A few nights ago, when I was cleaning up the kitchen after supper, it struck me.
I’m really bored as a parent.
I have the efficiency thing down pat. A food schedule for each night of the week. The ease of an afternoon spent with our three kids—snack, followed by craft, followed by dinner, bath, books, and then bed. Sure, there are outliers: my 3-year-old who doesn’t conform to my plans, or the erupting feud between my eldest and middle child. “I’m on it,” (or in Hebrew, katan alai—this is small stuff), I say to myself and handle x/y or z issue with aplomb.
But at the end of the day, with a cup of mint tea in hand, I ask myself, “Is this all there is?”
I joked with my son the other night. When he inquired, “What awesome thing are we planning to do this afternoon?” I answered, “Nothing special.” His response was, “That’s so boring.” And then I said to him deadpan, “Let me teach you a little life lesson, son. Most of life is boring, except for occasionally, when it’s not.”
Was this really me talking? Who have I become?
Manager mom. That’s who.
It was bound to happen. Nobody can possibly keep this well-oiled machine called “our family’s life” going for eight years without falling into autopilot. It kind of says it all when you find yourself at the gas station, and in the quick business exchange of the attendant asking for your credit card, getting it back, and checking a text about the homework for your first grader, you think that the gas is already in the car and you start to drive away. But the yank of the gas nozzle, the spurting of gasoline everywhere, and the aforementioned attendant running frantically your way yelling giveret, giveret (madam, madam!) becomes strong evidence to the contrary. And for the record, you know you have achieved “manager mom” status when you are called giveret, as opposed to “miss.” Just sayin’.
Thank God that the Jewish holidays are upon us and I can receive an enormous shofar blast in my ear to knock me out of my middle management stupor and inject a bit of vitality into me.
Any milestone is an opportunity to take stock. And the Jewish High Holidays put the idea of taking stock on steroids.
Renewal. Judgment day. Life held in the balance. Starting over. The liturgy, rituals, and customs of these days invite the big questions. Who am I? What and to whom am I responsible? How can I mend broken relationships? How will I spend the finite time I have on this earth? These are the big questions and they are triggered by simple, even child-like metaphors—God writing our deeds in a book of Life or Death, a shofar blast that, beyond all of the layers and layers of prayers uttered on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, brings us back to a primal cry, and beckons us to think beyond our day to day.
But in all honesty, after years of observing these holidays, I never feel quite ready. And my cynical side often creeps in and says, “Is anything really going to change? After a couple of inspiring days, I will probably just go back to my old habits and old routines.”
There was a moment last year that broke me out of the manager mom malaise. It happened for a few minutes right before the start of Yom Kippur. My husband and I bless our children every Friday night, but last year he reminded me to the free flow blessing that parents traditionally say to their children pre-day of atonement. Make it personal; feel free to go off script, he recommended. I placed my hands on their freshly shampooed heads and shared with each child what I hoped and dreamed for them, and a quality or two that I wanted to work on in myself so I could be a better parent to each of them. More patient with one, less distracted with another, better at following through on plans we agree on with the third. I took a good two to three minutes to clear away the part of me cluttered with extraneous thoughts, to be present for them (or as present as you can be when the 2.5-year-old starts to squirm away).
With all the hours logged in synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it was in that moment that I felt like I was encountering Ultimacy. The manager mom who had commanded them just a few moments earlier to get dressed in their new outfits and to put their shoes on gave way to mortal mom, the one who didn’t know what the year would bring, who would get sick or hurt, who would succeed, who would have good friends. All that this mortal mom knew for certain was that these relationships in front of me were real, alive, pulsing, and in need of my presence and love.
I want to bring that awareness to my experience of the holidays this year, too. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to promote manager mom to fully-living-in-the- present-mortal-mom (try fitting that on a name tag). At least for the two to three minutes that it takes me to bless my children.