Susan's Blog

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Be Longing

I am not a joiner. My boys and Ned are not, either. However, I was raised by people who were ambivalent about their joiner-ness, and so for a long time I did not realize I was not a joiner. So I would join groups, sign up for things, and then eventually withdraw/stop going/quit in disgust because the group thing would get to me. Then would come a long period of self-hatred because what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I stick with anything? Why did these people in these groups seem to speak a language that I could not parse? In my playgroups I would feel like I was an alien, the only mom not interested in discussing children’s clothing, diaper services, breastfeeding, or the cute thing our kids were doing. I wanted to get to know the moms as people, as friends. I wanted to talk about things that really interested me, like current events, how it felt to be a mother, husbands, boredom. Or why was my baby different from all other babies? (Ma nish ta nah ha yeled ha zeh mi call ha yeledim?)

The same thing happened in my book group, my one and only book group. I felt like the discussion of the book was always shallow. People were focused, again, on their children, or the snacks that were being served, or the decor of the place we were in. I’m as into decorating and food as the next person, but I think a book group should be about the writing, the characters, the themes, etc., and not whether to serve Chinese food when you “critique” Amy Tan.

And then there was our synagogue. I tried, as G-d is my witness. Not only did I join; I started a special education task force there. I kind of gently forced them to have education for disabled kids. The Rabbis eventually took it up like a favored cause. It was wonderful, natural, beautiful. I would tell them, the public schools have the law, but we answer to a higher authority!! I invoked Moses, too. And so, Nat got a Sunday School education for several years. So did Max. And then — stop me if you’ve heard this one — when it came time for the kids in Nat’s grade to choose their bar mitzvah dates, they all went ahead and chose them without telling us and we were left with only a Monday or some other reject date. The cantor was flustered when we went in to ask why this had happened, but there was nothing to be done. They had assumed Nat would not do a “normal” bar mitzvah, and so they had made it so. My heart broke. We withdrew and did our own bar mitzvah for him.

The other day my mother asked if Benj was having a bar mitzvah and I just said, “No.” Heavy, sluggish brown silence filled the car like a bad fart. She was really disappointed: that we would not rejoin a temple, and that Max and Ben never had one. I told her I don’t like bar mitzvahs. I actually hate them. I find them pompous, long-winded, boring, indulgent. I don’t know how much meaning they have to the kids participating. Maybe they have meaning. But I can’t stand them. It’s all personal, selfish, I admit it. I hate watching the other kids, dressed up, giggling. Not really paying any attention to their classmate.

Plus, there is the whole trauma of my own experience: I remember how I was excluded from the bar mitzvah circuit because my parents chose not to give us bat mitzvahs! (They sent us to Israel instead, but somehow, my peers did not get the memo, and never invited me to theirs even though I was in Sunday School with them through age 15.)

Mom wondered why we had done one for Nat, then. I told her that it was about the fact that we felt we had a lot to celebrate as far as Nat’s progress, but that there were no natural milestones for him. He goes to the same school, year after year, no rite of passage. No 8th grade graduation, no high school graduation. No award ceremonies, except for the Special Olympics. So, a bar mitzvah, created out of thin air. Nat’s had a lot of meaning for him, and for us, but that was an extraordinary circumstance, not some ritual forced down his throat. I didn’t have one, and I didn’t need one: my trip to Israel did everything for me and more. (Not the least of which was meeting Gabi, whom I am still in touch with, my Canadian friend. He taught me how to drive a tractor, and much more! 🙂 But I also saw the Western Wall; I still remember how it smelled. I slept on the Sinai; I visited Yad V’Shem, the Memorial to the Six Million; I swam in Eilat; I went to Lebanon, the Golan Heights, the West Bank; I met relatives; I climbed Masada; I went to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Haifa. What would standing up in front of that petty group of people at Temple Shalom have given me that would be better than that?)

I am not a joiner. I will not join a synagogue again in this lifetime. I probably won’t join a book group either. It is a miracle that I still occasionally go to my writer’s group. It is an even more blessed miracle that I have been able to attend bellydance class but I must do that. I have to get over my anti-group thing and stick with that class and be a novice and bad at it and ultimately do the recital. But I am terrified. This is making me so very vulnerable. I have no problem putting pics of myself dancing on the Internet but the idea of dancing in front of family and friends — EGAD!!!!

(I asked Max what he felt his religion was and he said, “I’m Jew–ish.”) Ben said, “I’m more into Technology.”

There you go. They’re American Jews!


It’s time to celebrate Nat! Actually, it’s way overdue. Celebrate all that he has accomplished!

I’m not a joiner either. If a group you are in changes into something you don’t like, then leave it. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the recital, then don’t do it. Do it because YOU want to do it, not because anyone else thinks “you should”. Listen to your gut. Don’t go pleasing others. You are stronger than anyone I know.

— added by MarkZ on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 10:05 am

I’m not a joiner, but I think I know why. It’s that I don’t need to belong to group to feel accepted. Actually, it’s that I don’t need to feel accepted. Another way to say it is I’m very independent.

“Acceptance” is nice feeling, but its not something that motivates me strongly. I seem to have a capacity to operate for long periods without needing anything but my own conviction I am moving down the right path. I guess that means when I differ with a group, my desire for acceptance is overwhelmed by my other intrinsic motivations, such as my desire for truth. And so I find it hard to associate myself with groups too strongly, because “being” the group means losing other aspects of me.

I used to feel worse about this than I do now. I used to wonder why I don’t have a bunch a friends who I chat with all the time. Now I know why, and I realize I’m not really missing what I imagined I was missing. Who I am is largely incompatible with groups. What most people get from them I don’t need, and what most people give up to be in them, I value too highly.

— added by Damien on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 10:46 am

Oh, cool, you learned to drive a tractor? 🙂 I’ve never done that, and it’s not for not living near plenty of them!

My Monday night thing is fairly informal and organic — people join when they can, drop out when they can’t, and drop by briefly if that’s all they can manage. For the trip to the gun range (FINALLY!), there were 8 of us at the pizza place a few doors down, and then 2 went shopping while 6 of us walked over to fire guns. (And I never, ever want to shoot a .357 indoors again. .22s are fine, though.)

The only organization I’m actually paying dues to is a club for moms of twins, triplets, etc. and I get more out of the mailing list than the meetings. I probably would have skipped the last couple of meetings, but I had stuff for people that I’d promised to bring. I would have left the last one early, but D., who has a child recently diagnosed with PDD-NOS seemed like she needed to talk, and I wanted to be there for her. And it seemed it did her good, so I was glad to have been there — not for the group, but just for one friend. (And I’ve got less than 20 people out of probably 100 I see regularly that I count as a “friend” instead of just an “acquaintance”. D., M., F., R., a number of others are friends; I don’t thing S. will ever be more than an acquaintance, but you never know.)

— added by Julia on Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 1:17 pm

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