Monday, August 11, 2008

Toddler Tisha B'Av

If mourning is stepping out of community, separating oneself from life for a while, so that slowly, gradually, you are able to reintegrate yourself, diminished from your loss, back into community and into life, then it is very difficult to mourn when you have a small child.

During Tisha B’ Av there is a strange sense of being both integrated in a communal mourning, and isolated in grief. Both at the same time. We do not greet one another, and we separate ourselves from the pleasure of company (at least I do, since I’m am a cranky and irritable faster). But we aren’t alone in our mourning. Everyone else is doing it too.

But this year was so…incongruous. Like most baby/toddlers, mine is happy happy happy all the time. And she insists that, when I am around her, I be happy, too. When I'm not she really loses it. She's fine when I take away dangerous toys, or say "no" to unhealthy but delicious food. She doesn't throw fits when she doesn't get her way. But she does throw fits when I'm not engaged in her good humor. And anyway, I can't stand greeting her little jokes and tricks with a heavy heart.

So while everyone else was commemorating the sacking of Jerusalem—and I’m always stuck on the image in Lamentations of the mothers and their dead infants–the destruction of the temple that has deprived us of a home for most of our history, I was swinging and sliding and climbing in the park.

I longed to be able to join in mourning, but my daughter is too young to understand.

Of course, I unplugged the CD player that she recently learned to operate, as I do on Shabbat. And, of course, I didn’t join her at mealtime. But otherwise, her day was no different than any other, since she doesn’t care what shoes I wear or if I put on makeup.

In the coolness of the afternoon, we walked through the community garden, and a nice woman who used to live in Egypt gave my girl all the raspberries she could pluck from the bush. She also snagged herself a few choice cherry tomatoes from another friendly gardener.

I don’t know if it’s because she and I have only one another, with my family far away, the fact I still breastfeed, or if all babies are almost telepathically in tune with their parents' moods.

I guess I just told myself that my mourning was physical, if not completely mental and spiritual—the lack of food and water creates a weird feeling. The senses shut down, my body feels fragile. And at the same time, I am so very grateful for this little life beside me, grateful that she is safe and alive, without a care in the world. This isn’t really what Tisha B’Av is for—developing a sense of gratitude, but maybe we’ll do better next year.

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