If you’ve read my writing before, you know I’m a big proponent of co-sleeping. My husband, 3- and 6-year-old sons, and I share a gigantic family bed which consists of a king and a full futon pushed together on the floor, and I believe our co-sleeping will end when our family sees that it is time to end it. But it’s not my intention to tell you why co-sleeping is good and beneficial and natural and fun (my book which comes out in March devotes a whole chapter to that). I want to share two things that go on in our family bed that are specifically Jewish, because I don’t hear it spoken about very often.
Disclaimer: the things I describe can (and do) also occur in non co-sleeping families, but this is simply the experience of our family bed from a Jewish perspective.
1. Bedtime Shema. After teeth are brushed (Fred fighting the brushing with varying intensity on any given night), and everyone has gone to the bathroom one last time (ditto; he’s 3, it’s normal, right!?), we read books, Fred nurses, and we sing the first two lines of the Shema. As a child, my parents recited the Shema to me and just as it was technically my first full sentence as a toddler, it was our boys’ first as well.
Traditionally, the full Shema as well as other blessings, psalms, and chants are recited, but we have started simply and our boys can now both sing along. The Shema proclaims the Oneness of God/the Universe/Everything. It is elemental and elegant and even if you are unsure about a lot of things, the ideal of there being Oneness is, I think, fairly non-confrontational.
Some nights, I will let our sons hear me chant the other paragraphs of the Shema (known in my Reform upbringing simply as the “V’ahavta”) and some of the chants as well. There is something magical to the language of Hebrew even if it is not yet fully comprehended and I like lulling our children to sleep with the rhythms, melodies, and “ch”s of the universal language of Jews everywhere.
My husband was not raised with a “ch” sound in his lexicon but he has acquired it since we met, and the sound of him singing the Shema to our boys is very moving and significant. For thousands of years Jews have recited this prayer in good times and bad, to announce so many joys and tragedies, and now it hovers over the bed of two little boys carrying our genes. It’s powerful.
2. Morning Modeh Ani. There’s a song we used to sing in Hebrew school called Modeh Ani which I now know is comprised of the first words that traditional Jews recite upon awakening. The words are loosely translated as: “Thank you God for returning my soul to me with compassion; Your faithfulness is vast.”
The act of waking up with my children is a gift I treasure, but I also love spreading the appreciation for all of our waking up at all. Of course our soul does not technically leave us in our sleep, and some skeptics might argue that there is no soul at all, but I was taught that every day is a miracle, no matter what it looks like. The sun coming up is a miracle. Opening our eyes is a miracle. And even if we feel grumpy, the fact that we are feeling anything at all and working to not be grumpy is also a miracle. I want our boys to appreciate good and bad days not so that they walk around with smiles plastered to their faces or have an unrealistic picture of the world, but I want them to be conscious of existing, and that’s one of the things I like about traditions like this one.
I have set the lyrics of Modeh Ani to the melody for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star/The ABC song and it fits really nicely with just one repetition of the second to last word (rabah). Now that I am teaching Miles Hebrew, he was so excited that, after learning up to the letter “nun,” he can now read the phrase “Modeh Ani” in Hebrew!
As a Jew who has taken on more observance as an adult, I enjoy finding pleasure and meaning in things like these prayers which used to be merely familiar songs with lovely melodies from Hebrew school. Now they are lessons and expressions of love and time together that we share in our family bed. It’s a family bed like so many (all of the fellow bed-sharers and co-sleepers), a select many (Jewish bed-sharers and co-sleepers), and no one else in the world, because we are the only four who inhabit this sacred space together. Laila tov.