Exactly two years ago, at the close of 2014, I wrote a post about that year. It was a gut-wrenching year full of bad news and sad moods. Since that time, I find myself getting especially reflective this time of year, looking back on the year and deciding what I want to say about it.
In February of 2014, our son was diagnosed, and it took me a full year to be ready to talk about it publicly. But there was something else afoot that year, and here we are three years later and only now am I ready to acknowledge it publicly. In that post, 2014, I wrote about tears, grief, pain and loneliness, and now I am ready to acknowledge that only a fraction of those feelings was about HFA. Most of it was actually about something else entirely, something that felt so private and shameful, that I pretended it was all about the spectrum because that was kosher to talk about, it was safe.
Here it is.
Some of my children follow a different path than I do – religiously and in life values.
Some are observant (follow practices externally) but are not on board intellectually; some don’t follow practices and I don’t know what they really believe. I’m not going to dwell on them and their choices because that part is their story and they deserve their privacy. In this post I am only saying things that are readily obvious to anyone who knows me personally and the part that I am revealing here is my own emotional journey in that sphere.
When I go back and read what I just wrote, I can almost laugh with how benign it seems after the buildup I gave it. Religiosity? That’s what you’re in mourning about? Thank G-d they’re healthy and well! Thank G-d your marriage is good! No one has cancer or mental illness! And that’s part of the shamefulness. Who am I to complain about a construct that I created, trying to raise religious kids in a secular world?? What right do I have to any expectations?!
Well, it doesn’t work that way. For one thing, I look around at my kids’ classmates, and, what should I tell you, most seem to have stayed the course. I know I don’t know what’s actually cooking beneath the yarmulke, but part of emotional angst is differentiation and loneliness, and when you see that YOUR KID deviated from whatever is considered the normal path in your culture, it feels bad. If everyone in your social circle goes to college at 18 and your kid stays home to paint, you would experience some emotions around that. If in your culture most people start to settle down and get married around thirty and your kid can’t find anyone, you’d experience some emotions around that. If everyone in your social circle and family is secular, and your kid became religious, you’d experience some emotion around that. So the point right here is not WHAT is giving me grief, but rather that I feel different and lonely and misunderstood and like a failure a lot of the time.
For another, my life is my religion. I’ve been forced, over the past years, to tease out where one ends and the other begins, and it hasn’t been easy, but my belief in G-d and my identity as a Jew, where not shared by my kids, is a huge source of pain.
I have come a very long way in 3 years in terms of acceptance and unconditional love, and let me tell you, those are hard-won lessons. But the pain is like what my husband calls a “background headache” – it hurts, you push it aside and power through your day, but every once in a while the pain rages to the foreground and you can’t cope. A parent’s pain is a funny thing. You are not allowed to let it run your life because you have to give your kids what they need, and what they need is mentally stable parents whose happiness is not codependent with their kids. So tough luck, sort of. Put on your big girl pants and figure it out.
I used to cry at every single bar mitzvah and wedding. I’m better now, but only because I’m working on myself. I throw myself into my work because I need to remember that I am a human being, put on this planet for a reason, to connect to my soul, and I will be held accountable for that no matter what my kids do or don’t do. Achieving connection and accomplishing in my professional life is a reminder that I am a person independent of my kids and that my spiritual path is mine alone. My friendships and soul-connections keep me going.
My faith has taken a beating all these years as I obsess and re-examine the educational systems I put my children through, my parenting techniques of my early years, my reactions to things that were shocking to me. I clawed my way to the surface because I desperately need G-d in my life to feel whole and I couldn’t, wouldn’t take the loneliness. I can only talk to people who understand something that I only recognized a few months ago: G-d is sending me these challenges because, not in spite of, his great love for me. A rabbi told me, and I will never forget this, that these souls of my children needed to travel their own path, and when G-d searched for people who could give them the home and they love they deserved, He chose us. This gives me hope.
I struggle mightily with jealousy when I see other people who just don’t seem to have it so hard. In those moments I have to remind myself that I was given the life I need to reach my soul-perfections and that you never really know what other people are going through. I just feel so different, a little oddball, and most of the time that’s cool but sometimes it hurts so bad that everything makes me cry.
I love my children with the fierceness of a lioness and I will never stop no matter what. They know this. No matter what they choose, believe, practice, or say – I will defend them to the end. I will also experience anger toward them for making my heart hurt, regret and guilt for the inevitable mistakes all parents make, and sadness for what I thought could have been. All these emotions and more shall coexist in my big heart and each will jostle the other till they all find their space.
My soul knows these challenges are mine. They are shameful and also normal. They are crazy and also prototypical. I cry about them and also laugh about them.
Such is life. Such is 2016.