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.

Our Date with the Rabbi

Since moving back to Atlanta, my husband and I have been running around like madmen buying furniture, reconnecting with old friends, traveling to see family, settling into our jobs and new house and preparing for the kid-to-be.

Hectic is the theme of our life right now. Between CPR classes, baby showers, doctor appointments and pediatrician interviews, this tiny little baby in my belly has already squarely established himself as center of our attention.  But we’re okay with that… he’s just so darn cute.

This morning was no different as it was our first meeting with a rabbi of a local synagogue to discuss joining the temple and his views on intermarriage and conversion.  We’ve attended services at this synagogue a few times and both felt very comfortable, not an easy task for a family quite like ours.

After the usual formalities, our discussions varied from homosexuality and Hebrew school philosophies to Israeli politics and what makes someone Jewish.  It was not exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed the conversation immensely.  He shared personal stories of his own interfaith family (he is married to a Jew-by-choice) and inquired about our experience. His views on intermarriage and conversion meshed well with our own and his questions for us even made us stop and think about issues we’ve never considered… Again, not an easy task when it comes to two people who have had nearly 10 years to discuss everything under the sun (and believe me we both are known to be quite the talkers).

The rabbi, of course, asked me why I haven’t considered conversion and listened without judgment or interruption as I explained my personal decision not to convert.  Yes, my conversion would make everything easier and on the practical level makes complete sense.  I mean, I already live in a Jewish household, keep kosher, celebrate Jewish holidays, attend synagogue, know Hebrew and even lived in Israel for a year.  Come on, it is all right there!

But I’m not looking for easy.  I’m not looking for practicality when it comes to my spiritual needs.  I’m looking for a relationship with G-d.  My own faith fulfills that need and until it doesn’t and until I find I am fulfilled by Judaism, I have no plans to convert.  He accepted my reasoning under the caveat that the discussion, not only for conversion purposes, but for the overall role of religion and spirituality in our lives between us as a couple, our families, our community and internally never be over.  As a true believer in the art of good communication and continued personally growth, I fully agreed.  I don’t expect us to know the answers to every hurdle we may face as a family and I want someone in our religious community I can trust to help us navigate the path ahead.

I hope we have found a home temple where we both feel comfortable, where my husband and our children can grow in their Judaism, where we can find a community of acceptance and support and leaders who guide us to better ourselves as a family.

Having a baby has flipped our world upside down in hundreds of ways already and I can’t wait to see what this little guy has in store for us next.  He is making us better and opening our eyes to our greater potential every single day.

Before leaving us with a firm handshake, another date to discuss a mohel, a few booklets and a membership packet, the rabbi said he hoped he’d see us in services very soon.  I think he just may.

The Call

According to the Talmud, when the Israelites lived in the wilderness the miracle of manna (bread) was given every morning at dawn and every morning a dew rose and encased the manna, protecting it until it could be harvested. Without this protection the Israelites would have starved.

I always assumed that miracles were large, cinematic and powerful – creation, falling Pharaohs, splitting seas and the like. But the thought that miracles must be nurtured immediately resonated with me. It reminded me of adoption.

Adoption is all about nurturing hope, protecting it even when it seems entirely unreasonable. Sometimes adoption feels like waiting in a train station where occasionally there is a shout “all aboard the baby train, platform 3!” Gathering my heart and a stomach full of butterflies (the best and only appropriate luggage for this type of journey), I run to meet my destiny but every time, thus far, only emptiness waits at the top of the stairs when I arrive. 

In my last blog post I said I had just finished my home study which is true but not accurate. This is my second home study. The first adoption, an international program, is “on-hold” as the adoption agency would term it – I call it closed because I don’t believe it will ever bring me a child. After a year, I accepted the inevitable, cried my tears, and moved on. 

So I started over with a domestic adoption program and today….they called me. I was between meetings at the time and so had to speak in hushed tones in a hallway but it was THE CALL. I will soon meet two boys, brothers, available for adoption. Maybe as soon as this week-end.

Talking to the amazingly calm social worker (I was anything but calm!), I realized how much has gone into protecting the miracle of this moment: all the ordinary days, making yet another call to the agency, reading one more book on adoption, buying a crib, storing sippy cups in a drawer and just continuing to imagine a child calling me “Mommy.” But today… at least for today… I can see the miracle

A Hockey Stick, Scissors, and One Unhappy Duck

We were feeling good after a great Pie Fest, which drew our biggest crowd and most impressive selection ever—including a heavenly homemade key lime pie and a raspberry plum tart. Yum. All those round beauties sitting on our table, each embodying our wish for a New Year that rolls along smoothly. Our first-ever attempt at making pie crust turned out pretty well, even with the minor disaster of placing the lattice-top crust on our peach pie, which we somehow reconnected. (Thank you Cooks Illustrated for the eponymous illustrations!) The forecast had called for rain and wind, but right before our guests arrived the sun’s rays broke through and the kids spent most of the time outside. We went hours over our party time, and by the end we lounged on the floor and sofa, feeling much like we do after Thanksgiving.

While we were making the pies I asked my kids questions that our rabbi and director had suggested: What happened in the last year that you were proud of? What do you wish you had done differently? What are your hopes for the future year? They had some interesting answers, such as, “I’m proud of the way I handled grandma’s sickness and had faith that we would get back to the light as a family” and “I’m proud of how I resolved my fight with my best friend” to “I wish I had given the new kids in my class more of a chance.” Then they asked me, and let me tell you it’s not so easy when the roles are reversed. I think I begged off in the interest of time, with flour flying all around me. I’m still trying to figure out my answers, which Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur have really helped with. In my relatively brief time as a Jew, I’m still getting used to the idea of having the joyful celebration first and the melancholy repentance second, which is almost exactly opposite to the weeks of abstinence of Lent leading up to the good times of Easter. Color the eggs! Break out the chocolate!

On the afternoon of Yom Kippur, as my husband and I were beginning to feel a little woozy from no food, we went on a bike ride with our 7-year-old. That might sound weird, but we needed a distraction and the park isn’t too far from our house. When we got there we went straight for the pond, where we have spent countless hours feeding ducks and geese. The first ominous sign was a dead duck curled up near the fountain where my son loves to play. Then as we walked along the perimeter we heard an odd flapping sound and looked over to see a male mallard caught in fishing wire that was attached to the stone wall surrounding the pond. The wire bound his beak to his chest and wound around one of his wings, which he kept flapping in vain, turning around and around in a small circle. It was a truly heartbreaking sight. My first thought was to find a knife to cut him free and I ran over to some picnic tables, but the only person who looked likely was a dad barbecuing for his family who was using a gigantic cleaver to cut chicken and clearly not eager to hand it over to me. Meanwhile, my husband called the emergency parks number for a ranger to come out and rescue the bird. We figured it might take a while so we headed home, where my husband found a hockey stick and I grabbed some scissors. We drove back to the park and found two families gathered on the banks near the bird, talking about how to save him. My husband and older daughter hooked the stick under the bird’s belly and pulled him gently to the edge, and then quickly cut the line attaching him to the shore. The bird’s beak lifted up, his wings spread and he took off across the pond, just skimming the surface. The families clapped as the duck joined his buddies on the other side, and then watched as he swam by us again. Then we all noticed the same thing: a small piece of wire remained looped around the duck’s beak. We hadn’t completely freed him. The duck slowly circled the pond, rubbing his beak against stone and reeds. Just then a police car drove up—turns out the ranger wasn’t on call—and talked to us. He said he’d leave a message for the ranger on Monday, and there was nothing he could do. We were impressed the officer showed up at all, and held out some hope that the duck would be able to rub off the wire eventually before it starved. But at the same time we felt disappointed that our best efforts hadn’t been enough to completely liberate the duck. I’m tempted to draw some parallels to starting off the New Year full of hope, trying your best, then realizing along the way that sometimes things just don’t turn out exactly as you want them to. It’s a lesson I learn again and again in a spiral, that all we can do is try our best. We’re definitely going back to the park to try to find our friend, though.

The Days of Sick

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are referred to as the “days of awe” – a time of reflection, atonement, saying you’re sorry to those you may have wronged. The Days of Awe 2011 for our family has officially been re-named the “days of sick”.  Unfortunately our older son was sick and out of school for the past 10 days.  Nothing serious – but he had a long standing fever, horrible cough and a big case of the “I just want to lay on the couch, watch TV and play Wii”.  He got x-rays for pneumonia – nothing, we went to the doctor’s – his exam was perfect.  We went to get blood work – which was a whole other ordeal unto itself – nothing.  Just more Jr. Tylenol and cough-induced sleepless nights for us all.  I just felt so bad for him – no energy, no appetite, no interest in doing anything.  The worst part for my husband and I was that we felt so helpless – we just couldn’t do anything to make him feel better. 

The one bright spot of the week was one night before bedtime.  We usually read our boys a book or two (or three) before bedtime that they get to choose and at this point, our older son can read on his own – he was so proud of himself when he came home from school on library day with two chapter books after he passed the “test” to take them out.   Instead of reading Hooray for Fly Guy or Gus and Grandpa’s Halloween Costume or a book about tornadoes, dinosaurs or baseball, he requested The Only One Club and The Shabbat Box – two adorable PJ Library books that we probably haven’t read in two years but are still in his bookcase.  The Only One Club is a great picture book about a girl who realizes that she is the only Jewish child in her class as her teacher is having all of the kids make Christmas decorations.  She goes home that night and makes a special badge for herself that says “The Only One Club”.  At school the next day everyone asks her what the badge is for and then everyone else wants to be part of the club.  Although she makes the badge because she is the only Jewish child, she figures out that each kid in her class is the “only one” of something – red hair, freckles, big teeth, etc.  It’s a book that is particularly relevant during the December holidays when kids start to figure out who is Jewish and who is not, or remembering my son’s explanation – “who is Christmas and who is Chanukah.” 

The Shabbat Box is a book about a boy who waits “98 sleeps” to take home the Shabbat Box from pre-school and then it drops in the snow on his way home and he ends up making another, even more special Shabbat box for the class.  From our experience at the JCC pre-school, the Shabbat Box includes candles, a fresh challah, grape juice, a blessings sheet and a Shabbat book. Getting the Shabbat Box in pre-school was always fun for us – except on the Friday nights when my husband and I were completely exhausted and couldn’t rally to do Shabbat and instead made French toast on Saturday morning.

I was more than happy to read these sweet, moral-based, Jewish books to my sick son who obviously needed a feel-good book before bedtime that night – too tired and too exhausted to read on his own and more in the mood for a pre-school story than a big boy book.  My husband also read these same books to our son the night before – unbeknownst to me. 

As I look back on these ten days and do my own reflecting, I realize I am so lucky to have a healthy family, an amazing husband who is helping create a Jewish life for our children and a supportive community in which to do so. 

For more information on the PJ Library and how your child/ren can get free, age appropriate, Jewish books and music sent to your home on a monthly basis visit www.pjlibrary.org.  You will be happy you did!

And Now the Real Work Begins

From Tel Aviv to Atlanta: After our goodbyes were said, a few tears, a 12 hour flight and 16 hour unexpected roadtrip down the Eastern seaboard, my husband, baby and I are officially ex-expats.  The move from Israel back to the United States was a little tougher on me physically than I expected.  Sometimes I do forget I have to slow down a bit more than usual as I have hit my final trimester, but we are finally settling in nicely.  With cars purchased, house rented and boxes unpacked, we are now focusing on everything we have to do to prepare for our son.

Besides the usual, like the bi-monthly prenatal appointments, showers, birthing classes and decorating the nursery, we are beginning to research mohels to perform the circumsicion, a rabbi to perform the conversion and local synagogues to find the perfect fit for our growing interfaith family (in the middle of the High Holidays mind you!).  There is a lot to do in the next three months, but I think we’re up for the challenge. 

I have already noticed little differences with being pregnant in the States than in Israel.  Because the birth rate in Israel is higher than in the U.S., I would see pregnant women everywhere and now I feel as if I rarely see another pregnant woman on any given day. In Israel, my OB was very dependent on technology and genetic testing to track the progress of my pregnancy.  I had an ultrasound and a blood or genetic test at nearly every appointment while in Israel, while my new OB in the States will only perform one ultrasound and will rely primarily on tracking my symptoms, weight and growth for the rest of my pregnancy. 

Oh and of course, Americans are far more aware of personal space than Israelis so the belly rubbing and uninvited advice from strangers has slowed quite a bit since moving back.  I have to tell you, I actually kind of miss it!

J-Nesting

My home study is now complete!

A home study is required for all adoptions. Last week, the social worker did the final walk through of my apartment (mind you, this is after a 4 hour interview) to make sure I had enough room for a child (check), indoor plumbing (check) and there are no obvious safety hazards in my home like a wood-chipper in the living room (check). Then the social worker said something incredible: “go forth and buy furniture.”

Until now the baby room has stood completely empty. I thought it would be easier to look at all that open space instead of an empty crib every day. I’m overjoyed to be this close to having a child in my home but….how exactly do I create a Jewish nursery? As someone who chose Judaism as an adult, I’ve never seen one.

I do have a few ideas:

- a framed picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walking with Dr. Martin Luthuer King, Jr.  - it’s never too early to start teaching about tzedukah (justice)

- the aleph betthe sooner he/she starts learning those squiggly letters the better

- lots of Jewish books – obviously

- a large Barney with a kippah (skullcap) – what…no?

Clearly, I need some help so I’m turning to you. (Yes, you who are reading this right now.) What belongs in a Jewish nursery? What should a Jewish child see every morning upon opening her/his eyes?

Please give (comment) generously. All advice accepted and appreciated!

The White Cow

When my kids were small they spent a considerable amount of time looking for the white cow.  The white cow was born out of necessity.  We were in the car, and everyone was getting antsy.  To keep the kids entertained, I told them to look for the white cow.  Searching for the white cow became a pastime for many years, and eventually morphed into a family saying for something you have heard about but have never seen.  I saw a white cow at gymnastics today.

I knew that we lived in a conservative Christian area.  I knew that some conservative Christians are very right wing and have some radical ideas, some bigoted ideas.  I had never knowingly run into one before, and, like the white cow, they were just something I had heard of, but never seen. 

Today in the waiting room at gymnastics, one of the other mothers said that Jews want to kill Christians. 

I am letting that stand alone, because it takes a minute to take that in.  She really said that Jews want to kill Christians.  I was playing Angry Birds and enjoying my hour off, and I sucked all the air out of the room and turned and asked for her to refrain from talking like that because I find it offensive.  I then returned to my game.

Eventually, I got up to see what my daughter was doing and she walked over to me.  I could feel the presence of hatred, and I began to scurry over strollers and other parents to escape.  She began to talk to me about what she had said.  Probably not my best moment, but I labeled her behavior and told her to stop speaking to me, to not even be near me.  I have never been so close to that level of hatred and denial in my life.  During our conversation she told me that “the whole thing with Hitler was a media exaggeration.”

She went on to explain that the Talmud tells us it is ok to kill Christians.  When I asked if she had read the Talmud, she told me no, but she had read interpretations.  She knew that those interpretations were accurate.  At this point I was so overwhelmed by the insanity of what was being said, I wanted to make it end.  I wanted to not be near her. 

The level of her ignorance was frightening.  It made me seriously consider that she might attempt to harm me and my children.  She might try and burn a cross in my yard.  We have taken measures to insure our security.

It was a shocking and hard reminder of the choice that I made for myself and my kids.  I have chosen for them to be raised in a religion that many people hate.  I have chosen to put them in a highly concentrated conservative Christian area.  I have made them targets.

I met my first out-spoken anti-Semite today.  I have felt for the first time the hatred some people feel towards Jews.  I hope I can shield my kids from that, but if I can’t I hope I can teach them to be strong and carry on.