Friday, September 16, 2016

On Elul and Being Present on Shabbat

Ah, Elul. That big, beautiful month full of reflection on the Jewish (Hebrew) calendar. It's the month leading up to the High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah and Sukkot. It's one of my most favorite times of year because it means that fall is coming, my birthday is coming, and that winter is right around the corner and that boots, scarves, and jackets are soon a necessity.

It also means October is going to be a mess of time off from work, multiple days in a row without the ability to use technology, no daycare, and general chaos. But, you know what, that's okay.

For the first time in what feels like forever, I've really, truly, honestly embraced Shabbat and days of rest.

You see, I'm a highly anxious workaholic (no, who, me!?). Shabbat was one of the hardest things to accept as I became religious all those years ago, because I've always been a hyper plugged in person. It's what I do professionally, and it's how I connect with friends near and far, not to mention family, too.

But recently, I've started going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat again, after a good probably nine months of skipping Saturdays at home so I could sleep while Mr. T and Asher were out of the house. Once baby showed up, I slept in, woke up, fed the baby, read trashy magazines, and so on. But when Mr. T was out of town a few weeks in Israel for iBoy's bar mitzvah, I knew I couldn't have Asher in the house for hours on end lest we both go bananas. So I hauled myself out of the house and we went to synagogue.

Now, wearing a sort-of sleeping newborn and trying to daven (pray) with focus is next to impossible. So I spent most of the morning (roughly 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.) in the baby group, where you can drop your little ones off starting at the age of six months (they have programming up through the age of teenagers). They sing songs and there are toys and the other babies like to see my baby, so it's a win-win because I get to talk to the adults in the room and we're out of the house.

When Mr. T came back, I kept going. The baby doesn't sleep so late in the morning anymore, and it's good to get out and see people, right?

During those few weeks where it was just me and the kids, I found myself doing a lot of observing. I watched people coming and going from shul, I watched the kids outside playing with their teenage teachers in groups, I watched the entire theater of Shabbat happening around me. And it was beautiful.

The thing about Shabbat is that, when you're really inside it, when you're really present and experiencing it, the anxiety of the rest of the week really does disappear. Recently I've found myself just enjoying being present from sundown to sundown. I'm not rushed to turn my phone back on, and that moment when I do turn my phone back on I feel a huge pang of regret and sadness. Because I've noticed that when Shabbat ends, after we make havdalah to separate the sacred from the profane, my fingers and face are glued to the damnable little device.

Yes, it's my job to be digital 24/6, but what does that mean? What is it costing me?

As Asher gets older, he's noticing how connected I am more. He'll often say my name repeatedly to get my attention, and even when I respond, it's the device he wants me to put down. Like, literally set down. He needs my attention. And if he's doing something cute, he often isn't interested in it being filmed or captured in a picture. He just wants me to be present.

On Shabbat, last week, we all stayed home because we had a hand-foot-mouth scare (which turned out to be not what he had, but rather just teething and a cold). We played, we engaged, we were present. We went to the playground, we enjoyed the sunshine and make believe. We sang and danced. We enjoyed each other.

I was so present and completely wrapped up in my family that I said to Mr. T: "Days like this make me think I could have a third, easily, without any second thoughts." (Or something to that affect.) It was just such a blissful day.

Then, of course, the next day, Mr. T was tired, the baby was half awake next to me in bed, and Asher was calling, "Mommy. Tatty. Mommy. Tatty." I zipped upstairs to mute the monkey only to find out he'd really, really, really wet the bed hardcore. As I pulled off all the sheets and pulled out the stuffed animals and toys and books I realized that I was good with where I was.

Shabbat really does something beautiful for me. I don't know how people function without a single day to be disconnected from the rest of the world and to really be present with those closest to you. No TV, no phones, no devices, no distractions.

All of this is to say, I guess, that I'm glad that I'm at this point in my life. It took having two kids to really learn to appreciate Shabbat, and now, every week, I long for Shabbat and lament its leaving. I've even started not looking at my phone on Saturday night to prolong a sense of peace and presence just a little bit longer. It makes all the difference in the world.

So, I'm curious: How do you do it? How do you connect, how do you really connect and be present in your own life?