Thursday, August 14, 2008
Cosmic Sharing and Cycles of Love: Parenting for Independence
In Kurt Vonnegut's short story, 'Harrison Bergeron,' a society of the future installs 'mental handicap radios' in the ears of its population, sending out periodic sharp noises to keep the overly intelligent 'from taking unfair advantage of their brains.' My oldest daughter was in London recently, and on the Friday before her return I thought of the story I read with so much pleasure in junior high. That day, each time I sat down to my computer to work, there was that vibrating buzz--'one message received'-'where are you?' When she and her friend first arrived at Heathrow, I welcomed the buzz: after the first encounter with British Immigration, and the flurry of messages which accompanied it (the two Israeli Beis Yaakov girls, deemed a threat to Her Majesty's Commonwealth, were detained for over an hour), I was less enthusiastic: 'two messages received'-'what are you doing now?'; 'four messages received'-'what are you having for dinner?' When we finally spoke, just before the onset of shabbos, I couldn't disguise my frustration: 'fifty-seven messages in one day! you're joking, right?'
So parents make mistakes. Mentioning the sms excess had been the planned opening to the conversation, but from her point of view it was already over: 'Where's Mommy?' That was a snub.
'Your mother has already lit shabbos candles.'
I quickly improvised: 'Mommy made the cholent, but added too many chick peas; I made your spicey orange chicken with eggplant, but Freidie left it in the oven too long and it burnt; the girls helped Mommy make the brownies, but ran out of chocolate chips; and the boys are napping and will wake up just in time to cry through the shabbos meal.' I understood that though she is eighteen and managing her independence half a hemisphere away she wanted to be grounded, reminded of home.
Recently my three year-old son gave me an understanding of what had happened. On an afternoon visit to shul, he was restless and felt like exploring, but as he started to lean away from me, ready to wander, he tightened his grip. A living emblem: his feet perched on mine, tilting away from me, pulling my hands-almost an inverted compass.
Though it was not just a simple question of his need for re-assurance. More than that, when our children are becoming themselves as toddlers or even adults, if we are good enough parents, they will be, at the same time, asserting their connection to us. Or maybe it's through connecting to us that they become independent? Almost like a conceit from a poem by John Donne: we become most independent at the very moment we are most connected. This is the identification born out of love, allowing for the self to grow. For 'living,' as Freud writes, 'is the the same as being loved.'
'Beloved is man, because he was created in G-d's image; even more beloved is he because he was so informed, as it is written: "in the image of G-d, He created man."' So Rabbi Akiva tells of the love that links G-d and man, but there is an even greater love: the love that G-d shows by telling us that we are created in His image. G-d loves man, says the Maharal, and with His cosmic 'I love you,' elicits our love. Not only is there a connection-expressed in the image of G-d that links the Creator and man-but G-d informs us of that connection because he wants our love. Through the mutuality of love, man does not become divine as the Serpent falsely promises; rather man, through becoming godly, elevates himself as man.
So when the shabbos siren sounded-just as I ran out of details of Friday's preparation to recount-I added one more thing to our globetrotting and ever-more independent daughter: 'We love you!'