As I have talked about here on Kveller quite a bit, I love Shabbat. I love turning off anything electronic for 25 hours, not working, not driving anywhere, having leisurely meals, taking a nap while my sons play hopefully safely and sort of quietly nearby. Oh yeah: I also love celebrating the miraculous religious experience of echoing God’s cessation of labor by engaging in the blessed Sabbath; it’s not just the hanging out and napping and not working, although those are pretty awesome too and sometimes seem more needed than the religious ecstasy.
What I don’t love is that I don’t currently live in a neighborhood with other Shabbat-observant Jews. I am not in a position to move just now, and so Shabbats are often “home days” with my kids. Sometimes we walk to synagogue but the closest one is about an hour’s walk away and since we don’t know anywhere well enough to eat after synagogue, we end up walking longer than we even stay in synagogue. And some of us get tired and cranky and hungry. And sometimes so do my kids.
What I have decided to start doing since my divorce is to try and take my kids to a Shabbat-observant neighborhood once a month and stay over for all of Shabbat. I don’t find driving in the spirit of Shabbat, even if it’s just to go to synagogue. It forces me to engage with streetlights, roads, people, traffic, and other things which do not make me feel the peace of Shabbat. I know some people drive on Shabbat and that’s fine for them, but it has never felt right since I took on observing Shabbat the way I currently prefer to.
Although most religious communities will set you up with meals and accommodations if you ask a local synagogue, I’ve always preferred to stay with friends I know well. We have a few close friends we can ask to stay with in what’s called the “chood” in Los Angeles. When I plan a Shabbat away, I set us up to have meals with people who are vegan-friendly, and I try and plan to eat and/or play at a house with kids who will hopefully play nicely with mine. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This weekend it did!
It’s hard to pick up and pack up for one night and then drive home after Shabbat ends with sleepy kids. It’s not as easy being at someone else’s house as it is being home. They don’t have our toys, our snacks, our couches. It’s just a bit harder, especially with my little man being very sensitive, very mama-focused, and not super fast to warm up to new things, people, and places.
I love that my boys get to see other families who observe Shabbat. I love that they get to socialize with new kids in new settings. As homeschoolers, their social circle is surprisingly broad, but I value new experiences and kids with different backgrounds and such for them to get to know. We spent this past Shabbat with a fellow homeschooling family who is Orthodox and that was especially neat. We attended a new synagogue led by “Jewlicious” Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, and there was a Torah that had survived the Holocaust in the ark and that was really special for my boys to see. Going away for Shabbat with close friends hosting us gave me the first feeling of a “break” since the divorce. Sure, I was still on duty the whole time, but with new people spending time with me and my boys, it felt like our family just expanded a bit more.
Smart Mama Planning
One thing I did to make the transition smoother this past weekend, which I think worked, was I gave my boys these KidKits that I have just learned about. I made it like a surprise and said, “Look what I just found in our suitcase!” They loved having their own little “travel” kit with their own toothbrush and toothpaste and shampoo and nail clippers and tweezers (two of my favorite things in this world). My younger son kept opening and closing the kit throughout the day, and rearranging everything in it over and over. And even though he apparently is terrified of a wall shower (he almost always takes a bath and has only used a shower with a hand-held shower head), as he cried and screamed through the pre-Shabbat shower, he also cracked a smile when I pulled out his very own new shampoo. I think these KidKits might be the perfect ticket for our Shabbat trips and I am going to actually order some for friends of ours who also go away with their little ones because I think they’re brilliant.
And so we survived another weekend of adjustment, another Shabbat, another break between two work weeks, another set of piano lessons I gave my boys, trying out tap-dancing in our living room, some super strong cuddling and giggling, and me feeling like I have no clue how to be a parent less than five times, which is a good weekend.
Shabbat happens every Friday at sundown whether we like it or not, whether we commemorate it or not, whether we guard and keep it or not, and whether or not we are prepared for the immense and subtle shifts that happen for us all every day. I don’t always do Shabbat perfectly and I don’t always parent perfectly. But just like Shabbat comes every single weekend and I get a chance to try again, I get to try again and again to be closer to the mom I want to be: less stressed out, less burnt out, more patient, more kind, more loving and accepting of my kids the way they are.
They say God is like our parent, and that God accepts us exactly as we are. Here is yet another way I seek to emulate those Divine parenting skills passed on to us, with Shabbat as the weekly reminder that we are always renewed, always renewable, and always loved, even in our struggles and imperfection.