Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar 5762 - March 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Carrot Tree
by Chava Dumas

Hashem created a world full of wonders. When we say the blessing every morning, "Pokeiach ivrim", thanking Him for giving sight to the blind, we have an opportune moment to pause and remember to appreciate our ability to see the beauty around us. A simple daily exercise of noticing something new, in all its complex detail, can enhance our whole day. Helping ourselves and our children to increase our awareness of the natural phenomena that we usually overlook can fortify our joy in life.

A grumpy, whining child, depending on the age (the following even works with teenagers if you do it right) can easily be distracted by an enthusiastic exclamation from an excited mother who shouts out, "Hey! Did you see that?" Then you can all spin around to concentrate on the interesting diversion of a small spider, shiny beetle or earwig scurrying across the floor, heading for the nearest corner to hide in. This technique is (almost) guaranteed to change the focus and frustrated energy that has built up in a room full of whining, grumpy children.

This is, of course, not recommended for the squeamish types. You have to really look closely and notice how marvelously an insect is made. Screaming, "Squish it!" won't do at all when trying to build an atmosphere of wonderment. Snails and earthworms, since they move so slowly, are also perfect subjects for children to stop and observe. For this you must venture outside to a garden or park.

Once you have left the house, looking up and pointing out different variations of cloud formations is one of the oldest of pleasant pastimes. While you are gazing at the sky, there are several species of feathered fowl that fly around for you to spot, each with its own unique flying patterns. The more your children see and specify differences, the greater is the enjoyment of this 'life-appreciation' game. Falcons, a type of hawk, tend to hover high above the hills, gliding gracefully, unlike the pigeons and doves who seem to constantly flap energetically to keep themselves afloat. Small sparrows plunge from rooftops to eat breadcrumbs on the sidewalks, and tiny sunbirds, iridescent green and black, hover near bright blossoms on wings of blur. Springtime is also an occasion for enthusing at the sight of the fragrant budding pink peach and white almond blooms, fresh green leaves, swollen buds.

After your outing, back home, don't miss the opportunities that occur to be amazed at how quickly a `boo-boo' heals up, the skin slowly forming new bonds between the edges of a cut, until hopefully within one week, there is left only a reddish remnant of a wound, fresh new skin, soft as a baby's. Children benefit greatly from these little acknowledgements that Hashem created them in the most wondrous way, with supreme wisdom. [In fact, it is a powerful lesson in faith, that eventually, all kinds of `things' heal, and when something hurts, we can project ourselves into the future when the pain will have disappeared.]

Our bodies are marvelous miracles of perfection, replicating cells that make our hair and fingernails grow, sending signals to our brains with a vast supply of information to be sorted -- what we see, hear, taste and touch. We just need to help our children get in the habit of having this sense of wonder and curiosity with them always.

[And how about a growth line somewhere in the house, where you pencil in the height of each child, write their name, and watch them upgrow it, even week by week!]


This past year, our ten-year-old found a cluster of tiny eggs in the garden, clinging to the underside of a leaf. She collected them and put them in an empty oatmeal container. After several days, 37 small brown caterpillars emerged from their eggs and started crawling around. She divided them up into several containers and supplied them with more leaves from the original garden plant.

The caterpillars ate and grew fat. They crawled and ate and grew still fatter until one day, many of them stopped moving and became stiff. Apparently, they had all died. Several of the deceased even got discarded before we realized what was happening: they had become cocoons, pupae, or in Hebrew, the golem stage, stiffened exoskeletons that contained the caterpillars within, undergoing their transformation. Some took two weeks, some two months, but each one eventually emerged from this dormant state as a bright, whitish green winged creature. Watching this development, seeing this complete metamorphosis right in our home, on our children's windowsill, was simply astonishing!

Caterpillars and butterflies have practically nothing in common, and yet they are one and the same! What a powerful metaphor for personal growth and change! This inspirational process continued over several months, making this interval our `Season of the Butterfly.' Every time another one opened its wings, slowly fanning them, getting ready for the big event -- to fly away into the blue yonder -- all the children called to one another to come and see. It was a truly joyous, awesome event!

All you need for this venture is some old cans, bottles or pails, and some screening material (muslin cloth or old stocking works great) to cover the openings. Use a rubberband to secure it. Now you just have to find some tiny specimens of eggs stuck to the underside of a leaf or beneath a rock. Have the kids scour the permises for anything that looks interesting, fascinating or promising. It is worth looking around! Those who are old enough, can keep a journal [it can be illustrated, maybe even photographed] to record when the eggs were collected, their color and size, how long until they hatched and what came out. I can't promise you butterflies, but the wait and the results will certainly be interesting.

If not bugs, try blowing soap bubbles. Watching each rainbow colored fragile form float is enchanting entertainment for all ages. The main requirement for captivating charm is to really look and see how beautiful a bubble can be, how perfectly round! And don't be embarrassed to squeal with delight along with your three-year-olds when a bubble bursts and splashes wee wet drops of moisture on your faces.

Another activity you can try right in the kitchen is to retrieve some carrot tops that were destined for the garbage pail and designate them to a small dish with a minimal amount of water covering the bottom. If you have tried sticking toothpicks in an avocado pit that took several weeks before showing the slightest interest in sending forth a root or shoot, then take heart with the carrot `tree.' Within even one or two days a tiny green sprout may already begin to appear. Kids love seeing the progress of their special plants and there is enough room in one plate for everyone -- neighbors, cousins, friends -- to have their own tree to tend. Little islands of orange with fresh, bright stalks of feathery looking foliage are a cheerful addition to any counter top or window sill. Eventually, when the life force food supply in the carrot top has been expended, it may start to rot. Try planting the carrot tree in some earth and see what happens. [There are lots of other things that can be planted, either on cotton wool or in plastic leben containers with earth: legumes such as chick peas, beans, barley etc.; these are quick growers which can be monitored and measured by the day!]

Many years before our children were born, when I was an idealistic student in high school, fantasizing about the future, I imagined being the kind of mother who skipped through the flower-filled fields with her cherubic babes, laughing, singing, frolicking in the brilliant spring sunshine. We would roll in the grass, make daisy chain necklaces, spot deer with their fawns and baby bunny rabbits.

Surrounded by nature's beauty, we would be one harmonious unit. And in all this bliss of family rapport and tranquility, threre would be no need for disagreeing or arguing about anything. I never considered being short- tempered or upset about things my darlings would ever do. Never in my young dreams did I entertain the notion that yet another mess made and not picked up would disturb me, or that I would nag my tender shoots to listen to their mother, put away their laundry, pick up their toys and stop complaining if lunch wasn't what they liked. Now in these hectic weeks before Pesach, when the stress levels can accelerate, it is important (for me) to remember this simple way to alleviate the pressure: get outside and enjoy the springtime with the children! A change of atmosphere can lighten everyone up.

Remember R' Zelig Pliskin's advice for changing a tense, tired, grumpy, whining mood? Energetically pummel one fist into the opposite palm, exclaiming repeatedly, "I feel GREAT! I feel GOOD! I feel GREAT! I feel GOOD!" (See Gateway to Happiness).

It is hard for anyone present to keep a sour face, especially when an Ima-turned-actress engages in any action out of the ordinary.

Carrot trees, home-grown butterflies, soap bubbles, doing a few calisthenics (watch an upset toddler start laughing when Mommy does jumping jacks) all come in as handy tools for heading off the grumbles, helping us feel more alive and increasing our awareness of the world full of wonders with which Hashem enriches our lives.


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