Saturday, November 21, 2009


Less than a day after my first placement, I was hit with a whopper of a Shabbat. As hinted to in my last post, we started Shabbat in the ER. There was never a doubt in my mind about what to do--obviously, we were there and we were going to do what needed to be done to make sure that Sabrina was healthy, and then we would go to the pharmacy to pick up her meds on the way home, and then we would go home.

But things turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. First there was the light in the bathroom (in the ER) that Sabrina wanted me to turn off and on because she was feeling better and therefore being a normal 4 year old, and I did it because I wasn't even thinking about it being Shabbat. Then there was the question--do I write down the directions that the nurse is giving me or can I get her to write them, and does it matter? Then, when we got to the pharmacy (to which the prescriptions had been called in, and I didn't have copies) and it was closed, trying to decide whether to just drive back this morning or if I should call the clinic and ask if they could call the prescription in to a different pharmacy that was walking distance to my apartment. (Ultimately I decided it was easier just to go back by car; I didn't really want to have to walk to a pharmacy with a little one who is sick and whose interest in walking places I hadn't had a chance yet to assess.)

Meanwhile, I'd left my apartment at 11:25 fully expecting to be back an hour later with a sick kiddo, so none of the lights were as they should be, my alarm wasn't set (not a problem), no food had been cooked (also not a problem, as the main cooking was to be for a potluck on Friday that we obviously didn't go to)... Sabrina was asleep so I carried her in and took the elevator--not climbing three flights of stairs carrying a sleeping 4 year old. Knocked on my next door neighbors' door and they came over to sit with Sabrina while I went back to the car to get our things--necessary? maybe not. But better to do than not, I thought. Then the first thing I did when I got back to the apartment was to turn on the light in the bathroom by Sabrina's room. Again, not necessarily critical, but on the "for the benefit of the sick person" line of thinking, I did it anyway.

Then I turned my computer on and sent an email to the social worker. That didn't save anyone's life or even contribute to anyone's health, but it seemed important to do. (And while I had the computer on, I checked the pharmacy's hours.) It was a struggle not to look at the 65 or so emails I had gotten, but I was proud of myself for keeping focused on the two tasks I needed to do and then closing the computer.

Today after we went to the pharmacy, we ended up watching a DVD. Over and over again. Three times. A few times I needed to push the buttons on the remote, but basically she did all of the button pushing, and I just put the DVD in the player. A little weird davening Shabbat musaf* while Elmo is on the TV.

All in all, I'm confident that I made the right decisions throughout the day, though it certainly didn't feel very much like Shabbat. I wouldn't have done most of the things that I did if I had been the one who was sick, but for someone else I was quick to put her needs and her wishes (and the futility of trying to explain Shabbat--in the moment--to a 4 year old who just wanted to watch TV) ahead of my own. But I hope that I don't have to make those decisions again any time soon.

* Daven = pray; musaf = one of the specific sections of prayers that only is said on Shabbat and on holidays.


  1. Wow. Shavua tov! I just read your last two posts - You had quite a few days! I just had to comment on this because I just read it aloud to my partner - and then said "we HAVE to comment on this because we might be the only people who read the blog who know about how big a deal this is!" LOL. We are glad to have some preview of what's in store for us. It is hard to know what choices to make in the moment when it comes to breaking shabbos. There's the obviously-necessary (taking a sick child to the ER and going to the pharmacy) and then there's the things you just know you need to do but you also have a feeling a rabbi might discourage you from doing, like putting a DVD in for a scared and sick child. If she stays with you, you two will figure out a routine and you'll be able to explain that on Shabbos she needs to put the DVD in herself and whatnot. But you were not exactly handed the Dream Saturday, now were you? Seems like the foster care system, even at its best, always leaves foster parents a little unprepared by way of omitting information, neglecting to bring a kid's clothes, etc. So I guess the best we can hope is to get used to not being prepared and do the best we can to anticipate the wildly varying situations that can come up during a kid's first few days of placement (and beyond).

    I think a lot of people who aren't religious Jews don't understand why we keep Jewish law so scrupulously, why we would have a crisis over whether or not to take an elevator or drive a car. It seems so legalistic and mundane to them. Yet these are the things that make up the rhythms of our Jewish lives, and Shabbos creates the rhythm of our week. So beyond the fact of doing what we feel that G-d commands of us, there is something that feels *viscerally* wrong about doing things differently when you're used to keeping shabbos... on an almost physical level. I feel so weird when I have to use a nebulizer on Shabbos (which I have to do pretty often lately) but that's the extent of my breaking shabbos (intentionally) because I haven't been put in a situation yet where I"ll have to. I know that's all about to change. I also know that with a kid I'm responsible for, that kid will always come first, and while I'll always keep halacha in mind, I won't necessarily be tearing my hair out over "what my rabbi would say" about every little thing I need to do to keep them feeling safe and comfortable.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you for this. You said a lot of what I meant to say, only better than I could have! I don't care so much about "what my rabbi would say" since I know what he would say (not that I have a "my rabbi"--but the rabbi of the shul I go to)--he would say that this is why I shouldn't be a foster parent. But there is a bit of insecurity--would my friends support the decisions that I'm making? I talked to George this morning about Shabbat and didn't articulate my thoughts/feelings very well, but I noticed myself getting a little defensive instead of being fully confident in what I had done. And not because of anything he said, but because of my own insecurity. Like I needed to defend to myself my choices. It's a journey...and I'll find my way eventually!

  3. It's very difficult to remain observant when you do foster care, especially when you are caring for non-Jewish children.

    I know our level of observance went WAY down after we started doing foster care. I guess all I can say is that you should do the best you can do.

    And really, I think the comfort and care of a sick, scared little kid who doesn't understand Jewish customs probably should override specific observances.

  4. As you know, I'm not a Jew, but it seems to me that you did a good job finding a balance that works. Obviously Sabrina was sick with whatever asthma-related problems she had, but I think it was good that you were sensitive to the more abstract or metaphorical recovery she's doing in terms of being in a new home away from her loved ones. Like BytheBay said, you probably wouldn't have needed to do so much for her every Shabbat, but I definitely agree that she needed it this time. I'm glad you were able to find the balance that fit both your needs acceptably, even if it wasn't anything like what you'd normally want to do! It sounds like you're doing a great job for her. I hope she can go to relatives very soon, but I'm glad she's with you now.

    One question: what is she calling you?

  5. I also think this is one place where being Orthodox has its advantages. If one isn't Orthodox or isn't of a similarly strong halachic persuasion, it's easy to start coming up with excuses to keep doing this every week, or why since you had to do one thing non shabbos-y thing, you should do another. Being frum I think we have more safety from the "slippery slope" since we have such strong convictions behind what we do and don't do. I've seen Shabbos-observant non-Orthodox friends do this a lot, because they love keeping the sabbath but they don't have the same level of sense that it's something that is required of / commanded of them and that they NEED to uphold.

    BTW I love reading your more recent post about Sabrina because it makes me realize how I will have little to compare our foster kids with - I mean, our niece is 18 mos so there's her. And I've babysat tons, but not for many years. Besides calling friends and asking them "did your kid do this at that age?" it's going to be us, the internet, and some parenting books. Sabrina sounds like a sharp cookie. I'm pretty sure all first-time parents feel like their kid is exceptional, though, so you're right on target developmentally as a parent - Hehe.