You've been there, right? It's one of those early mornings where you just can't sleep. Hoping to put a positive spin on the situation you get out of bed and decide to do some work -- a little housekeeping, a little paid work, a little learning, perhaps even a spiritual accounting (It is Elul after all!). It's dark and quiet; you have some of that rare and treasured privacy. You're alone as the house sleeps. Maybe getting up at five isn't so bad after all. Maybe it's worth trying on a regular basis.

And then you hear it. The pitter patter of little feet. The "Mommy I can't sleep" or "Eema I had a bad dream" or "It's too hot in my room." Deflated, you resign yourself to extra hours of child care instead of the imagined quiet thinking and growing space. You turn to your child with a warm smile and a hug, "How can I help you sweetheart?"

Did I get the scenario right? It's what occurred in my home one recent morning -- almost. Everything except that last line. There was no smile, warm or otherwise, no hug, no pleasant greeting. I was annoyed and frustrated. "What are you doing up?" "Get back into bed." "So read a boring book." "Then just shut your eyes and lie there." A new response for every interruption. I tried to recapture the earlier moments of focus and peace but to no avail.

What had happened to my learning time? When was I ever going to fit in that spiritual growth?

As I sent a tired, grumpy child off to school, I faced the obvious. The Almighty had a given me an opportunity for spiritual growth; I just hadn't recognized it. I had blown that one big time.

My child's early rising was not a distraction from my goal; it actually offered the possibility of its fulfillment. I could have been patient. I could have been kind. I could have been loving. I could have lifted out of myself. Could have and should have.

Words and classes about the month of preparation before the High Holidays are empty without practical application.

Real spiritual change is evidenced by how we behave, not by how much we read.

I could have put my thoughts about growth into action. How could I fall back on my child's interruptions as an excuse not to? There will always be interruptions. There will always be excuses. That's part of the challenge.

I'm embarrassed by how quickly I slipped into familiar unproductive patterns, how easily I allowed all thoughts of character change to slip from my mind as I nudged and fussed and complained.

I feel foolish thinking that I needed to ignore the real life learning experience in front of me in order to read about growth in a book.

Real spiritual change and accomplishment is evidenced by how we behave, not by how much we read (even if we highlight it in various colors).

Although I didn't take advantage of this morning's opportunity (to put it mildly), I'm heartened by the thought of tomorrow. It's a new day and I really plan to do better.