Shel­ter from the storm

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - HERB KEINON

The home, my fa­ther wisely said just after my first child was born, needs to be a shel­ter, a place where the kids can feel safe, com­fort­able and se­cure. It should be a place where they feel they are not be­ing judged and can be them­selves; where they are not mocked, scorned or made to feel bad about them­selves; where they are built up, not made to feel for­lorn; where they are pro­tected from the storm.

Through­out the years, The Wife and I have tried to main­tain the home as that shel­ter – some­times with more suc­cess, some­times less, es­pe­cially when it comes to that part about not be­ing judg­men­tal.

The home needs to be a shel­ter no less when the kids are 30 than when they are three – this is the sin­gu­lar func­tion of the home that tran­scends the age of chil­dren.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shake­speare fa­mously wrote. “And one man in his time plays many parts, his acts be­ing seven ages.”

The Bard then traces those ages, those dif­fer­ent acts, start­ing with the in­fant, “mewl­ing and puk­ing in the nurse’s arms”; through the sol­dier “seek­ing the bub­ble rep­u­ta­tion”; and cul­mi­nat­ing in old age, the “se­cond child­ish­ness and mere obliv­ion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans ev­ery­thing.”

He also could have writ­ten about the dif­fer­ent stages of the home. For just as the ages change, so, too, does the over­rid­ing func­tion of the home.

When the kids are tod­dlers, the home is a nurs­ery: toys and books and blocks and dolls strewn in ev­ery di­rec­tion. When they are ado­les­cents, and there is more than one child, it is a wrestling ring, as they con­stantly tus­sle and tan­gle and fight. In high school and be­yond, the home, es­pe­cially around the Shab­bat ta­ble on Fri­day night, be­comes a de­bat­ing hall, with all top­ics – po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural, re­li­gious, so­cial – pas­sion­ately and vo­cif­er­ously ar­gued.

Over the years our home has served as a sports hall, in­fir­mary and res­tau­rant; mu­sic con­ser­va­tory, cin­ema and res­tau­rant. And now, as the kids have all moved out, our home has taken on its lat­est func­tions: the in­ter­view­ing stu­dio and the mako­let (neigh­bor­hood gro­cery store).

“WHO IS home for Shab­bat?” goes the mid­week phone call, about ev­ery week, with at least a cou­ple of our four chil­dren.

When the chil­dren hear that it is just The Wife and me alone, one of them will in­evitably re­spond, “Oh, I’m sorry, that sounds bor­ing.”

And that re­sponse al­ways per­plexes me be­cause it shows that the kids don’t think that The Wife and I can be alone by our­selves, or even en­joy be­ing alone to­gether.

There is a cer­tain self-cen­tered com­fort as a child in think­ing that you make your par­ents whole, and that with­out you, their ex­is­tence must be mighty empty.

Many chil­dren still don’t un­der­stand that while it is sad for par­ents to see their kids leave home, after a while it be­comes the new nor­mal, and it doesn’t take that long for the par­ent to get used to the peace and quiet and clean­li­ness that their kids’ “leav­ing the nest,” with all its aches and pains, also leaves in its wake.

“I mar­ried your mother all those years ago be­cause I en­joyed be­ing with her,” I said to one of my sons dur­ing one of these con­ver­sa­tions. “We can man­age three hours alone to­gether at Shab­bat din­ner.”

The kids, thank God, still en­joy com­ing home for Shab­bat, but they like to come in pairs or packs, not one by one. So it’s ei­ther feast or famine.

There are two rea­sons for this. The first is com­fort­ing: they like each other, en­joy be­ing around each other, and want to catch up. And the ideal place to do that re­mains around the Shab­bat ta­ble, in the home where they grew up.

The se­cond rea­son is to avoid be­ing the sole fo­cus of their par­ents’ in­ter­est and at­ten­tion. If they come alone, es­pe­cially the un­mar­ried chil­dren, then in their minds din­ner be­comes an in­ter­view, with ques­tion after ques­tion fired at them with ma­chine-gun ra­pid­ity. And these are usu­ally ques­tions they would rather not hear, es­pe­cially not from their par­ents.

“Why don’t you...?”

“How come you...?”

“Will you...?” “Did you...?” “Do you...?”

The home be­comes an in­ter­view stu­dio, yet an­other al­tered func­tion of the hearth as the chil­dren travel through their dif­fer­ent stages of life.

So to avoid walk­ing onto the set of 60 Min­utes, they pre­fer com­ing for Shab­bat with at least one other sib­ling, onto whom they could then de­flect at least part of those an­noy­ing ques­tions.

BUT PAY­MENT time comes on Satur­day night, after Shab­bat ends and the in­ter­view ses­sions con­clude. Then the home mag­i­cally trans­forms into a mako­let – but a very spe­cial kind of mako­let, where all items are free.

No sooner is Shab­bat over than the kids – two of them in par­tic­u­lar – go ri­fling through the re­frig­er­a­tor, freezer and pantry, see­ing what they can take back to their apart­ments.

They start with the left­overs from the meals, which I am happy for them to take, be­cause I don’t want to get stuck eat­ing left­over brisket ev­ery night un­til the next Shab­bat.

It’s when they dive into the freezer and the cup­boards that things get a bit dicey.

“Can I take the frozen chicken breasts and a kilo of ham­burger?” one kid asks. “Can I take the bagels?” an­other in­quires. “Do you have any tooth­paste?” comes a third re­quest.

“I don’t get it,” I said to The Wife. “They can’t buy bagels and tooth­paste in Jerusalem?”

“Sure they can,” she replied. “But it’s cheaper here. Don’t make them feel bad about it. Re­mem­ber, the home is still their shel­ter.”

That’s true, I think to my­self. But for how long is it also go­ing to be their food bank? ■

Now, as the kids have all moved out, our home has taken on its lat­est func­tions: the in­ter­view­ing stu­dio, and the ‘mako­let’

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