|by Sam Glaser
Many a morning I bask in the sunlight on our front porch surrounded by fragrant jasmine, birds of paradise and bougainvillea. It’s my power spot for the Shachrit prayers. I’m bound up in my tefillin, enveloped in my tallit and connected to the Source of all creation. This sunny spot conceals me just enough from the few passersby on our quiet street but some know to look for me and wave as I shuckle back and forth. Our new neighbors have two adorable kids, the oldest a loquacious, blonde three-year-old with a favorite game. While I daven I can’t help but notice him try, often successfully, to run away from the house and down the street as his nanny panics and bolts after him. Every time he gets a little farther and she freaks out a bit more.
We did the same thing with our dad. We’d stand in front of his comfy leather easy chair and he’d trap us between his knees saying, “run away!” We’d wait for the trap to open and before we could charge out of his grasp he’d grab us with his enormous hands and whisk us right back where we started. Every third or fourth time we’d actually escape, sometimes with too much velocity and crash to the floor. We’d pick ourselves up, stop laughing and try it again.
Of course I performed the same shenanigans with my own precious offspring and when they grew bigger, made an art form out of chasing them around the house. Any Soap Soup fans know well our game of Better Run Away (Before I Grab You) as codified in the song by the same name. The kids know that when I catch them I freeze and count, “five, four, three, two, RUN,” giving them time to escape. As they grew older and could outrun me I devised a corollary to the game called Anger Bottle. I drink most of the water out of a 12 oz. plastic bottle and then huck it at them with all my
might. It has to have just enough water to serve as ballast for a good throw but be empty enough that it scares the pants off them when it strikes the wall just behind where their heads were moments before. I scream insults at them in my best Pirate tongue and we run until we’re too sweaty or until someone gets hurt. Many neighborhood friends come over specifically to have me terrorize them with my handy Arrowhead.
I’m writing this month’s essay about the evolution of this chase because I feel like the rules are shifting once again. Now my kids are running away from home. As far from their parents as they can get. They aren’t quite cutting the cord completely. But the stage is set for their inevitable escape. I left home at seventeen. I was fiercely independent and confident, with a love for the world, people and adventure and blithely left my three brothers and dear parents to deal with the impact of my disappearance from the family dynamic. I was busy with Berklee College of Music, new friends and summer piano jobs in Montana and Greece. I never stopped loving and appreciating my family, but I did so with occasional calls and postcards from the road. My son Max is sixteen. The writing is on the wall.
I remember when it was clear to Shira and me that God did not plan on giving us any more children. I had to make an appointment with my rabbi to share my distressed feelings of leaving the reproductive years behind. I never stopped loving babies and still grab them any time there’s a willing parent. My wife made it clear that the store was closed and I felt like I was just getting started! I have a hunch that this melancholy will not hold a candle to the advent of empty nest. I love the metaphor of the archer…as parents we pull the bow back with all our might and aim it to the best of our ability. Then we launch our beloved offspring on a lofty trajectory and PRAY for a good landing. That sounds nice in theory…but right now I’m desperately holding on to every hike, every trip to the mall, every conversation at Coffee Bean.
My next CD is called Father’s Day. It’s about being a dad, loving my own dad, the passage of time and the bitter sweetness of our lives. Yes, I’m trying to get it out on the market before Father’s Day. I have a line in one of the songs that sums up this new chapter: “I could hold your hand in front of all your friends, then I became an idiot.” Max is hiding more. Creating his own sense of self away from the shadow we cast. Welcoming anywhere from
10-25 friends over every Shabbat afternoon and hinting not to subtly that I find my own friends to play with. He looks so damn handsome and has such a winning smile. But that smile is more often reserved for his peers and if I want a conversation I have to bribe him with an occasional fancy meal or force him on an outing. Even then I don’t have his full attention; I’m trying to teach him that it’s not OK to text while in a conversation with a live human. He tries to comply until an “important” message comes through.
Jesse, my fourteen year old, is affectionate and demonstrative. He’s as easy going as Max is willful. He insists that he is going to be a rich doctor and build us a guesthouse for our retirement on his expansive property. This too will change. In fact, on our way to a recent family friend’s bar mitzvah, Jesse warned my wife and me that we were not allowed to dance. Max chimed in, “don’t even talk.” Thankfully Sarah was willing to party with us while her brothers cowered in shame.
I’m grateful that my kids still beg for bedtime stories. I make them up every night from scratch; fully realized adventures, mysteries, business sagas and tales of spiritual rendezvous. They each give me two random nouns that I must somehow incorporate into the story line. I accept this challenge in order to keep their curiosity piqued throughout the fifteen minutes of drama. I owe them a dollar if I forget their word and I rarely mess up. This past year Max stopped asking for stories and no longer will volunteer words. A few nights ago I caught him underneath his covers with his headphones on during an especially intricate tale. Like I said, the times they are a-changing.
By now you are probably wondering why I am taking you down this lonely road. Of course, there’s a lesson in this and it’s acutely applicable at this time of the year. You see, my friends, we are now entering Adar sheni, the final month in the Jewish calendar. This is the season when we heighten our joy and celebrate Jewish Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Purim. We then launch into the first of the biblically numbered months, Nissan, during which we experience the week of Passover. The Jewish year begins with the commemoration of the Exodus, reliving the plagues, splitting of the sea and revelation at Sinai. Pesach is the holiday of homecoming and rebirth and logically occurs in the springtime. We return to our infancy as a nation when we witnessed nine months of plagues and then were carried like a baby through the dangers of the desert, depending on God’s constant beneficence for our survival.
On the other hand, the megilah or scroll of Esther that we read on Purim is the only book in the canon that does not mention the name of God. And yet God is surreptitiously operating behind the scenes in the formation and then foiling of Haman’s genocidal plot. The word Purim refers to the game of chance that the villain in the saga employs to determine the date of our extinction. This eternal tale leaves the reader with the option of perceiving either chance or the hand of God at each turn of events. So too can we learn to see God’s presence in our own lives, both at times of turmoil and triumph. In other words, when we reach spiritual maturity, when seemingly random events occur we might remark, “large world, well managed,” rather than, “it’s a small world.”
The Jewish year begins with revelation and ends with concealment. Moses is God’s agent in bringing the Shechina down to earth and Esther’s name has the word “to hide” at its root. Jewish history takes us on a journey from vulnerability in the desert to the formation of a people capable of agriculture, Talmudic discourse, defense and technology. We spent an extra thirty-nine years in the desert because we didn’t want to leave the womb. Our lives progress from dependence on our parents (and our Parent in heaven) to independence and as Stephen Covey would insist, ideally to interdependence where we grasp our role in the greater society.
In 1990 my father’s company went bankrupt. This was a serious rupture in our family’s security and this forty-year enterprise was my dad’s raison d’être. It’s highly likely that his four boys would have gone into the business. Instead, I became a full time musician and fell in love with my Judaism, eventually marrying the two in this unusual career of mine. Two of my brothers became popular rabbis and the other brother is now a well-respected lawyer. We don’t have the silver spoon in our mouths anymore and I think that’s a good thing. We’ve had to fight for every last nickel and we’ve learned the value of hard work and perseverance.
In the desert we enjoyed manna from heaven and in Israel we had to perform backbreaking labor to cultivate our crops. Adam was commanded to work and guard the Garden of Eden, not recline in a lounge chair drinking mai-tais. To have any sense of pride and accomplishment, my children must strike it out on their own and wean themselves from the open tap of our generosity. I fully understand the importance and inevitability of this process but I don’t have to like it.
The consolation for parents of teens is that yes, they will move out of our homes but not our lives, and that God willing, grandchildren will follow! Now when I look around my Shabbas table I am poignantly aware that in the ensuing years there will be empty places. This sensation of always being in high demand as they compete for my attention will wane. OK…I’m getting depressed again! I wish I had a freeze frame or at least a slow motion button on the video of my life. Life is so good.
I’d like to offer my loyal readers the blessing that “those that
sow in tears will reap with joy.” Treasure your challenges and strive to see God’s loving hand in every facet of your life. Take your spouse out on a regular date night so that when the house empties out you remember what one another looks like. And in the immortal words of the psalmist, James Taylor, “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel, things are going to work out fine if you only will.”