Note: First: I am aware that this is not truly and Ode. I’ve used that title three times now, and all three have not been formal Odes. Whatever. Second: If you don’t know a lot about Judaism, there are some links in here worth clicking. Finally: My daughter, Principessa (not her real name, duh), has forbidden me from using her pictures. I’ve honored that, until now. I am putting her little girl pictures in my blog. I have even slipped a few older girl ones in too… I have tried to pick ones that don’t really show her. But, I needed to write this one… it’s been brewing for months. I’m posting this on Shabbat, so that at least she can’t get annoyed until Sunday. She’ll get over it. We all do.
little girl called me a half dozen times: to share frustrations about school, to tell me that things don’t always go the way she thinks they should, despite her efforts; to tell me that she’s excited about graduation… The phone rang over and over, and each time she said “Hi mummy! It’s me again…” I feigned frustration with the interruptions, but I smiled all day. I had this beautiful glimpse of my girl, before we were interrupted. Interrupted by life, changes, the fact that she ignored all of her five year old promises to me, and grew up anyway. What made the day especially poignant, and made every sappy song (hadn’t heard this Nickle Creek song before; it’s now on replay) on the radio sound like it was about her, and me, and us… and thus make me tear up… like a foool… was that it’s been a long time since she called me like that, let alone six times in one day. This is my Ode to (my) Girl Interrupted.
Principessa will be 22 years old next week, two days after our 25th anniversary. She graduates from Mt. Holyoke College, back east, in May. Mt. Holyoke is considered a “Women’s Ivy League,” as if there should be separate ones. It’s an amazing college , where Principessa has truly found wings and soared. A few weeks ago, as we drove her to SEATAC, after winter break, she said to Smart Guy and me: “You know, this is a very meaningful drive.” Um, well, yes… we are staying up way past our bedtime; there will be no kids in the car on the way back, and I can snooze. That’s what I thought. “Ok, why?” I asked. “Well, this is the last time you guys will drive me to the airport, to go back to school. The next time I see you, I will be graduating… and going out into the world, for real.” The fact that she just spent an entire year in Israel, touring much of the Middle East on her own, or with people that we didn’t know, entering Gaza, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, going to Paris for winter break… I had, frankly, considered that pretty much out in the world for real. The fact that she spent three full months in Africa, her senior year of high school, where we could not call her ever, and could only wait for the sporadic phone calls (often missed) and limited emails… well, I thought that was pretty much out in the world too. (Here she is, with grammy, just before High School graduation.)
However, as my girl said this, from the back seat of the car, yep: I teared up and joked down a great big ball of Oh my God, she’s really going out into the world. I flew back with this same girl for both her freshman and sophomore years, to help move her in to her dorms. I flew out at the end of her freshman year and moved her out of her dorm. I diapered her perfect little bottom and nursed her for fourteen months. I watched her pack up her “suitcase” and tell me she was going on a trip, at age two. Really. That girl has been taking off into the world since the day she could move on her own. She has marched to her own drum (usually set to African or Middle Eastern beats); she has followed her passions; and she has kept me on my toes always. I should have seen this coming a mile away. When she was little, I said over and over: “All that determination and stubborness that drives us nuts now, well I hope she holds on to it. As a woman, it will serve her well.” Yet, as she stated these simple facts, “This is the last time you guys will drive me to the airport, to go back to school,” as we approached the airport, I felt totally blindsided.
Principessa has been a force to be reckoned with for all of her life. As a newborn, the nurses told me that they could not keep her in the nursery (for the few hours I did want to sleep, after my C-section), because she cried so loud “it disturbed the other babies.” She was difficult and dramatic until age four, then easy, but expressive and determined from then on. She was political from the earliest age. She refused to sing the very religious Christmas songs that our
misguided Michigan public school put in the “Holiday” concert, in first grade. She told the teacher and principal that she was Jewish and didn’t sing about Jesus. We didn’t know any of this was happening, until our tiny girl stepped away from the group, ON STAGE, when the song began. She stood there stoically, and waited until the song was done, then stepped back with her group, giant, smile and holiday wiggles back in place. In pre-school, she was that kid who ran to the front of the stage, peered out into the dark audience, hand shading eye, and called “Mommy? Daddy? Oh! There you are!” And waved enthusiastically, as the pre-school teacher scooped her up and herded her back to the flock.
In high school, she refused to drive a car and road the bus until her last day of Senior year, to not add to her carbon foot print. She snuck into the school after hours and plastered the school with flyers about recycling, ride sharing and caring about the planet… we hardly had the heart to point out that a few trees died for that cause. She went camping on Lopez Island with her best friend, and skipped prom, because she didn’t want to go “unless she really cared,” and she didn’t. Senior year, she found a program for girls in Africa (The Traveling School) and wrote letters, did research, and pushed us until we relented and agreed that it was made for her. Off she went, missing Homecoming, and all the things that happen in that first part of Senior year… that I cared about, and she did not.
^^Principessa in Africa. Luckily, we didn’t know that she was nearly drowning (sucked down to the bottom!) in the Zambezi River. Itt was just the beginning of her travels. By high school graduation, she and I had been to India, and she had traveled much of Southern Africa.
Through all of that, Principessa and I had an unusually close relationship. For most of her twenty-two colorful years, I was fortunate to be that mother, whose daughter actually tells her everything. We talked openly, and often. We had our normal, to-be-expected power struggles and disagreements, but we never went through some of the tough things that many mothers and daughters do. She never went through some of the phases that girls her age did. She didn’t date a lot, she got caught trying to sneak out once and it didn’t happen again. She wasn’t a big partier or the kid trying to get stuff past us (see Ode to the Middle Man, for that story). If she told us something, we generally knew it was true. Our adult friends all love her and always found her engaging and interesting. When she went off to college, I knew she was ready to fly but I missed her terribly. I felt lucky to have had such a good run, and I felt lucky to have such a good connection to my daughter.
When she got to college, she just exploded on the scene. Her first semester of college was the made-for-movie start most parents wish for their girls, going to a school far away. She made friends right away. Good friends, from different countries and interesting back grounds. She went to mixers and parties and felt like the Belle of the Ball. While she had felt a bit out of place in high school, at college she shined. She got involved in groups on canvas and actually took leadership roles right out of the gate. When we visited for parents weekend, just two months into her freshman year, we were struck by how many young women on campus called out greetings to our “girl.” We were stunned by how many of them were “honored to meet (Principessa’s) parents.” Academically, she found her groove. She exuded confidence and joy, and we were so happy and relieved.
So, it had to end, right? Kids are wired to grow up and cause some struggle early, or cause some struggle later…right? And in the way Principessa has done everything in her life, it wasn’t going to be boring or simple. When she finally threw us a curve ball, it was bound to be something truly noteworthy. It was; and it all comes back to Israel. Yep, that tiny country that everyone seems to fight about, is where my girl got interrupted. It’s where our relationship took a hard right. First, she went on a two week trip for Birthright, the winter of her freshman year of college. There, she fell in love with an Israeli man (can’t even try to use boy here… he was a beautiful, Israeli soldier). Then she fell in love with the country… And then she fell deeply in love with her faith. Our daughter told us that she was going off to study in Israel her junior year, and she came home deeply immersed in a faith that we barely recognize as our own. Smart Guy is Jewish, and we’ve raised all three kids in the Jewish faith, but our faith is the Reformed brand. The watered down, less strict, simpler brand of Judaism, which (I admit) does what’s easiest, while still remaining Jewish. We raised our kids in a Jewish faith that called for years of Sunday school, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and attendance on the High Holy Holidays. Our faith leaves room for bacon, Dungeness Crab, driving on Fridays and Saturdays, using light switches, and calling ourselves Jews even though we do all of those things. Principessa has gone a different rout on the road to Jerusalem.
Principessa has embraced a very Conservative Judaism, that we do not share nor do we entirely understand. Intellectually, we get
all most of the edicts that she now follows. We have come to accept that when she’s home, she will leave our house Friday night and return Saturday, staying in the generous and loving care of her Chabad Rabbi and his family. We know she is safe and loved, but we won’t see her most weekends. We know that she will no longer eat the meals I prepare, as none of my dishes, pots or pans, let alone oven and stove, are kosher. She cooks on a small 2 burner stove, that sits at the end of my our kitchen island, reminding me daily that I can no longer feed my girl. In the beginning, when all of this first started (for the most part, this past summer), that cook top chastised me daily. It seemed to sit there and yell: Your not her Mom anymore! You can’t feed her like me, you don’t understand her like me, she needs me! You’re all washed up! But wait, don’t wash her dishes… they’re kosher, you’re not. So, in all of these previous blog posts, when I talked about a rough year, I bet you didn’t figure that I was referring to a talking cook top? (For “the record,” this was just part of the rough year) Yes, that stupid cook top called me out daily. I tripped over her kosher dishes, I got all tied up in knots each time I planned dinner, wondering if maybe I could make one little thing she likes, and pull her back into the fold. I automatically planned things that she couldn’t participate in, baked the gluten free things she liked, only to remember again, that my pans were not kosher. My oven wasn’t kosher. I wasn’t Jewish, let alone kosher.
Before you start reading into this and thinking that my whole relationship with my girl ended up being about food and cooking, it was much bigger than that. (Though there’s plenty of jokes about Jewish mothers and food!) While I never converted, I changed my whole life to raise my kids as Jews. Foolishly, in my youthful mind (I was in my twenties when I had both Principess and Middle Man, now that seems very young!) I thought I had to toss aside all of my previous traditions and rituals, to show my family that I was raising Jewish children. No more big family Christmases. I never brought my kids back to see family at the holidays, and Smart Guy’s family has never entered my home and seen our Christmas tree (I clung to that one ritual, and still do). No Easter baskets: that had made my childhood so colorful and exciting. No bunnies and fancy clothes each spring. And yes, I embraced all of the things that I thought were Jewish, from a Reformed state of mind… much of it around cooking and family centered holidays. I wanted to be a true Jewish mother, without formally converting. I spent twenty-one years thinking I’d really succeeded at this one big thing. My three kids were Jews, despite my background.
So when Principessa went to Israel and found out that she wasn’t really Jewish, in all eyes, our whole life turned upside down. Our relationship turned upside down. She came home from Israel and said that she couldn’t eat my food anymore, that she would leave our house each weekend. Then she started dressing much more conservatively; she began praying several times each day and refusing to go to restaurants with us (only on rare occasions now, and she does not eat), and did not attend a good friend’s Bar Mitzvah, because she couldn’t walk there… Well, it was the curve ball of all cure balls! It was a curve ball I never saw coming: so it hit me right in the face! The girl who I had always been so close with, was suddenly a young woman I could barely speak to. We argued most of the summer, and the spring/winter before. I felt an urgent need to turn her around, get her back, convince her that she was going the wrong way. She was set on showing me that this was her life. That seems an obvious thing, until you’re facing it.
All summer, I was still fighting this change, and I threw up questions and challenges at every turn. I felt rejected and hurt… ME, personally. I felt like I’d done everything I could to be a Jewish mother, and now I wasn’t that at all. The fact that her 100% Jewish father wasn’t Jewish enough either, didn’t really register as much. The fact that everything we do as a Jewish family, wasn’t Jewish enough now… or that this was impacting grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of the family, her friends… registered, but was merely a blip on my screen. What burned the most, was that my girl: the girl who told me everything, the girl who seemed to think everything I did was great (as much as any girl can, none of this is truly rose colored)… MY GIRL, was gone, and a new girl was here in her place. And we live in different worlds.
A good friend has pointed out several times: “Aren’t you glad she’s absorbed in something she really believes in, that she’s passionate about?” Rather than some vapid endeavor. Yes, I am; but it’s still painful to see her headed in such a completely opposite directions from us. I felt like I was thrashing in deep, choppy water, for months.But, we’ve moved through it… for now. I’ve gradually learned to sneer back at the cooktop and, when Principessa is not around, I give it the finger. I don’t let it call me out anymore. I do the calling. I demand that it be kept clean and tidy. I give it the respect it’s due, because I love my girl, but no more. I don’t try to think of meals I can make; there aren’t any. I don’t try and convince her that it’s hot out and long (modest) sleeves and long pants are
foolish, that my (pork) spare ribs are still amazing, that lobster once a year is a glorious, and that taping the light switch in the frig off, for Shabbat is crazy odd. These are things she lives by now, whether we accept them or not. So, I’m trying to get past them. When we started planning our big trip to S. America this summer, after her graduation, Smart Guy immediately found a guide who could provide kosher food for Principessa for the entire journey (even the 3 days of back packing on the Incan Trail). We will anchor the sections of our trip in major cities, where she can observe the sabbath from an Orthodox synagogue and home, while we sight see. I have come to accept that I can’t reach her from Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, no matter what the urgency. When her grandmother died recently, I had thought it would be wonderful to have my daughter there too, as we washed her body and said goodbye, but it was Shabbat, and I had to let that go too. I told her grammy was gone, a few hours later, when she arrived at synagogue for a Bat Mitzvah.
My girl and I got interrupted, right in the middle of what has been a twenty-one year love affair. We got interrupted right when I most wanted to share her adventures and see where she’d go. I wanted to hear about the dates she’d have, the challenging and exciting courses she takes, the parties she goes to… some of that is still possible, but much of it has been lost this year, in wrapping my head around this new
girl woman, who lives a very different life than mine. I have had to pull back the reins on my injured heart, and try to find a new rhythm to enjoy with her. It’s been really hard. I have struggled against it for much of the process, and only recently started to accept our new “normal.” I am trying to accept that I my family wasn’t happy with my choices, and here I am 28 years later still with Smart Guy and three fabulous, fill-my-heart-with joy kids, who I love more than I ever dreamed, back when I was fighting my own battles. (Note: there is some pretty big irony in the fact that I fought to marry a Jewish guy, whose family did not approve of a non-Jewish girl, while my own daughter is fighting to be more Jewish. Karma man, it sucks sometimes.)
I know Principessa will find her own path, whether it’s the one she’s on right now, or another that she hasn’t seen yet. I know that I will do whatever it takes to for us to work our way back to the groove we once had, everything I can, so that we can enjoy things together. Obstacles may remain, but we’ll figure it out. When I heard that Nickle Creek song yesterday, I found myself singing (for the rest of the day): “You have to chase a dream, one that’s all your own… Take every change you dare, I’ll still be there… when you come back down.” This, is my Ode to (my) Girl Interrupted.
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