| Musings |

Raising Superwoman

Diploma in hand, husband at my side, cape on my back, I was ready to conquer the world

I’ve been Superwoman for 26 years. Now, I’m getting ready to call it a career and hang up my cape.

Looking back, I can’t say I had a model of a Superwoman like me — running to work every day, leaving the babies behind, juggling home, family, husband, career, yet being there in the morning before the kids went to school, and being home when they got off the bus.

My mom was a Superwoman of a different ilk. She was home for me, waking me up each morning with a “Rise and Shine!” And I never doubted that she would be there for me when I came off the bus in the afternoon.

In between, she baked and she sewed. She gardened and she put new tiles down on the kitchen floor. She volunteered at our school to get a tuition reduction. When I fell off my banana seat bicycle, there was Mom with peroxide, a Band-Aid, tissues, and a kiss. When I tearfully stomped into the house after being bullied on the bus, there was Mom, with freshly baked cookies, tissues, and a kiss.

Yes, my mom was Superwoman.

I remember how mad I was when she went back to work part-time when I was in fifth grade. I came home one day and the door was locked. I’d forgotten my key and had to climb in through the bathroom window. Scraped and bruised, I was angry. How dare she not be home!

But times changed. Somehow it was expected of me to “have a career,” to “be prepared for the worst.” And so, to college and for my master’s I went.

Then, diploma in hand, husband at my side, cape on my back, I was ready to conquer the world.

If we compare ourselves to our non-Jewish counterparts, we’ll see we have very little in common with them. Our families are bigger, our tuition exorbitant. Our community obligations loom large. So while books, magazines, and articles have been written about these Superwomen and their two kids, these women wouldn’t understand. Juggling babies with one hand, doing homework with the second, running to bar mitzvah practice with the third, and dealing with shidduchim with the fourth.

Who said anything about only having only two hands?

I once read a book about women who’d quit seven-figure jobs to go home and do car pool. Sigh. They obviously didn’t have to buy food for Yom Tov, or pay full tuition for camps and schools.

And so we Superwomen from my generation have groped in the dark. With no role models to learn from, we worked and worked while continuously wondering: Am I doing this right? Am I truly there for my husband? Am I encouraging him to daven, learn, and work? Or am I saddling him with my responsibilities — having to drop off the kids at the sitter, pick them up, or go to the grocery to pick up milk?

Are these my responsibilities? Hey, I’m working right? I’m doing the Man thing…. Someone has got to help me do the Woman thing!

Does that make me a feminist? Or a realist? Am I standing strong supporting my family, paying my bills and full tuition? Or am I poisoning my family with this wacky ideology, with the idea that I can have it all?

Let me assure you, my children scraped their knees plenty of times on their fancy bikes. There were six boxes of all different kinds of Band-Aids in the closet. But no one was there to put them on. No one was there to give a kiss and use a tissue to wipe away the tears.

We have a combination lock on our front door, so no one gets locked out. The bathroom window is fully alarmed anyway.

Memories of holiday foods are prefaced with someone else’s name. Shavuos is not the same without Zomick’s marble cheesecake. Did I pick up Season’s Hot Poppers for Yom Tov? How about Sushi Tokyo?

What am I thinking? I wasn’t raised like this! I should be hanging wallpaper while baking fresh cookies. Just like my mom!

But who has time to reflect and obsess anymore? It’s too late.

My oldest is 25. Suri is the next generation of Superwoman…. And all these years, I wondered, what was she thinking?

Years ago, before Suri went to seminary, I was styling her hair with a curling iron one day. “Mom,” she said out of nowhere, “I want to marry a long-term learning boy.”  I nearly burned her scalp.

Yes, my heart was bursting with pride at her wanting to attain the highest lofty level of life.

I’d like to say that was all I felt. But it wasn’t. My mind was racing. Was she aware of the pressure she was putting on herself? Was she aware of the weight of the cape she was asking for?

That Superwoman cape came with enormous responsibilities. She surely didn’t understand the pushing and pulling that she’d feel, torn between husband, children, and job. Would she treat her husband well? Would she be there for her kids? Would her children suffer because no one was there when they scraped their knees?

That’s not to mention that the outside world was only becoming crueler toward Jews. No one wanted us. So she’d better get ready to dance around a lot of political correctness, and learn how to keep her opinions to herself.

I stood there, frozen, the curling iron in my hand. There was a sizzle, but I didn’t hear it. I was light years away.

“MA! You’re burning my hair!” Suri screamed. Trapped between me and the curling iron, there was no room for her to move. I quickly returned to orbit and untangled the iron from her hair.

I forced a big, Kool-Aid grin on my face. “I admire your dedication to Torah, Suri.” (Always start with validation.) “But that life is hard. You’re going to be stretched thin.”

I took another strand of hair. Why did she still trust me with her hair? I have no idea.

“Daddy and I spent two years in kollel. And then Daddy started graduate school when we had three children. In fact, Daddy didn’t finish grad school until after Avi was born.” Avi is our fourth. I mentally calculated the years of marriage that my husband was not working at full salary.

“Suri,” I tried to remain calm, “that was 11 years of Daddy being in kollel or school.”

This time I remembered to uncurl the last batch of hair. As I separated the cord, there was a period of silence.

Suri turned and looked me in the eye. “You did it, Mom, and I want to be just like you.”

Five years later, my husband and I watch Suri march down the aisle of her graduate school graduation; her husband and son sit near us in the audience. They leave for Eretz Yisrael next month.

With a degree (one much fancier than mine) in hand, and cape on her back, she’s ready to conquer the world.

With Hashem’s help, I guess the kids will be alright.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 756)

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