By Sarah Anderson
Every night at 6:45, the evening bedtime routine begins. My husband takes two lively and squirmy boys upstairs for a bath that usually ends up as a splashing, wrangling, wrestling match of sorts. Sometimes it results in clean boys, and sometimes just very wet ones. While managing that chaos, I pick up the abandoned toys and rinse the abandoned dishes. I make a sippy cup of milk for the boy who is in diapers, and the tiniest sippy cup of water for the one who is not. I find pacifiers and blankets. I lay out pajamas, I collect towels and then boys, to read to, sing to, kiss on, hug on, and then bid goodnight.
And once their doors are closed for the night, I start preparing for the next day—to do it all again.
Parenting is hard on so many levels. It can be monotonous. Demanding. Filled with thousands of tiny selfless acts not prone to being noticed. It is saturated with times when a parent is compelled to forego themselves for the sake of another—rarely with the “other’s” notice.
It is tiring work. To lose oneself in the making of another—in the routine, in the familiarity. It is easy to wonder where we went.
In Judaism, they teach the idea when it comes to the text of Scripture, that the words are black fire on white fire. From what I understand, the concept suggests the actual words on the page say something—but so does the white space between the words. There is as much to learn from the black ink as the white gaps. There is the study of God’s holy word–and there is the study of God’s holy silence. It is the background. It is the stuff that you can’t put words to, but exists and is necessary to make the visible words more poignant and rich.
There are days when it feels like I am the white space in my kid’s lives. They can’t name what I do. They can’t put words to the ways I am making their days run smoothly, their nighttimes happen effectively, their worlds comfortable. My role is so often defined by the things that can’t be defined. For this reason, the hazard in parenting is to wake up one day wondering where we went. We end up feeling invisible. Overlooked. Like the background to a story we once felt central to, but no longer matter in.
This is the risk in parenting.
That we begin to believe our selfless acts are for nothing.
That the load of laundry being started just shy of midnight is unappreciated.
That the lunches packed to each child’s preference is not valued.
That the driving to and from school, and then to and from practice and then to and from whatever next is insignificant.
That the routine becomes so commonplace to the ones it is for, they will come to value what we do more than who we are.
That is the risk.
But I think the Jewish tradition is on to something. The white space, though un-definable, though boundless and intangible, is so very necessary for the black ink. Jewish tradition suggests that the words tell us something, but the space between gives meaning. In the details and monotony, in the routine and habit of parenting, is the backbone to the families we are raising. We may sometimes get lost in the sprouting out and growing up of our children, but our quiet work behind them, around them, for them is what is allowing them to grow into who they were meant to be.
In a few minutes, my husband will begin to corral the kids. I will do what I do to restore the house to its formal glory—though a short-lived glory come morning. But I will learn to do it for the beauty and purpose found in the invisible, but necessary white space. I will do it, because I believe there is meaning in the undefinable, but molding tasks of life. I will do it because though it may not seem like it, it matters.