May 19th, 2022


That Other 'Maternity Leave'

Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz

By Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz

Published June 9, 2021

That Other 'Maternity Leave'
The freedom is still savory. I can taste it and even though it is a few years old, it's still fresh for me.

I have the freedom to think my own thoughts and choose books from the library without worrying what a kid might find in it.

I have the freedom to drop a comment without framing it carefully so that it sends a positive message.

I have the freedom not to model.

I am free to indulge myself.

I am free to overdo the cleanliness thing.

I am free to delay meals and skip food preparation and cheat with an unhealthy meal.

I am free to fill the house with my own music and clutter if I feel like it.

I am free to be right and there is almost no one to argue to the contrary.

The soothing silkiness of sameness is still novel. The joy of predictability still lingers. The secret or not-so-secret relief that I am past homework and teenage angst like some of our friends bubbles up when we meet. I am ever grateful to be a young middle aged woman.

"It's time to get serious about being a good grandmother," I told my good friend Sarah recently. "It is time for me to start making memories and spending quality individual time with each grandchild," I resolved.

"I read with my out-of-town grandson every night," was her response. "We do it every night at eight when he is almost ready for bed. He picks the book and he reads to me over the phone for five minutes. We're reading the Boxcar Children."

Wow! I was impressed. Sarah was already there.

"But I feel like I've barely recovered from the trauma of motherhood," I countered.

"You? You're complaining?" my friend remonstrated. "You haven't had kids in the house for years. I have a seventh grader besides a daughter in college and a son in yeshiva. I'm not done yet; I am still a mother."

"You are taking grandmotherhood seriously and are being very conscientious about it," I validated with increasing respect for my friend of 35 years.

"Faigie, let's face it. Our grandchildren are not going to get the education we gave our kids. We have to do our part. I don't have so much time to spend with him when he comes with his family for Sabbath or holidays. It is just too busy with my kids and the grandchildren. This is working pretty nicely for us. It is our time together and we do it over the phone."

"You are going to do this with every grandchild?" I questioned, pondering the implications. This was a big commitment.

"I don't know," was the honest answer. "I can't think like that. I'll cross that bridge when I get there. Meanwhile, this is a very good idea for Ezra right now."

"I am really impressed that you took this on, Sarah. It's another thing to do, another job."

"Look, Faigie. Fuggedaboudit. We will have new jobs and additional responsibilities until the day we die. That's just the way it is."

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Expectations are dangerous things, apparently. Even after we are seasoned at marriage and have experience navigating the bumps and jolts of adult life, we shed less than we take on.

I didn't get it, though. I remember telling my friend Andrea how I thought that my life would be simpler when the nest emptied several years ago. My son was off in Israel and my girls were already established in their own homes. And I was surprised to find that my life was still complicated with different responsibilities and new realities. "Faigie, you are too smart to be so stupid to think life gets easier," quoth she.

How sobering her comment was then. How true it is still is, I am reminded again and again.

We never shed a responsibility without assuming another one (or two or three or four). That's how life works. If we have fewer parenting obligations, our responsibilities for our parents, our health, and our spouses grow. If we have time and space, we fill it with more. We take on a "kindness project", a new task, an additional time commitment. We plan more celebrations, family outings, and try to give our husbands more help in their businesses and work when the kids take much less of our time. We tend to join Torah classes and initiate activities with meaning when we have an available slot and accessible mindspace.

A void is not considered healthy for us middle aged folks, after all. We are told to exercise our minds and our bodies lest their capacities diminish. We've gotta use it so we don't lose it. We have more responsibilities because we expect to live to a ripe old age. Along with that comes the need for more income and more insurance for when we decline and possibly become incapacitated.

The complexity of our rapidly changing world dizzyingly demands that we regularly learn new technology skills. We need to master more things with serious ramifications and to plot a long term course. The risks and tasks are perhaps greater now than when we were actively parenting. There isn't much time now to repair mistakes we make. The urgency is much greater. The freedom I now have is merely illusory. Maybe my reveling in it is denial of what comes next.

I wish I had a GPS to help me navigate the tiny space between the slices of the generational sandwich. But even if it's only a thin coating of jelly, how sweet is that long awaited layer of some freedom!


A former nonprofit management professional and now freelance writer, digital marketing strategist and political advocate, Faigie Horowitz has cofounded a shelter for homeless girls, a synagogue on Long Island, and mostly recently JWOW!, Jewish Women of Wisdom, a community for midlifers. She holds a Masters in Management and nests on Long Island with way too many closets.

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