Shelter from the storm
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’