Tuesday, December 27, 2016


OMG what is that? My baby has been napping for the past hour and the older kids were entertaining themselves (except for one tushie that needed to be wiped). I was not rushing to do chumash with 12 year old, I was not hustling anyone to do schoolwork or finish something or other that is hard to do with an active toddler. (The chicken in Moana is clearly modelled after a toddler: same freak outs, same ridiculous repetitive behaviors.) And all of sudden I find myself finally calling a handyman to install the blinds before too many neighbors diplomatically suggest that we do it for our own good. And I'm making lasagna noodle roll-ups with tuna and spinach, using up leftovers. And I'm getting on IKEA home planner to figure out how to fit in a few more kitchen cabinets while thinking that maybe I should look into design or architecture classes. Is there a market for 40-year-old architects? And I finally threaded the washed 3 year old's car seat after a too-close encounter with raspberry jelly. The wipes did not cut it, so it had to be washed. Pesach came early, and I did it. And I'm thinking what else can I do with the kids around their 3 pm dentist appointment: drop off DVDs at the library because there is a branch not far from the office, stop by Aldi, run to IKEA to replace a vital screw that $%#$& movers did not put into the bunk bed? I did not realize that 10 yo telling me about his fear of the whole thing crashing down was not based on overreaction, but on solid engineering reality that a certain amount of supports is needed for the top bunk.

And I finished two books this past week: "Hillbilly Elegy" and "Run" by Ann Patchett. I cannot recall what was the last impactful book that I read before these two.

My time is slowly coming back to me. My time can also be snatched at any minute by a baby awakening from her nap, spilling pasta all over the floor, dumping cups of water, just screaming to be held. My time is also carved from the hours previously spent homeschooling. There is a misconception that unschooling means not doing anything with the kids, so why are the moms complaining that they are so busy? However, when you unschool, you are still in the picture, still available to answer questions, help with projects, do research, drop everything to read, etc. I am not currently unschooling. I am letting the older kids marinate in their own juices while I go and do my own thing. It is not clear-cut, as 10 yo, after this morning marinade, came to inform me that he and his two older siblings are about to produce Illiad , but a Wild West version. Ok, kids, I can write this down as an educational activity. I can boast about it: hey, my kids know enough about both to synthesize their own mashup. But I cannot call it unschooling, as I am refusing to participate more than a spectator.

Am I too high-strung to even unschool? Am I too controlling? Too worried about the outcome? Do I have too few resources, too few other adults who can spell me for a bit as the adult on duty? I don't know if I failed my kids by sending them to school, failed the ideals of homeschooling, failed myself. I do know that we, as a family, are ready for a new chapter. 12 yo is starting in a week and he is eager to have friends, hang out with friends, do things with friends, be in a class with friends. 10 yo came to terms with his new school reality. 6 yo is happy to have her girls back. And I am grateful for renewed energy and renewed ability to dream. I do wish so badly that my dreams involved homeschooling, spend long intense periods of time with the people that I birthed, educating them, learning alongside them. Right now, that is my fantasy. Right now, I need my space. I wish I did not have to carve time out for myself. I wish there would not be implied violence to time, but a peaceful flow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

not following the rules

I've sent my baby girl to school. (I have been working on a blog post about sending kids to school, but it does not seem to get materialized). She has been going for a week. This is my six-year-old, my ideal homeschool candidate, the child whom I've been dreaming about homeschooling because she was easy, eager to learn, eager to please. There was just one big hole in my plan: she wanted to be with other girls her age more than anything else. And she had this perfect dream about school. So I've sent her.

Since sending her, I have been driving her and her brother every morning and picking them up every afternoon. It is December, so most other parents have worked out their carpool routine months ago. First I had 10 year old in one carpool, then, when we moved, a friend found another parent who drove for me. But she only had one spot, so with two kids in school, all of a sudden I had to be driving. But I still have two small ones at home, two kids who take naps and do not need to wake up at 6 am to do this drop-off and pick up.

On Friday, I asked 10 year old time and again what time is early dismissal and he confidently assured me that it is at 2:30. I got a phone call while I was driving at 2:15 that the dismissal was at 2 and the teachers need to get home to get ready for shabbos. I felt horrible and very embarrassed. I even offered for my kids to sit on the bench in front of the school, as I was on my way, but I could not make traffic move any faster. Today, Monday morning, I hustled and hustled everyone to get out the door at 7:20 so I would have plenty of time to drop off 10 yo at shul for his minyan with the classmates and then get 6 yo to her school. I ended up dropping off 10 yo at 7:45. It was freezing. I told him to go inside, not stay in the cold for 15 minutes. Then I drove my daughter. I got her to school at 7:54 and hustled her out the car. As I watched her walk to school, alone, I sighed about this little first grader. Then she pulled on the door. Locked. She banged. Locked. Teachers were walking inside, bustling, getting ready. I saw them. She saw them. She pulled and banged. And I remembered an e-mail from months ago asking parents not to drop off kids before 8, as the teachers needed to get ready for their day. I sort of ignored it at the time, as I was not the one driving in the morning. So there we were, my little kid standing in the cold, knocking, and adults whom she was supposed to be trusting, asserting their rights to five minutes of quiet before the kids entered. I realized that other parents sat in their cars in the parking lot, keeping their kids warm. I just did not notice it before, being so excited to get her somewhere on time and even early. (Till fairly recently, she did not know the definition of early, as were always late).

And then the tears came. Homeschooling was not going smoothly for her because I do not have a gaggle of girls her age up my sleeve. She was not reading and I had little time to read to her. We were butting heads. It was easier to send her to school. But now I have a kid who has to get up and get dressed and have breakfast and put up her hair and run to the car in the morning to be left in the cold banging on the doors of her school. She is a fairly early riser, but she likes to chill, lounge in her pajamas, snuggle on the couch, have a good morning story. She likes to have her breakfast late. I traded one set of things that are not working for another.

I am not blaming the school for their policy. I am blaming myself for not remembering what that policy was. With so many kids doing so many different things, it is very hard to remember every single detail. It was easier to keep them at home, minimize those external rules and regulations to abide by, but it was not working. So now we will be "those" parents", the ones who are chronically late, and chronically bending the rules.

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
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.