When I stopped breastfeeding my youngest son, I made it my mission each morning to get him out of his room as fast as I could, before he had a chance to point at his armchair and demand milk. I’d grab Benji from his crib, hustle him downstairs, head straight for the bananas and start peeling as we got settled at the kitchen table.
I’d always sung to him while he nursed, and it seemed fitting to continue as he ate his crack-of-dawn banana in my lap. But I couldn’t risk any of our old, familiar tunes — not so shortly after he’d weaned (triggering!).
Instead, I tried one we learned at Mommy and Me: “Brand New Day.” It’s a song built around the Modeh Ani, a prayer Jews are meant to say first thing each morning.
The chorus of our version goes like this: “It’s a brand new day, it’s a brand new day. When I wake up (clap!), I say, ‘it’s a brand new day.’” Line by line, the verses then walk through the Hebrew prayer itself, which offers thanks to God for restoring our souls to our bodies each morning.
I hadn’t known the prayer before, and though I only started saying it as a way to distract my breastmilk-loving baby, singing the Modeh Ani with Benji before the sun rises, slapping our slimy banana hands on the table, has become a ritual over the past year. We have since added peanut butter (recommend), and somewhere along the way, mostly unrelated, I also embarked on what the internet might call a “wellness journey.” This generally involves listening to health-related podcasts and reading books on personal growth. And as it turns out, our daily practice comes highly recommended by experts in the space.
In his bestselling “Tiny Habits,” Stanford behavior scientist Dr. BJ Fogg writes, “After you put your feet on the floor in the morning, immediately say this phrase, ‘It’s going to be a great day.’ As you say these seven words, try to feel optimistic and positive.”
Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist, brain specialist and author, advises the same. He says he starts every day by saying, “Today is going to be a great day.”
No Hebrew prayer (and, curiously, no mention of bananas). But otherwise, this is exactly what Benji and I have been doing every morning, and what Jews have been doing for generations. Gratitude as positive psychology is en vogue these days, but it’s not new — it’s built into Jewish custom. And it’s become one of the best parts of my day.
Benji is now 2, and he can sing along. Hearing his little voice pipe up, “Modeh ani lefanecha…” has me kvelling anew each morning. Not just because it’s the cutest (it is), but also because I know in that moment he’s one of many Jews reciting the exact same prayer (most of whom probably have less peanut butter in their hair, but still).
When I wake up groggy or cranky or overwhelmed with the day’s to-dos, singing Modeh Ani with Benji wakes me up. It makes me smile, it makes me feel connected as a Jew and it reminds me how much I have to be thankful for, even at 6 in the morning. I nuzzle Benji’s curly hair, revel in his dimples, take in the faces of my older kids if they’ve woken up in time to join us, and I don’t even have to try to feel optimistic and positive.
On the days we’re running late, when I have breakfasts and lunches to make and backpacks to pack and people to dress, sitting at the table to eat with someone who’s perfectly capable of feeding himself can be a frustrating prospect. I might place the peeled banana on the table, load a spoon with peanut butter and casually try to slide Benji onto an empty chair. But my accountability partner just won’t have it. He howls or stiffens or clings to me like a koala or all of the above, and inevitably, I sit. He makes himself comfortable in my lap like a person who’s just gotten his way, we launch into “Brand New Day,” and I’m always, always glad we did.
As a parent, it’s so easy to be (or at least to feel) too busy. There’s always something to make or clean or fix or pack, and there’s never enough time. The Modeh Ani is about thanking God for another day alive, and doing that brings a sense of peace and offers perspective and generates endorphins and all the things the wellness people promise when they tell us to keep gratitude journals. I’m also thankful for the ritual itself, not only because it’s a daily reminder of life’s blessings, but because it’s a daily reason to stop and just sit with my son for a few minutes.
The tasks are all still there when we’re done, and the endorphins don’t always stay with me through the evening. The koala or his siblings may spill something or injure someone or each want something different from me at the same time, and I may for a minute forget how lucky I am. But tomorrow’s a brand new day.