Eishet Chayil

We don’t get many chances to have meals together as a family during the week. Between home visits and secondary jobs, I often don’t get home before 8:00, which means that Eitan and Shayna have usually been asleep for at least an hour by the time I walk in the door. I can sometimes FaceTime with them to say hi, wish them sweet dreams and get an up close view of Shayna’s tiny teeth when she puts Trudy’s phone in her mouth but that’s about it. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to walk into a quiet apartment after a long day of work, but nothing beats seeing Eitan and Shayna’s faces light up when I walk through the door.

It’s one of the reasons why Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is so important to us. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, lasts from Friday evening through Saturday evening. There are official rules that describe what constitutes “work” which I won’t get into here.(1) The important part is that Friday night is the time that we spend together as a family. We eat dinner together at the same table, have conversations about our days or our plans for the weekend and enjoy each other’s company.

Before we get to the meal, we light candles to signify the start of Shabbat and then sit down at the table. We sing two songs before making kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Then Eitan recites the motzi, the blessing over the challah, and we start eating.

A couple of months ago, Eitan was getting antsy while I was singing Eishet Chayil. He didn’t seem like he was being rude intentionally, but he was clearly bored and tired and wanted attention (as four-year-olds often are). He began making faces at Shayna, tugging at his clothes and playing with his silverware. I stopped singing and asked him to sit quietly until I was finished. He did so, for the most part, though he continued to fidget slightly for the next few minutes.

Once we started eating, I asked him if he knew what the songs we sing before kiddush were about. He said that he knew that the first song, Shalom Aleichem, is special for Shabbat. I agreed and said that it is about bringing people together for Shabbat and wanting peace for the people we love.  I asked if he had never noticed me looking at anyone while I sing the second song and he said that he has seen me look at Trudy. I said that he was right and explained that the second song, Eishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”), is about all the amazing things that Mommy does for our family every day. It took some slight prodding to keep him focused (he was still trying to make faces at Shayna), but he was able to come up with a number of things that Trudy does for us at home, including cooking delicious dinners, keeping the house clean and taking care of him when he is sick.

Gratitude is a concept that can be somewhat difficult for young children. They understand the idea behind saying “thank you” as an acknowledgment of receiving a gift but it’s hard for them to keep those words in mind regarding other tasks that are not necessarily as tangible. Eitan doesn’t see the effort it takes to keep track of his doctors appointments and school functions, for instance, or the coordination that goes into planning his birthday parties, two tasks that Trudy handles masterfully. He doesn’t understand the organizational skills necessary to keep track of countless Carter’s and Children’s Place receipts or the patience it takes to make three hours with two kids under five – including baths, dinner and bedtime routines – run seamlessly. He certainly doesn’t see the way an emotionally and physically drained parent collapses onto the couch in the evening after a day of whining, nursing and the occasional tantrum.

To be clear, I don’t fully understand those things either. I spend most of my days (and, often, my evenings, as well) at my desk or on the subway or in other people’s homes. People aren’t whining at me, demanding that I do things for them or crying if I don’t do them immediately. The difference is that I understand what I don’t understand (sort of). I don’t understand, for instance, how Trudy can prepare dinner, feed the kids, clean the table and kitchen, bathe the kids and have them in bed in the span of an hour and a half. I don’t understand how she can keep shopping lists and birthday parties and school event plans straight without having a breakdown. I certainly don’t understand how Trudy can look at a set of ingredients in a fridge or freezer and turn them into a meal I’d gladly pay for in a restaurant without a recipe.

The most essential aspect of Trudy’s “valor,” though, has very little to do with logistical household tasks. Trudy’s star has always shone brightly, but it changed once Eitan was born and then again even brighter when Shayna came along. It grew stronger, as though Trudy’s evolution into an amazing mother added new layers of warmth and caring, intensifying her ability to love the people around her. She’s not only the primary reason why our children are consistently fed, clothed and as social as they are; she’s also the reason they’re always so happy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Trudy. Thanks for being our family’s eishet chayil.


Post-Father’s Day Thoughts

It’s been an eventful week for my family. My dad was in town last week, Eitan’s second birthday party was on Saturday, Father’s Day was on Sunday and there’s more going on this week too. There has been a lot going on in my head so I’m going to try to make sense of it all in separate blog posts each day this week. The posts may be a bit shorter as a result, but there will be more of them, so I suppose it evens out. As always, any sort of feedback is always welcome.

Father’s Day is a weird day.

I wrote about Father’s Day last week, but now that the day has actually passed, I’ve had some more time to think about it. I understand the general premise of the day; as important as it is to appreciate the people we love all year round, it’s nice to take one specific day and designate it just for those people. Birthdays are like that too, obviously, but days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day celebrate the effort that goes into the “hardest jobs in the world.”

I say it’s a weird day because Father’s Day has so many different meanings for different people. For people who have – or had – positive relationships with their parents, the day serves its intended purpose of celebrating the people who are most important to us and recognizing the work that they put in to help us achieve our goals. But there are also those people who have not been fortunate enough to grow up with a positive father figure, for whatever reason. I’m thinking of kids whose fathers have struggled with substance abuse, kids in foster care and kids who have been raised by single mothers, just to name a few. I’m not taking anything away from the incredible work that the caregivers of these kids do; I’m simply thinking about the fact that there wasn’t a father involved. And I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a parent who has lost a child when Father’s Day comes around. For these people, doesn’t Father’s Day just become another (sometimes traumatic) reminder of what separates them from the rest of American society?

Look, I know it’s not up to me to solve everyone’s problems and to make things better for every person in the world. I’m not saying we should do away with Father’s Day entirely.1 I do what I can for the people I can help and I’m satisfied with that. As Pirkei Avot teaches, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I came to terms with my struggles with the Jesus Complex2 a long time ago (during a conversation with my father, not-so-coincidentally). But there were different points yesterday, whether I was playing catch with Eitan and my brothers and father, or pushing him on the swing in my wife’s cousins’ backyard, or this morning, when Eitan wouldn’t let me leave for work without sitting with him at his kiddie table while he ate breakfast, when my mind drifted a bit and I remembered just how lucky I am.

I hope you were able to enjoy Father’s Day. I certainly did.

1. Although, I suppose there could be worse things, despite this committee’s apparent sole purpose.
2. Because I wanted to save everyone, not because I actually believed I was the Messiah.