A Christmas Tree is always a Christmas Tree, If You Want It To Be

So I just read the post from Benjamin Maron about “When is a Christmas Tree Just a Christmas Tree?” I can say that I totally relate to this. My daughters are being raised Jewish and their father/my husband, Alex, is Catholic and yes, we do have the Christmas tree and stockings and decorations. We don’t go to Christmas Mass though (or any mass really except if it’s for a family event on Alex’s side) and we don’t tell the Christmas story. We do have Christmas dinner with my husband’s family and there have been times my Jewish family has joined in as my daughter Kaitlyn’s birthday is Christmas Eve and my family rightfully wants to see her. We also do Chanukah, visit with my family, have latkes, play dreidel, watch the Maccabeats on You Tube (and we are seeing them in concert during Chanukah this year, how cool is that?) and listen to Adam Sandler’s Chanukah songs(although the first version is the best!).

My daughters identify as Jewish and respecting their dad’s and his family’s religion is not going to make them any less Jewish. My older daughter last December actually announced it in the middle of class. Her teacher had given out a work sheet to play a game to fill in the missing letters of Christmas carols and my daughter got up and said “Mr. Galvin, I don’t know this because I am JEWISH.” She then had me come in to her class that spring and do a lesson on Passover so her friends would understand her holidays. Celebrating another religion’s holiday doesn’t make you less; it makes you bigger than the sum of your parts. I am so proud of my girls and how they understand that what they are is not necessarily the same as everyone else and that that’s ok.

Do your children understand the differences and how do you explain it to them? I am still working on my five year old Megan understanding that men and women can be Jewish since she thinks that because her dad is Catholic all men must be Catholic and since mom is Jewish that all women must be Jewish.

Here we go again

It is that time of year again.  The leaves haven’t fallen off the trees.   Halloween pumpkins are still un-carved.  Thanksgiving seems like a million years away.  But the conversation about Christmas has already started.  Like the ornaments and holiday music in the stores, it seems that I start the conversation about December, earlier and earlier with my kid’s public school teachers.

In October, our temple does a program for teachers about religious sensitivity.  They talk about how Christmas-themed everything is sort of insensitive to kids that aren’t Christian.  That kids that aren’t Christian have to suck it up every year because it is being done in a fun festive spirit.   I send the letter out to the kids’ teachers and say, hey, if you want to go to this you not only get continuing education credits, but I will pay for it.  (It is only $10 so it isn’t like I am breaking the bank, but I want to leave no stone unturned.)

Usually, I get no response.  This year, my letter seemed to trigger something in one of my son’s teachers.  She emailed me and told me about a project that they do every year.  The parents send in $5 and the kids make Christmas trees out of foam and fabric.  I remember this from when my older son was in 4th grade.  What they end up with is cute, BUT, you cannot imagine how irritating it is to have my money go towards something that is religiously insensitive.

I understand the Supreme Court ruling that states that Christmas Trees are secular.  I understand that technically what they are doing isn’t illegal.  But, logically it is nonsensical to make a Jewish kid give his parents a Christmas Tree for Hanukah.  What about the Muslim kids?  Yes, my kids have an out, they can always give it to Grandma.  But somewhere, deep in my heart, it bothers me.  Why do we have to do this?  I can think of about eleventy billion other projects that the kids could do that are cute, easy and NOT a Christmas Tree.  Heck, I just saw a very cute snowman doorstop made out of a key shaped paver.

So, I haven’t even bought Halloween candy yet, and already I am having the conversation about Christmas with my kid’s teachers.  I used to get fired up about it.  Stand solidly on my soap box and denounce all the religion in the schools.  But, I have gotten exactly nowhere with that.  I guess I am tired of trying.  Or maybe this year I am taking the chicken exit, but we are just not going to go to school for a week and I have asked all the teachers to hold off on the Christmas stuff till we skedaddle out of town.

There are many reasons why we are leaving town when we are leaving town, and the stuff at school isn’t the driving force, but I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I am relieved to not have to worry about it this year.  (Something in my head says that those are famous last words and that Christmas is still going to rear its ugly head, but hopefully I will be on the beach by the time it happens.)

Thinking of Passover

With Purim now done, we look forward to pushing the clocks an hour ahead, spring and Passover (cleaning). 

What do you do for Passover to prepare?  Is there a massive clean up?  Do you plan a special menu or stick with tradition? 

I enjoy our Seders, which has been just my husband and myself.  We always have additional readings and talk about various themes of Passover (like freedom).  When we are elsewhere, people always want to zip through the Haggadah and get it all over with.  I guess since I’ve only been doing this with my husband for the last 3 years, it is still so novel and fun to me, and with all the preparation, I want to enjoy the Seder

I am looking forward to hearing my son ask the four questions, and adding games and activities that will whet his appetite for Seders. 

Merging the Jewish with the Non

I was discussing my son’s Brit Milah (Bris, circumcusion) with my spiritual advisor/mentor.  I was recalling my best friend asking about whether my in-laws, my son’s non-Jewish grandfather, aunts and uncles, would be coming to the ceremony.  She asked whether they understood the importance of the ceremony.  The answers to both questions were “no.” 

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to come.  I didn’t think they would understand.  I wondered if they considered it mutilation.  I wondered if it would start an argument. 

My husband was changing our son’s diaper one morning when my father-in-law came to visit.  It was probably the first time my father in-law saw a circumcised boy.  He asked in his Italian accent, “Are you sure they didn’t take off too much?” 

The question seems funny enough, but already it seems obvious: my son doesn’t look normal in his eyes. 

My husband, who isn’t circumcised, defended our son valiantly.  “No Dad, he’s perfect and the circumcision was done properly.” 

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

On how to stop time

Fifteen years ago, when I smashed the glass at my wedding, signaling my signing up to raise my kids as Jews and create Jewish household, I dismissed a bar/bat mitzvah as a possibility.  It was something that would never, ever, ever happen.  I recognize that shows a complete lack of respect for the time/space continuum, but when thoughts of this celebration would enter my head it set off a panic attack.  Denial seemed like a good way to go.

Saturday, we went to our first bat mitzvah.  It was the very first coming of age celebration I had ever been to, in my entire life.   I went with my oldest son, Mac, who will be 13 in 2 years.  In November, we will get the date for his bar mitzvah.  The day that I said would never come is now bearing down on us with all the intensity of a hurricane.

Upon entering we were given a program that listed all the people participating.  When I saw the list, my heart began to beat a bit faster.  Oh no, I have to find friends and family who can read Hebrew to participate.  Where in the world am I going to come up with 7 people to do the aliyot?  These Special Seven have to be able to recite the aliyot in Hebrew, so that rules out… umm… most everyone we know.  Will I be able to find 7 adults that are able and willing to participate?

But, even more daunting than the service is the party that follows.  To listen to the other mothers talk about addressing 180 invitations, planning brunches and dinners for out of town guests, interviewing DJ’s, worrying about center-pieces, sends me running for my happy place.  Not even mentioning the expense associated with this type of event.  Words like mini-wedding make my stomach turn. 

The party we attended was lovely.  They did a very nice job.  It was tasteful, not over the top, the kids had fun and it was a really great party (I took copious notes).  What did my kid do?  Walk out.  It was too stimulating for him.  Not only do I have my own fears about planning and paying for this type of event, I am also beside myself about how he is going to handle it.  He has yet to have a birthday party that didn’t involve at least one tantrum.

As we were leaving, I asked him, do you want a party like that?  “NO! I want to go on a trip, just like Dad did,” was his response.  I let out a small sigh of relief, you might have heard it.  It seems I might be able to avoid the whole “big party” part with Mac, but there will still be out of town guests to entertain and other things to worry about.  Also, Mac is the last one in his class to have a bar mitzvah.  As he goes to more and more of these events, he may change his mind.  I guess we have two years to watch it unfold.

My baby is not a baby, or toddler, or preschooler, or elementary school kid anymore, he is almost a man in the eyes of Jewish law.  The time/space continuum did its thing and now I have to deal with the one thing that I feared the most when I made the decision to raise my children as Jews.  I have procrastinated and now I only have two years to figure out how to stop time.

Introducing Hannah

Shalom!

I am another one of the fab parenting bloggers.  I am actually a parent in waiting… due in 3 days!  (Will baby be on time? That’s a different story.)

I am Jewish and grew up mostly culturally Jewish.  We had three sets of dishes in the house, milk, meat and treif.  We went to my grandparents’ for Shabbos (by car) and the synagogue was reserved for High Holidays. 

My husband is not Jewish.  He grew up… well, kind of non-denominational.  Technically Catholic, his parents forced Sunday school on him in his early years but then they weren’t committed to any religion. 

After much research and discussion, my husband and I have decided to raise our little guy as a Jew.  Add to this journey, that I have been growing more observant, in that I have been actually keeping Shabbat (no driving, no electricity).  My husband has agreed to follow suit once the little one is here (to avoid confusion).

How will this all work out?  Don’t know.  But I do have a lot of questions! 

P.S.  You can read some of my articles describing my spiritual journey on InterfaithFamily.com

Introducing Julie

Well, hello! I wanted to take a couple quick minutes to introduce myself as one of the Parenting bloggers. First, I suppose, I should cover the basics. I’m a non-Jew (Christian, United Methodist) married to a Jewish man (Bryan). We actually blogged here together on the Weddings blog a few years ago. We have three boys; for now I’ll call them Bubba, Bear, and Baby. (English major nerd alert; I like alliteration.)

Here’s where it gets complicated… Baby is Jewish, Bubba and Bear are not. How is this, you ask? Well, Bubba and Bear are my stepsons. (Believe me, I’d love to claim them fully as my own because they are truly that wonderful!) Their mother is not Jewish, and she and Bryan decided that they would expose the boys to both religions and let them decide when they were old enough. How we came to the decision (okay, really, how I came to the decision, and yes, it really was my decision) for Baby to be Jewish really could be a post by itself; in fact, I think it will be!

To make our lives even more fun, we have a large extended family. My side is Christian: United Methodist and Catholic. Bryan’s parents are divorced and both remarried. His dad’s side is Jewish (his step-mom converted from United Methodist before she and my FIL married). His mom converted to Judaism before marrying my FIL, but was then re-baptized before she married Bryan’s step-dad. Did you follow all that? And that’s the “simplified” version.

So, you can see I have LOTS of interfaith learning experiences coming my way. In fact, I imagine I’ll gain more wisdom from my Parenting co-bloggers (is that a word?) and our readers than I impart. I hope to at least make it an even trade. So, with that, what’s on your mind?