“Say What?”| October 26, 2021
A few of the conversations I had with my children that got left out of the Parenting Handbook
I’m a planner.
I check the weather at the beginning of the week so I’m prepared for what’s coming. I like to be forewarned, because then I’ll be forearmed, which is my way of letting you know I like to be in control when at all possible, and also when it’s not at all possible.
When I was expecting my first child, I read the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting with the thoroughness of one about to get called to the White House to brief the president on the topic.
And then I had kids.
When I say I’m currently parenting by the seat of my pants, I mean you’ve never seen someone wing this parenting gig so hard.
As far as I can tell, there’s no other way to do it. Yes, I’ve taken parenting classes and read parenting books and while they do clarify a lot of things and offer guidance and validation, they just aren’t able to cover all the random things that come up.
Here are just a few of the conversations I had with my children that got left out of the Parenting Handbook:
There I was, singing Hamalach Hagoel, when my four-year-old interrupted and said, “Wait a minute. Is Yaakov Avinu dead?”
Me: Um, yes.
Four-year-old: And Yosef?
Four-year-old: Is EVERYBODY dead?
Me: You mean are all the shevatim dead? Yes, they are.
Four-year-old: What? Why?
Me: Well, they lived a really long time ago.
Four-year-old: Were they dead last parshah also?
Me: (pause) We tell stories about them, but yes, they weren’t alive last parshah, either.
Four-year-old: (silent) But not Moshe and Aharon, right? They’re still alive?
Me: Okay, wow. So. They’re actually also dead. Whoops! Look at the time! It’s getting late. Let’s finish this interesting talk later.
I didn’t know I would be the bearer of bad news in that scenario. Is there anything more cozy and safe than singing Hamalach Hagoel right before bedtime? No. Is there any way I could have foreseen this significant gap in his parshah knowledge? Also no.
If you think my four-year-old just let it go, you’re mistaken. He brought it up again the next day, this time in the company of his three-year-old brother.
Four-year-old: So Avraham Avinu is dead? And Sarah too, right?
Three-year-old: (interrupts to say reassuringly) Remember that Sarah Imeinu is in Mearas Hamachpeilah.
Three-year-old: That’s where Sarah lives. That’s her house. See? They’re not dead. They live there.
I slowly backed out of the kitchen while my boys discussed whether or not Sarah Imeinu was currently whipping up some scrambled eggs for hungry travelers.
I suppose I took it for granted that some concepts are self-understood, until I realized they’re not, and that I’m the one who’s supposed to be in charge of the explaining. I don’t usually mind expanding my children’s horizons unless it involves a hard truth.
Such as the time we had The Fisherman Fiasco.
My seven-year-old was describing the ship he’d built out of Magna-Tiles.
Seven-year-old: And this is where the fisherman sits, and when he sings, the fish will come to him.
Me: Why would the fish come to him?
Seven-year-old: Because the fisherman feeds them.
Me: The fisherman feeds them?
Seven-year-old: Yes. He sits there feeding the fish and they come to him because they’re hungry.
Me: What exactly do you think a fisherman does?
Seven-year-old: He puts food on the string attached to the pole and he feeds the fish.
Me: I’m sorry that fishermen aren’t the animal lovers you thought they were. But that’s not exactly how the fish end up on a shelf in the grocery store.
Silence. He had to take a few minutes to process that information.
I get it. It’s not easy to be introduced to a new idea when you were so sure you had a grasp of the topic already. It’s basically the same way I feel each time I come in contact with Little Kid Logic. I wouldn’t have minded if there was a little note given to me before I left the hospital with my new baby that said, “Brace yourself for no sleep, no personal space, and absolutely zero relationship with either logic or reason for the next 18 years. Best of luck, you got this.”
Just a heads-up. That’s all I would have needed.
That way I wouldn’t have been taken by surprise by The Misunderstood Artist.
My five-year-old came home with an elaborate project. I see my five-year-old and six-year-old huddled over it together. Thirty seconds later they’re both crying.
Me: What happened?
Five-year-old: He colored on my project!
Me: (to six-year-old, incredulously) You did?
Six-year-old: He said I could!
Me: So what’s the problem?
Five-year-old: I SAID IT FOR FAKE!
And then sometimes you get sucked into a conversation that’s a genuine misunderstanding. My chassidish kids and I were bound to fall into this trap at some point.
Me: The baby isn’t feeling well today.
Five-year-old: What’s hurting him?
Me: His stomach. He has a virus.
Five-year-old: (looking flabbergasted) What did he do?
Me: He didn’t do anything. He just has a virus.
Five-year-old: But what bad thing did he do?
Me: (genuinely perplexed) Why would he do something bad? It’s just a virus.
Five-year-old: (getting a little frustrated) But which aveirah did he do?
Me: Ohhhh! He has a virus, not aveiros.
This took place before coffee, and I’m shocked I managed to figure out where we were getting stuck.
It’s circumstances like this that make me grateful for the fact that some conversations even get off the ground. As opposed to the incredibly brief Q&A session we had with The Mysterious Puddle Episode.
I was putting away laundry when I heard the sound of water running in the kitchen. Before I had a chance to check it out, it stopped.
I walked into the kitchen and saw my six-year-old reading on the couch in the adjoining den and a mass of water on the floor near the sink.
Me: Hey, do you know how the floor got so wet?
Me: Want to tell me what happened?
That went well.
Really, there’s no amount of planning that can adequately prepare you for approximately 90 percent of the interactions you’ll have with your children. All we’ve got to do is be okay with the fact that we’re all winging it sometimes.
Every one of us.
And it’s going to be just fine.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 765)
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