Lesson for Parents on Shabbat: Adapt to Young Child’s Needs

August 5, 2011

My son is teaching me the importance of adaptability at temple services.

Our family is often the odd duck at Friday night services at our temple. We bring our 3 ½-year-old to regular evening services , and he’s often the only child there. During the school year, we usually only go to Tot Shabbats because the regular service is at 8 p.m., around Simon’s bedtime. But at our temple, summer services start at 6:15 p.m. It gives us a short window to be able attend a service without Tommy the Torah puppet as the main attraction.

I love Tot Shabbats, but I also love attending regular services. I like the fuller experience of a Shabbat service. Well, sort of, since I rarely get to sit through the complete service when my son is there.

And yet, maybe it is the fuller experience of Shabbat in some way. Our family recently began a new tradition at services, courtesy of Simon. The tradition happened spontaneously. Simon could not stop moving during the service . He was antsy. As the sermon was about to begin, Simon and I slipped into the hall. He ran toward the lobby, then at my beckoning, followed me into the temple library. We picked a few books and settled into a chair and looked at a book about Shabbat.

The book done, Simon eagerly returned to the sanctuary for the end of the service, the part where any children present are called up to help open the ark for the Aleinu. He went up, then returned to us for the rest of the service. Did he squirm a little before the end? A little, but as he has done since infancy, he was watching, absorbing, and moving to the music.

A few weeks later, my husband suggested we go to services again. I was at first hesitant. Then, I thought of the growing collection of Jewish-themed books in our house. Simon and I picked a few books.

There was a hitch. He wanted to read the books immediately when we got to the sanctuary. But after explaining that that was for later, he settled in and began humming with the cantor on the opening song. He moved in the seats near us, visiting a pre-teen who has been a mother’s helper for us. He sat still for Shalom Rav, content to sit on my lap. Moments later, he could not sit still. “Vanilla milk,” he said loud enough for people near us to hear. He thought I had his favorite treat in my purse. It was in the car. My husband and I exchanged glances. It was time for a break.

I grabbed the pair of books, and Simon followed me. We walked outside to the parking lot so I could retrieve his milk. We sat outside on a step as he drank, then back inside, we settled in our now favorite spot on Friday nights – a chair outside the sanctuary, far enough to not disturb the service yet close enough to hear the music. I read him a funny little story, Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater, as the congregation’s singing of Mi Sheiberach, a prayer for healing, filled the sanctuary. Then, at Simon’s request, I read the story again before we returned to the service.

I missed most of the rabbi’s sermon. I missed, too, getting to experience the service with my whole family at the same time. And yet, that service, like the one previous, gave me something special. I had quiet time with my son in a holy place. The music of Shabbat was around us. We were reading books related to our Jewish heritage.

Maybe next time, we will copy a friend’s idea with his 5-year-old daughter and bring a coloring book to keep Simon occupied in the sanctuary. I’m not sure. Whether he is in the sanctuary or just outside of it may make little difference at this stage. He is, in his own evolving way, starting to get an authentic taste of Shabbat.

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One Response to Lesson for Parents on Shabbat: Adapt to Young Child’s Needs

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