On a typical Shabbos afternoon, my kids are on a tight schedule.
There is no time for schmoozing or prolonged zemiros. Despite my husband’s and my best efforts to make the Shabbos table fun, we inevitably lose to the power of the ticking clock.
Why can’t they sit with us and revel in the magic of the Shabbos table? Because their friends await. And in their youthful equation, family < friends. So, at a typical Shabbos meal, the question usually pops up only seconds after we wash.
“Can I bentch and go to Ephraim’s house?” one child asks, still chewing on his challah but already on the way to get his coat.
“Mommy and I would like you to stay here until we are all ready to bentch,” my husband says. “The Shabbos meal is family time.”
“Are you serious?” my son (prisoner?) erupts. He collapses into his chair.
Somehow, he and we make it to bentching, and my son bolts from the house before I can even tell him to have a good time (or ask him to clear his plate on his way out, chas v’shalom). And before I have a chance to clear the table myself, my daughter is at my side.
“Can you please walk me to Tzipporah? I told her I would come as soon as we finished eating.”
“Sure,” I say, abandoning the broom. Clean-up can wait. Apparently, Tzipporah cannot.
It’s fine. It’ll be fast. She lives right around the corner.
But then my daughter amends her query. “And then can you take me and Tzipporah to Simi?”
“Fine. Let me get my coat.”
“And then can you take me and Tzipporah and Simi to Michal? Oh, and can you not walk me in your robe, even if it’s under a coat? That’s embarrassing.”
When I get back home from my trek around the city, the rest of my kids have dispersed to their playdates, and my husband is snoring lightly on the couch.
I soak in the quiet and it’s nice, but also a little sad.
Shabbos is supposed to be family time. It’s supposed to be that moment in the week when all the distractions fade away – no ringing phones, no rushing to the bus stop, no haggling over homework, no work deadlines. But it seems that on Shabbos in my house, the distractions persist.
Baruch Hashem for social children and invitations from friends, but every now and then, I can’t help but think how great it would be if my kids could be happy just spending time with us.
Like one Shabbos, a few weeks back, when things were different.
The meteorologists had made it clear that we were in for a record-breaking chill and judging from my husband’s cheeks when he came in from shul Shabbos morning, the weathermen were on target this time. We were stuck. Iced in.
This is going to be terrible. I thought at first.
But for the first time in forever, no one tried to speed up the bentching! No one tried to break out of the house when I wasn’t looking! Of course, there was still some melodious whining.
“What are we going to do all day? It’ll be so boring!” my kids chorused together.
This was my moment to show them that their blood-relatives, even those above the age of 30 (gasp!) were fun people too!
“It doesn’t have to be boring!” I encouraged. “Let’s have fun together. Choose a board game and we will all play.”
We sat cross-legged on my living room floor with a pile of board games and gave our kids the reins. They taught us how to play Monopoly Deal. They taught us how to play Ticket to Ride, and I finally realized it was worth its hefty price tag. They taught me how to play chess, and I may actually remember some of the rules. And when we were stiff from sitting on the floor for too long, we played charades (even the macho boys who thought it was a crazy idea), and the hilarity that ensued will stay with me for a long time.
Throughout the day, we laughed and we fought, but we laughed more than we fought.
I realized that I not only love my children, but I like my children. Surprise! They are growing up to be fun, funny, interesting, and kind people.
I’m not going to tell you that one Shabbos afternoon was lifechanging. I still wish I could superglue my kids to their chairs at the Shabbos table so they might realize that family > friends. I would even take family = friends if they would grant me that equation.
Hopefully, they’ll get there one day, but until then, I’ll keep reminding them about that wonderful, memorable Shabbos when the deep freeze outside kept us all inside.
It may have been the coldest Shabbos of the year, but inside our home, and especially in my heart, it was the warmest Shabbos I could remember.