The Family Business

Publicity shot from the flea circus.

I’m performing my show The Acme Flea Circus 5 times this summer as part of the Chicago Park District Night Out In The Parks Program. (see here for all the details. )
The shows are all free, so it would be great if you came out! I’ve got 4 more!

My first show was today. (Not open to the public– it was part of a camp program.)

POP QUIZ

 My son came along because of the following:

A) my wife was working, and had an appointment, so I couldn’t leave him with her.
B) we’re trying to save money, so he’s not going to camp every day.
C) I wanted him to see what I do.
D) ALL OF THE ABOVE

If you guessed D) ALL OF THE ABOVE you would be correct.

On the drive to the show, I realized that this is the first time that he was going to be helping me do a show. Yes, he’s seen my show multiple times but he hasn’t been in the business (backstage, setting up, striking, etc.)

Shows in the Chicago parks this summer.

He’s never really expressed an interest in performing, other than glibly. He loves acrobatics, and he loves to do tricks, just not in front of people. If we were waiting in line, and I said, “Let’s do a trick for these people in line.” he would demur.

 I’ve never wanted to push him into performing if that’s not what he wants to do.  I have a friend who is also a performer, has a son born around the same time as AA, and that kid was born wanting to perform. (he has been on a soap opera, in an opera at BAM, just booked a national commercial, and is currently in an HBO series with James Franco!)

I think he’d be good, as he loves to pretend, he’s very cute and photogenic, and he can be quite funny.  But he has to want it.

Anyway, he agreed to help out today.  His big job was to be the house manager.  He had to go open the door to the room, kick down the doorstop and say “Ladies and Gentleman, the house is now open.”  He confided to me that he was a little nervous about it. We went over the ground rules (watch the show quietly, he has to do what is expected of him, he can’t ruin the show for other kids by saying what comes next, etc.)

Trying on the hat for size.  It could work!

He did well, opening the door perfectly, sitting quietly.  I explained to him that one of the hardest things a performer has to do is wait.  We arrived at 8:45am for an 11 am show.  (an hour to set up typically, and an hour to troubleshoot anything that might go wrong.) He was a little restless but mostly held it together.  He also asked me a bunch of questions about training the fleas. I told him that I don’t tell anybody how I train them, but if he ended up wanting to perform the show after I retired, I would teach him.  He seemed pretty excited about that.

 Before I had my son, I was performing on a pretty regular basis, making an okay and occasionally decent living from it.  I was touring a lot, going to festivals a lot, driving a lot. But that all changed after the baby was born. It made sense for me to be the stay at home parent, and my wife to become the bread winner. I still perform occasionally, but not as often. And that is an itch I would like to scratch.

I have a weird fantasy of us putting together a show and going on tour together. Maybe do the Summer Fringe Festival Circuit? We’d make a good team I think; I’m so big, he’s so little, he can be very bossy.   (I am not sure what my wife would do in this summer touring fantasy.  Run the box office?)

Anyway, that probably won’t happen, but today was a nice start. And who knows? If I can teach him to run the sound system and do all the sound cues it could still work out!

Passover has passed me over

NOTE: This post is going to get a little more personal than I normally get, so feel free to skip if you choose to.  I know that some of my readers are primarily about the cultural stuff I write about, or maybe the parenting tips, or who knows, even the sponsored stuff I occasionally do.  But this is for the ones who might be interested in the personal.

This one is about my relationship with my religion.

 I’ve got a hard relationship with Judaism.

On one hand I feel very Jewish- my identity is very much as a Jew, at least culturally.  I had a Bar Mitzvah, I went to Israel, I can read Hebrew (although my understanding is limited) I went to Hebrew High School (The Harry Elkin Midrasha), and even taught there for two years.  I know the blessings by heart, or mostly, I have Passover Seders in my house, we occasionally have Shabbat, and I can “Oy vey” and “Nu, so…” with the best of them. I married a Jewish woman, and we stepped on the glass. I cry at Fiddler on the Roof.  I’m also a big fan of Bagels and Lox, brisket, and knishes. Kashe not so much.  And guilt?  Do I know about guilt! Well, that’s part of the reason for this blog post.

 I want my son to know Judaism.  I want him to have a Bar Mitzvah, and know the blessings over wine, and bread, and matzah.  I want him to know what a lulav and an etrog are, to know the sounds of the Shofar being blown, I want that to be part of his identity, for him to feel connected to this group of people who have struggled over great adversity and managed to survive for thousands of years.  He is part of that struggle, as I am, and as my parents were before me, and their parents before them.

On the other hand, I am not a practicing Jew. I don’t fast on Yom Kippur, don’t eat matzah at Passover, don’t regularly stop working on Shabbat, or even light the candles.  I eat pork and shellfish with abandon.  I’m not a member of a synagogue, I don’t go to synagogue with any kind of regularity (and when I do go, I kind of resent it)  I have a great doubt that any of those things will help me in an afterlife I don’t think I believe in and haven’t gotten much spiritual comfort from.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I’m an atheist, I believe there is some Creator, but not one that I have a “personal relationship” with or cares whether or not I work on Shabbat, or eat cheeseburgers. And while I feel a part of the grander scheme of Judaism, I have never felt a part of an individual community of Judaism.  Maybe for about 10 minutes, but certainly not on a sustained level.

The most spiritually moved I’ve felt has been at the theatre, and occasionally while sitting on a rock jetty with my back to the shore, watching the waves roll in.  (Oh my god, my spiritualism is a tampon commercial!)

When my parents were alive, I went to synagogue, and fasted at Yom Kippur, and didn’t eat bread during Passover, and all those other things. I didn’t keep kosher, but neither did my parents.  But I kind of felt that I was doing it for my mom, and not for me, and when she passed away, I decided to stop.  Since then, I have become increasingly more ornery about practicing Judaism.

When my wife and I lived in NY, we were part of a synagogue, but I never felt very close to that community.  Perhaps because it was my wife’s community, perhaps because soon after I started going there was a great deal of flux due to the spiritual leader leaving, perhaps because my wife got involved in the behind-the-scenes of synagogue politics, and I saw the worst of it.

In the Passover Haggadah there is a parable about the four sons, the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who doesn’t know enough to ask.  Each has a question about what is going on, and you are supposed to answer each differently.

When I was younger, I always cast myself as the wise son, the one who includes himself, and asks the question “What did God command us to do?”   but now I’m pretty sure I’m the wicked son, the one who holds himself apart from the group, and asks the question, “What did God command YOU to do?”

(a kind of funny film demonstrates this parable below)

So I’m in a quandary– I feel like I’m Jewish, but don’t really believe in (or do) all of the stuff that makes one Jewish.  And I want my son to be Jewish, or at least know about Judaism.  But I’m setting him a bad example, at least as a Jew.  

I’m sure I’m not alone.

I feel like I have two choices–

1) fake it ’til I make it.  Set a better example as a Jew, even though I am not getting much out of it. That might mean more synagogue time for me, more fasting, more “Religion for the sake of religion” instead of for the sake of me.

2) Don’t fake it. Explain as best I can why I want him to be involved and knowledgeable, and when the inevitable charges of hypocrisy come, parry them by letting him know that when he’s18, he can make his own decisions.

Is there a third option?  Or a fourth option? For those of you who are religious doubters, what are you doing to help give your child/children a basis in religion?