Zen and the Art of Parenting

Rachel Petroff Kessler
April 28, 2014
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Our new house has stairs and my daughter couldn’t be happier. Up and Down. Every time we go over to drop off some boxes and give her time to get acclimated, she goes straight for the stairs. Up and down. After a few days her confidence was through the roof and she was no longer content to scoot down. If she reaches she can just grab a hold of the banister, and holding on to the railing and holding on to me, she makes her way down the stairs.

The stairs are new and exciting for her – she likes to climb them in order to get upstairs to her room, and she likes to climb them just to be able to go back down. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be moving out of our apartment into a home with stairs (my now-that-my-daughter-is-18-months-shouldn’t-I-have-lost-the-baby-weight-behind is also pretty happy about that situation). But I am not nearly as enthused about the stairs as my daughter is. Frankly, there are a lot of things she’s more enthused about than I am: putting on shoes! Finding the purple diaper on the drying rack! Cheese!

I suppose it is part of God’s special plan (though it sometimes feels like a bit of a practical joke) that as parents of young children we watch our children’s fascination with the smallest of things just as we are inundated with the drudgery of caring for these tiny creatures: doing laundry, changing diapers, nursing, reading the same books over and over and singing the same songs on repeat.

In the endless world of parenting blogs (I know we usually call them Mommy-blogs, but explaining the reason I don’t like that term would take us far afield) advice abounds on how to handle this stage – at one end, be mindful and intentional always. Know that this time will pass and soak up every moment. You’ll miss it when its gone so don’t squander a second. At the other: relax! This stuff is hard work so do whatever you need to get through the day and don’t feel guilty.

I’m not sure that I will ever find the zen in dealing with dirty diapers, but I don’t want to always just go through the motions and miss the blessings and sacredness that come with taking care of another human being. So I strive to balance being gentle to myself without being indulgent. To be forgiving of my shortcomings without making excuses. I practice making meaning out of thankless tasks and remind myself that sometimes doing the drudgery is a gift to the people that we love.

When it comes to experience unmitigated joy my daughter is my teacher. But I know the time will come when the stairs will be a drudgery to be trekked up and down as we rush about going here and there. Then it will be my turn to teach her - that we have the opportunity to make every step in our journey matter.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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