When It Rains It Pours: Purim!

Celebrating Purim and the mishegas of life!


This morning I had a major “Mom Crisis Moment.” (MCM™) This winter has literally been the worst in terms of colds/viruses/flu in our house. I have two kids a 4-year-old and a 1.5-year-old, and no matter what we do, the colds bounce back between them and then to us. As someone who has an immune disorder, I often catch something from the kids and then I am sick for weeks. Fun times in this house. Does anyone want to come over?

But this time was different. We have truly had the worst week: My older daughter got hurt and needed six stitches in her forehead. Okay, strike one. Next, after spending six hours at Children’s Hospital being exposed to God knows what, she spikes a fever..101, 102, 103…and last night 104. Okay, strike two. Now, for the final and worst strike: I have a work trip to NYC — an important one, one I have been planning for the past few months. In my line of work with Online Jewish Learning, I do not travel much. However, I had five meetings booked in the next 36 hours. I had to go. But what could I do? How could I leave my kid when she was so sick? Enter mom guilt stage left. I finally got my kids to sleep and then the final blow arrived: My nanny texted that she had a fever and would not be coming to work. Oh, and after I wrote this my husband’s car literally caught on fire out of nowhere. Seriously?! No one was in the car, thank God!

Um, universe — can you stop it now?!

This is something that I struggle with all of the time: how to balance my work with my personal life, with my “Mom life.” “Mom life” is unpredictable, and you have to learn to roll with the punches. Work life, at least for me, is pretty predictable. When the two bump heads and collide, however, I lose my footing. To put it lightly, I do not go with the flow. It is not in my DNA. So what do we do when our worlds collide?

We are in the midst of the Book of Exodus… We all know what happens. We receive the laws that will govern not only how we function as individuals, but also how we interact within our communities, our inner and outer circles. For me, these laws help us better understand the way in which we conduct ourselves in our personal and professional lives. What it does not tell us is what to do when these worlds collide. That is where we have to make the hard decisions. This is where we have to dig deep and find our inner strength to see the big picture, not the day to day tough stuff. Easier said than done, right?

Enter Purim: I actually feel like Purim comes at this time of year to tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously — that life is about the big picture, the Esthers fighting Hamans, rather than the fact that we are stressing about our kids’ Purim costumes and that we do not have enough time to bake Hamantaschen. We have to focus on letting go in life and try to make time to have fun. I sound like I practice what I preach, but really, this is as much for me as it is for you.

So how can we stop focusing on the small things-stressing over an email, an inconvenient work meeting, an annoying phone call, and focus on the big picture? How can we try and find some sort of life balance whether we are working or not, parents or not?

Two weeks ago I spent three days with an amazing group of Rabbis Without Borders at the RWB retreat. I felt bad about being away from my kids, but you know what? This Rabbi Mom needed some “me” time. In three days with this awesome group, I was able to refresh and come back feeling more in control. I was able to focus on my kids and not check my phone. I was able to do work and not feel AS guilty about not being home with them. We cannot take ourselves too seriously and stress about every little thing-life is too short. As a good friend told me last week, “The days are long but the years are short.”

This Purim I am going all out — I am dressing up as a blue M & M. Yeah, you read that right. A piece of candy. My daughter asked me to, and you know what? I want to have fun, let loose, stress less, and live fully in the moment with my family. How much longer is my daughter going to want me to dress up with her? So yes, the work meeting conflicts are tough, car fires are unfortunate, and the flu wipes everyone out in our house… but I wouldn’t trade this crazy experience for anything. If I stop and really focus and am presentin the moments that I share with my family, I may feel less guilty when work takes me away from them.

Exodus teaches us about our people’s journey from individuals to that of community. We all are on our own journeys-whether it is work, family, health, etc. The Israelites questioned God, what they were doing in the desert, and whether they were on the right path. We too may question who we are, what we are doing, and if it is all worth it. Let us each find the strength to recognize the small sparks of beauty in our daily lives, the value in the work we do, take ourselves a little less seriously, and embrace the mishegas (craziness) this week on Purim and beyond. Because really, we could all loosen up and enjoy life just a little more.

Reconnecting with your “true self”

I recently read a blog post on Kveller.com by a mother who showed us all how Daniel Tiger can teach us alot about the holidays (http://www.kveller.com/the-high-hol…). Well, I couldn’t agree more since I find myself relating most of my life these days to Daniel Tiger, Puppy Pals, or Paw Patrol. What I find is that the lessons from these shows (well at least Daniel Tiger) are so true, so core to who we are and how we function in relationship to the world and others, that I find myself singing those catchy tunes to myself throughout the day. Actually, today I was singing “When you are feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help” when my husband was upset after a phone call.
So much of what we teach our kids on a daily basis, “don’t get upset over everything,” “be patient,” “be kind,” “be generous,” or “be loving and forgiving” are all suggestions or advice that we could and should be giving ourselves. In order to have a healthy relationship not only with others but with our true selves we have to be all of these things: kind, patient, loving, forgiving, etc. What we teach our kids, in fact, should be what we are re-teaching ourselves.
This Yamim Noraim or Days of Awe season of the High Holy Days has been eye-opening for me as a parent and as a person more than anything (see other posts). I have become completely aware that I am not aware or any of the things listed above in most areas of my life. While I feel that I have control over my life, work, relationships, etc, I am just going through the motions-mindlessly. This year’s goal is to go through these motions, these experiences with purpose, mindfulness, and do so slowly! More importantly, this holiday season we need to treat ourselves with kindness, care, generosity, love, and patience. While this concept would certainly be lost on my two little ones (well maybe not if the Paw Patrol sang them), it cannot be lost on us.
Tonight I was reading some articles online about the holidays, trying to jam in some last minute learning and inspiration before Yom Kippur. I cannot fast completely for health reasons, so I am trying to infuse my fast with some meaning that is not surrounding the fast. A teaching by a famous rabbi named Rav Kook z’’l caught my eye.
Rav Kook taught that there are three stages of teshuvah (repentance) for reaching or reconnecting to your “true self” which is what we try and do on the holidays. These three stages are:
a) Healthy Body and Mind
b) A healthy orientation to religious belief
c) An idealistic aspiration to be in line with G-d’s plan for the Universe
Let’s focus on the first one: a healthy body and mind. Easy, right? Go to the gym a few times a week, stop eating those delicious Trader Joe’s (actually kosher!) swedish fish and that second glass of wine. Rav Kook, in my opinion is talking about something deeper. While a healthy body and exercise routine is obviously important for everyone it is the mind or the heart that is the true focus of this type of teshuvah. We teach our kids to take care of themselves, to treat others with kindness. Why don’t we live what we preach? Because it is hard to treat ourselves this way.
The essence of what Rav Kook is teaching us is that in order to experience true teshuvah a true return to ourselves we need to take care of ourselves.
So how do we do that? Our lives are not setup to spend time taking care of ourselves. We worry about everyone else, what we need to get done, where we need to be, and do not think about what each of us needs to feel refreshed, renewed, and healthy.
Deepak Chopra says that “my true self contains every possibility.” These words are my inspiration for this coming year. While Rav Kook and Deepak Chopra are worlds apart their words are a beautiful reminder of the many opportunities and possibilities we have if we only nourish, renew, and handle our true selves with care in the coming year.
So whether you are going to synagogue, fasting, or just spending time with family, take a step back and think about how you treat yourself-your true self.
Are you patient? kind? generous?
Or are you critical, impatient, and harsh?
Coming full circle back to children’s TV and books-my husband and I read this great author to our daughters-Todd Parr. He writes these amazing books with incredible values embedded in them. Our favorite one is called, “Be Who You Are.” It is a book about being who you are regardless of what you look like, what you feel, who your parents are, what you do, regardless of your mistakes or “shortcomings” etc. It is about being TRUE to yourself. It is about being kind and compassionate to yourself. It is teaching our kids to appreciate who they are and love themselves.
Maybe a new bedtime ritual is to read this to ourselves too?
May we all find the strength to open ourselves up to the possibility of change, renewal, and self-compassion in this new year.
May we find the ability to treat ourselves with the kindness we teach our children.
May we set a good example for our children by being who we are and loving ourselves for it.
May we live this coming year with open hearts, with patience, and with love.
Gmar Chatimah Tova-May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

Mindful or mindFULL these holidays?

The holidays are a busy time- a time where we are supposed to spend the entire Hebrew month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah thinking about ourselves, reflecting, and beginning our repentance. We are also supposed to cook meals and host LOTS of family and still maintain sanity and a job? Um, I don’t think so.
So how can we maintain a sense of balance in between school starting, holidays approaching, work not stopping, and grocery shopping? I do not know about you but I certainly find shopping for Rosh Hashanah incredibly stressful. Um, no ma’am, that is MY BRISKET! (yes, yelling at a fellow shopper at the kosher market DOES happen
The High Holy Days for me have changed in the past several years. Before kids, I would buy new books at the Jewish bookstore, spend time reflecting on my past year, attend daily services to hear the shofar (ram’s horn), and really spend time preparing for services. Fast forward three years to today: I just finished shopping for the food I need to cook for tomorrow evening, I haven’t even had time to practice for leading services tomorrow, AND the only “book” I have read is my cookbook (and even that led to catering).
Being a parent (of two especially) changes everything. While I used to have the time to leisurely prepare for the holidays, focusing internally on who I am and how I can be better in the coming year, I do not have that time now. Now I have to focus on EVERYONE ELSE. I used to find that this was not helpful for my personal reflection, but I am starting to think that maybe this is exactly what I need to reflect, repent, and refresh for the new year.
Reflection is something that I have not gifted to myself this year. This past weekend I spent at a retreat center with a large group of Spiritual Leaders for a Spiritual Formation Gathering. We spent a lot of time reflecting, praying, and working together over the course of three days. One of the biggest takeaways for me (aside from three nights of uninterrupted sleep) is that I am not living mindfully. I am not acting mindfully. My mind is full but I am not mindful. The part that hurts me the most is that I am not mindful when I am with my children, I am with them physically, but I am not present with them in the moment.
Like many parents, I am sitting with my kids and running through lists in my mind. What I have to do, where I have to go, what I need at the supermarket, what I have to do at work tomorrow. It is easy to be sitting with my daughters and texting or emailing with one hand while I answer them half-heartedly. This is not how I want to be, this is not how I want to live. It is time to change in the year ahead.
In the year ahead I have one goal: to be mindful. I am not one who is able to stick to a “meditation plan” of meditating every morning. I have tried, I am just not in it 100%. I would much rather get an extra ten minutes of sleep. I will be mindful in my work, I will be mindful with my kids. I will be mindful in my actions. I know that if I am mindful when I am with my kids perhaps I will be more focused at work. Part of why I am sometimes unfocused at work is because I am suffering severe “mom guilt.” Perhaps if I am spending REAL quality and focused time with my kids I will not feel as badly about leaving them.
Multi-tasking is one of my strong suits. It serves me well in my work life. It does not serve me well in my family life. This new year, 5778, I will do my best each and every day to be mindful.
How did I get here? By NOT spending the past month reflecting and repenting. I did not have the time because I was NOT mindful of it. By not being mindful I realized what I needed to do. My busy life led me to the answer: 5778 will be the year of mindfulness for this rabbi mom.
I hope that you will find the strength and space to recognize what you need to do in this coming year. One thing we can all use: a little bit of rachmones, a little bit of compassion as we navigate this crazy time of parenthood, work, and the holidays.
Wishing you and your family Shanah Tova u’metukah-A happy and healthy new year!