I told my son not to take his purse to Jerusalem today.
He had lost 100 shekels last night while walking to get his hair cut. This is the third time money has fallen out of his pocket and I sarcastically scolded him when he came home. “One would think,” I said bitterly, “that a ‘gifted’ child such as yourself would figure out a different way to carry his money after the second time.”
So he did.
It’s a deep red purse with white stitching. Not terribly large, just big enough for a phone, a small water bottle, and his money.
Rather perfect, really.
It was my mom’s, one of the castoffs I took with me five years ago after her death. From its depths, I removed random personal detritus — slightly used, lipstick-marked tissues and a wad of crumbling ibuprofen. After cleaning out her closets, I popped it in my suitcase with a few of her clothing items before returning home, thousands of kilometers away.
Too small for my needs as a mom of six, it lived on a shelf and collected dust. My own deep red “bag-pack” has Mary Poppins-like depths from which I can pull out changes of underwear, snacks, and a spare phone charger for my litter of pups. I stick my laptop and notebook in it for work, and it converts from a fetching over-the-shoulder satchel to a strappy back pack in a breeze.
Rather perfect, really.
Today 15, my oldest son wore his purse for the first time this March for the Jewish festival of Purim. Months ahead, he carefully crafted his costume: In January, he purchased from a mall sale rack a pair of knee-high, stiletto-heeled boots. Unhappy with the fit over his masculine calf muscles, by February, he had converted them into ankle boots, slowly sewing the pleather to a professional finish. In early March, he sewed sequins stolen from a sister’s scarf down the side of a pair of jeans. And he practiced his make-up.
It had come as no real surprise last spring when I received a phone call from a teacher that my son had suddenly come out of the closet while the class discussed sexuality. “I had told the students that statistically there were homosexuals in this very room,” she said. And my son had piped up during their disbelief and said, “I am.”
He was just 14, seemingly early to clearly know his mind, but his EQ has always matched his high IQ. My husband and I regretted that he’ll likely have a harder path to walk in life, and waited for reverberations in our small mixed Orthodox-secular West Bank settlement.
But none came — at least initially.
These children, so indoctrinated from birth to be tolerant of the “other” (at least the other Jew), did question his certainty, but accepted it as a delicious piece of gossip that ends in a shrug.
This year, however, some classmates are mumbling about homosexuality being an abomination against Jewish law in the presence of my son. He told me that his stomach clenches every morning, as he reaches the gates of his high school. But, he added, once the day begins, it goes away and everything is basically fine.
He won the Purim school costume contest, by the way, with a rainbow of glittery makeup on his face. He paraded through our small village, walking with his head held high on his tottery high heels, swinging the deep red purse that dangled from his arm. Asked what he was dressed as, he simply replied, “Myself.”
He came home with a golden trophy.
I am proud of him and I am proud of my chosen community.
My son has taken-for-granted courage that he can inhabit a world in which fledgling men can pluck their eyebrows and smear on concealer to hide their teenage acne. We live in a time in which male makeup artists have cult-like YouTube followings in the millions. An era in which same-sex marriage is increasingly internationally recognized and surrogacy rights for these couples are debated in the highest levels of government. I want him to walk these blazed trails and take out his machete and make his own path, too.
But my husband and I didn’t let him leave our safe bubble with his purse today.
Because we are afraid.