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Dashboard Lights

Teaching kids how to trust themselves

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Life is full of noteworthy instruction. The Baal Shem Tov says that we are meant to learn something from everything that G‑d puts in our path. This morning I was delivered a whopper.

On my way to take the kids to school, the oil light started flashing on my dashboard. It looked innocent enough—like a little red genie bottle—so naturally, I started thinking about magic wishes, faraway lands and flying carpets. I’m fairly certain that I got all the kids singing “A Whole New World” before I noticed that the light had stopped flashing and had taken up permanent residence on my dashboard.

Things that make you go hmmm.

This morning I was delivered a whopperMy knowledge of car mechanics pretty much begins and ends with filling the tank and the occasional filling of windshield washer fluid, so I pulled over on the side of the road and called my husband to check in about the genie lamp. After a few questions about the engine temperature and oil stains on the road behind me, he said:

“Listen carefully. Turn the car around right now. Keep at a steady speed. Drive straight to the garage.”

“Oh.”

So much for flying carpets.

Me, the kids and their super-stuffed backpacks U-turned and headed for the auto shop. I pulled gingerly into the lot, and as the motor began to cool, clouds of dense, white, stinky smoke smoldered like an angry flare from under the hood.

The mechanics pushed the car into the garage and started triage immediately. It was like ER for cars. My son was in heaven.

Turns out the filter they had put in yesterday had been faulty, and all of the oil had leaked out by the time I got to the shop. I nearly lost the whole engine. Thank G‑d for the oil light/genie bottle and my acquiescence to it.

Once the car was patched and safety was restored to our minivan, we all piled back in and debriefed about the experience.

My son’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and willingness to help the mechanics scored him a return invite on any morning of his choice.

One of my daughters found her faith in G‑d’s kindness reinforced, because she really wanted to miss first period anyway.

My view from the driver’s seat allowed me a different spin—and my kids know me well enough to know that I rarely pass up an opportunity to expound on a metaphor.

It went something like this:

My view from the driver’s seat allowed me a different spinG‑d hardwires all of us with inner dashboard lights. Sometimes our “dash lights” show up as ringing in our ears or a throbbing in our chest when something feels scary. Other times, we feel uncomfortable or queasy in our belly when something or someone feels off. These feelings are our brain’s way of throwing us a hazard signal—like the one we saw on the car—warning us about things that we don’t always see right away.

I explained to my kids that it’s really easy to override a gut feeling and dismiss it as nonsense. “Believe me,” I told them, “I would much rather have gotten you all to class on time and dealt with the car on my own time.

“But if I hadn’t paid attention to the dash light when I did, we would have lost the whole motor. And so, my sweet people in progress, the lesson is: if you ever have a flashing hazard light on your pure, little, inner dashboards; if someone or something you come across doesn’t feel safe or right to you . . . you not only have my permission, but my instruction to obey your guts.”

“Always?”

“Yep. Always. I trust you.”

We chatted a little more, the older kids asked a few questions, the younger ones tuned out, the conversation morphed, and someone turned on the music.

I’m not sure how much of my roadside wisdom they actually absorbed this morning. I don’t know how large or how deep this impromptu lesson on intuition and trust ran with them—but it is deep and this is definitely a dialogue I want to keep open.

The older my kids get, the less say I have in the choices they makeThe older my kids get, the less say I have in the choices they make. Hard as that is to accept, I know it’s a good thing. A healthy thing. A beautiful thing. I pray that they continue to behave in ways that allow me to trust them. I hope they continue to trust me.

In the meantime, while they are captives on my ride, I will take my time to monologue and exploit metaphors whenever possible. I will keep a lookout for healthy opportunities for them to test out their dashboards, and whenever it is relevant, I will look them in the eye and say with all the sincerity in my heart, “I trust you.” So that whatever comes their way—please G‑d, only good, kind things—their record will forever state: I was created with wisdom, and my mom trusts the stuff I was made of.

Sarah Zadok is a Jewish educator and lecturer, a childbirth professional and a freelance writer. She lives in the Golan Heights with her husband and five children.
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Cheryl Texas August 26, 2015

I agree. Pay attention to the gut feelings. Reply

Orit Cohen Natick April 10, 2013

Inspiring story B"H

It was an inspiring story. May Hashem continue to bless you and your family on you journey of life. Reply

Gitel Chana Levin NEW HAVEN April 9, 2013

keep writing You have a great talent for writing. I enjoyed the article Reply

peter white donegal, ireland April 9, 2013

I like this story - really enjoyed it but I have 2 comments to make. First, I'm a little uneasy when you suggest (i know only in a quirky cute kind of way) that your daughter thought missing first period at school was G_d's will - I think that is a dodgy road to go down - where would it end? I think we have to all go out each day and take responsiblity for our selves and this bring me to my second comment - i like the way you say as your children mature, you are able to trust them more to make their own decisions. Maybe this is how G_d could be seen by us that as we mature, we are expected to make more and more our own decisions. Of course, I could be wrong. Each day is a struggle. Just ask the crows! Reply

Amanda levitt hamden April 8, 2013

Insightful and inspiring! Love the analogy, Sarah! May we all be blessed with the trust to tune in to our inner dashboards! Reply

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