Apples and honey for a sweet new year. For my five year old, that’s what the Jewish New Year is all about. Especially the honey. At her age, all she knows is literal sweetness.
For me, she is the sweetness. The sweetness of having her hold my hand (how much longer will she do it?) as we walk to school. The sweetness of her telling me she loves me. Of course, there are thorns, too.
But somewhere in the ten days of awe between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, if you follow the rituals, you ask to be written into the book of life for another year. It is a metaphor, of course, because life as you live it, day to day, doesn’t unfold in neat chapters or with themes you can recognize and tease out like you did in semiotics class in college (or at least I did.)
So, I was struck recently when I recognized a clear ending to a chapter.
Isabelle started kindergarten this year, which any parent knows is a cause for celebration and trepidation — a small step toward emancipation. More than any milestone I’ve lived through with her, it feels like the ending of a chapter, the clink-clank of a heavy door being shut forever. She and I will always be close. We are the only two in our little family. Yet those five and a half years of intense mothering — of spending every morning together (my job scheduled worked out so I had half a day with her for most of that time) teaching her about life, how to walk, how not to touch when it’s hot, how to be compassionate when a friend gets a boo-boo, of trying to make her understand that grabbing a toy or pushing a kid down wasn’t good behavior — now seems like a giant mountain we climbed together.
All these daily lessons that pile one on top of another, so we don’t even notice them: they’re behind us now.
One of the toughest lessons that I taught over those years — and had to learn for myself — was “what’s wrong with Gramps?”
My father has been in a nursing home, ravaged by dementia for nearly three years now. He doesn’t know where he is, who he is, who I am.. and I can’t help but wonder, will he be written into the book of life for another year?
It is a cruel fate for such a lively, engaged man: to sit mute and unknowing, now unconnected with a world he loved.
But the lesson of Gramps (the answer I settled on was “his brain is sick”) was a tough one to grasp for both Isabelle and me. Will he get better? No. But her matter-of-fact acceptance of that fate for him was a good lesson for me.
His final chapter is being written. How long it will last, no one can know.
Isabelle is starting a whole new chapter and so am I. Hers I can see taking shape, as she learns to form her own words, sentences and eventually chapters.
What I’m wrestling with now is: what does the new chapter look like for me, still an active mom, less active as a daughter to my Dad? A friend asked me, was I sad to say good-bye to that intense time of mothering, full of happy playdates and the occasional tantrums. I admitted to getting a little teary on the first day of kindergarten (Isabelle was dry-eyed, and I’m glad about that). But no, I realize, I’m not sad. Wistful, maybe. But not sad.
I poured a lot of love, sweat, tears, frustration, hugs, kisses, kindness, compassion, anger, irritation, joy…all of it…into those five years. I am proud of it. Happy with it. Proud of her and happy for her.
I’m happy to be moving forward, to be seeing what the next chapter brings, for all of us…as we dip our apples in the honey in a few days.
Photo credit: Book of Life image used above is by Flickr user TON7O.