Shabbat is great. Shabbat is lovely. Shabbat is 25 hours of no phone, no radio, no piano, no driving, no cooking, no TV (which I don’t watch anyway), no pressures of the outside world. You hang out with friends, eat lavish meals, nap, let your kids frolic as you get a “break,” and enjoy the synagogue of your choosing which both enlightens your soul and tantalizes your children. Unless…
Unless you live an hour’s walk from the nearest synagogue and have no friends within walking distance, in which case it’s a 25 hour test of wills: can I keep my kids happy? Entertained? Happy to be Jewish when the day seems like one long list of restrictions?
We sometimes host friends (who drive to our house) but this past Shabbat it was just us. Me and my boys. All day. No plans. Just hanging out. Both boys are fighting a horrendous cough so our usual “Shabbos walk” which takes about an hour was out of the question, as was playing ball and scootering around in the local church’s parking lot.
Here are some of the things we did to pass the glorious Sabbath day. (I try not to perform melakhot (work prohibitions) on Shabbat, so if you have any questions about the halakhic (Jewish law) propriety of any of the following, I suggest you consult with a local Rabbi and not go by my activities as any advocation of what you should or should not do; I’m doing my best and I’m still learning too!)
1. Organize. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and thank you, God, it’s something both of my sons love doing, too. We stack things that need stacking, go through boxes of miscellaneous toys and put things back where they belong. It’s a great way for kids to “rediscover” toys that had been long missing and forgotten, and it usually is good for a nice chunk of time.
2. Supermarket. I was almost ready to donate the little Waldorf-y wooden stove and refrigerator we have had for the boys since they were toddlers. We also have a nice collection of wooden fruits and vegetables, a few shopping baskets, and a wooden cash register, the whole bit. But the boys had not really been using all of it. Well, this past Shabbos, they went supermarket crazy. They set up all of the fruit and fake deli meats up on the coffee table, put on aprons, and set up the cash register for Fred to operate on an overturned tupperware bucket. They were in heaven. I played the customer a half dozen times, with different needs each time: once they wanted me to be vegan, once not vegan, once my older son wanted me to act like an impatient customer, but little Fred didn’t like Mama acting “sassy” so we redid that one. They loved watching me pay for and bag my own groceries, and it was a great multi-age activity. I am officially not donating the tiny stove, refrigerator, and awesome wooden fruit and veggies.
3. Beauty Salon. Fred likes make-up brushes. And hair brushes and combs. And mirrors. He likes to pretend to make people up, and he keeps all of his tools in a cute little bag and even has a pretend “scissors” (it’s a Lego shark that has a mouth that opens and closes and makes a satisfying clicking scissor-y sound). Both boys played beauty salon with me this weekend. My older son swept all of my hair to one side, obliterating my sidepart. Then he clipped it just so and decided I should leave it like that all day. Fred basically knotted it up with the tenderest chunky hands, and thought I looked beautiful. Thank you, little men, for a great trip to the beauty salon.
4. Great outdoors. We don’t have a yard for playing; I live in a canyon so the only yard I have is the stepped terraced sort with wild grasses and trees and such–not really suited for playing. But what we did a few times throughout the day was sit on the driveway and steps outside the house and just hang out. As a kid, my parents and I often sat outside our house after dinner “on the stoop” until the sun went down and I have great memories of dusk on the stoop. My boys found sticks and pretended to aim at various cars on the road below. They catapulted small berries from a bush down the driveway, they noted all the cobwebs on the windows that need their care. I guess we were just making the most of the outdoors we have. It was really nice.
5. Nap. My boys, at 4 and 7, are too old for naps. And if they do nap, they end up staying up until 9, whereas their usual bedtime is 7. But they are finally old enough and cognitive enough to understand these very important sentences: “Mama needs a nap. I will be in a much better mood if I can nap right now. Thank you.” After almost eight years of nursing these boys all night (and I do mean ALL NIGHT) and holding them all day (and I do mean ALL DAY) and nursing on demand and carrying them in slings and never leaving them alone, I have earned the right to a small nap while they play Legos quietly three feet away. Maybe 30 minutes. It’s all I ask for. And this past Shabbos, at the 20 minute mark, my beloved cat Esau pounced on my face and woke me.
But those 20 minutes were enough. I got a little more energy, a little more patience, and a little more readiness for whatever the rest of that Shabbat afternoon held: some bickering between the boys over bumping into each other on their twist-rollers (yes, I move all the furniture in the living room and let them twist-roll all over the wood floors because I am a crazy person), lots of snacking, Miles reading an entire Frog and Toad story all by himself for the first time (I got teary-eyed), and some really good cuddling.
We get 52 chances every year to have a transformative Sabbath experience. I’m glad I am open to some of them being more mellow–but also more tender–than expected. Shabbat Shalom.