From the moment I open my eyes, following a tired Modeh Ani, my imaginary baseball bat stands at the ready. I imagine it to be a sleek Louisville Slugger, with the face of a cantankerous-mole- wearing bouffant-hairdoed-headmistress , with a a nasally high pitched voice. As soon as my feet hit the ground, 'she' pitches the first curve ball past my bleary eyes.
“Late again, huh?” she starts. “Dudu's bus left the curb long ago! Now your boys will be late for school, your daughter will miss davening at Gan—again!-and they will all suffer unnecessary humiliation because of their irresponsible mother!
I am barely able to shake the cobwebs of sleep, when the second pitch is thrown.
“Mommy, we can't find socks!” comes the plaintive cry of two boys hunched over the laundry basket of clean clothes, frantically searching like two alley cats scavenging for scraps at the dumpster. Ms. Louisville is fast at my shoulder as I try to pair up stray socks under pressure.
“P-R-I-O-R-I-T-I-E-S!” she nasally intones. “Who cares how tight your schedule is—look at these kids searching through neglected laundry baskets! If you're already staying up until one in the morning, stay until two and sort out this mess once and for all!”
Sighing along, I make my way to the kitchen, where I will proceed to make lunches. Bleary eyed, I look for the sandwich bags and start to pack up snacks. In two seconds flat, Ms. Slugger - my baseball bat yetzer hara - positions herself by my ear, where she proceeds to whisper 'sweet nothings 'as I stuff a bag with chocolate chip cookies.
“What kind of mother are you?!Couldn't you do this the night before? And look-- chocolate chip cookies?! Hydrogenated oil?! What happened to carrot and celery sticks? What happened to your 'healthy lunches campaign? It's your kids health, you know. You are not doing them any favors!”
Striiiiiiiiike three—and I am out. I am out of my mind. I am out of steam—self esteem. I just want to get on my couch and get into fetal position where I can continue to 'bat myself up' all day long about what a horrible job I am doing as a wife, mother, daughter and Jew. From the moment I open my eyes, my imaginary bat follows me around, bopping me on the head at every chance she gets, with an endless list of shortcomings—real and imagined. Ms. Louisville Slugger makes sure that my yetzer is always up at bat, striking me down again and again. There are endless opportunities throughout the day, as I walk around with my bat at my side, ready to strike at the core of my well-being.
A Jewish mother's guilt, although famously exaggerated at times for humorous entertainment purposes, can be debilitating for some mothers in every day life—and it is nothing to joke about. When you beat yourself up from morning until night, and all the hours in between, it is hard to feel calm, happy, or any other positive emotion that contributes to good mental health. Instead of a cheerful disposition, mothers (like myself at times) who spend their mornings 'batting themselves up', will be emotional basket cases by the time their kids waltz through the door in the afternoon.
Here's a perfect scenario as the first child walks in from school:
“Hi, Ma! What's for lunch? I am so starving, my stomach hurts!”
Simple question, with a very complicated answer.
“Uh, well, how about veggie burgers?”
Child proceeds to contort face to convey that they are very disgusted with this suggestion. “Again?!!!” The child closes the refrigerator door, and in a voice full of all the drama and pathos they could muster,they proceed to deliver one of the worst lines to pierce a guilt ridden Jewish mother's heart: “There is never anything to eat in this house!”
I slump into a chair to make it easier for Ms. Louisville to do her job, as she's there in two seconds flat, being that she is never far away.
“There you go again,” she begins.
“Who cares if you were up all night with a baby and that you had to take one of the kids to the doctor? (bat) Do your kids care that you came home to a plumbing emergency that took up half your morning, and that you had to go food shopping after?(bat again)Is it their fault that you were roped in to make twenty phone calls for the upcoming school meeting and that you had to go to the cleaners? (bat)Are they to blame because you had to say Tehillim for that one person, and because someone had an emergency that you needed to take care of too? (bat bat)And all you can offer is a corn schnitzel?!(triple bat)”Didn't I say it was a complicated question?
So....what is the antidote to the poison that is constant guilt?
Well—first, we must ditch the bat—or rather, the voice of 'non reason' that follows us around all day. The voice that wears us down, highlighting every experience in our day as a potential failure. The voice that keeps us from recognizing that we are only human, and therefore, we are limited. We may be limited in time, energy, or by any other number of factors that have been decreed by HaShem as necessary for our tikkun on this earth. Like overflowing laundry hampers, opportunities abound for us to let go, and let HaShem be in charge, as the saying goes. Because in this world, the only perfection that exists, is HaShem.
This, is the bottom line. Every missed bus, every basket of unsorted laundry, every tantruming child in the middle of the mall—each one of these things are from HaShem. Yes, there is always room for improvement in certain areas of our lives. Yet, instead of approaching things from a perspective of abject failure, we should tackle it (hey, there's a football theme here!) like a football and throw it up and ask HaShem to help us do it better the next time around. Because that is the great thing about being human-- HaShem keeps giving us multiple chances to get it right--without beating ourselves up in the process.
I'm thinking about retiring Ms. Louisville slugger one of these days. I know that she is going to put up a fight and not leave quietly—we've been together far too long. But next time she comes to 'bat her up'--I'm going to try to strike her out. And hopefully, I will hit a home run.