Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

On Being a Non-Participant

This week was the much-publicized Great Challah Bake and Shabbos Project.  I was totally excited about both these events, but, much to my dismay, I didn’t participate in either!  What?!  Yes.

The Challah Bake was scheduled on Thursday.  On Wednesday, I realized that my husband was scheduled to work the 2 pm to 1 am shift on Thursday.  Though I did see some pictures of friends who took a kid with them, I didn’t have the energy to shlep all my kids, and I didn’t have the energy to get a babysitter, either (for some reason, finding a babysitter takes a Herculean amount of effort).  So I watched from home as my newsfeed filled up with pictures of thousands and thousands of women across the country participating in this amazing event.  It looked tremendous, really tremendous!

As for the Shabbos Project, we almost hosted a couple boys for meals, but in the end they went somewhere else, so it was just us.  And since I was still recuperating from the holidays, and a little under the weather, and also having zero energy from, Baruch Hashem, being in the last month of pregnancy, I was a little relieved to not have guests this week.

And when our daughter ended up being sick multiple times Friday night (poor thing!), I was even more grateful for the lack of guests.  Maybe that was the reason that our guests cancelled.

But as I write all this, I feel apologetic and guilty about not participating, about being too tired to do more.  On the one hand, I truly don’t have a lot of energy right now.  And knowing when to say no is an important skill.  On the other hand, I love having guests.  I love participating in big events.  I do get energized from these things, and maybe if I had risen to the challenge, I would have managed.  I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get to participate in either of these events.  And there’s this niggling voice that says, “but so-and-so tzadeikes was able to host 570 guests for Shabbos even when she was on bedrest and had 27 children of her own!  You’re just a slacker!” (that’s hyperbole, obviously)

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will likely recognize this struggle.  It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way, and it probably won’t be the last.

Now I’m just going to ramble for a few paragraphs

Sometimes there are mitzvos that I really want to do, and don’t have the capability to do.  Sometimes taking care of my family is the most I can do.  I really don’t like not being able to participate in communal things, to not be involved in All The Things.  I’m well aware that as a Jew, I should always be doing (and yes, I’m aware that just being pregnant is actually being in a state of constant doing, even when it doesn’t seem like I’m doing anything).

I also want to be realistic about when trying to do all the things will cause me to be a less patient mother and wife, and I’ve gotten a lot better at that.  I’ve learned what I’m able to make time for and what is really outside the realm of realistic.  People ask me how I have time to write.  It’s because I can sit in my house at 10:13 at night, in comfy clothes and scratch out a little time to write.  Yes, it means I’m ignoring the dishes and the toys strewn about the floor, which I will need to deal with eventually.  It’s the events that have set times, that require me finding a babysitter.  Those just feel completely out of reach most of the time.

But I have a difficult time differentiating between can’t and won’t.  You know?  While I’m on the topic, there are other things I’m also not doing that I feel like giving everyone an apology for.  I’m sorry for not reading your blog posts.  I’m sorry for not promoting your idea.  I’m sorry for not submitting that article in a timely manner.  I’m sorry for not writing that letter, picking up the phone, sending the email….the list could go on for quite some time.

Still kind of aimlessly writing here…

I was wondering if there was even a point in publishing this post.  Maybe I’m just feeling kvetchy.  Maybe I’m rationalizing my non-participating.  Maybe I’m absolutely making the right decision to conserve my energy for my family.  Not being able to tell which is which makes me feel very frustrated.

So, I’m sorry for this disjointed, confused and not-so-polished post.  Except I’m not entirely sorry.  Sometimes that’s just where I’m holding, and why shouldn’t I show you that part of my life as well, right?  Maybe that’s why I didn’t get to participate in either event.  As a reminder for myself that life is messy and unclear and doesn’t always take the shape I might want.

But the shape it takes is really quite wonderful (even if, at this exact moment, I’m listening to my sons complain about having to clean up all the legos they dumped out.  At least they’re actually cleaning, even if it’s super whiny!).  So while I will try to always strive to do as much as I can, appreciating the wonderful is enough for right now.

onthecouch sciencecenterkitchen



14 thoughts on “On Being a Non-Participant

  1. Even when you do participate, you can get into that competitive mind-frame when you tell yourself you didn’t do enough. I did go to the Challah Bake here in L.A., and I spent a lot of effort getting the word out for the project online and around the neighborhood. In the end, they had more people who wanted to host (here in L.A.) than needed, so we (and a lot of other people we know) didn’t end up getting any guests for the meals. I was doing a lot of the things you describe — telling myself, “Well, so-and-so got a whole bunch of guests,” and “Maybe I didn’t try hard enough to find guests. I should have phoned XYZ.” But Hashem isn’t going to judge us for not accomplishing what someone else did, but whether we did what WE had to do. And I think that getting everyone fed and keeping them happy and watching your own children while your husband is working while you are in your final month of pregnancy is pretty good by that standard.

    1. I was watching your participation from a afar. I especially liked the window writing! That was a great idea!

      And great reminder that we are only judged for what our capabilities and hishtadlus are, so necessarily the end result. Thanks for the validation, too. :)

  2. “but so-and-so tzadeikes was able to host 570 guests for Shabbos even when she was on bedrest and had 27 children of her own!  You’re just a slacker!”


    So-and-so probably had 21,5 nervous breakdowns you don’t know about, because she doesn’t like to talk about this. Or, in a year she’ll leave the house to get a newspaper and send a postcard from Australia a month later. Or…

    When I was nine months pregnant, I told the father of the child that no, his brother couldn’t come to stay with us for a few nights. I mean – I was pregnant! I could barely move! I had a lot of things on my mind! I sure as hell didn’t want other people in our apartment! Not even people I knew and liked. (And that was my first (and only) pregnancy, so, unlike you, I didn’t have small children spreading chaos at the time.)

    The way I see it, just now you don’t have to do anything. The appropriate setting would be: you lounging on a sofa all day, and everyone else serving you drinks and candy, providing books and DVDs and fanning with palm leaves. They don’t? Hm. Yes. Oh well, that’s life – still: Rest and do things for yourself. If and as long as you still can. ;-) (And just for yourself, for making you feel good. Not in order to function as well as possible.)

    Another thought: I, too, like participating in all the fun, meaningful, interesting activities, and of course I can’t always make it. What I find worthwhile is asking myself why I worry about not being there. Am I afraid people will forget me, or stop liking me? Do I think other people won’t do it right if I’m not there? Do I secretely believe that G’d loves me more if I achieve more? (Not that these thoughts make me stop worrying. But they distract me from worrying.)

    – Anyway, I hope all is and remains well with you and wish you, and the rest of the family, all the best! :-) (And sorry for the long comment. I was carried away.)

    1. I love this comment. :) And those are excellent questions to ask myself if I’m feeling worried or bothered about not being at a specific activity. I will do my best to lounge and work on training my children to wait on me hand and foot. ;)

  3. RIvki, you’re doing the right thing by saying no when you need to and WANT to. We cannot do (or read) all the things! You and your family have to come first, and I agree that when I’m spread too thin, I end up 100% less patient with my family, and I’m generally unhappy. By the way, I also ended up not doing any Shabbos Project activities, which is sort of surprising because that kind of thing is right up my alley usually! Timing just didn’t work out. I mean, we did Shabbat, of course, but not with the big group kind of thing.

  4. It’s been a while since I’ve read your blog, so first off – B’sha’ah Tovah! Now, as for the “meat” of your post: I understand so completely. It’s been ages since we’ve had guests at our Shabbat table, for various reasons, and I often remind myself of the friends who had 5 little kids and who used to routinely host shabbat or holiday meals for 30 of their students. But you know what – I can’t do that right now. And it’s okay (I hope!) Anyhow, if G-d is going to hold our non-participation against us, at least we’ll both be in good company :)

    1. Amen! Thanks! I loved the quilts in your last post. I’m happy to keep your company in this non-participant area. I mean, we *are* participating, just within our family unit. :)

  5. Sounds like a bad case of FOMO (feelings of missing out). I also hate that feeling too! Usually FOMO is only before the event when everyone is talking about it and I know I’m missing out. If I still have FOMO after an event when it’s old news, that’s usually a sign that I really wanted to be part of it, not just cos of peer pressure.
    But maybe writing this post is a form of participation? You got a bunch of people thinking about the Shabbos Project. A valuable contribution to the event – perhaps even more so than having a guest. You never know the impact.
    Good for you!

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