Goodnight Shma

shmaWhen my daughters were babies, I really knew how to sleep them.  I put them to bed early (and I do mean early) and on a consistent schedule. They slept for 12 (or more!) uninterrupted hours, and napped regularly. I established and followed through on bedtime routines. I successfully encouraged the girls to put themselves to sleep and to stay put in their own beds. Consequently we made it through the early years quite well-rested. Our friends hated us.
Things have changed. Our 4 and almost-6 year old daughters still share the bedroom that Zoe moved into at 6 months, when she left our bedside. But slowly – almost imperceptibly – the art of bedtime has slipped away from me. And now, the peaceful oasis, with its gentle pink nightlight, the whomp-whomp of humpback whales playing softly in the background, and the two children drifting into slumber at an hour when families sit down to dinner, is long gone. Now at 8 pm, after stories and “lights out”, the room transforms a cross between a circus (the beds are in perfect  jumping distance of one another) and an orphanage (not a real one, but the one in the movie version of Annie .) There are calls for water, hollers for cuddles, demands for more and more piles of books, and so many trips to the bathroom that the ensuing bedwetting is a true marvel of nature. (Tonight on the Discovery Channel – Bladders that Cannot Empty until after Midnight!)
Where have I strayed? My former bible, Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, is of little help these days. I’m still doing everything “right”; unfortunately Ella and Zoe seem to have their own bible Defying Bedtime Habits, Crazy Mommy.  On most nights, I resort to yelling. This works wonders for lulling children to sleep.
So when I recently took a copy of the PJ Library selection Goodnight Sh’ma off the shelf, I thought, maybe – just maybe – in this simple board book lies the secret to restoring peace to our evenings. Maybe the problem is just that we don’t consistently say the shma. Why would that matter? I had a couple of theories. Maybe God is punishing for my lapse by giving my daughters a severe case of jack-in-the-box-itis. (It’s better than smiting me.) Or maybe the shma has a magical, soporiphic effect that cannot be attained by bedtime stories alone. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that The Amazing Bone hasn’t exactly settled them down for the night.)
So after the books, the pottying, the brushing of the teeth, the turning out the lights, the tucking in were over, I came into my daughters’ room with Goodnight, Shma. I read them the simple poem that culminates with the first line of the shma, which we sang together. They were quiet. I showed them the sweet illustrations. They were still quiet. And then I tiptoed out of the room. The quiet continued. For about three seconds. And then I heard a clunk. I went back in the room.  My daughters were playing catch with Goodnight, Shma.
Just because saying the Shma isn’t magical, doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the bedtime shma. It’s still something I believe in (or that I’d really, really like to believe in) and having a book like Goodnight Shma is a helpful reminder. But tonight I’ll take the book with me when I leave the room.
(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and piecesThe PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.

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Jacqueline Jules

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:33 am

What a beautifully vivid description of your daughters! I felt like I was in the bedroom with you, watching their hilarious antics. I’m glad that my board book, GOODNIGHT SH’MA, quieted them down for at least a few moments.
I remember singing the Sh’ma every night with my father. He had a heavy German accent and a tone deaf raspy voice. But the image of his solid body sitting beside me on the bed lingers as a lovely memory today. This simple act each night demonstrated his faith and helped instill it in me.
Thanks for sharing your bedtime routines with us, Amy. And good luck tonight, putting Zoe and Ella to bed.

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Goodnight » Current News Trends

posted July 14, 2009 at 2:00 am


posted July 14, 2009 at 8:29 am

I have similar memories to the commentator above, as my grandfather said the Sh’ma with me and my brother when we would stay over my grandparents’ house for the weekend as a child (we lived a 5 minute walk away). There was something about the consistency that we would look forward to. We also sang the entire first paragraph together. I also remember seeing my grandfather sit in his chair every night and close his eyes and say the evening prayers. That seemed mystical to me back then, and now I look back and see it as a form of meditation.
I have brought my 3 kids up saying the Sh’ma every night as part of our going to bed ritual. This summer, I sent my youngest off to his first sleep-away camp (Flying Cloud at Farm and Wilderness where he is sleeping on sawdust in a sleeping bag under a tipi on a mountain in Vermont) with the reminder to “say your Sh’ma” every night, as a way to help him with any homesickness he might have. I can only hope it lessens the noise of all those thunderstorms we’ve been experiencing!

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posted July 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm

My son, Ethan, (14 months) received this book last month from PJ Library. I LOVE this book. it has actually had a magical effect on my children. My older two Morgan (8) & Andrew (5), started drifting in to his room while the baby & I were snuggling in the rocking chair reading it. It has become a nightly ritual! They all love the simple story, illustrations and all of us singing the sh’ma at the end. Ethan get’s a kiss from everyone and then off to bed they all go! And they actually all go to sleep (but that’s just b/c we have beaten them to an inch of their lives , LOL KIDDING!).
I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. PJ library is sending your book out in September, can’t wait to get it!

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Frume Sarah

posted August 20, 2009 at 1:23 am

I’ll have to get a hold of this book and add it to our nighttime ritual.
I started doing the Sh’ma (and hashkiveinu/Shelter Us) when I brought our eldest home from the hospital. Nighttime just begged for some sort-of ritual and, to be quite honest, **I** needed something quiet and contemplative to end the day. To thank God that we had made it through another day.
I realized this last week how engrained it is with my kids. We were staying with family and the kids had gone to bed. Suddenly, my 6 yo daughter appeared. “Number one, you forgot the Sh’ma. And Number two, you forgot hugs and kisses.” So I went into their room, sang the Sh’ma, and kissed my kids and my niece. As I walked out of the room, I overheard my daughter telling her cousin, “that’s how we go to sleep every night in our house.”
Score one for mommy.

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Judi Wisch

posted May 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

At The PJ Library home office recently heard from another family from Chicago who are using the Shema as a bedtime ritual, no “catch” involved:
“My daughter Izzie is now 3 and a half. Six months ago bedtime became a bit of a battle as she was having trouble sleeping through the night. My husband and I feel blessed that we found The Bedtime Shema on her bookshelf and started reading it to Izzie. Every evening when we curl up in her tiny toddler bed as she recites the Sh’ma to us, it is truly a blessing that this has given her comfort and in turn has her asking us important questions about forgiveness, finding comfort and God. ”

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