Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Syndrome: Jewish Mother Martyrdom

The past week was particularly challenging for me, between getting over being horribly sick, preparing for Shabbat, and struggling with the financial reality that we still have not rented out our old apartment meaning our bank account is quite unhappy and my stress levels are super high. By the time Shabbat rolled in, things were tense and all I could think was that those angels were showing up as I lit the candles and they were not happy with what they saw and this week is going to be a mess, right?

After lighting I curled up on the couch with the boys off at synagogue and opened up the book I'm reading at the moment, One Baby Step at a Time: Seven Secrets of Jewish Motherhood, and there it was, I was up to the middle of a chapter and a piece called "Winning Shabbat" followed by a chapter called "What We Need to be Happy."

Sometimes, HaShem hands us exactly what we need when we need it.

In "Winning Shabbat," the author Chana Weisberg talks about perspective. As I get more pregnant, I think more and more about how this baby is going to arrive and all of the housekeeping and working and being a good wife is going to fall by the wayside and how it's going to grate my "must do everything right and immediately and constantly" nerves.

I was born for Jewish mother martyrdom, you see. My default in anything and everything is knowing how to best do anything (after all, I'm a master Googler).

Citing Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi, the author writes,
"We must decide that the work we do is a teruma, an offering that we give with joy to God, rather than a temura, something that we do for other people with the expectation that we are going to get something in return."
It's about overcoming our nature.
"It reminds me of how our Sages teach that Sarah was barren for many years because she ahd been born without a womb. And then, when she was ninety years old, after a life of praying and doing good deeds, God rewarded her with a pregnancy -- without a womb!"
The gist is that if we learn to overcome our nature, whether it's a tendency toward jealousy or grouchiness, miraculous things can happen (look at Chana, too!). My nature these days is one of "I must do everything" and "Things only get done right when I do them." It's the Jewish mother martyrdom nature that I really, really have to learn to step back from. After an amazing dinner out with friends, things got calmer, things were talked out, I shared the chapters I'd been reading with Mr. T, and the tension that Shabbat came in with dissipated.

(I also have to say that it was an appropriate week to read this with the Torah portion of the week, Noah. One of the big discussions about the portion is why Noah was viewed as so special, yet by the end of the portion he gets drunk and is shamed. How did someone rise so high and fall so fast? We're taught that it's about perspective. Avraham walked before G-d, whereas Noah walked with G-d. Avraham was bold and outspoken when it came to his fellow man. Noah simply obeyed, didn't question anything, and waited for permission for anything to happen. Noah didn't have the right perspective, you see.)

Reading over the essays in the next chapter about finding happiness and figuring out what we (mommies, women in general) to get everything done but still have our special, happy place.
"The greatest gift we can give our families (and ourselves) is a mother who is thriving physically, spiritually, and emotionally."
So I've been thinking. What do (or will) I need to stay sane and happy so I can be the best Jewish woman possible and the best mother possible?

The author talks about needing a few hours to spend on Torah a week, to not make cooked dinners every night of the week, and to have a cleaning lady once a week.

The funny thing is, her needs greatly resemble mine.

Last week I kept telling myself "You're going to sit down with the weekly Torah portion, learn it, devour it, and blog about it like you used to." When I was living in Washington DC and Chicago back in 2006-07, I devoted my late-night, post-Washington Post work nights to a coffee shop and the weekly parshah. It fulfilled me, it kept me feeling academically minded while I wasn't in school, and it gave me perspective on my Jewishness on a weekly basis.

It gave me strength.

When I was in grad school in Connecticut, I had tons of Jewish learning happening all the time, because I was both in grad school and working on my Orthodox conversion. When I hit NYU and life started crumbling, I still had my classes, I still had Jewish thinking and learning, and felt like I was giving back to myself but also fulfilling a major happiness need.

Since then, it's been tough. I've been trying to figure out what it is that I need to be happy, while also being a stellar wife and future mama.

As I figure out what I need to be happy (scheduled blogging time, an evening of pleasure cooking, once a week in a coffee shop working, and so on), I'm curious what those of you out there -- whether you're a hard-working woman trying to find time for yourself or a mother of many who can't seem to find a moment to herself -- need to be happy. Have you even thought about it?

My last piece from reading so far? This little morsel from Rebbetzin Feige Twerski:
"Grow where you are planted." Recognize that the life you have is not arbitrary, but orchestrated from above and hence is, at this moment, the context to which you must bring your finest efforts.