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Julie Gardner, an intermarried mother of two boys, writes a monthly column about her Jewish journey. Julie lives in San Francisco and was raised without a religious tradition.
The thing about expectations is that things hardly ever turn out the way you expect. Yesterday was Yom Kippur and I had fully intended to make it a day of introspection and self-improvement. Having studied Judaism for the past ten months with my conversion group, I was feeling suitably superior and ready to take on the challenge of redemption. As self-appointed "religious director" for my household, not only had I defined my own expectations, I had (unbeknownst to my husband and kids) decided that they should take on the responsibilities of the day as well.
My spouse was staying home from work in an effort to observe the holiday and my kids were off of school due to Columbus Day. In addition, I had offered to baby-sit the kids who live upstairs so that their parents would not miss a day of work.
My husband and I had agreed to fast, but I had started the day with a five-mile jog and was therefore really hungry. (It was now only 7:00am.) The kids, being young, are not expected to forego food and thus, they woke up expecting breakfast. The smell of pancakes, orange juice and warm maple syrup only added to my hunger.
It was a rainy, inside kind of afternoon and I spent much of it popping popcorn, stirring hot chocolate, baking treats, serving lunch, working on a school assignment with my elder son, and picking up after the four kids' art projects and a housebound husband. Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon when the kids became restless, my husband vanished for a nap. Now, not only was I hungry, I was also angry.
We had foregone services (a huge mistake in retrospect) and the small basement apartment we are temporarily living in while our home is under construction was beginning to close in on me. Plus, have I mentioned that I was really hungry?
By late afternoon the kids were arguing with one another, the rain had continued, everyone was bored or needy, or both, I had snapped at my husband for disappearing, and I was delivering speeches to anyone within earshot that suggested they were "missing the point of the whole day." By early evening, I had worked myself into a pretty good funk.
Spurning my husband's offer for a ride over to his brother's house to break fast, I instead put on my raincoat and walked over alone. "I need some time and space," I said snidely.
It didn't prove to be enough.
"What's wrong?" My mother-in-law asked when she saw my sour face.
"I'M JUST HUNGRY." I almost yelled.
I was hungry, but I suppose, to be honest, I was more disappointed. Disappointed that we had not attended services as a family. Disappointed that the day had not fallen into place as I had envisioned it. Disappointed in my husband and children for being so very human. Disappointed that I had not found more spirituality within myself. Disappointed that I had somehow let my family down.
I had expected us all to be kinder, wiser, more patient, more loving and more thoughtful on Yom Kippur. I had expected it, although I had not delivered it.
The next day I spoke with my sister and vented my disappointment, disillusionment and defeat. At the end of my diatribe, she said simply, "That's the thing about spiritual journeys. Everyone has to follow their own."
She is, of course, right.
Next year, I'm going to skip the jog, skip breakfast, skip the housecleaning, attend services, and work on my own shortcomings. I'm going to be the perfect loving mate, faithful friend, and flawless mother. At least, that's what I expect.