When the kids were younger, we used to read Tacky the Penguin. I can still recite pages from memory: “Tacky always sang songs like ‘How Many Toes Does a Fish Have?’ Tacky was an odd bird.” The message of the book is to be yourself, even if you’re different from everyone else in the crowd. Don’t give in to the pressure of conformity.
It was a good message for my kids, especially since they were all pretty self-aware and expressive about their varied tastes and passions. It was also a good message for me—a woman working in a male-dominated profession—but, somehow, amid all the working and parenting I lost track of my own needs. Occasionally I forgot who “myself” was. It isn’t easy to be yourself when you are always being called “rabbi” and “Ima.” A person could forget she has a name.
While my kids were entering their teen years, I worked from home and re-imagined my rabbinate. At first, I was worried I would lose my professional identity. I could not have predicted how fulfilling I’d find being home every day when my daughters got off the school bus. I discovered an important part of myself that had been underutilized. I got to be myself, as a parent of teenagers, in unexpected ways. I even learned to communicate by text message.
Now my kids are older—one is an emerging adult— and I’m ready to work with other people’s kids again. I’m prepared to lose my name to the title “rabbi” every morning with a new group of 9th grade students.
When I taught elementary and middle school, I remember reading Tacky the Penguin aloud to them. As I pack my bag for the first day of school, I ask my son to find our worn copy for my classroom bookcase. Even if I don’t read the book aloud, it will be a reminder to me to be myself: parent, rabbi, teacher.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” ~Oscar Wilde.