Part of the morning ritual in our family is dancing together in the living room before breakfast. With the sound system turned up, sometimes we’re doing the jitterbug, and sometimes we’re swaying gently to a slower tune. This week, one of these early morning dance sessions included a Sara Bareilles ballad, and I found myself inexpicably tearing up as I held my daughter close. What was going on, and what does this have to do with challah-baking!
I think the key ingredient here may be “integrity.” Let’s start with the easiet of all—the integrity of what we eat. As parents, many of us are concerned with what we feed our children. Is what we’re serving healthy, or is it filled with other additives (preservatives, coloring, sugars, etc.) that we often choose to ignore? I’m reminded of that Michael Pollan instructive from his book In Defense of Food to generally steer clear of the middle aisles of most grocery stores, as they contain the most heavily processed “edible food-like substances.” Instead, focus on the margins of the store, where you’ll find foods that are not multi-ingredient and uber-processed. In short, “real food.”
With our new Challah-it-Forward endeavor, I can generally and genuinely say that for the most part, we’re including mostly “real food” ingredients: flour, water, eggs, honey, salt. But then I think of the “al chait” prayer that Jews all over the world recite aloud during the holiday of Yom Kippur. As part of Teshuvah (or returning to our best selves), we recite all the ways that we often miss the mark. It is in this spirit that I question the kinds of ingredients that make up many of the everyday interactions we have with our children. How often do we honor the wonder, love, compassion, and patience that are present (if overlooked) in our daily lives, and how often are we unintentionally adding unnecessary (and even harmful) ingredients, such as stress, annoyance, shortness, and impatience?
I’ve found that the regular practice of baking with my daughter has provided many opportunities for me to reflect on the actual quality of my interactions with her. Am I rushing from step to step while preparing the dough, as I’ve had a long day and it’s almost time for bed—for both of us(!), or do I let us linger awhile as she delights in the magic feel of the dough between her fingers? Do I get frustrated when she misses half the bowl when adding flour, or do I offer to help clean up with her as we are indeed a “team”? Do I get annoyed when she’s continually eating the chopped apples that are supposed to be saved for the batter of our Rosh Hashanah loaf, or do I decide to celebrate her love of this sweet, whole food and join her with a few (or more) bites of my own? It’s the quality of these small moments that ultimately make up the minutes, hours, days, months, and years of our journey together.
We all know that time seems to speed up; how are we to ensure that the precious little time that we do have with our children is filled with moments that elevate and enrich our shared experience? Which brings us back full circle to the dancing. Why was I in fact tearing up? Perhaps it was the pure pleasure and joy of being in that moment, of taking the time to be close in a meaningful, hearfelt way. And so I’m asking myself at this new year (and inviting you) to first think about the kinds of activities we can enjoy with our kids (let’s bake more, dance more, sing more, hike more, play ball more, fill-in-the-blank more!), and let’s make sure that when we are doing these things together, we’re enjoying the “healthy ingredients” that will ensure both a great-tasting loaf of bread and a life well-lived.