Shared Spirit

By Rachel Stein |

Scarlet and orange leaves swirled in an invigorating fall dance, and my mood was calm and upbeat as I welcomed the new season’s arrival.

Great day for some yardwork, I decided, vigorously raking the leaves into an increasing pile.

“Hi, Dad,” my son, Jeff, greeted me, and I marveled at my man-child. Tall, strapping and good-looking, he towered over me, exuding energy and youthful exuberance. Shaking my head, I wondered how this happened.

Rachel Stein
Rachel Stein

“Need some help?” Jeff offered, and I was grateful to be holding the rake or I might have fallen over from surprise. Maybe he really is growing up.

“Sure,” I replied, keeping my tone even as I watched him scoop the leafy mounds into a black garbage bag.

“So,” I drawled, wanting to connect in some way, “did you finish your college application?”

A flicker of something undefined rushed across Jeff’s features, and his mouth drew into a hard line.

“That’s actually something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about, Dad. Um, is now a good time?”

“Good a time as any,” I replied, wondering if he needed some help with the technical aspects of the application process. Sometimes forms can be daunting. Or maybe he needs money to pay the fee; his part-time job probably doesn’t give him enough for unexpected costs. Well, that’s no problem, I decided. What doesn’t a parent do for his child?

“I’ve been talking to Rabbi Hillel — you know, my old bar mitzvah teacher?” I nodded, and Jeff swallowed, his cheeks beginning to resemble the sanguine hue of some of the fallen leaves.

“Well, we decided that if I really want to pursue my Jewish education, the coming year is the perfect opportunity. Once I’m in college, I’ll be too busy, and then I’ll have to get a job and maybe get married — you know how life happens. So I just figured that while I’m unencumbered, I should spend a year in Israel and really find out who I am and what being Jewish is all about.”

Jeff was raking harder now, afraid to meet my eyes. A tsunami of emotion whirled within me, and I wondered how our yard would look amid the devastation after my eruption.

Get a hold of yourself, Jeff. Blow-ups are not conducive to relationship building. Count to 10, slowly.

“You want to do what?” I seethed, my words chiseled from a colossal glacier. So much for good intentions. “When did you make this momentous decision? Don’t you think your mother and I should have been consulted? How dare you! You’re going to college NOW, and that’s final! Israel can wait! This is your life we’re talking about!”

“I know, Dad,” Jeff said in a maddeningly deprecating tone. “It’s my life. That’s exactly right. And if you can’t support my decision, then I’ll find a way to do it on my own.”

Tossing the rake into a leaf pile, Jeff about-faced and walked into the house, slamming the door behind him. Dazed, I watched the carefully crafted mound scatter as leaves floated back over the bare lawn.

“Did you hear your son’s ingenious idea?” I sputtered to Eileen, who was sitting at the table sipping her midafternoon coffee.

Lifting a sculpted eyebrow, she inclined her chin, put down her newspaper and focused on me.

“He’s getting brainwashed by that Orthodox rabbi he used to learn with. I’m sorry we ever started up with him,” I said. “He wants to postpone college and go to Israel for a year! Do you have any idea what that means? He’ll come home from Israel wearing a black yarmulke with those dangling strings hanging out of his pants, and we won’t recognize our own son. We’ll have nothing in common! He won’t eat our food. He won’t go places with us — it will be a nightmare. We have to stop this in its tracks.”

Eileen took another sip and gazed at me silently.

“Well, don’t you have anything to say?” I demanded, wanting her support like nothing I’d ever wanted before. Together we could fight this war.

“I’m not sure what the right approach is,” Eileen ventured, wiping her eyes tiredly and wondering why life had a way of throwing curveballs. “Jeff is our son, and any time we’ve ever backed him against a wall, a wedge forms between us. I don’t like the idea any more than you do. But I don’t want to lose him.”


Do you have suggested solutions for Barry and Eileen? Please email your ideas for possible inclusion in the next column.

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