This week, most Jewish people ignored the minor holiday of Tu B’Shvat. Unlike the biggies, like Rosh Hashana, Chanukah and Passover, Tu B’Shvat has always occupied a spot on the sidelines, kind of a red-headed step-child kind of holiday.
In part, it’s because it’s a complex festival that has to do with tithing and farming and a lot of technical “arboreal-related” issues. Most of us think of it as some sort of birthday celebration for the trees. Beyond that, we can’t really see the forest.
I would’ve missed the holiday completely this year had it not been for my 11 year-old son, Levi, who came home from school on a mission. It was 4:00 and I was rushing to get ready and get out of the house by 5.
“Mom,” he started in a determined tone that clued me in immediately that I was in for trouble. “I have to go to the grocery store right now.”
“I’ve already gone shopping today,” I assured him. “I’m sure whatever you need can wait till tomorrow.”
“But it can’t,” he bemoaned. “Tomorrow will be too late.”
I explained calmly that no amount of whining would sway me on this issue and sent him on his way. A few minutes later he re-emerged with a grocery list and a very rational request. He had $15 in tow and announced that he was going to pay for his items himself if I would agree to let Gabi, our nanny, take him to the store. He assured me that they would be back in plenty of time to get Eli, his brother, to Karate.
“Levi,” I finally inquired, “What is so important that can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“I’m making a Tu B’Shvat seder and we don’t have all the items I need.”
Now I believe in consistent discipline. I also believe in sticking to my guns. If I say something, I try very hard to follow through with it. But the requested grocery trip had suddenly taken on a new perspective. Sure it was still inconvenient. But why was I sending my boys to Jewish Day School if I wasn’t going to support the important and thoughtful lessons they were learning? I agreed to the bargain, delayed my dinner date and handed Levi a 20 dollar bill.
About an hour later, Levi called the Seder to order. He had set out bountiful platters of pomegranate seeds, nuts, dates and olives. There were avocados and plums, fruits with inedible peels, seeded berries, pitted fruits, and a few Fig Newtons to stand in for wheat, barley and figs. I was taken aback by the beauty and effort involved in creating this meaningful display.
Then Levi taught me about Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees. He explained the significance of eating each of the food items he’d prepared and told me stories of what the holiday meant spiritually as well as literally and religiously. I have to say I was in awe of his expertise and the facility with which he handled the information. We sat together for nearly an hour, me listening to him, reciting prayers, and even asking follow up questions to gain better understanding of his teachings.
It was an unusual opportunity for me to take off my parental hat and see my son for the bright, thoughtful and passionate person he’s becoming. It is truly an honor to be able to step back and appreciate your child for who he is and what he believes in and cares about.
Sure, we’ll still fight about his forgetting to put his dishes in the dishwasher, and his failing to put away his folded laundry as promised. But in between those minor altercations, I’ll try to remember just how amazing this strong, independent young man is, and how grateful I am for all that he brings to our lives.
Happy New Year, trees!
Ah, shopping for school supplies. Is there anything…worse? It is truly one of life’s most horrible experiences. First of all, why do they need so damn much? I mean, honestly, are they really gonna use one pencil a week for the next 36 weeks? That’s a lot of lead. Isn’t that like bad for the environment or something? To add insult to injury, one mom I know told me that she had to individually write her kid’s name on each and every pencil. I thought she was joking. I mean, please. Have we resorted to purchasing pricey designer number 2 pencils nowadays? Who gives a crap if your kid uses the wrong pencil? And the stuff really adds up fast. It was probably wrong to tell my son he could have the Mario Wii game if we netted out at under $100. His subsequent tantrum was rather embarrassing I must admit. After he composed himself he looked at our $160 stash and said, “School costs enough. I think the teachers should just buy all the school supplies themselves and give them to students.”
Of course I used that as a teachable moment to launch into a diatribe about the shattered state of education in the country (and particularly within our own state confines) and shared with him the rather disturbing fact that Nationwide, teachers earn a whopping .88 for every dollar earned by those in “comparable” positions.* This might have gone over my 9-year-old’s head.
But back to the chaos of the school supply aisle. It reminded me of Passover shopping on Devon Avenue at Hungarian when I was a little kid growing up in Chicago. (While this image may only be accessible to a few of you, it is such a perfect analogy that I had to include it.) Only instead of large Jewish women with short, complacent husbands body checking me in the macaroon aisle, here we had hordes of over-privileged children violently grabbing the last few packs of sharpened pencils, staplers and highlighters with absolutely no regard for personal space, safety or courtesy. And their parents were even worse.
One lady literally raced me to the dry-erase pen section after I foolishly pointed out its whereabouts to my dazed son who’d been up and down the aisles three or four times without spotting them. She took the very last package of pens. “Um, excuse me,” I politely announced. “My son was on his way over to get those. I believe you heard me direct him to this section, and then you ran over here before he could get here and took the last package of pens. Don’t you think you’re being a little too competitive?”
“Hey,” she smiled with self-satisfaction, “You snooze, you loose.”
I thought about smacking her upside the head.
But then I decided that her husband was probably a personal injury attorney, (no offense, Barry), and that she’d end up suing me for like 18 million dollars because I somehow managed to puncture her breast implant while attempting to kick her in the teeth. It just…wasn’t worth it.
For a brief psychotic moment I thought about taking both of my children to purchase their school supplies at the same time. But, seeing as I’m organizationally challenged and probably undiagnosed ADHD, the image of myself hopelessly trying to follow two diverse lists, while fighting off insurgent parents and checking off appropriate list items as they landed in my cart was a little too much for me. Instead, I made it a “fun” mommy and me outing for each child individually, complete with a post shopping trip to the local fro yo shop.
While the signature tart, fat free, icy treat (that I insisted in smothering with Heath Bar sprinkles) did help to somewhat lessen the post traumatic stress reaction I was experiencing, truth be told, it barely took the edge off. What I needed was a Ketel One, double Martini, not too dry, just a little dirty if I was to go home and return to the battle field with child number two.
Luckily it was too close to bedtime to play out the second half of this cutthroat educational acquisition competition. We tabled it for the night. But let me tell you, come tomorrow morning, I am gonna be a force to be reckoned with. So if you see me coming down the aisle, accordion folder in hand, please, for the love of God, get the hell out of my way.
*Incidentally, “comparable” positions according to the report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPE) includes reporters, insurance underwriters, and even museum curators to name a few. The report also noted that it is, in fact, teaching quality that matters more than anything else in a child’s education, and astutely added that a child’s likelihood of succeeding in life depends greatly on which state he or she is born into since education varies so erratically from state to state.