Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence

I have a confession to make: My spiritual mentor is not a rabbi, or a teacher, or a scholar.

You might say he is a spiritual guide of a more unconventional sort. Too young to grow a beard, he drinks heavily, straight from the bottle. Most of his wisdom is culled from the works of Dr. Seuss and of a certain purple dinosaur.

He is my 2-year-old son.

Under his tutelage, I have discovered a new magic and spirituality in everyday life. He has taught me that spirituality is not something elusive but can be a part of the mundane.

In my previous life, for example, I awoke most mornings by hitting the snooze bar because I dreaded beginning the new day. Nowadays, promptly at 6, he pitter-patters to my bedside and grabs my hand from under the covers. Up now! he shouts excitedly as he attempts to pull me from bed. Like an army general he issues his orders: Mama outside!

I wonder if there is any coffee in the world that might give the kind of boost that spurs this brand of morning attitude. To my son, it is impossible to remain under covers when a new day is at bay. Every sunrise provides the opportunity to explore new things. Armed for adventure with his Elmo and sippy cup, the possibilities are limitless.

There was a time, many years ago, when I might have approached life with a similar sense of enthusiasm. But somewhere along the line, I aged too quickly and became too jaded. I began crossing days off of the calendar with disregard. I ushered in the new day by lingering in bed rather than leaping out of it.

But my son's optimism has gotten me thinking: If a toddler can be this excited about all the unforeseen potential of a new day, maybe the sky is the limit for me too.

I recall hurrying through routine tasks at a marathon pace, oblivious to the people or objects around me. Now, with my son in tow, even the quickest trip to the post office or grocery has been transformed. An errand is more like a spiritual journey to be savored. He has taught me to examine every flower petal carefully, to marvel over the airplanes passing overhead and to turn strangers into friends with a heartfelt greeting and toothy smile.

Traipsing through the neighborhood on my son's heels, I am discovering things I have never noticed; that even big scary looking dogs can be friendly, a car lumbering down the street is a miracle of sorts and, if you look closely enough, a dandelion is beautiful.

On Shabbat, he reminds me that the day of rest is a gift that bonds our family together and brings us closer to our community. Knowing that our Sabbath observance will be embedded into his consciousness, I suddenly find myself paying more attention to the details of my Sabbath preparations. Anxious to bring home the significance of the day, I make sure that my candlesticks are polished until they gleam and that the aroma of freshly baked challah fills our home Friday afternoon. My husband and I no longer breeze through the Sabbath rituals when we are tired. Instead, we raise our voices in song and clap our hands. When my son jumps off his chair and starts dancing to the zemirot, my husband and I join him. As we circle around our dining room, I notice that the flames on the Shabbat candles are dancing too and I feel the presence of the Sabbath Queen smiling upon us.

My Saturday morning routine has been altered as well. Instead of curling up with a novel and showing up in shul fashionably late, I arrive earlier. I have no choice since my son hurries me there with cries of Kiss Torah!

Even if his primary motivation is to visit our synagogues candy man, who conveniently sits near my husband, I have to give him credit: All the years of my parents prodding never got me to services so early.

At our synagogue, he worships in his own style, opting to stand when congregants are sitting and sit when they are standing. When the cantor sings, he sings along but with his own tune. He swaggers up to the aron (ark) to kiss the Torah, which he gazes at with all the awe generally reserved for Teletubbies.

Teaching our children the do's and don'ts of Jewish law is no simple matter. But even more complex is the matter of how to convey the flavor and texture of Jewish living along with the rituals. Having read all the parenting books from Dr. Spock to What to Expect, I am acutely aware of the typical parenting concerns - such as how to get the child to eat healthy foods. But what has worried me most was how I would nourish my son's spirit.

Thus far, his spirit seems to be nourishing his parents, who he has inadvertently pushed onto the path of repentance. Through his example, he has awakened in us the need to experience life in a deeper, more vivid way.

Aside from giving my husband and I a sense of continuity as our messenger into the future, he has returned our gift.

We have given him the gift of life. But he has taught us how to live.

Thank you, son.


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