How did we know, you say?
The first clue was the extremely high noise level. The second was Jason and I not being able to finish a conversation, much less a sentence with each other. And the third was tripping over dumped out kitchen utensils.
Hooray, we’re in the clear!
So Sunday morning Jason ran out for donuts as I put on the coffee and the girls set the table. We sat down to eat and three-year-old Chloe announced, “Let’s pray it up!”
Jason and I glanced at each other, brimming with curiosity at what was coming. I wouldn’t classify us as especially religious. We don’t belong to a synagogue yet (I know, *gasp!* Let’s talk about that one another time, shall we?). And outside of holidays, we haven’t talked a lot about prayer at home. At school, Chloe says a blessing before snack, so we assumed (Friendly note: never, ever assume with a three-year-old, okay?) that this was the route we were heading. But we were wrong. The route that she did take was so very much better.
Chloe said at the top of her voice: “Baruch atah adonai, eloheynu melech haolam, asher kidshanu bemeetzvotav that we are having yummy donuts together, there are no icks and it’s so much fun!”
Hebrew and kid-speak translation: “Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us by your commandments and instructed us to (have) yummy donuts together, (that) no one is sick and it’s so much fun!”
We were floored at how natural it was for Chloe to be grateful for feeling healthy and for being together. And for donuts.
But really, that one is a given. It made us wonder about prayer. Many of us pray when we need something—praying for the health of a friend, for finances to work out, clarity about a tricky situation, and so on.
We also say prayer by rote memory. I remember reciting prayers in synagogue and at USY without necessarily knowing their meaning. But instantly feeling the comfort in the familiarity of the words and the knowledge that I was part of a whole all saying the same thing at the same time.
As far as teaching our own kids about prayer goes, Jason and I knew that we wanted the kids to have meaning behind their words and thoughts, but we didn’t necessarily know how to guide them towards either one of these.
So during lunchtime when the noise level was high and the Vikings game was about to start, I brought up the conversation. Naturally, it didn’t go very far right then, but we both let the thoughts percolate a bit and after the kids went to bed that night, Jason and I sat down completely exhausted but wanting to discuss prayer. What we did know was that we wanted to be on the same page before we brought the conversation to the kids.
It’s funny that we haven’t talked about religion in recent years. Before we got married we had all sorts of meaningful conversations while eating Chinese food in our pajamas. These days we know our own and each others’ stance on breastfeeding, co-sleeping and time outs like the back of our hand. But it had been a really long time since we sat down to discuss religion, God and prayer.
It was wonderful to reconnect, disagree and discuss these topics with our kids at the heart and soul of the conversation. Our beliefs wrapped around what we wanted to gift to the kids. What we ended up loving and feeling the most confident about was the idea of teaching the girls about prayers of thanks and gratitude. It already seemed so instinctual for them. It felt like starting with the known and could be naturally incorporated into our everyday life which seemed like a great place for prayer to start.
After much silliness, running around and giggling, bedtime lends itself nicely for a few quiet, snuggly moments with our kids. We turned to that time of day to look for a moment to use the word pray to label something that we already do.
A part of the girls’ bedtime routine is singing a song. We’ve done “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “The Great Big Spider” and my personal favorite, “May There” has become a bedtime staple. We learned it at a baby story time ages ago. I’ve long since forgotten the sign language that accompanies it, but I sing (poorly) the words daily so they’re ingrained:
May there always be sunshine
May there always be blue skies
May there always be children
May there always be youFor the second round you pick three things that you want to always be. We’ve done the silly version with DOTS, yellow and monkeys. The truthful version with swing sets, play dates and movies. And the truly heartwarming where the kids name everyone in our family. No matter what is chosen we always feel like we’ve gotten a little insight into our kids’ hearts and learn just a tad about what’s important to them. At least for that moment.
For now giving the girls (and us) a few minutes of quiet reflection time to talk or sing about what’s important and appreciated feels like the wrap-you-up-warm-and-cozy brand of prayer for our family.
As the kids get older and look for more guidance and examples of what different kinds of prayer sound and look like I’m excited to be a part of what they learn and take on as their own meaning. Meanwhile, we may just keep “praying it up” with Chloe in the lead!
What a beautiful story!
It’s fascinating that a Soviet Young Pioneers song from the early 60’s (written in the USSR in 1962), and popular in Israel (in the Hebrew version) in the early 70’s is still being sung in 2010 in Minnesota! To me that in itself is rather incredible.
(For those who are curious on the details, here is the Wikipedia entry on the song’s history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_There_Always_Be_Sunshine)
Jenna, hello! Thanks for the comment and the history! It didn’t even occur to me that the song came from anywhere *besides* the fabulous story teller at the Red Balloon! My favorite part of what you posted– the refrain that my kids and I know and love was written by a 4 year old! Excellent to hear from you.
What a beautiful story! As explained in Chassidus, the Jewish neshama has a natural love for Hashem, and this is more evident in children, for their lack of contact with the “big, bad world” enables their neshamos to shine in a more pure way.
excellent to hear from you, rabbi oliver! i really and truly *love* what you wrote here! children are breathtakingly amazing in the way that they love this world. the word “shine” is…absolutely perfect, isn’t it? all the best and thanks much for the note!