On the Holiest of Days

Is it considered unholy to have thoughts about harming my son? Haven’t all parents, at one point or another, considered this, if they are being totally honest with themselves? Do these notions become more heinous if the parent happens to be sitting in synagogue on the high holidays ten days before she hopes to be inscribed in the book of life?

These feelings consumed me as I desperately tried to connect with Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. I came prepared too- books, pretzels, and matchbox cars- the trifecta of distractions.  I had visions of my boy playing nicely until it was time to go to his own service and celebrate the New Year kindergarten style. But it was not to be. Jonah refused to stay at his own service, and quickly grew tired of his diversions,  preferring to block our path to righteousness with his incessant whining and allergic sneezes that sprayed unsuspecting neighbors, and dripped puddles onto the floor. My arsenal had not included tissues, a fundamental error. My husband surreptitiously tried to wipe Jonah’s nose with his shirt sleeve, which proved to be too much for the middle aged mothers sitting nearby, whom, despite the fact that their own small children were now grown, had remembered their tissues and quickly offered some to this negligent mother. I can’t help but wonder if the same scene played out in a movie theatre or some other tightly packed venue if people would have been so kind.  Or was it the spirit of the holiday, one of reflection, gratitude and new beginnings that made people feel benevolent, and smile kindly as they rescued me.  One or two even commented on how adorable he was; something that at that moment was unfathomable to his parents. Perhaps my fellow congregants were musing about how their own sons and daughters had grown and no longer needed their laps or their tissues. Maybe, they, like me, had hopes of being inscribed in the book of life and thought better of handing over a look of disgust with a Kleenex.

I would like to think that they had sympathy for me, the frazzled mother who tried unsuccessfully to juggle prayer and parenting in order to salvage this important holiday. I admired their ability to show me kindness, because I did not feel so benevolent. The plastic folding chairs that were packed tightly together for maximum congregational attendance were not meant to be shared by parent and child. I found myself apologizing to the myriad of neighbors around me as Jonah tried to inch back our seat, or lean in one direction to get a view of the Bema, infringing on their already compromised personal space. How was I to repent if I did not even have the room to open up my prayer book? And, as any true Jewish mother would, I worried that my hostility would rub off on Jonah who would grow up to be a self loathing Jew and reject his heritage all together. I tried to quell this fear by rallying myself to lift him up when the Torahs were taken out so he could see the beautiful book that binds his faith. He smiled, but then said a bit too loud, “Mommy I can’t see! This guys head is in the way!”

I have heard more than one Rabbi say that if you want to really know what a synagogue is like, don’t come on the high holidays. I know I could never bring myself to stay home for the high holidays.  Not that I believe myself to be a prophet, but maybe, I was being tested, like God had tested Abraham’s faith, with the sacrifice of Isaac.  Maybe God was testing me to see how well I could restrain myself from harming my first born son. Maybe my presence in Shul was enough to get me in the Almighty’s good graces for the upcoming year. I was, after all, sacrificing my sanity, and if I managed to leave without having caused my child irreparable harm, I would be spared for the upcoming year.

But I left feeling spiritually empty.  Guilty at my impatience, jealous at my fellow synagogue dwellers ability to be so kind to my snot nosed five year old, and angry that I did not get to pray and sing and listen the way I would have liked. Perhaps that is why this season keeps the holidays coming; so we can have multiple opportunities to feel spiritual.  I will try again on Yom Kippur. And then again on Sukkot and Simcha Torah.   I expect I will sense it on Sukkot, when we will, together as a family, with a little more elbow room return to the synagogue and dine under the Sukkah. This, after all is my favorite holiday and maybe my enthusiasm will infect my children. Of course, I will have to make sure there are no flowers in the Sukkah so that Jonah will not start sneezing.

Published in: on October 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I am reminded of a rough morning in Church where Chris and I were with my cousin to baptize her newborn son, Alex whose older brother Ryan had not yet found his volume dial. He asked every question in his “outside” voice – “That’s an ugly man!” And that same morning my cousin thought it was a great idea to add several spoonsful of mineral oil to the formula bottle of her infant to “loosen things up” She was not satisfied with his poop production and wanted to speed things on. Why then? – huge crowd, baby dressed in white, mother & godmother in pastel dresses…the oil did the trick and mid-ceremony, baptism boy let loose the mother of all poops. We had to run out of the service and made it to the vestibule in time for all the fun to explode. Our exit prompted the toddler to start howling for MOMMMMYYY and my cousin realized she had not included any changes of clothing in her bag of tricks; all we had was a t-shirt and a clean diaper.

    The priest was wonderful and after the rest of the babies had been christened, he came to the lobby to check on us, chuckled, waited for the rest of the family to join us and the now clean baby, and then had us come back in for a private christening of baby Alex who was now completely comfortable and cheerful.

    The priest put my cousin at ease and we did manage to get the baptism done, take some photos of the moment, and get our blood collective pressure back down.

    Good times!

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