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Jewish World Review
August 15, 2007
/ 1 Elul, 5765
To raise a man
By Andrea Simantov
A lot has been written in recent years about male/female ways of thinking, i.e., right/left brain stuff. Most of these pieces use a lot of numbers, abbreviations for scientific terms I don't understand, and are adorned with pictures of latex-swathed lab workers holding test tubes. For me, these are scary articles, and I quickly turn the page, searching for laundry-soap coupons. Considering that I'm a very smart woman, I can play dumb-in-a-flash and not look back. No apologies, no guilt.
I was born female and hope to remain that way until I draw my last breath. Not because I claim any moral or spiritual superiority. I just like things to stay the way they are and try avoid dramatic change if possible.
I'll just keep doing that girl-thing if you don't mind. Being Torah observant as well, I thank G-d every day for creating me according to His will and consistently refuse to be drawn into anti-religious debates born from lack-of-knowledge that claim that G-d is, clearly, anti-woman.
Point being: Women are more emotional. We don't necessarily need "solutions" as much as we need "contact" and intercommunication. Not only isn't it a "liability"; it's good stuff. Makes us different, which, methinks, is excellent. I like analysis and hashing out dilemmas with my gal-pals and co-workers who, in time, leave me smarter and better informed. The men I know have little patience for this kind of introspection and over-examination and will rarely entertain this pressing need in me and others of my gender unless there is even a slight possibility for romantic entanglement later on.
Which is why I was so moved when my very Israeli, very macho, counselor son came home to tell me about a little boy who cried in camp because the beach sand was scalding hot beneath his feet.
It seemed that his bunkmates had walked ahead too quickly for the little boy and he lagged behind. Seeing him screaming in pain and fear with nowhere to turn and even more frightened at having seemingly been abandoned, Ariel dropped his bags and ran back to where the terrified youngster stood. He scooped him into his arms and ran toward the sea in order to dunk the child's feet. In telling me this story, Ariel was crying.
"He was so scared, Mom. He was screaming and all I could think of was how to make it better and stop the panic. The crazy thing was, I knew exactly how he felt."
Lest one thinks that my sons are New Age Sensitive types, be reassured. They have little patience for my personal need "to emote."
"Gosh, Mom, you've said that a hundred times. No one cares about your friend's sick poodle." Or, "Why are you telling us this, Mom? Don't you have a girl friend or something?" These exchanges usually take place at the Shabbes (Sabbath) table from where I won't run and must, instead, blink back tears of embarrassment coupled with self-righteous rage. This is a scene that repeats itself week after week.
My boy-children are selective about which life issues deserve compassion. For example, when I recently decided to put our house up for sale and mused aloud about how "Change is good" and "Let's not be so quick to take the first offer" (what offer???), they both varfed themselves and shouted, "Are we going to talk about this all the time? Can't we talk about anything else???" Naturally, I did the gasp-and-blink-back-tears thing but to no avail.
When I came home from a stunning 25th anniversary party down the road, however, and described how I was the ONLY single person there and how uncomfortable I felt while searching for an extra seat at any of the tables, there appeared a teeny, empathetic glint in their eyes. Pouncing upon this opportunity, I described the Guest of Honor's speech that extolled the rewards of marriage, causing everyone in the room to nod in quixotic agreement. I reported to the boys that as difficult as this was for me (despite agreeing with every word he uttered), I held my dignity, and nodded along with others hoping for a few extra moments of dim light so I could regain composure and not call attention to my aloneness. But this poise was shattered when a well-meaning woman sidled over to me and squeezed my shoulder. It was an understanding squeeze. But it broke me. Broke me in shame. I was crazed and desperate for a few moments of invisibility, and this was wrested from me by someone's well-meaning but ill-timed concern.
In sharing this story with my sons, they grew pensive and, for a brief moment, saw me as less of a Borscht-Belt caricature than a real, flesh-and-blood human being. They exhibited uncharacteristic patience and concurred that it would be good to move from this perfectly fine neighborhood where I've gradually come to feel out of place. They simply agreed that I need a more varied community where I might find more "people like me." I saw in their faces that they felt secure, safe in the belief that if it is good for me, then it will be good for them. That I would never put the Me before the We. Yep, it was a good moment.
And just as quickly, they switched from Dr. Phil mode and back to Fred Mertz. But never mind. For one short-lived moment I held their kindness in the palm of my motherly hand and recognized that inside the hearts of my male offspring lay a quality called rachmanus "mercy."
It should be pointed out that the word rachmanus comes from the word rechem, or "womb." It can therefore be deduced that, according to holy-tongue, a man who is merciful is a man in touch with his "feminine-self." Because, in truth, only those in possession of a physical womb can truly "own" this quality. And we can further infer that G-d meant for all of us to take the best from one another. That there are things for women to glean from their tender dealings with men. And men who are lovingly connected to women can achieve greater depths from their relationships.
For a woman alone, raising boys to become men is oftentimes daunting. Self-doubts seize me at the most inconvenient times, and I often hurt for them, anguished that I cannot slay their dragons for them instead of feebly standing by while they respectively wrestle with inconveniences such as hormones, social insecurity, and looming military service. I want for my boy-men what I want for myself: Love, laughter, comfort in one's own skin.
I suppose that all He is really asking from us is our personal best, even if it isn't great at a given moment in time. That somewhere in Heaven sits a Roll Book filled with gold-and-silver stars, attesting to expended effort.
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JewishWorldReview.com contributor Andrea Simantov is a Jerusalem-based columnist and single
mother of six. Comments by clicking here.
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© 2007, Andrea Simantov. This column first appeared in Orange County Jewish Life