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Jewish World Review
Nov. 26, 2008
/ 28 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
Shades of life
By Andrea Simantov
The bulk of my 'growing up' was done in the 1960's, a decade that rang heavily with the music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and the Beatles, and determined what hung in my closet according to the mood-swings of Carnaby Street and the Monterey Pop Festival. When I was growing up, I compiled an unwritten list of things I would never do, be, or eat after becoming a Grown-Up.
Some of things I would 'never do' included a) telling a daughter to stand straight so she won't appear stoop-shouldered, b) say to a seventh grader "I don't care WHAT the other students got on their tests, c) turn to the obituary pages before reading the morning headlines, and d) accept a date because the man was good looking. (I could finish off the alphabet on this one but you get the gist.)
The things I would never 'be' were a) overbearing, b) a gossip, c) indecisive, and d) lazy. Let's not even go there.
And the list of things I would never eat boasted a) beef liver, b) Bamba peanut flavored snacks, c) shwarma, and d) halvah. (Admittedly, in 1994 I thin-sliced a block of halvah that I'd purchased for a cancelled-at-the-last-minute dessert party and - after allowing the thin slivers to melt on my tongue over a period of one hour - I became an addict. But the remainder of the aforementioned list remains solidly intact.)
Point being, we are not creations of marble and steel but, rather, flesh and blood animals who have the ability to choose freely and make decisions. Better decisions. Richer selections and more meaningful choices according to the paths we follow. Of course, I suppose it works both ways and we can make dumber choices and lower some personal standards but I'd rather think that my fellow earth-mates (at least my local Jerusalemites) are all striving toward greater good. Yep, we can switch decor and lifestyles even at the price of occasional ridicule. To stay 'stuck' and claim, "This is who I am. Take it or leave it" is not, IMHO, ingredients for exciting interaction and growth.
Unlike their stubborn elders, children seem to 'get it' and are less likely to remain stuck. The 'stuck' part seems to happen as they get older and follow in the footsteps of their more rigid role-model seniors. Kids will lie on the floor of the bank when tired of standing on line with mommy or stare at someone unusual until their curiosity is satisfied. I can't begin to express how many times I've wanted to lie down on the cool floor of the bank until my turn or quickly turned my head from someone different way before I had my fill of inquisitiveness. It never feels fair to me but these are the rules for grown-ups and I'm a card-carrying member.
Walking to synagogue last week, I found myself trailing a young father and his two little sons. Although it was still early in the morning, the boys already started unraveling on the unseasonably warm morning: shirts halfway out of their pants, yarmulkes covering one ear, ritual fringes stubbornly refusing to stay straight. The morning air was quite still and I could not help but overhear their pre-prayer conversation.
"This week Mummy and I are going to look at new cars. Thank G-d, the family is growing and we need more space for all those car seats! What color car should we get?"
Three-year old: "Red! I want a red car!"
"Oh, please, Abba [daddy]," chimed in the five-year old. "Can we get a red car this time?"
From the set of his jaw, I could see that the father was trying to contain a smile. He answered slowly and deliberately, in British-accented English.
"If we get a red car, we will have to change the way we live. Red is a very strong color. Are we 'red kind' of people? I've always thought that we are more blue or grey."
I couldn't hear the children's responses but from the way they began kicking pine-cones and sliding down the iron-banisters which divided the path to the synagogue, I had a pretty strong sense that even though their father lingered quietly outside the color spectrum, these kids were home-grown 'crimson stuff.' I began to fantasize that if their dad would only spring for the red car, the Missus could stop buying low fat milk and flood insurance and take up hang-gliding and try on a pair of Kelly Osborne hip-huggers.
Before cyber-searching the significance of colors, I asked my 17 year old son which colors represented different members of our family. He's a sort of contemplative kid and I knew he wouldn't guffaw at the assignment but would, instead, chalk it up to some sort of new experimental therapy I was embracing. I wasn't disappointed.
"Netanel (his best and only brother) is totally red." I nodded in agreement because my research indicates that this color is associated with fire, blood, energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination, and the ability to burn the candle at both ends while causing a mother periodic heart stoppages.
"Tehilah's color is orange/gold, I think." Hmm. (Enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.) Clearly Ariel was getting good at this because in considering the shades for his 14 year old sister, he chose corresponding hues that characterize prestige (social climbing?), illumination (my burgeoning electric bills), wisdom (abundant for her age), and high quality and wealth (healthy sense of entitlement).
For me he selected purple and although studies indicate that light purple signifies feelings of romance and nostalgia, I imagine that he was instead envisioning dark purple which, unmistakably, is the color of varicose veins.
But what if we can change our colors? Or, like chameleons, adjust our shades as determined by changing environments? Would that mean that a man who is so exasperatingly beige might be able to keep his wonderful traits such as dependability intact while readily imbibing a good dose of 'magenta' for the sake of his peppy wife? Could a chartreuse cashier live happily-ever-after with an olive green accountant if both agree to share an occasional cup of Swiss-blue tea?
Although the trees have turned bare after littering the ground with their amber and copper leaves, the sky appears more and more like a clean palette upon which I can paint tomorrow's dreams and relationships in the colors I choose. Merely by lifting my eyes figuratively and literally I can easily recall when my heart was the heart of a child and remember even if only for a moment at a time what it felt like to catch snowflakes on my tongue, lay on the floor of the bank, and be carried to bed after falling asleep before the cartoon ended.
More than anything, I'm sure hoping that the young father I trailed one Sabbath morning has, after kicking the tires on a few new models, finally put his deposit on the red car.
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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