I have embarked upon a third job. This past Friday night, I became an interim cantorial soloist at my synagogue. Our cantor up and left early this month, and one other woman and I are the current stopgap in the service of leading services. Our tenure is expected to be either six months or until a contracted, fully ordained cantor is found and convinced to come down to these parts. Whichever bridges need to be crossed...
I was certainly put to the test on Friday night - by my own family.
I was asked to go up to the pulpit on Friday and sing one prayer. Not a problem, right? My husband would be coming back from work early for the 6 PM service in order to look after our son, and he didn't even need to be on time, as I wouldn't be needed on the pulpit right away. It was a choir Shabbat, but if I had to look after my son instead of contributing my voice, well, so be it.
I managed to be there for rehearsal shortly before the service, with the little guy in tow. Despite his occasional pleas for high-tailing it to the kids' playroom, he behaved himself pretty well. He complained again when it was time to go to the chapel and begin the service, but he accepted my explanation as to why he couldn't go to the playroom: "Daddy's not here yet, honey. Please be patient and come with me." A fellow choir member told me he'd heard there was massive traffic coming out of Baton Rouge on the I-10, and Dan was most likely stuck in it.
My heart sank, a little. When the music began and the choir had to stand and sing the first prayer, I had to hold my son in my arms and sing to keep him calm, though he is a growing four-year-old boy and was quite hefty. Edie leaned back after that first song and whispered that she could look after my son while I was soloing, and I breathed a little easier.
Shortly before it was time for me to sing, Dan came in. Relief, finally.
I went up to the pulpit when it was my time, and started in on the prayer. I was in the middle of it when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a small person making his way up to the pulpit. I kept singing as my son took my hand, and I tensed a little as I anticipated the tug of war that could well ensue as it usually does whenever he wants me to go someplace while I am trying to talk with other adults or do things that don't directly involve him. The notes kept flowing out of me as I saw some of the synagogue's board members in the first few rows reacting to my son's presence on the pulpit. Somehow, I made it to the end of the prayer, with my son playing peekaboo with congregation members from behind the podium where I stood, and I quickly exited the chapel and went to the playroom with him.
I'd like to say that I saw the hilarity in the whole situation, but all I could see were the two sides of me that had come into conflict. In some ways, I still hadn't changed since before I had given birth- I had put myself out there to do a job, and I was ambitious, still. I also had relied on a support system that had clearly fallen apart. I thought that my job success was in some ways tied to good family management, and to the ability to separate myself from my role as Mommy. I want to engage myself in jobs and activities that give me that distance from my child, in part because I think we both need it. I certainly need that distance.
I got upset in the playroom, thinking about all of this as my son played with the toys. I didn't realize the service was over until Dan came in and asked me why I hadn't come in to the gathering for refreshments and schmoozing after services. I'm ashamed to say that I got upset at him for not paying more attention to our son, that I felt that Dan hadn't valued what I was trying to do. He exploded, saying that he'd already been berated by the choir director and the executive director for the same thing, and that he was sick of being berated about it. He was very sorry about the whole thing.
The overall impression my son and I gave the congregants? I had a great voice, and I was a cool customer under pressure. He is a cute little ham who loves his mommy.
However, my inner conflict still lingers. Edie thinks we need to put the exec. director on the spot about child care during the service, as my son, and other kids his age or younger whose parents want to attend worship services, can't sit through an hour-long service with us. Technically speaking, I was hired on to do Saturday morning services, which is much more manageable for us in terms of the child care tradeoff from me to Dan. Saturday morning went off for me without a hitch or a little boy's hand in mine.
I vacillate still between wanting to control my son for the sake of outward appearances, and letting his behavior hang out a little because I am a mom, after all. It did help that most of the people who witnessed my son's need to be with Mommy were sympathetic and charmed. The rabbi was very impressed, and understanding as well.
Time and experience will have to help me relax on this one, I guess...