Friday, September 29, 2017

Two thoughts on Yom Kippur.

I was shocked to see how many people post lists of segulot, customs and "good things to do at the auspicious time" for Yom Kippur. It is not magic. Torah warns us strenuously and multiple times again idolatry and there are ten negative commandments (according to Rambam) that warn against omens, superstitions, astrology, divination and magical thinking shortcuts. I always thought that Yom Kippur was about teshuva, feeling bad for what you did, resolving to do better, being contrite and trying to rectify your mistakes. It is a painful process of intense internal self-search and finding yourself wanting. So I could not understand how a shortcut like "give tzedakah to our charity and erase your sins!" has any appeal beyond feeling like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. However, this year I realized that another theme of Yom Kippur is magic unlike anything else that we see in the Torah. Hashem will erase our sins. They will not be remembered anymore, moreover, they will no longer affect us. Imagine that someone punches a hole in the wall. Now the wall has a hole. If one wants to fix it, he has to carefully patch it up, wait for the plaster to dry, smooth it, sand it down, paint it in perfectly matching color. Even then, no matter how skillful is the craftsman, with time, due to the difference of the material, one will be able to detect the exact location of the hole. It is not there, and there at the same time. What Hashem promises to us on Yom Kippur is that the wall will revert to its unpunched state. No human can do that, only Hashem. What about the scarlet thread that changes from crimson to white as the sins are erased (only in the Beis Hamikdash)? What about the essence of the Day of Atonement that itself atones? Isn't it amazing how much love Hashem has for us that He will act against the natural order just so we can all have a fresh start?

So why do people sully this with segulahs and weird additions? Is it because we have so much fear that we are willing to invoke something, ANYTHING just to remove the feeling of pending doom? Isn't is because the impulse for Avodah Zara is so strong that we are willing to stray after ridiculous proclamations hoping to get a better year and avert the inevitable death that awaits us all? And then I realized that there is another theme of Yom Kippur. The essence of Jewish people getting atonement comes from Moshe praying to G-d (on Yom Kippur!) after the idolatrous sin of the Golden Calf. We are given the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that are recited numerous times during Selichot. Jewish people sinned because they did not understand the true nature of G-d. Jewish people sinned because they turned to an intermediary, hoping it to do "magic" for them. That's why Moshe asked Hashem to teach him his divine ways because he was hoping to bring down to people clarity so they would not stumble again.

A second idea that came to me is how I normally deal with this time of year. I have spent years missing davening.mostly due to kids being small, lack of childcare, lack of support to get to shul or to have a mental space to daven, being exhausted due to pregnancy or nursing. So usually I arrived at Yom Kippur feeling that I have not done enough, prepared enough, read up enough, did enough teshuva, did teshuva correctly, etc. I was feeling guilty (and tired and exhausted). The whole experience did not produce that fabled serene mother of many who can calmly say that taking care of her kids is her Avodah, thank you very much, why is it not cutting it for you, you must be doing it wrong... Last year I had a full mental breakdown that I kind of did not even care what kind of year I will get because whatever I tried to do during these days of repentance would not cut it.

But this year something shifted. I might still be doing it "wrong" but it seems to be working for me. I offered to give a class on Rosh HaShana machzor for women. Only one lady came, but it did not matter because I got to spend time thinking about what are the themes that have to do with these days of Awe. I also listened to Aleph Beta videos during my many hours of driving. The picture that emerged from Rosh Hashana was of Hashem as a benevolent King, a kind Ruler who only wishes good upon his subjects and eagerly awaits for them all to rectify their ways and enter into the glorious messianic era full of knowledge. There was a clear absence of guilt and dread. It seemed that the first step was crowning Hashem as King on Rosh HaShana and then receiving a royal pardon on Yom Kippur. The focus was on learning the essence of the day, understanding the ways of Hashem, realizing that he desires our teshuva and that the day will erase any wrongdoing. The Awe has to do with realizing the majesty of our Divine Ruler, not in fear. Once I have been honing this mental picture of who G-d is, I found myself desiring to be closer to him, to know more of him, and working on purifying myself spiritually to achieve even more closeness. Then, if my sins stand in the way, I will remove them as a barrier.

For the first time ever, I might be doing teshuvah meahava (from love).

In an interesting twist, once I achieved this understanding, I am no longer sad or annoyed that I am likely to miss on large parts of shul attendance due to my children. I also realized that I would not have been able to have these insights if my youngest kids were younger.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Wednesday

I am tired. Oh so deeply, essentially tired.

I don't want to whine about how tired I am.

I had a bad night of sleep. 11 yo got braces on his upper teeth and an expander and the pain kicked in in the middle of the night. He marched over at 3 am for a dose of Tylenol.

Not everyone had lunch packed this morning. 13 yo was having a picture day at school, but it was on me to remind him the morning of that he needs to bring a suit on a hanger. 11 yo refused to eat breakfast due to braces and inability to chew his usual morning fare: a bagel. No alternatives would do. He would not think about what to pack for lunch for the homeschool coop classes coming up later in the day. He refused to daven. He refused to go. He refused to do any schoolwork, to listen to any suggestions on how to deal with his teeth, or to offer any of his own. And the whole time I kept coaching myself internally: do not yell, it's his anxiety talking, do not yell, it will make it worse, do not yell...

I packed my lunch. I wiped the kitchen windows. I washed out the recycling bin.

He did get in the car when it was time to leave. He acquiesced to a water bottle, but no food. We listened to iPod in silence during the drive. I felt drained already.

I taught my class. 11 yo is in my class, and he was super jittery the entire time: pacing, touching, blurting things out. I find teaching exciting and draining, even if it's just middle school chemistry to five homeschool kids. My mom called in the middle. We have been taking coop classes on Wednesdays for six years, but she still called when I was teaching.

Then I assisted in another class. 11 yo freaked out about a forgotten password, then he recalled it. I helped paint some rocks. I had lunch. I chatted with other moms, all the while keeping an eye on the clock for the afternoon carpool. 11 yo came over to graze. He had a few crackers. I tried to pretend that it is normal to skip breakfast and lunch, nothing to worry about.

I left at 2 pm. 11 yo seemed agreeable to finding something to eat at home while I would drive carpool. I meekly suggested that he look over his schoolwork and see if he can do anything on his own. I dropped him off and zoomed to preschool to get 2 yo. She was sleeping, and sleepily transferred to her car seat. Then we zoomed onto the highway to get the rest of the kids from their school.

By some sheer miracle (and the existence of people more organized than I) I am part of a carpool where I have to drive only 2-3 times a week instead of 10 times. However, since there are six kids loading into my car, it is never smooth. These ones do not want to sit with those. That one is touching this one. This one is eating. That one is sort of trying to say a bad word while talking about it. These ones are just annoying. That one is loud. And they all have been cooped up in the school building since 8 am and now they are set loose in my car. I used to talk to my kids when we drive places. I used to think they were loud. But this is a whole new level.

But today was not bad. Today they even loaded quickly enough for the carpool lady not to hustle anyone. I had same iPod going and as long as it was playing, they seemed quiet. I checked my messages to see who is dropped off where today. Mind you, it is 4 pm now and I have been driving since 2.

We get home. 13 yo and 7 yo change into their bathing suits for swimming. Years ago, when I just started homeschooling, the boys tried out for a swim team and were not able to swim enough to qualify. Now it is a whole different story. We live a five-minute walk from the JCC. There are no major streets to cross. 13 yo is legally old enough to babysit. But JCC apparently has a rule that he is not old enough to be 7 yo's guardian while she is attending swim practice. They are not just splashing in the pool, they are attending an organized class, but they need to be watched by a legal; guardian. So they cannot walk over there and back on their own, and they cannot be left there unsupervised while they are swimming. I am very upset by this. Have I known this, I probably would not have signed 7 yo up. 13 yo is old enough to get there and back on his own. And I wonder: we keep complaining how kids nowadays are so ill-adapted to independent living, how millennials are such spoiled brats, how they don't know how to be tough. Why do we set up such rules in place that keep kids on a short parental leash for so long? How are large families supposed to manage this? I tried bringing my younger kids to practice, but it is no fun keeping 2 yo for half an hour away from the pool's edge. Besides. she was just in the car for over an hour. All she wants to do is come home, chill and play.

My only solution was to ask 11 yo if he so kindly would not mind watching his two younger siblings at home while I watched his two older siblings at the pool, twice a week. He agreed, but today both younger siblings disagreed. I ended up shoving two older kids out to the door, leaving 11 yo in charge of two screaming kids. If you want to feel mom guilt, do that, especially after spending zero time with the babies the whole day.

After the pool, faster, faster, let's get home, I know the little ones were storming the pantry before I left. I have not been home since 9 am, so there is no dinner because there was no time for the dinner. But never fear, we are going to eat out tonight at a new Israeli restaurant because that's the best I could come up with. As we are getting in the car to drive that ridiculously short distance home, 11 yo called me to hurry up because 2 yo did not stop crying the entire time I was gone.

I bitterly commented how I need more grown-ups in my life, so I am not leaving an 11 yo in braces pain in charge of two screaming kids. 13 yo wryly commented how he used to be that 11 yo. Yes, kid, we have been making do for years. It is sad when kids have to step up and function as adults.

I am greeted at the doorstep by a teary 2 yo clutching her blankie next to her big brother. 4 yo is freaking out that this new restaurant will not have hot dogs and what he will eat then? The rest of the food is "yucky". It does not take a supersleuth to figure out that he did not nap today, that he's tired, that the last thing he wants is to go out to eat instead of snuggling on the couch with mommy. But there is no dinner, and I am not serving noodles yet again.

The new restaurant was a bright spot. Even my husband made it home on time to come with us. The food was plentiful and good, they had schnitzel for 4 yo, 11 yo was able to chew and get mashed potatoes. The rebbitzen of the community invited us out for Succot lunch. Yay for procrastination! One less meal to plan for!

And then my husband got called up, And then we got home at 7 pm. 7 yo had twenty minutes of nightly reading log. 4 yo went back into full meltdown mode, and I was trying to manage the kids from the couch while half-listening to my daughter read. It is clicking, but it is still slow. Both boys were reading fluently and for pleasure at this age. She still does so little functional reading that I had to point out the kids' section on the menu. I am also thinking how this mandatory reading is not helping move things along, but, being a conscientious student, she dutifully reads every night.

After I finished and tucked in the three youngers, I did two more sections from Hilchot Teshuva with 11 yo. That was the only schoolwork that we did today.

It is 9:30. 11 yo is still up. I packed lunches. I am defrosting chicken for erev yom kippur and for kids to eat on Yom Kippur.

I just want to go and kick back with a book. But most of all, I want to arrive at the nighttime not mindlessly tired.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul. My oldest got back really late last night from his class trip to the eclipse totality. I gave myself a small pat on the back for staying put and not being stuck in the same traffic. This late arrival led to a late start in school, at 10:15. Now, my other kids get picked up in a carpool so this late start meant that I had to drive him. Time to insert gratitude for having the flexibility that these schedule changes are mere inconveniences than major life disrupters. He was a bit nervous about getting to school on time, feeling that this was like a pardon not to be squandered. I had some errands to do, so I hustled 11 yo to come with us.

It happened. Statistically, it was supposed to happen sooner, but it happened today. The fastest and most direct way to the school requires one to get onto one highway, exit onto the left lane of another highway and then exit on the right off the second highway in 300 feet onto a service road. One is expected to transverse three lanes of traffic while entering on the left (fastest moving lane) in 300 feet. I used to avoid this route. I used to tell kids to shush, as I cannot see the traffic on the second highway till I exit the ramp. But I have been lucky to successfully merge, cross those three lanes, and exit where we need to exit. It does not help that the next exit is a few miles away.

Today, since I was coming mid-morning, I was not able to cross all three lanes while going at highway speed. There was a car merging left, and the guy in the right-most lane did not give me space to exit. So we ended up being pulled towards the next exit, with my teen slowly hyperventilating how he's going to be late. I asked him to Waze our way. We were arriving at 10:16. But I was quite rattled. I kept saying how this was bound to happen, how at least we did not crash, but internally I was in turmoil.

After drop off, we set out on the same highway to run our errands. I decided to go to Office Depot not far from our old residence since I needed to make multiple copies for homeschool chemistry class. Lo and behold, their price is 14 cents per copy while I am getting reimbursed at 10 cents per copy. Multiply that by a couple hundred pages and I slowly backed away from the counter, thinking that I need to find a place with a better rate.

As I got into my car, chatting with 11 yo, I put the key into ignition and ... nothing. It would not start. It just started! We drove here! What now? I tried this, I tried that. No, it would not start. The previous time this happened was with our old van, two days before Rosh HaShana and we needed a new alternator to the tune of a crazy amount of money, a day in the shop and a rental car, Today I had to pick up 2 yo at 2:30 on the other side of town. No wonder I went into the hyperventilating mode.

Time to insert gratitude that we broke down in the major shopping plaza, that I do have AAA, that AAA repair shop is in the same plaza, that there is kosher food available right there, that a friend who was texting me at the exact same time offered to help. I am also grateful that I did not leave 11 yo at home, because who knows how long this would take?

I decided that it is quicker to walk over to AAA than to call the hotline. It turned out to be a smart decision, as they sent a mechanic with a jumper battery to see whether they could just jump me. The car started enough for me to drive it over, but the battery was dead. They assured me that it is not the alternator, just a battery and they can switch it out right in the parking lot, here is your bill, have a great day. As I ran the rest of the shopping errands, we got some lunch. While we were eating it, I said out loud how it is Elul and maybe these two car malfunctions were a kapara (a redemption) for something I did. Incidentally, we went over Vidui yesterday and the line at the end where we ask Hashem to erase all our sins, but not through illnesses and major suffering stuck out to me. 11 yo listened to me musing out loud and said, I get it already, you've convinced me. I muttered how I am trying to convince myself.

On the heels of the eclipse, we definitely take the sun for granted until there is a major celestial event that brings our awareness to what it does for us day to day. I was thinking how I take my car for granted. We went for years with one car and that was hard. I loved having two cars after that. I was very aware of what a difference in mobility a car makes, especially with small kids in a spread-out city. But that was many years ago. Now we have had two well-running cars for over 8 years, so it is not on my mind so much.

However, there was another theme, something that I did not articulate out loud. As much as both of these incidents could have been a kapara, did I really need it like this? Do I really need to get into a near accident? Do I really need to drop a large amount of money on a sudden car repair? Do I need to run mental lists of whom can I call to get my baby from preschool if this car issue turns out to be serious? What happened to kapara of reaching into a pocket for a quarter and pulling out a dime?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

second day of (home)school

11 yo davened at home. I had to drop off 2 yo and get an oil change. We agreed that he will complete a certain amount of school work on his own and he was all done by the time I came back. He did three pages of Chayeinu workbook and read over the next mitzvah in Yahadus. Meanwhile, I'm slowly plowing through Rabbi Rietti's One Minute Masmid. I am very inspired since for the first time in a long time, I feel that there is an approach that I can use both in my own learning and in helping 11yo. The basic is that you start with Tanach, then Taryag, then Mishna, then Gemara, cover a lot of ground to build up the breadth and to feel progress and review like crazy. Since we are doing Yahadus at 11 yo's request, it leads naturally both to looking mitzvot up in Chmuash, reviewing Taryag and learning halachot. Today, when I got home, I asked him to find a high lighter and go back into Chmuash to highlight parts of the pesukim where the mitzvot are found. They are quoted right in Yahadus, so it was a beatiful exercise to see where Rambam pulled each mitzvah from. I also got a review in and even some Hebrew reading. 11 yo asked me whether Daddy will approve of his marking up Chmuash. I said that it is for purpose of learning, so it is OK.

I had grand plans for doing one more mitzvah, reading one perek of Navi a day with him, reading one Aliyah of Parsha, but for now, I will have to sit tight and see how all this goes. I told 11 yo to take a piece of graph paper and mark up a shape encompassing 613 squares. That sent us on a half an hour hunt for the ruler. We never fully unpacked homeschooling supplies since our move. I was also thinking how disorganized space reflects disorganized mind... but I have totally given up on that. I just don't go into the basement, don't deal with those boxed up hopes and dreams. I also cannot keep up.

So once the ruler was located, drawing this shape proved to be an estimating challenge with a small dose of math. 11 yo wanted to use extra 13 squares to make a person shape. I just watched. I can be very patient with one kid. Then, when he got the shape to his satisfaction. I told him to color in the squares equal to a number of mitzvot we high lighted. I want to give him a visual of our progress, in hopes to both address his anxiety about learning Judaics and to encourage him with tangible progress.

As an aside, he looked up the very last word in the Torah, noticed how some pesukim already contain more than one mitzvah and noticed how Rambam used the pasuk about not testing G-d to mean not to test Navi too much.

I went over his Chayeinu pages. I located abandoned Lashon HaTorah.

We had lunch. We tried going biking, but the bike rental rack would not allow me to get into the system today. 11 yo tried out dirt bike trails. We saw deer. He got exhausted after less than an hour. He also remarked how the day is going well. I asked him how he knows and he said, I'm not throwing fits.

When we got home, I did Hebrew Duolingo. I tested out of a whole bunch of levels, so now I am swimming in a sea of new words that I supposedly know. He watched me. I would like him to try his hand at it, but not now, when he feels confident or curious enough.

He did Khan academy math. I don't know what he knows, so it is nice that they are catching the holes and giving him a chance to practice both lower and higher level skills. He placed himself in 7th grade even though technically he's in sixth. He did grammar and some coding too. I caught him pausing the explanatory coding video and taking notes because he knew from previous experiences that they will expect him to use those commands.

taking notes on coding
Finally, he had his first tennis lesson at the JCC around the corner. 13 yo and 7 yo also started on swim lessons yesterday. I dropped them off and ran into the issue that the coach would not let my oldest walk back on his own. I had to drive back to pick them up all the while thinking how we complain about spoiled rotten millenials. 13 yo is allowed to use the pool on his own according to JCC rules. Why is he not allowed to walk back home? The coach said that he just needed to hear my agreement before letting them walk. So today with tennis, I found 11 yo's coach and clearly told him that I am allowing my son to walk over and back on his own. Coach's first words: "Does he know the way?" We live around the corner, literally. The child is 11. What is this world coming to? Who is not allowing for independence and responsibility?

Today was overall a good homeschooling day, even though all the crazy from the rest of the kids ended up being concentrated into a few evening hours.

P.S. I have so many photos of just kids' backs. It just hit me today that all those photos mean that I do not stop my kids in their tracks with my presence, but I get to see the path that they are on.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Charlottesville

Let me put it like this: I am neither shocked nor surprised that someone out there who never met me wants me dead. Maybe it's being Jewish. Maybe it's being foreign. Maybe it's growing up in Moldova and waking up one morning to the nationalists marching right outside screaming slogans that Jews and Russians should go home. What home? What do you mean? I have been born here, I grew up here, my father grew up here, where exactly is this home that I'm supposed to go to?

I have seen this hatred. It's the pure evil. It's the hatred of Palestinians who run and stab Israelis. They do not care that some of their victims are fellow Arabs, Druze, Christians, maybe even other Palestinians. What else but pure hatred would cause one to run up to a person to stab them?!

My friends are upset by the silence of fellow Americans. Silence is deafening, they say. They are very uncomfortable. They cannot believe that this is happening here, now, in 2017, on American soil. Me? I can believe it. It is evil. It is always here. I have never been able to get comfortable enough to believe that I belong, that I can pass as someone other than a Jewish woman who wears conspicuous clothing and speaks with an accent. I am "the other".

After being made to feel distinctively uncomfortable in my land of birth, I am not kidding myself. America was supposed to be different. But is it? I think that handwringing is over the fact that America turned out to be just like the rest of the world.

Growing up, the butt of the Russian jokes were Germans. Think: we were the third post-WWII generation, but the jokes about "the other" were about the Germans. But those same Germans are the ones that killed my great-grandmother. I have a hard time meeting Germans now. I know it's prejudice. but, deep down, I wonder: was it your distant relative who pulled that fateful trigger in Zaporojie in '41? What did he say when he came back home from war? Did he talk about it? Did he think about it? Why would he want her dead? Many years and many generations have passed. What would it take for you, the person conversing with me, to want me dead?

It's an uncomfortable feeling to walk around with. It is borderline paranoia. But I know that these things can happen. Even now. Even here. Even in 2017

First day of something

This school year has officially started. I have four kids that went off to school this morning: 13 yo to 8th grade, 7 yo to 2nd, 4 yo to preK and 2 yo to preschool. The preschool is different from the school where the other kids go because then it would be too simple. 11 yo is at home. "Mommy, now I know what school is like. I've experienced it. I think I will throw fewer fits now because it is not an idle threat." Yeah, exactly the perspective I wanted you to take on the school system, son.

So here are the obligatory pictures. Notice how 7 yo is the only one who made a sign for her grade:
7yo, 4 yo and 13 yo are all in the same school

"Bunny ears mean love"

2 yo

11 yo doing research on camera obscura for the upcoming eclipse

11 yo is off to play Dungeons and Dragons with homeschool friends. He had one session so far and he loved it. I asked him what does it teach him and he said, decision making. I'll take that. (It also teaches him that not everyone is out there to bully you).

And I'm off to glorious few hours of having no kids in the house. It had not happened since May. Every single activity was done by me. Every pool time, every outing, every park time, zoo, museum, ice cream trip... Yes, I can do those things. Yes, I can turn on a dime and give my kids the gift of summer. Yes, I can even do most of those things with a smile on my face and without losing my temper. But I cannot temper my resentment over being the only major presence in my children's lives. I cannot simmer down that if I don't do something for them, nobody else will. I am upset at the death of the village.

That is why those SEED boys were such a ray of sunshine. Somebody will learn with my boys! Somebody will talk to them about what they want! They even took them bowling and to Six Flags (I had to do the driving, but they took them on the roller coasters).

And that is why I am just swimming in the sudden quiet. It will be gone soon enough because Dungeons and Dragons is not every week, because 11 yo will be home with me and he did not become a mellow presence overnight. I am just enjoying a sudden rush of freedom from being always on guard for someone else's needs.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I wanted to go walking

Image result for be in natureToday was supposed to be hiking day. There was nothing scheduled until the evening, kids start school the following week, I need to get into nature, we didn't hike enough. But today was raining.

I made other plans, threw three youngest kids into the van, drove to Ikea to salvage the day. The Smaland was closed. I killed half an hour in front of it until the manager confirmed that it will not open. Doing Ikea with three kids, one of whom does not want to walk in a straight line resulted in a lady reprimanding the kids for climbing onto the podium where they don't belong. No, I did not buy what I needed, but I still spent money. The store's credit card system was down. One thing after another.

I came home to discover my boys who were supposed to be learning with the SEED boys on their DS. I was not amused.

I wanted to go walking. The rain stopped, so my daughter asked if we could go swimming. Since it was 70 degrees, I nixed outdoor pool. She sulked. I offered to do a hiking path in the park. She expressed her extreme displeasure. My oldest slyly suggested bowling. I retorted that he's grounded. 4 yo wanted playground. It is extremely wet.

I wanted to go walking. After intense negotiations, 4 yo and 2 yo came with me. I brought an umbrella stroller. 2 yo refused to sit in it. Instead, she pushed it. When she yells: "Help me!" it actually means "don't help me". We got to the bottom of the driveway. It started drizzling. 4 yo did not look so sure about walking. 2 yo kept on pushing the stroller without the ability to see where she was going. 4 yo walked two doors down with us and then announced that he's going home. I tried coaxing 2 yo into the stroller. She refused. We stood there, turning circles, me keeping her away from the passing cars.
Image result for walk outdoors quotes
I wanted to go walking. We came home. 13 yo and 7 yo were sketching from photos. 2 yo drew on the wall. I made soup. The sun shone through the clouds.

I still want to go walking, Exercise is good for anxiety and depression. Walking is a safe exercise that does not cost anything. Being in nature lifts one's mental state. Everyone should get out there.

Everyone that can, that is.