Our suburban idyll didn't take long to falter. The neighborhood was good, the house was fine, I enjoyed volunteering at the public school where my daughter attended first grade - and incidentally keeping an eye on the principal and the teachers (hah!), but my marriage was rapidly crumbling. The marriage counselors we consulted helped us decide to get divorced.
To get a "no-fault" divorce New Jersey, we had to live apart for one year (or eighteen months – I'm not certain…all you New Jersey divorce law historians out there will know). It took us a long time to agree on the terms of separation, and during that period I had to find a part-time job and make child-care arrangements.
Returning to the business world with a resume showing 8 years of programming experience followed by 7 years of "maternity leave" was a rousing challenge. I tapped every contact I ever had, went on a few interviews, and finally was offered what seemed to be the ideal re-entry job: a 15-minute drive from home, 6 hours a day, using a programming language I already knew. Never mind that the salary was on the low side and the work was boring.
There were no after-school programs with affordable transportation; in fact there were hardly any after-school programs at all, other than art, dance, and music lessons, and they required SAHMs-cum-chauffeurs. I found an elderly woman baby-sitter who lived nearby and who agreed to come over to "bridge" the few hours between my son's return from half-day kindergarten and my return from work at 3:15. The arrangement worked until her health failed. By that time it was almost summer and Day Camp. My mother was called in for emergency duty for a few weeks.
The last obstacle to concluding our negotiations involved my husband's late-addition custody clause in the separation agreement. We had already agreed I would get custody, and his visitation rights and arrangements were straightforward. Joint custody would not have been realistic: he had a full-time job and was moving back to a small apartment in NYC. The item he added at the last minute read something like: "the children will be provided with some form of Jewish education until Bar/Bat Mitzvah." I was really surprised.
Jewish education? We were Jewish parents. Wasn't that enough? Our children had only Jewish grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We had never discussed formal Jewish education for the children. My husband's parents were Yiddish-speaking socialists. Never mind that his mom kept Kosher...it was a cultural thing for her. The only "religious" thing he did was fast on Yom Kippur. I didn't. When we got married, we were going to be a secular Jewish family, just like our friends. True, we served fish at our wedding lunch to accommodate his mom's dietary preferences. True, we joined a local synagogue in our new town, but that was just to be able to enroll our son in their nursery school, and we never went to services after the first sample. I read the clause and thought for a while: he didn't say I had to send them to a Yeshiva, he's willing to pay half the tuition, how much harm can it do, it will end the endless back-and-forth, I'm worn out, let's just get this over with already. I signed.
**********End of Part 3**********
Three more episodes to come...
4. Prowesslessnesslessness's Jr. High experiences and High School options
5. The Stuyvesant test and its aftermath
6. Ten years later: a surprising vindication