Rite of passage
You’ve heard the old adage “you are what you eat” right? In which case make sure you eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic because it’s better for you and the planet), whole grains, free-range eggs… you know the spiel. Whoops, back on my health food tirade… I can’t help it; you know I always like to give a reminder about how important it is to take care of our bodies that house our souls. Body. Mind. Spirit. Back to my original thought… If we are what we eat then it only serves to say that we are what we think, too. And the thoughts we cultivate and tend to are the ones we become and ultimately are.
I have three children (as you know) and my eldest has just turned 13. I am now the mother of a teenage son, who by the way is a FOOT taller than me already. When I need to reprimand him I feel as if I need to (and if I’m being honest, sometimes I do) put on my high heels. That way I’m not looking up at him when I’m asking him to clean his room or brush his teeth.
I know sometimes people say they don’t want to become like their parents… but this was never something that worried me, because I made a conscious choice very early in my life to become quite different. And through great pain (like developing an eating disorder) to have a voice, which was far from my middle-eastern upbringing and early female role models, it pushed me to express myself in my own way. Recently I discovered something that had not dawned on me before—despite the choices I’ve made about the kind of parent I am and strive to be—was I starting to sound like my mother?!
It was my son’s Bar Mitzvah this past February 2nd and as some of you may or may not be aware, this is traditionally known as the rite of passage from boy to man at the tender age of 13. THIRTEEN. I watched my first born move into the next phase of his (now adult) life and found myself in tears.
According to Kabbalah, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a very significant time for a boy (for a girl it happens at age 12). It is believed that prior to this landmark moment, a child is not held accountable for his or her choices because they have not developed their free will yet. The responsibility falls to the parents; we make choices for them, and are responsible for them on a deep spiritual level.
The time after Bar/Bat Mitzvah is considered to awaken their free will and personal accountability. Up until this point children are merely developing aspects of themselves that are based in self-centered desire and a reactive nature. As we grow older, we become more reactive – our desires becoming stronger, urging us to react to their every impulse. The spiritual work is to fight against this desire to receive for the Self-alone and transform it into the desire to receive for the sake of sharing. Eventually, we pass the interesting phase of “I know EVERYTHING” from our hormone-filled-teen-years and ultimately, hopefully we realize that the way to achieve our spiritual goals in life is to transform from reactive adults into proactive people.
A matter of days before David’s big day, I found myself looking through an album of my son, which had been compiled for the special occasion—pictures taken over the years—and was in awe of my son at each and every age. I found myself tearing up looking through the chronicles of his young life and journey to manhood; greeting once again the baby boy I knew and missed, saying goodbye to the boy I have known, only to welcome the man he is now to become. In fact, I realized that I missed my two year-old son… and then the boy I pushed on the swing at 4 years old, and baked cookies and birthday cakes with at 7… it dawned on me that it is a constant rediscovery to love and know my son, for he is forever changing, just as we all are.
I was a mess. I’m still reeling.
I always thought of myself as a hip, cool, young mom, geared up and ready for anything my kids throw at me. I have made proactive choices about the kind of parent I want to be for my children, and then, what struck me as bluntly as a hammer was the thought, “DOES HE SEE ME AS I SAW MY MOM AT 13?” There it was, it had suddenly happened. Before my very own eyes I watched my son become a man and I was watching myself become my mother. There he was getting older and here I was feeling old! That was the THOUGHT, “I’m nearly forty, well 37, and I feel old.” Actually, no, HE is making me feel old. I don’t FEEL old at all.
My brain was riddled with thoughts about what next awaits him (and me!); his hormones, his first love, when he learns to drive—in three years time my son is meant to start driving—are you kidding me?! He’s still a child. I can’t even believe I was driving at the age of 16! Eighteen sounds more like it! And then I had my “Aha!” moment – the reality is my son may be seeing me like a “mom” who doesn’t know what she is talking about, and no fault to me, but that is the natural progression as part of evolution. Somehow the more awareness he has about the world in relation to himself the less I seem to KNOW! I’m here to say I don’t think so.
I began this post with the idea that “you are what you eat” and therefore “you are what you think”. As Descartes said “I think therefore I am” and I think, In fact I know, I can be any kind of parent I choose to be. I can be the hip, cool, young-at-heart mom, or I can be a little bit more discerning and strict. In reality I’m pretty much a mix of the two. It’s whatever I choose, whatever I think.
My son has to make his own choices now and I have to let him live his life the way he chooses, of course STILL with mine and my husband’s guidance, but we just have to trust that we have done enough for him in the first part of his life to guide him to make great choices in the next phase of his life.
For all the mothers or soon-to-be mommies out there, here’s a little quote for all our children… “No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you. After all, you’re the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside.” Anonymous
- What kind of parent do you aspire to be? If this is not something you strive for, (not everyone wants kids – perfectly understandable) then how do you relate to your parents?
- How has your relationship with your parents affected the way you choose to live your life or the way you want to parent?
- Are you making proactive decisions, or reactive ones?
Some of us are mothers, all of us are sons or daughters; some of us haven’t seen our mom’s in a while, and some of us had to say our goodbyes. Wherever you may be on this day, and whomever it is you choose to celebrate and appreciate, I wish you all a day filled with love. And not just today but every day.
What is a True Teacher? Remembering Rav Berg
October 6, 2022
Returning to Teshuvah
September 15, 2022
Reflections on Tu B’Av and Our Silver Anniversary
August 11, 2022