Today is the last day of school, and tonight is the last night of Chanukah. In a way, I feel like one marathon is ending, and another is beginning. Eight days of unfamiliar customs and social gatherings give way to ten days of unstructured time and unfamiliar routines.
But what if I just take some of the pressure off? What if not every moment needs to be fun-filled, action-packed perfection? What if some moments are hard, and I could just accept them for what they are, and then move on? I would certainly feel a lot less anxious about the upcoming “vacation” if I could just set aside some of my own unrealistic expectations.
I was turning these thoughts over in my mind as I walked home from dropping off my kids at school this morning. It’s the last day of school before vacation, and I was thinking I should do something for myself today. What’s something I can do for me, that will make me feel centered and relaxed… ready for the challenge of ten straight days of parenting?
As I was walking, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a precarious situation beginning to unfold. Several houses in front of me is the home to an elderly couple. Our neighborhood is populated by many young families (like ours) who have moved in over the last several years. We’ve come here in search of great neighborhood schools and spacious back yards. Dotted in between our homes, are the homes of the long-time residents of this neighborhood. Couples who have lived here for thirty, forty, even fifty years. Couples who have seen their children grow up on these streets, pass through elementary, middle and high school, and leave the nest. Some of those grown-up children have come back and purchased homes right here in this neighborhood. Others have ventured farther, but return on Thanksgiving and New Years, when our street is overrun with cars bearing out-of-state license plates. I often see these neighbors on my way to and from school. We wave and make polite conversation. I appreciate the fond smiles they bestow on my children. No doubt the vision of me, G and S trekking to and from school brings back memories of their own experience of this daily ritual.
I glance at the small yellow house in front of me. An elderly woman, my neighbor who I’ve smiled and waved at many times, has come outside, clutching a shiny green screwdriver. She is beginning to scale a small foot ladder perched precariously on her front stoop.
My question from a few moments ago, “What’s something I can do for me?” whirls through my brain one more time, and I immediately change course, crossing the street and calling out a greeting to my neighbor.
“Can I give you a hand?” I ask. Not waiting for an answer, my hand reaches out to steady the wobbly ladder.
“Aren’t you a dear?” She says to me, in lovely maternal voice.
And just like that, I’ve broken the barrier I often feel between me and a neighbor I only know by sight. I hold the ladder, while my new friend Bernadette expertly reaches up and unscrews the light fixture and emancipates the bulb that has burned out.
I follow her into her kitchen as she rinses the dust and cobwebs off the fixture, and grabs the new light bulb she’s left out on the counter. My eyes wander around her kitchen. It’s small and “dated” by today’s standards. No stainless steel refrigerator or Keurig single-serve espresso machine. Just an old-fashioned fridge covered with photos and a shiny red tea kettle on the stove.
Back outside, I continue to hold the ladder while Bernadette climbs back up, with a spring in her step I wasn’t expecting from her frail-looking frame. She deftly screws in the new lightbulb, then fastens the light fixture back into place. The whole time she is talking non-stop, entertaining me with stories of our town in “the old days”.
“Well,” she crows, giving the newly-installed light fixture a triumphant tap, “That ought to do it.” She descends the ladder in two quick steps. She nimbly folds it by pressing it against her hip, then rests it against the side of the house.
“Thank you,” she says, looking me directly in the eye. “You really made my day.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, feeling somehow humbled. “You really made my day, too.”
We smile and wave like old friends. I walk a few steps, then turn back. Bernadette is flipping the light switch, testing out her handiwork. On this grey day, the light of the new bulb illuminates the stoop, the house, and its resident in a warm glow.
Tonight, the sight of our little menorah will fill my heart with a beautiful, hopeful glow. This morning, the little bulb glowing over Bernadette’s front door filled my heart with a hopeful glow as well.