Soon after moving into my first apartment, I felt ready to take on the responsibility of caring for another living thing, so I bought some house plants. This made me feel very grown up. I remembered to water them and talk to them with care. And on a bright, sunny day in early fall, I brought them onto my patio to give them a treat. A nice afternoon in the sunshine! They died, brown and shriveled. Plants, it turns out, are not fans of abrupt novelty. I have not bought a plant since, but the ones that are given to me are welcomed into a botanical hospice-type situation. I try to keep them comfortable on their inevitable way out. My care-taking energies have all since gone to children.
Children, it turns out, are also great lovers of regularity. Like plants (don’t worry, the house plant/child analogy will end soon), kids need same-ness. They crave it to a degree that often surprises me. Fortunately, we can provide it to them in ways more interesting than that required by plants: in ritual and tradition. As teacher at the JCC and synagogue, the work of creating kid-friendly rituals and traditions is done for me. We provide ancient practices in a modern way. Each day, each week, and each year has a deeply meaningful rhythm. The children are safe in the structure. The children are part of something bigger than themselves. It is comforting, useful to developing brains and a source of creativity. Something new in chaos is just more chaos. It is in the context of patterns that variations can be delightful. I know of a family that celebrates Shabbat in this novel way: everyone gets to sleep wherever they want in the house Friday night. It is fun because it is predictable, and one can plan it all week, but also because it is the exception to what is typical.
Dig into your heritage to find rituals, look to your larger community, or make up your own from thin air. Wednesday night pizza night, Hip-hop in the car on the way to school, musicals on the way home, whatever. You days at home and school can start with rituals of greeting each other and the new day. Meals can be elevated beyond refueling. Rituals provided anchoring points on the sometimes scary journey of floating through time. They deepen the connections within family and classroom community.
Ground the children in tradition, and watch them bloom.