The first time that my son told me he hated Shabbat, I wanted to cry. He was 4 years old. We were spending a lovely Shabbat afternoon at our neighborhood park when our peace was shattered by the ringing bells of the ice-cream truck. My son reflexively joined the children around him on an eager dash to the park gate. I gently pulled him back and reminded him that it was Shabbat and that means that just like we rest, our money rests, so we would not be buying ice cream that day. (I’m not sure how theologically sound this reasoning is, but I figured it would make sense to the 4-year-old brain.)
Instantaneously his eyes welled with tears. He looked me straight in the eye and proclaimed for all around us to hear “I HATE SHABBAT.”
I physically winced. You see, I had always envisioned Shabbat as a beautiful gift that I would give to my children. I was not raised in a Shabbat-observant home, and having become more religious during my high school and college years, I had chosen to take on (most of) the observances of Shabbat. I relished having one day a week that was distinctly different than all of the others–a day to unplug, slow down, and gain perspective on what really matters. In my pre-children days, I imagined how meaningful it would be to give my future children 25 hours of uninterrupted, quality family time, to tangibly connect them to thousands of years of Jewish history, and to ground them in the knowledge that they are part of something much greater than themselves.
I can see how to a 4-year-old, ice cream is much more enticing than these lofty ideals.
The defiant proclamation in the park was followed by other complaints about Shabbat from both of my children–that they could not watch television, go to their friends’ birthday parties, or drive to the t-ball field. Because our extended family and many of our close friends are not Shabbat-observant, they saw how others were spending their Saturdays and wanted in.
Realizing that in my children’s eyes, Shabbat was more about the “cannots” than the “cans,” I tried to find ways of making Shabbat special–giving them their own Kiddush cups, setting aside certain toys that only come out on Saturday afternoon, and having extra-yummy sweet treats on hand. In part, this has worked. The grumblings have subsided as my children have gotten a little older, but they still surface every now and then.
And if I’m being completely honest, then I must admit that there are moments when, even to me, Shabbat can feel more like a burden than a blessing. Particularly during these long, hot summer afternoons when everyone is tired of board games, and books, and Legos, when we have dressed up as every superhero imaginable, and when one more game of indoor soccer might put my downstairs neighbors over the edge. I find myself gazing longingly at the television, wishing that I can turn it on to entertain them for just a half-hour while I catch my breath, sweep up the crumbs that are colonizing under my dining room table, and (fantasy of fantasies) even read a page or two of a book whose plot does not center around robots or talking animals.
But then I remember what I have been told by many of my friends who grew up in Shabbat-observant households–that although they had resented some of Shabbat’s restrictions when they were children, they now have a deep appreciation for the time that it gave them with their families, and for the meaning with which it infused their lives. I think about why I decided to keep Shabbat in the first place, and hope that in the future, it will be my children sharing those sentiments.
I got my first glimpse of that future last week. As we were preparing to light Shabbat candles, my oldest son–the one who only two years ago declared his hatred of Shabbat to all within ear-shot of the park–told me that he learned in camp that after lighting the candles, you should cover your eyes and think about something you want to tell God. With great pride, I watched him stand quietly, deep in thought before the Shabbat candles. Later that evening, as he was getting ready for bed I heard him say to himself, “I love the Shabbat candles.”
It’s a start, and I’ll take it!