Mom is invariably harried, post-separation. She's been looking for work, getting only short stints here and there. She's furious at Dad for abandoning her, for finding new love when she can't, or won't, and for looking so good in his forties. Why do men get better looking while woman fall apart, I've heard her ask no one in particular. I don't realize my turning kosher will make more work for her, cost more money. But she knows exactly what's involved. She hasn't kept kosher since Grandpa Sam died, when I was about five.
Needless to say, Mom is less than thrilled. Yet she goes along. As a compromise, she buys me a glass plate. We're pretty sure glass is nonporous and so can be used for both meat and dairy (though not, of course, at the same time or within three to six hours of each other).
I thrive on the rational authority of the six-hundred-and-thirteen commandments. I get Alec to go along, to a degree. On Friday afternoons, before Shabbat, he pre-tears toilet paper and loosens the refrigerator lightbulb so it doesn't turn on when opened. I can't actually tear my own toilet paper or open the refrigerator, but it wouldn't be right to have someone else break halachic code for me! We set timers to turn on and off lights and the TV during Shabbat—there's a new Saturday morning Star Trek cartoon I can't miss—and give up Chips Ahoy cookies for pareve Stella D'oros. I stop driving my electric wheelchair on Saturdays and, though I'm rarely up for going to synagogue, I start wearing tzitzit and a kippah everywhere. Oy!
"What is this crap?" is Dad's reaction. He smiles after he says it, but Dad is a modern, intellectual Jew who prides himself on getting away from "all that atavistic, Old World nonsense." You should hear him on the Hasidim! "Do they want to go back to the Dark Ages?" Barbara, who's Catholic, has a hard time with the minutia but she's had her own bouts of religious zealotry and is less antagonistic. In college (which was only about five years ago) she even contemplated becoming a nun.
To my parents, it may be only an "adolescent phase," but for me Orthodoxy's rigidity is directly linked to my own strict life. I derive strength from the clear-cut, the unwavering severity, which I'm accustomed to from my disability. Planning and intellect over emotional whim and spontaneity. Brain over body.