Young Love at Middle Age

I unraveled one of life’s delicious secrets last week. If you want to fall in love with your spouse again, sail away, fly away, drive away. Far away. From the kids. Our offspring, as much as we adore them, are not exactly conduits for romance. Their mere presence makes romance challenging, and that’s before you factor in the herculean job of raising them. And that’s before you factor in all the disagreements (a kind and gentle way of stating it) you have with your partner over the various philosophies of child rearing.          And this is why you have to part ways with them every so often. Make sure wherever you go there is a warm breeze to brush your cheek, and soft sand with a pinkish hue to sink your toes into as you gaze lovingly into the eyes of your beloved and then out to the perfect azure blue of the Caribbean. But if you can’t manage that, then just go.  I suspect you will find it surprisingly easy to remember why it is you married even in a Courtyard by Marriot two towns over.

My husband and I, along with my college roommate and her husband went to the British Virgin Islands for four blissful, child free nights last week to celebrate our fortieth birthday. The reality of our sojourn was that the weather was spotty, the food mediocre and my husband’s snoring was louder than the waves that lapped on the beach. But it didn’t matter. For we were in love, again.  Except for a couple of grey hairs, no one would have been able to distinguish us from the honeymooners.

My actual epiphany came while watching my dear friend and her beloved. I have not seen them regard each other so lovingly since college when their fiery romance began. They held hands on the walk to dinner, and they lay, legs intertwined, on a hammock while she giggled at his jokes. I have to admit even such a simple display of affection was a bit disquieting. We have grown accustomed to their frequent bickering, and outright disdain for one another’s actions. I was not sure what to do with all this love, and then it occurred to me, I felt it too! A whole twenty four hours passed, and then thirty six and then forty eight, and I was completely free of agitation and full of affection for my husband. I felt frantic for a moment when I realized I had absolutely no reason whatsoever to be annoyed at him. I tried, too. I jabbed him for not venturing out of his literary comfort zone to try a book I recommended. But it did not really bother me. I wasn’t even upset that he snored; I just rolled over and thought “oh well, I can sleep past 6 AM, no worries.”

The only thing that punctuated this paradise was our nightly call home to check on the kids. The first night included a report of my toddler, who, disoriented in Grandma’s house woke at 1 AM, and my five year old, who, similarly disoriented retrieved him from his crib. Nothing awful, but doesn’t the little guy know if he doesn’t sleep through the night at the Grandparents’ he won’t be asked back? Maybe that is his devious little plan, but it won’t work for us. Then, our nine year old got on the phone to “say hello” and grunted. Our brief absence was reason enough for her to start her own little cold war.  The solution to this hostility was simple. A quick goodbye and no phone call the next night. We both knew that we would pay dearly for our escape when we returned home, with tween growls and toddler tantrums. So why waste a precious moment of our brief love-reunion on cranky kids? When else do we get the opportunity to “turn off” or hang up on our kids?

If I felt a moment’s guilt (mostly for my poor in-laws, not for my children) it quickly dissipated as I sat at dinner, with wine and candlelight and laughed with my companions as we reverted to our twenty five year old selves and reminisced about our pre-children lives. This trip, I realized was as much for the kids as it was for us. With the children safely 1,000 miles away, it was easy to fall in love with them again, too. 1,000 miles makes meltdowns and whine fests seem almost humorous. We even swapped cute kid stories. By hour forty eight, we even missed them. Not enough to get the next flight back, but enough to look forward to the reunion.

And the reunion was wonderful, for about fifteen minutes. Because it is true, once you are home, you forget in about three minutes that you have ever been away. Housework, homework, jobs and bills hit you like a gale force wind. When you look lovingly into your spouses eyes you see not the person with whom you watched the sun set the night before, but the handyman who was supposed to replace that light bulb before your vacation. So is it worth it, if it is so quickly forgotten? The answer is yes. These brief respites from our daily lives remind us of why we chose these lives- partner kids and all in the first place.  And for the next 361 days, till we leave again, that will just have to do.

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 1:50 pm  Comments (1)  

On the Holiest of Days

Is it considered unholy to have thoughts about harming my son? Haven’t all parents, at one point or another, considered this, if they are being totally honest with themselves? Do these notions become more heinous if the parent happens to be sitting in synagogue on the high holidays ten days before she hopes to be inscribed in the book of life?

These feelings consumed me as I desperately tried to connect with Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. I came prepared too- books, pretzels, and matchbox cars- the trifecta of distractions.  I had visions of my boy playing nicely until it was time to go to his own service and celebrate the New Year kindergarten style. But it was not to be. Jonah refused to stay at his own service, and quickly grew tired of his diversions,  preferring to block our path to righteousness with his incessant whining and allergic sneezes that sprayed unsuspecting neighbors, and dripped puddles onto the floor. My arsenal had not included tissues, a fundamental error. My husband surreptitiously tried to wipe Jonah’s nose with his shirt sleeve, which proved to be too much for the middle aged mothers sitting nearby, whom, despite the fact that their own small children were now grown, had remembered their tissues and quickly offered some to this negligent mother. I can’t help but wonder if the same scene played out in a movie theatre or some other tightly packed venue if people would have been so kind.  Or was it the spirit of the holiday, one of reflection, gratitude and new beginnings that made people feel benevolent, and smile kindly as they rescued me.  One or two even commented on how adorable he was; something that at that moment was unfathomable to his parents. Perhaps my fellow congregants were musing about how their own sons and daughters had grown and no longer needed their laps or their tissues. Maybe, they, like me, had hopes of being inscribed in the book of life and thought better of handing over a look of disgust with a Kleenex.

I would like to think that they had sympathy for me, the frazzled mother who tried unsuccessfully to juggle prayer and parenting in order to salvage this important holiday. I admired their ability to show me kindness, because I did not feel so benevolent. The plastic folding chairs that were packed tightly together for maximum congregational attendance were not meant to be shared by parent and child. I found myself apologizing to the myriad of neighbors around me as Jonah tried to inch back our seat, or lean in one direction to get a view of the Bema, infringing on their already compromised personal space. How was I to repent if I did not even have the room to open up my prayer book? And, as any true Jewish mother would, I worried that my hostility would rub off on Jonah who would grow up to be a self loathing Jew and reject his heritage all together. I tried to quell this fear by rallying myself to lift him up when the Torahs were taken out so he could see the beautiful book that binds his faith. He smiled, but then said a bit too loud, “Mommy I can’t see! This guys head is in the way!”

I have heard more than one Rabbi say that if you want to really know what a synagogue is like, don’t come on the high holidays. I know I could never bring myself to stay home for the high holidays.  Not that I believe myself to be a prophet, but maybe, I was being tested, like God had tested Abraham’s faith, with the sacrifice of Isaac.  Maybe God was testing me to see how well I could restrain myself from harming my first born son. Maybe my presence in Shul was enough to get me in the Almighty’s good graces for the upcoming year. I was, after all, sacrificing my sanity, and if I managed to leave without having caused my child irreparable harm, I would be spared for the upcoming year.

But I left feeling spiritually empty.  Guilty at my impatience, jealous at my fellow synagogue dwellers ability to be so kind to my snot nosed five year old, and angry that I did not get to pray and sing and listen the way I would have liked. Perhaps that is why this season keeps the holidays coming; so we can have multiple opportunities to feel spiritual.  I will try again on Yom Kippur. And then again on Sukkot and Simcha Torah.   I expect I will sense it on Sukkot, when we will, together as a family, with a little more elbow room return to the synagogue and dine under the Sukkah. This, after all is my favorite holiday and maybe my enthusiasm will infect my children. Of course, I will have to make sure there are no flowers in the Sukkah so that Jonah will not start sneezing.

Published in: on October 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)