|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
One Baby Step at a Time
Seven Secrets of Jewish Motherhood
By Chana (Jenny) Weisberg
Urim PublicationsCopyright © 2017 Chana (Jenny) Weisberg
All rights reserved.
Learning To Value Our Mothering Accomplishments
When I was in high school and college, I thought that it was fine for a woman to pursue motherhood as a side dish to her career, but certainly not as the main course of life. I believed that women who did so were oppressed, unfulfilled, or, at best, woefully unliberated.
When motherhood and home became the spaghetti and meatballs of my life a few years later, I had to learn from scratch how to value the way I was spending my days. In the coming essays and excerpts, you will read how I, as well as other mothers, have learned to ignore the Betty Friedan-quoting women's studies professors who refuse to evacuate our brains and have chosen, alternatively, to turn up the volume on what the Torah has to say about the importance of mothering – for the future of our children and that of the Jewish people, and for our own personal and spiritual growth as well.
Restocking Our Spiritual Tool Box
by Pessy Leah Lester
Being a wife and mother is hard work, harder than any job I've ever had. As a young mother, I felt the truth of that old saying, "Man's work is from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done." I was running so fast just to stay in one place. I thought the day would never end.
Over time I gained valuable home management skills from friends, relatives, role models, and counselors. I also gleaned valuable advice from books and magazines. These helpful hints included such things as menu planning, play groups with neighbors, shopping lists, writing it all down, the portable phone, getting as much cleaning and babysitting help as you can, and making time for yourself.
But even after getting organized physically, I still wasn't able to get through the day happily. These management tools may help organize your day, but if you don't have a good attitude towards [managing a home and raising a family], then all the tools, techniques, menus, and lists won't help organize you body and soul.
I used to resent the amount of work I had to do at home. I thought that being a mother meant I would be eternally doomed to loads of dirty laundry, tied to the stove with a ball and chain, and forever changing diapers. But that's not necessarily the case. I realized I could be the kind of wife and mother I choose to be. I could be a happy mother or a miserable mother; it is merely a matter of attitude. An older and experienced mother in my community with a dozen or so children once told me, "You can get through the day laughing or crying. It's easier (and nicer) to laugh."
... Well beyond physical help and management skills, most women today in their early childbearing years also need a mental and spiritual toolbox. I used to pride myself on how well I could fix things around the house and looked fondly upon the box of tools my father assembled for me before I went to college. But I came to realize that my mental tool kit was bare, so I started to assemble some suggestions and reminders to keep me going, one baby step at a time....
Four Tools for the Prevention of Emotional Orphans
When I was a student at Bowdoin College in Maine just over a decade ago, I had a few friends who were education majors. I would tell them that I would never want to be a teacher, since I was certain that whatever I would be doing in the world, it would be something big – involving nationwide policies, working in Congress, or (this was my real dream) influencing and ultimately saving the whole entire world. In my sophomore year of college, Thomas Pickering, a Bowdoin graduate who was at the time the US Ambassador to the United Nations, came to speak with the undergraduates. I don't remember a thing he said. I only remember how inspired I was by his presence and how he represented the fulfillment of my highest possible aspiration – that one day, many years later, I would stand at the podium in that same auditorium and be the kind of person that college students would also dream to become.
To this end, I majored in Russian and in political science and became fixated on the Soviet Union. I traveled many times to Russia, memorized the intricate hierarchy of the Soviet government, and spent hundreds of hours watching the Soviet news via satellite with a notebook balanced in my lap to mark down new vocabulary words. I thought that after graduation I would work for the Foreign Service or the State Department, or something like that, and climb my way up. Well, needless to say, my life has followed a very different path from the one I had envisioned for myself.
My life as a mother is not only not big; it is absolutely microscopic. My life centers not around shaping countries, regions, or even cities, but rather around my teensy-weensy daughters and watching them grow, ever so slowly, into infinitesimally more grown-up human beings, And this process is often as slow and as thankless for long stretches of time as sitting and waiting on Friday afternoon for a ten-liter pot of chicken soup to boil.
This week, Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi reminded us in her class on the weekly Torah portion that the Torah says that Abraham died when he was "zaken ba bayamim" (Genesis 24:1), which literally means "old and coming with days." The Sefat Emet explains that the phrase "coming with days" refers to the fact that when we die, each one of our days will come along with us to Heaven in order to testify as to whether we got the fullest potential out of every day or whether we just let the Heaven-sent opportunities in our lives slip through our fingers. The Sefat Emet explains that Abraham's days came with him when he died and testified that he had succeeded in finding the point of light hidden in each and every day, the mini-mission from God for that particular day – to give charity that Thursday, to preach monotheism to a nomadic tribe the following Sunday, and so on.
In some ways, "coming with days," getting the most out of every moment, has become much easier since I've become a mother. With my writing in the mornings, for example, I know that I have exactly two and a half, maybe three hours of writing until my baby wakes up, so I am efficient. I don't make phone calls in the middle, I don't even run downstairs for an apple despite my rumbling belly. I write as though I am half-way through a final exam and there is only half an hour left to go. This is in comparison with the dreamy distraction with which I used to write my college papers: taking a break to go to the Student Union to buy a package of Doritos, or to skim an unrelated article in a journal from which I was quoting.
The same is true when I attend my weekly class on the books of Ezra and Nehemia. Early every Thursday morning, I take my baby to a babysitter, take my kids to nursery school and kindergarten, and, boy, do I enjoy that morning of Torah study. You can't even compare the intensity of that enjoyment with when I was single and spent a few years learning Torah every day for the entire day. All Thursday morning I am sitting on the edge of my seat, utterly fascinated, afraid to miss a single word. And I spend the rest of the week thinking about the class and telling my husband about all the amazing things I learned about the Persian Empire and the construction of the Second Temple during those four short hours.
I was also in a "coming with days" mode last Thursday when my mother-in-law, who is visiting for a few weeks, offered to watch the kids so that my husband and I could go to Tel Aviv for the night. This is the first time in five years that we have gone anywhere overnight totally on our own, and the intensity with which we enjoyed each other's company and appreciated the treat of this rare solitary outing was off the charts. We walked on the beach and then through the market, pointing out all the ways in which our neighborhood market in Jerusalem is superior to the one in Tel Aviv, and then stopped at a restaurant where they served our meal in old frying pans, and we talked and joked and had the greatest time. We used to go to Tel Aviv once every few months when we were dating and newly married. It was also fun, but you can't even compare the fun we had then with the fun we had on this trip. This was eat-the-chicken, lick-the-bone-clean, and suck-out-the-marrow fun.
On the other hand, there are ways in which "coming with days" is infinitely harder for me now that I am a mother – in particular, when I come back from my brief getaways at the computer, in class, and to Tel Aviv, and find myself face-to-face with my children. On my worst days, I am eating lunch with my two-year-old and reading a magazine, my kids are in the living room and I am cleaning the kitchen, my four-year-old is telling me about her day, and I am telling her to wait just one moment while I make a phone call.
I am not saying that I aspire to be totally focused on my children at all times when they are home. It is important that my children develop patience and learn to respect my need to engage in activities during the day that are not connected to them, such as filling the dishwasher, returning a call from a friend, or saying my morning prayers. What I am referring to is getting into a mothering pattern where I am never really with my children even when I am with them. At times, I can go through a whole day of motherhood and realize that there was not even a ten-minute span during which I was totally tuned in and listening to each one of my children. Ten minutes for each child during which I was fully focused on what I am trying to accomplish as a mother – in my life's mission as educator, role model, and spiritual guide for my children.
The following are ideas that I have collected from teachers, books, and friends that I maintain at all times in my brain's glove compartment for frequent emergency retrieval. These reminders have helped me (on my good days) to maintain an inspired "coming with days" mentality – meaning a present mommy, a mommy on a mission, a mommy I can feel proud of being.
Reminder # 1: Before You Know It, They'll Be Grown Up
I find it helpful to remind myself that the intensely demanding period of mothering young children is crucial to our children's development and is over far too quickly. I am the worst kind of mother when I focus on the eternity of hours and minutes that I will spend taking care of children in the coming decades. When I am in this mode, I approach my days as obstacles to get through with as little effort as possible, each and every day a stretch of supermarathon through rural, frostbitten northern Ohio.
Something I do to pull myself out of this uninspired, distracted state is to think about the amount of weekday hours I actually spend with my kids. Even as a stay-home mother, I figured out that between nursery school and time spent with Dad, I spend only fifteen hours a week with my two older girls.
The first time I realized this, it was quite an eye-opener to realize that I have only fifteen hours with my daughters over the course of the week to educate them, to hear what they have on their minds, to actively get nachas from these amazing girls who far exceed my wildest pre-motherhood dreams. And this knowledge makes me really focus on getting as much mothering into those few hours as possible – making an effort to consciously enjoy their company while we are together instead of ignoring them the whole afternoon while I peel carrots and rearrange the fridge.
If I'm maintaining the right frame of mind, then I find it much easier to give my children my full attention, giving them my mind and heart, and not only a head that nods and a mouth that exclaims "Wow!" to their stories while my mind is wandering around the outer stratosphere. When I am in a present and mindful state and Tiferet reminds me with wide-open eyes about the volunteer at the zoo who wrapped the boa constrictor around her neck and told her the tragic life story of the bird with the broken wing, then I find I am able to really listen to what she is saying, while remembering what an incredible thing it is that Hashem gave me a daughter who is so curious and enthusiastic about the world around her.
Another thing that I remind myself is something that our parenting class teacher, Rebbetzin Talia Helfer, told us – that these few years of baby and toddlerhood followed by nursery and elementary school are the time when mothers can have the most influence on their children in terms of values, education, and love of Judaism. She reported from her own personal experience as the mother and grandmother of a large clan: "Before you know it, they'll be home less and less – playing at friends' houses, going off to high school, and then getting married. While they are little is your chance to make a difference in their lives!"
Mental snapshots can also be a helpful tool. If, let's say, I'm eating lunch with my kids and I'm in a blah, distracted mood, I find it incredibly helpful to take a mental picture of us sitting there, in order give myself a self-administered mega-dose injection of nachas. This causes me to realize something along the lines of, "Wow, this is a truly incredible moment. What a wonderful thing it is to have this quiet time together with Tiferet and Nisa, just the three of us schmoozing and eating tuna sandwiches on whole-wheat pita for lunch."
Or, at other times, I imagine a snapshot of my husband and me sitting on the sofa by ourselves in thirty years, sort of happy to have earned a few decades of relative rest and quiet, but also sad – missing all the little people who used to share the house with us, the way they used to sit on our laps during Shabbat dinner and never failed to give us something to laugh about.
Reminder # 2: Connect Mundane Mothering Moments with Long-Term Goals (i.e., Secrets of the Madwoman Mutterer)
Rebbetzin Yemima taught us this week that when the Israelites were running away from the Egyptians, the Torah says, "The desert closed in on them" (Exodus 14:3). Yet the same verse can also mean, "Speech closed for them" (midbar read as medaber). When our ancestors were in Egypt, and when each one of us finds herself in her own personal Mitzrayim (literally meaning closed-in, narrow straits) – in depression, anger, fear, powerlessness, despair – then we can often release ourselves from this difficult situation by opening our mouths and speaking to God.
Yemima says, "The Israelites did not have time to breathe, they were working so hard. They didn't even have time to sigh! Their mouths were closed, and so was their connection with God. Today we are in a similar situation to those slaves in Egypt. We spend our days so fully occupied with work, children, school, the dishes, and the laundry, that we can barely lift up our heads to breathe. Also our husbands are working at slave labor of various kinds. And, for many of us, our ability to speak is essentially in exile. We don't have the strength to pray and to request, to speak from our hearts with those around us and with God." So the ticket out of Egypt is to speak, to just talk to God while we're going about our days, from the depths of our hearts – or even about whatever little splinter of a thing is under our skin at the moment.
Yemima also taught us that the word mitzvah is related to the word tzavta, or together, because when we do a mitzvah, we form a team with God. Therefore, one of the best, most effective times to engage in this spontaneous prayer is when we are involved in performing a commandment, and the truth is that it is pretty hard to catch us Jewish mothers involved in anything else. It's a mitzvah to do anything involved in taking care of children, taking care of our homes, or even making money in order to support our families. You holy pregnant women are the best, since you are at all times fulfilling God's first command in the history of the universe, "Be fruitful and multiply!" This means you could be sleeping, or getting a manicure, or even just standing in line at the post office, and you are in a constant state of mitzvah, a starting player on God's All-Star team.
Therefore, I often find myself muttering like a madwoman – when I'm making ponytails in the morning, I call out: "Hashem, please help Nisa to stop biting the other kids in nursery school." Or, when I'm folding laundry, I plead: "Hashem, please help Dafna to get to sleep earlier so that she won't be so tired and grouchy in the morning."
Any program without clear goals, whether in education, marketing, or self-improvement, will get far off track or flop altogether. The same is true about a family. Spontaneous prayer is the main way in which I stay in touch with my goals, so that I don't lose my days in a morass of nonstop demands and details unfocused by my ultimate dreams and aspirations for my children and for the kind of mother I hope to be.
Excerpted from One Baby Step at a Time by Chana (Jenny) Weisberg. Copyright © 2017 Chana (Jenny) Weisberg. Excerpted by permission of Urim Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Turning into a Mother,
Step One: Learning to Value Our Mothering Accomplishments,
Step Two: Learning to Let God Help You Out,
Step Three: Figuring Out What We Need to Be Happy,
Step Four: Learning to Value Our Supporting and Nurturing Role,
Step Five: Learning to Value Our Role in the Home,
Step Six: Choosing to Grow from Hardship,
Step Seven: Don't Worry, Be Hopeful,
Seven Secrets from Seven Mothers,