Other People’s Children

This morning I went to a bat mitzvah. In almost every bar/bat mitzvah there is a part where the other children in the congregation are invited to come up to the bimah. It usually takes a little coaxing, first, the Jewish kids bound up the stairs, they know what to do. Eventually the non Jewish kids join them. Then they all stand there looking awkward, the boys in shirts tucked half in and half out. The girls shifting their weight in shoes they aren’t quite sure how to stand in. It almost always makes me cry, this show of support, this willingness to expose themselves, to be counted as a friend of the child at the center.

There are kids who were at my bat mitzvah who were at my wedding. There are people who were at my bat mitzvah, my wedding, and my children’s bar and bat mitzvahs. So, I look at whatever group of kids is assembled in front of me and wonder which ones will still be friends 10, 20, 30 years from now. They stand so close to the edge of the rest of their lives it’s impossible not to love them. It’s impossible not to imagine what comes next.

When I left the house for the bat mitzvah I left 8 13-14 year old boys in my basement. Yesterday, they came home from school with my son for his birthday. I’ve known some of these boys since they were 3, some since they were 8, the newest member joined the group when he was 10. We’ve lost a few to other friends, other interests and I miss the one I always knew would fall asleep first. I even miss the ones who almost always got into fights. Even when my son tells me that so and so isn’t as nice anymore, that this one was in a fight, this one suspended, I miss still miss the boys they were. Almost all of the boys tower over me now. Yesterday they were all wearing shirts and ties because it was 8th grade graduation picture day.

“Thanks for having us Mrs. Block,” says a young man who looks like he could just as easily have come in from his first day of a new job. Late at night, the ties shed, some of them in pajamas, they go out to play in the snow. They yell and scream and wrestle and make nuisances of themselves. I feel bad for my neighbors, but I stand transfixed at the window watching them. I am unwilling to ask them to stop, to go back to being young men. I want the group of them to keep playing like this as long as possible. I think I knew how much I would love my own children, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love their friends.

On school mornings my son’s friend walks to our house and then they walk to school together. Every morning I say “I love you” and “Have a good day.” Some days it isn’t clear who I’m saying I love you to and my son jokingly asks, “You love E?” Of course I love him. How could I not love a boy who in first grade, when my son held open the door for him, asked if he wanted to be best friends? How could I not love a boy who chooses “19th century guy dressed as a modern boy” as a Halloween costume? How could I not love the one friend the same height as my own boy? He never asks me if I mean that I love him, too. He knows I do.

There are so many things that surprise you and break your heart as a parent, especially as the parent of teenagers. But there is so much joy in having your heart burst open by so many people.




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