Wednesday, December 7, 2016

not good enough

I'm taking my kids to the zoo
Because it is finally sunny
Because tomorrow is a school tryout day
Because soon I will no longer be homeschooling.

We are going there quickly
Spontaneously
So that we will all properly miss this time
Of freedom to get up and go.

As I tug on jackets
And pack up snacks
Ignoring academics
And Torah learning

The words of my upbringing
Pound through my head
Like train wheels:

Not good enough not good enough not good enough

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I am tired

My G-d, I'm tired.

So, so essentially, weary in my bones .

My soul is tired. My whole being is tired.

We've moved into the neighborhood that we did not consider initially because it would require a long commute to the dayschool and my husband did not want me to have to drive the kids, so he chose to commute to his hospital instead. We moved into the other neighborhood to "fit in", be like everybody else, send our child to the most acceptable school, get him friends. We all know how well that turned out: we did not fit in. The friends that my son made (and that we made) either moved to other places or made aliyah. I chose to homeschool because once the social aspect was not there, the academics and intellectual stimulation were not there as a given. And once we were pegged as "different", we did not have much to lose by homeschooling anyway.

But that was a long time ago, before many job switches by my husband, before two more babies, before realizing that my second child is not outgrowing his fits, before drowning in noise and mess, before understanding that homeschooling is a lonely business. I thought my immediate family will rally, once they see what wonderful schedule we have, what the boys achieve, which opportunities open up to us. Flatly, I did not get that. There are no bumper stickers with "student of the month" in homeschool, nor are there tangible report cards, shiny trophies and diplomas. You don't hang "my children fight less than expected" on a wall. The grandparents are less than enthusiastic about my efforts. I thought what they thoguht would not matter to me, but it does.

And then there were those two babies. That means that the past four years have been consumed by nursing and naps and whining and meeting the needs of small people. My personal dreams became the size of pinpricks, and once they were so small, it was easy to lose them altogether. Not only my dreams were gone, but so were the dreams of my older kids. There is nobody to take them to a movie, a baseball game, an outdoor rope course except for the parents. But the parents are juggling small people and jobs and naps and height restrictions and financial costs of so many mouths to feed.

There is shabbos, relentlessly coming every week and every week I need to come up with a plan to make it. There is yom tov and dread that it brings: I never measure up to some standard of happiness and contentment that is blaring from all the lovely children's books. "Levivot kol ima tachin" Every mother makes latkes. That line from a Chanukah song used to bring tears to my eyes, as I resolved to make latkes, knowing that it is undertaking too much, and then I would be stressed and baby would be underfoot and dirty food processor would be in the sink as I would be yelling like crazy for kids to stay away from the hot oil...

There is my husband's call schedule. There are those phone calls that require him to drop everything and go save a life.

I tried. I tried doing it all: be a good mother, be involved, be a homemaker, be a teacher, eat healthy, provide learning opportunities, respect children's needs, be nice to grandparents. I tried nursing. I tried making my own baby food. I tried baking bread. I tried online course in graphics for my mental stimulation. I tried online school for 12 yo so he has peers and a rebbe. I tried engaging him in chumash. I tried buying lots of seforim and art supplies and strewing them around. I tried seeking out classes for kids: at the library, the zoo, through homeschool networks, through word of mouth.

I tried a lot.

I tried suppressing my introvert tendencies and staying calm amidst a very loud and hectic household. I tried being present for all of my kids, finding a way to connect with each one when I much rather go and seek quiet.

Somewhere along this path, my whole essence was broken. This is not the first time that it happened. The first time was when I was being treated for Hep C and the medications changed not only my personality and brain, but my whole approach to life. But that was external, and it was a matter of survival, and there were no other options. This time, I did not have to take the hard path. This time, it was not a matter of life and death. I chose to do things the hard way. I chose to educate the children at home.

All that I know is that I am very tired.

Monday, November 28, 2016

We moved

I am alive.

We are alive.

We have moved two weeks ago. It's a much larger house. For the first time, the master bathroom has a bathtub. I have two ovens and two sinks in the kitchen. Our dining room table became eat-in kitchen table, so we can all fit. The living room couches are arriving tomorrow. "I can't wait to assemble a couch!" pipes up 10 yo after spending the past two weeks assembling IKEA furniture. I had to disappoint him by informing him that the couches are from a real store and do not require assembly. (They were a floor sample, at a steep "As Is" discount, bought during black Friday weekend, but that is irrelevant to a child eager to click his tools.)

I made Thanksgiving. :Last time I made it was five years ago. We had a turkey and all the fixings. 12 yo made a Knex turkey to grace our table. He also made gratitude cards, at my request. The boys enjoyed furiously filling theirs out. 12 yo was grateful for diapers, of all things: it's not easy being in a house with a child who won't potty train. Overall, I loved hearing how each child independently appreciated other members of the family. To finish the meal off, we all posed my new dinosaur salt and pepper shakers. Just in case you think it was all lovely, 3 yo decided to have a nuclear meltdown over not liking any food. Eventually, we tucked him in, and all was quiet. Oh, and I almost forgot to make dessert...

The neighborhood is nice. The driveway has a flat area at the top and the street is quiet, surrounded by cul-de-sacs. 6 yo learned how to ride her two-wheeler. 3 yo learned how to pedal. There is a hidden shortcut through a dam across the lake that we can see from the living room. A great blue heron has been spotted, alongside with ducks, geese and other birds. This morning, a hawk visited a tree on our lawn. The neighbors say hello and brought us welcome gifts. The street is lined with colonials. Suburbia.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Designated time

I'm writing this on chol hamoed Succot. In Hebrew, moed means a designated time, an appointed time, a time of meeting. Holiday, as in "holy day" is a very loose translation, as it is not the sanctity of the day that is celebrated. Rather we acknowledge that year after year, Hashem/ mishkan/ shechina calls to us, and we show up. We do not always bring our best selves when we show up, despite what numerous divrei torah and frum writing makes one to believe. We do not always show up in the neatest and most prepared state, despite what sharing on social media leads us to believe. In fact, some years, we do not want to show up at all.

But where would we be if we did not show up? Where would we be if we did not have this protected time to find ourselves yet again in our succah, in shul, at the seder table, during hakafot, thinking, remembering and contemplating where we were in years past and comparing to where we are now?

Shabbos can feel oppressive, especially where there are small kids napping in the morning and afternoon, and older kids get listless. Yet I appreciate Shabbos as the "only time I sit on the couch" in my daughter's words. I wanted to be doing more, working on Nach Yomi ( don't even ask where I stand in my personal learning), reading over parsha, davening, having deep and meaningful conversations about what matters with my spouse. But I am not. However, I am grateful that I find myself forced to sit on that couch once a week and take a break from the external world, take stock in where I am now, what am I feeling, and not being pressured to run around and do something or other. It is not a high level of observance, but it is a designated time, forced upon me for my own good.

I am very good about yom tov observance, but I am not good at designating time that is not thrust upon me. Whether it is my upbringing, my uptight personality, the circumstances, not knowing how to do it myself, or not being selfish, I do not end up designating this protected time for reflection. I am not talking about pampering, but it is part of essential self-care. There is so much to do, and so little time. So I scurry and wipe behinds, nap kids, feed them, do chumash,  grocery shop, sneak on Facebok and tackle laundry. But I do not say: this afternoon is for blogging because mommy needs a written record of how today went. This half an hour is for journalling because I need to pour my heart out. When the baby will nap I will call my friend and connect. Today  I will plan a night away because I just need to sleep in and not be responsible for anyone else's needs.

I wonder if rosh chodesh was supposed to be a women's holiday precisely to force women to take monthly stock of their lives and stop doing.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Indian consulate and Shemitta

We were passing an Indian consulate this afternoon when 12 yo asked me what is a consulate. I explained that it is an official representation of a country on another country's soil and the consul is the person who can conduct his country's business. I also mentioned my favorite fact (learned from my father) that a consulate is like a small piece of India right here and the laws of United States do not apply inside it. 12 yo wondered why there is a consulate here, why not just in DC, and how many more Indian consulates are there in the US. I told him he can look it up later. I also said that we live in a big enough city that this is probably a regional consulate. I mentioned that there is probably an Israeli consulate here too, or maybe in Miami. (I am not sure). Then he asked me whether the land of the Israeli consulate is the same as the land of Eretz Yisrael. I asked whether he meant halachically and he said, yes. I laughed, come on, it's a legal technicality, it would not affect halacha. He launched into what if Israeli consulate were to grow produce on its roof, would it be subject to the laws of shemitta? I retorted, of course not! He set up a precedent: the land conquered outside the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael still has to observe shemittah as long as the land within Eretz Yisrael is within Jewish possession. By this point, I realized that he might have a case, so I suggested he ask a knowledgeable rabbi.

This is unschooling in action. This interaction happened because we were both in the car, in good mood, he was next to me, he was looking around instead of being lost in an electronic device or a book, and he had prior knowledge to apply to a little tidbit that I supplied. Sometimes I feel like we get so little "work" done. Then I need to be reminded that my most important goal is to produce thinking human beings, who can converse and be open to learning. For that to happen I need these small casual spontaneous interactions.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Not Okay

I am twelve. I am taking a trolleybus home with a friend back in Moldova. We are chatting and suddenly she tells me to get off. It is not our stop, it's too early, but I follow her off. Once we are off, she tells me how a guy was pulling up her skirt. She is also twelve, and she is a wearing a mini denim skirt, with the wide ruffle on the bottom. The drab brown uniforms were just canceled out of existence, and everyone is wearing whatever parents scrambled to get. The guy first pulled up one side of her skirt, then the other. It's crowded on the trolleybus, a great melee of people, so I did not see anything, even though I was standing right next to her. She sighs as she tugs her skirt lower: "What are you going to do? Mame ne rasskajeshi. You can't tell it to your mom." Rather, it shouldn't be told to her mom. We get onto the next trolleybus and never discuss it.

Later the same year, I am taking a trolleybus with my younger sister. I am still twelve, a skinny undeveloped girl. I am not even a hundred pounds. I am very spacey, very oblivious kid. But I find that someone is rubbing against me. It is crowded, so I move over a bit without turning around. The rubbing follows me. I do not know anything about erections. I do not know anything about molestation or predators or pedophilia, but I do not want to be touched like that. There are people everywhere, and my sister is next to me, in the way of my escape. I try to push through, but I am grabbed and held close as the rubbing continues. I tell my sister we are getting off here as I finally turn around and catch the eyes and a beard of a man still trying to hold on to me. 

We get off. My sister protests that it is not the right stop. I honestly do not remember what I told her, whether I disclosed why I wanted off that trolleybus. The refrain "Mame ne rasskajeshi" follows me. Somehow without knowing the name or having an understanding of what happened I know better than to confide in her lest I would be told to be somehow more careful in the future.

I am twenty, already for a few years on my own, in college. I go back to Moldova and I am sent to get some paperwork for my father who is in Canada. He is trying to get a discount on auto insurance based on his previous driving experience and we need to approach his former place of work, sign some papers. I am in a large office of the Academy of Science. An older man is chatting with my mother, holding the paper that we need. Then he notices my slouching posture and decides to adjust it, smack in the middle of the conversation. I am not interested in his touch because I sense lewdness. As he is pushing back on my shoulder while touching my back, where the bra snap goes: "A girl should be lean and straight, like a birch tree!" I grit my teeth. We need his signature on that stupid piece of paper so that my father pays less for car insurance. We need that money.

Fast forward quite a few years. I am at a birthday party at my in-laws' house, with my husband and kids. A whole gang of Russians is there, eating. drinking and conversing. A guy, who employs my mother-in-law, asks me whether married Jewish women are allowed to hug other men. I respond negatively. He proceeds to hug me right there, saying that sometimes it is ok. I am stewing inside and mutter obscenities under my breath. My husband, instead of punching him out, proceeds to work for him at a future date. After all, this man gives employment to so many around that table, even though privately I am told how they despise him.

I do not consider myself to have been sexually abused. I was not terribly traumatized by my experiences, although I disclosed the bit with the beard to my husband so he would be aware if and when he would be growing one and how I might have shifting feelings about it. However, with all the talk about women being grabbed, and how it's just locker room talk, and how only certain women get such attention, all of my emotions come bubbling out. Violations happen all the time. They happen to everyone. This overstepping of bounds of decency happens where there is an unbalanced power, and the strong takes advantage of the weak with impunity. The weak is supposed to roll over and suffer in shameful silence.

No more.

I am breaking my silence. I hope that others will, too.

We have sons to bring up and they should know better than to tolerate such talk or such actions. We have daughters to bring up and they have to know to yell and scream and kick and thrash and draw attention. We have to teach them to tell mothers so they can raise hell on their behalf. We have to make our voices heard, not for pity, but to shame those who deserve to be shamed.

#notokay

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gemara for 12 yo

After a lot of hand-wringing, phone calls, e-mails and just things falling all over the place. I signed up 12 yo for online school for Judaics. He is in 7th grade, where he is supposed to be age-wise. He specifically asked for learning with other kids as opposed to one-on-one, but he did not want to go to school. The program is four days a week for two hours each day, and it is fully interactive: he gets to see the teacher and other students, learn bechavruta, ask and answer questions in real time, get assignments and chat with others. The catch is that it is from 11 to 1, smack dab in the middle of the day.

Here is the funny part: the administration originally did not want him in this class because he had no formal gemara learning. First I agreed with them, then we realized that the other level is too low for him, so I insisted that he attend this class with his peers. In the back of my mind was an ongoing buzz of what am I going to do with a child who will be handicapped by a lack of gemara skills? Will this approach of not pushing and introducing gemara haunt us? Now in his class, during the second week I got an email from the teacher that he is planning on having my son and his chavruta do a separate assignment since his gemara skills are on a higher level than the rest of the class. I giggled: how can a child who spent maybe six hours formally studying gemara have more advanced skills than the boys who have been studying it for the past two years? Perhaps all the hours he spent poring over Koren Bavli in shul paid off. Perhaps he is naturally brilliant. Perhaps he can pull a fast one on the teacher.

Perhaps our laid-back approach (not quite unschooling) is not so full of glaring educational holes.