I’ve always believed that parents shouldn’t expect their children to believe they are perfect and shouldn’t try to act as though they were. My kids know that I am human and flawed. I’ll be angry – sometimes unfairly. I’ll be too tired or too stressed to give them the attention they need. I’ll worry over things that are so obviously not worth worrying about and defend my right to worry. I won’t always be able to give them the time they most definitely deserve and sometimes I’ll focus on one child when another really needs my attention.
This has been the case for the last 11 months with Elie in the army. While most of the time he isn’t around, he still commands much of my attention and worry. Then it will shift briefly to another and another, only to come back abruptly when something happens that brings it all around again. Bottom line: I am not perfect and my kids know it.
And, in exchange, I accept not only that my kids aren’t perfect, but that I wouldn’t want them to be. Years ago, I heard a story that has always had an impact on how I view my children, how I love their imperfections, encourage them, and accept them.
I didn’t start out to write about this story, but maybe I’ll put it here anyway. In short, a young boy becomes very sick. His family and friends all believe that he is on death’s doorstep and sit around his bed crying and mourning as they discuss his talents, his intelligence, and what an incredible child he is. The boy’s teacher, an important rabbi, comes in and listens to the father speak of his son. How smart the boy is, how well behaved. All around him nod in saddness.
“He would often come late to school,” the rabbi said into the silence that followed the father’s words. “And he isn’t very good in math. I think he needs work on his reading too.” People were shocked as the rabbi then got up and walked out of the room.
The father followed him and told him how upset he was, “How can you say that when you see he is so sick?” And the rabbi explained that if you make him perfect, he will die. We are all given a task in this world, the rabbi explained, and if you have no reason to do more, you have no reason to live in this world. If you make it clear to the child that there is so much more for him to accomplish, the boy will strive to live and prove that he can improve. Sure enough, the boy soon improved. No, I’m not perfect and I never want my children to be. I love their imperfections.
As for me, I’m a good cook – I like to cook and somehow have a sense of what works, how to make something appetizing. I bake and people like “Paula’s cookies” or “Paula’s brownies” or “Paula’s stuffing” or “Paula’s soup.” But…no, I can’t sew. I mean, I can sew – fallen buttons and a ripped seam. Add a patch, close a hole, thread a needle, fix a hem.
My middle son came over last week with his Shabbat pants. “Ima, can you fix these?” he asked and I quickly responded that I could. Days passed as the pants waited patiently on the bookcase near my desk. What could easily have been done during the week suddenly became important Friday when time was running out and he needed the pants.
“I’ll do it,” Elie replied when Shmulik asked about his pants in a stressed tone. “You know Ima doesn’t sew.”
Well, gee. I can sew…I mean, not well and my seams might not be perfect, but hey, I can sew.
“I can sew,” I replied in my best impression of a mother wanting to make her kids think she had that important “mother” ability.
Elie smiled. Shmulik smiled. Elie sewed the pants.
In the army, you are given uniforms and then expected to do all sorts of things that cause those uniforms to rip and tear and then you are expected to repair them. Elie sewed Shmulik’s pants while they both enjoyed teasing me about sewing. Their father is fantastic with a needle and thread, being the son of an upholsterer. His seams are always better than mine, straighter, tighter.
It’s a perfect marriage in a world of very few perfect marriages. He sews amazingly well, but doesn’t cook and me, well I cook really well…or at least a lot better than I sew.