May 10, 2010

Domestic Tranquility

Early on in my very complicated pregnancy, I had to withdraw from school and take a leave of absence. This involved sitting down with the head of my program, and having a nice long talk over my ultrasound photos. She offered me a piece of advice that was absolutely true and good, "The best gift you can give your kids is a good relationship with their father."

A little background- it might in fact be true that nobody has a stronger, healthier relationship than me and my husband. I don't know if that was the case when we got engaged, but nineteen hours later I was rushing to the hospital to find him after he had a grand mal seizure during a softball game. It turned out that he had a few tumors, one the size of a golf ball, in his brain. The diagnosis was astrocytoma- a glioblastoma similar to the one that killed Ted Kennedy recently. The prognosis was very bad, but we forged ahead. With a lot of positive thinking, a lot of love, and an amazing medical study, he's basically as good as new. This July we'll be celebrating his doubling his life expectancy at the time of prognosis.

This tends to put a lot of things into perspective. Like, whether or not it's important that the dishes always get cleaned, or how much stress it is to be out of work, or how hard raising babies can be. No matter what life throws at us, we can smile at each other and say, "At least it's not brain cancer."

That said, we are fighting three of the leading causes of divorce at the moment. The first, we're both out of work. I'm still freelancing but hell- I'm a full time mom these days. And he's still looking, but his field was hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, and when the going gets tough the tough go to grad school. So he's going to be starting a master's program in the fall.

The second is that we have very different diets. I'm a life-long vegetarian (thanks Mom and Dad!), and he's a meat-and-potatoes Minnesotan. You'd be surprised how important comfort foods are to a feeling of security in your own home, and if my comfort food is saag paneer and his is meatloaf, you can see how we might have a problem.

The last is religion. I'm a Conservative Jew, and he's a Lutheran.

This is remarkably rarely an issue of contention, even when deciding how to raise our kids. The biggest religion-related fights we've ever had are about whether or not Christmas is a secular holiday. I maintain that it's absolutely not, which he says that all religious meaning has been removed and it has been completely secularized. We've pretty much agreed to disagree, although it's still a sore spot, but the girls are going to be celebrating it regardless.

On our recent trip to visit his family, his grandfather the pastor baptized the babies. If they'd been boys they'd have had a bris, but I don't really buy into the "naming ceremony" Jews have for welcoming babies into the world. It's a pretty recent invention, and I just don't get it.

My husband (M) and I are concerned that by baptizing we may give the wrong impression to our families. We don't want anyone thinking that this is some sort of final choice on the girls' upbringings. It's just one element of half of their religious education. As for the bulk of their religious education, we've decided to send the girls to Hebrew school and not Sunday school. It's my hope that they will want to become Bat Mitzvah, but it's going to be up to them what religious choices they want to make in their lives. Living in America and attending public school, they'll learn all about Christianity no matter what. Their Jewish education won't come so easy. No need to push them to spend their entire weekend in parochial classrooms, Hebrew school and an American education should do it.

That said, the baptism was remarkable difficult for me. Not because of watching the babies get Jesus-ed, that was fine, it was more the sudden feeling of being outnumbered by my Christian family members and their desire for my children to grow up and follow their religion. It's made me think a lot about how M will feel when at the end of the month we're in New York for my cousin's Bar Mitzvah. Surrounded by my family, will he feel just as second guessed and pressured, despite not a word being uttered? Probably. And then we'll look at each other, and that silent mantra will fly through both of our heads again. "At least it's not brain cancer."

So I've done it. I've outed myself as a Jew with baptized children. But that doesn't stop me from singing them Hebrew lullabies, it doesn't stop me from putting them in a four questions onesie, and it doesn't hurt any of us. At the hardest, it just teaches both of us to ask better questions, to respect each other's beliefs, and to remember that our children are people. They will make their own choices someday.


  1. I really love and respect how open and honest you've been about your differences and struggles. And I really enjoy reading this blog

  2. I have a quasi-similar dilemma, have two "spiritual but not religious" parents trying to explain "higher power" to their child without church or temple. Should we even bother?

  3. I think so.
    My husband and I agree on the basic message we want to teach- that most people, mommy and daddy included, believe that there's something out there that's bigger than people. Some people believe it's God, and some people believe it's nature, and some people believe it's karma and fate. But what's most important is what YOU believe, and that you respect other people's beliefs and choices as well.

    My father is essentially an athiest, and I remember as a child asking him those big questions. I would get a twenty minute lecture on what different faiths believe, and leave without having my questions answered. But the fact is that there is no real answer, and that's what religions are for. To provide people with the faith that there IS an answer- whether or not they understand it. Teach your kids what you can agree upon, but more importantly teach your kids that it's their job as a spiritual person to find those answers for themselves. Once they grow up a little more.



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