Today was my 35th wedding anniversary. My husband is upstairs in bed, sleeping the deep sleep of a body stricken with the flu. Downstairs, my daughter’s newborn son is sleeping peacefully. His toddler brother is busy destroying something in the living room, and his mother is trying to rest so she will have the strength to deal with them both when she goes home. My daughter the kallah is talking on the phone with her choson about their upcoming wedding. My teenage son comes home from Yeshiva ready to order the new basketball shoes that he ‘must’ have for the once a week gym class that gives him a chance to run off all his pent up teenage emotions. Three other married children are off in their own homes dealing with their own personal lives. I wander around bemusedly. Six children, six personalities – did they have six different mothers? For some I was there all the time, nurturing, teaching and interacting. For others I was there most of the time. For one, I seemed to be there almost none of the time. I don’t know if they suffered, but I certainly did on some level.
Thirty five years seems like such a long time and yet it is gone in the blink of an eye.
When my husband asked me to marry him he told me he was committed to living his life as a teacher of Torah. He explained that he would not make much money, but it was his life’s passion. Nothing has changed about that – he is still passionate about his work, and still works many jobs to make a living in Jewish education. I look at his old pictures and essentially see the same person – perhaps with a bit more weight, and a lot of gray in his hair and beard. He is happy each day as he goes off to teach Torah to his third graders. I wonder, looking at pictures of myself, how much has changed beyond hairstyle, glasses, waistline and hair color. Am I still passionate about things that seemed so important to me 35 years ago?
When I was growing up in the 1960’s, most girls were still dreaming about getting married, and being mothers. We played ‘house’ with our friends and, as an offshoot, we would play ‘school’ where some of us got to be the teacher, and others the students. We enjoyed the freedoms of riding our two wheelers in the street, and ultimately learning to drive with the freedom of motion that it entailed. When we were finishing high school, college was a necessary evil to complete on the way to success. Women tended to go into the ‘helping professions’ and social work seemed the right path for me to take to fulfill this dream.
I was coming of age in the time of feminism – women could have it all – family, job and time for self. I got married, went to college, went to graduate school, had children and elected to leave the workforce to raise my children. Facing infertility in the first five years of our marriage made me realize that the dream of being a mother far outweighed the dream of helping others, and once given the precious gift of a child (and Boruch Hashem ultimately many more), I lived my dream for almost fifteen years before having to go back to work. In retrospect, I see how lucky I was. I liked being home; I did not need the outside world to give my life meaning and identity.
I found ways to augment the family income from home but adamantly refused to take a job outside the home. I was passionate that no babysitter would watch my child’s first steps or hear his first words. It worked for 15 years and then financial reality came crashing down. A job was offered – I insisted on part time so I could still be home much of the day. The years went by, the job hours increased until I found myself working full time, mothering full time, housekeeping full time. No matter what ‘they’ say – you really can’t have it all. If you don’t take time for yourself (and how could I with so many balls to keep balancing up in the air?), you find yourself giving to everyone and getting very little back in return. Getting things done was never the problem – I must have been an efficiency expert in some other life, since I had no household help, and still all the laundry was washed, folded and ironed (yes, I ironed!), the food was made and shabbos came with no screaming, yelling or rushing to the finish line. My children grew up, made life choices, and basically came out of the family cocoon pretty intact. Those who grew up with me home all the time like to joke with their younger siblings about the changes in meals (more ready-made, no home baked challah anymore) and attitudes (bedtime got later and later for those farther down), but I don’t think any of them felt they missed my attentions, even though I sometimes felt I did not give them my all.
Sometimes our childhood dreams are just dreams, and as we grow and mature we find that our passions are what we need to follow. I am still passionate about a mother’s need to be home with her children if at all possible, and I don’t think I would change the choices I made when my children were young. I can not change the past so I look to the future.
The phone rings. My desk is covered in papers, I am immersed in trying to reconcile a difficult bank statement, and one more interruption is NOT what I need. Reluctantly, I answer the phone. “Hi Bubbie “– my heart melts – my face turns up in a smile – it is my not-quite –two year old grandson, calling to wish me a nice day. What is it about being a bubbie that changes your life?
Thirty five years seems to have passed in the blink of an eye.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.