This year, for the first time since my kids were born, I am going to lose Halloween. Not lose it as in it won’t happen. Of course it will happen. I’m not actually a witch; I can’t just make it disappear. Lose it as in my kids aren’t going to dress up. They might throw on a mask or some benign accessory, knowing that if they don’t, I won’t let them trick-or-treat with their friends. The idea of them going door-to-door expecting to be rewarded just for being their teenage and pre-teen selves sends me sideways. It’s like taking candy from a baby. Literally.
I know I shouldn’t complain. I’ve had a good run. A really good run. They humored me for far longer than most other self-respecting boys would. I also know (very, very deep inside) that costume contests notwithstanding, Halloween in and of itself isn’t a competition. It’s just that up until now, I did sort of feel like I was winning it. But they are growing up. They are making good decisions. So if that means forfeiting Halloween… and who am I kidding? a super-sized chunk of their childhoods along with it… then I guess it’s time to throw in the towel.
But make no mistake about it: throwing in this particular towel does not mean I’ll be throwing in my entire collection.
At the beginning of August, I received an email from the cantor at our temple asking if Max would do the honor of chanting the Haftarah blessings on Yom Kippur. I was bursting with pride. Kvelling. I immediately printed it and walked outside to find him watching Euro with some friends. I said, “I am going to give you this email, and you might not understand it now, but I’m just letting you know that your answer will be yes, and one day you’ll thank me for it.”
Max looked me straight in the eye and said, “It better not be from the temple.” Be still my heart: My son was chosen for this honor and he was psychic.
When mid-September rolled around and it was time to brush up on those blessings, my little angel took every opportunity to let me know how angry he was with me for saying yes when his answer had so clearly been a resounding no. And yet, there wasn’t one part of me that regretted what I’d done or how I’d done it. I didn’t flinch when I emailed the cantor back and told her he was in. I didn’t flinch as I listened to him yell at me on multiple occasions about how I don’t care about him or what he wants. I did, however, flinch visibly during Rosh Hashana services, where we heard a much longer, significantly different version… an extended dance mix, if you will… of the exact blessing he’d be doing the following week. Oops. Apparently we had some (more) work to do.
And then it was Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. You know what I didn’t atone for? Forcing my son to get up there and chant those blessings. He told me afterward that he felt like was having a heart attack and a stroke at the same time. I explained that most people don’t have the capacity to chant so beautifully while enduring catastrophic medical events and applauded his composure in the face of his perceived imminent demise.
This is why I will hold onto my collection of decision-making towels for as long as I can. If I had left it up to him, he wouldn’t have done it. He would have said no and never have looked back. And who could blame him? He’s 13. 13 is hard. So when given the choice, he’ll choose easy. Every. Single. Time.
If I had let him choose easy, he would never have known the feeling he had when he finished and the entire congregation erupted in the most beautiful “Ah-AMEN!” We do not belong to a small synagogue; there were 800 people in that sanctuary. And yet, when all was said and done and the last mazel tov had been spoken, the person kvelling more than anyone else in the room was Max.
I want my kids… and yours… to have that feeling as often as they possibly can. If I could bottle it up and sell it, I would. But I can’t. So they have to take chances. They have to be uncomfortable. They have be afraid to do something and then go do it anyway. And they can’t always make their own decisions, because too often they won’t make the ones that lead to those spine-tingling, “OMG I DID IT!!!” moments.
Bauercrest is filled with those moments. They happen every day. When I think of all the ones I’ve been lucky enough to witness throughout my years on the Hill, it makes me so happy. But when I think of all the campers who wouldn’t be there to experience them if their parents hadn’t given that extra nudge (or full-on push)… let’s just say those are the ones that keep me up at night.
So my kids won’t be walking around as Willy Wonka and an Oompa Loompa this Halloween (which, I assure you, would have been EPIC). I have decided this is no longer my hill to die on… or even hover over on my broom. But one thing’s for sure, my pretties: My reign as the witch who makes them do things they don’t want to do is far from over. And I’m not above using a couple of flying monkeys if I have to.