| Musings |


mishpacha image

Before every Yom Tov — hey, even before Shabbos, which comes every week, so I really should know better — I have these romantic visions of a family sitting around discussing the mitzvos hayom. We’re all cozy and serene; everyone is sharing their ideas without interrupting or doing their best to oust their sibling from the coveted spot near Mommy. Why, even the baby is absorbing the Torah in an atmosphere of kedushah.

Okay, I’m a bit more realistic than that. But Erev Yom Kippur? Somehow I forgot that my oldest is only eight. My kids don’t have the emotional maturity or intellectual capacity to appreciate the day as I want to be able to.

So when I had to yell over the din to ask them to clear the table, take a shower, put the toys away, and for goodness’ sake, quit the fighting! It’s Erev Yom Kippur! something in me kind of snapped. But then I bentshed licht and gave everyone their Yom Tov treat, and calm resumed for a few minutes.

Until bedtime. But this was Yom Kippur, so surely everyone would listen the first time, and I’d get through this with my patience intact. Why, I’d even cross one thing off my Vidui list! Right? Right. Uh, right.

I awoke the next morning deliberately cheerful, refusing to allow yesterday’s mistake, to determine today. It was with minimal fuss that I cleaned up from breakfast and took the kids out to the backyard where I could daven in peace.

I remember going to a friend’s house as a teen and observing her mother shushkening and motioning and nu-nu’ing her way through Shemoneh Esreh. My mother doesn’t look up from her siddur during davening at all, I thought with pride. I could not get over the sight of Mrs. Baum communicating with others while she talked to the King of Kings. True, she had toddlers around who needed attention, but…. I would take after my mother — if only during Shemoneh Esreh.

But as I davened Shemoneh Esreh on Yom Kippur morning, I paused my klapping al cheit to motion to my three-year-old to stop banging his shovel on his brother’s head. And then to one daughter to quit bothering her sister. And to someone else to save the baby from falling off the slide. And as I did all these things I wondered if Hashem really wanted me to be davening. Isn’t this what they teach in school?

But I had no frame of reference for not davening. I don’t recall my mother ever staying home from shul. I’m from the younger half of my family; by the time my memory kicks in, my siblings were old enough to take a shift so my mother could spend time in shul. So how could I not daven? Allow Yom Kippur to pass without a word of formal tefillah? I thought of my friend’s mother, and how you can never ever judge anyone until you are in her shoes. Especially if those shoes have a toddler permanently attached to them.

The day continued. There were the usual ups and downs, and then it was around Minchah time, and everything fell apart. Normal stuff, like a messy house and kids fighting, and me being tired and hungry. But did I mention it was Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur! That magical day of forgiveness, of no yetzer hara — and this is what it looks like chez Feldman?

This was not my first Yom Kippur with kids. But it was my first after we had moved and were living in a house where we could run and jump and play without fear of bothering neighbors above or below us. I had had such visions for this Yom Tov.

So I did the only sensible thing. I went into my husband’s study, locked the door, and I cried.

And cried. It wasn’t teshuvah per se, but I did beg Hashem to help me help my children see the beauty of their mesorah and the value of their family. And then I davened Minchah. I felt somewhat cleansed. Like I had hit rock bottom and the only way to go was up.

When I emerged from my seclusion, the day was still not over. I had just tasted the sweetness of repentance and wished I could continue to climb out of darkness. Ne’ilah if I was lucky, or at the very least, an inspiring conversation with my kids. I knew it couldn’t happen, though; any level of exertion was sure to fail. So I sat on the couch and watched little people play. I answered myriad questions and deflected yet more fights and even pointed out the best technique for making a Clic table that would actually stand. There I was, wasting the most significant hour of the year.



It’s a year later, right before Yom Kippur, and I’m revisiting this experience. I’m a year older, 52 weeks wiser, 354 days of growing and learning about myself and my children. I remember the angst of last Ne’ilah, the despair I felt, the disconnect between what I was doing and what I wanted to be doing. Yet looking back, I can pinpoint where I went wrong. (Hindsight is 20/20, of course. But I asked someone whom I respect for guidance.)

Yom Kippur is about transcending our circumstances, realizing that Hashem tailors events to meet our individual needs, to help us grow. I’m a mother. I went to school, heard all the clichés, and still somehow thought they didn’t apply to me. They do. And on a day like Yom Kippur, it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that my avodah is to play with Clics. That’s my nisayon.

As I look toward this year, I still want to do things I envision as spiritual. To daven hard and talk meaningfully with my kids — and to play with them, too. But if I can’t, if all I manage is Clics and Legos, I want to carry this realization with me. I want to do it with a full heart. Let this be my teshuvah.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 609)


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Tagged: Musings