Friday, December 25, 2009
My Mother's Merry Chrismukkah
Here's proof that somehow my mother and I have switched roles and I've become her mother: I'm the big Jew in the family and she's rejected all of our traditions. Now she's constantly on the defensive with me, trying to justify her lack of adherence.
Two days ago Bar Mitzvahzilla, Daughter and I went over there - that would be on December 23rd. I knew from other Decembers that it would be a shock walking in, but still. My Holocaust Survivor mother's house, filled with Christmas tchochkes. And she's so proud of them, trying to take the kids on a tour of Christmas in her family room. Did they notice the Santa with the full sleigh of Christmas cards from all her old real estate clients she never told she was Jewish? Did they notice the tinsel, the little Christmas tree, the garlands, the lights, the reindeer, the candles?
My kids and I stood there like triplet biblical Moses', our mouths hanging open. We were appalled. She realized the kids didn't want a tour of the winter wonderland, and then she looked at me and said, "What?"
"Ma, look at your house! What kind of role model are you for the kids? You're their Jewish bubbe! And you're a Holocaust Survivor! You're supposed to be my backup here."
She said, "I have something for Hanukah." And she pointed to a thin, scraggly piece of dreidel garland, covered with dust, nearly obscured by the blinking Christmas lights nearby.
This is how I know that my life has descended into irony, that I've crossed the final line, and that I'm raising my mother, and badly. I can't make her a Jew. I don't even know how I made myself a Jew.
One time when I was a kid in Skokie we found a tiny, white, plug-in Christmas tree in the alley behind our house and we snuck it inside our laundry room. I remember the hemming and hawing, trying to figure out the best way to ask mom if we could keep it - like it was a load of heroin we had stashed in the basement. Finally we told her and she came for an inspection. It was a cheerful little thing, blinking on and off like a migraine headache. She said, "You can keep it if you hide it down here. Just don't let your grandmother see it."
And we sat there, for a couple weeks at least, mom sewing, the little tree blinking, me playing Barbies. Ar least until the day my dad burst in and found it, snapped it half, and hid it in a non-Jewish neighbor's garbage can. Even our garbage had to be Jewish.
My mother now has a blinking tree. My dad - long dead - gets me.