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Growing Up

Different beds, different foods, different customs. I navigated strange waters with my family as the compass

We didn’t go to my husband's yeshivah last year.

I was our first time staying home; every year since we'd been married, we stayed in an apartment close to the yeshivah where my husband learns and is on staff.

But last year, I chickened out. When the going gets tough, the weak get running.

Moving out, packing for everyone, bringing linens, going to different people for the seudos (or alternatively, eating in an apartment that's not ours so every course is cause for concern—with me on constant alert for splatters: Stay away from that peach couch!). Our decisions always seemed to be between bad versus worse. It all felt like too much for me to handle.

My husband has been in the same yeshivah for close to a decade. Currently a shoel u'meishiv, he felt that not only was it important for his own ruchniyus, but it was also good for the boys to have him present during the tefillos. And in theory, I agreed. It would be amazing for him, for our family, to be in the yeshivah, surrounded by people who are focused on avodas hayom, inspired by the rosh yeshivah's tefillos. It’s my husband's comfort zone.

But it's not my comfort zone, not in the least. And for seven years, I'd pushed myself to go, because I knew it was good for my husband. So despite being a dyed-in-the-wool homebody, who likes my creature comforts in place, every Rosh Hashanah we packed out to a different city, guests in a home and at meals. Different beds, different foods, different customs. I navigated strange waters with my family as the compass.

Last year, the past few weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah had been a series of unfortunate events. I needed stitches on my finger (courtesy of an Erev Shabbas madness that involved a time-crunch, flowers that needed to be cut, and a serrated knife), my son broke his foot, and I pulled my back carrying said son to the bathroom. Last year, it felt not only past my comfort zone, but in a different galaxy entirely.

It’s standard for the avreichim and their families to travel in. I felt guilty, and tried to psych myself up, to push myself to join the yeshivah. But I really, really, really didn't want to. Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, it dawned on me that I'm not the aishes chayil I thought I was.

 

It’s hard not to compare myself to other women, chilled, easy-going, who can laugh at the utter craziness. Every year previously, I’d look around, amazed at the women who have packed up their children, their lives, to be part of the yeshivah for the Yamim Noraim. How do they do it? Women with more children, temporarily relocated to a tiny apartment, shlepping back and forth with their family cranky from unfamiliarity.

If I were a better wife, could I have had worked on myself more, created an iron shield so that the insanity of a too-small building, non-air-conditioned room, endless nosh bags didn’t affect me? The questions taunted me: Was I weaker for refusing to go in? Was I less of a person because I’m insisted on staying in our neighborhood for Rosh Hashanah?

I think about personalities, how some naturally seem “frummer,” holier than others. The aidel type, the natural giver, the easygoing mom. These things aren’t necessarily hard-earned; whether by nature or nurture, it comes more effortlessly to some.

These women are my role models, yes. I would love to be able to laugh off a grape juice stain on my last remaining, freshly laundered white skirt. It would be great if I could deal with every sugar-high tantrum with equanimity and eternal patience. It’s nice to have the ability to fall asleep easily in a bed that’s not your own.

But, I recognized, I am none of those things. Although I may understand that as the ideal on an intellectual level, practically, it didn’t mean that should be my avodah right now. I took a good, hard look at myself, stopped idealizing the ideal, and instead tried to gauge where I really stood.

Instead of fooling myself into thinking I was on a level where I’m not, trying to convince myself I was totally at peace with putting my husband’s wishes first, I realized that ultimately, it wouldn’t be good for me, nor in turn, for my children or my husband.

If I pushed myself to go, resentment would creep in. Aiming for an inaccessible-to-me ideal would blind me from achieving that which I could do, the battles I could win.

Maybe I’m not the tzaddekes I convinced myself I was.

But maybe last year I’ve realized who I am, and what kind of things I need in order to be the best person possible. Maybe striving for the ideal is best done by recognizing myself, ascertaining my real needs.

Maybe I had a spiritual yeridah. Or maybe I’d finally grown up.

 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 709)

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