son. 

My husband gave a beautiful speech after the ceremony.  He explained how he had asked his mom, on her death bed, that she ask Hashem (G-d) for a bit of help as we were having trouble conceiving.  He said he learned that when you believe, good things can happen.  I know he was talking about Hashem, G-d.  I have to say my husband has a strong belief in G-d, he always believed we would have a child, even when I was ready to give up, even when I stopped keeping Shabbos, my husband kept saying, “don’t worry, you’ll see”. 

I am so grateful for my son, and for my husband. 

Shabbos candelighting is in a few hours (so early!) and now I continue to pray for guidance in parenting.  For patience.  That my son have a beautiful, long, healthy and safe life.  And I thank G-d for my son.  I really should also be thanking G-d for my husband a bit more.  My husband, even though he isn’t Jewish, has taught me a lot about what it means to have Emunah and Bitachon in Hashem – Faith and Trust in G-d. 

Good Shabbos. 

Demystifying Temple

My daughter had her consecration last month. (I know I am a little late getting to this blog post.)  She loved dancing around with the Torah, singing songs and in her words, “finally getting to be a big girl.”  She is the youngest and has been dragged to religious school and forced to wait for her brothers for 6 years now.  We were not planning to send her to kindergarten religious school for a variety of reasons, but she would not hear any of that.  She is a big girl and big girls go to religious school on Sundays.  How do you argue with that?

My mother came to visit us from California.  She is getting on in years and we appreciate that she is still able to make the journey to visit us.  She would shoot me if I told exactly how old she was, but let’s suffice it to say that you would be impressed that she managed the trip.  Initially she had planned to leave on Simchat Torah.  She had no idea the importance of the day, it just worked with her schedule.  I asked her to stay.  She did.

She spent much of the time she was here trying to get out of going to the service.  She had never been to a service in the temple and I think she was worried that something would happen to her because she isn’t Jewish.  Quite the opposite happened.  The “older” ladies in the temple all welcomed her and tried to include her.  I think if she had lived locally she would have walked out with phone numbers and lunch plans. 

It made me happy to see everyone be so friendly to my mom.  I think she was sort of surprised too.  While Simchat Torah is not a typical service, it was still a good way for her to see that the temple isn’t scary or too strange.  Hannah was thrilled that she had a relative at this life event.  Living far away from family means that my kids’ life cycle events tend to go unattended by anyone other than us.

While at the time when I asked my mother to do this, I was not thinking about the longer term implications.  We have a bar mitzvah in two years.  It is really important to me that my family comes to this.  But, if my mom is uncomfortable in the temple it is less likely that she will do it. If she does not come, it will give others an excuse not to come too. As a result of going to Hannah’s consecration, I think that she is not so intimidated by the temple.

I wish I had thought about this when we were first married.  Had I really considered the importance of having my family attend my kid’s religious life cycle events, I might have taken my family to Friday services when they visited.  I might have worked harder when my kids were younger, to better educate my family about what is going on.  For a variety of reasons, that all seemed valid at the time, I never thought it was important.  I just assumed that because they didn’t care that I married a Jew they would participate in my raising my kids as Jews.  It never occurred to me that they might be nervous or uncomfortable.

I hope that some of that has passed, and that my mother will share the good feelings she had at temple with my other family members.  Hopefully between now and the bar mitzvah I will be able to do other things to demystify the experience.  I sure would love to have my big, wild and crazy family show up at Mac’s bar mitzvah! 

Not Yet

A few weeks ago I was scheduled to meet two boys who, if all went well, would become my sons. The boys are currently in foster care but are available for adoption.

I thought I was one short step away from creating my family.

My adoption agency which works with Child Protective Services started talking to me about the boys about 2 months ago. The Adoption Coordinator and the social worker in charge of their case told me only that they are brothers, 1 ½ and 2 ½ years old, full African American and healthy. That’s what they said. In four separate conversations, that’s what they said. Every time I asked a question, that’s all they said.

Two Fridays ago, I called the Foster Mother before Shabbat so I could arrange to meet them. She started the conversation by saying that in 10 years of fostering, these children are the most challenging kids she has ever cared for. Both have severe special needs: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Attachment Disorder. The boys have already been through two disrupted adoptions. In both cases, the perspective adoptive parents were not informed of children’s medical conditions until they were actually living in their homes and, in both cases, the parents relinquished the boys back into foster care.

The Foster Mother did not want to see this happen again so was brutally honest with me. By the time I hung up the phone I was stunned and angry and so sad – for the boys and for myself. I decided that their needs were completely beyond what I could provide. The following Monday, I turned down the referral and severed my relationship with the agency.

I do not know where I am going from here.

There are three options open to me:
1. Continue to pursue adoption. After two failed adoptions, one international and one domestic, I’m not sure I have the emotional wherewithal to attempt a third.
2. Artificial insemination, In-Vitro Fertilization, Donor Embryo. These are my biological options. I’ve reviewed the responsa (rabbinic decisions) for each option and believe they are all permissible, the logic being that these procedures can result in a new Jewish life and are therefore consistent with Jewish values.
3. Accept that I will be childless. Or child-free, as some would say. After almost two years of trying to make a family, I wonder when, for the sake of my emotional wellbeing, I just need to walk away. I’m not sure what such a life would even look like.  Who am I if I’m never a mother?

For now I will only say that I am not ready to give up. At least not yet.