At a recent family dinner, my 6-year-old nephew said the words that perhaps every 6-year-old kid has said at some point in their young lives. "It's not fair," he objected.
He was venting his frustration toward his parents who were forcing him to turn off a computer game, a typical request from the parents of a first grader.
In a way my nephew is right—being a kid isn't fair. He doesn't get a vote or get to vote (although I think he knows more about the political candidates than some adults), and he has to do everything his parents tell him—go to bed when he's told, eat what's cooked for him, go to public school and Hebrew school, and limit his Nintendo Wii and Star Wars consumption.
In my daily life—apart from the demands (albeit big ones) like work and family—I have the freedom to make my own choices. If I wish to book a flight on a whim to New York City, I can do that. If I want to go to the midnight showing of Midnight in Paris, I can. And if I want to eat Ben & Jerry's "Peanut Butter Cup" for dinner, that's okay too (sort of).
This empowerment thing was going along swimmingly for me for a long time. But it hit a snag some months back when my older sister—and best friend—told me that she, my brother-in-law, and their three precious sons (ages 6, 4, and 1) are moving out of Evanston for my brother-in-law's job. No, they aren't moving down the road to Skokie. Rather they, in Lewis & Clark fashion, are heading northwest to discover Portland, Oregon.
Guess how much say I had in this decision? That's right. Zero. Sometimes being an adult isn't fair either.
I've gotten very accustomed to having my sister's home a quick car or El ride away, watching my nephews gradually grow up. One of my favorite traditions with them has been Shabbat dinners. Lighting the Shabbat candles over the years has been a marker of time. At first, I'd hold my nephews, swaddled sleeping bundles of joy, in my arms as we welcomed in the Sabbath. And then, every day before my eyes, they grow into sweet and precocious little boys, now lighting the candles themselves, chanting the blessing over the challah, dressed in coverings decorated in crayon and construction paper by the boys at school.
Last summer, when I heard news of their pending move, I googled Portland, searching for ammunition to convince them to stay. "The Occupy Portland protests have gotten out of hand over there," I was tempted to remind them. "Did you know the Portland Jewish newspaper folded? How will you get your local Jewish news?" the Jewish journalist in me wanted to tell them. And then I thought to reach for the most obvious Portland factoid of all in my bag of tricks: "You know it rains like 95% of the time in Portland, right?" But in the end, I didn't try to sway them at all because I know I don't get a vote on this one.
And from the rain (of Portland) comes a rainbow—and I'm trying to find the rainbow, the bright side, in their move too: They have carefully weighed the decision and the move is the best thing for their family as they seize a wonderful, fresh opportunity. Plus, Portland, I've heard a zillion times over the last several months, is a city with a very high quality of life, a combination of incredible city living and natural beauty—a great place to visit.
Oh and Portland may rain—though it doesn't rain there nearly as much as we think it does—but in a weather contest, Chicago so loses every time.
The other bright side for anyone out there with relatives scattered geographically is that the world keeps shrinking and we can easily connect with our loved ones in any locale. After all, there are airplanes—thank you Wright Brothers! In fact, I already have a flight booked to Portland for Pesach. And when you can't actually be there, there's Skype, there's e-mail, and there are phones attached to us at all times too.
It's a fact that life's not fair. People move away. Siblings relocate—and take their kids with them. But if you're lucky, you'll nurture your relationships with the people who matter most to you—you'll be there for each other no matter what zip code you live in.