One of my daughter’s favorite parts of the Shabbat morning service is the Torah service. Last Rosh HaShanah, at the age of about 18 months, she decided that this would be the perfect time to storm the bimah, and demanded to be carried around the sanctuary by her father, shaking hands with the congregation as she went. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, or the opportunity to make new friends, she had found her niche, and has proudly paraded around with her small Torah ever since.
As a now almost 3 year old, helping her to control her behavior in synagogue has been an ongoing challenge. I’ll just be honest and say that bribery has mostly worked. You know your child is going to need therapy when her only sticker chart is for how she acts at shul. At the same time, we have been embroiled in that beautiful part of parenting that can lead even the most abstemious parent to contemplate a strong drink. That’s right. Potty training.
After several weeks of extra laundry, countless lollipops, and an embarrassing conversation with a librarian, it’s finally safe for us to venture out diaper free. Success is ours. And no one is more excited about her big girl accomplishment than my daughter.
Alas, this past Shabbat morning, these two priorities collided. No sooner had she respectfully stayed seated through the sermon and heard the announcement that it was time to open the ark, than I heard a voice announce loudly “I have to go to the potty”.
This announcement was made as she made her way up to the bimah, running over to the ark to take out the Torah.
Luckily for us, her father had heard the announcement too, and sent her back to me immediately. With a look of anguish she repeated her physical need. And yet it was clear that she was also conflicted. Leaving the bimah during a time that she is actually allowed to be up there goes against everything she has learned about appropriate synagogue behavior, and her immediate desires. On the other hand, she knew that if she had to go, she had to go.
And for about 3 frozen seconds, I’m sure that my face mirrored her “deer caught in the headlights”, what are we going to do now? look of tertor. In the 4th second, as my brain re-engaged and we made the dash to the very conveniently located ladies’ room across the hall, I calculated the odds of the following scenarios:
- Will we make it to the bathroom in time? 90% chance of success.
- Will we make it back in time for her to take the Torah around? 50% either way.
- If we don’t make it back in time, will she have a public temper tantrum? 10% likelihood of full meltdown.
- Will we make it back in time for me to read the 1st two aliyot as scheduled? 50% either way.
- Can I get the toddler to accept help so that I can increase the odds in our favor? 0%. Hopeless. An independent child cannot be rushed.
- Congregants who have figured out why we ran out the door and are enjoying this moment of drama while laughing to themselves about how happy they are that their potty training responsibilities are over? 100%!
May this be a lesson to synagogue architects everywhere – please always locate an accessible family bathroom somewhere VERY near to the sanctuary.
We did manage to navigate our way back to the sanctuary in time for my daughter to catch up to the end of the parade. No Torah readings were delayed, and no temper tantrums were thrown. But this incident was a reminder of the reality that sometimes what we teach our children to value the most, may unfortunately collide with their most basic physical needs. That these needs are not always convenient, and that this can be scary. For everyone.