In general, in parenting, I tend to have a “less is more” approach. Not when it comes to the things that really matter–eye contact, loving touch, focused attention–these I try to provide with few limits. But when it comes to activities, I prefer letting my daughter learn about the world by grocery shopping with me, rather than attending the myriad of toddler classes offered in my neighborhood. And when it comes to toys, homemade and simple usually win in my book. (Some call it “slow parenting, ” some call it lazy or cheap, both might be right…)
And yet, very much not in keeping with this approach, I find myself shlepping my little gal to Tot Shabbat every Saturday and to a Jewish music class every Friday–where the parents sing their hearts out while the toddlers do what toddlers do. My particular toddler is pretty timid in groups, and generally she sits at these events completely still, playing the part of the perfect student. But I know she’s really frozen in fear.
At home, she happily sings the songs from these events. So I can see she’s learning. Great! Jewish education has begun! But in all honesty, she’s just parroting a bunch of Hebrew words she’s heard over and over, with little understanding. Am I rushing things? She has so many years ahead of her for formal education–maybe a wiser mother would opt out of Tot Shabbat and just stay at the playground. Give her time.
I take seriously the idea of fostering my child’s religious and spiritual development, so I’m genuinely uncertain here. I can attest that she is genuinely captivated with at-home Jewish rituals: Putting money in the tzedakah box, lighting Shabbat candles, making havdalah. Maybe now’s the time for her Jewish life to be just in the familiar comfort of home, connected to activities that bring her closer to her parents and loved ones. And, even more challenging, maybe now’s the time for me to nourish my own religious and spiritual development, so that when my daughter is older and more ready, I’ll be able to offer her something more real and sophisticated than the classic Dinosaur Shabbat Song.