An Ode to My Amelia on the Occasion of her Bat Mitzvah
On the week of her bat mitzvah, Amelia received an award for her first year of field hockey. She never held a stick before, but she got out on the field and put her all into blocking shots.
At a game against Old Town last week, she had two stunning saves, the kind that look awesome in slo-mo. Her team won 4-0.
She also broke her clarinet in band. She loves jazz band and band. The clarinet we found for her years ago has partially surrendered to the hard and sometimes careless use its owner puts it to.
She received a solo in chorus.
She brought her Algebra I grade up to the level befitting an honor student of her caliber.
She aggressively put together the outline for her Girl Scout Silver Award project, an ambitious effort to educate Maine’s youth about clam restoration and its possibilities for our economy.
She also faced down a vile rumor and resulting harassment that she was raped as a child and had AIDS. This rumor started from a friend. Sexual harassment doesn’t wait for our girls until they are on a casting couch. It starts as early as grade school.
This is the complicated life of a teenager.
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There was a time when it was just Amelia and I. A precocious toddler that came from a complicated set of circumstances. She sat on my lap while I worked, slept nuzzled in my armpit at night. She bounced back and forth between her maternal grandparents and I, with I think neither of us fully understanding just how her time was divided between us.
There was a time when I had to fight to get her out of less than ideal conditions. Last year around this time, that fight was finally over, and the woman she helped fool into marrying me was finally able to formally adopt her and assume her rightful, legal place in the role she had occupied for the entirety of our marriage thus far. Amelia has never been more confident and at peace in her circumstances. Even at an early age, when she should have been more innocent, there was a guarded, almost apprehensive look in her eyes, even at the most joyous of times for her. There was the realization that these moments were fleeting, and that Dad couldn’t protect her from the real boogeycreatures in her life.
Through it all, Amelia dealt with a variety of issues, but it never deterred her from pushing forward. She’s ambitious. She’s compassionate. She’s aggressive. She doesn’t take your crap.
She is Amelia, and you’ll do well to not forget that.
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Sometimes I like to sneak and watch her do her homework, chat with friends on FaceTime, or just reading a book.
It’s no secret that being her father has been the driving force in my own life for the last 13 years. I went to grad school to better support her. I stayed in the military so she could have the best health care to cover her Marfan Syndrome. I run for office because of her compassion for her food insecure friends at school prompted me to show her we’re only as limited in our capacity to do good by our imaginations and willingness to try. I work extra hours to pay for Jewish camp and all the the extracurriculars she wants to do. Leah and I will drive all the way to Jonesport for her to go to three days of a marine biology camp.
I really don’t know what I’m going to do when it’s just Nezzie, Leah, and I. Nezzie’s going to be devastated, at age 6 or 7, when MyaMya (how she says Amelia) goes to college. Nezzie is a different kind of kid from Amelia. Vivacious, her spirit innocent and untouched by having a toxic parent. She knows only joy and security. She knows nothing but the love of two parents and an older sister who loves her more than life itself.
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After Amelia finished the Rosh Chodesh maftir, and as she said the final blessing after the Rosh Chodesh hafatarah, it’s clear that her education in Jewish liturgy is complete. But will she find answers and truths in Judaism that help her with the challenges she faces in life?
I think in many ways, she has. She’s grown up hearing the repeated quotes of Rabbi Tarfon, rabbis that talk about social justice, a dad that quotes what he retained from daf yomi way too often. It’s more than just not eating bacon and lobster with her peers; Judaism is the blue blazes painted on the trees in our footpath through life. I think she gets that. I can only hope she turns to our traditions for help with any problem she faces. There’s plenty of material there.
Her speech about Noach says that she’s already looking towards her future with Judaism at the fore. With the Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps out there, I worry. She’s already getting her butt slapped and receiving the equivalent of catcalls at school. I can’t always be there. I won’t always be there, and it keeps me awake at night the perils she faces out there.
But she’s already faced so many down. She lives with the limitations of a genetic disorder. She lives with the trauma of toxic childhood experiences. She still thrives through all of this. Watching her with her friends at her bat mitzvah after-party, and watching her hang out with her close friend who slept over and stayed through Sunday evening, you would never know. I think her life has stabilized.
She’s a strong, resilient kid.
Hope she’s resilient because now Beth Israel in Bangor has someone who can regularly get up and do both the Rosh Chodesh “maf and a haf!”
Mazel tov, Amelia, we love you.