Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Cusp

11 years earlier at Elyahu's Bar Mitzvah
Yesterday at his Hanachat Tefilin

When kids are little, they think their parents are the bee’s knees. Mom and Dad can do no wrong. But the adulation gives way all too soon. When adolescence comes, the tables are turned and it often seems that Mom and Dad can do no RIGHT.

Left to right: Simcha, Ayala, Natan,Gedalia, Dov, Akiva, Shua, Moshe, Levi, Aharon, Eli, Yitzchak, Me, Aharon, Malka, Yocheved, Shmuel.

Brother in-Law Simcha offers the benefit of his experience in all matters phylactery to Yitzchak.
Little brother Asher looks on in anticipation of his own special day two years hence.
Left to right: Simcha, Levi, Gedalia, and Akiva.
Yitzchak is honored with "glila" which involves rolling the Torah scroll and replacing the decorative cover.

Lots of brothers and a brother in-law to help.
Me and Shua.

Psychologist Charles Williams coined an acronym to describe the stages of the father-son relationship from earliest childhood through the adult years: IDEAL. The link here takes you to an (unattributed) article of mine that describes these stages. The acronym stands for Idolization, Discordance, Evolution, Acceptance, and Legacy.

But the acronym also somewhat fits the picture of the general relationship of child to parent, without taking gender into account. The idolization phase fits what my eight sons seemed to feel for me in their early years. With all of them, adoration for me just shone from their eyes and that, more than anything, was the hardest thing for me to give up when I closed the gates and said no more children.

Yitzchak epstein's "hanachat tfilin" from IFL network on Vimeo.

By that time, I knew all too well the rocky road between adolescence and full adulthood when a son’s expressions of love for me became too few to count. Still there is a period of time before acne and rebellion when a son will still deign to know my opinion—still dare and care to seek my approval—and that is at their bar mitzvahs. At every one of my son’s bar mitzvahs, there would come a time when said son would glance beyond the dividing wall that separates men and women at prayer, look to catch my eye, and offer up a shy smile.
Left to right: Shua, Asher, Elyahu, Yitzchak, Natan, Me, Aharon
I knew what they wanted. They wanted me to notice and bestow a return smile of warmth, approval, and pride. No one handed me the script. No one handed THEM a script. But we both knew our parts.
Left to right: Eli, Aharon, Yitzchak

Left to right: Aharon, SIL Simcha Samuels, Yitzchak, Moshe.

After the ritual repeated itself for the third time, at Elyahu’s bar mitzvah, I wised up and noticed the pattern. I learned to watch out for the silent gift offered up by each son and to hold on to that gift through those rough years ahead, until full manhood would arrive and they would somehow relearn their appreciation of me. Of course, the adoration would be gone and have been replaced by plain old respect and love, but at least things would normalize: another pattern I noticed.

Dov calls this shot: Dark Alley Frummies. From left to right: Aharon, Asher, Natan, Shua, Elyahu
Shua shows Yitzchak how it's done.
So yesterday was Yitzchak’s date with leather: the first time he would don phylacteries. All my sons showed up at the Western Wall for the event and I thought my heart would burst, it was so full of maternal love and pride. There were two pictures presenting to me: that of my eight sons all together at the Wall in prayer, and a second picture: Yitzchak on that cusp between childhood and manhood, a sweet child donning the garb of adulthood. I watched, and sure enough Yitzchak's smile came beaming at me through the divider, filling up my tank of maternal joy for at least a few years, until such time as my 11 year-old, Asher, reaches the age of bar mitzvah. God Willing.
The deed is done

Film credit: My son Natan Epstein :-) Israeltech Productions


  1. Oh my, this is simply beautiful, as are your 8 sons! I enjoyed reading all about this relationship you have with all of them & the pride you so obviously, justifiably feel for them. Also, you taught me something & I am always willing to learn, & I shed tears of both happiness for your pride as a mother & sadness for the descriptive way you told of "closing up shop". Why, you may ask? If so, it is bc you were in no doubt in my mind, born yourself, first and foremost to be a mother, Varda. I have such respect for you, as being a strong woman, yet so loving to your boys. May you, Dov, & all your children always be blessed.

  2. Thank HaShem!- for stories of light and love,such as this,and for your sharing this story,so full of light and joy, with all of us not blessed to be in Israel. Beautiful and Inspiring. Am Yisrael Chai! Again, thanks for sharing! Your "FB Friend" in Fla,USA...David דוד