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While we were in New Orleans, we had to take our son to the emergency room. He’s fine, and was fine at the time, but he had bronchiolitis/RSV and was wheezing a lot. We called his pediatrician, who said it was probably not a big deal but since he’d never wheezed before we should have someone check him out. Due to insurance restrictions, we ended up in the ED. They declared him a “happy wheezer”, didn’t even think he needed a breathing treatment, and sent us on our merry way with an inhaler and mask gizmo, just in case.

When we checked in, I had to fill out an admissions form. This form had an extensive section for information on all three of us, more so than any form I’ve previously encountered. I was rolling right through the baby’s section — social security number, name, birthdate — when I hit a blank that gave me pause.

Religion: ___________________

Nobody had asked me this before. Mine and his father’s, yes, but I’ve never had to mark down baby J’s religion. I paused and looked at BWB, who shrugged. Just put both, he said. Oh, right, of course. So I filled it out: Christian/Jewish. I was proud of us, satisfied with that answer, and moved on.

The clerk at the desk, an older gentleman who had been telling me about his pre-Katrina job in real estate, looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, mama, but the system only lets me put one in.” I frowned, and started to explain that it wouldn’t be accurate. “Should I put down other?” Um. Okay? So my son got marked down as “other”, and he apologized again. He said he was Cajun, and they never had a good box to check for that, or for Creole either. I smiled and nodded, and we moved on.

But I haven’t moved on. My son is other? No. Other implies not belonging, lack of definition. My son is not other. My son is loved and accepted by two communities, has two sets of ladies at coffee hour and oneg who want to hold him. My son was blessed by a rabbi and a priest, he hears both Shalom Rav and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing sung to him as lullabies at bedtime. I reject your checkbox, fancy computer system.

Yet even as I write this, I know that this is only the beginning. We have a long road of other-ness ahead of us, and I am sure this will be far from the last time that we find ourselves in this position. We are still confident in our choice to “do both”, and still certain we will make this work. That doesn’t mean we’re not aware that it would have been easier to just pick one. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing, though.

Someday, my son will speak for himself. He might choose to identify as Jewish, or Christian. He might call himself Buddhist, or Muslim, or Wiccan. Maybe he will continue to claim all of his heritage and defy the checkboxes on his own. Until he gets old enough to make those choices, though, it falls on me to try and make the world accept his religious reality.

So no, not “other”. How about, All of the Above, Yes, or Both? It’s Complicated. More Than Meets the Eye. Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later. Clearly, the form needs to be updated.

In the meantime, we’ll keep doing our thing despite the boxes. My son and our family are many things, and we are okay with that. Even if sometimes we don’t fit neatly on a form.

It is no secret that I love tradition and ritual.  They aren’t just about doing things the way they’ve always been done, though; to me, traditions and rituals create a safe space, a feeling of belonging.  Anything is fair game — if we’ve done it twice, it must be a tradition — but it is the traditions of my family and my faith which I hold closest to my heart.  As BWB and I build our life together as a married couple, we are establishing our own traditions, some of which are treasured childhood rituals and some of which are new to both of us.

One of the new to both of us traditions is Shabbat dinner.  While my family obviously never observed Shabbat, we did sit down to dinner together more nights than not.  Looking back, those nightly conversations were hugely important to my development as a person as well as my relationship with my family.  I am determined to give my someday-children the same thing.  Combining ritual, tradition, discussion, and food — it should really come as no surprise that I love the idea of celebrating Friday night Shabbat dinner in our home.

To that end, a few weeks ago I ordered The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat. A couple of the reviewers on Amazon had said it was helpful for non-Jewish mothers, and I have to agree.  While it didn’t answer all of my questions, it did answer most of them, and offered information I didn’t even know to ask about.  I’ve read it a couple times through, and I’m sure I’ll go back a few more times before I’m done.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone, mom or not.

Friday afternoon I called BWB to ask if he wanted to go to temple or not.  He said no, he was just too busy, and I could tell from his voice that he was super stressed.  I was exhausted myself, so I said I’d pick up some food on the way home and we could just stay in.

When I got home, he was upstairs studying.  I got out the kiddush cup and two little candles from our wedding.  The only white tablecloth we have has embroidered menorah and dreidels on it, but I put it on the table anyway.  The food was nothing special (a rotisserie chicken, red pepper strips and frozen corn for him and peas for me), but I put it on the plates and made it look pretty anyway.  A few weeks ago I made four small loaves of challah and froze them, so when this week’s loaf came out of the oven, I called him down for dinner.

“Oh, you can start without me.”

“Um.  No, really can’t.”

“…fine.  It’ll be about ten minutes.”

About ten minutes later a stressed out and distracted BWB came down the stairs, but as soon as he saw the table, his tense expression eased and his face lit up.  “What do we do now?”  I pulled out the book, and opened to the part explaining the prayers.

I covered my head with the wedding shawl one of my bridesmaids made for me, and somewhat sheepishly lit the candles. After waving my hands over the flames the way I’ve seen my Orthodox friend do, I said the prayer (almost from memory, even!).  He said kiddush over the cup, and then we followed the steps through the rest of the book, giggling a little from time to time.  Dinner was not excessively long, our conversation wasn’t particularly enlightened, and the soundtrack was the TV coming in from the other room where our housemate was watching something.  Despite all of that, I could see BWB re-centering.  At some point, he thanked me for setting it up.

“You needed Shabbat.” I said.

“Yeah, I did.  Shabbat Shalom, honey.”

I love tradition and ritual because of the shared sacred space they have the ability to create, any time, anywhere.  Last night, our imperfect prayers created a holy place in our house.  Amazing.  A slightly belated Shabbat Shalom, yall, and God be with you tonight and every night.

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