Simple Joys of Slings and Sukkos
Sukkot starts this Wednesday night, coincidentally in the middle of International Babywearing Week 2011. Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. It’s a time when we strip our lives down to the essentials and celebrate the simple joy of having enough, of harvests that have come to fruition, of shelter that protects without isolating us from our surroundings, of journeys in progress and destinations only vaguely imagined, and of time spent celebrating the moment with friends and family.
Like a new parent who’s spent so much of the pregnancy thinking about birth without considering what will happen when the baby arrives, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by Sukkot coming so soon after the High Holidays. I’ve made it through a holiday marathon only to find that it’s not really over. Actually it’s just beginning. There’s a sukkah to build, a temporary hut with a roof made of branches or bamboo. There’s food to be cooked and guests to invite and a lulav and etrog to buy. Luckily our sukkah went up this year without extensive repairs, the lulav is on order, my freezer is stocked and my husband is on guest-inviting duty...
...Which means, that with most of the physical and logistical details out of the way, I should be able to experience the holiday. With young kids, the soul searching of the high holidays can be a big challenge. Just try getting a few minutes to think, let alone the sustained time and concentration for serious self-reflection and repentance. Sukkot is different. The spiritual task of Sukkot is to be present in the moment and appreciate it. Kids are great at that, and our challenge is simply to join them in their playfulness and enthusiasm.
The flimsy structure of the Sukkah is supposed to remind us of the huts the Israelites camped in on their journey through the desert after leaving Egypt on their way to the promised land. Like new parents, surprised after the momentous experience of birth that the journey of parenthood lies entirely before them, the Israelites were overwhelmed, uncertain, and a bit scared of what lay ahead. They had only a vague idea of where they were going and their plan for how to get there was one step at a time with faith that God would be with them. This is the moment of Sukkot, and as parents of babies and young children, this is our holiday. It’s our chance to acknowledge the precariousness of this moment, to celebrate the potential it holds, and to embrace where we are on the journey with faith that somehow we’ll find our way to where we need to go, coming closer and closer though we may never really arrive.
It seems fitting that Sukkot overlaps with International Babywearing Week this year. I’m also a big fan of babywearing, for many of the same reasons that I love Sukkot. You could say that a sling (or a wrap, or an ergo, etc.) is to a stroller, like a sukkah is to a house. It’s simpler, keeps you in closer contact with your surroundings. It takes up less space, and goes more places. In some ways it is less comfortable, but more cozy. It’s perfect for the beginning of the journey. When my first son was born, I couldn’t imagine choosing a stroller. I had no idea what features I would need, or how much I should spend, but most of all, I didn’t really want to put down the baby. I did want to go places, to function in the world, and to take my baby with me, and babywearing felt right. I bought a couple of carriers, borrowed others and learned to use them from the amazing Boston Babywearers, and soon, I felt present both in my world and in my baby’s.
With my babies now two and four years old, I’m wearing them only occasionally these days. It turns out my little one loves his stroller right now, and often wants to walk himself. But as I begin getting into the spirit of Sukkot, trying to embrace the simple joys of life, I’m missing the long stretches I spent wrapped together with my babies, always available to steal a moment of connection and presence as I stretched between my world and theirs. Though I’m not wearing them as much, this is a great opportunity to notice that we’re still in that place, on the journey together, not sure exactly where we’re going, but going there together, with faith that we’ll figure it out and appreciation for where we are right now.
So here’s to a happy international babywearing week, (you can find a schedule of events in Boston here), and a simple, joyous Sukkot. Whether we’re wearing or not, whether or not the weather and children allow for relaxed meals in the great outdoors, lets all find some way this week to celebrate this moment in our journey.