Izzy, my almost-3-year-old, looked over from where he was sitting at the table, waiting for me to bring the blueberries. The minute he saw what had happened, he asked, “Would you like me to help you?”
Let me repeat that part, because Izzy is almost 3 and often has some of those monster-like qualities of a toddler/preschooler. But this time, he looked over and asked kindly, sweetly, nonchalantly like it was the most natural thing in the world, “Would you like me to help you?”
He came over and helped me pick up all the blueberries that had spilled. We washed them off, sat down, and ate them together. My anger and exhaustion had vanished without a trace. We called my partner to tell him what an incredibly helpful and kind thing Izzy had done. Izzy had turned my whole day around, with those seven simple words.
Izzy’s Hebrew name is Yitzhak Rachamim. Yitzhak, from the Hebrew root word “laughter” and Rachamim meaning “kindness.” (In fact, the root word, rechem, means “womb.” Ponder that one for a minute.)
Tonight, as I helped him put together a puzzle together that spelled out Yitzhak Rachamim, I took a few minutes to reflect on his name. We gave him that name at his bris, almost three years ago, with the prayer and hope that he would fill the world with laughter and kindness. But as I reflected even further on the person he is becoming, I was struck by how much we couldn’t have known, that has made his name all the more relevant and powerful today.
Izzy is a child who loves to make up silly words to songs, speak in gibberish, dance, and jump around. He also loves to change outfits – sometimes he’ll insist on changing three or four times before walking out the door in the morning – and sometimes his outfits are dresses, purple shiny shoes, or colorful capri pants. He does not see any reason to hold back the way he expresses himself, the way he chooses his clothing. His long curls and long eyelashes, coupled with his free-spirited sense of fashion, often causes people to assume he’s a girl. When I let them know he uses the pronoun “he,” they sometimes act confused or surprised or embarrassed. “Oh, I just thought…” They say.
And I say matter-of-factly,“He loves pink.” or, “He likes to wear dresses – can you blame him?” or “Well anyway, gender is a social construction, don’t you agree?”
But I realize, the deeper I get in my acceptance of him and the way he chooses to express himself in the world, the scarier it feels for me as a parent. No amount of activism, positive songs about acceptance, and communal support can erase the terror of knowing the violence and hatred that exists towards people who break these [socially constructed] unwritten rules of how “boys” are expected to look and behave.
Letting your child be the person they are is an act of faith in the world: faith the there is enough good in the world to see the laughter and kindness, the Yitzhak and the Rachamim, instead of the rules. Faith that the people who say and do hurtful, violent acts are far fewer and weaker than those who choose to love, support, and accept. Faith that your child will continue to believe in themselves, no matter what messages they might receive as they go on their way.
So, what I realized as I pondered Izzy’s Hebrew name, was that we gave it to him so he would embody its traits – laughter and kindness – but in fact what we really needed was for the world to show those traits back to him.
It’s been a horrible, nightmarish week here in the United States of America. On the heels of Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, we learned that hatred is still alive and well in our country, that laws can be imperfect and unethical and can condone terrible acts of violence. We learned that the “bad guy” doesn’t always go to jail. We learned that we are not well equipped enough to talk about race, and that this has caused tremendous pain, confusion, and racism. Some of us already knew this too well – many of in this country have been racially profiled long before it had a name: followed around in stores, pulled over on the highways, all for the “crime” of being Black. But here we are just the same, reeling together after a verdict that seems to go against everything that seems just in this world.
The last time I wrote about Trayvon Martin was in March 2012 (chanarothman.com/news/open-the-gates-of-justice-for-travyvon-martin). I asked many questions at the end of my piece, about how we can honor his memory. I asked: How are you going to make sure that Trayvon Martin’s memory fuels a world with LESS hatred and MORE COMPASSION – Less fear and MORE KINDNESS – Less “shoot first” and more “ask questions”?
I realize now, that racism and guns are a huge part of the question. But even more so, for me, is the question of Yitzhak and Rachamim. As I navigate this world, trying to raise my child to be proud of who he is, and trying to create a community in which he and his peers feel that they can truly be themselves without fear of violence against them, I return again to Izzy’s Hebrew name.
And as I watch both of my small children sleeping, and as I read commentaries and personal responses to the verdict, and as I breathe a sigh of relief that no one said anything mean to Izzy today about wearing a dress, I realize that my deepest desire for this world is more laughter and more kindness. Here I was, giving him a name that I wanted him to spread into the world, when really, I pray with all that I have in me, that this is the face the world will show to him.