It’s a family tradition that dates back some 30 years, when The Wife and I first got married.
Every year on the eve of Yom Kippur, we sit down and apologize to one another for any offense caused, intentional or unintentional.
I like to serve up my apologies quickly and in a perfunctory manner: “Honey, I’m sorry if I did anything to hurt you. I didn’t mean to.”
And then I’ll steer the conversation quickly to discussing something else, like what we still need to prepare for the pre-Yom Kippur meal.
But not The Wife. She’s a fan of details: she’ll ask me what exactly I am apologizing for; which particular wrong I am most sorry for having committed; and how I hope to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.
If I vow to be a better husband and father next year, she’ll ask what exactly it is that I’ll do differently, and how precisely I plan on improving. My apology is the equivalent of a satellite shot of the earth; she wants a city road map.
But this year during our pre-Yom Kippur ritual, something interesting surfaced. The Wife mentioned that I’ve become calmer with age, bothered less by those little annoyances – those tantrum triggers – around the house.
The way she put it reminded me of how my kids talk. Whenever they insult me, they always add at the end that they mean it in a good way (b’keta tov).
“I get all my craziness from you,” one of my boys said the other day. “But I mean that b’keta tov.”
“You’re cheap,” another of the offspring said recently. “But I mean that b’keta tov.”
The Wife said she has noticed that I was handling with greater equanimity the rough-and-tumble Friday afternoons – those bewitching hours for the religiously observant, when everything has to be finished before the onset of Shabbat: the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning.
Paradoxically, those hours are among the most tense of the week, a time of great domestic commotion when the nerves get strained and frayed. And then, as the Shabbat candles are lit, all the turbulence is just magically supposed to disappear.
Except that sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s almost impossible to be aggravated at everyone in the house for not doing what they’re supposed to have done as the Shabbat deadline nears, and then – just as the sun sets – turn it all off and become a vehicle of Shabbat peace and harmony.
Once, in a worked-up state, I slammed the door and yelled at my household “Shabbat Shalom, dammit,” as I headed to synagogue for Friday evening prayers. Not exactly the optimal state of mind when going out to meet the Sabbath bride.
But those instances have – of late – become fewer and further apart. The Wife charitably credits my efforts at greater forbearance and patience for this change. But she’s wrong.
I HAVEN’T improved or gotten better, it’s just that with the kids all now in their 20s, things have become easier.
I’m no calmer, there are just fewer things around the house to knock me for a loop.
For instance, rather than yelling at the kids on Friday afternoon to help out, or nagging them to put away their things, those children who happen to be home will help out on their own volition.
Rather than mess up the floor, they will clean it. Rather than slug each other and jump on the couch, they will sit on the couch and catch up with one another.
I’m shouting less at the family not because I have more control of my anger, but rather because there is just objectively less to shout about.
And it’s not only around the house. The Wife and I and three of our children went up north during Succot for a couple of nights. In the past, these trips were as physically exhausting as they were emotionally tense.
Physically they were trying because we had to run after four kids for 18 hours, and keep them entertained. And emotionally these trips were draining because we had to keep them from killing each other in the car and in the close quarters of a hotel room.
Now that they are grown, none of that is necessary. I actually get a perverse pleasure watching other young couples chase after their small, screaming kids on vacation, wondering if my kids were ever like that. Selective memory is a wonderful thing.
Twenty years ago I had to juggle a pressure-filled job with car-pooling the kids, making their lunches, doing their homework, feeding, disciplining and bathing them.
Now I still have the pressure-filled job, but I don’t have small or adolescent children to raise. Life’s overall burdens, therefore, have been cut in half, meaning there is half the aggravation, half the exhaustion, and half the things to get mad and worked up about.
Also, there are only half the things to argue about with The Wife, as the source of so many of those arguments – whose turn it is to pick up the kids, make their lunches, get them to do their homework, shower, feed and discipline them – have simply evaporated.
And with fewer arguments, there are fewer things to apologize for on the eve of Yom Kippur. But when I do apologize, The Wife still wants specifics. Some things will never change.