What Counts?

Somehow being a mom involves a lot of counting. Not only did calendars start to look very different and take on multiple meanings from the moment my husband and I decided we wanted to become parents, but running after a toddler all day means there’s always something to keep track of. When is the next scheduled snack or meal? How much sleep did everyone get last night? The hours (hopefully) of naptime, the minutes until bedtime, the number of verses in “The Wheels on the Bus”, and how many times we can read “Brown Bear” in one sitting. And then there are the complex calculations of the relative speed of a determined and fearless toddler with that of her longer-limbed but more cautious parents, and the distance from the sidewalk to the street.
In comparison, counting the omer during the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, is refreshingly straightforward. Add one number every evening. Even the apps that are available to remind me to count are less complicated than the ones I used when I had to keep track of my daughter’s feedings and diaper changes.  And yet this period of counting, with its constant reminders of our connection to Jewish history presents constant new equations.
On marking Yom HaShoah last week I wondered how many survivors would be able to tell my daughter their stories first-hand. How would her learning about the horrors be different even just one more generation removed?
As we enter Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, I know that I may count the years to her 18th birthday. I imagine her as a young woman in college, her individual future bright with opportunity. I’m sure my sister counts the years until her children turn 18 too. They will be drafted into the Israeli Army to serve their country and the Jewish people. An unimaginable burden and blessing.
On Lag Ba’Omer I will count the teachings of Rabbi Akiva while explaining to my child the one she must learn – Ve’ahavta lereiyacha kamocha: love your neighbor as yourself. And pray that she always feels love for herself as well.
On Yom Yerushalayim I will show her the “kotel cam”. And I will wonder if after 2000 years of waiting for a dream to be fulfilled, my daughter will be denied access to this holy place, by Jewish men who call themselves
rabbis, because she is a girl.
And finally on Shavuot, I will dress her in white, and together we will count the 10 commandments. Because this Torah is ours to share. From generation to generation. L’dor vador. Of all the things and milestones I keep track of as her mother, that is one that I want to make absolutely sure will count.

An Open Letter to Daylight Savings Time

Dear Daylight Savings Time (DST),

I understand that you are just a social construct on the time-space continuum, so I don’t expect an actual reply to this letter. However, I need to vent to someone,  because you are really being quite disruptive to my life. Specifically, you are disruptive to my Jewish life with my child.

It all started innocuously, 2 weeks before Purim. Should we take our 1 year old to megillah reading in the evening? Well why not? She loves going to services and as a bonus, no one will expect her to sit quietly through this one. But oh dear. We’re “springing ahead”. So not only will we all “lose” (or at least temporarily displace) an hour of the greatest luxury in a house with a toddler, aka sleep, but megillah reading starts after bedtime. So the real question became, should we take our 1 year old to an overstimulating event with lots of noise and people that won’t start until 30 minutes after she would ordinarily be in bed and then try to get her to go to sleep 2 hours later? The obvious answer  was “no thank you, but it’s very kind of you to offer”.

And so our daughter missed the evening megillah reading. No big deal, right? After all, she did get to go in the morning. And we even had a babysitter for a Saturday night! We could have had a date night too!

My issue, dear DST, is that it’s not just megillah reading. Shabbat now starts and ends after bedtime. Since we’re not willing to give up on kiddush, challah, and the family Shabbat dance while the little one is awake for half of the year, all these activities now have to be done in broad daylight. Candle lighting and havdallah are just not the same when you don’t spend the whole time trying to keep your toddler from dive bombing into the flames.

But even Shabbat isn’t the biggest sacrifice. With Passover quickly approaching, our most significant question isn’t “Ma Nishtana”, but “how are we going to manage the seder and bedtime”? Thanks to you, DST, we can’t start our seders until after the little one is supposed to be well on her way to dream land. But missing a seder isn’t the same as missing a week of Shabbat festivities. If we’re going to cut off her challah and cheerios supply for 8 days, the least we could do is include her in the celebration!

Our options are not fantastic. We could start the seder early, making sure that we don’t have any matzah until the appropriate time has arrived. This will work for the 1st night when we’re home, and our guarantee of no early matzah will be the forced intermission for bath time. And whether or not the child who does not like to miss a good party will be willing to go to bed if she realizes that there are still several hours to go before we get to Chad Gadya is a more significant problem than who’s going to find the Afikoman. The 2nd night, we’re going out to the community seder, which is a professional obligation that my husband can’t miss. And so we’re left with the less appealing options of a) trying to get a little person to sleep at the synagogue without her usual routine and then transferred home and still asleep without becoming a cranky mess, or b) splitting up the family and maintaining the bedtime routine.

 Passover is a holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery one of the most important moments in the creation of the Jewish people as a nation. But because of you DST, our family is going to have a hard time being able to mark our peoplehood together. 

We look to Judaism to enhance our life as a family. We want it to add holiness, meaning, and connection in our daily activities, and all the more so, to our holy days. We never said that it always had to be convenient. But DST, this one is personal.


At Least I Found Frog Pajamas.



Singing In The Supermarket

Last week when I was out with L doing our usual quick grocery run, we turned down the bargain aisle thinking we’d check out the specials, only to be confronted with shelves of macaroons and matzah. This can’t be right, I thought to myself. First of all, I refuse to shop for Passover before Purim. Secondly, do they really expect $5 for an almost empty box of fake cheerios? But before my brain could begin to process the reality of what a week without cheerios might look like in my house, not to mention what cheerios we might accidentally encounter during this year’s bedikat chametz, I looked at my 13 month old and saw the youngest person at this year’s sedarim.
It’s true that she was there last year, but at 10 weeks old, she slept through 75% of the proceedings. We didn’t have to coordinate where we might be in the seder with an actual evening routine and bedtime. And there was no question of her being ready for the Ma Nishtana.
Full disclosure – L doesn’t really have any words yet, although she seems to talk to herself a great deal. To expect her to learn and sing the Ma Nishtana in any way that is intelligible to someone else is ridiculous.
Now I am not usually the kind of parent who rushes her child to the next milestone. The fact that we own a set of flashcards is completely attributable to our need to keep her occupied on airplanes. But I was thrilled to give up my Ma Nishtana duties to my younger sister, and less enthusiastic about assuming the responsibility again when I got married. Family lore also includes the story of my grandmother, having stayed in Florida for Passover one year, looking around at the seder in her retirement community and realizing that she was the youngest person there. She decided to play a tape recorded version of her grandchildren reciting the 4 questions rather than perform her solo.
Lacking the technology and halachic perspective to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, I decided that there was no time like the present, and proceeded to serenade L, and all the other customers at the grocery store, with a rousing, if desperate and repetitive, rendition of the Ma Nishtana. You will get this, I thought to myself,  and then I will truly be free!
With everything else that goes into preparing for Passover, not to mention the Jewish education of my child, I am surprised by how much significance her knowledge of this one prayer has for me. While I intend to keep practicing, I would be shocked if she picks it up on her own for at least another year. And I bet she gets it right before Rosh Hashana.  In the meantime, Dayeinu looks a little more promising. And for now that will definitely be enough :)

They All Make Noise

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.

A Different Kind of Homecoming

Family road trips were a staple of my childhood. My parents, having left the city they grew up in just after their marriage, would pack us up 2-3 times a year for the 6 hour drive back to their hometown, where our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins awaited. Inevitably as the years went by, there were fewer and fewer relatives waiting to welcome us. The older generations died, while the younger ones left to pursue educational and professional opportunities. The holiday gatherings and smachot that brought us together became less and less frequent.
So it was a BIG DEAL when last weekend, my family reunited there again for a cousin’s bar mitzvah. Most of the family, including the bar mitzvah boy, had traveled from out of town to be there. But the simcha was taking place in that city to honor and include the young man’s grandfather who is no longer able to travel himself.
Unfortunately my husband couldn’t join us for the trip, but I was still intent on going with our daughter. If you’ve traveled internationally alone with an almost toddler, you’ll understand that it’s not a mission to be entered lightly. Still I desperately wanted my daughter to meet her family, and even visions of the potential winter weather could not deter me.
Thankfully, my daughter was a trouper, and there were lots of extra helping hands. My family now has memories of a 5th generation sitting in the same seats in the same synagogue sanctuary. We have visions of another little girl being loved in the same rooms as her namesake. We have seen how a place that is so meaningful to our family become a part of the story for its newest member.
I don’t know how many more times we will travel to the place where my parents grew up. But I do know that my daughter’s life will be shaped by the time we spent there as a family. And I hope that she always has a place where she can go back to that feels like home.

The Quest for Chanukah Pajamas

Much has been made over the commercialization of Chanukah. That once was just a minor holiday has become a highlight of the Jewish year and a marketing bonanza.

Leaving aside the religious significance of the holiday for the moment, I will say that this year the holiday is a big deal for my family. Aside from the minor fast of the 10th of Tevet, it marks the last of our “first holidays” with our daughter. At 10 months old, we don’t expect her to know the story of the Maccabees’ military victory or appreciate the miracle of the oil. But we are pretty sure she’s going to enjoy eating latkes, be fascinated by the candle lighting, and have fun being danced around the room like the dreidels she won’t be allowed to play with because they’re a choking hazard.

At 10 months old, we are also pretty sure that she doesn’t need presents. We are very grateful to be surrounded by family and  friends who have already made sure that she has enough clothes to last her until kindergarten, and it’s almost impossible to find a room in the house that hasn’t been incorporated into her playroom.

Still, I wanted to get her something special for the holiday. Eight days worth of new clothes she’s only going wear once seems silly. Eight new toys would be less interesting to her than the boxes and wrapping paper they were presented to her in. Which had me thinking about what she would actually use and be budget friendly for all eight nights… And the envelope please – Chanukah pajamas!

It seemed so obvious, I couldn’t believe how hard they were to find. I will acknowledge that I am cheap – I believe in shopping clearance, and also that I am picky. If I am going to spend money on clothing my daughter didn’t need, specifically for a “special” occasion, I wanted the pajamas to be, well, special. Now, after extensive online searching, I have the following tips for designers of infant pajamas everywhere:

#1 – If you are trying to market an item for a holiday that usually falls in the winter, a cotton short sleeved onesie is insufficient for vast swaths of the country. A long sleeved option is the least you can do.

#2 – A regular set of infant pajamas costs about $10 (or less). If you are charging more than double that, I am laughing at you and moving on. If you are charging over $10, sticking a picture of a dreidel on a t-shirt is still insufficient. Also, charging less than $10 and then not making it available in the store so that I have to pay twice the cost of the clothing for shipping is not going to work.

#3 – The absolutely best thing you are doing is making all Chanukah related clothing blue and yellow. I don’t know when they became the official colors of the holiday, but as the mom of a little girl, I definitely do appreciate the opportunity to buy clothing that is not pink and purple.

#4 – There is a completely untapped market for Chanukah hair accessories. In all my searching, I only found 3 hairbands. If you offered a matching headband with your pajamas, I might not laugh as hard at your prices.

Ultimately though, I was successful. While I couldn’t find pajamas, I did find a long sleeved Chanukah themed t-shirt that I could have customized with my daughter’s Hebrew name. It’s blue and she will wear it to sleep for 8 nights. (even if I have to do laundry every day).

I did say that I would return to the religious significance of the holiday. It’s a time when we focus on overcoming obstacles, and celebrating miracles. Every day of my daughter’s life been a learning experience – some with more challenges than others, but every one a miracle. Celebrating this miracle with a special t-shirt doesn’t seem like unreasonable commercialization to me. Instead it’s an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of pirsum hanes – the publicizing of the miracle.

May we all be blessed with a holiday filled with lights and miracles.

(p.s. – I actually splurged and bought the one personalized shirt for her to wear as Chanukah pajamas and a 2nd t-shirt to wear on Thanksgivukkah… Here are the great ETSY shops where I found them:

Also, http://www.1-800-dreidel.com/ has amazing fabrics for sale… I will be checking out the Passover options (because what makes more sense for a toddler to wear to a seder than Pesach pajamas?)


Baby on the Move…in Shul?

My 9 month old daughter is on the move. She wants to walk, but tries to be satisfied with crawling at 100 miles an hour. While this gives me a great workout at home, it creates a new challenge when we’re out and about, especially at synagogue.

Having spent several hours on the floor with my child, I now have a new appreciation for every speck of dirt and detritus that ends up there. I am also extremely grateful to the geniuses who invented vacuum cleaners, the Swiffer, baby safety gates, those little plastic outlet covers, and cabinet locks. I committed to fully child-proofing the baby’s bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen and she has full range of those areas of our home. But when I make the mistake of actually covering my eyes when playing peek-a-boo and she escapes, I tire much more quickly of the “not for you baby!” game than she does.

That being said, our synagogue’s sanctuary is an absolute paradise for her. Not only does she revel in the attention she gets there as everyone oohs and aahs over her latest accomplishments, but she seems to believe that it’s her personal obstacle course. I’m not sure what prize she’s expecting if she makes it through to the end (challah? grape juice?) but the only way I knew she was capable of climbing stairs was when she decided it was time to explore the bimah. Having to chase her down the aisle was not my most graceful mommy moment. I’ve spent a lot of time making sure she has nice clothes for Shabbat, but I was rather embarrassed to realize that I had better not try to wear anything myself that isn’t 100% flattering if I have to bend over quickly. Dear fashion designers it’s not just a question of modesty… keeping covered is the easy part. But I would also like to be sure that my behind doesn’t suddenly seem to grow to 500 times its size if I have to lunge suddenly to stop my child from pulling the tablecloth out from under the drinks table at the kiddush.

In her room at home, all her board books are on a shelf where she enjoys taking them out, waving them around, chomping on them, and then putting them back. While I’m glad that she recognizes that the siddurim and chumashim in the pews are books too, she gets frustrated when I don’t let her play the same game there. And of course morning minyan is in the library. Those books on the lowest shelves? They taunt her. Yet perhaps most sinister are the tallitot. They hang ever so innocently in their racks, never knowing just how seductive they are with all those delicious tzitzit strings waiting to be yanked down and turned into baby dental floss. Who needs toys when there are so many tempting ways to get into trouble?

As a parent, I believe it is my job to keep my baby safe while teaching her how to behave appropriately in services. It can be a fine balance between letting her act her age, enjoying herself and learning, and being respectful to the clergy and congregation who are there to pray. I don’t expect the synagogue to put a gate up in front of the bimah stairs, to cover every sharp corner, or keep every loose ritual object behind locked doors. My daughter needs to learn to interact with the world around her, as it is, and knowing that it doesn’t always revolve around her and her needs. I can only be hopeful that even when we tell her that it’s “not for baby” she’ll still always know that there is a place for her at shul.