It’s 7am; a jubilant 3 and 5 year old boy come running into my room. They want vitamins, they want to cuddle, and they want to jump around. They are cute in their morning smiles and monster pajamas that I can’t help but smile at the sudden break to my serene slumber.
I unscrew the child proof vitamin container; allow them to choose their favorite color/circus animal from the container and they are on their way. Off to play with their wooden train set and happily embraces the new day.
Just as the graceful breeze of fall suddenly dumps us into the frigid harbingers of winter – the tide changed. 7:19 my clock reads and a horrible decree escapes my lips. “Time to get dressed,” I call to my thus far happy children.
Shmuel is three years old. He eventually makes his way back up the stairs. I allow him to choose his own underwear and socks. I erroneously pick out his shirt, he chooses a blue turtle neck. I cut my losses and make the exchange. He changes his mind and chooses a suit vest covered in trucks. “That’s for Shabbos,” I explain. I present the turtle neck – he chooses a green polo. The green polo wins.
I’m not so understanding when it comes to brushing teeth – I hold his hands down as I scrub his pearly whites. By the time we get to the breakfast table – he has been refused countless demands and has taken to the floor weeping. Mainly, he wants ‘Shabbos cereal’ (unhealthy, sugary, cereal which is saved just for Shabbos) this morning – but today is weekday. The answer is: no. His three older sibling try every trick in the book to calm him down.
His 10 year old brother tries to make jokes, his 8 year old sister offers her lap and her sympathy, his 5 year old brother tries selling him the tale that the Shabbos cereal is actually bad and then runs to fetch Shmuel’s special blankey. His mother repeatedly tells the kids to please ignore him, and takes solace in knowing that he will also be served breakfast at school.
Eventually Shmuel notices that his oldest brother is eating toast and says, “I want dat.” His sister is all too quick to prepare his toast and spreads it with cream cheese. “I want a swamwhich,” he declares. Wise beyond her years, she folds his bread in half and Shmuel eats happily.
Was it the smell of the toast? Was it the fact the he realized his demands for Shabbos cereal would really not be met? Was it the love he got from his siblings? It’s hard to know and most likely all three and a bunch of other factors came into play.
I sat down with a girl on campus this week and taught her the Aleph Bet. She said that she only knew some of the letters, but as we opened up the book it turned out that she knew them all. We went through the letters with the vowels and soon began combining sounds. Using the siddur as our text book, it became clear that any very familiar prayer was too easy. She stumbled through some of the lesser known passages and clearly with a lot of practice she’ll be reading from a siddur properly.
As we spoke, she told me that she attended a Chabad Hebrew school in Oceanside as a kid and here she was learning the aleph bet again in her early twenties. It is powerful reminder about how crucial the early years really are. I can’t vouch for Shmuel’s ‘tude these days – but I know these years are crucial and the love he gets from all the angles of a big family will certainly have a positive effect.