Every day that goes by, I wonder fervently if I am doing enough as a mother to protect my children from the world. This is tempered only by the worry that perhaps I am doing too much, and sheltering them in such a way that they will be unprepared as they slowly emerge into a life where Mama cannot provide justice.
Yom Kippur is most commonly translated as the “Day of Atonement.” This modern definition was derived from the Hebrew word, kofer, which refers to a “protective covering.” In the Torah, God said to Noah, “Make an ark out of gopher wood, and you shall coat it from within and from without with kofer—pitch–(a protective coating).” God knew that in order to withstand the harsh flood waters, Noah’s ark would need a protective covering to keep it and its precious inhabitants safe.
While I am protective of both my children, I will admit that my steel resolve turns to mush when it comes to my daughter. Besides being creative, adorable, and incredibly tenacious, she has special needs. Chava was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the autism spectrum, at age 6. We are blessed with small classrooms in our local Jewish day school, as well as a myriad of understanding teachers, administrators, and specialists. She receives help from a resource room teacher, occupational therapist, and speech therapist on a daily basis.
Chava thrives on routine, but like so many of us, she hates being told what to do. She has a strong, vibrant mind that loves to imagine and create inventions, stories, and art. She is independent. The reality of sitting at a desk all day following instructions is really a drag. She would rather be roaming around the room making her happy humming noises, flapping her hands, and acting out story lines that only she can hear in her head.
I was a bookworm of a kid. Competitive by nature, succeeding meant getting my math sheets done first, and raising my hand to answer the questions no one else knew. So, while I personally understand and appreciate the importance of classroom learning and reinforcing schoolwork at home, at times it is simply too much for me to bear as a parent of a child with special needs. After eight hours of instructional learning, my kid needs a break. Downtime to explore, run around, and figure out how to make the perfect dentist’s office out of pop-up tents.
Which brings me back to Yom Kippur. I think sometimes we, as parents, focus too much on the outer layer of protection around our children. We feel pressure to prepare them for the “real world” of projects, deadlines, and sitting still. On this holy day of fasting and forgiveness, I will embrace the first half of God’s instructions to Noah: “You shall coat it from within and without.”
Within. I want to help my daughter and my son grow and nurture a thick layer of protection around their inner selves, composed of innovative thinking, acts of kindness, and counting how many seconds they can hold a headstand. I will fight to preserve their inner truth, so that they can learn how to break out of stereotypes and labels.
God commanded Noah to build an ark that would withstand the pressure of the flood. On this Yom Kippur, I will ask God to forgive me for my trespasses, and to help me find the strength to follow His commandment: to stop the flood by building a protective layer around the sweet souls and strengths of my unique, beautiful, and determined children.