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Day 136: The Destroyer

When K was born and I announced her name to our parents and brothers, Mr. December’s brother piped up: “Oh, you mean like the Hindu goddess of destruction?”

“What? No!” I said, and shrugged it off. He says a lot of weird things.

A month later, I couldn’t shrug it off anymore. Apparently Mr. December’s friends were all familiar enough with the Hindu pantheon that they recognized K’s name. Then again, maybe they’d just seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a few too many times.

K has lived up to her (unintentional) namesake at various points in her life. There was the time she dumped the canister of flour on the kitchen floor and then crawled through it; the time she clawed her natural latex mattress to shreds while its cover was in the wash; and her treatment of pretty much every duotang she’s ever put in her school bag.

But this summer’s destruction has really taken the cake. K has killed our swingset — twice. And just yesterday, after I’d fixed the swingset for the second time, she broke the attached slide by (can you guess?) swinging too hard.

This shouldn’t surprise me. The swingset is almost as old as K and is probably at the end of its life. K is what folks call a “sensory-seeking kid” — she needs really intense sensory input to calm and organize her system. Things that would make me dizzy — spinning super fast in an office chair, doing 100 back drops in a row on the trampoline — help her to calm down.

A Hindu friend pointed out that K is not just a goddess of destruction; rather, she destroys things in order to make space for something new. If that’s the case, our K is doing a great job — we need a new slide and probably a new swingset. Maybe if it’s broken beyond repair we’ll finally get around to building a new one.

Today was Tisha B’av, a fast day on the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of collective mourning, in memory of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (temple) where Jews from all over came on holy days to pray and make sacrifices. When the temple was destroyed, Jewish life as it was known ceased to exist. Without a temple, there were no sacrifices. The Jewish people were exiled. The priests could no longer perform their duties. Everything was ruined.

In the wake of that destruction the Jews had to forge new ways to worship and to remain connected to each other and to their ancestral home. They initiated weekly Torah readings so that the populace would hear the entire Torah read each year; clarified, discussed, and codified Jewish Law; and developed a new form of prayer to stand in for the sacrifices that could no longer be offered.

Most years on Tisha B’av I wonder whether I really am mourning the destruction of the temple. Would I prefer that we were still sacrificing bulls on the temple mount in Jerusalem and relying on a dynastic family of priests to facilitate our relationship with God?

No. I love this Judaism, the one that was built after the destruction of the temple. I love the way we grapple with our holy texts and the way the home is a mikdash me’at (a small temple), the true centre of Jewish life. I love that what distinguishes our leaders is learning, not lineage. I can see so clearly that the Jews of temple times would never have voluntarily destroyed the Beit Hamikdash, but without the destruction, would we ever have dared to eliminate animal sacrifice and adopt a more democratic model of religious leadership?

I doubt it. I couldn’t even pull the trigger on a lifestyle that we lived only because it was the way everyone was living; the children spent all day at school and returned home tired and cranky; Mr. December was at the office all day and got maybe an hour and a half of time with the kids before bedtime; the children had different extracurricular activities at different times in different places, and I was their chauffeur (last year I made six trips every Tuesday evening.)

It’s true that I flirted with the idea of homeschooling, of doing less, of biking more and living a more local lifestyle. But I don’t think I would ever have been able to make that move if COVID hadn’t come along and demolished the existing structure of our lives. Suddenly, Mr. December is working from home and gets to see the kids frequently throughout the day. Extracurriculars might as well not exist for my kids, who don’t like doing things like dance class online. We have all day to be together. Just yesterday I realized that I’m getting to spend some alone time with each child every day. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that on weekdays before.

Our swingset is ruined — we’ll likely build a new one that can withstand K’s vigorous swinging, and maybe even includes monkey bars or a ninja line. The temple was destroyed — but we have a beautiful religion and culture based on learning, faith, and the pursuit of justice, with the Jewish home at its centre. Our pre-COVID life has been disrupted — and now we have the incredible opportunity to build a better one.

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