Shabbat in the Woods by Charna  Mamlok WesterveltAs we were lighting the candles last Friday night, my hands cupped to my face, I heard for the first time my daughter’s voice quietly but confidently saying the words along with me. And so I did something that I haven’t done since I was a kid: I opened my eyes, mid-prayer, and ever-so-subtly moved my hands away from my face. Yes, I peeked.

I had to!

I didn’t want only to hear this scene unfolding, I needed to see it, too. We were camping with our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter for the first time and I wanted to remember this beautiful moment.

Here’s what I saw: T was seated on a picnic bench across from the citronella candle and hamburger buns (our challah), with her hands covering her eyes as she spoke the prayer. My heart swelled. A tear started to form in the corner of my eye.

And then, all of a sudden, she was peeking back, too! 

My first thought: Oh, hi, Little One.

And then: Shoot! Wait, this isn’t right.

I fumbled for a moment and then quickly closed my eyes, moved my hands back over my face, and we finished the prayer together.

No harm done, I think.

My husband, Rob, and I, we were excited to introduce our daughter to camping—something we had wanted to do for years, but something that had always seemed too overwhelming to do with a small child. Years ago, before we became parents, I recall filling our beloved Honda Civic top to bottom with camping gear for a weekend trip, and wondering how we’d ever be able to take our future kids camping. (Hint: We got a bigger car.)

T was excited, too. She has been talking for months about wanting to go camping. (I think she may have been influenced by an episode of Caillou.)

I am happy that finally we were able to share this experience with our daughter, and to do so while celebrating one of our favorite family traditions—Shabbat.

Shabbat in the woods was similar to Shabbat at home. Except we used hamburger buns for challah and we didn’t have grape juice (a planning oversight!). Thankfully, T didn’t say a word about the absent grape juice and Shabbat in the woods did not turn into a meltdown in the woods.

In truth, there were a few moments while camping that could have ended badly. Like the time when T eagerly went into our tent for the evening, only to realize that Mommy and Daddy weren’t coming to bed quite yet. Or at 2 a.m. when T rolled off her air mattress and onto me, causing crying (T), some light cursing (Rob), and confusion all around. Or several hours later when we realized that leaving the tent screen open was a bad idea. (We hadn’t counted on so much rain.)

Despite all that, T loved the experience. She loved sleeping in a tent with a sleeping bag; she loved “hiking” to the bathroom with her ladybug flashlight; she loved sitting around the campfire. She even loved (well, managed to tolerate) the bugs.

We are so returning to the woods again soon—next time with grape juice.


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