Monday, March 13, 2017

Minimalist Purim gone awry

Dear G-d, if this was supposed to be a joke, I am not finding it to be funny.

Two weeks ago I heard the rabbi speak in shul on the subject of happiness and Purim. He said how there is no specific prescription for happiness because everyone is happy in their own way. So I thought: this year, part of my happiness is not stressing about Purim. I will have a minimalistic Purim. I am no longer running Purim costume gemach that was a source of mitzvah, but also a source of tremendous personal headache. It was also a source of costumes for my kids, as I managed the donations and was on the lookout year-round for costumes to add. So this year, they had to make their own or tell me early enough what they wanted to do so I could buy it. Only 7 yo told me what she wanted to be: a baby (cue in processing complex emotions of not being a baby any more as she is becoming older and there are actual babies in the house). Her costume was footie pajamas, a bib, a giant plastic bottle and a diaper worn on the outside of the pajamas. I sort of tried to warn her that there might be conversations and remarks taking place over that diaper, but she shrugged them off. If rocking a diaper is what you want to do, you go girl! And just like that, she brushed off all the comments and wore her diaper.

To everyone else I suggested going as a swim team: everyone wears already existing bathing suits. 10 yo did it, I wore mine, and I put one on 4 yo and 1 yo. 12 yo went as an old Russian lady: a kerchief on his head, a patched blanket for his back, and a drumstick for a walking cane. He even learned a few Russian phrases to go with his look, for authenticity. My husband went as... drumroll... a doctor. Yeah, we went all out. And I did not stress about the costumes or keeping with a theme.

To continue my quest for minimalism, and to decrease stress, I decided that our mishloach manot will be a simple hamentash and a clementine in a paper bag. But then I panicked that the free-form hamentashen that my kids made were too free-form, so I spent a motzei shabbos making my own batch that would look more traditional. Except that I decided to use half whole wheat flour, to be creative. But I was also impatient, so I dumped it all together with the other ingredients and got sand crumbs instead of dough. Then I panicked and started adding water and oil to make the dough come together. When it did, it did not look nice, more like sand held together with water. So much for simplicity and minimalism. I shaped that batch, baked it, and hoped for the best.

On Friday before Purim I went to work assembling these michloach manot. I used brown paper sandwich bags, stuck a hamentash and a clementine inside and stapled them with a note that proclaimed package's minimalism. I was done in half an hour, feeling so smug about quick and easy way out from this task.

Comes Purim day and we are getting ready to deliver my preassembled batch when I see that the oil from the dough seeped through the paper bags, ripping some and producing ugly oil stains on the others. Now they do not look simple, now they look ready for the garbage... as 12 yo pointed out that I should have placed a hamentash in a plastic bag first (poor environment!) I blew up at him, how he did not lift a finger with these and now tells me what I should have done.

But really, I was mad at G-d.

I just wanted something to be simple. I just wanted something to work out. I wanted to rejoice in the simplicity of stress-free mishloach manot. Usually, we make turkey wraps and give them out with pickles and a hamentash on the side. It has been our staple, but it is labor-intensive and makes distribution difficult, as it needs to be either eaten or refrigerated. Then it also requires a note warning that the wrap is fleishig but the hamentash is parve.

By the time we were ripping open the oily bags, placing hamentashen into ziplocks and I was retyping the note with our name and theme (G-d forbid I would clutter my computer with a file that I wasn't planning on reusing) and then cutting the labels, I wondered out loud whether it would not have been easier to do those turkey wraps in the first place.

Then, as the return michloach manot started to arrive, I thought whether our minimalist package would bring anyone happiness.

I hope it did, come today, the day after Purim, when there is too much candy, too many sweets, and Pesach is only four weeks away.

Monday, February 6, 2017

so hard just to be

New week, new day, drop the kids off at their schools and the time should be yours to relax, right? But your car needs new tires and you know it, you can see how worn the edge is because you didn't pay for alignment or balancing or you didn't have time to get it done and now you are driving on highways daily with a worn-out tire. So you swing by Goodyear where they take one look at your wheels, whistle, and get you onto tire replacement tomorrow morning. And you get a call from your husband that the work on adding a second dishwasher and fixing the laundry room will start in a few hours. You do not want to have a gaping hole where the dishwasher is supposed to go so you go into Home Depot right next door to scoop out the appliances and find out that the soonest they can deliver is on Friday. But it will be free. But now you are staring at these washers and dryers and dishwashers and try to remember what is it that you actually want out of them short of doing their job, not breaking down, and being cheap. And then you remember that your car needs new wiper blades because the rubber is falling off one of them, You find the right kind and decide to be courageous and switch them yourself. But not in Home Depot's parking lot: you do not want to embarrass yourself.

As you get home and pull up a few step-by-step tutorials, you discover that somehow you cannot remove the worn-out blades, no matter how much you search for a clip or pull firmly down. Yet another tutorial directs you to a non-existent clasp. Ok, hubby will need to do it tonight except that he's already annoyed that you didn't shop around for the cheapest tires. But you need them replaced during those four precious hours because you need the car to pick everyone up from their three schools.

To feel productive, you decide to save brown bananas by baking banana muffins. And you fold the laundry that was left on the table. And you hang up shirts and skirts. And you see a despairing amount of mess in every single room. And as you start picking up, you need to go to another room for more hangers or to bring in one more item or you decide that this child will have to do this part later when they come back from school.

And there is no peace.

And you remember to text someone for a name and number of a pediatric psychologist. And you leave a message with a lady who washes sheitels. And you pick up a few more items. And you wait for the construction guy to come.

And then it's lunchtime and you are trying to read "Smart But Scattered" about improving executive function to help your oldest stay organized, but you can't focus yourself. You know that your executive function is misfiring which is why you cannot get anything done in an orderly manner.

And suddenly it is 1, and you will need to go and pick up the younger ones in twenty minutes, and you still didn't make time to relax, to heal your brain. You look around and find that none of the rooms inspire you to sit down and relax. You sink into a couch, pick a five-minute meditation from Insight Timer and close your eyes. You breathe, you relax, but at the end you peek because you are nervous that it won't signal when the five minutes are up and you will be late picking up the younger ones.

As you drive out, it is starting to drizzle. The annoying old wiper swings across the glass. 3 yo starts whining that he dropped something. Baby flings off her shoes and you hear them drop on the car's floor. Baby falls asleep, 3 yo asks for yogurt despite having had lunch in school. You refuse to mix in chocolate chips and he refuses to eat it and cries and sulks off for his nap.

And you have half an hour before you will have to get everyone up and drive to pick up the older kids. The construction guy is still not here.

I made space for myself to be,
But I have trouble being in it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mother's meditation

As you are running late and loading the kids into the car, you discover a cup of milk that baby left in the car seat from yesterday.

And you allow it.

As the baby is eating Bamba off the car's floor crevice while you are buckling in an older brother, you allow it.

When you are dropping off older kids at their schools, you husband calls you frantically that he needs to leave for the delivery and would you please hurry up to take over minding the younger ones.
You floor it.

And you allow it.
Image result for meditation

You should be productive with those four hours of morning time because your mother will ask you what did you get done.

And you allow it.

Your friend reminds you that couches are for sitting on and enjoying throughout the week, not for collapsing and promptly falling asleep on Friday night.

And you allow it.

Your child didn't get into yet another school due to his anxiety. You will need to get him his own psychiatrist and behavioral therapist who (please G-d) takes your insurance.

And you allow it.

You seal the good benefits of this meditation with a few choice phrases muttered under your breath because two of your kids asked you more than once pretty please not to curse. They don't allow it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On buying a yortzait candle

I'm grocery shopping, and in between tomatoes and hummus, I place a yortzait candle. My father's yortzait is coming up. Isn't that the province of older women, with shaking wrinkly hands and eyes teary from age? Aren't they the ones prowling the kosher aisle, looking for memorial lights? What am I doing here, buying a yortzait candle next to a lunchbox for preschool and three gallons of milk?

It's eight years later. It's three kids who never met their grandfather. It's my grief, feeling my hair turning grey under a gorgeous sheitel and a plastered smile of "Okay!" It's years and years of grief, of absence, of an absurdity of celebrating while there is a yortzait candle in my cart and a gaping hole where parental presence is supposed to be.

I check out. Another celebrity proclaims from the tabloid how she found happiness and got her life back, and you can, too! It is so pointless, so silly to listen to this. How can I get my life back?

I am loading groceries into van's trunk. As I click it closed while I return the cart, it beeps and doesn't close. The candle got tangled in the bag and is blocking the lock. The item that does not belong got in the way.

Why am I writing this? Because I have learned that there are other young moms, going through their days while experiencing the incongruity of being bereaved. It's been years, people do not talk about it any more, people do not ask, people assume that you have moved on, came out of it, are busy, do not want to talk, or simply do not know that you feel so alone as you are buying that yortzait candle.

May my father's neshama have an aliyah.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The post that I was not supposed to write.

Normal people who blog, blog semi-regularly. They stick to a subject. The work on building an audience and then maintain it by giving over what the audience expects to hear. I have kept my blog as a sort of open journal. The name, "Breathing Space," was supposed to reflect the nature of this blog.

I started blogging five years ago, almost to a day, when I pulled my oldest from day school to homeschool him. I had a sense that many were curious what homeschooling was like, and I needed a place to share, process ideas, look back, get support. Over the years, things have changed and shifted around. Two more kids joined the family. I chose to get my second-oldest evaluated for learning issues. We have moved. I have tried getting various children into various school settings. But I felt that my core philosophy stayed the same.

Now I am at a whole new beginning. We have moved two months ago. I had 10 yo enrolled in a Chabad school. He is doing reasonably well. I have gotten a break from his intense and sometimes unpleasant personality. But I have also seriously burned out. I was tired from butting heads with 12 yo over getting schoolwork done and finding a good fit for his Judaic needs. I was not expecting the resistance that 7 yo (she just had a birthday) put up about her school work. My baby is a super spirited child, very active and very troublesome. I nicknamed her "baby terrorist" because destruction is on her mind. She wants to climb. She wants to be taken places. She does not want car seat or the stroller or the shopping cart. She wants to imitate older siblings but make tremendous mess at the same time. I found myself wishing that she would just go down for a nap so I can get a break. (Anyone who says that labeling is disabling can spend a day with her.)

I have enrolled 12 yo and 7 yo in two different schools. Both started at the beginning of the month. It has been smooth for 7 yo, since she rejoined her classmates from last year and she gets to see her older brother around. It has not been that smooth for 12 yo. He is in a different school from his siblings because he would end up in the same classroom as his brother. His academics are totally fine. I will give myself a little pat on the back: he is above and beyond his peers in Judaics, to the point that the school suggested he take high school classes next year. This has less to do with skills and more with depth and breadth of his knowledge. He is also advanced in Ivrit: apparently, all you need is a child who is motivated enough to finish Rosetta Stone and a few well-spaced freak-outs when you read over children's Hebrew books. His major issue is following directions and not sticking out. I silently cracked up when the teachers mentioned that he seems to make himself out to be different: what do you expect after many years of hanging out with people who value doing your own thing over conformity?

I had three kids placed in school. yet I was still not breathing. The unhappiness and the sheer lunacy stayed. So I went against my core parental beliefs and enrolled the two youngest ones in preschool. I toyed with sending just one of them, or sending just two or three mornings per week, but then I realized that what I craved was order and predictability. I needed to know that every day, these few morning hours are mine. I have been neglecting myself. I have not been scheduling those annual check-ups because childcare was iffy. I have not been blogging because the stress level was through the roof. I have not been walking because EVERY SINGLE TIME some child or other was sobbing how he/she didn't want to go. I have not been exercising, or going to yoga right around the corner, or even saying morning brachos with any intent. As far as mindfulness went, I scarily kept on noticing myself approaching shabbos week after week and not being able to recall how the week went.

All of this is a lot of changes. All of this is radical. I have been flustered by yet another form asking my occupation: I cannot put down homeschool educator because there is nobody that I am homeschooling. I adamantly refuse to put down homemaker or housewife. So who am I?

As I've been driving carpool, I have been catching myself doing open mouth vocalizations. I learned about them from natural childbirth books. It's a primal release of energy. Whatever I will be doing from this point on reminds me of giving birth: it is lonely, it is painful and scary, you do not know what the result will look like, and there is no going back to the previous state.

If you have been following me for homeschooling, sorry to disappoint you: you cannot do it all, You cannot do it well. Everything has a beginning and an end. This journey, in its current form, is over. I still view homeschooling as an ideal learning environment, but I do not envision myself homeschooling more than one at a time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How easy and pleasant it was to be in a large classroom with one student, or two, or three--even four or five. Above five was when the noise problems began. One grownup can't teach twenty digital-era children without spending a third of the time, or more, scolding and enforcing obedience. What if we cut the defense budget in half, brought the school day down from six hours to two hours, hired a lot of new, well-paid teachers who would otherwise be making cappuccinos, and maxed out the class size at five students? What if the classes happened in parental living rooms, or even in retrofitted school buses that moved like ice cream trucks of bookmobiles from street to street, painted navy blue? Two hours a day for every kid, four of five kids in a class. Ah, but we couldn't do any of that, of course: school isn't actually about efficient teaching, it's about free all-day babysitting while parents work. it has to be inefficient in order to fill six and a half hours.

Nicholson Baker, Substitute pg493-4

Happiness and contentment

I will throw a simple question out there: are you happy? Are you content? If yes, tell me what makes you feel that way. If no, what will it take for you to feel happiness? What brings you contentment?

Also, have you experienced these, or are they as exotic birds, somewhere out there, experienced by others (yogis, saintly rabbis), and maybe you'll get to touch them one day.

This is not a trick question. There is no right or wrong answer. You can answer anonymously if you'd like, just a penny for your thoughts.