Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sleepless in the Sukkah

The first year we had a home of our own our oldest daughter was only a year old and we built a sukkah in our backyard. It started small and we added a bit to it every year. When our kids were little we used to read bedtime stories in the sukkah — taking out the air mattress and pillows and blankets and cuddling up together to read before carrying the kids upstairs to bed. As soon as the kids were old enough, we tried sleeping outside in the sukkah — and it was a huge hit with the kids. The dogs were confused; they could not figure out why we would all sleep outside when there was a perfectly good house right behind us, but they curled up with the kids and waited patiently for the humans to realize that we were supposed to sleep indoors.

And so a family tradition began: every year at Sukkot we picked a weekend night to sleep outside in our Sukkah. We didn’t manage to do it every year, because some years it was just too windy and the sukkah could barely stand, and there was a year or two when the kids were on fall break from school and we were not home, but whenever we could we would all gather the air mattresses, the sleeping bags and blankets and pillows and all sleep together outside in the sukkah with the dogs.

Somehow it became the most important thing about Sukkot for my kids — what I always thought of as a nice treat when the weather allowed for it, became the thing my kids most look forward to. This year it was not looking good; Sukkot started out way too windy, and we had to take most of it down because it was blowing away. Once the weather cleared, the only night we would all be together to sleep outside was a school night and the practical side of me thought we would just have to skip it this year. But my three teenage daughters insisted that we sleep in the sukkah as a family. My oldest is applying to college this year and has been wondering if she will be around to sleep in the family sukkah next year… my 15-year-old is at a Jewish camp this weekend and did not want to miss sleeping outside with the rest of the family… and my youngest would have slept in it ANY night, windy or not. By Thursday night the wind had finally died down, so — school night or not — we were sleeping in the sukkah.

One of the lessons of Sukkot is about finding sanctuary in the temporary. A sukkah is, by nature, temporary and flimsy and does not make a very stable home — that’s why there are some years our sukkah practically blows away — but this year my teenagers reminded me of all that is permanent about a sukkah. It has become a part of their experience, a part of their memory and an important part of our family tradition. Our sometime-precarious sleeping-in-the-sukkah tradition has become ingrained into our children as one of the most important parts of the holiday. 

So, even though the practical side of me reminded me of why it was a bad idea — the air mattress will deflate in the middle of the night and it will be cold in the morning and we will all be up as soon as the sun rises — and despite knowing that nobody would get a good night’s sleep — not even the dogs, who still can’t figure out why we are all in the yard — I said yes to sleeping outside in the sukkah on a school night. I said yes, because Sukkot also reminds me that sometimes you have to just let go and enjoy what you can. And sipping a cup of coffee, tucked into a sleeping bag on a half-deflated air mattress is a great way to start the morning. 

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