A friend of mine is very excited about Thanksgiving, because her eldest child is coming home for the first time after leaving for college. She said so on Facebook, so it must be true. All over the country, this Thanksgiving weekend is the time when newly child-less parents wait for the train or car or flight to arrive, bringing their newly non-resident adult/child home. It’s an awkward time, as any of us who’ve been there can tell you. Who is this person walking in the door? Not the same teenager who left, but not yet wholly on his/her own, either. How to hug? How to greet? What to talk about? Once again, the rules have shifted under our feet, and we are left straddling a divide that opened up between August and November.
Most of us prepare for this by buying favorite foods and extra laundry detergent.
Courtesy of the calendar, this Thanksgiving is linked to a tale of parenting, the Torah portion of Toldot. Now, we often think of Abraham and Isaac when wondering which is the worst parenting moment of the Torah. After all, putting your kid up on an altar to be sacrificed ranks up there in fuel for therapy sessions. But this week, we see a whole other kind of family drama, one that stands out for me this year, as I wait for a car to drive up to the house today.
This is the story of Rebecca and Isaac, and their twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was born first, but through some home-cooking and horse-trading which may or may not have been encouraged by Rebecca, Jacob the younger tricks his brother out of his birthright. Later, with Rebecca’s overt help and manipulation, Jacob dons the garb of his hunter-brother, makes his dad’s favorite meal, and pretends to be Esau, stealing his brother’s blessing out from under his sightless father. Isaac and Esau are devastated, but Rebecca is nothing less than rock-solid sure that she’s doing the right thing. Then, when she realizes Esau is out to kill Jacob for this deceit, she insists that her favorite son run away, find a wife back among the cousins, and she’ll send for him later.
This is mothering of a different order. Rebecca completely directs the events of her son’s life. She almost disappears, staying in the background, lurking in the tent openings. She has great plans for Jacob, which, granted, came from a prophecy she received when she was pregnant with the twin boys. God told her there were two nations in her, struggling, and the older will serve the younger. So, Rebecca had her divine marching orders and she carried them out, no matter what it took to do so.
The rest of us aren’t quite so sure about what direction our kids’ lives are going to take. We can’t rely on Divine intervention when it comes to advice about courses and careers, boyfriends and apartments. We can only keep the kitchen table clear and hope for moments of conversations to emerge over hot beverages. And it’s true, the decisions get more crucial as our control over them diminishes.
That’s as it should be. I’m sure my daughters wouldn’t like me to be a “Rebecca” mom in that sense. Fiercely protective, as she was, yes. But favoring one over the other? Lurking, maneuvering, taking charge and running their lives? No. Because, ultimately, it’s important to remember that even though Rebecca may have been carrying out God’s plan, doing what she believed was best for her son, and for her family, she never saw her beloved Jacob again. It may be scary to know so little about the future, but the alternative is far scarier.
I think I can hear that car pulling in. Thanks-giving, indeed.