A few weeks ago I was at what has become my small family's annual reunion over Memorial Day weekend.... Out on the back porch at night with my siblings and our spouses, nothing but stars in the sky to light the way. I started to think about what my life has been like, and how my relationship with my father is probably much stronger than most other children who grew up with both parents.
From prom dress shopping to spring break vacations and more, we have formed a strong bond that is often hard to describe. While growing up with my siblings, as the third child, I was certainly the baby of the family. Always receiving direction, support and inspiration from my older sibs. And while we didnt have all the fancy toys many kids of our time did or exotic sleep away camps to attend, we did have the weekly pizza take out and summer weeks at the Cape. College tuition was paid for in full without us having to take loans and he was always running the carpool shuttle to and from sports, drama, Hebrew school and more. Playdates and sleepovers, birthday parties and Montessori school.
When I think now to the challenges I face with a husband in residency, living far from family and a crazy work/home/religious life schedule, I have great awe and admiration for my dad. Not only did he encourage homework and extracurricular activities and art classes at the museum or summer classes for my siblings, but he somehow was able to afford food, clothes, social activities and more. All on one salary, working 50-60 hours a week, shuttling kids, living with his mother in law and raising 3 young kids, two cats and a dog.
Sure, we didnt have a fancy house. No fancy cars or shmancy clothing like some of the cool kids in school. Didnt have the healthiest diet (we got to eat sugary cereals that at the time I thought was pretty cool) and also faced lots of comments from friends.... I still remember being told once in Hebrew school that someone's mom thought I wore too much makeup or that other parents didnt think we had enough supervision during play dates since it was my nana watching us and not a mom. I remember being instructed by my teachers in elementary school on how to adjust the mother's day card to make it suitable for my nana and asked if I had anyone at home who could chaperone my field trip.
You know what, I never went hungry. I was always schooled in taking my classes seriously and making the most of my academic career. Always pushed to look up a word I didnt know and couldnt spell. My Judaism was instilled in me at an early age, attending Hebrew school from K-12 on the weekends or at night after school. An investment that has shaped the person I have become.
So sure, we can look back and miss a mother figure, someone we put up on a pedestal as the perfect person. I remember the way my heart sank when I was in my mid-20's and found out that my mother was a smoker. Something my father still does to this day. How could she? What right did she have to limit her life anymore from us? But the more I thought about it, I realized it only upset me so much because it made her more human and less porcelain like as a doll on my shelf, the way I used to look at her framed photos at night.
She was a real person, real wants, real faults. I am sure we wouldve fought in my teenage years and who knows if she wouldve approved of all of my social choices over the years. Maybe she wouldve been frustrated when I became religiously observant, keeping kosher and shabbat, doing things differently than the way my parents raised me. But I also know, looking at my baby boy who is now 15 months, one month older than I was when she passed, that she molded me, that I clung to her, recognized her voice and raised my arms when she came to greet me in the morning from my crib. Memories I unfortunately never had. But something is therapeutic to me in looking at my kids now and being so thankful that as hectic and crazy as it was, my dad kept it all together for us. To the point that I didnt really realize that I was so different. So much that when I went to college, I forgot to tell some of my closest friends that I grew up without a mom. Everyone knew in my childhood and I didnt realize it was something critical to share.
I hope I can provide my kids with the stability, security and love rooted in family and Judaism to show them the same respect and dignity that was shown to me. My dad always told me he had two choices, to let it break him or to pick up and go on. As simple as that sounds, I have always held that sentiment close to me. Some people choose to go through life looking at their glass half empty. Look what happened to me? Look what I missed out on? Woe is me. I made a decision a long time ago, that wasnt my road in life. You have to take what you get and go your own way. Mold your life into one that you want. Stop waiting for things to be handed to you or for everything to work out just so. You cant walk around life with a chip on your shoulder. These thoughts only hold you back. If youre not happy with the way things are, make it better for yourself and someone else. You cant pick the life you were given but you can choose how to mold it in your own way.
"Your keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open, so this world can't find a way to leave you cold, and know youre not the only ship out in the ocean, save your strength for things that you can change, forgive the ones you can't, you gotta let 'em go.
Looking back now on my life, I cant say I regret it. And all the places that I ended up not the way Ma wouldve had it. But you only get one chance at life to leave your mark upon it. And when a pony comes riding by you better sit your sweet @$& on it."
--Zac Brown Band, "Let It Go"