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Monday, October 4, 2010

Kids' Night Out

By 11:30 P.M., I was almost wiped. Two hours of carrying a kid on your shoulders, and she starts to feel a lot heavier than that six-pack-sized newborn that your wife delivered only two years ago.
You’re tired. You want to go to sleep. You remember fishing her out of her cot at 7 a.m. that morning, she couldn’t possibly have weighed as heavy as she does now, and how does she manage to go this long with only having one nap? You would kill for a nap.
An hour later, she is still going strong. It’s nearly one in the morning, we’re just sitting down to dinner at the house of people we just met, I’m trying to remember their names at the same time as I’m trying not to fall asleep in the far-too-comfortable chairs in their dining room…and my daughter is having an all-out Lego war in the living room with the family’s son.
I swear: This isn’t like us. Our kids are usually in bed by 7:oo. On most nights, we are responsible people.
But then Simchat Torah hit.
Simchat Torah — literally, “Rejoicing of the Torah” — is basically created to be a kids’ holiday. Sukkot, where you construct an eight-foot-tall booth in the backyard? Not so much. On Rosh Hashanah you blow into a ram’s horn called a shofar, which my daughter hasn’t mastered — no matter how much she practices, it still sounds like a poor imitation of a fart (which, under other circumstances, would be pretty awesome). But the main part of Simchat Torah is dancing around with a Torah and eating cookies in the shape of Hebrew letters. Kids can get with that. If I wasn’t still semi-embarrassed about what our new neighbors thought of us, I’d be all over it, slam-dancing with my own plush Torah and noshing down on gimels and ayins until morning came.
When we got to synagogue, forget about joyfulness, my kids pretty much went bananas. The baby is pretty happy no matter what — give her a brightly-colored fuzzy anything and she’ll gleefully drool all over it. But our older daughter usually sits in a corner, watching everyone else. Not tonight. After getting buzzed on a piece of cake (we don’t usually let her eat cake or candy, except for one piece, on holidays, and then only at synagogue) she proceeded to hug her miniature Torah while jumping all over the place, in unison — or in lack of it — with the other kids. The festivities started at 7:30, half an hour after her usual bedtime (have I mentioned?), but we gave her a late nap at 5:00 to prepare her.
And she was prepared.
And then she kept on being prepared.
This was our first Simchat Torah in the new community. We didn’t know how it would work, whether people would stay up late or bring their kids to synagogue or leave them home or put them to sleep in the synagogue’s basement and lock the doors. After much debate, we decided to play it by ear. We were still playing it by ear several hours later when, in between dances, a friendly stranger said, “What are you doing after this?”
“After this? Probably catching an hour of sleep and waking up when the baby cries and then sleepwalking through a feeding or two; why do you ask?”
He laughed like I was joking. “Come over for dinner,” he said.
I checked my watch. Dinner? But saying nothing was like saying yes — there we were, at his house, my daughter ripping apart his living room and extra place settings being arranged on the table. ”We have to get home,” I hissed in my wife’s ear for the eighteenth time that night, eyeing the daughter in her increasing rambunction.
“It’s okay,” my wife reassured me. “It’s just one night.”
I was skeptical. Men, I think, are accustomed to rigidity — to making up rules and sticking to them. Women have some sort of inner emergency break that lets them slow down, coast around, evaluate a situation and reconfigure their programming to accommodate it. I’m talking about my wife, of course, but I’m also talking about my daughter. Just as my eyes had started moving independently and I was sure I was already dreaming, the meal came to a close, hands were shaken and numbers exchanged — I told my daughter it was time to go home to bed and, for possibly the first time ever, she replied with a cheerful “yep!”
When she was an infant, she had the worst sleep problems. She’d cry herself off schedule and only get offer. The next day, we feared a regression. There was the damage — she woke up at 11:00 instead of her usual 7:30 — but then skipped her nap and went to bed exactly at 7. The night before might have been Simchat Torah, but that night, when her head hit the pillow and she closed her eyes for 12 and a half hours exactly, was my rejoicing.

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