Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Making things meaningful

I keep putting off writing this post. In fact, it's been so long that the issue came up again and reminded me that I am just not getting around to things.

It started like this [ok, male audience, if you exist, you can stop reading]

[really, I mean it, close this window & come back again next time.]


I go to what we call the mikva - a ritual bath and every time I go, I remember going with my mom when I was younger. She often had to drive a very long way (try Lawton, Oklahoma to Dallas, for example) just to take a 2 minute dip. But her taking the time to go there and taking me along, sometimes as "the mikva lady" (the one who makes sure every last hair goes under the water) taught me something. It taught me that this meant something to my parents, enough for them to make the effort to continue even when it was really difficult. It was enough that I remember these trips every time I go. It makes me feel like I'm part of a chain that I don't want to break...

In Israel, the mikva is maybe a 5-minute-drive from my house. Kids aren't really supposed to know you're going there (though I'm sure it looks suspicious for me to leave the house with a towel and a hairbrush, in the evening, alone) and you certainly can't take your daughter along. So how do they learn about it? How do you get them to understand that it's meaningful? What memories will my daughters have that will make them keep going?

And when I thought about that, I thought about how we make other things meaningful. I guess it's repetition, involving the kids, explaining things to them, letting them ask questions... Probably many other things that I've missed.

What makes something meaningful to you? What things would you want your children to feel are meaningful to you when they grow up? What do you think we, as parents, can do to make things meaningful to our children?

And I have to leave you with a few pictures from this afternoon, since I got all the kids together :-)


DrSavta said...

First of all, your children are adorable and the pictures are wonderful.

As to your being the "mikvah lady"-- I remember when we were visiting in Savannah, Georgia, the woman who I contacted at the mikvah told me that no one could accompany me to the mikvah that Saturday night. I said, "It's all right; my daughter can help me." We came to the mikvah and when I met the woman who unlocked the building, she looked at you and asked who you were. I said you were my daughter. I am guessing from the look on her face she really didn't expect to see a 6 year old!

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you manage to get all your kids to do adorable things all at once.
I am just starting to think about things like this as I see Abby watching more of what I do and, amazingly, mimicking some of it. I'd love to give a good answer in a comment, but I have to do more thinking about it. When I do, I'll post something. ;)

Ahuva Batya said...

What absolutely beautiful children.
I am also trying to thing about how to make things meaningful for our son. I agree that repetition, and explanation are part of it-- the example of consistency sends a strong message to children as well. If it's something that doesn't get put off for any but the most drastic reason, that is a strong message. For us it's lighting the candles on Friday evening.

Sarah said...

great pictures!

like you said, i think having made the effort is what made the impression. just because you don't have a two hour drive doesn't mean your girls can't pick up on the fact that you make an effort to fit it into your busy life, right? how great that your mom found a way to "sneak" you in.

Bea said...

Yes, the repetition, the telling of stories, the answering of questions to allow it to be made sense of, the making time for it. This is what makes things a ritual, a tradition. I can't really add anything else.


Sara said...

Your children are beautiful.

I've come back three times to comment, and then I realize that I need to think about you question some more. I still haven't formulated a complete comment in my head, but rather than run the risk of missing out in the conversation entirely, here goes...

I think that actual discussion of meaning, rather than just modeling of form, is critical to helping children understand why some practices are important. Yes, consistency is important, but especially with practices that are public (not so much the mikvah, but other more visible rituals), going through the motions in front of your children, even with absolute consistency, gives them the message that this is something that you have to do, but not so much the message that this is something that it gives you great joy to do, even though it's inconvenient at times. There is a difference, and I think that the difference is important.

My husband is from a country where religion is considered very important, and when I'm there, I see people going though the motions of performing rituals in public with great fervor, but the same people will then turn around and violate fundamental rules of their religion five minutes later in their private lives. When I ask them about the rituals themselves, I often find that they give almost no thought to the "why" of the ritual. They just know that they're supposed to do it, so they do it.

In a sense, though, private rituals like the mikvah, being less public acts, are in a different realm. Knowing that you follow this practice, as your mother did before you, even though nobody else will know if you skip it, seems to me to say quite loudly that it is not something that you do to please others, but rather something that you do because it is important. Of course the telling of stories (your stories about trips with your mom will be a great start) and the answering of questions will reinforce that message as well.

Since my husband and I are from very different backgrounds, we will undoubtedly be teaching our daughter a confusing, and perhaps even contradictory at times, set of values. I am hoping that she will get the best of both worlds. Your post really got me thinking. Thank you!