Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why I Baked an Elsa Cake

It took three cake mixes, four tubs of frosting, and at least three hours of my time (not including internet research), but I baked my daughter an Elsa cake for her fourth birthday, which we will begin to observe tomorrow. I discussed the plan with co-workers and then tracked the progress through Facebook, receiving a lot of comments that I'm a "good mom."

And truly, I wish it were that easy to feel like a good mom. I often feel just the opposite, and not primarily because I work full-time (although that stress does play into this). Instead, there are the moments I lose patience, the moments I tire of the questions, the moments I forget how young she is, the moments when I have no idea what to do or say next. She's only (almost) four, and there are times it feels like we are foreshadowing the teenage years. So, to balance these moments of feeling like I fall short, I treasure the moments when I can be the mother I want to be as well as the mother my daughter needs me to be. Those sweet bedtimes, the conversations that are funny and memorable...those are the times that I reassure myself that my daughter and I are going to figure it out, and those sweet and good moments far outweigh the challenging ones.

Enter in the birthday cake. This is the first year my daughter can really engage with her birthday. We have a long list of wants, including an Elsa cake, and I decided to rise to the occasion.

I could have outsourced this (as many do), but something inside of me told me to make this cake. And I realized, while working hard to make it look as smooth as the YouTube video, that I was doing this for a very special reason. Let the grandparents gets her all of the things she wants which one day she will outgrow. I am giving her some of my most precious commodities--my time and my intention. I am saying to her through five layers of cake that I did something other than press "click" on Amazon, I pushed myself to give her something special. I pray one day she will look at that picture and know exactly how funny it is that her mother, who doesn't really bake, made this cake. I pray she will find herself making such a cake for her child and in that instant, be reminded of this sugar and food-dye concoction. Of all of the things from her fourth birthday, I believe she and I will remember looking at this cake and her saying, "Wow, Mommy, I love it!" 

And that is what makes me feel like a good mom. Not the baking, but hearing what my daughter wanted and sharing with her a symbol of my earnest desire to offer it to her. One day, what she wants will be beyond my reach, but for now I will treasure these moments of sweet reward. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Would You Rather?

It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to write on this blog...had to get rid of my gallbladder, prep for Purim and Pesach, and answer my daughter's multitude of questions as she approaches her fourth birthday in a week. This week, I got the parenting "would you rather?": Would you rather the question "How does the baby get in your tummy?" or "Mommy, are you going to die?" Both are challenging questions, reasonable question, and anxiety-provoking questions. But, as I have said in other posts, there are a few strategies to answering your child's tough questions:

-answer the question that is being asked, not the question you are afraid is being asked
-keep it age-appropriate and localized
-keep it honest
-when in doubt, ask him or her "what do you think?"

The "How does the baby get in your tummy?" question came as we were driving in the car in the afternoon. Being a follower of my own advice, I asked her, "What do you think?" to which I was told, "I don't know. You tell me." Trying quickly to sort through what she already knew, wonder what she's already heard, and gauge what the right reaction might be, I said, "Well, that's where babies grow." She said, "but how do they get in there?" And I replied, "When it is time, that is where babies grow, and then they come out. Do you know that the day you were born was very special?" The conversation then shifted to the day she was born and how amazing that was. 

I am not proud that I dodged the question, but having spent the morning's car ride trying to explain the difference between America the country and Captain America the superhero, I was fairly certain that the biological answer was not age-appropriate. I was unprepared for any "seed" metaphors (and am not certain that's what I want to say), so the best approach for me was to shift the conversation to something that is age-appropriate, talking about birth as a special moment for families to celebrate. If nothing else, I have assured my daughter that her birth was a miracle and she has been loved from the first moment we saw her (and before).

Later in the week, my daughter turned to me at the dinner table and asked, "Mommy, are you going to die?" Death has been a topic in our home recently as she has been trying to process some of the pieces of the princess stories which previously went unnoticed. We have told her that death is when a person has to go away and cannot come back, we cannot see the person (except in pictures) and cannot hear the person, but we remember them and think about them and still love them. My answer to her was a simple, "Yes, everyone dies. We pray that they die when they are very, very old." "How old, Mommy?" "Really old, like 100." "Do we get old fast?" "No, it takes a long, long time." 

You and I both know that people can die tragically young, and this week as a rabbi I was made painfully aware of this reality in multiple ways. Yet for my almost-four year old, this is not age-appropriate to discuss. Her first encounter with death is likely to be her great-grandparents and the explanations we have given will hold up in that situation. And, in the painful and tragic event that we need to explain it to her differently, it will be from a place of faith and love. Right now, she is asking from a place of curiosity and probably a little anxiety, so we want to be reassuring on both counts. 

As parents, I believe our responsibility is to try to be honest with our children, and thus be honest with ourselves. I want to make sure I have given true statements, even if they aren't fully answering the question, and I want to encourage asking questions so we have ongoing opportunities to evolve with our answers. Yet, we also have the responsibility of knowing what is age-appropriate, both in offering more information and in offering less. 

I also remember that whatever I say to my daughter about these questions is likely to be held against me in the court of the preschool classroom. Those kids talk, and I want to make sure I don't get a phone call! This is a good reminder that we need to have conversations with our fellow parents about how they are discussing this with their children so we can be respectful and learn together. We might get good ideas for talking with our own children, and also be able to understand where some of the questions (or answers) are coming from. 

Which question would I rather get? I like them both. What I care about is making sure my husband is present for the next time a question is asked!

Prayer for Marriage Equality

As the Supreme Court hears the case on marriage equality in our country, I want to share the prayer we offered this past Shabbat as part of Freedom to Marry weekend of prayer:

When our ancestors stood at the shores of sea, leaving slavery in Egypt behind as they crossed over into a life of freedom, they endowed every subsequent generation with the responsibility to bring that freedom into the world for all. Today, we know that freedom is still an elusive concept, that the struggle for it is real.

The Biblical name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, the narrow place. In any place where people are not free, it is a narrow place. And we acknowledge this Shabbat that our country is still a narrow place because in many states, including our state of Georgia, there is not the freedom of marriage equality. Too many people are oppressed by the narrowness of prejudice, ignorance, fundamentalism, and injustice. We are proud that at The Temple we believe that we are house of prayer to all people, we are a house of prayer and gathering to all couples and families, and that we stand for equality and human dignity.

So we stand on this Freedom to Marry weekend of Prayer, joining with congregations of all faiths around the country in praying that this Tuesday as the Supreme Court hears the case on marriage equality, we begin to bring more freedom to our country. We pray that all who stand on the shores of Mitzrayim, the narrow place of not having equal rights simply because they identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, will find that there will soon be a path towards freedom for them, and thus freedom for us all.