Reading My Children

From the moment of my new baby’s arrival, I found myself making the mistake I swore I never would: comparing his every move, cry or yawn to that of his sister’s.

by Rabbi Nicole Guzik

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CJ Blog Nicole Guzik baby photo

It is my first week back from maternity leave and I am now the proud mommy of two beautiful children. Annie was born December 18, 2011 and Zachary on October 8, 2013. And admittedly, from the moment of Zach’s arrival, I found myself making the mistake I swore I never would: comparing his every move, cry or yawn to that of his sister’s. It was inevitable. She began to smile at 7 weeks…when would we see Zach’s gummy grin? Annie rolled over at 10 weeks…would Zachary chart the same course? After several misinformed comparisons between siblings, I knew what I had to do: start reading my son.

Flashback to the week Annie was born. In the first two nights in the hospital, my husband and I were floored. We looked at each other and said, “That’s right. Our daughter sleeps through the night — how hard could parenthood be?” And then…came the third night. Annie kept us up…all night long…and no matter the amount of bouncing, singing, rocking, shushing, eating…she was determined to keep us on our toes. The next morning, I called the pediatrician’s office and the nurse answered the phone. I said, “You don’t understand. My baby wouldn’t sleep at all last night. Something must be wrong with her. You have to help me.” The nurse asked, “Well, how old is your baby?” I said, “Three days old.” The nurse laughed and said, “Yes, your baby is three days old.” … and hung up the phone. Erez and I looked at each other and knew…parenthood had begun.

Parents often joke that there is a manual for everything — except being a parent. But actually, there are millions of manuals for being a parent. If you have a question about how to get your baby to sleep through the night, there is an entire section in Barnes n’ Noble devoted to that mission. If you wonder what kind of food to feed your little one, just go on the internet. Moms across the world will give you guidance. Parenting advice comes in every which way — through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, books on baby 101. I even have the “What to expect when you are expecting, infant through age 1” app on on my iPhonr. Manuals are just a click away.

And yet, it took the birth of my daughter and once again, the birth of my son to teach me that the only books I had to read—were them.

There is a wonderful story in the Talmud in which Rabban Gamliel, the head of the rabbinical academy, learns how to read his students. Gamliel stands before the community and stipulates that if any student wants to study in his beit midrash, in his house of study, then their insides have to match their out. In other words, before he let any student study Torah, they went through a particular screening process. Any person that did not match Rabban Gamliel’s criteria was forbidden to enter the beit midrash. When the day came to sit down with his students and begin to study, Rabban Gamliel looked around—the beit midrash was empty.

Immediately, Rabban Gamliel was asked to step down as head of the academy. Hearing the news about his leave, students began to poke their heads into the beit midrash. Word began to circulate that every person was welcome, and soon the beit midrash was overflowing with benches and tables and studying and conversation. Rabban Gamliel returned and realized that he made a mistake. He was screening his students for what he wanted them to be;  he realized he should have been reading his students—learning about their passions, drives, interests, loves, and desires.

The famous poet Yehuda HaLevi writes:

I have sought your nearness,

With all my heart have I called You,

And going out to meet You

I found You coming toward me.

My children are teaching me that the way to read them is to be present in their lives with an open heart. It is my prayer and hope that my babies never question my love — that they know how I feel because I express it often; that they feel known because I take the time to know them. Everything else can wait. Put the iPhone to the side. Power down the iPad. Turn off the television. Mentally shut out the rest of the world — nothing matters more in this world.

Annie and Zachary, you are teaching me that there is a chance to experience a deeper love I never knew existed and if I take the time, every day, to truly be with you, to give myself to you, we will experience that love, over and over again.

We are only able to read the books of those we love… if we let those we love… inside our hearts. I look forward to reading my babies, over and over again.