Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Conflict of interest

I signed up for a drawing class with 11 yo. We signed up together because he expressed a rare interest in doing something outside of his comfort zone. I signed up because I have been waiting my whole entire life to take art classes. First it was not for me, then how would I make a living like that, because artists are starving... then I could not afford the supply fee that accompanied art classes in college and then there was no time and no money and no place to take them. And finally, finally I live within a short distance of an art center and they offer a glorious selection of multimedia classes. I took an evening class in acrylics followed by watercolor. It quickly became evident that I need to get the basics of drawing down first. When I was looking at the selection, trying to avoid Friday nights and Saturdays and Sundays, I saw a mid-morning class. I asked 11 yo whether I can leave him at the house to take that class or whether he wanted to take it with me. He wanted to sign up, and I dared not breathe from happiness. I imagined us drawing together, learning side-by-side.

Now, these classes are my outlet, both for creativity and as a chance to experience "flow", get swallowed by an activity, let the time pass unnoticed. I so rarely experience flow that I forget how I need it. Blogging took a hit because with teens I am up and talking and dealing with them late into the evening. If I want to do anything immersive, I need it on the calendar and away from home. I am not aspiring to produce the next work of art, but I am treating this time as a therapy of sorts. And I really, really need it.

Every class comes with a supply list. We printed it out and hit Hobby Lobby. marveling at the materials. 11 yo seemed intrigued. When we attended the first class, everyone was asked to disclose their level of training and what they were planning on getting out of the class. Everyone was older than me by at least a decade. Three people were retired. I think it was a confidence boost to hear that everyone was a beginner. 11 yo jumped in, but I saw that he was not exactly taking all the creative risks that the teacher recommended. Then we sketched at home. He seemed excited to practice what he has learned.

11 yo sketching out of his own free will
The following week I made a mistake of scheduling an early morning appointment with a psychologist for 11 yo. I can probably write a whole angry megilah about childhood mental health professionals who refuse to help you and think it is perfectly fine to tell it to the child's face. It was a total waste of time, accompanied by lowering of self-esteem for 11 yo. That was not exactly the best way to be going into doing something hard and outside of your comfort zone. And now we were late to class, 40 minutes late. I felt that missing that time from a two-and-a-half hour class that is not graded is not a big deal. I told as much to my son, grumbling about all the time we wasted that morning. But he realized that we were late, and not a little bit late, but ridiculously late, and he started asking to go home. Now I used to be super anally punctual. My old self would probably preferred to go home and hide under the covers too. My new chutzpadik self proclaimed that there is more than enough class time to salvage and I am going in. My son refused. I gave him an option to join me at any point, or to hang out in the library next door. He buried himself in a comic book.

This week, my 2 yo has been sick. I called on my MIL to watch her so I could take 11 yo and myself to the class. She came. 11 yo woke up crabby, declared today to be a bad day and notified me that he quit drawing. I kept cursing the psychologist for the damage he did the previous week because this week my child did not attempt sketching. He probably felt that he fell hopelessly behind, despite my assurances that every class could be free-standing. I used all my calm arguments trying to coax 11 yo to come. He flat out refused. No reasons were given except that he quit and he's not coming. I told him that I expect him just to come and sit in on class, not necessarily draw. On that note, staying calm, I told him that I am starting up the car and I will be waiting for him. he said sadly that I will be waiting for a long time.

I went to the car and sat in there, as promised. The clock was ticking. I'm reading a book on meditation. I have taken yoga. I know about putting yourself in timeout, counting to ten, to a hundred, deciding that it is not that important, not worth the fight, letting go. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe...

But I couldn't. This class was important to ME and I was missing MY class time dealing with my child who declared that he is not coming. I had to psych myself into going, into jumping in, into believing that at the end of eight weeks I will get all the necessary sketching skills under my belt. I had to believe that I am not frustrated suburban housewife dallying in art without any talent and what a waste of time and money anyway! And you are abandoning a sick child!

...I had been so good about not butting heads with 11 yo. I had been flexible, understanding. I dropped a whole lot of academic expectations, just let him be, worked on the relationship, listened to his side, tried to understand what it was like to be him. But now he was at odds with what was best for me. I want so little, and now one thing that was supposed to be purely for me became about HIM.

I stormed back into the house. As promised, he was on the top bunk, hiding in the blankets. I told him firmly that I expect him to come right now! And I do not want to count. And I do not want to punish. And I do not demand much. But he was not coming. I yelled how I hate quitters and people who do not try. He did not respond.

I walked out and drove to my class, late yet again.

Unless you have a difficult child, of the kind of "difficult" where psychologists decide that they will not handle this, you might not understand what day-to-day life feels like. I cannot overpower his will, I cannot punish him, I cannot produce enough consequences to make him do the things that he decides to refuse to do. Moreover, he usually does not have a solid reason why he dug in his heels. I just feel that I made a big mistake with trying to take this class together because this is setting up the ground for a conflict every single week and poisoning one activity that I could have claimed as my own.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Fee(n)ding for themselves

Last day of the winter vacation for the dayschool kids, and they made both lunch and dinner. Yes, that includes even my moody teenager. He was tired of leftovers. So he made mulligatawny soup and garlic bread. I was downstairs organizing with a friend, so I was not available at all. I would have settled for PBJ or chick patties, as long as I did not have to supervise. But the three older kids rallied together and made soup and bread. And then they rebelled against even more leftovers for dinner, so they made mac-n-cheese (from scratch because I don't use boxed stuff, so that's how they think mac-n-cheese is supposed to be).

And before that, on New Year's Day, when I finally got everyone back from the JCC swimming pool, I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Yeah, doctor's wives do not get a winter break. We get pinch hitting calls when the legal holidays are many and the Jewish doctors cover for everyone. And nothing is open. So I took everyone to JCC for an AM swim before they would close. I promised them hot pretzels, but the cafe closed (or was it never open?) before we came out. By the time we got home and I was faced with a full load of chlorinated laundry after wrestling two kids through showers, the last thing I wanted to do was worry about lunch.

Same older kids jumped on it. 7 yo scrambled eggs. 11yo and 13yo worked together to make a vegetarian taco salad, served on top of skillet-toasted tortillas. They even fed something to the younger siblings because they practiced no child left behind.

How do I explain to all the moms who rejoice that the break is over and that the kids are back at school that these moments of motivation do not happen when they are gone? That 13 yo has not been packing his lunch, let alone making food for others?

I know, I know, kids can cook in their spare time. Kids can cook for Shabbos. Kids can cook on Sundays. I know I could have made this post into a feel-good story about how independent my kids are, how good. But I really wonder what stands behind their motivation. Why do they rise to an occasion only when they have been home for a while, and not on a daily basis? Are they too stressed and overwhelmed? Do they need to spend a large chunk of time bonding as a family first, and then they start to see the needs? Do I need to completely drop out of a picture for them to rise to an occasion? Or do they feel cornered, like there is no grown-up who will "take care" of them, so they might as well fend for themselves?

As much as their actions look good, I think it is very important to find out what is driving them. Each one might be driven by a different factor, too.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

in search of realistic parenting advice

I finally got around to reading "No Drama Discipline" based on a recommendation of a friend. I am reading the book and nodding my head: yes, connection, yes, a behavior is a cry for help, yes, regain composure. Slowly but surely a seed of doubt crawls in: this is all nice and well, but the parent has to always control herself, not to react, act loving, be comforting, suppress the impulse to yell, to release tension, Moreover, all the examples conveniently have only one child that the parent has to connect to at any given time, and somehow that connection happens fast enough not to interfere with the rest of life.


Overall, I have nor found any super new, earth-shattering material (I am about a hundred pages in). I have been applying a lot of the advice in this book in my parenting already: talk to the child, spend a lot of time in his or her world, connect, calm them down, redirect, be present, look at the big picture instead of immediate behavior change. But what the authors of this book (and other similar books) do not mention is how exhausting all of this is, how mentally draining. Now throw in more than one child and you got a situation ripe for a disaster.

My husband is on call the entire weekend. Somehow that very important piece of information slipped my mind, so I invited a friend over for Shabbos. Then I tried inviting other families who have kids in the similar age range to her kids, so all of a sudden, the Shabbos table had to be set for 20. Naturally, that is the very Shabbos that my husband got called up to deliver a baby before lunch even started. So I am madly prepping food, my kids are in shul unsupervised, my baby is running around in pajamas, and I should go over to shul to get those kids and guests. My friend helped and helped. My guests all pitched in. But naturally, this is the Shabbos that my 2 yo will not go down for a nap, I have people gathering downstairs that do not know each other, my daughter is trying to find girl-centric space in a house heavy on the boy side... My sobbing 2 yo just needs her mommy to hold her and rub her back to fall asleep.

But I end up trying to host this lunch, and with everyone helping and being easy-going, it ends up working out.The 2 yo does not end up napping. I am stressed already. I mentally make a note of making a better job scheduling large company when my husband can get called up. But now I host, serve, talk, take a drink of wine.

The guests leave, sweetly taking 7 yo and 4 yo with them. The older boys leave for shul with their friends. It grows quiet. And 2 yo decides it is time for connection. I talk to her, I read to her, I make myself a cup of tea, but I spend more time finding animals in her book than reading my book or drinking. I feed her some sort of dinner.

Everyone comes back for havdalah. My husband rushes out to round in the hospitals. And I am left trying to get everyone to collect laundry and into pajamas and into bed. I need to recharge and I know it, but instead I get a sulky teen and cranky daughter who does not want to go to bed and 4 yo who needs to go and get an ice cube to suck before falling asleep. And can they have computer time? And don't they see the state of the house?!

I wake up in a sour mood, but I try to cheer myself up with a quiet cup of coffee before everyone resurfaces for the day. 4 yo is peeking out from his room and HE wants to cuddle on the couch. so I do (connection, right?) but I miss my chance at a quiet cup because more and more kids wake up and they all want something. And I want boys to go to minyan that is at 8 so I am rushing them to be ready. And I'm trying to make pancakes because I'm hungry and who does not like pancakes? But my kids do not touch them, as my husband comes downstairs, at five to 8, phone pressed to his ear, scheduling a procedure at 9. So I shove the boys out the door to superfast shul while 2 yo makes maple syrup handprints.

And then they are back and everyone ignores my third polite request to please start sorting and folding the clean laundry. I become more direct with 13 yo: either you fold the laundry and I get 2 yo dressed, or vice versa. He picks his sister (aw, sweet!) and I go to the basement to make the guest bed witrh clean linens.

When I come back up, I am greeted by wails from upstairs. 11 yo comes down and pointedly asks me don't I hear what is going on and why am I ignoring her? I go upstairs where I find 2 yo manically trying to remove her diaper while 13 yo is tugging in vain to keep it on. They are both screaming in frustration. I take the baby who sits on me, butt-naked, sobbing and direct the rest of the kids back downstairs to sort and fold laundry. They go. I am connecting with her, but not with them. I see that she has a diaper rash and offer her a quick bath. She is delighted. She takes her time. I holler downstairs for someone to please bring me a towel and a bath mat because they are in that laundry. No response. I do not want to leave the girly alone in the tub, so I holler again.I am informed that those items are still wet in the dryer. I quickly run to get a spare.

By the time the leisurely bath with a calm 2 yo is coming to an end, I am hearing wails of 4 yo from downstairs. He comes up crying that he has way too much to fold and sort and he cannot do it. The truth is that I have been usually doing his laundry for him, so I am sure his siblings just made a large pile and that is overwhelming. Hearing her brother cry, 2 yo starts whining again. I rush to get her dressed before she loses it and come downstairs.

7 yo is exasperated because she has been trying to train her younger brother in the art of clothes folding, but he was having none of that. I pick up crying 4 yo and let him melt into me. Connection, right? Now 2 yo runs over and tries pushing him off, making space for herself. Neither of them is happy. I end up folding clothes for 4 yo that he puts away through tears. 13 yo is sulking, again. 11 yo pipes up how what I am doing is unfair, again. I see a large pile of leftover unsorted socks, again. And I have a few more loads to run.

So when 7 yo decides to open the blinds a few minutes later, she yanks on the cord a little bit harder than usual and the whole molding falls down, with the blind still attached. And it is Sunday right before New Year's day. And there is a large nail protruding. and a nice gash in the wall, And I lose it and yell all the frustration and all the connection that I have been giving away without getting anything for myself, without getting a break, without time to recharge, to even read about what is supposed to happen after all the connection. And I yell a little bit harder than the situation calls for. And I break all the connections that I have been building. 7 yo runs away from me, screaming. Two younger ones disappear.A few minutes later I get a hand-delivered note saying that she is sorry and I can do with her whatever I want. Poor child, one minute your mother is a saint and the next she is a raving lunatic. I sit next to her, I pick her up and hold her and tell her that I am sorry for yelling at her. I just did not want a broken wall.

And I do not get to finish because her friends come and pick her up and she leaves through tears.

I am looking for a parenting book where a parent is not a pushover, an only adult for most of the situations, and there are multiple children to deal with at all times. Because I have all the tools, but I do not have the circumstances that allow me to apply them successfully and healthfully.

Disclaimer: as I was typing this late at night, 13 repeatedly interrupted me to read yet another panel of the comics that he founde funny (his bid for connection) and I repeatedly asked him to stop so I could focus.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

When I was becoming frum, my not religious grandmother, a"h, would say every time she turned on the light on Shabbos or ate not kosher food: "G-d will forgive me". She was in her eighties, and there was no point in arguing with her. I remember stewing inside: how do you know that G-d will forgive you this? How do you know that he does not care about you eating not kosher or not keeping Shabbos?

But now I wonder whether my old grandmother understood something deeper. After all, her sins were not of the leaders of my city's community. She was not reluctant to speak out about a convicted con artist who was scamming multiple people for years. She was not covering up child molesters. She was not guilty of selectively warning some congregants but not the others when a dangerous individual moved onto a block. Those were not her sins.

Torah warns us to make a railing around our rooftop, lest a person falls off the roof. Torah does not tell us to wait till somebody falls off and gets hurt and then make a railing. We are told to be proactive, to avoid innocent people getting hurt so the blood is not on our hands. So why do rabbis think that we need people to get hurt, get hurt badly, and keep on getting hurt before somebody decides that it is time to do something? Why are they so careful about the laws of Lashon Hara but not so careful about guarding the physical well-being of those who rely upon them? Why is it up to the congregants to ask: is this person dangerous? Do I have to avoid him/her?

I am very upset. I cannot be the clearinghouse for the rumors circulating here because these rumors have substance. However, why do I have to call rabbis to substantiate the rumors? Why do I have to direct others to call the rabbis? Why cannot the rabbis get up and lead by saying: this person did such and such, stay away from that person. Why does it take a mother in the community, an oddball to be speaking the truth, get attacked, get questioned?

I do not know how those rabbis sleep at night. I do not know how they go about daily life while the congregants keep inviting these neighbors over because they are trying to be open and welcoming. Those out of the loop do business with them because why would you suspect someone who goes to your school, your shul? Why would you suspect a fellow Jew when you are encouraged to love him/her? And why do rabbis love their congregants less than the congregants love their neighbors?

I do not know how these rabbis stand on Yom Kippur and recite vidui, doing teshuva for leading others astray. And I do not know how am I supposed to worry about my kashrut and Shabbat observance and ask sheelot of the same rabbis. They will not eat in my house because "it is not kosher enough" based on totally arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with halacha, but they will not worry about how kosher their actions are?

My grandmother was onto something because the G-d that I believe in can forgive an 80-year-old lady not keeping Shabbos, but Hew cannot forgive community leaders for not publicly and forcibly warning members about dangerous individuals.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

getting triggered by health coach posts

I have not bought a new piece of clothing for months while slowly shedding and discarding old, worn, not fitting or "I'll never fit into it" clothing". Frugality? Depression? Minimalism? Fatalism? Body positivity? Body image issues? Accepting myself for who I am now? Lack of time to shop? Lack of desire to shop and tap into consumerism? Or maybe I am just content with what I have for the stage of life that I am in right now.

I have yet another acquaintance who befriended me on Facebook and is on a health journey. She is trying to lose weight, get healthy, eat healthy, be coached and supported, support others. I see it, I watch it, I observe it. I am happy that she is trying to do something about her weight and body image. But at the same time, I keep thinking how there is so much more to life than abstaining from licking fingers, posting recipes and motivational quotes. There is so much more to it than weight and the size of your dress and the shape that you see in the mirror.

As someone who was always thin while eating whatever I wanted, who never consistently exercised, who never agonized about going a size up, this might be dismissed as a thin girl being dismissive of a not-so-thin girl. But I have gone through five pregnancies and the weight gain that comes with that. I weight right now what I weighed at the end of my first pregnancy. I have gone through nursing and weird body sizes and bras that somehow never fit or looked flattering.  I have gone through going to the store and coming out upset because even if you are fairly thin, your belly is not the same size as your breasts which are a different size than your hips and the clothes designers do not keep that in mind. And I have gone through Hep C treatment when I lost ten pounds in six weeks, was very thin, sick as a dog... Yet through all that I have never hated my body. All these body size and shape fluctuations were a background to the life I was living, the children, homeschooling, outings, trips, classes.

So dear friend on a health journey: I know you mean well. I know that you need support, especially since you want these changes to stick. I know you are excited for what you are seeing in the mirror and on the scale and you want to share the formula of your success with the world. But I am finding myself triggered by your constant pep talk. If I want a cookie, I'll have a freaking cookie and not worry about repercussions to my thighs or the scale. If I want a get-thin-quick secret, it's ribavirin. It kills the appetite (along with a few other useful things in your body).  But come on, beautiful friend. You have lovely kids. Don't they deserve a little bit of Facebook space too? You have so many other things going on in your life. If you don't, there are so many causes to get involved in. There must be more to life than cauliflower crust pizza.

So get rid of your clothes, get cute new ones, say hello to the one you start to love in the mirror, and I will be waiting for when you are ready to have friendship go beyond calories, recipes, and self-negation.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

working on not yelling

After facing the reality of how devastating yelling is to some of my kids, I have consciously cut down on yelling. (I have written about yelling before, but then I slipped, things got crazy again. I am human and imperfect and that was the emotional release shortcut.) It has been very very hard to control myself even when anger seemed justified, even when punishment seemed warranted, even when yelling was a primal scream of despair. One of the consequences of not losing it and not yelling has been how that child has reduced his tone of voice. Because the overall volume has been much lower, he modulated his voice to speak more quietly. His overall tone is so quiet that I often have a hard time hearing what he's saying, so I end up raising my voice to ask him again to speak up...

It seems that I have been the primary source of noise with my children because now I experience other people's elevation of tone or yelling as a physical slap. Probably didn't help that I was belted as a kid, so the body remembers drawing into a panic state because that kind of escalation by another adult would be followed with hitting. Oh no, no childhood abuse, just "I was spanked as a child and I have turned out alright, respectful and all." But now that the gut reaction of recoiling and protecting myself is activated, I am experiencing precisely what my children must have been experiencing all the years and times that I have raised my voice at them in frustration and anger.

And it hurts.

Because I spend so much of my day and emotional energy on controlling myself, I am drained by the evening time, when the rest of the children get concentrated mommy while trying to kick, back, let go, get comfortable and wind down. I have so little emotional reserve left that I end up losing it, either externally or internally. Sometime between 4 and 9 pm, despair sets in, the sort of despair that one experiences while pacing with a baby who just would not sleep. I am drowning while trying to rescue others.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Interlinear seforim

Chanukah is almost here and that means both Artscroll and Feldheim are having Chanukah sales. I have asked 11 yo to browse their websites, perhaps some books will catch his eye. I am hoping for more Jewish learning.

"Mommy, why isn't there interlinear Mishna Succah?" he asks, intently focused on the screen.

How do I explain, dear child, that by the time most people (children?) learn mishna, they do not need interlinear translation? How do I delicately put it that interlinear books are meant for those who do not yet have a grasp of Hebrew vocabulary or fluency, and who will probably never read Mishna Succah in Hebrew?

I feebly suggest that we have interlinear Pirkei Avot. He searches for other mishnayot, but none of them are interlinear. I see a worry form on his face. He has been meeting with a rabbi, studying Mishna Succah. I have an all Hebrew edition that I got for 13 yo when he was learning mishna. I have an old-style Hebrew-English mishna, but that one is hard to follow. I see that he is seeking an easy way to see an immediate translation of the words. The words still do not yield their meaning. The words are hard to read, do not connect into a coherent whole. Where I see mysteries, challenges, wisdom ready to be plumbed, he sees insurmountable obstacles.

I do not know why Hebrew is so hard for him. I do not know why he still cannot read it smoothly. I do not know why he does not see shorashim or remember the meaning of simple words that he encountered numerous times. I also feel so alone in trying to crack this puzzle. I want to help him, but give him enough room for growth and challenge. I want him to experience the sweet taste of achievement.

I have prayed this morning. I do not ask for the removal of obstacles, "why me?" or "why him?" I am not praying for miracles. My new insight is to pray for the right people to turn to. May Hashem keep on sending them onto my path.