Judy Blume Helped Me Navigate Religion With My Kids

'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret' shaped how one mom handles multi-faith parenting—and she can't wait to share the movie with her kids.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Movie

Dana Hawley | Lionsgate

Ever the voracious reader, I had plowed through Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, at the ripe old age of 7. Margaret Simon, several years older than I was, spent 170 pages yearning for the arrival of her breasts and her menses, and while I knew from observing my teen sisters that this was the inevitability of growing older, Margaret's struggle to define her relationship with God stood out above the anguish of bra shopping and maxi pad how-tos for me.

Like Margaret, I was born to one parent who had been raised Jewish and another who had grown up in a Christian household. They married in a restaurant, and none of my grandparents were in attendance—due in great part to the religious differences. But unlike Margaret, I lost my mother at the age of three, and by 5-years-old, my brothers and I were absorbed into the family of our Catholic aunt and uncle and their three children. For those two years between, I bounced between extended family and their respective religious traditions. I was a baptized child attending Hebrew school, then later the little Jewish girl receiving her first communion.

I didn't remember my mother, but through my grandparents I learned to love her faith. The mezuzah on the door, the shining glint of the menorah, the cool silk of my grandfather's kippah. And during the months where my Irish Catholic grandmother cared for me, I sat stone-still in awe-filled reverence as the organ's warm melodies vibrated through the cold, wooden pews. I liked to stare up at the chipping gold leaf paint at the top of the Corinthian columns which held up the ceilings.

Being Jewish and Catholic is not a possibility, and I was now a Catholic by virtue of my adoption. But like Margaret, I still yearned to find my own religion. I had lost my mother but felt her in the metal star of David I found among her jewelry which I hung on a chain alongside my Miraculous Medal, a gift from Sister John Helene on the occasion of memorizing the prayers of the Rosary.

My adoptive parents knew that I craved a connection to Judaism, and I was allowed to spend Chanukah with my best friend, Amber. When I attended services with her, the older congregants asked why I couldn't read Hebrew. Like Margaret, I felt torn between two worlds while at the same time being an outsider in them both as well.

"Are you there, God? I'm more confused than ever...If only you could give me a hint, God. Which religion should I be? Sometimes I wish I'd been born one way or the other."

Margaret wrote what I felt in my heart. I wanted to know, but God was not answering me. The older I got, the further away I felt.

As a mother now myself, I want my children to know and love all of the traditions of their ancestors, so from a young age, they have known about where their parents come from. All of them were baptized into the Catholic faith, but I still make sure to celebrate their Jewish heritage as well. And although my husband was raised Methodist, we learned a few years ago that he also has Jewish heritage, so he is also learning alongside our children about his own roots.

The mother who raised me takes my little ones to church. They know to genuflect as they enter the pew. They also know their prayers, and while Sister John Helene is no longer with us to reward them, my children know that the reward for 8 a.m. Sunday Mass is a donut in the church hall. There is comfort in watching them wind through the same tombstones atop the hill which I ran around as a little girl, tracing their fingers over the etched names of friends and family who find their rest in the shade of the weeping willow tree next to the chapel in which I was married.

Although they were never able to meet my birth mother or my grandparents, we are connected to many relatives who can share their stories with my children, which is a priceless gift. This past year, I found my 86-year-old second cousin through Ancestry.com. On the first night of Chanukah, I texted her a picture of my latkes frying and asked for her advice on how much longer I should cook them. Beverly wrote back that they looked delicious.

This year, my middle daughter asked to light the Menorah, and I noticed as she lit the last candle on Christmas Day, the glow reflecting in her sweet face, a gingerbread cookie hung from her lips.

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