Toldot: Waiting at the Gate

Now that I am on maternity leave, I have been trying to come on time to pick up my children at school. I aim to get to the gate of school yard at least two or three minutes before the bell rings, so that by the time the kids come streaming out—my twins in their bright red school sweatshirts with heavy backpacks on their backs, my son in a light T-shirt oblivious to the weather and to the whereabouts of his schoolbooks—I am ready and waiting for them. I have noticed that there are several parents who congregate outside of the school gate every day to wait for their kids. Some even arrive a good ten to fifteen minutes early. And then there are the parents who show up breathless right as the bell rings, if not a few minutes later, scanning the schoolyard frantically for their kids who already ran off to play, having long-ago abandoned any expectation that a parent will be waiting to greet them.

I’m hoping not to be that kind of parent anymore. I want my children to hear the bell and have the confidence that their mother will be waiting at the gate, ready with a smile, if not also a snack. I want them to be able to count on me. In essence, I want them to enjoy the blessing that Isaac gives to both his sons, first to Jacob and then to Esau. In blessing his sons, Isaac invokes the dew: “May God give you of the dew of the heaven and the fat of the earth,” he tells Jacob, and then, in an echo of that blessing, he tells Esau, “See your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth and the dew of the heaven above.” Rabbanit Penina Neuwirth explains that the blessing of dew is the blessing of reliability. Unlike the rain, which falls only in certain seasons and at unpredictable times of day, the dew appears every morning at dawn, regardless of the season. God tells the Jewish people in the Shema prayer that if they heed His will, the rain will fall upon them. Rain is conditional on our behavior. But dew is a daily unconditional guarantee.

As parents, there is room for both the conditional rain and the unconditional dew. There are times when we must reward and punish our children, showering or withholding our bounty depending on their behavior. But then there are the aspects of parenting that are entirely unconditional. When a small child wakes up crying at night, he should know, regardless of how he behaved that day, that his mother will come to him. When a toddler falls off the monkey bars and scrapes her knee, she should know that even if she wasn’t listening when she was told to come home a few minutes earlier, her father will nonetheless bandage her cut and ice her bruise. And when my children coming running out of school at the end of the day, they should have full confidence that their mother will be waiting at the gate to greet them.

Alice Shalvi writes in her memoir that as a mother, she was rarely around for her children. That said, she quotes one of her children who tells her that when she was home, she was far more interesting than the parents who were always there. Alice Shalvi did great things for Israeli women and for the Jewish people when she wasn’t at home. But that’s not the kind of mother I want to be – at least not right now. I imagine that when Shalvi came home at the end of the day, she burst in like a rainstorm, regaling her family with her stories. I’d like to be more like the dew, patiently waiting on the grass for my children to come to me.

“They also serve who only stand and wait,” John Milton famously wrote in a sonnet about his inability to serve God in the same way after he lost his vision. I, too, am somewhat incapacitated with a new baby; I can’t run around as much as I used to do. But I look at the parents who show up every day before the bell and realize that this too is a form of holy devotion. If I can stand and wait for my children every day, perhaps I am, in my own way, showering them in blessing.

One thought on “Toldot: Waiting at the Gate

  1. Ilana Ruskay-Kidd says:

    I love this piece and I love the way you frame the holy work of being reliably present for our children. I think the balance is how we do we both always strive to be there for our children and also how we forgive ourselves for the times we aren’t… and how we help them to continue to feel that sense of continuity and connection on those days we are late or away to say and feel, “my mother is present and reliable even when she is not there.” Have you read the book the children’s book the Kissing Hand? I love it because it creates a way of saying I am here even when not. We used to give each other kissing hands each morning before kids left for pre-school. Anyway, more than you might have asked for but appreciate your piece and wish you a happy thanksgiving from here in nyc!


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