About rabbisegal

Rabbi Emily E. Segal is the Associate Rabbi of Temple Jeremiah in Northfield, IL, Ima of beautiful toddler Samantha Rose, wife of Rabbi Scott Segal, lover of strong coffee, dark chocolate, and leisurely family outings to the dog park.

Balance

I had the rare opportunity to have a quiet hour to myself last week.  Over this “winter break” time, my congregation holds briefer, earlier Erev Shabbat services.  Instead of arriving home close to 10pm, I got home at 7:45.  My husband and our 21-month-old daughter would not be returning home from his congregation until about 9:30, and I was determined to seize this rare opportunity for alone time.

I came in, fed the dogs, let them out, put a frozen pizza in the oven, let the dogs in, changed out of my nice clothing into my pajamas, took the pizza out of the oven, and settled myself on the couch with a magazine.  There it was, a little after 8pm, and I thought to myself “Wow!  This is so great!  What a nice evening!”

Then, I thought to myself… wow, how did being all alone, eating frozen pizza in my pajamas and reading a magazine become the ultimate evening activity?

Then, of course, came the guilty feelings that I can’t seem to just dismiss—all week when I work long hours, leaving right after breakfast and trying to get home in time for dinner (if I am lucky) and bedtime (I try my best), I long for more time with Samantha.  I wouldn’t trade my gem of a rabbinate at my truly special congregation for anything in the world… but gosh, I miss my kiddo.

Yet, I get an hour by myself and I rejoice?

Now, I know, it’s because it’s rare, it’s because it seldom happens that this alone time is special.  And I know that I am allowed to have time to just be, and breathe, and take care of myself and de-stress.  But as I looked around my (ok, honestly, not so tidy) house, I started also to wonder if I really should take the hour to clean, or pay bills, or do laundry, or get some work done, so that these tasks wouldn’t take away more precious Samantha time in the coming days.

Funny Cry for Help Ecard: All I want for Christmas is a self-cleaning house!

No, I said to myself, it’s Shabbat.   I am a Rabbi and it’s Shabbat, let’s try a little menucha.   I get these little hours alone so rarely.  And I looked down at the magazine:

 I chuckled.

THIS is the magazine I am about to read.  Of course.

I enjoyed the different perspectives represented—that balance is defined differently at different times in our lives, that balance isn’t what we need…that we need to find a way fit the different parts of ourselves into our limited time and energy.  That if you are asking the question of balance, you already have it pretty good—the impoverished aren’t seeking balance. (It’s a “first world problem,” and even more than that, an upper middle class problem at that!)  Yet, clearly, no magical secrets to living a balanced life were found within its covers (I wish!).

Amidst discussions of how to “have it all,” or how and why we should “lean in,” or why women can’t have it all, or why no one can “have it all,” or why and how everyone can have it all, the question of balance seems to be pertinent.  The push to do everything (and do it well!), or to be everything to everyone (and be the best!) really seems to be an issue of too much of a good thing.

Being driven in your career is a terrific asset.  And trying to be the best parent (or partner, family member, friend) you can be is also praiseworthy.  And trying to be an involved, informed, healthy, well-rounded individual is also a valuable pursuit.  But expecting that we can do all of these, all the time, without dropping the ball on anything—and while making it look easy!—well, I guess that’s pretty ridiculous.  But I am certain that I am not alone in feeling that push.

That I should work a 70 hour week (and really bring it at work) and still find time to have a perfectly clean house, cook meals from scratch, work out, and make all my own baby food.  (That expensive baby food making gizmo I bought when I was pregnant has literally been used one time in the last 21.5 months.)  Oh and have date nights with my husband, somehow, also.  And be fully present at work when I am at work, and fully present at home, when I am home.

Is it a pressure we put on ourselves?  Is it Facebook?  Is it Pinterest?  Is it magazines like Real Simple and stores like the container store—that I really enjoy!—making me believe that there are some homes where everything has a place, that complete organization is really possible, and that “balance” is something that can be achieved and maintained?

It is a time of resolutions.  What a blessing for us that in addition to Rosh Hashanah, we also have the Gregorian New Year as a time to reflect, prepare, and resolve?  I could resolve to achieve balance, to work to “have it all,” to lean in, to manage to do more –for myself and for others—in the year to come.  But I have a feeling about how that would turn out.  How many times have I made resolutions that have to do with the gym and/or healthy eating?

Amen sister...

In 2014, I am going to strive to have more reasonable expectations for myself and for others, and to achieve greater honesty in my social media presence.  The real truth is that among the many things that could occupy my time, what tends to win are time spent with my family and time spend caring for my temple family.  The house isn’t as clean as I might hope (or my mother might hope), we end up throwing together whatever is around for dinner, I am constantly, comically losing my cell phone even when it’s in plain sight, and sometimes I have to hold back laughter when people ask what my hobbies are.  Hobbies? People have those?

And that’s okay.  It’s chaotic, but within that chaos is real beauty, fulfillment and happiness.

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Witch or Sexy Kitten

As usual this year I heard some debate about whether Jewish kids should be celebrating Halloween.  In particular this year I enjoyed reading the point/counterpoint between Rabbi Aaron Starr and Rabbi Jason Miller on this question on Rabbi Miller’s blog.  Without inciting a riot by saying this, I think it’s pretty innocuous, at least Jewishly.  But this is the first year that the question of whether Jewish kids should be celebrating Halloween really had personal significance, given the fact that my husband and I have a 7 & ½ month old daughter, Samantha. 

I found myself walking through Target’s little (ok — not so little) Halloween section looking at the costumes for babies.  And what I realized is that, with a few exceptions, the costumes are already designed specifically with either boys or girls in mind.  So I had cowboys, superheros, cops, and construction workers on the one hand, and fairies, pink dinosaurs, princesses, and ballerinas on the other.  And though I did–of course–think about how Samantha would look pretty adorable as a pink dinosaur, I found myself wanting to get her a costume that didn’t box her in quite so quickly. 

I am confident that simply through our lives and our family dynamic and the way we will raise our children, Samantha and any other (God willing) future siblings will be firmly rooted in gender equality.  She comes from a long line of strong women.  And in fact, though this was really a practical decision more than anything else, my husband is the one who is home with her during the day.  (Tangentially, if one more person responds to this fact by saying, “Oh, he’s playing Mr. Mom!” I will kill myself…or maybe them.  He’s being a dad, people.)  But might Halloween costumes and the like send the wrong type of message from an early age?  Maybe I should have gotten her a princess costume and had her go as “Dr. Cinderella” like Pam did on last week’s episode of The Office to balance the cuteness with positive role models of professional women.

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It is probably worth me saying that I am a bit of a girly girl.  I wear makeup every day and have since I was a teenager.  I love a pair of cute heels.  My favorite color is pink.  I dress Samantha in a pretty ridiculous amount of pink for that matter—though part of that has to do with what clothing is just out there in general for baby girls.  But something bothered me about Samantha already having to choose from a list of frilly, pink, mostly fabricated characters for Halloween.

I was reminded of that line from the Sex In The City Movie (1, not 2) about women’s choices for Halloween costumes.  Carrie and Miranda are walking through Walgreens and Miranda is trying to find a costume because she feels she needs to dress up and all she can find are a witch and a kitten.  She comments that these are “The only two choices for women: witch or sexy kitten.”  Carrie responds, “You’ve just said a mouthful there, sister.”

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And walking the aisles of Target seemed to confirm the movie’s observation.  But here I was so excited about the innocence of Halloween—sweets, candy, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and silly costumes—before it turns into an excuse for adults and college kids to shed inhibitions and go a bit wild.  But I realized that even when my little Samantha is so young, there are choices to be made that are intertwined with the way women are perceived and treated.  There is certainly a chicken-or-the-egg argument to be made about whether Halloween costumes are a symptom or a cause, but regardless… I wondered, is this choice of a Halloween costume one that has greater significance than I previously thought?

And also, if I were to get her a pink dinosaur costume, how could I then justify the purchase to myself and to my husband by saying that it is gender-neutral enough to use for future Baby Segals, male or female? 

In the end I went with a lion costume, thinking, that’s gender-neutral enough, right?  And lions are strong and mighty… and lions are a nice, full Jewish symbol—the tribes of Dan and Judah are compared to lions, and they frequently appear in ceremonial art and decoratively on our ritual items, right? (Yes, even in target, and even about Halloween costumes, I guess that rabbi monologue never really turns off.)  Most importantly, I wondered to myself, “She’ll still fit into this for Purim, right?”

I guess I’ll have to come back to this question of gender-specific costumes next year when Samantha is a little more aware and I have had a little more time to process all of this.

Now I reveal the real reason for wanting to post about Halloween:  sharing a picture of my little RK Lion!  You didn’t think I’d sign off without doing the proud Ima thing and posting this picture, did you?

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