What do your kids see when they look in your eyes?
If they're more than a day old, chances are it's not always dewy pangs of love. Sometimes, after a long day of hidden homework, soggy snow pants or missing money, the message my eyes send is one of anger or disappointment: "How could you?"
I've read enough to understand how to channel bad behavior which is sometimes not deliberately bad, just mistaken or careless. And I work hard reinforcing the consequences of wrong choices and our responsibility to fix mistakes. At least, on my good days.
On those other days when my attention is shattered into pitifully small fragments, I feel like a broken record -- if only my kids knew what a record was. Then, it all goes out the window. I wish I could say something useful, but for all I've read and all the classes I've taken, I know if I open my mouth, something terrible might come out, making matters worse. My son will slink off with his "badness," my daughter will curl up with it in bed. Like an ingrown toenail, their negative behavior will become ever more central to a child's identity. "I'm a bad kid," they'll think. "Maybe I'll do something rotten." Aaargh!
A few weeks ago, I realized my pressure-cooker usually blows right before Shabbat when I get overwhelmed by the thousand details that seemingly will never fall into place.
I sympathize when batters slide into home plate -- that's me at candle lighting. And in the middle of it all, my kids would come bounding in, needing snacks, baths, outfits, waving tests, Parsha pages, banana-smelling lunch bags and doodles they'd made on Tuesday but saved just…because. Sometimes, I'd snap. Big problem. Shabbat is supposed to be a joy; something we look forward to, not dread, and I worried that my anxiety would rub off. Then, I looked in the mirror… and found a solution.
This particular Friday, I just finished cleaning the mirrors and was putting away laundry when I spotted window markers we'd bought at Chanukah time. Markers… mirrors… suddenly, they seemed made for each other.
Inside the heart, I wrote the words I feared I might not be able to say later: "100% Adorable."
I started with the full-length hallway mirror. I drew a big heart, at kid-height. I was kicking myself for wasting precious Friday minutes, but something told me this was the most important thing I'd accomplish that day. In a different colour, I wrote "Love Mirror" under the heart. Inside the heart, I wrote the words I feared I might not be able to say later: "100% Adorable." To cover all bases, I added, "…99% of the time." On a roll, I drew a heart on their (clean!) bathroom mirror, right where their faces would be. The message: "Absolutely Perfect."
When the kids arrived, I was extra calm, letting them know I'd love to hear their stories and pictures -- later, on Shabbat. After my son's bath, I spotted him wandering, tzitzit hanging out one way, shirt flying the other, one sock on, trouser legs dragging. Chasing him usually pushes me to my limit. That day, I herded him gently, saying, "Look in the mirror before you come out; be sure you're tucked in and ready."
Eventually, his door creaked open, and I heard footsteps down the hallway. Then, a coo of delight. No sound, and then he was in the kitchen, arms around me. "You're 100% adorable," he laughed, and went off, dressed and ready, to explore the new stash of books we just got from the library.
Since they were babies, it's been my pleasure and honour each Shabbat to "bentsch" [bless] my kids, hand on head, offering traditional blessings. I always ask, "What are you going to be when you grow up?"
The answer is always the same: "a tzaddik" (righteous man) or "a tzadekes" (righteous woman).
"What did you do this week to help you get there?"
The answers are usually small -- "I listened to my teacher" -- but I'm told the greatest journeys begin with the smallest steps.
Not long ago, we read about Joseph and Potiphar's wife. When she tries to seduce him, he flees, and is thrown in jail. Though running away is exactly what we'd expect from Joseph, the Talmud (Sotah 36b) suggests that Joseph was actually about to succumb when he suddenly saw an image of Jacob, his father, in a window.
A window can become like a mirror that reflects what's inside. Some believe that's exactly what Joseph saw -- himself. His own likeness to Jacob pushed him back on the path once and for all.
I have updated our mirror messages a couple of times since that first week. The full-length hallway mirror asks, "You look nice… are you? (I hope so!)" Their bathroom mirror now says, "I'm so proud of my tzaddik / tzadekes in training!"
I want them to keep looking for that person inside, even when I'm not there or not able to say so. Every mirror, it seems, has become a window into my children's eyes.
They are little acorns now, but their ancestors were great oaks; if the winds are right and the soil is rich, they may yet live up to that heritage, no matter how grumpy I get. And instead of a condemning, "How could you?" our Love Mirror reminds them of who they can become, gently challenging: "How could you not?"