Sabbath in the Suburbs

I’ve known MaryAnn McKibben Dana for years now–I don’t know exactly how many, but I remember the first blog post of hers that I read–in it, her eldest daughter had just seen her first snow–so maybe 8 years ago?

In any case, when I found out that she was writing a book, I thought, “it’s about time.” MaryAnn has a gift of prose.  She writes in a way that is personal but not too personal (a very fine line in blog writing). She’s funny. She’s utterly aware of her humanity.  She’s such a good writer and has received attention for that–but has managed not to let that attention make her into a diva. She’s good stuff. If you don’t read her blog, you should. No really, go over there right now and sign up for her feed.  I’ll wait. You especially don’t want to miss her Friday links.

You’re back? Awesome.

Anyway, I was excited that she was writing, but the topic?  It left me a little cold. Her book, entitled Sabbath in the Suburbs, was not exactly right up my alley.  The word suburb evokes, for me, two cars, two parents, nice lawns, neighborhood schools, safety and homogeneity.  This isn’t my life. Not anymore. And Sabbath?  Well, it sounded like one more parenting guilt to add to my list.  I don’t shop at farmer’s markets, I don’t belong to the PTA, I gave in to princesses, I don’t knit, my kid goes to after school care and now I don’t do Sabbath?

You know where this is going, right?  I received and read an advance e-copy of the book, and I loved it.

Well, I still don’t like the title, but I loved the book.  MaryAnn manages to take a potentially weighty or dry topic and a potentially ishy format (memoir) and combine them in a way that is accessible, real and informative.  Information about religious practices of Sabbath is interspersed with realistic family stories (there are no “we met Jesus while backpacking with our toddlers and eating only food we scavenged” stories in there) and practical advice.

The book is the  story of MAMD’s family’s first year of observing a weekly sabbath.  It’s formatted month by month, and you can see the progression of the family’s experience.  This is not a strict Jewish experience of shabbos, and not a dour Christian one either.  In fact, though the book is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian story, the family’s sabbath observance was not, to my reading, explicitly religious in nature.  The family simply slowed down, took a step off the crazy train that is 2012, and dumped their lists and chores and obligations for one day. I can imagine non-religious or non-Christian readers would still get a good deal out of the book.

For me, it’s got me thinking. MAMD advocates a sabbath that works for your family–maybe just an hour or two–maybe a whole day.  Even before reading the book, I’d started slowing some things down.  I know that time is flying by, and I am anxious to stop the clock on Selam’s childhood while I can.  This has meant me prioritizing our (nearly) weekly beach trips this summer. It has meant trying to dump the phone when I can. (I’ve been telling myself that I bring the phone for the camera, but you know what? I have a camera.)
These are practices that I think MAMD would call Sabbathly.  Will we go the whole path to a weekly Sabbath of even just one afternoon a weekend? Maybe. Once my hard copy of the book comes, I plan to re-read and give it some more thought.

I mentioned my quibble with the title. I love the alliteration, but had I not known MAMD, I might not have picked up the book.  Their particular story is set in the Washington DC suburbs, and hence the title makes sense.  But this is a story that transcends that suburban setting.  Perhaps more than my suburban brothers and sisters, my family needs sabbath moments.  My child has grown up with the fire sirens and the shouting and the omnipresent noises  and lights of a city that hums. Perhaps this is why we head to the beach so much—to escape that.

Today is Yom Kippur, and the public schools are closed so that the Jewish community can observe this holy day.  I’m home with Selam. We made oatmeal for breakfast–the good kind. Spaghetti sauce is simmering in the crock pot.  The cat and my baby are velcroed to either side of me.  Selam is watching Elmo.  I don’t know what the cat is doing.  I have promised her a craft project for later on. It’s quite possible that we will spend most of this day in our pajamas.  Or, perhaps we will head to the beach, and let the wind and waves sink deeply under our skin.

It may be Wednesday, but I think today is Sabbath in this apartment. Shabbath Shalom, y’all.

PS: Buy the book here , or here. Read more about the project here.



One thought on “Sabbath in the Suburbs

  1. oh, what a helpful review. I’m waiting for my copy, but I’ve had some of the same reservations: my kids are out of the house, do I really NEED this? Yes. I think so. I think my spouse and I need to take a little intentional time together regularly where we don’t have our phones, etc. (as a small business owner he NEVER leaves his phone…not even on our honeymoon…oy vavoy.)

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