As a competitive volleyball player for most of my formative years, it was drilled into me by each of my coaches that there is no “i” in team. Being a good teammate meant putting your own needs aside for the betterment of the team and constantly taking yourself out of it. Playing a team sport is good for many aspects of character development, but if you would have told me at 16 that playing volleyball would also prepare me to be a mom, I would have laughed in your face. But now, as I contribute constantly to my current “team,” it’s safe to say that there is no “i” in mom, either. Which is why the development of my identity as a mom means taking myself out of it. Hence, mom-dentity. (Thanks, loyal readers, for putting up with my plays on words. You can thank – or blame – depending on how you look at it, my dad for instilling in me a love of wordplays.)
I never really had a clear vision of what kind of mom I wanted to be before having kids. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought much about it. And now, after having kids, I feel like I’m running so much that half the time I just have to be whatever kind of mom I can be in that moment because I don’t have time to put a lot of thought into this method or that approach. Mostly, I just live in the moment and do what my instinct says.
The one thing that my husband and I both agreed on from a very early stage was that we wanted to raise our children in a Jewish home. But what a Jewish home truly meant to us was kind of foreign. Neither of us had a clear idea of what it meant to have a “Jewish home” as opposed to a “home.” We knew we wanted to celebrate Jewish holidays and have the occasional Shabbat. We knew we wanted to raise our kids in an environment where they wouldn’t be the only Jews and that they would feel comfortable (and proud) to go to Hebrew school and to Jewish summer camp.
But when it comes to being a “Jewish mom,” that’s harder. The truth is, I don’t really know what that means. I’ve spent most of my professional life on the phone with “Jewish moms” whose children are going to Jewish summer camp, talking about their kids, about why their kids are special, about why they’re worried about their kids and about how I can help them soothe their own concerns while at the same time giving their children a healthy separation. But I’ve always struggled with the concept of a “Jewish mom.” What’s the difference between a “Jewish mom” and being a “mom?” People say that “Jewish moms” are the ones who are most concerned and overly involved in their children’s lives, but isn’t that just what being a good mom is?
So as a good Jew, I took to being a “Jewish mom” the only way I knew how…with food. Over the past three or so years I’ve become the host of our family’s Jewish holidays including Passover and Rosh Hashanah, sometimes cooking a full meal while, yes, barefoot and pregnant. I’ve mastered the art of the kugel (see my earlier blog post) and learned how to roast a mean chicken. I’m able to get my matzoh balls to be firm on the inside and remain fluffy on the outside. I make haroset like nobody’s business (nut-free no less). But as a born and raised vegetarian who only started eating poultry a few years ago, I think my greatest pride and joy in becoming a quintessential “Jewish mom” happened at this year’s Rosh Hashanah dinner when my husband claimed my brisket was my best yet. What an accomplishment!
We should absolutely teach our children about Jewish history, culture and traditions. But of all the things that stick and the memories that we make, most usually surround the dinner table. So I will continue to master the Jewish table and continue to refine my brisket so I can call myself a pretty good “Jewish mom.” But, all the rest of it is just about being a mom, and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at that, too.