A short time to imprint Jewish memories

Last week, I was on a conference call and before the meeting started, someone inquired how everybody’s Sukkot was going. One caller in Ohio said his family was wearing jackets in the sukkah, as it was 55 degrees, and another in New Jersey said they were having a soggy Sukkot. Meanwhile, our Sukkot in the Valley started out with triple-digit temperatures, with some sukkah-dwellers using ceiling fans under the schach.

This conversation led me to think about how our memories are formed by our experiences. As long as we live in Phoenix, our children will likely not form memories of being bundled up in a warm jacket inside a sukkah or lighting their menorah at home during a blizzard.

As we concluded the recent month of holidays, it occurred to me that much of my effort in celebrating the holidays lately is not for me personally – I vaguely recall attending classes or reading in preparation for a holiday, but that hasn’t been the case in years – but instead to imprint memories of the holidays on my children.

These imprints included the taste of apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, wearing white and blowing a shofar on Yom Kippur, building a sukkah with their dad, and then eating meals inside it and dancing with a Torah (although I think they were too busy running around to actually notice the latter).  At other times of the year, it’s the crunch of the matzah and the “No, no, no, I will not let them go” chant of Passover and the costumes, groggers and treats of Purim.

It’s unknown what moments will make an imprint and what kind of impact they will make. Will my dragging my kids into the sanctuary during Yom Kippur so they can hear the shofar in a room filled with worshippers dressed in white bring back memories of boredom or will they instead fondly remember standing on the bimah with other children with their glow sticks and shofars during Havdalah at the end of the holiday?

When I think back to my early Jewish memories, I’m not sure they are what my parents intended. I remember being shushed by grown-ups during Shabbat services and visiting the bathroom often so I could hang out with my friends there. I remember the oneg afterward, which was considered successful if I could get a good piece of the inside of the challah. I remember trying to hide a book under my desk during Hebrew school so I could read during class. And then there was the time my dad wanted to record our Passover seder on audiotape and my sister and I kept making jokes and cracking up throughout the recording. My time at Jewish summer camp and youth group retreats take up a lot of space in my Jewish memories.

When we first started taking our kids to the family High Holiday service at our synagogue years ago, they didn’t pay too much attention to the prayers or the songs – they preferred to crawl around on the floor with their friends. I watched some of the other children – mainly girls – sit nicely and listen to the story and clap their hands to the songs and felt embarrassed that my kids were being so disruptive. I didn’t even bother taking them into the main sanctuary afterward, instead putting them in baby-sitting while I headed into the grown-up service.

But this year, things were a little different. My oldest boys, who are now in second and third grade, wanted to help lead the family service. They stood in front of the room, did some of the reading and handed out the plush Torahs to the younger children. My youngest son, now in kindergarten, even sat on my husband’s lap on the floor to listen to almost the whole book read by one of the teachers.

Thinking back to previous years and reflecting on how quickly they flew by, I realized that we have such a limited time to share these moments with our children. And although we have no control over what imprints they will carry into adulthood, we can only try to provide them with experiences that may endure.

This article first appeared on the Phoenix Jewish News blog, JN Blog, on Oct. 7, 2015.

Finding balance

One Friday in August, I conducted two interviews for an article I was working on. I had planned to make one more call on Monday before writing the story. But a few hours later, my water broke – more than a month before my due date – and by Monday morning, I was a mom.

My original plan was to work up to the week before that much-anticipated due date, then take a few days off to finish any last-minute preparations. Meanwhile, during the weeks preceding our baby’s debut, my husband and I would set up the nursery, meet with a doula about a birth plan – to learn those breathing exercises – and maybe even get away for a weekend in Northern Arizona.

Yeah, right.

Now I know that it was one of my first lessons of motherhood – making plans is nice in theory, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

In one weekend, the focus of my weekdays changed from copyediting and proofreading to breastfeeding and diapering. Instead of the “AP Stylebook,” I consulted “What to Expect the First Year.”

The decision to have a child is one of the most important, life-changing decisions you can ever make. But what makes this different is that it doesn’t only affect your own life but also your husband’s and a little person whose very existence you’re responsible for.

After the pregnancy test results show that plus sign, the decision-making begins: What foods should I eat? Am I getting all the necessary nutrients? Do I eat fish because it’s supposed to help strong brain development or do I avoid it because of mercury content? Do we find out if it’s a boy or a girl beforehand? What should we name the baby?

And after the baby is born, there are countless decisions that you as parents have to make: When should we introduce him to the bottle? Will crying himself to sleep scar him from developing intimate relationships? And the really big one – should one of the parents step out of the workforce to stay at home with the baby?

In my third month of maternity leave, I opted to ease back into the work world by devoting 10 hours a week to work from home. My first interview started off well – the baby was sleeping and I felt focused. A few minutes after the interview began, my son started screaming, and I tried to soothe him with one hand while typing with the other, balancing the phone between my ear and chin. Fortunately the woman on the other end was also a mother with a young child and was very understanding.

During a second interview, not only did the baby wake up, but this time the dogs joined in, barking and romping in the hallway. Not the ideal working environment.

On my maternity leave, one of the books I read – in scattered moments when I had a chance – was “Mommy Wars,” a book of essays by 26 women, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The women, who were successful in their chosen professions, told stories of their own decision to either continue to work outside the home or stay at home with their children.

Some who returned to work felt guilty for leaving their baby each morning, while others felt it contributed to their sanity as a mother and set a good example for their children. Many who stayed at home missed their career but felt that their role at home was more important. Others were able to do a little of both; for example, working at home or shortening their hours to part time.

I’m attempting to find my own balance on this issue. I’m fortunate to have an employer who is extremely accommodating – I’m able to do some work from home and bring my son with me to work the rest of the week. My co-workers have been wonderful, volunteering to hold him while I run to the restroom or being patient when my attention is diverted.

Sometimes the dual role of parent and employee can be challenging, and my husband and I are planning to send our son to daycare twice a week soon, but I’m not ready for any more hours away from him yet.

I’m not sure how this will all work out once the little guy learns to crawl. But for now I treasure being able to continue a job I enjoy while being fortunate enough to get regular doses of smiles and laughter from my son throughout the day as I do so. Sure, there’s a dirty diaper to change every few hours, but it’s all worth it.

This article first appeared in the Feb. 2, 2007 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.