I have an audience. Well, I’ve had an audience for the past 5 or so years but I usually don’t notice them, until they play back my performances for me; the highlights and the lowlights. I see myself in the way they get impatient over silly things, or boss each other around. I see myself also in the way they have a large vocabulary and make silly faces and sing what they want to say. (Yes, I often sing instead of talk, they think it’s hilarious, and it helps me to not yell everything I say.)
The Genius Husband is out of town for several days for work. So this Shabbat was a potentially lonely affair as Beema’s house was not an option either. I am committed to making this time special for my children, and so I baked the Challah bread, and cookies, and chicken cordon bleu. I promised them that we could go swimming once the bread was baked and the chicken was in the oven. When we came in from the pool and dressed for dinner I let the Girl put on her dry clean only princess dress. (I made a pinafore to cover it two weeks ago so she can wear it more often, from an old sheet, without a pattern, and it’s pretty. I’m kind of impressed with myself since I don’t sew that often.) The Boy asked my advice on what to wear that would be appropriate and so I felt an event coming on and seized the moment. I pulled out a black lace cocktail dress from my closet, lined, pleased that it only showed a bit of a tummy pooch and that that disappeared when I stood up straight and sucked in. I put my hair up, I wore my pearls. (It’s too bad the GH wasn’t here because when I passed by a mirror while getting people into bed I noticed that with my tan and this dress I could almost pass for one of those really well preserved Italian women that I admire all the time. Except for fabulous legs of course.)
We approached the Shabbat table, carefully dressed, combed and much less haphazard than is usual. I began to get a true sense of home as temple which sometimes eludes me. While we were singing the blessing I closed my eyes briefly, when I opened them I saw the Boy with his eyes closed in that way that children do when they want to still see what’s going on. Then the Girl echoed my every word as I prayed, learning by imitation how to be me; how to mother and teach and lead her family through a spiritual practice. It suddenly hit me full force that I am their image of what a woman is, they will carry who I am with them for the rest of their life and it will color everything. I hope it’s not too late to reverse some things, to change that image for a better one. I hope I become a good role model in time for it to help them.
It may be because I have been reflecting this week on how I feel as though I am playing catch up in some areas of my domestic life and thinking that those are also the places where my mother was behind, like discretion, gratitude, keeping a house clean, and joyful diligent service, thing my grandmother tried to teach me but unfortunately at that time I had no desire to learn. (I love my mom a lot and I don’t mean to be critical, I’m just obsessively analytical about things.) I tend to procrastinate, and I’ve caught myself teaching the Boy to be a procrastinator telling him to leave something that he’s doing until later because it’s more convenient for me. Suddenly I’m remembering my mom doing the same thing, and helping me through the crunch times just before a deadline, instead of helping me to do things as soon as they needed to be done. Both my parents were horrible procrastinators.
I know that I didn’t learn to be kind to my husband from her, all I remember is fighting and resentment and divorce. I wish I had learned to be a good wife from her, but it isn’t something she could teach me when I was younger though I know she wished she could. And I don’t remember her looking nice. I remember her braless in man shirts with bare legs, I remember her putting her makeup on in the car on the way to church, I remember her being self conscious and fidgety and uncomfortable and rushed but I don’t remember what she looked like when she dressed up. I want my children to remember me as pretty, lovely, gentle, soft-spoken, kind. I want them to remember that I love their father, not that I was angry at him last weekend for packing work tools and lumber into the car with little kids in order to save trips. I want to give them the gift of home, I want my son to think I’m the standard by which he should find a wife.
I am so far away from that right now.
All of this flooded into my brain in between lighting the candles and serving dinner. With a new awareness I saw my children watching me as I ate, imitating the way I held my wine glass, and echoing my words. I found myself sitting up straighter, smiling at them more, and doing my best to be a good example. More that table manners though I hope I can show them what kindness, joy, and gratitude look like.
Things I did learn from my mother include; how to cook, how to read, how to figure out how to do something by myself, how to stick up for myself, how to stick up for other people, how take care of people, how to teach, how to be a creative problem solver, and how to pray.