Shabbat Gives Busy Parents What They Need Most: Rest – Kveller
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Shabbat Gives Busy Parents What They Need Most: Rest

Or, how a kindergarten spa day helped connect me to my Judaism.

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I can hear my kindergarten students clopping down the hall after recess. They are wound up, swinging lunchboxes and hooting accusations of cutting in line. I take a deep breath before I meet them at the doorway to our classroom, put my finger to my lips and tell them that they are entering a spa. 

“It’s going to be dark,” I stage whisper, “so put your lunchboxes away and find your towel.” 

I spent my lunch hour prepping the space. Willing parents had sent in towels, and I rolled them up carefully and placed them around the room. 

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Upon entering, this typically rowdy bunch turned quiet. I had set the tone with a calming animation of butterflies displayed on our large screen so that the room would be dark, but not too dark. A music medley that promised spa-like tunes filled the classroom with low, calming vibrations. The children walked to find their towels. And they put their heads down. 

A revelation! They wanted to rest! They actually craved it!! 

Recently, I had noticed that this bunch of full-day kindergarteners seemed awfully tired, some cranky and others struggling to hold it together by the afternoon. I had been inspired by my own kindergartener, my daughter, Miriam, who had requested a spa night with me a few months earlier. A new tradition had begun in our family: Shabbat spa nights that included hand massages and cucumbers to put on our eyes. Miriam and I looked forward to this each week, and I realized I might be able to infuse some of that excitement for meaningful rest and connection in my own classroom. 

When I made the announcement about our rest time to my class, I also explained that I would have freshly cut cucumbers that students could put on their eyes if they wanted. The students clapped and cheered! One boy burst into tears. My brilliant and sensitive classroom aide, Kelly, took the student outside to comfort him, and when they returned, she told me that he was very worried that he would have to sleep overnight at our school and did not want to have pickles on his eyes!!! (Note to self: explain the idea of rest time and cucumbers even more clearly next time.) 

Soon enough, there were 22 5 and 6-year olds lying quietly on the floor. Some grabbed their jackets to use as blankets, and those who forgot their towels were welcomed to share one with a friend. Kelly and I tiptoed around the room offering cucumbers and gently placing them on their tiny eyelids. 

In the dark, in the quiet, this ritual felt completely sacred. During learning hours, when the sunlight is streaming in, we are busy from 8:30 until we sing our goodbye song at 3:05. 

But, suddenly, time stopped. And these little humans, exhausted from learning to take turns, lose gracefully, not call out, sit in a seat, choose kind words and manage being away from their parents for so long, wanted to close their eyes and snuggle near their friends. They just wanted to rest.

Nap time is a lost art in our society for those who have graduated elementary school. The nonstop busyness is celebrated, and the haggard parent is normalized. But what I witnessed that afternoon was children’s respect for and desire to rest. It reminded me of how lucky we are, as Jews, to have that time carved out especially for us, even us adults, each and every Shabbat

Simply acknowledging that this part of the week is surrounded by a completely different energy feels so very important. Especially now, when Jewish people are facing a world that feels more draining and threatening than I remember it ever feeling before. And while we light the candles every Friday night and say the blessings, I am reminded that Jews have been commanded to rest and to honor that rest despite everything around us telling us that we are not allowed to do so. 

As a Jewish mom, I am using so much energy to remain hopeful, positive and to try to shield my children from the darkness as much as is humanly possible. It all leaves me feeling tired and craving rest. So, I must follow my own lead as a teacher and apply these lessons to my life as an individual. Because there is so much delight and peace in the act of resting. 

And while I hope that my kindergarteners leave my room with a deep sense of awe and wonder about the world, I also hope that they, along with my own children, continue to recognize their body’s ability to speak for itself. And, in turn, that they never forget to listen to it.

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