The toys. They all make noise. They squeal, they squawk, their lights flash, they sing and they tell stories (in multiple languages).
I am not a Luddite. I have no desire to return to a time with less advanced technology. I love how Skype and Facetime help our far-flung extended family stay connected and that we can “visit” and be a part of each others’ celebrations. I love that my sister who lives in Israel got to watch our daughter eat her birthday cake in real time, and that her grandparents had pictures of this event within hours. I love that my oven has a Star K approved Sabbath setting that allows us to eat hot food on Shabbat when it’s -20 degrees outside and snowing. I love my stand mixer and I adore my washing machine. I love my smartphone. My daughter loves my smartphone. And while she mostly wants to eat it (which she is not allowed to do), I am sufficiently understanding that this technology will be a part of her life that I’ve tried to show her how to use the Pandora app so that she can listen to her own music channels.
But the toys. They all make noise. They squeal, they squawk, their lights flash, they sing and they tell stories (in multiple languages).
I don’t want to seem ungrateful. Most of my daughter’s toys have been received as gifts, and she plays happily for hours with all of them. It’s just that their arrival (takeover?) in our home has created a new Friday night ritual, where half an hour before Shabbat, in addition to our other Shabbat preparedness activities, we have to remember to turn them all off.
And inevitably, we miss one. This week, after we lit candles, our family was enjoying a few minutes of relative peace, where all 3 of us were sitting and “reading” our books. Then one of us decided she was finished reading her books and found her tea pot. Two of us didn’t realize that reading time was over until fifteen seconds later, when we suddenly heard the opening chords to “Rule Britannia” and were advised that it was now “time to share a pot of tea, some for you, some for me… and always say please and thank you”. The 2 of us who hadn’t realized that reading time was over, looked at each other and went “oops”.
Now I can’t really complain about a toy that is trying to teach my child manners, even if I don’t understand why it needs to adopt an English accent to do so. And I think tea (along with other hot beverages) constitutes its own food group. Not much makes me happier on a quiet Friday evening than sitting down with a nice, hot, post-bedtime cup of tea (thank you Shabbat hot water heater). And I would never refuse my daughter’s kindly issued invitation to join her for a cuppa. But it did present us with a problem. Now that we’ve identified which toy we forgot to turn off, and is therefore “not for Shabbat”, do we have to take it away and hide it for the next 25 hours?
Without getting into a debate about the relative importance of “muktzeh” (since we obviously did not actually remove any of electronic toys before Shabbat and therefore allowed this “accident” to happen in the first place), our daughter doesn’t seem to have any trouble using her imagination and doesn’t yet fully grasp the concept of cause and effect. She is happy to play with her toys when they’re turned off, even if pressing all the buttons doesn’t make them respond as enthusiastically as usual. She could probably entertain herself with her non-singing books, her mega-blocks, and just moving the furniture around for a significant part of a winter’s Shabbat afternoon (all bets are off in the summer, but by then I’m hoping it will be easier to play outside). I’m fairly confident that she is too young to understand why so many of her toys would suddenly disappear on Friday afternoons, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t notice. Therefore, my question is: at what age do we really need to start to enforce the “not for Shabbat” toy rules?
A little bit of common sense suggests that the answer to this question is “when she’s old enough to understand why those toys aren’t for Shabbat”. But it’s also part of a bigger question. How do we make sure that when we teach our daughter about Shabbat, it’s not just about the “do’s and don’ts”?
As far as we can tell, we’ve made it through one year able to maintain her positive connection to her Jewish life. We take her to services. We sing songs. We dance around the house (and have unfortunately stepped on Shabbat-offending toys at the same time). We read stories. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is as exciting to our 1 year old as the sight of her kiddush cup. Not even an accidental siting of the Cheerios box can compete for the volume and insistence of those whoops of joy. So here’s to hoping that we’re on the right track, with many more Shabbatot to find all those on/off buttons together.