Did you ever imagine how much everlasting value is in every single task a mother does?
When Victoria Dwek offered me the privilege of contributing to the Nshei Hasiyum magazine, I immediately knew what I would be writing about. As a magazine that was geared toward women, and distributed at an event where the men were the stars of the show, I wanted to address the part in us that whispers, “Where am I in all of this?”
Turns out, once I started writing, the more general relationship between emotional and spiritual health became the theme of my piece. The other idea would have to wait, possibly until the next siyum, I thought.
But then, I remembered Between Carpools. What better platform to explore this topic than right here? If you’re a mother whose life consists of segments that are best differentiated by before, between, and after carpools (or busses) it would be safe to assume that at one point or another you’ve asked yourself, “Do I really have to think of supper again?” “Didn’t I just clear the hamper, like two seconds ago?” While The 9×13 Life certainly comes to the rescue at times like these, giving ourselves a reminder of the bigger picture will do more than satisfy the palates and provide physical nourishment to our brood.
So what is the bigger picture?
This past Rosh Hashanah, I was busy taking care of (or at least trying to) my newborn baby and her four siblings. It was a long, long day. And then, when my husband returned after spending the entire day in shul (with a view toward the Kosel, no less), he was on a spiritual high. “You’re so lucky,” I said to him. I knew that what I had done that day was exactly what I was meant to be doing, but I needed chizuk—especially with a repeat schedule coming up a few hours later.
What my husband told me then is what I hold on to on those days when being a mother does not feel naturally gratifying and fulfilling to me. It’s a shift in my mindset that does wonders at the times when I need that boost, even on days when nothing on my to-do list gets crossed off, except the stuff I wrote so I’d give myself the pleasure of checking something off, like bathe the baby. It was about realizing that what a mother does is spiritual work. It may look physical and it is physical, but more importantly, it is spiritual.
“Imagine that our kids were — or —,” my husband said to me. We had just been involved with several adolescent members of klal Yisrael who were in need of a place to stay. If one of these teens would have been in our home over Rosh Hashanah, of course I would have felt fulfilled. It would have been so clear to me that I was doing something meaningful. With my own kids, it’s harder for me to see it that way. But just because I perform acts of kindness for them every single day doesn’t diminish from the spiritual value. Perhaps it enhances it—continuing to give, and do, and shower them with love, another day and another day and another day without the fanfare or feedback.
Besides for the lofty concepts of fulfilling our purpose and perpetuating generations, every meal we cook for our family, every diaper we change, every nail we clip—these are acts of kindness we’re performing. Right, they’re for our own children, but they’re a chessed nevertheless.
So, when the afternoon rolls around and it’s time to think about supper again, it’s not just another supper. It’s another kind deed we’re about to perform. And when it comes to spiritual stuff, there’s no counting. It’s impossible to quantify the merit we accrue from making that pot dirty again, from another grocery trip, from filling up another bath. When we enter the spiritual realm, “but didn’t I just do this yesterday and the day before?” isn’t such a burning question anymore. And just because every other mother is doing the same does not diminish from the greatness of what we’re doing in our own home. Each of us is running our own chessed factory.
With this perspective, every night, when the house finally gets quiet and the kids are (hopefully) asleep, we get to pat ourselves on the back and realize, “Hey, this was another day of giving, giving, giving. I have no small part in the fact that these human beings are fed, clothed, happy—alive.” Even at the most hectic hours of the day, this mindset fills us with the energy to keep doing our impressive work.
I love it when I’m comfortably ensconced in my motherhood roles, happily giving without thinking about underlying concepts. But even when the going gets tough, on the days that I keep this perspective in mind, I’m not rushing to finish a conversation with my daughter. On the days that I’m centered and this perspective is clear to me, I’m not rushing to finish a conversation with my daughter so I can get back to more “practical” stuff. I understand that this is what counts. I understand that this is where I’m needed right now. And even if the things on the to-do list will have to wait and some of them may never get done, the great feeling that comes from giving and connection is mine to relish.