“Does your face light up when your children walk into the room?” Toni Morrison, in an interview with Oprah, said that she used to think that fussing over her children’s appearance was a way of showing care, but that was not what they were looking for. There is a habit in my family where a mother must pick a piece of string, or hair, or fuzz off their child’s outfit before going out into the world. My mother tells the story of my grandmother even retrieving a piece of string, putting it on my mom, and then removing it when there was nothing there to remove upon first inspection. I chalk this up to superstition, probably having to do with the Evil Eye: a deeply rooted, generational-trauma informed coping mechanism observed widely in the Jewish world, but Morrison’s quote makes me think there is more here to explore.
In our parsha this week, Vayera, we find Abraham seated at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day, recovering from his self-circumcision (eek). “The Eternal appeared before Abraham…Looking up he saw three men standing opposite him! He ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them.” (Genesis 18:1-2) It is hot. Abraham is old and in pain. But he sees God in the faces of the three men standing before him and rushes to greet them. The value of hachnasat orchim, Jewish hospitality is derived from these verses. We often think of hospitality as something we extend to those outside of our families but imagine what would happen if we turned that attention towards those we see on a regular basis.
My grandmother, and my mother (and probably generations of matriarchs before them) were in the habit of saying, “I see you,” by lovingly adjusting, removing, fussing. I, too, fall into this habit when I see my child: cuffing a pant leg, or adjusting a crooked collar. I fear that the implied message to this fussing is, “I see you, and I love you, but something about you needs fixing.” Morrison’s question reminds me of Abraham, nearly leaping off the page to greet his guests, eyes lighting up at their approach. When your children appear before you, do you fuss, or do you delight? Perhaps the one can transform into the other as we practice really seeing the children entrusted into our care, and delighting in their beautiful, sacred, messiness.