My kitchen table has a smattering of random objects. A big tub of Vaseline sits with its blue top open, after its contents were rubbed on my toddler's chapped upper lip. An empty cereal bowl, with spoon perched inside. A cold cup of coffee, nearly untouched. Modeling clay. A bowl of fresh fruit. A few colorful dreidels still out from Hanukkah. A silver kiddush cup left out from Shabbat. And a prayer book.
My older kids went off to school, and I am here at home with the two younger ones. I used to be a writer. I wrote about my religious journey. How I so heroically adopted a Torah lifestyle. I had been published in newspapers and magazines and websites. My stuff was good. Award-winning. I wrote from the heart with this God-given gift of massaging the words into something magical.
I have four children under 8. I have said that quite a few times the past eight months, since my youngest was born. My husband and I each grew up with one older sibling, so for us, having all these little kids is overwhelming. My brother left for college when I was just finishing middle school. Our house was usually quiet, except for the din of television sets. The first diaper I ever changed was at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater when my eldest child was born. I had to call the nurse in to help me. Now, I've changed literally thousands of diapers. I have nursed four children, and continue to nurse, despite the havoc the hormones wreak on my body. Every woman gets this, but few admit it. We are martyrs here in our homes. Putting on lipstick and a smile as we face the world.
Despite all this gloom, I really am doing a good job with my children. They are creative and interesting and passionate and kind and loving. Yes, they are often ungrateful, and I sometimes cringe at some of the things that come out of their mouths. Usually, it reminds me of something I might say, and that's what makes it most annoying. Hearing their words is often a reflection of the work I still need to do with my own sense of gratitude, and speaking in a positive, loving way.
There are some people in our lives who would say we aren't doing the right thing. That our religion is too rigid, our family too big. But having been on the other side of life, with a lack of faith and small families and sensationalist television commercials, I can say that this is the best place to be.
We are insulated from much of the outside world. My house sits right in the heart of Toco Hills, an Orthodox Jewish community in Atlanta. The Torah Day School of Atlanta is in our back yard; Beth Jacob synagogue is in the front. We have Jewish neighbors all around who live the same way we do. My children are surrounded by friends. We are all surrounded by friends. It's not all perfect. People still have egos. There is still gluttony and gossip. We are still human beings. But in general, the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle is based on family values, faith in God, prayer, education, modesty, charity, and all things good. I see some of the flaws, but there is no better alternative for me as a Jewish mother.
It has not been easy. It is still not easy. My husband and I grew up in a different world, around the block from each other in Pinellas County. That we married Jewish was something of a miracle given the inter-marriage statistics in our hometown. We were part of a social group at our reform temple, and out of 10 couples, we were the only ones who were Jewish. But still, we didn't know much about how to live Jewishly. Only that we felt this deep connection because of the shared ancestry of our families.
Here we are now, after 12 years of marriage and four children, trying to navigate this world of religious Judaism. We are learning as we go, and that has been the way the past seven years for us. Seeing, reading, doing. We've had some amazing spiritual and religious guides along this journey. People we could emulate. Real role models who walk the walk and talk the talk. Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins and their children. Oorah Torah Mates, the community of Potomac, Md., and now the Toco Hills community here in Atlanta. We observe Shabbat, keep kosher, family purity, dress modestly, cover our heads/hair. We did none of these things as children. And now we are doing it while raising children, and they don't know life any other way.
This type of spiritual and religious journey requires one to look within, to grow in thought and deed. At its core, this life of ours has a deep commitment and connection to God. That's the English word. We say Hashem, which is Hebrew meaning "the name."
For now, I sit here among the things of life. I try to fit in some prayer. Even if it's just, "Please, Hashem, help me be a good mom." My beautiful prayer book and book of tehillim (psalms) are always available for my heartfelt prayers. I'm learning. I'm trying to be better, to make time for the things that will make me a better mother and wife and human being. The things that make me worthy of being a proud, religious Jewish woman. For now, I will clean up the kitchen. Put my baby back down for a nap, ask God for help, and thank him for allowing me to reach this season of my life.
Mindy Rubenstein wrote "Faith in Motion," an award-winning religious series for the Pasco Times, until she moved to Georgia in 2011. She and her husband have children who are 8, 7, and 2 years old, and a baby who is 8 months old.