You know the old saying: God couldn’t be everywhere, so he created mothers. Well, OK then.
Since the Almighty is all powerful, all wise, a just and merciful lawgiver with eyes everywhere beholding the evil and the good, who knows all things past, present and future, does that mean that I, too, possess those attributes and thus have permission (nay, the obligation) to helicopter above my kids — antennae aquiver — and at the first sign of trouble barge in, advice blazing, to avert disaster, rescue the wounded, kiss their boo-boos and fix everything?
You betcha. To support the notion that moms are omnipotent, consider the quarterback who completes a miraculous last-gasp Hail Mary, or the NBA rookie who nails a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. Invariably, the kid drops to his knees and praises his momma for her guidance, for sacrificing her own ambitions so she’d always be there for him after school with milk and cookies or a slap upside the head so he’d stay on the straight and narrow and be rewarded with his picture on a Wheaties box.
The grateful athlete generally thanks the Lord in the same breath, so why shouldn’t we moms consider ourselves God’s doppleganger?
“We moms” means all mothers of every color in every country, culture and class. We’ve paced the floor, wrung our hands and scratched our heads in maternal angst ever since Eve birthed Cain, Abel and Seth and wailed, “What’s the matter with kids today?” So why — among all the available candidates — are Jewish mothers voted the most over-anxious, over-protective, over-controlling, over-indulgent, over-involved and over-bearing? (I demand a recount.)
When did the gentle, huggable yiddishe momma become, in Irving Howe’s words, “brassy-voiced, smothering and shrewish?”
Joyce Antler, author of You Never Call, You Never Write, reminds us that Jewish mothers were once admired for their tenacity and nurturing. Then, poof. Bighearted, lovingly meddlesome Molly Goldberg was replaced by Sophie Portnoy, described by her creator, Philip Roth, as “the patron saint of self-sacrifice” and “one of the outstanding producers and packagers of guilt in our time.”
Antler blames the Molly-to-Sophie transformation on negative themes in film and TV: Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks; Sylvia Fine of The Nanny; Kyle’s mom, Shelia Broflovski, on South Park.
But Antler sees an emerging U-turn, where feminist scholars and stand-up comics recast the Jewish mother in a positive light. “Of course,” Antler writes, “both positive and negative aspects of the Jewish mother’s love and sacrifice are overblown. The child’s fundamental desire for independence and the mother’s love pulling her back, pits the mother and child as antagonists in a necessary conflict over autonomy and separation. As such, it represents a universal cri de coeur.”
There’s the loaded word: separation. When should we cut the apron strings? Surely not before we’re done with diapers, orthodontia and maybe even the graduate degree. So how about when the son is 52 with a family of his own? Or when the daughter has an AARP card and grandchildren? The second-century wise woman, Bruriah, taught that our children do not belong to us. They are both a loan and gift from God, and at some point we must detach. Really? Meet my role model, Bathsheba.
Bathsheba, as you know, was King David’s wife (then widow) and Solomon’s mother. By all Midrashic accounts she was always at his side, in his face, securing his ascension to the throne and guiding Solomon’s behavior even after he became king. Bathsheba complained about his lifestyle (700 wives, 300 concubines and not one of them Jewish!). When Solomon drank too much, she slapped him silly with her shoe. She scolded. She nudged. She warned Solomon against conduct that might embarrass her (her!) in front of the neighbors.
But along with tough love, Bathsheba provided effective home schooling. Solomon credits his wisdom to her teachings, and praises Bathsheba in Proverbs. “Listen, my son, to the Torah of your mother. She opens her mouth with wisdom. Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you.” This is King Solomon, the most powerful man in the nation, talking. When his mom enters the room he rises up and calls her blessed. He endures her censure and endless care taking. Ah, Solly. Forget your clever adjudication of the two mothers with one baby case. It’s because of your restraint, your respect, your understanding and acceptance of Bathsheba’s 24/7 parenting that you’re considered the smartest guy ever.
Maybe those thank-you-mom athletes were inspired by King Solomon. Perhaps they turned to Proverbs, Psalms or the Song of Songs, read between the lines, and found the monarch’s words to his doting mother. “You spared not your criticism and guided me in behavior fitting my station. You crowned me on my wedding days and gladdened my heart. Many women have done well, but you surpass them all.” Wow. To quote Sally Fields, “You like me. You really like me!” Maybe our children value us more than they let on.
So, what the heck. I’ll ignore the shrinks and continue to fret over our kids and grandkids and smother them with love. This is the way of moms and dads, l’dor vador. May our children continue the process.
Ozzie Nogg is an Omaha-based freelance writer.