Portals to Sacred Family Life

Portals to Sacred Family Life

by Julie Greenberg

Partnering never seemed to me to be a pre-requisite to parenting. The sequence of falling in love, deciding to be mates, getting married, raising a family, never compelled me. That particular order of events seemed arbitrary. For instance, I knew I was ready to mother without any aspirations towards marriage. Thus, I was the happy solo parent of Rosi, Raffi, Zoe, ages ten, eight and six, when an unexpected partner joined the journey.

The same week that I was bringing home my fourth baby, Joey, D rented a room in my home. D shared with me that he longed for a family; I was open to sharing my family. I passionately loved parenting and appreciated adult companionship while doing it. Over the next few years we evolved into a “parenting partnership” – building a friendship that allowed us to parent together even though we were never lovers and only lived together the first year.

D arrived on the family scene at a time when I, Solo Mom to three young children and a new baby, held the priority of integrating my newly adopted fourth child into the web of family relationships. I wanted to attend to each of my four young children as the family grew. My priority was not the dishes, the toys, the laundry on the floor.

I would do the laundry with efficiency honed by a decade of single parenting, and dump it in a clean heap from which each child transferred their own belongings into a heap in their own area. The kids and I didn’t fold or sort or put clothes in drawers or closets. These happy heaps of clothes were certainly functional if not traditional. Everyone had clean clothes to wear every day. What felt like joyful family building to me, looked like physical chaos to my new friend.

Sitting amidst a mound of scraggly unsorted laundry, he complained “I get so angry about the socks. I’m just not that evolved. It’s the heap of mismatched socks that gets me.”

“It’s just you and me, each of us fragile and vulnerable doing the best we can. I’m not any more evolved than you.”

“You’re not. Uh-oh.”

“That’s why the Torah teaches that the teaching is not out there in the heavens or far away across the sea. It’s right here in our mouths, in our hands. It’s in the socks.” I want the Torah to be a shared resource for both of us but he just thinks I’m preaching to him. We are stuck with the mismatched socks.

The daily-ness of what we encounter, like those socks, can be a portal to a holy journey. Those socks could point us to inner work and to outer dialogue, just as Jewish ritual objects such as the shofar, the lulav, the matzah point to meaning beyond themselves. The shofar, on a physical level is simply a ram’s horn and yet it calls us to wake up to the need of the world and to the still voice inside. The lulav, is four species of plant bound in a branch, designed to be waved during the festival of Sukkot and yet it also reminds us to attend to the four corners of the earth, and to all the strands of self internally. The matzah, dry unleavened bread on its most basic level, is a call to freedom, freedom for all those living under oppression in the world and freedom of consciousness within.

Similarly, those socks could lead to inner reflection on each parent’s values about housework and children, on relationship dynamics in household leadership, on whatever blocks there are to creative problem solving about the socks. The socks could lead to connection between us exploring how to partner around these issues despite different backgrounds and expectations.

These portals appear all the time in family life. Many times I bump up against them with no consciousness and the conflict around them feels annoying and frustrating. Every now and then, when I’m able to bring a spiritual awareness to the issue, the “thing” opens a door to what is beyond.