It goes like this.
Leah calls Madeleine to see if she'd like to come to some kind of activity or service with her at her synagogue. Madeleine is just about to give an enthusiastic yes when Leah insists her father or her mother need to talk to me on the phone. One or the other or sometimes both parents assure me no one is trying to convert Madeleine, that they are hardly Jewish themselves, that they're atheists really.
I tell them I'm not worried at all, and I'm not. In this family? If anyone at all decided they wanted to be religious, I'd be pleased as punch. All my efforts at spiritual formation have fallen flat from the very beginning.
Then Madeleine gets back on the phone, decides she wants to go anyway and has a wonderful time. That week, this week, and the next week. In no time, despite the endless disclaimers of Leah's incredibly nice, liberal and not very Jewish parents, Madeleine thinks conversion is the best idea since saving all her money with Carter to buy the Wii.
Madeleine: Mom, seriously, seriously. Can I convert to Judaism?
Me: Hmmm....Let me think about that. What's making you think you might like to?
Madeleine: Well, Jews have the best holidays and I love the singing and the dancing and the having a prayer to say for everything--did you know there's a prayer you can say for going to the bathroom?--that, and oh, I love Friday night dinners.
Me: Me, too. Okay, well, we should probably wait to talk to Dad and see what he says. There's no rush, right? I mean they probably aren't going to let you convert over night. I imagine it will take some time. There's probably some kind of big involved process, don't you think?
Madeleine: Oh, no, mom. Some guys--what do they call them?
Madeleine: Yeah, rabbis. Some rabbis make you wait forever, but there's one way you can do it that's really fast.
Me: Like a fast track to becoming a Jew?
If only the rabbis could hear us now.
The next conversation is on the phone again and it sounds like this:
Madeleine: Dad, dad, dad! Can I become a Jew?
Dave (after he makes her slow down and explain what she's talking about): I think that would be great. But don't you think that's the kind of decision you probably need to make when you're a grownup?
Madeleine, of course, is devastated, and feeling slightly persecuted.
She flails herself on the couch, despondent, while Carter and I watch her like television, wondering what we should do.
"Carter," she asks, opening her eyes for a moment. "Do you support me becoming a Jew?"
"I don't know what support is," he answers honestly. "I don't know how to help anyone."
Madeleine sighs, but she's not angry. "Mom," she says, turning to me with all the sobriety of an old soul. "Will you support me?"
"Yes," I tell her. "And I think Dad will, too."
This eases the pain for awhile and we turn our minds to other things like when we'll get a Christmas tree and if you can celebrate Christmas if you're Jewish and how problematic she thinks it might be if she becomes a Jew and then marries a Jewish boy and then loses her ties to the other religions completely and how nice it would be to be able to celebrate all the religions all at once instead of having to pick just one.
"I'm just that kind of person," she tells me. "I can't help it. I can't wait until Chinese New year and I just have to have a Christmas tree. Do you think we can get a Menorah?"
And I smile and nod and send her and her little heart, so full of wanting to belong and wanting to honor the sacred in each and every form, right upstairs where she'll sleep on all this and then some in her cozy pink bed. No matter what happens, I hope when she wakes she'll still be searching, still be hoping, still be counting on finding her place in a much bigger "we," in a space where her heart tells her there is always, always more.