For several years I wrote for an online newspaper and was a National Parenting Columnist. I wrote about running away from home, little boys who bang their heads, pre-teen hormones, getting fit with kids. I also wrote about breast cancer, pregnancy in your 40’s, and, very sadly, about pregnancy loss and postpartum depression.
The newspaper is now defunct and I spend many restless nights trying to recover the articles I posted that, for some reason, I never saved to my computer. Another saga for another day. How I wish it was still in existence to write about the unexpected hit of “empty-nesting,” specifically around the holidays.
This past week we celebrated the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, The Jewish New Year. Celebrating the holidays has always been a big production for me. Tables filled with friends, and friends that have become family since we live so far from our own. Copious amounts of food because I am always certain there won’t be enough so I have to add just *one* more dish. Husband’s note: There is always WAY too much food. I live for the goofy family traditions and songs that I’ve passed down to my children and I hope one day, far into the future, that they will giggle their way through with their own children. In short, loads and loads of back breaking work for the joy of knowing that I am sharing with my children what I find to be most beautiful about our holidays and traditions.
This year, in short, sucked. I’ve worked really hard to teach my children to be independent, to try new things, to be resilient and to take on the world. And, wouldn’t you know it, the lessons stuck. This year my son is in his second year at boarding school where he goes, he will tell you, because he believes it will give him the best chance for the future he wants after struggling in k-8. He’s doing really well. Also this year, my daughter, who has been dreaming about France since she was a little girl obsessed with the Madeline stories, (read it again mommy, again, again…), found a path to study abroad in France for the entire school year. I am so proud of them both and in no way was prepared for the blanket of blue that has wrapped around me since they both left in August.
For Rosh Hashana I lead a family service in Boulder. I love that I get the chance to do this to a packed room of visiting grandparents with their little ones, and parents with young children who don’t ordinarily attend synagogue services, all packed in. I always do discussions at the beginning of the service for the young people to connect with their accompanying adult and as we break off into conversation I look forward to what my kids, much older than the kids in attendance, will have to say. This year we also said the blessing over children with families wrapping their children in their prayer shawls or resting their hands on the top of their children’s heads.
We invoke the names of our ancestors Ephraim and Menashe and our foremothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah and then we pray:
May G-d bless you and watch over you.
May G-d shine his face toward you and show you favor.
May G-d be favorably disposed toward you,
And may he grant you peace.
It is a beautiful practice that happens in many families at the Friday night dinner. The gentle connection, the earnest prayer. It is powerful to witness a room full of love and devotion. And I was heartbroken. This is the first year that I have not at least had my daughter with me. My son doesn’t always come but my daughter does. She helps me set-up. She helps me engage kids who may be off on the sides. She participates whole heartedly and then on the way home she tells me about her favorite parts and tells me she’s proud of me.
On my way to services this year, after a quiet New Year’s dinner of apple, honey, challah, and soup, I sobbed. Loudly. That ugly cry we really try to keep inside. I am not sad that my children are independent or even that they are off on adventures that will surely add value to their life and to the adult humans they are becoming. I am sad because I know that once I left my parent’s home I never went back. With very few rare exceptions, once I was out I was out.
As I pulled into the synagogue I took out my phone, not necessarily an action that is in the spirit of the holiday. I wanted to give a prayer to my children and I knew if I sent it to them via WhatsApp/text they would see it. With tears streaming down my eyes I typed the prayer in hebrew, I’m certain with spelling errors, so that when they would see it they would know that I loved them and was holding them near my heart.
I entered the space set-up for the family service and took a deep breath. As the kids with their sparkly shoes, frilly dresses, tiny suits, and wonderful faces started to fill the space we began to sing as a congregation together. I longed for the days when mine were smaller too and am filled with gratitude that they were exposed to community in such a deep and meaningful way that I pray carries them through life whether I get to spend another holiday with them again or not.
As the day came to an end I sent another message, dear children, wherever you go in life, whatever adventures you take on, may we make every effort to be together on the holidays to laugh, to sing, to pray, to eat, and may we all be inscribed for a Happy and Sweet New Year.