Emotional Whiplash

What a week. We’ve had a funeral (our congregant Arthur Rosen, z”l); the adoption of our son (big, huge grin!); a 70th wedding anniversary celebration in Pittsfield (cousins on my father’s side); my parents visiting for almost a week, along with a quick visit from my Orthodox aunt and uncle, which means bring out the paper plates and find what hechshered food we can locally (great list of hechshers here); a little emergency surgery on the 7th night of Chanukah to clip the dog’s toenail that had broken on a new spinning and flashing toy; and two neglected boys added to our household as foster children last Friday. (What do you do when you have 5 children, two sibling groups, to place 3 days before Christmas? Call the Jews! It was the day of our son’s adoption celebration at the synagogue, but we found a way to take two of them and still celebrate with the congregation.) We hoped it would be a short-term placement; our sons gave the new boys their beds and slept in sleeping bags. Yes, we’re a bit meshugganeh. That means crazy. But you would have done it too if you’d heard their story. And it’s not like we had family Christmas plans to disrupt.

I say “we” had a funeral because it affects the whole family. I am the one who meets with the bereaved family and encourages them to tell me (and each other) the stories. I am the one who writes the eulogy and delivers it. I am the one who goes to the cemetery, stays until the coffin is covered, and comes home exhausted. But I come home to my family, and they take care of me while I recover, because I’m not useful for much, the rest of the day.

I read somewhere once that some people thrive on emotional drama. I really do appreciate calm and regularity in my life, when I can get it. But it’s true that I also love the focus and prioritizing that comes with, for instance, having to find two more places for children to sleep, looking for pajamas and diapers of the right size, making room at the table, remembering how to feed toddlers, finding two clean toothbrushes, sitting by the bedside of a frightened child until the child falls asleep.  Helps me know that I am alive. Alive and making a difference.
During the past week our teenaged foster daughter was dealing with Christmas approaching and being without her family for the first time. Not only that, but she had to do it in a household that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. She’s actually been a good sport about it; it can’t be easy. (Could the rabbi put the child’s presents under the little potted and decorated tree that we bought her? Of course. How ironic that I am living in an interfaith household that has been struggling with the December dilemma!)

Our original plan was to go out to see the lights erev Christmas, a ritual from my childhood, and to deliver Christmas meals on the 25th. But with four kids in booster seats plus one more, we no longer all fit in our minivan! That would be the minivan we bought a year ago last November shortly after we said “no” to a sibling group of 3, in part on the grounds that we had no vehicle into which we could fit four booster seats…. So I took the 3 oldest on the morning of the 25th and we did our Christmas mitzvah, delivering some of the 250-plus meals that Berith Sholom congregants had cooked and assembled over the past couple of weeks. I told the seniors to whom we delivered the Christmas meals that they were “from the Jewish synagogue downtown.” The last man to whom we brought a meal wished us “Happy Chanukah!” several times. Perhaps he was Jewish too?

The two new boys moved to another foster home today, and our boys are sleeping in their own beds again tonight. At dinner (we ate out) I made a special point of thanking all our children — and my partner, who does the “heavy lifting” around the kids — for making it possible to take in two extra boys for a few days. On the way home, with sound effects, we told the story (or see this version) of putting the chickens, goats, and cow in the house; amazing how quiet, calm, and spacious it is once you take them out again!

But we find it’s both happy and sad. Happy because we have more time and space for ourselves and each other. Sad because we intersected with the lives and stories of two little boys for four days, and came to care about them, and they about us; we started to get comfortable with each other, and now they are moving again and getting used to a different household. (The six year old asked only two questions: “Does he punch?” when he heard that there would be a foster dad, and the question that’s most common: “Do they have a dog?” I called back the new foster mother and asked, and yes, they have two small dogs. And I explained again that in foster care, no one hits children.) Our own son said it very clearly when we came home: He’s happy because now he gets more attention and has his own bed back, and sad because he misses the boys and had fun playing with them.

What a week.