David Karpel shares a story of how a typical Tuesday turned profound.
And so without studying the words, having even forgotten the spelling bee was today, my son Noah still came in second place. Lost it on “invincible,” replacing the last “i” with an “a” and knowing it was wrong immediately. Right after I get that story, my daughter Chana comes running over to me: “Ta, Ta! Oh-my-gosh, you’ll be so proud of me!”
I’d just walked in and, as per usual on Tuesdays, the news of the day comes lightning fast. We all know the schedule. Soon, I have to daven mincha and then go to the gym, and their mom will be tutoring. By the time I get home, they’ll be done with dinner and already finishing homework and getting ready for bed. For this moment we are as one and it feels as if we have the power to stop time and unequivocally enjoy our life together. Everybody hugs hello and we settle into our little circle standing around the kitchen.
The dogs, Emmy Lou Harris and Isabella Rossellini, circle my legs, nudging for attention. Emmy Lou sings her whines in greeting. She’s actually just begging to go out. I reach down and pet the dogs to calm them as Chana takes a deep breath, straightens her shoulders, and suddenly looks taller.
I’m already proud of her, of course. I’m thinking: she aced another test or another essay of hers has been chosen for something big, something special, or she’s learned something that’s strengthened her connection to Yiddishkeit even more. But, no.
“Ta, we had this fitness test today,” her coral-reef blue eyes shine on my wife Mashie, and for the second she looks at her mom my little girl seems to take up more space. She turns back to me—at 10, a young lady who still wants to impress her parents and still be different, a girl who likes soccer and Krav Maga.
“Mommy says you guys did this too when you were kids. Well, today we had that test and guess what?”
She’s practically hopping out of her blue and white Nike hi tops. “I did 32 push ups in a minute! The most in the class!”
“Whoa!” I stand to hug her. “That’s so awesome! I am so proud of you.” And I am because I’ve seen her struggle and strive to build her stamina doing push ups and because she wants me to be so.
Noah, meanwhile—our gingy kid with the nasty left hook who loves to learn Gemorah and chassidus and achieves honor roll report cards—stood there with a smirk plastered on his face and the leash in his hand. “Nu?” I ask.
Bashfully, “Also thirty-two,” and he offers a hi five with a shrug.
Of course I give the hi five and couldn’t care less how he might perform on a random fitness test at school. I’ve seen what he can do…Plus, he has the leash in his hand; unasked, he’s going to walk Emmy Lou and Bella too. Who am I to criticize?
Mashie quickly says, “He’s been having late nights. The Super Bowl, the quiz…”
“Off day,” he says, and hooks Emmy to the leash. Bella follows at his heels.
I tell him it doesn’t matter. And like a click in our heads, we all seem to notice time again.
Later, after our Tuesday night Krav Maga class, Noah asks, “So, Dad, how many push ups can you do in a minute?”
Challenge accepted. My friend and Krav Maga student Rabbi Granat and I both get into position and the boys start the clock. A lot of whooping and grunting later, Granat ends up with 50. Me: 71.
In the car on the way home, I’m trying to formulate thoughts to express some sort of quirky life lesson related in some way to Torah from the whole experience. As usual, I’m drawing a complete blank and now my arms tremble a bit as I hold the wheel. I look over at him. He’s too young and he’s too old to be my son. The light turns green and he turns to me with a smile that could make any man wonder at the blessings bestowed upon him with this particular divine responsibility, this gift of this boy being his son.
At the Atlantic Boulevard light, Noah says, “Dad, I just had a thought about the times when those jerks were bullying me in second and third grade. One of them used to say, ‘My daddy can beat up your daddy.’ Well, I just thought how I’d like that kid to try and say that today.” He cracks himself up with that one. “Not that it matters, though,” he says, finally. “Anyway, I’m hungry.”
It’s become impossible not to notice that sometimes the world just stops spinning and inertia smashes your face with the kiss of a beautiful life.