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September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
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Breakfast And Happiness (Part I)

Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch

The power of the printed word.

It never ceases to amaze me how I can write a column at my humble desk in Jerusalem and readers all across America – people I have never met – tell me how much they have gained from my words. I am touched and humbled by your kind words and especially grateful to The Jewish Press for the platform. I am equally grateful to be associated with The Jewish Press, a publication that has been guiding and enlightening American Jewry since 1960. Needless to say, thanks to the Almighty as well.

After having written this column for so many years, and covering so many topics, I am (finally) bowing to the numerous requests to write about our blessed family. More specifically, I shall commit to paper everyone’s favorite routine: the scene at our breakfast table.

The problem is that there are so many children, b’li ayin hara, that I cannot get the whole scene down in one column. It is really a pity to break in the middle, but I am allotted only so much space. My strong advice is to stay for the entire ride. In subsequent columns, please God, I intend to elaborate about what I have learned from serving breakfast to my kids.

We are talking about feeding 15 children (at the time that this incident occurred), with disparate tastes, schedules, levels of being asleep, levels of being awake, intensities of hunger, and desire to participate in this morning ritual – converging at the same table for an expeditious breakfast to be administered by a loving and infinitely patient father (full disclosure: me) overarchingly concerned about each child’s individual taste and opinion.

And to be sure that everyone’s palate is satisfied and gut satiated with the fullest gustatory and culinary detail, a bountiful buffet is displayed each morning – rich in variety and plentiful in abundance. Being the one in charge of this responsibility, no detail is too small and no chore too cumbersome to ensure that my kids are eating properly and getting the right start on their day.

Ooooh, that sounded so good; but so did the Russian constitution!

Our kitchen is barely large enough for a table, and the idea of a buffet is so unrealistic, so removed from my temperament and so distant from my frugal nature, that bouncing a bowling ball would be far more likely. The menu, invariably and consistently, is cornflakes (which I buy by the pallet) and milk (in unequal doses) poured in.

We are not going to discuss who gets the chipped bowl and who gets the cracked bowl, who gets the looks-like-it-was-not-washed bowl, who gets the unwashed bowl and who gets yesterday’s (or earlier, as the possibilities are endless) half-eaten bowl of cornflakes that is now hardened into an orange fist. Why discuss an issue so minor that it would make the Crimean War seem like a love-fest?

Conducting this operation so that a) everyone gets fed; b) the kids are able to depart for school with no bodily or emotional harm; c) the Survival of the Fittest version of musical chairs is not enacted; d) upon departure it does not look like fifteen (!) people ate there; and e) most importantly (as I shall explain) everyone gets off on time, requires a few ground rules.

I have learned these rules after keenly observing my children’s predilections and natures and copiously studying the vast literature of parenting dos and don’ts. Accordingly, I only implement rules that are never autocratic and stifle individual expression. My sole motivation is the efficacy of the goal with no collateral damage en route.

Maybe it is time to invoke the Russian Constitution analogy again.

Factually, my only rule during breakfast is “Thou shall not speak!” And my well-mannered and urbane children, endowed with a rare felicity of politesse, react to this as they do to all of my rules: absolute and total ignore. The breakfast table sounds like the runway at O’Hare.

But that, of course, in no way discourages me from delicately and oh-so lovingly catering to each of my children’s individual tastes and penchants, which earns me an avalanche of appreciation, admiration and, let’s be frank about this, veneration. (Full disclosure: the untrained eye would be hard-pressed to pick up on this.)

However, one schooled in the fine art of discerning kids’ true inner feelings, and how they pang to subtlety express their overwhelming sense of gratitude, would have no problem discerning verbal protests and vehement remonstrations to really be deep-seated telepathic messages of “Give me more!” Personally, I think this is proof-positive as to how ignorant the population at large is regarding parenting.

The knowledgeable – and there aren’t many of us – aren’t duped by these smoke screen try-and-hide-your-true-emotion histrionics. This is where advanced pedagogic skills, honed through years of not confusing complaints or cries with grievances, has paid off in spades. I think it was George Orwell, or some other noted child educator, who recognized that children’s antics for attention are actually a reflection of their contentedness. Now you see why so many people get it wrong.

In any event, now that I have divulged my parenting prowess, let me afford a little credit to the kids themselves, who – despite myself – keep educating me. This brings us back to the kitchen table quite a number of years ago when I was administering cornflakes.

I had gone through my routine of putting out the bowls (entertaining no possibility of trade-ins or upgrades), fifteen at the time, inserting the cornflakes (emptying out four boxes in the process), pouring the milk, adding the spoons and manning my battle station so that I could peacefully and serenely oversee the breakfast of champions.

That morning the kids had a – pardon the pun – mouthful to say, in total disregard of breakfast’s gag order. The comments were so personality-reflective and kid-esque that I recorded them (never knowing that one day I would share them with the public at large).

(To be continued)

Chodesh tov – have a pleasant month!

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