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.
This morning, the magical Madeleine turns ten years old! It seems like only yesterday I was covered in spit-up, walking up and down our busy street, praying like crazy that anything, anything at all would help her settle down so we could all get some much needed sleep. I had no idea how much joy and happiness being the mother of such a wild, warm-hearted girl would bring me. Here's my list of ways to love a 10 year old today and everyday as she enters a new chapter of her growing up adventure.
1. Put her at the head of the table. That's right. Your girl has things to say and she needs an audience. By making sure she gets a turn now and then at the head of the table, you let her and your family know it's totally okay for your girl to command the attention of a room. You'll be surprised at how savvy she is and how much she has to say about things that matter to you, too.
2. Ask her to tell you her dreams and take notes. Inside every 35 year old mother is a ten year old girl trying to get out. Now is the time to give her hopes and aspirations full airtime--these tender dreams hold the keys to the truest version of her best self. Don't be scared if she says she wants to be the next Hannah Montana touring the globe--little girl rockstar dreams have more to do with the deep wish to be seen and respected than anything else.
3. Let her glory in every single moment of inflated self-confidence. Did she make the honor roll? Discover she can swim the length of the pool after all? Let her run with her happiness and pride as far as it will take her. Too often we encourage our girls to be demure and modest when a healthy dose of uber-confidence will take her so much further.
4. Ask other people to be quiet so she can finish her story. She's chatty, I know, but wouldn't you rather know every last thing on her heart instead of watch her sulk in the back of the car? Turn off your need to get her in line and take a turn listening to the twists and turn of her drama-loving life.
5. Indulge her promiscuous love of books. Turn her curiosity about grown-up things into a sophisticated knowledge of good literature. Now is the time to introduce her to the tried and true favorites of your own girlhood along with some new titles that will stretch her mind. This year Madeleine and I have had interesting talks about Iran and growing up during a revolution thanks to the brilliance of the Persepolis series (mother advisory required).
6. Turn up the music. It's not my favorite thing to do, always preferring the goodness of NPR to any top 40 pop music torture, but nothing means more to Madeleine than five minutes of her favorite music blaring out the windows on the ride to the grocery store. I don't understand it completely, but there's a certain kind of joy for her in this that you just can't duplicate anywhere else.
7. Remind her she doesn't have to be in a hurry to grow up. She's trying out her power moves, I know--groaning and moaning when you ask the simplest thing or waiting to see if you'll lose it if she dares give you the eye roll. Don't forget that underneath all that attitude is a little girl who probably still needs to sit on your lap, to have you brush out her hair or hold her every once in a while as she drifts gently off to sleep. Be bold in asking for hugs and insisting on tenderness between you in quiet moments. She needs it and you do, too.
8. Institute girls' night out. Admit it, there's a part of you that is dying to see the latest, greatest girl movie with all the cheese whiz and over-the-top acting. Here's your chance to do girlhood all over again, so do it right by giving your girl all the things you missed the first time around--time alone with your mother learning what it means to be a girl from her unique perspective.
9. Be her best cover. She's keenly aware of where your family rules fall in the continuum of lenient to strict in the kid stratosphere. Help her navigate the differences by being her best excuse when the invitations on the table feel inappropriate for your family's sense of sensibility. The same works in reverse when she knows your invitation will be met with reserve by more cautious parents. Let her know you'll help her not be embarrassed by the inevitable disconnects.
10. Dance with your girl like it's 1999. She'll love laughing at your moves and you'll be delighted to learn as she shows you a thing or two. Let her see it's okay to be silly, to not do it right and to let your heart go--especially for the sake of good-hearted fun.
What would have done your heart good at age 10? Add to our list in the comments below.