We’re hoping the school bus will know to pick up our twins at the right address when school starts. They’re starting Grade 6 this fall. We’ve finally gotten good at figuring out the back-to-school letter, so we send them with most of the right supplies.
Yesterday, I took them shoe shopping, because, apparently – even though kids’ feet grow all year round – you can only buy sneakers for them before school starts. I even know where their lunch kit is located. Last year, the kids got good at packing their lunches – with mom supervision, of course.
I dread the start of school. It’s full of pitfalls. Inevitably, the bus doesn’t come, maybe one twin has a conflict and gets in trouble, or the teacher isn’t connecting with the other one. Things don’t always go smoothly. I have to line everything up as well as I can and hope for the best.
We’d be way ahead of schedule if it weren’t for one thing. We moved this summer. We only moved a short distance. It’s a little less than two kilometres if you walk from our old house, built in 1913, to our new one, also built in 1913. The differences lay in the neighbourhoods, zoning and a few other details.
Our “old” house was entirely habitable, aside from some walls cracked by nearby construction. It’s currently for sale as I write this. We staged it with our furniture and now we’re sleeping on the floor at the “new” house.
Our current home is almost twice as big as the previous one. It has a bigger yard in a quieter neighbourhood, amazing woodwork, a library, leaded glass, two enclosed sun porches, a second floor open-air porch, and more. It’s got all the fine details one might expect of a house built for a doctor who was the head of the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1913. It’s also got only one working bathroom – several remain broken – and only about half of a kitchen. The other half of the kitchen was demolished due to some, umm, small issues like freezing pipes, and structural concerns that need to be fixed.
We moved for a variety of reasons, but we loved how close the new home would be to the synagogue we attend most of the time. To be more clear, the synagogue we used to attend in person and now mostly livestream, due to the pandemic! We imagined that the easy walking distance would be great if Shabbat observant relatives came to stay, for instance. We like walking in nice weather. Then? Things changed.
It turned out the synagogue needs to do big renovations. It has just “moved out” of the building for two years to have asbestos removed, the HVAC system fixed and a few other updates done. Services will now be held in two other places in the Jewish community – both of which require driving. Oh well.
Change is challenging. Our dog isn’t ready to be by herself in the new house. She let us know this yesterday. She broke out of the third floor bedroom, where we had left her for an hour, complete with her dog bed, the radio on, a dollop of frozen peanut butter, and several other treats. She greeted us, in high anxiety, at the first floor front door with all the same toys surrounding her. While we appreciate her intelligent, Houdini-like abilities, we still do sometimes need to leave home. This morning, we signed up to a new dog daycare at the last minute so we could attend a weekend bat mitzvah for a family with whom we’re close.
I could go on with examples because, with the pandemic fluctuations, the house move and other work changes, our life is really keeping us on our toes just now. Like many people, we’re continuing to roll with it. What else can we do?
Around us, we see people nostalgic for some mythical normal they want to get back to experiencing. I’m stymied by this because, at least in Manitoba, even as pandemic restrictions go away, more people continue to die due to COVID. It ain’t over yet, folks.
When I bump into friends or neighbours while walking the dog, everybody asks how we’re managing. We’re probably more deadpan or low-key than people expect. I mean, what are our other options?
At the dinner table, I mentioned these exchanges with my husband and he said, “You know, I’m out of bandwidth right now. I hope that I act appropriately and keep moving.” That is when it hit me that, during these times of big stress, it isn’t uncommon to act this way. We function automatically. When I taught high school, my students called it “home training.” Jewish tradition might call it “derech eretz” or “how to behave.” We’re all doing the best we can, relying on basic skills and manners learned in childhood about how to do the right thing.
We hope that, in every autopilot email, conversation with a neighbour or phone call, we’re behaving in an upright and kind way. Right after we mention this lack of bandwidth, we remember how lucky and grateful we are. We have a home, food and clothing. During this summer of “the great move,” we’re doing fine. We’re not facing any of the many awful things that Jews have had to face. It’s not the Inquisition, a pogrom, the Holocaust or, in 2022, time spent in bomb shelters in Israel or Ukraine.
In Pirkei Avot 2:5, Hillel offers a long list of instructions for how to behave, including: “In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person.” Every day, if Jews recite any prayers at all, we’re reminded to be grateful, caring, appreciative people. The emphasis is to be a mensch, an upright, good person, even in a moment when no one else might be acting as such, or when no one else is around.
It’s really easy to get worked up and dread transitions and the start of new challenges. It’s harder for me to step up, not just face these changes, but to embrace them with good humour and enthusiasm. I wake up each day, heave myself up from the mattress on the floor, recite a very informal Modeh Ani (a prayer of gratitude for waking up) and hope I will meet the day with the right intention. Someday soon, when our furniture makes the move, too, I hope it will feel like less of an effort to get up and meet the challenge.
I hope you have a great start to the school year, and that you are also celebrating some big milestone events! Here’s hoping it all goes smoothly.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.