Before I had children, Shabbos mornings centered on going to shul. But as a mommy, shul took its place on the back burner…until last year.
My oldest turned nine. I’m a single mother and his father lives out of town. Who would take my son to shul? I canvassed friends and mentors and was offered a variety of helpful and not-so-helpful suggestions. “Just tell him he needs to go, and that’s it,” said one practical-minded chinuch expert. Right. “Offer a reward when he comes home,” she continued. Um, he hasn’t agreed to leave yet.
He has people to stand with when he gets there, but no one’s coming to pick him up at 7:30 on a Shabbos morning. He’s independent, not very sociable…
Then one friend gave me the only tip that made the slightest degree of sense: “Take him yourself.”
Her mother-in-law, left a widow with seven children in her thirties, escorted each of her sons to shul every Shabbos morning until they outgrew the need. She’d sit on the other side of the mechitzah, but they knew she was there. It worked. Today they’re all married and raising families – and they all go to shul.
Gulp. Of course she had a point. But…Shabbos morning! I work so hard all week—it’s the only day I can sleep in. Help!
A few months went by. My son’s tenth birthday came and went. Other single moms shared their horror stories of kids who refused to go to shul and were still struggling with it well past their bar mitzvah. It was time to act.
Shortly after Pesach, I announced to my son, “We’re going to shul together this week.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know, but that’s what we’re doing.”
The subtle switch from you to we seemed to make an impression. We worked out a reward system…and off we went.
The first few weeks, I focused on just getting us to shul. Once there, he’d join a neighbor on the other side of the mechitzah, as we’d prearranged. I could listen from the other side, secure in the knowledge that I’d done the right thing for both of us. Slowly we hit our stride, missed a week or two, got back on track. We aimed to arrive in time for kerias haTorah, but if we were a little late—well, he’s only ten.
I miss my beauty sleep, ahem, my Shabbos morning rest, but I’ve adapted to an afternoon nap. Yet the responsibility weighs heavily. I don’t always love going to shul. I’m tired, and I want to stay home sometimes. No such luck. If I stay home, so does he. Off we go.
Yom Kippur afternoon, I left my son playing at a friend while I went home to rest. We’d made it through shacharis and mussaf; only minchah and neilah to go. I davened minchah at home, then geared up for the final moments of the fast.
Machzor, check. Tehillim, check. Tissues, check. I didn’t need to prod my son along— he was walking to shul with his friend’s family. Wasn’t he?
I arrived as Ashrei was getting underway. I caught up, davened the Amidah, and sat down to wait for the chazzan to start. Should I check on him? I thought. Nah, I’m sure he’s fine.
The chazzan launched into the mournful plea of “Chasmeinu l’chaim,” and I snuck a peak through the latticework. Uh-oh. My ten-year-old’s spot was empty.
I glanced around and saw the friend’s single sister. “Is my son still at your house?” I whispered.
Now what? If he missed Neilah, sat playing at his friend when all other kids his age were shuckling enthusiastically back and forth, he’d know that he failed himself. I looked down at my machzor. Stay or go? Today, I wanted to be in shul. Yet my primary responsibility was to be a mommy – a shul-going one, but a mommy nevertheless.
I sprinted out of shul on a surge of adrenalin. Up the street, quiet in the Yom Kippur-afternoon stillness, to the friend’s house. I found my son sitting on the couch with a book in his hands. “We’re going to shul,” I said, herding him out the door.
“I don’t want to go,” he said, following me down the block.
“I know, but you’ve been doing an amazing job, and it’s just another 45 minutes till shofar blowing. You can do it, sweetheart.”
We entered the building together. He slipped into the men’s section while I headed to the women’s.
We’d made it.