Getting my family to shul can be a challenge. Louisa usually needs a nap by 11am, which means she's cranky soon after we arrive. On top of that, everyone is tired from running around all week, and the motivation levels for dressing up and getting out of the house are resoundingly low.
This morning I was determined. It was Shabbat Shirah, and I didn't want to miss our terrific chazanit and choir. Louisa wasn't on board with my early nap attempt, so I packed her in the stroller and figured she'd pull through and nap after. (An oft quoted piece of wisdom from my mother, Savta Barbara, is: "You can't make a baby sleep or eat.")
Of course, seven blocks later, she was asleep.
So I made it to shul, only to find myself sitting in the social hall beside my sleeping girl, unable to go to the service because it's upstairs (there's a chairlift for the disabled, but no elevator). Several kind folks offered me a hand carrying up the stroller, but I figured the jostling would only wake her. Better to be patient and let her sleep, at least for a while. She'd be the happier for it.
One of the biggest transformations of parenthood is a spiritual one. Yes, your daily life may be infused with moments of spirituality--you've witnessed the miracle of birth, your baby's first smiles and words, and other accumulating wonders. But time to join in with a regular Shabbat service? For some of us, it's hard.
With the help of some loud kids and me rubbing her fingers, Louisa woke up after a half hour. She was surprised, but in a good mood. Some friends with small children arrived and went straight towards the back stairs--to the kids' service. I grabbed a plastic dog and a board book and went the other way, to the grown-ups' service.
On my way up the stairs, a concerned congregant warned me that the sermon was about to begin: not a good time to take her in.
And I thought, Why, then, am I here?
I went in the sanctuary anyway. I've always bristled at the idea that kids shouldn't be welcome in shul. We are supposed to be fruitful and multiply. It's a mitzvah! And then we're stuck in the kids' service for years to come? Do parents not have brains that need feeding, and souls that need tending?
Louisa played quietly with her toys through the sermon and most of Musaf. If the people around us were distracted by her, it was because of her extreme cuteness, not any noise that she was making.
Eventually, she needed to move around so I took her to the Tot Shabbat playroom, full of kids and parents who take the back stairs. No doubt, for many just having a place to come with their little ones on Shabbat morning is a blessing. Community can bring its own spirituality. Louisa enjoyed the snacks and toys, and I enjoyed catching up with friends.
The kids' service is just fine, as long as I'm not stuck there.