I was recently hanging out with a mama friend who’s been staying home with her toddler. She’s starting to look for day care, to her own surprise. As she put it: “Before I had kids, I thought, why even have kids if you’re going to give them to someone else to raise them? And now I’m like, oh yeah–he needs to do his thing and I need to do my thing and then we’re both happy to see each other in the afternoon.”
I didn’t think I expected myself to be a full-time mom. Although my mom stayed home to raise me and my two sisters, we were taught we could do anything boys could do. Which by implication means we could grow up to be a parent and still continue our careers, right? Just like our dad.
But now that I’m a parent, I realize that a) all those years, some part of me had unconsciously expected to stay home like my mom and b) I just gotta admit that’s not me. It wouldn’t do my kid any favors to spend her days with unhappy, frustrated mama. I adore Sylvie, I am thrilled to be a parent, AND I want to work.
And as it happens, though my husband is the more natural caregiver of the two of us, he also wants–and needs, financially–to work. We don’t live near family, so two working parents leads to two words: day care.
The husband and wife who run the in-home day care in our neighborhood are sweet and loving. With three kids of their own, they have chosen to make caring for small children their jobs as well. God bless them! Sylvie loves going there. She loves their giant white dog, and the play kitchen, and tutus, and art projects, and snacks.
Reading this week’s portion I thought about that husband and wife, working in their house while my husband and I work in ours. And I thought about caring for a young child not just as a responsibility of parenthood, limited to a specific child’s mother and father–but also as a calling, a vocation.
I love this portion, and I swear it’s not just because I wrote the song for this week’s G-dcast episode. After a long time wandering in the desert with a bunch of road-weary Israelites, this portion, Vayakhel, feels like an oasis. Aromatic spices, essential oils, hand-woven cloth woven deep purple and blue, fine woodwork, and jewelry melted down into beautiful bowls and lamps.
There’s a bigger purpose to all this beauty, though. It all comes together to create the Mishkan, a traveling synagogue for worshipping God in the desert. And every single piece is created by this very same bunch of wandering ex-slaves. God says, whatever you are good at, come and contribute that. If you can weave, make fabric for the walls; if you’re a sculptor, get to work on the golden menorah. It’s the ultimate DIY community project.
I have nothing but admiration for stay at home moms, day care providers, nannies and preschool teachers. The hard part for me is having equal respect for my path as a working mom too. I want to see my work (and, necessarily, my time away from my daughter) not as a guilty pleasure, but as something meaningful, something that I can offer the world. Some people excel in the ability to care for young children, their own or others,’ while others weave the cloth, or carve the wood, or sculpt the metals, or teach the older children, or work in government, or retail, or art, or service, or medicine.
I’ve been trying to avoid saying, “it takes a village,” but really, that’s what I take from Vayakhel this year. Stay-at-home mom? Working mom? Stay-at-home dad? Working dad? Either way, no one person can do it all, providing the love and structure and community it takes to raise a kid, and doing everything else that makes a functioning society for that kid to grow up into.
It’s the ultimate DIY community project.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.