Susan's Blog

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

There came a sudden darkness, and Joseph, alarmed, stood and looked up at the sky. Mary rose to her elbows. But then as quickly as the dark had come, there came a blinding light from inside the stable. Joseph closed his eyes against it, and when he opened them again, the baby had been born.

— Elizabeth Berg, The Handmaid and the Carpenter

What a fantastic book I have found! I am halfway through Elizabeth Berg’s new novel, The Handmaid and the Carpenter. I have read many of Berg’s books, and most of the time I love her stuff; however, sometimes she makes me choke from her very writerly style. She makes her prose a bit too beautiful and clever and self-consciously crafted.

But The Handmaid and the Carpenteris different from and far superior to even her usual fare. It is extremely well done. (As a writer I am so jealous! What a great idea, taking the story of Jesus for a novel and writing it in your own style!) Berg’s is the story of Mary and Joseph, and then of Jesus, written as a novel. Not having read most of the New Testament, I cannot say whether Berg’s account approaches accuracy, but it feels true. As a Jew I have always found this story very compelling, both from what I have gleaned in comparative religion classes in Sunday school and from Christian friends, because it is that which separates Jews from Christians. The concept of the Virgin Birth is an astounding one; as a non-believer I have always wondered how others could believe in it. (Needless to say, I mean all of this respectfully, of course.)

And I wonder how people of that time felt about Mary, et al.? How did Joseph feel, and why did people believe Mary’s story? In days of being stoned for adultery, why was Mary not stoned? What occurred to make people believe her? I understand about faith, because I believe in God and that takes faith. So it must be for the Catholics.

This book, however, sets forth the story in a way that I can understand how others believe this. Mary and Joseph and their families are drawn as real people. Mary is beautiful and headstrong and very confident; Joseph is traditional, handsome, skilled as a carpenter, and head over heels in love with Mary. He struggles terribly with the news that she is pregnant and wants to divorce her, even though he still loves her (but she has broken his heart with what appears to be her infidelity) but has a vision one night that gives him a kind of permission and strength to continue to love her, despite her alleged flaws.

I can imagine an angel or a vision coming to someone and telling them things. We all have our conscience, our intuition, our ESP moments, our Jiminy Crickets! Call it what you will. I have had no such experience with angels, but I believe that I have experienced feelings that have to do with God. I don’t believe this particular story for myself but now I can imagine how someone raised Catholic, steeped in these stories, would feel its truth on some level, if not literally. That is how I explain the Bible to my kids: it is not, for the most part, literally true, but there are truths and lessons in it that are important. We don’t, for example, believe in Adam and Eve and the Garden literally, as being the first people, because we believe in evolution. But I believe that somewhere along the line in evolving, people became more and more aware of their differences sexually, and articulated those differences, so that eventually they felt that even though something was gained in their knowledge, something was also lost, a kind of innocence. In evolving, humans’ feelings and thoughts and perceptions deepened and became more sophisticated, and at some point people looked back on how how others used to be, their more primitive selves.

We all feel the loss of innocence even as we learn things we want to know about, and we grieve that change even when we celebrate it. I think this is the meaning of the Adam and Eve story. My deeper understanding of who my children are brings with it a joy and a sadness, that I am never to be an innocent, naive, easygoing mom filled with dumb love for her babies. My love is extremely informed and analytical; my knowledge of my children, rife with developmental terminology and observations. I do have unconscious moments of happiness with them, too, but that is not so much in my nature as the other kind.

So with the Mary story, perhaps the meaning intended is that in birth we all get the chance to start fresh, and that in becoming parents we are taking a leap of faith that it will be okay, that we will be okay, and we, too are renewed in that act.

The Sound of My Own Drummer

The drum solo is a mainstay of belly dance. In it the dancer adjusts her movements to the beats of the drum, which in this case were eight beat rhythms. This particular choreography consisted in 1) hip drop and sweep; 2) shoulder shimmies front and back; 3) hip lift; 4) chest drop with walking; 5)hip down; 6) freestyle shimmy; 7) interior hip circles with pelvic locks; 8) traveling twist; 9) arabesque and shimmy; 10) 4-step turn and finish. Ned took 132 frames. Then, not content with it being over, he took more pics of me looking at the pics!

And by the way, for all of you Nat fans: he has discovered a new hobby. Watching the practice belly dance DVDs with me, and watching me dance.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Nat and Annie

This is Nat with his music teacher, Annie. She is fairly new to the school, but with her came an entire music program for Nat’s school and an entire new world for Nat. They put on a talent show; they learn music theory; they sing; and they are learning the scale and the length of notes. And why not? These kids are capable of so much, you just never know until you try. Annie is more than willing to try.

And Nat just loves her. It looks like the feeling is mutual!


This new year hit me heavily. It makes no sense to me having a holiday suddenly and in the middle of winter, the most desperate time of year, which declares that a new year has begun. Most people are totally tapped out in terms of celebratory or resolution spirit, and then we are asked to have another huge celebration and think how we can be better people? Where we think about what we want to change? For Jews doing this is doubly hard because we just did that in October (Yom Kippur), and without food, too! And of course the whole Book of Life threat hanging over our yarmulked heads like a sword of Damocles. (Why didn’t Damocles’ mother ever tell him, “Okay, Damocles, enough with the sword, already! You’re giving me a headache! Go find some scissors to play with!”)

I think the Jewish New Year makes so much more sense, coming at the beginning of autumn. Autumn is the time of real change, when summer yields to fall and kids go back to school. Fall is the time of melancholy nostalgia, the perfect moment to reflect. But the New Year on December 31 feels bogus and manufactured to me. It is completely anticlimactic, falling just a week after the big cahuna (Christmas).

I have certainly thought of resolutions, nevertheless, because I do that frequently. I have not wanted to post them because I am heartily sick of the whole thing. I did my Tabblo “year in review” mostly because I love looking at my pictures and collecting them together. That always lifts my spirits.

But it is, as I said, pressing me down to think about this new year and what it will be like, what I will do differently, what is over, and what is begun. I am listing them now, because I need to.

1) Not to be afraid to be who I am.
2) Switch stage name from Delilah to Shoshana and all that implies.
3) Earn more money (finish second book draft)
4) Find supplementary help for Nat (home program for independent skills, perhaps a friend)
5) Live more moment to moment, even feeling the pain if it is there, looking up from my computer or book.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Good Things Come in Large Tabblos

Tabblo: Good Things

Tuesday, January 2, 2007


Crazy Little Thing Called Love

“You want to change something, you start by changing just one little thing.”

“No fair feeling bad about feeling bad.”

— Ned

The thing nobody tells you when you plan on having kids is how much it hurts. I am not talking about labor and delivery, though God knows that is pretty painful stuff. I am talking about what you feel for them afterwards. I remember the earliest feelings of looking at Nat felt like a pressure in my nose and throat, like wanting to cry. But it wasn’t sadness — not exactly. It was this feeling more like, “Oh, God, I almost don’t want to love you because if anything ever happened to you I could not bear the pain.” I remember feeling like I almost did not want to become too attached to little Nat because I was afraid I would lose him.

This, I feel compelled to explain, is not the same as rejecting one’s child. It is more like the opposite. I was paralyzed by my love for him that I did not know what to do about it and everything came out like tears.

My fears soon translated into crazy behavior. I became a Neat Freak. A Germaphobe. An Obsessive-Compulsive. A Nervous Wreck. I worried that he would become sick at the slightest little thing. I washed everything. I washed my hands so much that the skin wore away in places and didn’t really recover until after Max was born. This was just as well because I was, as they say, totally uncomfortable in my skin, so who needed it anyway?

It is so strange (still) to realize that there was something brewing inside little Nat, a whopper of a thing, and what that means. Was I running away from my earliest perceptions? Or was I just dealing with some of my own twenty-something stuff (Quarter-Life Crisis)? I don’t think I’ll ever really know.

My OCD is long gone but what lingers is the crazy/sad love. I still don’t always know what Nat wants or if I’m doing enough for him. I don’t know what progress is supposed to look like with him. How much of the disability am I to accept, and how much is just a product of my not doing enough?

There was an interesting post in the blogosphere today about parents who will do anything to make their autistic children “better,” or non-autistic. There was also an intelligent discussion over the suggestions in the press that parents and doctors are overdoing the diagnosing. I completely understand the desire to do anything to help your child excel, I just know that 1) you can’t have a balanced family life or life of your own if you are spending all of your energy trying to eradicate your child’s developmental disorder; and 2) I am not convinced it is possible to wipe out autism; and 3) I do not like the idea of working so hard to force my square peg son into society’s round holes.

However, where is the balance? I sometimes despair over the possibility that I have not done enough, because I tend to be scattered, poorly-organized, and inconsistent, all which can be the hobgoblin for growing autistic minds. Other times I am sad because I think, “Natty, you really were this autistic? How can that be? Where did we go wrong?” Oh, God, I am so sorry to say that, particularly knowing that autistic people read this blog. This is not about them. This is about a mother’s grief over the way something turned out for her child. And a wave of sadness washes over me; I can’t help it. I remember the bright golden firstborn son whom everyone in my family couldn’t get enough of. Everyone was jealous of me with my beautiful baby.

I sit there and let it linger and run its course, like a virus.

And then I look at him, and of course he’s pacing and silly talking and snorting (the house is really dry and dusty). His smile is wide and white. His hair is wavy, thick, and blond like ripe wheat, or honey on Grape Nuts. I want to hug him to me, just like I do with Ben or Max, but I can’t just grab them as if they were babies. And I get that old, familiar sad tug in my heart that I still don’t understand.

But what I do realize is: he is still my bright golden firstborn son whom most people love when they meet (bus drivers, teachers, family, friends). I want him to have a great life, not just one that is managed okay. I want him to have it all. I want his brothers to have it all, and they have a real shot at that. I mean friends, spouses, children, the whole nine yards.

But Nat will have a smaller life. And that is still sometimes hard for me to bear.

There is nothing wrong with him. He’s just a real odd duck, not at all whom I thought he was. The best I can do now is quit crying, get off my ass and do some programs with him, or read the Surfing Book with him. Get back in touch with what is good and forget the road not taken (the road not even there).

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