A jewish prayer shawl, or tallit, showing the fringes, called tzitzit

Ironing Tzitzit Lets Me Feel I Have Some Control In My Sons’ Lives

I’m ironing my boys’ tzitzit.

My four year old has sensory sensitivity, so perhaps having a smooth texture against his skin instead of wrinkles will make him more eager to put tzitzit on. My oldest forgets to put his on once in a while, perhaps having freshly-ironed crisp tzitzit will make the mitzvah more enticing. Isn’t ironed tzitzit hiddur mitzvah (an enhancement)?

I can spin the activity that I am doing as a sign of domestic bliss, a caring mother going to great lengths to bring comfort and pleasant Judaism to her sons. I am an aishet chayil, akeret habayit, looking out for the smallest items that can be spiritually enhanced. But I know what is behind it. My anxiety is through the roof about the things I cannot control, so here I am, dragging out my seldom-used ironing board, stretching white rectangles and passing the hot iron rhythmically back and forth.

They say parenting is like folding a fitted sheet: nobody knows how to do it. I disagree: all fitted sheets are exactly the same, so once you master the folding of one, you can fold them all. You can control them by mastering one simple technique. Children, on the other hand, are all different. What works well for one does nothing for another. Unlike sheets, you cannot give up on them, wad them up and stuff them in the depths of the closet.

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I pass the iron over the exact same cloth rectangles. The pile of flat tzitzit, folded perfectly in fourths, is growing. I have a visual record of my accomplishment. See how much I have done!

I am worried about my children. They say each child comes with his own parnassah, but I know that each one comes with his or her own set of worries. My oldest is in day school, yet I am still told that I need to supplement his Jewish education if I am not pleased with the results that I am seeing. My four year old qualified for speech therapy, but I am told to wait till he is older to start. Is he understood by his teachers and peers? My seven year old tries so hard to be good, that I am wondering whether she is compensating for the not-so-good behavior of her brothers, trying to smooth everything out, like I am trying to pretend that these wrinkles going under the iron will make the kinks in my life straight. My homeschooled eleven year old still did not get up this morning, so we still did not get started on his school work. I have a dental appointment coming up midday, so time is of the essence. Why is he sleeping in like that? Did he have a bad night? Is there something more going on? Is he anxious about his day?

I keep on ironing. It is easier to control the cloth than to control other bigger issues in my life. I can suffuse this activity of mine with meaning, say that it is lekavod mitzvah (the honor of the mitzvah) so that the time I am spending (wasting?) on it is not in vain. But while this repetitive activity with well-defined results quells my anxiety, it does not give me deep satisfaction. I am happier when I see my disheveled boys read, sprawled on the couch, on the floor, books and limbs everywhere. I feel enjoyment when my daughter is putting on a puppet show of her own creation. I am warmed inside when the two youngest insist that we cuddle on the couch, not doing much, just snuggling and finding space in each other’s bodies to fit and feel connected. I am doing a highly meaningless activity that produces tangible results because I am no longer doing deeply satisfying, yet ill-defined activities of parenting.

Look at me, ironing my boys’ tzitzit.