Thursday, April 28, 2011

How Parents Can Broaden the Scope of Normal

Though I mostly do weddings, lately people have been calling on me to do other things too. This last Saturday, I was privileged to officiate a baby naming for Miriam, daughter of Farrah and Nate. I first spoke about her Hebrew name, and then about what I wished her.

Friends, one of the most fascinating things about Jewish tradition is that a Jewish scholar, be he the greatest scholar of his generation, is referred to as a talmid chacham, literally a wise student. That is because Judaism values the idea of life long learning. Whatever like-cycle event I officiate, I try to see it as a teachable moment.

Nobody really knows what the real meaning of Miriam is. Farrah and Nate chose this name, because it combines the names of Nate’s mother and grandmother. In English that would be Marion, and so Miriam was an obvious choice. The character of Miriam does have a fascinating connection to Pesach, which we are in the midst of celebrating. While the standard story of the Exodus emphasizes Moses and Aaron, we can definitely see on the periphery of the story the role of Miriam, their sister, as key. She is the one who engineers Moses growing up in Pharaoh’s house. She is the one who arranges for Moses to spend a few years with his birth mother, before going off to Pharaoh’s house. She is the one who the Bible tells us sings a song of thanks after the parting of the Red Sea, a song that Moses more lengthy song is clearly based on. A later prophet, therefore, when referring to the Exodus says to the people of Judea, “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

A few weeks ago I asked Farrah and Nate to share their hopes for little Miriam with me. They told me that they wished for to be happy and find personal fulfillment in life; that she should grow up to be her own person and an independent woman, that she should find personal fulfillment; that she should try as hard as she can, and find professional success.

I think these answers, coupled with what I have gathered from spending some time with Farrah and Nate, are telling in a very good way. You see, I spent 12 years as an educator, 5 of those as an assistant principal first for elementary and middle school and then for high school, and now I spend my time mostly marrying couples. This has taught me, that not surprisingly, when you look at the apples, you usually see a correspondence to the trees. In that sense, the most difficult thing to teach and more importantly unteach is how to interact with other people, especially a life partner.

You see, quite often, the most significant adjustments in any loving relationship have to do with what is the “normal” way of doing things, and the translation of “normal” really is “the way my folks do it”. My wife and I are a great example. A few days after we married 18 years ago, I suggested I make scrambled eggs for breakfast, and she enthusiastically agreed. She left the room for a few minutes, as I began to make the eggs. When she returned, she had a horrified look on her face. I was perplexed, and I asked her what was wrong. She, her voice quivering, said that I had broken the eggs into a glass, and not a bowl, which is the normal way to do it. I looked at her like she was crazy, and I insisted that normal people break their eggs into a glass. Again, instead of normal insert, “the way my folks do it.” Now, of course, in our home today, we break eggs into a bowl, because that is what normal people do… but that is really beside the point.

Now, I do not believe any couple since the dawn of time has escaped such adjustments. Every couple has the type of adjustments my wife and I dealt with. It is though, I believe, in the hands of parents to raise their children in a way that can minimize these. It is up to parents to raise children with not only a set of standards of behavior, but also with the understanding that different people do things differently, and that that is OK. It is up to parents to raise children that understand that, sure there are things that are black and white, but most of the world is pretty much gray. It is up to parents to raise children who are open to learning, and are not afraid to try new ways of doing things. It is up to parents to broaden the scope of what is normal.

Continue to build a home where pluralism is central. Raise your family in an environment where the words "my way or the highway" never come into play. Continue to inculcate your children with the spirit of learning and growing. Through this you and they will find complete, utter and true happiness.

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