This poem, by Shel Silverstein, always made me sad. When I was a little girl, I had an audiocassette of him reciting it, and his warm, avuncular voice is the one I hear in my head when I read it.
The Little Boy and the Old Man
by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the little old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.
It’s hard not to feel heard. Little children sense that they’re being ignored even if they can’t express it well. They may do other things to get the attention of grown-ups: break something, have a tantrum, or find other ways to force that grown-up to take notice. Old men may quietly do what they want, or give up entirely, but they have an understanding of who they were when they were young men — that they ignored their elders, that they paid less attention than they wished they had, and the empathy they have might lessen that feeling of sadness. These are expected responses.
When my children were five and almost-two, we moved roughly 2 miles north. We sold our sweet little townhouse in a quiet courtyard in the city and moved to a big single-family home in the nearest suburb north. For the most part, we moved so that our five-year-old could go to a school with smaller class sizes and so that she and her non-sleeping baby sister could have their own bedrooms. Too, there was a part of me that had glimpsed at the process of looking for high schools in Chicago and wanted to avoid it at all costs. We moved for ourselves, thinking only of the life within the walls of our home and the school our kids might attend.
Until then, I’d been living a mostly isolated life as a parent. In our city courtyard, there was only one precious family with identically-aged children, but those children slept like angels — long naps and early bedtimes, short windows of free playtime compatible with my daughters’ chaos. In retrospect, it was an outright blessing and not at all a small thing to have found myself hugely compatible with their mother, someone who became one of my dearest friends and a great teacher to me on topics too great to write here. Still, in those toddler/preschool years, the company we could keep was not daily, and because of my younger daughter’s constant illness in her first two years, I’d not been able to make any other friends with other families. I spent my days largely without adult contact. It was incredibly, incredibly lonely.
When we moved north, then, I didn’t expect much of my life to change. The preschool where my youngest was finally healthy enough to attend was part of a day care center, a remnant from my days of working when my oldest was my only, and so I never knew the other parents well. No one stuck around to chat long — everyone was at the beginning or end of long days, and if I saw them, it was only on the rare occasion that I brought my youngest to preschool at the very beginning of the day or picked her up at the very end. For the most part, I saw the teachers, the barista at the coffeeshop, and my husband. When I moved, I expected that to stay mostly the same.
Several weeks ago, my triumphant, thriving, sensitive and sweet daughter Sammi read from the Torah for the first time.
In the Jewish ceremony known colloquially as a “Bat Mitzvah,” my daughter consciously took her place in her community by chanting three verses of a chapter from Leviticus. Like all children who become a Bat or Bar Mitzvah (literally, a daughter or son of the covenant), she studied for months to learn the melody and the Hebrew words she’d be chanting and all the prayers she’d need to know to share leadership of the service and analyze the chapter of Torah in English. She has a lovely, clear voice, and she spent weeks with headphones on listening to the sound of her tutor’s voice chanting her verses, and singing along. I’d heard her practicing, but nothing really prepared me for the feeling I would have on the day she became a Bat Mitzvah, as I stood next to her at the podium as she chanted in front of the congregation of our synagogue and all of the friends and family who gathered to bear witness. It was not what I expected. Continue Reading…
Tonight is the first night of Passover, and I woke up early to chop carrots and celery and onions and garlic, the four-musketeers of my favorite parts of the traditional festive meal we’ll have tonight. As I type, I can smell the matzo-ball-soup cooking, the potatoes I added thickening the broth, the dill adding the freshness of spring. I don’t have much time to plan the seder itself, a religious service observed at my second favorite chapel in the world: my dining room table, second only to my kitchen.
I appreciate this day more now than when I was younger, possibly because I spent one terrible, heavy Passover in the hospital with my youngest daughter as she recovered from heart surgery. I think of it now, every year, as I chop and season and clean and prepare for the sometimes 28, sometimes 15 people who come to my house to share the meal with us.
That year, it was just me and Sammi: me in an armchair and her in her tipped-up hospital bed, eating matzo with jam and fat-free cheese and watching The Prince of Egypt on Netflix. It was beautiful, and it was terrible, and while I’m glad we did it, I never want to do it again. Continue Reading…