Fifteen months into my son’s life we joined a synagogue. By virtue of this new membership and being a stay-at-home mother, I attended most of the autumnal holiday services (a fever pre-empted Yom Kippur) for the first in a very long time. Two days were spent toddling with my new walker to tot services, then up and down the aisles of the main sanctuary so we could hear the shofar being blown again and again. Sukkot was spent hopping members’ backyards in song for progressive noshing. In the interim we celebrated Shabbat B’Yachad for families, led by our cantor, who managed to remind us parents of the meaning of the holidays in the midst of our children’s chaos. Simchat Torah gave me the opportunity to make an Aliyah to the Torah with my son who already counts Torah Tziva Lanu among his favorite songs. (Good Jewish Mom point score: A billion at least.)
On the surface it reads as if I’ve done nothing this past month beyond schlep and cook. But one thing I’ve learned from being a mother: Life is about schlepping and cooking and all those seemingly menial tasks that my old, pre-mother self once viewed as necessary evils. Shortly before Rosh Hashanah I attended a Great Big Challah Bake and listened to Modern Orthodox women preach to me about the spiritual meaning of baking Shabbat bread. “Knead your hopes and dreams into the dough,” they encouraged us. My hope on that Thursday night at 9 p.m. was to be home in bed that I might get a dream or two in before my early riser woke me at dawn.
But, knead I did, and continued to do so weeks later when I decided to make fresh challah for Shabbat for the very first time, something my pre-mother self would never think to do. She, this workaholic who could barely be bothered to dust, would also never have found a unique sort of fulfillment in staying on top of the mopping and cleaning. But, now that a certain young man has entered my life, the mundane isn’t really mundane at all. Its care and concern. Its hopes and dreams for health and happiness. Its love, complete full and round, at once both messy and clean, raw and refined.
In the midst of the cooking, cleaning and schlepping, the tantrum-soothing and the fever-cooling, I prayed the prayers of repentance and reflection and found myself apologizing to God for second-guessing the calling He gave me when I knew in my gut I needed to become a mother. Eventually, I apologized to myself for being my worst judge and most abusive critic. I stepped out of the trance of new motherhood with all its confusion and fear and accepted that I am no longer my pre-child self.
Then, something truly miraculous happened: I began to see menial as meaningful. There in a spiritual sukkah of my own making, away from the dread of exhaustion and shock of change, I saw this chapter in a new light. I had been given a living, breathing, wonderful gift that allowed me to learn things about myself I never would have otherwise known. Through my son, God is molding me into a kinder, gentler, more patient and less critical human being. My old self saw life as something to be conquered. The newer, wiser me agrees with Kohelet that life is simply meant to be enjoyed with the ones you love.