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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Elul 15 - by Shayna Warner

It was a relaxing late Sunday morning at home.  One of those rare mornings when the only thing on the schedule for a few hours was to hang out.  A Cardinals game was about to start and the younger one (age 7) was eagerly anticipating the game.  The older one (age 10) wanted to watch a new episode of his favorite show that just happened to be starting at the same time.   The bickering and the nit-picking began, then led into tattling and whining (and, I think, a remote control whizzing past my head).  It wasn’t long before the shrieks began.  Naturally, the calm-natured mother that I am, I demanded they stop-that-crazy-behavior-and-say-you’re-sorry!

That’s sorta how it happened. For the sake of Shalom Bayit (peace in our home), the moment of conflict ended and was quickly resolved, with little time to process and steam coming out of my ears.

I don’t think I’m the only parent out there that just wants my kids to end negative behaviors, admit they are sorry, and immediately do better next time. It takes incredible energy to stop and process every single disagreement and mistake properly.  We all cut the corners every now and again, and hope that the words alone will imbue a sense of forgiveness and remorse.

But I also need to remember that the act of apologizing and teaching repentance is one that is much more than simply the words, “I’m sorry.”  These lessons are laden with so much of the junk that is the most uncomfortable for us to face.  Truly being sorry, and admitting the how-what-and-why of the apology, are totally different things.  An honest apology opens doors to our own vulnerabilities.  And let’s all be honest, that is not always very fun.

This season of Elul, and the subsequent holidays, are deliberately intended to be a time when we come face-to-face with exactly that which makes us uncomfortable.  The notion of Teshuvah is to return and reflect on our actions and own up to that which is the hardest.  It will sometimes be ugly and awkward, making it (logically) something we also want to avoid.

When I do my work with infants and toddlers through the J-Pat (Jewish Parents as Teachers) program, I encourage the parent and child to spend time together during this season of year simply holding a mirror up to their child’s face; the literal act of reflecting provides an opportunity for a parent to take pause of the wonder and purity of this new, young potential in their child.  Hopefully, that pause is also a chance to stop and think about the opportunity of our own, adult reflection.  When we honestly and openly reflect on ourselves, we truly can begin a process of teshuvah. 

I like to remember that sense of purity and innocence of my own children when they were babies.  Reflecting and remembering the images of those sweet faces helps me return to a hopeful and pure time as a parent, a time when I had full intentions of teaching the values of forgiveness and integrity.  It reminds me, personally, to take stock in how I have been doing.  I remember the promises I made to myself and to them, before we started the power struggles and button-pushing.  My own teshuvah  becomes something I can manage.  The tasks are again tangible and doable.  Does this mean I won’t make mistakes or continue to scream (sometimes) at my kids?  Of course not.  But the memory of my promises helps me keep myself in line and at least make an effort to try.

The holidays give us the opportunity to be mindful of our intentions, in every relationship we have in our life.  We are so fortunate to have a tradition that asks us to be honest and fallible, to acknowledge that we are humans filled with complex emotions, and to learn to live with each other despite the challenges.  Embracing this time, sincerely, gives us the chance to be the best we can be.

I feel confident that it won’t take long for me to lose my cool with my kids again soon.  But maybe the next time a remote control is hurled across the room I will try harder and do better.

Shayna Warner

Shayna Warner has a Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education from Bradley University and a Master's Degree in Social Work from Tulane University.  She has been a Parent Educator for the Jewish Parents as Teachers (JPat) since the program began in 2011. She also has served as the Camp Social Worker at Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) for the past two summers.  She is married to Cantor Seth Warner and has two sons, Simon and Isaac.

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