By Andrea Simantov
With little effort, I can remember the shock of my initial birth experience and angrily recall the Lamaze teacher who prepared me for delivery by driving home the point that labor was a “big, big discomfort.” “A pressing urgency,” she uttered. Without fear, I skipped into the maternity ward like Liesl Von Trapp yodeling across the Austrian Alps. When confronted with the reality of pushing a human being out of an alarmingly small exit door, I believed I was dying of unrelated causes because what I felt had nothing to do with “pressing urgency,” but was clearly a ruptured appendix or burst spleen.
My husband was understandably proud, anxious to begin sharing the news of our burgeoning family. But in my (then) typical fashion, I poured a figurative bucket of cold water over his head by announcing, “I will NEVER do this again! Who in their right mind would endure pregnancy and the brutality of birth by CHOICE a second time? WHO IS SHE?”
Indeed, ‘she’ was laying in the bed next to mine in the now-passe Recovery Room. Unsolicited, her husband explained that this was their second child. We issued the customarily congratulatory bromides, but under my breath, I declared her to be a tart.
Gazing into my infant daughter’s eyes for the first time, I saw that she clearly understood at the tender age of 20 minutes that I hadn’t a clue about what to do or what I’d gotten myself into.
I still haven’t figured it out. One only has to turn around for a second to find herself sporting a biographical backpack laden with children, grandchildren, divorce, bankruptcy, intercontinental moves, trials, failures, fears, death, success, great passion and a ton of cellulite. With luck, this same backpack is filled with learning, wisdom, kindness, insight and — most importantly — humility. Still, sometimes I’m not so sure.
We live in a world where praises can be manufactured, whether well-earned or cooked up by savvy PR teams. Often I hear about the “best” doctor who graduated at the top of his class. No Jew ever uses the guy or gal who had remedial cardiology tutoring or exam-crammed with “Dermatology for Dummies.” We employ only the most brilliant therapist, manicurist, electrician, gardener, decorator, realtor. Everyone is “the best” until they screw up, and then we hire “the best” lawyer to sue the hack/butcher/charlatan. And not only do we use “the best.” We give birth to them! The son who delivers Kaiser rolls to inner-city bakeries is a transportation engineer. The daughter who serves drinks to out-of-town businessmen wearing a bikini and stiletto-heels is in customer relations. The real ne’er-do-wells of Jewish parentage are “finding themselves,” “too brilliant to conform,” and “exploring the options.”
As someone who has always found a home in the bottom quarter of the academic achievement charts, I’ve determined that grades are nice, but relationships are everything. This isn’t to say that one can’t be smart and a mensch. But for those who think achievement trumps goodness, I will candidly state that in my book, an A+ in ‘kindness’ is the only score that matters.
Some people I know sit in homes lined with swollen bookcases, top-of-the-line TV sets or pristine kitchens, but they do not know their neighbors, and their neighbors couldn’t identify them in a police lineup. Life is not “messy,” because mess comes from stepping outside of the boundaries. Romance makes mess. Children make mess. Overeating makes mess. Living is messy.
But the fun that comes from finger-painting and mud pies! Why eat if the food isn’t wonderful? Why purchase a sofa if no one sits on it? Why wear shoes you can’t dance in? Why endure one more anemic hour if one has a choice?
Summer is nearly here, and I will never skip the beach to wash windows. My husband’s Sabbath pants are clean enough; fruit purchased in the open-air souk tastes better than that in the supermarket — even though the market purchases the fruit in the souk! Why? Because the souk teems with people, colors, smells and cacophony that screams, “You are alive! Now! Seize the moment!”
I will listen to that messy message. Because even for we ordinary folk, the best moments are those worth grabbing.