Davy and I spent a week in Michigan visiting family.We went for two reasons. First it was Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. I love that the Jewish New Year falls so close to the Ethiopian New Year. It makes early fall seem even more special and serendipitous. The second reason we went to Michigan is that most of my family hasn’t met her so my Dad and Stepmom wanted to throw a giant party in her honor. It was really terrific watching Davy meet friends and family. I found it pretty poignant for her to meet some of my parents’ friends who have known me my entire life. I jokingly referred to it as her “toddler cotillion” because there were more people at this party than were at mine and Andy’s wedding – like double the amount. My stepmom even had party favors, cookies with “Davy” printed on them in icing. Do you want one? We brought fifty home.
I am deeply ambivalent about the town I grew up in – who isn’t I guess? I left home at 17 and never returned. I grew up in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a white, upper-middle class, suburban…and mostly Jewish suburb of Detroit. From the time I could pretty much think for myself, I very much wanted to get the hell out of there. It is a perfectly fine place to raise a family, just not mine, and it gives me the willies going home. It brings me back to being a chubby, acerbic, smart ass 12 year old feeling very alone in a world full of Jewish American princes and princesses.
It also gave me whiffs of my past life that filled me with sadness… Seeing the house I grew up in… Driving past the nursing home where both of my grandparents died… Visiting my grandfather’s 93-year old best friend, riddled with cancer… The look of happiness and gratitude when his wife realized who I was – we made her so happy visiting her on Rosh Hashanah…
Bitterness and sweetness – a strange way to start the New Year.
Michigan for ME is never the place I would raise my kids; it’s not even a place I willingly go for vacations. It’s a place I visit, to see old friends and the people who I love. It is not a place that defines me anymore, instead it’s just somewhere I lived for a while and that we go back to from time to time. I am adult enough to understand that “being from there” and rejecting it is what used to define me (in my 20s), but now in my 40s, its just one place out of many that I have lived.
For Davy, on the other hand, Michigan is a magical place. She got to hang out with two of her favorite people on the planet, her Papa Jack and Grammy Adela. She had toys to play with and a nearby lake to explore while sticking things in the mud. And she got to meet her new BFFs, her cousins Abby and Matthew. Abby, age 8, would pick Davy up and move her around like an interactive doll. And Davy didn’t seem to mind in the least, but definitely gave Abby a run for her money in terms of sass and attitude. She even got to hang out with her glamorous cousins, Jordyn and Jonah.
While back there, I got to meet my friend Cheryl (who I have known since kindergarten) for apple cider with our kids. I was telling her about the party and how anxious it made me. Cheryl commented that it didn’t seem like me to even agree to it. I laughed and said that I was more mature now. After all, it is good for my kid, so I can deal with the three hours of my life.
Also, Davy handled the whole week, like a champion. She did have her moments at the party, but, of course, loved the attention. And she LOVED going to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. She danced to the music and at some point wondered up to the Bimah during services and spent a several minutes being entertained by a very young woman rabbi.
After my weeklong trepidatious walk down memory lane, I had a minor parenting epiphany. I realized that all of my Michigan angst was really just MY shit and it isn’t fair for me to put it on Davy. She had an awesome time. When she is an adult it’s totally her prerogative to hate the town that she grew up in. Hell, it’s a rite of passage we all have to go through.