I wasn’t expecting the response Isabelle gave me when she decided to answer my question 45 minutes after I posed it. If I had expected something so crisp, mature, and wise, then I would’ve listened more carefully. But I wasn’t listening with rapt attention because I didn’t think I could handle the disappointment response.
Marc, Isabelle, and I spent the morning with our rabbi and the other 6th and 7th graders and their families at our synagogue. The topic: Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah*. With Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah approaching in a little over six months, this is something that’s been at the center of many of our discussions for the past year. As a result, both Marc and I made sure to be in attendance this morning.
After spending about two hours learning, listening, and discussing, we walked up to the sanctuary for the prayer service. I turned to Isabelle and asked, “What was your big takeaway from this morning?”
“I’m wondering about the most important thing you learned…”
Isabelle groaned at me.
“I got a lot out of this morning. I’m wondering what you thought was important.”
“Do I have to tell you?” she asked.
“Yes, you do. I’m trying to have a conversation with you about a family education program we just attended together. I want to know what you thought about it. You tell me and I will tell you.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t learn anything.”
“C’mon. You know you did.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Isabelle said crossing her arms across her chest.
“We can talk later,” I said.
Isabelle harrumphed about the absurdity of me pressing her about her takeaways.
Sensing her frustration rise, I said, “You’re in public. Please don’t make a scene.”
A moment later, Marc walked into the sanctuary. I looked at him and said, “Do you think it’s unreasonable to ask Isabelle what she got out of this morning?”
Marc sat down, turned to us, and said, “No, I don’t. But let’s talk about it later.”
“That’s exactly what I told her,” I said, thankful for the lifeline.
*= Our rabbi also spoke the non-gendered Kabbalat Mitzvah. Click here to learn more.
After services, Isabelle spoke up once we were on the way to Wegmans. “Do you want to hear what the big thing was that I learned from this morning?”
I ignored the hint of snark in her voice and said, “yes.”
I’ll paraphrase since I didn’t expect what was coming: “I learned that your Jewish education doesn’t end so you keep learning after you become a Bat Mitzvah.”
My eyes grew wide beneath my sunglasses. Wow! If that is what she took away from the morning with our rabbi, then SHE GOT IT! I had a choice, right then and there.
Option A: I could ask her to say more about what kind of learning one should do.
Option B: I could praise her for synthesizing the essence of the morning and then add my biggest takeaway.
I chose Option B.
Later in the afternoon, I called Isabelle into my bedroom. I complimented her. I told her how impressed I was with her ability to take the time to think through my question and then share a thoughtful response. I reminded her that we aren’t trying to engage in a gotcha-session when we ask her what she learned in Hebrew school. We want to understand what she’s learning and talk with her.
“Anytime you need more wait time, just ask for it. We will give it to you any time you need to reflect before you speak.”
She nodded, then walked away leaving me to feel like we took a few steps forward today.