I wrote this article back in 2017. It’s about boredom and how the Jewish high holidays shook me out of my management mindset to confront my vulnerability and mortality. Living alongside a virus and lockdowns, I have a renewed perspective on vulnerability and boredom. Still, there is something that continues to resonate with me in these words. I wonder how they resonate with you?
Kveller via JTA —
A few nights ago, when I was cleaning up the kitchen after supper, it struck me.
I’m really bored as a parent.
I have the efficiency thing down pat. A food schedule for each night of the week. The ease of an afternoon spent with our three kids — snack, followed by a craft, followed by dinner, bath, books, and then bed.
Sure, there are outliers: my 3-year-old who doesn’t conform to my plans, or the erupting feud between my eldest and middle child.
“I’m on it” (or in Hebrew, “katan alai” — this is small stuff), I say to myself, and handle whatever the issue is with aplomb.
But at the end of the day, with a cup of mint tea in hand, I ask myself, “Is this all there is?”
I joked with my son the other night when he inquired, “What awesome thing are we planning to do this afternoon?” I answered, “Nothing special.”
His response was, “That’s so boring.” And then I said to him deadpan, “Let me teach you a little life lesson, son. Most of life is boring, except for occasionally when it’s not.”
Was this really me talking? Who have I become?
Manager mom. That’s who…
Thank God the Jewish holidays are upon us and I can receive an enormous shofar blast in my ear to knock me out of my middle management stupor and inject a bit of vitality into me.
Any milestone is an opportunity to take stock. And the Jewish High Holidays put the idea of taking stock on steroids.
Renewal. Judgment day. Life held in the balance. Starting over. The liturgy, rituals, and customs of these days invite the big questions. Who am I? What and to whom am I responsible? How can I mend broken relationships? How will I spend the finite time I have on this earth?
These are the big questions and they are triggered by simple, even childlike metaphors — God writing our deeds in a book of Life or Death, a shofar blast that, beyond all of the layers and layers of prayers uttered on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, brings us back to a primal cry and beckons us to think beyond our day-to-day.
But in all honesty, after years of observing these holidays, I never feel quite ready. And my cynical side often creeps in and says, “Is anything really going to change? After a couple of inspiring days, I will probably just go back to my old habits and old routines.”
There was a moment last year that broke me out of the manager mom malaise. It happened for a few minutes right before the start of Yom Kippur. My husband and I bless our children every Friday night, [for the traditional blessing, see it here] but last year he reminded me to the free flow blessing that parents traditionally say to their children pre-Day of Atonement. Make it personal; feel free to go off-script, he recommended. I placed my hands on their freshly shampooed heads and shared with each child what I hoped and dreamed for them, and a quality or two that I wanted to work on in myself so I could be a better parent to each of them. More patient with one, less distracted with another, better at following through on plans we agree on with the third. I took a good two to three minutes to clear away the part of me cluttered with extraneous thoughts, to be present for them (or as present as you can be when the 2 1/2-year-old starts to squirm away).
With all the hours logged in the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it was at that moment that I felt like I was encountering Ultimacy. The manager mom who had commanded them just a few moments earlier to get dressed in their new outfits and to put their shoes on gave way to mortal mom, the one who didn’t know what the year would bring, who would get sick or hurt, who would succeed, who would have good friends. All that this mortal mom knew for certain was that these relationships in front of me were real, alive, pulsing, and in need of my presence and love.
I want to bring that awareness to my experience of the holidays this year, too. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to promote manager mom to fully-living-in-the- present-mortal-mom (try fitting that on a name tag). At least for the two to three minutes that it takes me to bless my children.