A Portrait of the Artist As an Old(er) Man

I got checked out by a woman when I went out a couple weekends ago.

Hang on, it’s not what you think.

It was around 9:30 on Saturday evening. I wouldn’t say that the streets were packed, but it seemed like a busy evening. There were groups of people milling about outside the restaurants and more making their ways through the streets, plus a few who seemed to just be standing and listening to the music echoing from the concert at the stadium nearby. I had stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change when she walked by.

She looked to be in her early 20s. She had done her hair and was wearing a dark jacket and jeans. I had been watching the oncoming traffic when I heard her heels clacking against the sidewalk. I looked up just in time to see her smile and quickly return her attention to watching herself in her phone as she ran her fingers through her hair.

Actually, it was really more of a smirk than a smile.

The differences between us couldn’t have been clearer. She was talking to someone on the phone as she walked; I was standing alone. She was going “out;” I was going to Target. She was young, I was old (…er). She had clearly put effort into her appearance; I was wearing this:

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I’m fairly certain I’ve had these exact clothes since I was in college.

She wasn’t checking me out because she thought I was attractive; she was laughing at me.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear: I was not insulted. I remember being 20-something and feeling like the world was at my fingertips. That’s how 20-somethings are supposed to feel. They are supposed to think that the world is full of possibilities and that they are at the center of it all. They are supposed to think, at least to a certain degree, that they know everything; at least, certainly more than anyone who is old (…er!) or who doesn’t fit into their social circle.

There I was, standing on a street corner, two days shy of my 34th birthday, with two finally sleeping children and an exhausted wife at home. I looked less like an gainfully employed adult supporting a family than I did like a college student taking out the garbage in the hallway of his dorm.

I found myself asking two questions. The first, obviously, had to do with what other people were thinking as I walked by. My feelings were clear: I was under-dressed to even be making a quick run to CVS, let alone moving among people who were out for a night on the town. I felt conspicuous, as though every person who saw me was immediately thinking of some sort of judgment about me. “Look at that guy,” I could practically hear them saying to their friends. “He’s got the drawstrings hanging out of the front of his shorts, he’s wearing flip-flops in 50-degree weather and he’s probably had that sweatshirt since he was actually in college. That must have been like twenty years ago.”1 My usual impulse to play the contrarian role seemed to have less will behind it on that particular evening.

The second was, “Why should I care what they’re thinking?” By most typical measures of success in life,2 I have it made. As I mentioned, I had two beautiful sleeping children and an unbelievable wife – who was not yet sleeping – at home. I have multiple jobs, including a private therapy practice, a post-graduate education and a savings account. What do I have to feel uncomfortable about? Am I really that insecure or was I just temporarily yearning for the times when I was young(…er)?

I decided that what I was feeling was normal. I imagine that, to a certain extent, everyone longs for a time when they had fewer responsibilities and had the luxury of putting their effort into spending time with their friends or going to parties instead of making late night runs to the drug store. On a more basic level, I imagine that many adults at least think about the difference between first going out at 9:30 at night and having been wearing one’s pajamas for twenty minutes by the time 9:30 comes. It wasn’t about the girl or my clothes or the fact that my glasses and the stubble on my face from not having shaved combined to spell “exhaustion” across my forehead. It was about being reminded of where I am in my life and being happy with what I have.

I’m thankful for the fact that I’m employed, even if it feels like the work never ends. I appreciate the fact that I’m able to support my family financially so that my wife can stay home with our children. I’m lucky to have access to resources and the awareness that I’m significantly privileged so that Trudy and I can impart the same awareness to our kids as they get older. There are some challenges in my life, to be sure, but they’re not nearly as severe as those than many other people face on a daily basis. I wouldn’t change a thing.


1. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2005. It was twelve years ago.

2. Including The Game of Life, where the very object of the game is to get married, raise a family, make a whole bunch of money and retire. This game may end up being the subject of a future blog post.

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Eishet Chayil

We don’t get many chances to have meals together as a family during the week. Between home visits and secondary jobs, I often don’t get home before 8:00, which means that Eitan and Shayna have usually been asleep for at least an hour by the time I walk in the door. I can sometimes FaceTime with them to say hi, wish them sweet dreams and get an up close view of Shayna’s tiny teeth when she puts Trudy’s phone in her mouth but that’s about it. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to walk into a quiet apartment after a long day of work, but nothing beats seeing Eitan and Shayna’s faces light up when I walk through the door.

It’s one of the reasons why Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is so important to us. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, lasts from Friday evening through Saturday evening. There are official rules that describe what constitutes “work” which I won’t get into here.(1) The important part is that Friday night is the time that we spend together as a family. We eat dinner together at the same table, have conversations about our days or our plans for the weekend and enjoy each other’s company.

Before we get to the meal, we light candles to signify the start of Shabbat and then sit down at the table. We sing two songs before making kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Then Eitan recites the motzi, the blessing over the challah, and we start eating.

A couple of months ago, Eitan was getting antsy while I was singing Eishet Chayil. He didn’t seem like he was being rude intentionally, but he was clearly bored and tired and wanted attention (as four-year-olds often are). He began making faces at Shayna, tugging at his clothes and playing with his silverware. I stopped singing and asked him to sit quietly until I was finished. He did so, for the most part, though he continued to fidget slightly for the next few minutes.

Once we started eating, I asked him if he knew what the songs we sing before kiddush were about. He said that he knew that the first song, Shalom Aleichem, is special for Shabbat. I agreed and said that it is about bringing people together for Shabbat and wanting peace for the people we love.  I asked if he had never noticed me looking at anyone while I sing the second song and he said that he has seen me look at Trudy. I said that he was right and explained that the second song, Eishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”), is about all the amazing things that Mommy does for our family every day. It took some slight prodding to keep him focused (he was still trying to make faces at Shayna), but he was able to come up with a number of things that Trudy does for us at home, including cooking delicious dinners, keeping the house clean and taking care of him when he is sick.

Gratitude is a concept that can be somewhat difficult for young children. They understand the idea behind saying “thank you” as an acknowledgment of receiving a gift but it’s hard for them to keep those words in mind regarding other tasks that are not necessarily as tangible. Eitan doesn’t see the effort it takes to keep track of his doctors appointments and school functions, for instance, or the coordination that goes into planning his birthday parties, two tasks that Trudy handles masterfully. He doesn’t understand the organizational skills necessary to keep track of countless Carter’s and Children’s Place receipts or the patience it takes to make three hours with two kids under five – including baths, dinner and bedtime routines – run seamlessly. He certainly doesn’t see the way an emotionally and physically drained parent collapses onto the couch in the evening after a day of whining, nursing and the occasional tantrum.

To be clear, I don’t fully understand those things either. I spend most of my days (and, often, my evenings, as well) at my desk or on the subway or in other people’s homes. People aren’t whining at me, demanding that I do things for them or crying if I don’t do them immediately. The difference is that I understand what I don’t understand (sort of). I don’t understand, for instance, how Trudy can prepare dinner, feed the kids, clean the table and kitchen, bathe the kids and have them in bed in the span of an hour and a half. I don’t understand how she can keep shopping lists and birthday parties and school event plans straight without having a breakdown. I certainly don’t understand how Trudy can look at a set of ingredients in a fridge or freezer and turn them into a meal I’d gladly pay for in a restaurant without a recipe.

The most essential aspect of Trudy’s “valor,” though, has very little to do with logistical household tasks. Trudy’s star has always shone brightly, but it changed once Eitan was born and then again even brighter when Shayna came along. It grew stronger, as though Trudy’s evolution into an amazing mother added new layers of warmth and caring, intensifying her ability to love the people around her. She’s not only the primary reason why our children are consistently fed, clothed and as social as they are; she’s also the reason they’re always so happy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Trudy. Thanks for being our family’s eishet chayil.

 

Speaking My Mind

It was just short of a year ago that I wrote a post about keeping my political opinions to myself.  I wrote that I had no interest in publicizing my views of governmental policies or the personalities that were advocating for them, largely because doing so felt like screaming at the wind. It seemed futile to publish articles about foreign policy or health care or education reform because I never felt like my voice would have any effect. I’m only one person, of course, and it is always hard to tell if anyone is listening. I pictured myself publishing a blog post and my words dissipating into the ether of cyberspace, without any response or recognition. Or, if there were recognition, I imagined it manifesting in the form of internet trolls hurling insults at me from the protection of Twitter egg avatars, rather than challenging my argument with an opposing opinion and engaging me in honest discourse. It’s not even that I’m looking for recognition with this blog;1 but if I’m going to write about something as important as the state of our government, I want to be able to make a difference.

The other issue was that I felt disappointed in the political conversations I was watching between actual politicians. I published the post in June 2016, at the end of the presidential primary election schedule. My biggest complaint was that the debates had become “nothing more than candidates throwing insults back and forth at each other while the political issues get pushed to the side… [All] platitudes and sound bites with no substance.” I was looking for leaders to describe their plans for moving our country forward but I was given reality television drama instead.

That brings me to today.

As I was deciding how I wanted to approach my stance to the events that have transpired over the past few months, I realized what has been bothering me the most about our President’s administration. It is not just my vehement disagreement with his choices for cabinet posts, as I outlined in my letter to the President on Inauguration Day. It is not just that I take exception to the blind defense that most Republican members of Congress provide in response to the President’s executive orders that are clear examples of discrimination. It is not even just my anger about the GOP’s celebration of a health care bill whose purpose is to offset tax cuts for the super-rich, rather than provide actual health care to U.S. citizens.

The most concerning and frustrating aspect of the American government since our President took office has been the fact that the supposed leader of the free world does not seem to care about the people he is said to be leading or the institutions of the country of which he is supposed to be in charge.

The President makes open displays of disdain for those he feels are beneath him and speaks negatively about foreign leaders without hesitation.2 Many of the President’s words seem to be uttered without any consideration as to their potential consequences. He appears incapable of admitting that he is mistaken (at best) or that he has lied outright (at worst). His disregard for the weight of his position and the related importance of his comments has shattered any last shred of integrity that might have remained with him.

To put it simply: I don’t trust him.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that an educated American citizen feels like his Commander-in-Chief cannot be relied upon to accomplish simple administrative tasks. It is also unfortunate that his staff is forced to bend over backwards trying to defend his actions and comments, even if doing so forces them into their own political gaffes. However, neither of these are as depressing as the refusal of Republican members of Congress to deviate from party lines in order to speak out against behavior that is harmful to the American public or, in some cases, borders on treason. Our representatives in government should be held responsible if their actions do not benefit their constituents. If they vote in favor of bills that have a direct connection to negative results for the citizens in their districts, they should not be re-elected. If those in power take action to remove people from office who are investigating potential ties to corruption and foreign interference in our governmental procedures, they should be held accountable.

It is not worth remaining quiet about one’s views in our current political climate simply because the desire for open and honest political discussion is hard to find. It has been people’s complacence and comfort with silence that has led to the mess that has become our government. People need to speak about their ideas, whether the audience is apparent or not. We need to write letters to editors and op-ed pieces, make phone calls to our elected officials and attend rallies and marches in person. If it feels like Washington is not listening to us, we need to speak louder, reminding our representatives and senators that they work for us and not the other way around.

However, and perhaps this is even more important, we also need to listen. While it feels empowering to join with those who feel the same way we do, it is incumbent upon us to engage those who disagree with us so that we can understand their position and become more informed about the circumstances that brought them to their opinions. Such discourse continues to be critical for our nation’s progress because open conversation is the only path toward compromise. Even if we succeed in replacing the politicians who have brought us to this point, a lack of appropriate and mindful follow-up would land us right back at square one in the future. Without it, the population will continue to reinforce the current divide along party lines, resulting in the same white noise that has brought us to where we are today.


1. Which is good, considering the blog’s fairly meager following.

2. And those were our allies!

Featured image courtesy of Mediamodifier.