How to Translate Middot

At my children’s private Jewish school, certain acts earn the designation of middot tovot, which translates roughly as “good traits.” It’s a big deal to get a middot tovot, since the principal signs a certificate of recognition for a specific behavior and doles out Laffy Taffy (an absolute bane of motherhood as far as I’m concerned – can’t he give out an apricot or muscat grapes if he wants to do something special and delicious?).

Asher has earned three middot tovot this year, the most recent of which was last week. Minutes before Shabbat, his grandmother called to congratulate him, since those children exhibiting excellent character for a moment are so named in the weekly school newsletter.

I like this idea of middot – paying attention to the kind of character one has. You find a quarter on the ground – do you pocket it, or drop it in a collection can on the counter at the deli? Your waitress smacked her gum and gave you attitude the whole meal – do you still leave a tip, and even make it close to 15% because you know she needs it more than you do? And how long do you hold a grudge?

Last week was the Scholastic Book Fair at my kids’ school. I gave Asher $10 to spend as he wished during his class library time. When I picked him up, he brimmed with glee.

“I bought three books, Mommy,” he said, pulling thin tomes from his bag. “This one is for me, to read with Abba,” he waved a kid-level scientific exploration of global warming above his head.

“This one is for you.” He handed me the storybook version of Disney’s Enchanted, knowing I love Patrick Dempsey. (Should my 6-year-old son even be aware of my silver-screen infatuations? Fodder for another blog post, methinks.)

“And this one is for Eliana,” he said as he pulled a beginning reader book from his bag. “It’s to help her get started reading, since she’ll be in Kindergarten next year.”

My sweet, good boy! I shook my head, furrowed my eyebrows, covered him in kisses as he shrugged me off. “Oh Mommy,” he said, almost blushing.

“I think that’s a Mommy middot tovot,” I said. “You could’ve spent all that money on yourself – but instead, you bought thoughtful gifts for other people. Maybe I should make you a certificate.”

“Well, but at school, the principal gives out Laffy Taffy, you know, Mommy,” Asher said sheepishly.

“Ok.” I played along. “Would you like a lollipop?”

“I get lollipops all the time,” Asher replied.

“So it should be something special,” I said. He nodded.

After a few minutes of careful consideration, I said, “Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight?”

“YES!” said my too-cool-for-public-kisses but still-young-enough-to-cuddle-all-night-long boy.

Asher slept soundly beside me in the big king bed that night, the moon ablaze through the bamboo shades. The next day, I’m sure he went on to punch his sister when I wasn’t looking or go for a joy-ride on his baby brother’s motorized truck that he’s not supposed to even sit on. He is, after all, a precocious, astute child.

I never considered my own moral footsteps this seriously before I became a mother. Children watch so carefully, eyes always open to the details. My little ones are a constant reminder to make deliberate choices, to be thorough in my understanding of myself – I don’t have to make sense to the rest of the world as long as I can live with my decisions.


  1 comment for “How to Translate Middot

  1. September 30, 2013 at 12:45 am

    very nice reflections…

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