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Week 15: "Children Will Listen"

Daniel Barash

I don’t WANT to make Challah!

This, from the mouth of three-and-a-half-year-old Aviva, when I started mixing the ingredients for our weekly challah-bake last Friday. This refrain has been common of late, and it’s not limited to Challah-it-Forward; indeed, it’s entered every facet of daily life: I don’t want to _____________ (brush my teeth, eat breakfast, get dressed, go to school, come home from school, eat dinner, change into jammies, go to bed, take your pick!).

I understand not to take any of this personally; I think it’s what three-year-olds are supposed to do. They have so little control over most of their lives, so they assert themselves whenever they can, to show that they do in fact have power in this world, despite their pint-sizedness!

The flip side of “don’t want” is of course “want,” and whenever we are out and about, my daughter “wants” a lot! That funny-colored yogurt next to the plain-old real thing, that stuffed animal right near the register, that inappropriate book that’s placed too low on the shelf, you get the idea…

Over the past months, I’ve tried to address the “want, want, want” dynamic by helping her to differentiate between “wants” and “needs,” things we generally associate with survival, like food to eat, clothes to warm, a roof and four walls to protect, etc.: “Do you want that yogurt or do you need that yogurt?” “Do you want that stuffed animal, or do you need that stuffed animal?” While I don’t think she completely understands the difference yet (do we ever fully understand, even as adults?!), this strategy has in fact worked, and we’re able to gently get off the “want” bandwagon most of the time. Of course, sometimes we want (and dare I say need) to honor their wants, their choices, and so we find ourselves getting that yogurt and that stuffed bear.

But back to the challah. How do “wants” and “needs” play out in this scenario? It’s a little tricky. She clearly does not need to bake challah every week. It is not necessary for her physical survival, not in the least. And what of her spiritual survival? Again, there are many ways to feed her spirit, both Jewish and otherwise. And yet, I’ve found that the simple act of doing this, week after week, month after month, does indeed feed the spirit, does indeed feed the soul. And while we in fact don’t need to bake this bread to survive, some of the weekly recipients are in fact hungry, and do in fact need physical nourishment in the form of food. Thus, it's just as much for them than it is for us that we enter the kitchen each week to bake.

Except when it sometimes isn’t the two of us, but just me (see above). While I could try to make her join me, I’ve taken a different route. With each step of the process (initial mixing, shaping and braiding, egg-washing, and giving away), I gently ask if she’d like to join me. If she says “yes,” wonderful, if she says “no,” I respect that. What I’m hoping for is that the example I set week after week (the mixing, kneading, baking, and giving) will ultimaltely have a much more profound and lasting impact than small weekly battles of will.

I’m reminded of some lines from Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” an incredible musical that deeply explores, among other things, parenting. There’s definitely a balance to be had between what we say to our children, and the examples that we set for our children. As we all venture into the woods of life in this new year, here are some thoughts to ponder:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn

Children may not obey
But children will listen
Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say
“Listen to Me”
Children will listen

Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free

Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen
 Eventually, the smell of freshly baked challah always wins her over!

Eventually, the smell of freshly baked challah always wins her over!