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The Holiness of Chores Makes a Great Boredum Buster

Nothing sends chills up my spine more than when my kids whine, “I’m borrrrred.” How is boredom possible when our three-car garage is so jam-packed with bikes, scooters, skates and every size ball imaginable that I can barely squeeze my van into it? Never mind the pogo stick, jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, water balloons, and countless Frisbees that I can’t seem to get rid of. If the temperature is above freezing, I usually push them out the door and order them to “Go Play!”

When the fresh air becomes intoxicating, however, my kids venture indoors for something to do after they raid the refrigerator again. Sure, I allow an appropriate amount of television and computer games for the sake of my own sanity, and no day is complete without my seven-year-old daughter sending her daddy an email. After that, I try to steer my kids in another direction with books, music, art supplies, games, puzzles, trading cards, a chalk board, ping pong table, punching bag, hoola hoops, millions of Lego pieces, and assorted musical instruments that include a hand-me-down piano to bang out “Heart and Soul.”

So with all these things to do, why are my kids still bored?

First of all, boredom is not a problem that needs to be fixed. My children eventually will discover that life is not about constant external stimulation. In fact, Judaism values these empty times to discover something about ourselves. Sometimes this lesson is a little easier with younger children, such as the times when Jack and Sari would spend hours playing with cardboard boxes, masking tape, and empty paper towel tubes that I hoarded religiously. Judaism reminds us that ordinary things like cardboard rocket ships give our children the potential to reach for the stars, and therein lies the core of our religion. The key is to take advantage of these everyday holy opportunities.

Judaism certainly gives us plenty of opportunities for children to make themselves useful. On Friday nights, for example, everyone can do his or her part for Shabbat, whether the job is to light candles or sprinkle sesame seeds on homebaked challah. (Frozen dough is available at some Dierbergs locations, and makes it so easy to feel like a baleboosteh). On holidays such as Hanukah, it’s tradition for Sari to sprinkle blue sugar on dreidal cookies and for Jack to use toothpicks to digs out wax in the menorah.

When it comes to boredom, our Jewish ancestors had yet another answer: “Klop kope on vant,” one of my favorite Yiddish expressions that translates to “Go bang your head against the wall!” I love this phrase so much because it sums up my frustration. In fact, I want to frame the message and hang it in my kitchen, but I don’t know how to needlepoint or do calligraphy. My husband’s Grandma Ruth taught me the timeless sentiment klop kope on vant because her mother Minnie used to say it to her when she complained about having nothing to do. Back in those days, Great Grandma Minnie was too busy to entertain her three children, who grew up walking distance from the downtown shul. Instead, the Lithuanian immigrant baked bread and poked coals in the furnace at the crack of dawn so that her family would wake up to a warm place and breakfast on the table. As a schoolgirl, it was Grandma Ruth’s job to wash the back steps on her hands and knees every Thursday afternoon.

Life is simpler now, or is it? Washing machines may take the place of washboards that now are sold at antique shops, but the idea of everyone pitching in around the house has become a job left undone. Let’s face it, our kids are lazier than generations before them, and it’s our fault. The rabbis from long ago had a solution: chores. The whole idea is that a child who helps out around the house at an early age eventually will contribute to the community. A child who works as a team to make the home run smoother will grow up to serve others and value the tradition of mitzvot (ritual or ethical obligation).

These highly intelligent thinkers made a connection between chores and holiness—brilliant!

Chores don’t have to be fun, and they don’t have to be done perfectly. As long as the job is practical for the age of the child, the lesson of responsibility hopefully will come across. For example, Jack is mature enough to walk our toy poodle Luci, and Sari, a consummate picker-upper, folds towels and underwear better than I do. If each small act is part of a larger effort to honor God, then taking out the trash is not really a dirty job after all.

While it sometimes feels like my kids have less time to be kids because of their busy schedules, I don’t feel guilty about giving them chores. They may not realize it now, but I’m doing them a favor. Eventually, I want them to move out of the house and be independent, self-reliant adults, right? Absolutely, as long as they call me everyday and let me do their laundry when they come over for dinner.

Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.