I grew up in a secular home, but now consider myself Modern Orthodox. My husband and I keep a kosher home, but we are less strict about the laws of kashrut out of the house. When we go to my father and stepmother’s house, my 18-month-old son gets string cheese and cut up chicken cutlets together, and one time I saw him eating deli-style ham. This does bother me.
My relationship with my father and stepmother is rocky — and I’m very conscious about picking my battles with them. What’s the best way to tell them to stop?
KOSHER AND QUESTIONING
Dear Kosher: Your father and his wife are feeding your Orthodox child ham? Oy. Look, I’m as impatient with the laws of kashrut as anyone. (Witness my February 9 response about child labor and glatt kosher turkeys.) But while I have not infrequently been tempted to lie about the origins of poultry, I’ve never actually done it. Let’s for the moment assume that your father and stepmother’s actions don’t come from a place of deep hostility and are, instead, simply misguided. Maybe he doesn’t consider your adoption of a stricter practice of Judaism as a reproach of his own lack of observance. Maybe he isn’t convinced that you’re doing this as a passive-aggressive way to get back at him for your parents’ divorce. Maybe he just figures “out of the house” includes at Grandma and Grandpa’s (I’m guessing these folks aren’t going by Zayde and Bubbe). If your child’s observance of kashrut is important to you, then I think you just have to ask your father very sweetly if he would refrain from feeding your son non-kosher food. Tell him you don’t want to inconvenience him — make a self-deprecating remark about how you know it’s a pain in the tush — and offer to send food along with the boy if that would make things easier. Expect him to get annoyed, but hopefully your gentle and loving tone will preclude him from expressing the extent of his irritation to you. He’ll complain to his wife, which is at it should be. By the way, you can probably bet that in about 14 years your son, while on a lunch date with his now-aged grandfather, will order a bacon cheeseburger. Grandpa will turn a blind eye, and you’ll never the wiser. But 15 1/2 isn’t 18 months, and by then your son will be fully inculcated with your value system, and whether or not he keeps kosher in his life will have nothing to do with what you think, or what Grandpa thinks, or even with what’s on the menu at EJ’s Luncheonette.
Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novels “Daughter’s Keeper” and “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.” She also penned seven installments of the “Mommy-Track Mystery” series. Her non-fiction book “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” will be published in May by Doubleday. Her Web site is www.ayeletwaldman.com.