Patricia Wolff Hartman
I pull into the carpool line at 3:30. Timing is important. This is the first official day of the Tuesday afternoon pickup. I don’t want to be late and I don’t want to be early. I hate wasting time despite or maybe because of the fact that I waste lots of it on a regular basis. I look around at this recognizable but still unfamiliar environment. The other cars are almost all gas guzzling SUVs and minivans. I realize that this is a “carpool” line but kids are getting into cars in ones or twos. I find it irritating, this need for bigness. The pickup system is simple. Two lines of very slow moving cars must eventually merge into one. There is a person with the designated job of motioning drivers so that they know how and when to converge. Could people not figure this out for themselves? Is this group of parents so pushy or so oblivious that they are incapable of looking out for each other and taking turns without somebody directing them to do so?
And then I see him. My heart starts to melt. It is a cold February day and there he is in a short sleeved shirt with a kippa on his head. He sees me immediately. He says, “Hi, Grandma. How are you?” I say, “Hi, Ben. Fine. Aren’t you a little chilly?” “No, I’m good” he responds. “Don’t tell Mom I lost my coat.” I say, “Okay, but I think she might notice later when she picks you up.” He says, “Just don’t worry about it, Grandma.” And he says I always have to have the last word.
I turn my attention back to the kids still waiting to be picked up. In a sea of bright neon-green patrol belts is one particularly beautiful girl with the most amazing thick, slightly wavy, long, golden auburn hair I’ve ever seen. No, that’s not exactly true. Her mother had pretty much the same hair prior to the inevitable but regrettable start of the female preoccupation with “self improvement.” It’s very different from my own straight, non-descript hair that came from my mother’s side of the family. My father’s mother used to ask me from time to time, in her strong German accent, “Patricia, has your hair always been so thin?” I loved my grandmother dearly but she could be very fussy and picky and critical.
Maia has no idea that I am there yet. She, like her grandmother, can get lost in the moment or lost in her head and be unaware of what is going on around her. She ultimately gets into the car and hears something interesting on the radio. She asks me to turn it up. There’s an author being interviewed on NPR. The writer was a formerly highly religious person who became an agnostic when he could no longer make sense of the suffering in the world. Maia listens intently for the remainder of the interview, interrupted only occasionally by Ben, who tells her to turn it down since he is trying to do his homework. The fact that Ben, who could be a poster child for ADHD, is working on his homework in the car is a veritable miracle to me.
Maia is having lots of her own thoughts about religion lately. She has decided not to have a Bat
Mitzvah. She thinks it would be hypocritical since she doesn’t really believe in God. I am amazed that she has thought all this out so deeply and personally at the age of twelve. I wonder how it will feel being perhaps the only girl at the Jewish Day School not to be Bat Mitzvaed. She says she feels different anyway, and she is sure about this decision. I wish this could have been an easier fit for her but I guess it’s not in the genes.
Ben reminds me, apparently having finished his homework in record time, that my father, their great-grandfather, was Jewish. I had not forgotten. I remind Ben that Great Grandpa was Jewish but not religious. He wouldn’t have known what a kippa was and didn’t know anything about the meanings of the Jewish holidays. Ben says it still matters. I agree. I mention that Great Grandma went through an entire series of religions before becoming agnostic. She was raised Dutch Reform. I was baptized during her Presbyterian phase. When she became a Quaker my mother, my brother and I spent several years of Sundays at the Friends Meetinghouse. When I was nine or ten, my mother decided to become Catholic. I went back to the Presbyterian Church to sing in the choir. We visited monasteries, cathedrals and mosques but never synagogues. After a few years my mother became Buddhist prior to her ultimate decision that such things were unknowable. All I can say is oy vey.