One of my newish girlfriend’s Politics section is labeled: Think. Please. I couldn’t possibly love that more. When we’re young, we’re so quick to join groups, identify and label ourselves. We jump into belief systems headfirst and grab onto the party line as if we’re drowning. Woman. Teacher. Mom. Loaded, loaded and loaded.
As we mature we glom onto what suits us, what fits into our heart’s well being and shed the rest. Sometimes easily and sometimes with turmoil. But shed, we do.
Religion is trickier. Messier. Less shed-friendly, if you will. It has an all-or-nothing feel to it that you either run towards or away from.
Raising our family in the Midwest, I for sure knew that shedding was a risk. But honestly? I thought it was only theoretically so, because our kids have always seemed so in-their-skin within Judaism. Challah? By request! Holiday stories? Known inside and out! Hebrew? Learning! And fast.
Last week, however, Kayli and I were chit chatting in the car about some Passover Exodus storytelling possibilities. Read a book? Act out a play? Paint the scenes? And I could tell that I just didn’t have her attention. Her buy-in. Her interest. When she finally confirmed that she “just didn’t want to help with that,” my heart completely sank. And how did I react? Stay cool-as-a-cucumber? Ponder? Reflect? Talk things over with Jason? Not a chance. Cringing yet?
I totally and completely freaked out. She’s not interested in Passover! She doesn’t love being Jewish! She’s going to leave me! This totally irrational over-reaction lasted for about a minute. And then I remembered, Oh yeah! I believe in free will. And free choice. And thinking, questioning, testing out the waters before believing. Even, perhaps especially, within religion. The most authentic religion-based life living comes when that religion is user tested and approved which means it does, indeed, need to be questioned and inspected. Even by gulp my own kids.
So I took a deep breath and opened the door for Kayli to talk. I asked if she was okay. What was on her mind. And if she was looking forward to Passover. And I kept driving. I think people talk more, open up more and share more when in motion. After a few painfully quiet moments Kayli did indeed open up. It’s hard being the only Jewish kid in class (I remember that feeling very, very well). It’s also just hard being different.
She came into Kindergarten guns blazing. Ready to teach anyone and everyone about how her family does things. And now she’s a bit more reserved about all of the teaching and sharing and soul-baring information. You might not believe this, I’m even having a hard time believing it, but I just stayed quiet and let her talk. When we got home I hugged her. And told her that I love her. And that I was going to start creating the Passover story for our Seder during quiet time (Chloe and Brody’s nap time) and she could join me if she wanted.
A little bit of trickery in having her spend her usually solo time with me? Perhaps. But I say that using a tad of one-on-one time to bond with my girl and open the door for more questions totally outweighs said trickery. Don’t judge me. Kayli did come downstairs and we painted and talked and made plans for telling the Passover story together. By making her a part of the process and the plan it became her holiday, too.
So this year we painted huge murals from the Passover story. We did a week’s worth of Seder-ing. A little bit every night. We sat on pillows fort style surrounded by kid-made Passover paintings. We ate dessert in our pajamas and asked a lot of questions. We played with finger puppets and a plague bag. We sang songs. Our goal was to model our own beliefs and to include the kids fully in Passover. Show them that this, too, is for them.
It was a little bit of messy and disorganization and a whole lot of fun and learning. And ultimately, that’s exactly how I want religion to be for my kids, for us. Questions. Heart. Soul. Food. Religiosity is personal. And it’s meant to be interactive. Responsive. Fluid. And ever changing. Blindly following is not the brand of really, anything, that I want for my kids.
You can’t actually force anyone to do anything. One of my favorite parenting gurus, Barbara Coloroso describes learning this during her first year of teaching. She asked a student to sit down. He said no. They power struggled for a bit. And then she sat on him. She’s mortified by her behavior today. She describes feeling helpless, out of control. Much the way we parents feel so very often with our own kids– when they won’t eat or sleep, follow our belief systems, our paths, our religion. The little boy looked at Coloroso and said, “when you get up, I will, too.” We can’t actually force anyone to do anything, nor should we want to.
Our goal is to live our religion with our kids. Make it fun and accessible for them. To help them understand the whys behind the whats. And to give them the freedom and space to question, waver, doubt, learn and make religion their own. To be there for them, support them and love them. No matter what they end up choosing. Even if it’s gulp-worthy-scary to do so. We can lead, guide and teach. But we can’t and we shouldn’t force.
When I asked my girlfriend if I could use her oh-so-very wise words in this post, she added an addendum: Think. Feel. Listen. Experience. How’s that for religion to live by?