Right next to the snacks, of course, was a stand filled with DVDs for kids. Our 3-year-old wanted one, and since we were about to be in the car for another four hours (the trip from Brooklyn to Montreal is lo-ong), we acquiesced. We picked out what looked like the least scary and most preschooler-friendly on the shelf–something called Best of Veggie Tales–a top ten song countdown. What could be wrong with singing vegetables?
If you’re familiar with Veggie Tales (which I wasn’t at the time), you already know where this is going. Veggie Tales is a series of television shows and movies based on Christian morals and values. Luckily for us, everything on this DVD was in line with our Jewish morals and values, though they were expressed in different ways. On this DVD, for example, one of the songs is about God being bigger than the boogeyman–a super-comforting idea to a 3-year-old who’s often scared of things. (“God is bigger than the boogeyman, and He’s watching out for you and meeee!”)
But that introduced the conversation about God, which I’d kind of been avoiding. You might wonder why, especially if you’ve read my bio and know that I’m actually trained as a Jewish educator and have spent the past 13 years teaching other people’s kids about God. But now that it’s my kid, well… I’ve been dragging my feet. I don’t want her to believe in God as some man up in the clouds–that’s not the God I believe in. I want her to find her own understanding of God, not something that pop culture suggests. And the tough part about Veggie Tales is that their understanding of God is a very active and involved God, whose actions make a difference in the world. Though I think God does make a difference in the world, I don’t think about God in quite as embodied of a fashion as Veggie Tales does–somehow that feels a bit funny to my modernist sensibilities.
As I sat and thought about it, though, I realized that I found my own understanding of God through years of asking questions. I can’t expect that my 3-year-old will suddenly get Martin Buber‘s I-Thou theory in a personal yet simultaneously theoretical fashion. She’s 3.
So then, how do I explain God in a way that can work for her?
I’ve started trying to introduce God in a few different ways. Every Friday night we do “Shabbat-time” and light candles, drink grape juice, and eat challah. Now I’ve started explaining what the blessings are about, and how they’re a way to say thank you to God. I’ve also started just talking about God when we see something beautiful–the moon, snow, a sunny day. And I’ve added a book into the bedtime rotation about the bedtime Shema, introducing God as a protector, besides mommy and daddy of course, whose job it is to keep her safe.
So maybe God is bigger than the boogeyman after all.
For more insight on talking to your kids about god, read one rabbi’s advice for talking to preschoolers, how one dad handled the question, “Daddy, what’s God?”, and how one mother wrangled the idea of God after Sandy Hook.