Sometime during my son’s first year, I wrote in my journal that the worst thing about being a mother was that there were no pay raises, no performance reviews.
I had no idea whether I was doing a good job or not or whether the end product would ultimately be something to write home about. I just fed, cleaned, wiped and read Good Night Moon and Mother Goose so often that I began speaking in rhyme.
“I need perspective. I wish I had perspective on this whole parenting endeavor. Some way to know that what I am doing is the right thing!” I wrote in one entry. With little experience to draw upon as I faced each new stage my confidence wavered. As for looking ahead, I could barely keep my eyes open by the end of the day, much less try to peer into the future.
The parenting books said kids need structure. They need consistency. They need grandparents to transmit the family’s values and traditions. Having moved to Michigan just before Elliot’s birth, I had no friends to count on. Nor did we have family to serve as role models and parental back ups. The days passed one after the other in a seamless void. And so I turned to Judaism to help structure my days and weeks. We began lighting candles every Friday night. In the absence of grandparents, we invoked the qualities of our Biblical parents with the blessing, “May you be like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.”
Unsure of myself in this new role of moral and ethical authority, I turned to Judaism to strengthen my spine and my parenting. Not always confident enough to say, “What I say goes!” and mean it, I felt just fine telling my son and daughter, “Not only do I say it, but so does God. So does Judaism.” I introduced the concept of Kashrut to show that we can eat Jewishly, and to get our kids used to saying no to things others indulged in. Today I figured it’s pepperoni pizza; tomorrow it will be drugs. In what ever way I could, I took the directives of the v’ahavta (literally you shall love) prayer to heart. “…And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…at home and away, morning, noon and night…You shall inscribe them upon your doorposts of your houses and upon your gates.”
The second verse of the v’ahavta also from Deuteronomy is less well known and more difficult to take literally. It reads in part: “If you will earnestly heed the mitzvot (commandments) that I give you this day…then I will favor your land with rain at the proper season…and you will have an ample harvest of grain and wine and oil. I will assure abundance in the fields for your cattle…..” I cannot take God’s promise for rain and abundant harvest at face value. If rain is sparse, we have a sprinkling system. If frost ruins Florida’s orange crop, there will be substitutes from California. How then to connect with the Divine reward for earnestly heeding mitzvot?
Sixteen years into parenting I am content when I look at my children. They are my cultivars, my crops. I have nurtured them with Jewish values and as they have grown, they have turned their faces to the sun of our tradition. There is an abundance of love and respect between my two kids for each other and for themselves. They are growing in the proper season, ceding to our authority when they push to do something age inappropriate. We regularly harvest kind exchanges, encouragement, a shower of cooperation. Of course they provoke each other and sass me. They fritter away study time. They don’t use the hamper and I swear I could clothe all of Calcutta by gleaning beneath their beds. But those are minor weeds.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even this afternoon when they come home from school. I know enough not to be smug. I know that our world can be turned upside down with one poor decision; one visit to the pediatrician; one drunk driver. And so I think of my children, fleetingly revel in the terrific-ness of them and whisper, “Please God take note of my earnestness.”
© 1993 Debra B. Darvick reprinted with permission of the author. Debra Darvick’s most recent work is This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. The book may be ordered from debradarvick.com or by calling the publisher at 800.880.8642
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.