Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
July 3, 2009
What does it take to make my three grandsons spectacular? That's easy. They're my grandchildren, so there's no other way to define them. Other people's grandchildren may plateau at "wonderful" or maybe even "miraculous," but nothing can measure my unbounded delight at the soccer trophies, good grades and bear hugs I get from Evan, 8; Will, 6; and Jeremy, 17 months. In fact, they were born with the word "spectacular" stamped on their backsides. I have delivery room photos to prove it.
|Margery Rose-Clapp with her grandsons. At far left is Will, age 6; on far right is Evan, age 8 (making a funny face); and Margery is holding Jeremy, 17 months.|
The same boys who, as preschoolers, used to cry or angrily hurl game pieces across the room when they didn't win are now spectacular at sportsmanship. They've learned that they can't always win and they're OK with that. As my daughter put it, "They win gracefully and they lose gracefully."
They live in an interfaith household. My son-in-law is Catholic and my daughter was raised Jewish but has a Protestant father. Judging from the number of times the family has been to temple--zero--and their attendance at a local liberal Catholic church--two to three times a month--I'd say that my grandsons are probably being raised as "unofficial" Catholics, simply because my son-in-law's religion means more to him than my daughter's does to her. I'm not sure how much religion they're absorbing. When I asked Evan how he liked Sunday school, he said, "All we do is sit and color."
A Jewish preschool alumnus, he still remembers holidays and rituals observed there, even though those aren't observed at home. I was pleased when we visited a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop and he bypassed the dinosaurs and selected a menorah to paint. In general, the boys show respect to both religions. They have more to learn, though. While shopping with my daughter before Christmas, Evan spotted a statue of Jesus and asked if it was a lawn gnome.
My daughter mentioned something about scheduling a conference with the priest of the church they attend, to discuss how to handle the interfaith issues. While she knows of my insecurity about the boys losing touch with their Jewish roots, I think the purpose of the meeting is to find out how to give the kids a consistent and meaningful religious belief system. Why drag them to church if they don't know why they're there or why they're learning all that stuff? Perhaps some of the issues they're dealing with are baptism (the boys aren't baptized) and various required rituals like First Holy Communion. My feeling is that since they haven't made a total commitment, they probably aren't sure yet.
I feel sad and disappointed about their decision to take the boys to church, yet I don't know how they'd give Judaism equal time. They've assured me that they have no problem with my taking the boys to temple when they're with me, but they haven't been here during Shabbat or a Jewish holiday for a long time.
Am I OK with it? I don't have a choice! It's not my decision to make and I won't disown my grandsons if they go to St. Mary Madeline every Sunday instead of Temple Shalom on Friday night. My role as a grandma is to love them, enjoy them, help guide them and be there for them. The only gap in my relationship with them is that we worship two different ways, so we can't relate to each other in terms of religion. But they're young and intelligent and my daughter doesn't censor information about Judaism and why she isn't observant. I'd love to hear how they ask her about it, just because they are so funny, perceptive and terrific about everything else.
They love to learn and they relish challenges. Evan and Will are in their school's gifted program and I'm certain that baby Jeremy will be there eventually. For now, he's a spectacular linguist fluent in a language that no one except a mother can understand. I call him, "Jabber the Hutt." Evan, with an uncanny knowledge of how things work, can dump 500 nuts, bolts and rods onto the table and create a sophisticated contraption in an hour, while Will's artistic talents produce a gallery of colorful drawings.
The older boys have a sense of responsibility. It takes self-discipline to stay in and do a project on the history of rubber bands while your friends are playing softball.
Evan is an enterprising salesman, which explains my set of Popsicle molds, silicone cupcake holders and freezer full of overpriced cookie dough purchased for a school fundraiser. He's also spectacularly practical. When hamburgers I was grilling caught fire, he surveyed our soon-to-be-cremated dinner. "What should I do?" I asked frantically, forgetting that he was 6 and not 40.
"Put it out," he suggested. Now that's what I call spectacular advice and "courage under fire."
My grandsons are shrewd. I played Monopoly with them at their insistence. I explained the rules, expecting them to lose interest immediately. Within 20 minutes, Will owned all the railroads and had snapped up half the utility companies.
Both are quick to forgive; independent but still cuddly; tolerant when I forget half the lyrics to their favorite song and creative in the kitchen, even when their cookies are decorated with mystery ingredients of questionable origin.
There's something spectacular about children who think, question, explore, challenge, reason and solve problems like pint-size Einsteins and then go to sleep at night clutching a beloved stuffed animal. When I peek into their room before leaving to drive home, I look at their beautiful little faces in slumber and I'm convinced that they already have lifetime memberships in the "Spectacular" Club. No one could ask for more than that.