Sunday, December 30, 2012

telling it like it is

I belong to a homeschooling online group. One of the mothers recently opened up to the group about how miserable she feels homeschooling her kids. There was an outpouring of support, ideas and suggestions. While there were a few voices mildly telling her that maybe this is not the best situation, overall, there was encouragement to continue.

I sensed a lot of emotion and anguish in the original comment. It seemed to go beyond "I am having a really bad day". It seemed more along the lines of "Why are my kids not doing what I expect them to do, and what I think all the other kids are doing?", which was equated with the mother doing something wrong. I got thinking about that one, and here are a few of my musings on the topic.

One caveat, though: I will be honest. You might not like this, because it is not feel-good topic. You might think less of me as a parent or teacher or a person, but it is important for it to be out there.

It starts with us, people, and more specifically, women, to be conditioned to outside positive reinforcement. I am only doing a good job if someone whom I deem superior to me acknowledge that I am doing a good job. I only consider it to be a good job if it is quantifiable and measurable, and worthy of recognition. If there is no positive feedback, then it does not count. If there is no financial gain, nothing of substance occured. Moreover, even if I tried and think I did a good job, if a person of authority says that it is not good, it MUST be not good. In homeschooling, a lot of learning takes place in a casual environment. A lot of it is incremental. My kid did not throw a tantrum about unloading a dishwasher! My kid proceeded with an assignment without whining! My kid asked a really good question to which I had no answer! And all these moments happened privately. Hopefully, I will remember to share them with my husband. Maybe I will remember to post them here. Possibly they will resurface as an anecdote later on. But to local day school teacher, inquiring how your kids are doing and whether you started on mishnayot/long division/persuasive writing, these little moments do not mean much. So you do not get that pat on the back. Same goes for family members, who were probably not homeschooled and are judging the kids by their own standards. This constant lack of positive reinforcement can wear people down. I find that sometimes it is nice to be doing my own thing and not interact too much with others. Then I am not stuck in "while we are doing X, they moved on to Y".

Secondly, there is bombardment of educational opportunities which are not taken. When the child is in school, someone else decides to use this curriculum instead of that, go on these field trips instead of those, and enrich the classroom in this specific way. When you are at home, your inbox is constantly buzzing with offers of yet another amazing book/curriculum/educational opportunity/online game/etc. Then you talk to others, and hear how this kid is doing this extracurricular, and that kid is doing that, and, all of a sudden, you worry that you did not pick enough activities for your kids. For most homeschoolers I know, money becomes an issue very quickly, so soon not only you are feeling bad for depriving your kid, you also feel bad for not having a fortune.

Another huge factor is the little lies we, homeschoolers, perpetuate. You read some descriptions and picture this: it is early morning, all the kids are dressed and had breakfast of organic nutritious food, cleaned up, davened, and are sitting down quietly working in their books while the mother is walking around, checking their work.  The toddlers are playing with blocks, the newborn is sleeping, there is laundry churning and a nutritious dinner is simmering in the crockpot. Not an object is out of place, and there are gentle sun rays illuminating the whole scene of serenity and pure joy of learning...

Why don't we tell it like it is? Why don't we write: today I had to wake two kids because we had to be somewhere at 9 am, and they refused to get breakfast. I was accused of being mean for making them get dressed, they sulked while we we out, said that the whole day is going down the drain and I yelled at them, and then the toddler cracked a whole jar of tomato sauce while one of kids tackled another. Meanwhile the wonderful activity that I prepared the night before did not hold anyone's interest. One kid called it stupid and another simply walked away. Next thing I know, it is 4:30, the toddler is eating leftover breakfast and I have no idea what to serve for dinner. And the voice in my head says: if they were in school, they would have learned so much more today and I would have had time to make dinner. Bad mommy! Bad!

Then your mother calls and tells you that you are being too sensitive and impatient. Then your husband comes home, after you somehow wrested everyone in bed and asks what you did all day and why the living room looks like a war zone and did you mail that letter?

Then you lose it and yell and cry. Maybe at the kid who is still up. Maybe at your mother. Maybe at your husband. And then you feel that you will get into a car and drive somewhere, anywhere, just to get away. This very much looks like a failure from all sides: the kids were not taught, the house was not maintained, the shalom bait was not preserved... and then some well-meaning individual will tell you that you need to make time for yourself, and that's why you are losing your sanity.

It's probably raining, too, and even if you wanted to take time for yourself, where are you going to go? Do your nails at 9:30 pm? Go to a bar? Find a 24-hour grocery store and walk up and down the aisles to buy something, anything, just to be distracted?

So, my homeschooling sistas, while being positive is wonderful, we are doing a disservice to each other by withholding a truth instead of telling it like it is. Next time you write about this great craft idea, write EXACTLY how it went with your kids. Write down if there was another adult entertaining the younger ones while you worked with the olders. Write about that housekeeper that whisks a baby away at the sign of fussiness and makes the house spotless. Write down about your husband coming home early so you do not have to worry about serving dinner, clean-up, bath time and bedtime. Write down about the squabbles that kids get into, whether with you, or with each other. Write down about generous family members underwriting house cleaners, camps, extracurriculars and supplies. Write down how you ignored one kid to finish your craft project.

Tell it like it is.

And tell about those small triumphs, like the hour when nobody yelled. Others will appreciate it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

being in charge

It's two o'clock and we are finished. I think, for today, I got a good balance of "things to do" and "things which will get done without stressing anyone out".

6 yo got up at 8:20, he has a cold and needed extra sleep. After leisurely breakfast, he got dressed and unloaded his share of the dishwasher. He even davened with his sister, unsolicited. By the time he got to his davening, it was 10. His agenda had four items: math, Lama, Lashon haTorah and spelling. Yet here, we are, at 2, and he is done, even though he got time to play outside and eat lunch and read.

Yesterday, we had a siyum for Chayei Sorah that 8 yo finished. He got really motivated towards the end, seeing that it is all genealogy and easy reading. Last day, he did about 7 pesukim, just to finish up. For his wrap-up project, we wrote up a family tree of Terach's family. We went all the way back to the end of Noach, found Rivka's blood line, and included Yishmael's children along with all Keturah's sons. I feel like I want to frame it, it is so complex. He also added in Yakov and shvatim. I said that we will add Eisav's and shvatim's kids when we learn them. So we went to Menchie's yesterday, to celebrate. I remarked to my husband how we did a whole parsha in just a few months, and we will probably finish another one by the end of the year. Since we are going at our own pace, it does not seem rushed, just the speed we are moving along at.

Today 6 yo finished his first Lashon haTorah workbook. I will be ordering the second one.

One of the issues I grapple with again and again is how much pressure should be coming from me as opposed to internal motivation of the child. We have been slowly adding more brachot in Shemone Esre with 8 yo. Right now, I let him daven quietly everything till Shemone Esre, and then he says it out loud with me. We are up to Judgement ( din). He read it over in Hebrew and got the basic idea, but I knew that he did not know all the words. He has not been eager to lean the meanings of all the words. Incidentally, Artscroll was having a sale and had a book on Shemone Esre, explaining each bracha. I ordered it and figured that it will help. 8 yo glanced at it, but has not opened it. This morning, I decided to pull it out and show him the bracha and read a little insight. He had no interest, in fact, he said that I am taking away his kavana ( intention). I asked, why? He said that the book is very long and intimidating. I immediately closed the book, bookmarking the page of the bracha and put it away. We ended up talking a bit as to why this bracha comes after the ingathering of exiles and the true justice of G-d. Obviously, while the subject might be interesting to him, the timing is not right. The book  and the bookmark will stay, but I will leave it to his discretion whether to open it or not.

Along the same lines, some days it takes 6 yo hours and hours to finish one or two pages of work. Sometimes he is distracted. Sometimes he does not feel like working. Sometimes I wish he would just get up and say that he will do it later. But most times, I discover that the reason is quite different. Usually it is some assignment, way later on the list, that he is dreading, so he starts stalling early. Usually the dread has nothing to do with difficulty, but with his perception of work. For example, we were supposed to complete a page of questions and answers about Lama. He read the story fluently and translated without a hitch, so I knew that he knew the vocabulary. When we opened to the page, he dissolved into a tantrum. Once he was able to talk ( half an hour later), he said that they expect him to write everything perfectly. Ok, the lines are small (this is a second grade workbook and he is not a comfortable writer), but never did I ask him for perfection. I offered to split the writing, and he agreed. Then I suggested using a ruled piece of paper for the answers, so he would not be constricted by small lines. That was also fine. Then we hit a wall. The practice was for the verb "open", and the choices were "poteach/potachat/potchim/potchot". As long as the picture had a boy, the questions "mi poteach" was fine, but as soon as the picture was that of a girl, he could not understand what they want from him, and why is the question still in masculine. All of my explanation that the questioner does not know the gender or the amount of people performing the action fell on deaf ears. He could not deal with it, and dissolved into tears. I closed the book for the day.

Today we went back to the same page (after skipping a day). He was ready to accept the explanation and polished it off very quickly, writing in half the answers (on small lines) and giving me the other half orally for me to write in.

What would happen to this kid in a classroom? Which teacher would have the patience to recognize that the tantrums have nothing to do with misbehavior but with the pain of reality not conforming to expectations? How often do we, grown-ups, completely lose it when reality bites? When that person takes too long to make a left turn and then we have to wait for the next light? When somebody makes a promise and then does not keep it? When we want it to be Sunday, but it is Monday?

I wonder whether I really should let 6 yo be, instead of enforcing more and more schoolwork. This is not about ability, but this is about sanity, both for him and for me.

Rock garden part 2

Good things come to those who wait. I just wish inorganic substances crystallized like this!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rock garden

Yesterday we went grocery shopping. Our list included ammonia and bluing. Till yesterday, I had no idea what is bluing, where to find it, and how to use it. Apparently, it is used to "brighten whites", and it is found in the laundry sections of grocery stores. The bottle is, appropriately, blue.

These supplies were requested by 8 yo to grow rock crystal gardens. He took out a book from the library about crystals about a month ago and now finally got around  to it.

When we finished our schoolwork yesterday, we set up the basic solution:
  • 3 tablespoons of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 3 tablespoons of bluing

Mix them together, then carefully and slowly add one tablespoon of ammonia.

The resulting solution was more than enough for our three gardens.
1. A few different rocks and pieces of charcoal.
2. Crumpled and shredded paper towels
3. Crumpled aluminum foil and a few toothpicks on top.
Spoon the solution on top, mixing gently. They suggest not pouring it on.
Rock garden, before the solution
rock with the solution
While we saw some crystals form right away, the real beauties awaited us in the morning. I just wish my proteins from grad school crystallized like that!
What's going on:
These are salt crystals. Water is needed to dissolve the salt. Bluing contains powdered fragments which seed the crystals and let them form. These fragments attach to the materials (coal, rocks, paper, etc) and provide scaffolding. Ammonia helps water evaporate faster, so that crystals can grow quicker.
The best part was that this experiment came out of kids' desires, so they were eager to check on it and show it off to my husband.
white crystals
more crystals
As another aside to my science coverage worries, we visited Goodwill this past Friday and walked out with two textbooks. One was World History and another was 4th grade science. 8 yo grabbed onto the science one and browsed it the whole Shabbos. There was a vocabulary preview at the beginning of a unit. I conducted my own experiment and asked him if he knew any of the words. He said that he knew all of them. I asked him about the meaning of mimicry. He immediately gave me the example of a milk snake and coral snake. Same went for the next section, about plant parts. He knew all the words except for one, and did not mind looking through the chapter to find it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Even without formal schooling and memorization, he surely knew the concepts and the vocabulary.

Monday, December 24, 2012

what does Judaism mean to you?

Today I got a phone call, asking about homeschooling and one of the questions raised was, what do I do to make being Jewish special to my kids? In other words, how am I assured that my kids will not turn after the surrounding world and abandon Judaism at the first opportunity.

I did not have a good answer on the phone. I said that, in my opinion, for kids, making being Jewish special sometimes leads to being snobby and thinking that others are somehow less than you. I said that my kids are confronted with being Jewish and being different all the time; when they are asked about the head covering, when they are asked how they celebrate holidays, when we skip on certain events because they conflict with Shabbos or take place in a church. They know that they are different. The caller was insisting that I need to make being Jewish special, or it will be too late, and they will be not religious.

Once I got off the phone, I started thinking: do I really need to pull out Uncle Moishy "I am so happy to be a Jew" to increase  my kids' positive feelings about Judaism? Is being Jewish to them all just about restrictions and differences and not fitting in?

Then I thought about the reasons I am homeschooling. One of them, from the outset, was to make Judaism not just something that we do because everyone else is doing it, but to bring meaning and logic to it. When I learn Chumash with 8 yo, I try to stick to the p'shat, and show him how many wonderful lessons we can learn. When we talk about davening, I explain how it builds our relationship with Hashem. When we talk about halacha, I mention the underlying logic. When Israel comes up, it is a holy place, our land, with a long and storied history. When we go to a rally, it is about showing our support for other Jews. Somehow, I hope, my kids get the idea that being Jewish is different and special.

Since this question was still bugging me, I asked the boys during dinner what they thought about being Jewish. In hindsight, it is quite brave, because it is not like they have a choice. 8 yo immediately gave it thumbs-up. 6 yo was more nuanced, he said being Jewish is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I asked him to elaborate. His answer: "It is good because we know about the true G-d, and it is bad because we don't get to do everything." 8 yo changed his mind, and sided with his brother's answer. He added that being Jewish is good when you can say Shema and think about Hashem protecting you. It is bad when you cannot drum on Shabbos, or watch Pokemon.

And that was it, no dwelling on missing out, no confusion over what it means to be Jewish.

So, for now, I think we are OK.

When we were in Houston, an old rabbi gave a d'var torah in which he said an amazing thing. He said that he was not guaranteed that his kids will stay religious, but now, that he sees that his grandchildren are frum, he feels assured that he has a legacy. Think about it: he waited till his grandchildren to see how his children will turn out. There are no guarantees. Nobody knows what will happen. You do your best, and hope for the best. And you think about these things, not just assume that because the kids are getting a Jewish education, or you keep mitzvot, that everything will turn out fine.

What do you do to make sure that your kids feel special about being Jewish?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

surviving doctors' appointments

This past Friday, I had two doctor's appointments back to back; one was prenatal visit and one for the chiropractor. I scheduled them like this because the offices are very close to each other and are quite a distance from our house, so it makes sense to load everyone in the car once instead of twice, especially now that I have to be getting more of those prenatal visits.

I brought all three kids with me--there weren't many volunteers offering to watch them for me. Over the years, I had my share of doctor visits, and most of them were not routine. The only upside to all of this is that I come prepared now. Oh, and my kids know exactly what to expect.

So here are my steps to a sane visit:

  • Inform the kids the night before about the visit. First of all, they need to know what to expect. Second, it will be less scary if they know it is not an emergency. It also allows for them to assimilate the information and ask any questions. Tell them what kind of doctor visit is planned, if it's routine, and if there is blood or shot.
  • if you have any specific questions to ask the doctor, write them down! Chances are, even if you mulled them over while driving, nothing distracts you like trying to keep your kids quiet.
  • bring non-crumbly snacks: cheese sticks, apple slices. Even if you just fed them breakfast or lunch, you might be waiting for a while, and nothing brings on the munchies like waiting around for an unknown amount of time
  • bring books to browse/read/color. Some offices will ave kids' books and toys, others won't. I try to pick practitioners who welcome or tolerate kids, especially if you will have to come back often.
  • bring snack cups for toddlers, and an umbrella stroller. This way, you can strap your kid in as you are getting examined or having blood drawn. Cheerios from snack cups tend to make a mess, so reserve them just for the time that the doctor is in the room.
  • explain what is going on. Point out the scale, tell how the blood pressure cuff squeezes but does not hurt, talk about anatomical models (if it's not obstetrics, chances are it's a model of an ear or a nose), show the cool features of the exam table
  • make a "chicken": take an exam glove ( most exam rooms have boxes and boxes of the,. blow it up and tie at the wrist. The thumb becomes the beak and the fingers are the comb. Hand it over and some time will pass in play
  • bring a pen with you, and doodle on the exam table paper. Let the kids take turns drawing or writing. 
  • when the kids are older, let them choose whether to come with you to the exam room or to stay in the waiting area. This only works if you know that your kids will not leave and know where to find you. Ask office staff if they are OK with this.
  • also, teach your kids about privacy. I expected my boys to stay outside while I am getting undressed/dressed and for any internal exams. Luckily, 2 yo seems to follow their lead and wait with her brothers. 
  • reward good behavior with a mint at the end of the visit. This meant that my kids got candy, twice, before 10 am, but this also means that my sanity was preserved.
While all of these have the potential to make a visit bearable, if you can have someone watch the kids while you go, take that offer!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Aren't you glad you are homeschooling?

In light of the recent massacre, and the amount of friends who had a particularly hard time letting their kids go back to school on Monday, this idea kept coming up. Aren't you glad that your kids are not in school? Aren't you glad that you do not have to drop them off at a place which seemed safe and, all of a sudden, isn't?

These ideas were peppered with plenty other finger-pointing and blaming. It's the guns. It's the lack of guns in schools. Every teacher should pack heat. Let's station armed guards at every school. It's mental illness. It's the lack of mental institutions. It's the lack of oversight. It's the permissive violent culture. It's the video games and movies. I am probably just scratching the surface here of all the different things which could be the contributing factors. as to why this happened and what needs to be done to prevent future violence.

I am a fatalist, and I do believe there is such thing as evil. There is no protection from it. If a bunch of armed thugs want to break into my house and really harm us, there is very little I would be able to do to defend myself and my kids, guns, krav maga and 911 included. If somebody decides to shoot up random cars (remember DC sniper?), there is no protection. Similarly, if someone plants a bomb, or stabs people, or shoots up a mall, or just decides that we trespassed on his lawn, what can we do?

As a child, growing up in Moldova, I happened to live there during the local civil war when Transnistria tried to secede from Moldova. This was just a short distance away. I remember playing outside with some friends, when down the street rolled an armored vehicle. The top was down, and a young soldier, with his chest puffed up, had a gun pointed right at us, kids, street level. There was no war in town, so he was probably an 18 year old punk, showing off. Pray tell me, what prevented him from pulling a trigger and producing more war casualties? And chances are, you probably never even heard of this teeny civil war.

When I was in Stern College in Manhattan, Sept. 11th happened. We saw the towers, we smelled the smoke, we witnessed the removal of debris from Ground Zero. I was an RA on duty when there was a bomb scare in Empire State Building two days later. One of the dorms was evacuated, the girls ran into the lounge, hysterical. I was told... to serve shabbos party food: nibs, pretzels, candy. The guards were talking about abandoning their posts and running. If there was actually a bomb, what would those nibs do?

Later, we lived in Far Rockaway. Remember the tsunami of 2004? We were in a flood zone, first floor apartment. I just had my oldest. I remember thinking that if there is a tsunami here, we will be licked clean, and I will not make it up the stairs with the baby.

Still later, I taught in Chabad school. The horrible shooting in Mumbai happened. Our school talked about beefing up security, being aware of strangers, and letting the secretary at the front desk decide what to do with visitors. We talked about code red and code yellow and where to evacuate the kids. Preparedness, yes; realism, no, not so much. I cannot fathom evacuating 40 preschoolers and hoisting them over the fence to safety if a terrorist is inside the building...

So ask yourself: realistically, is my child's school any more unsafe than it was before?  And are the safety measures that the schools are bound to undertake to calm jittery parents really making us safe, or are they there to quell our fears and make us feel that we are doing something?

Just in case you are considering homeschooling due to the recent events, I can guide you to an excellent article as to why you shouldn't make a rash decision. Yes, I am glad that we are homeschooling, but not for the reasons of fear.

Monday, December 17, 2012

watch date

As I was woken up this morning by a cranky 2 yo, I was greeted by this sight in the living room: 6 yo is sitting on the couch, reading "It's Not the Stork!" 8 yo is sitting nearby, reading a chapter of American History highschool textbook. I guess I could check science and social studies off the list for today.

My kids had a watch date this morning. That's like a playdate, except that you plan to watch movies together. For this, we got together with another homeschooling family. Everyone pulled out their favorite DVD or show. There was Ultraman, Pokemon, Aquaman and Barney. There was freedom of choice both what to watch, whom to watch it with, and whether to watch it.

There was also peace and quiet and semi-civilized tea-drinking for two mommies.

Afterwards, we did do some schoolwork. No, the kids did not gladly grab their pencils and eagerly cracked the books. There was whining and moping (quite a bit) about the two items on the agenda. Both boys did math. 8 yo came up to multiplication of 12s. Those he got quite quickly. Now the challenge is to get the rest of the table down pat so that Bruster's sundae will happen. He was convinced that he was getting it today, but he is still shaky in 7s and 8s. Part of me says: drill it now, and he will thank you later, even if he is not seeing the benefits. Another part says: it will come with necessity and then the motivation will kick in. The reality seems so be somewhere in between. After we finished math, we moved on to Chumash. He finished the second perek of Chayei Sarah, the really long one. Today we just had to review the last pesukim and then I asked him to do a review project. As I was tucking in 2 yo for her nap, he calculated that there are 67 pesukim, and if each pasuk had 4 words, that means that he read 268 words in this perek. I grinned and said that he knew that many pesukim were longer than that, so he has quite an accomplishment on his hands. I did not dare breathe about successful application of multiplication.

6 yo finished reviewing addition facts to 10. He knows them cold now. He also has been listening in to the multiplication practice, and he memorized quite a few of the facts. Sometimes I have to stop him from blurting out the answer before his brother had a chance to think. There are definite advantages to one-room schoolhouse/Montessori multiple grades approach.

8 yo decided to type up a short summary of the perek in Word. This involved fancy fonts and clip-art. Also this involves computer skills and typing. Two birds with one stone...

Fortuitously, I came across this article today. So my kids are learning, but not in a linear, easily assessible fashion. I guess they are getting a modern education.

Postscript: It is 9 pm. I tucked the kids in at 8 pm. At around 8:40, 8 yo wandered out of his room. Highly uncharacteristic, usually when this kid hits the pillow, all you hear is the sweet sound of snoring. He said that he is on edge about something and cannot sleep. When we spoke about it a bit, it turned out to be monsters, with griffin bodies and snouts and claws, watching him. After a bit more talk, he said that it's a scary part from SciQ, and some other movie watching that he did earlier today. No talk about saying Shema again and talking about Hashem's protection seemed to soothe him. I suggested drawing the scary monster tomorrow, and he seemed horrified at the thought.

What have I done? I forgot that this is the same kid who was afraid of dragon in Baby Einstein and of the falling cow in Sesame Street. This is the kid who does not want a movie night because all movies are too scary. Basically, even though he was excited to watch unlimited movies in the company of his friends, his psyche was not ready to process what he saw. When the kids were watching, my friend commented how cartoon violence is removed from people violence. Beneath all the tough big-boy exterior, here is a kid who is not ready for people cruelty and violence.

Big mistake on mommy's part here. We are going back to nature documentaries.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

science "curriculum"

During most recent orthodox homeschoolers online chat, someone asked about resources for teaching science and a lively discussion ensued. I sat back, listening and feeling bad: I am not doing any curriculum with the kids. I do not have a textbook, or agenda, or even a loose schedule or units.  I do not schedule science in, like I do math and Hebrew and Story of the World. I have some ideas floating around in my head, but none of them came to fruition. Is science missing from my children's education?

The past couple weeks have proved otherwise. First of all, we have a large collection of Magic School Bus books, which boys read and reread at will. Then there are other science books hanging around the house, from an old textbook, to my occasional science reading. Then there is library, and boys pick out whatever interests them. 8 yo is still working his way through the dinosaur section. Then there are documentaries, both on Netflix and through the library. The latest one that the kids are enjoying is called SciQ. It is made by Smithsonian, and they cannot stop talking about it.

Then there are dinnertime discussions. One night this week 8 yo started the conversation by informing us about lizards which reproduce by cloning, without a male. We discussed advantages and disadvantages of this: no need for males, ability to colonize an island with just one lizard. Then we discussed disadvantages: passing on genetic defects without variety and reducing the odds of survival. My husband asked if a genetic disease could be an advantage, and brought in an example of sickle cell anemia and malaria. In order to have this kind of discussion, my kids knew what are red blood cells, what are their functions and what they normally look like. 8 yo also knew that malaria is spread by mosquito bites. 6 yo wanted to know how many  red blood cells are there in an average person. I found myself marveling  when I taught middle schoolers, I could not take the knowledge of basic facts for granted, and here are my kids, without formal curriculum, who are able to hold and comprehend this level of conversation.

When we go on a hike, 2 yo spends some time talking about the roots we step over, the big and small trees we see, the leaves underfoot, why is it winter, and the birds around us. Just this Friday, as we were waiting for the boys to loop around the lake, we opened up a seed pod which was just lying by our feet and looked at the small seeds inside. I have no idea which tree it came from, but it did not matter much. I stressed that each seed can grow into a big tree, and that prompted my daughter to open more pods and to count how many seeds were inside.

But what about scientific method? Experiments?

the set-up
Last night was the last night of Chanukah. As we were setting up candles and oil after Shabbos, 8 yo wondered about olive oil burning the longest and the best. I said that he could test it out and that's what he did this morning. We used three clean yortzait candle holders. He squirted 30 ml of water into each one, and then topped each with 20 ml of the different oils we had in the house: canola, corn and olive. Then he floated a wick in each, lit them up, and made a chart to see what happens. In the process of setting up this impromptu experiment, I told him how we want to have only other thing different ( a variable), while everything else has to be exactly the same (control). He figured out on his own that he needs to label the glasses, to know which oil is in which. He also proposed a hypothesis (thank you, Dinosaur Train) that canola will burn the shortest.

The results: olive oil burned out the fastest, after 6 hours, followed by corn an hour later, and canola, in another half an hour. 8 yo's conclusion: we should light with canola. An argument about the original menorah and the traditional use of olive oil fell on deaf ears. Afterwards, I speculated to my husband that they did not have good oil blends then, and maybe canola is today's olive...

the results
Science comes easily to me. I can probably come up with experiments all the time. The reason I don't is because those experiments would be answering the questions which were not asked yet. If a concept does not bother my kids, how much interest would an experiment hold? Moreover, why should I invest my time and energy and be pressuring my kids to do something which is not interesting right now?

There is a time and a place for everything. Since the time for science is "all the time", the questions and conversations about it happen all the time. There are no tests, no grades, no standards. But there is also no pressure.

I just wish I could say the same about Judaics...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

a day of Chanukah

Today we did HaNerot Halalu with 6 yo and Al Hanisim with 8 yo. I found on a printout, with Hebrew text on one side, and the other side blank.

6 yo highlighted prefixes that he knew, and plural suffixes. Then we sat together and I helped him translate, line by line.

8 yo wrote in as much translation as he could muster on his own. Then we went over, and I added shorashim  for the words he knew. We looked up a few words in the dictionary. Overall, I was quite impressed, both with his skills ( he translated about three-fourths unassisted) and with mine (I only was not sure of a word or two).

We did some journaling. I assigned either writing from the perspective of one of the soldiers in Yehuda HaMacabee's army or any topic of their choosing. 6 yo threw a fit, then wrote two sentences about he does not want to write, wants to have free time and schoolwork is boring. He corrected "schoolwork" on his own, since "school" was one of his spelling words. 8 yo wrote a nice little story. I got my creative writing done, too, so this post might be a bit boring. I like the idea of journalling next to the kids, but it might take a long time till it is all fun and productive.

In the more fun department, we had to get an emergency menorah for 6 yo. He made a beautiful clay one, and painted it, but it cracked two nights ago. So today we made a run to the local Judaica store. They did not have many choices, but I think 6 yo found the one he was happy with.

When we got home, the kids watched Shalom Sesame Chanukah. I have it on tape, and when that tape goes ( or the VCR), it will be a sad day here. Then we set up the candles, and while we were waiting for my husband to get home, we made dreidel art. Basically, we took a tray and put a piece of paper inside. Then we took plastic and metal dreidels, dipped the tips in paint, and spun them on the paper. I was expecting more of spirals, but we ended up with spin art. The kids loved it, even 8 yo who originally claimed no interest.

8 yo's edible menorah in the "snow" 
We are also trying to finish up a wooden model of the Beit Hamikdash, would be nice to wrap it up before the end of Chanukah.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

on self-image

This morning, as we were sitting down to daven, 8 yo suddenly told me that he does not like his hair, he feels it does not go well with his face. I said that his curls are beautiful (he's the only one from the kids to have thick, dark curls) and that I wished that I had hair like that. He continued how he does not like his face, it is too thin... I said that he was the cutest kid I ever met and I was so happy that he's mine. He said: "You are just saying that to cheer me up! I don't like to look at my face in the mirror. At that point, I tried to reassure him a bit more, but it was not going anywhere, so we moved on to davening.

This whole exchange pained me. I sort of pride myself on having a healthy body image. I do not count my calories, I am not an exercise freak, and I do not complain about how I look. One of the things I loved about quitting teaching is that I did not have to put on make up every day. I did not have to carefully dress, to look older and authoritative. I could gravitate to clothes which were functional and comfortable. My line for the first year of baby's life: they really don't care what you are wearing, they will spit up all over it anyway!

Tying into this: I am seven months pregnant now, so, obviously, I have a belly. When my mother was looking at our pictures from the canyon, she remarked how the beige jacket sits so well on me, you almost cannot see my bump. Just last night, my mother-in-law offered to take my picture. I demurred (my hair was not covered). She immediately chimed in that she can do just the top, don't worry about the waist.

I remember as a teenager poring over my parents' pictures. There is not one picture of my mother pregnant with me. There is one picture of her being pregnant with my sister. My husband does not have any pictures of his mother being pregnant either. Is this a cultural thing? Or do women feel so bad about how they look that they want no trace of their state?

Well, I am proud of my belly. There is a new life growing inside it. What's so embarrassing about that? So I gained some weight; that's normal. I just look, well, pregnant.

After I had my oldest, two weeks' postpartum, I was already being told to wear a girdle and to wrap my belly tightly in a bedsheet, to "preserve my figure". I did not know better, but I discovered pretty quickly that it is uncomfortable to nurse in a girdle. Nursing took prioriry, so I ditched the girdle, and nursed my kid till he was a year. I did not lose pregnancy weight till after he was weaned, and I was left with quite a bit of sagging. After I had my second, the same thing happened, only this time I did not even try the girdle.

I joke that I always look slightly pregnant, but that's just so I have something to show for all these human beings that I produced. My body did its job marvelously: from sustaining and nurturing a baby, to holding on to necessary weight for nursing. One does not have three kids and looks like a teenage twig. What's embarrassing about that?

So here is my message, my dear son: you are who you are. Your body is amazing and there is nothing wrong with it. What counts is not how people perceive and judge you, but how you appear before Hashem. Are you kind? Are you caring? Are you involved in doing G-d's will? Hashem's mirror is softer on the superficiality and appearances, but much harsher on significance.

As for myself, here I am in all my pregnant glory:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

update on Nach Yomi

For those who followed, you might remember that I took up to read a perek of Nach every day, to see what is commitment like and to serve as an example to 8 yo in his drum practice. Here is the original post. This is an update on how it's been going.

Till mid-October, I have been faithfully reading a perek a day. I got into a routine with it, at least reading the p'shat in English, sometimes reading the commentaries, too, sometimes just skimming on those pesukim where I had questions. Then my sister got married, and we trekked to New York and spent a good week traveling. At that point, even though I brought Navi with me, I fell off. There was too much going on, there was no routine, and there was no emotional energy flowing towards it. After berating myself a few nights for not getting it done, I decided to let go till I get back home. Then it took a good week to fall back into any sort of normalcy, and Navi has not been on the radar. I finally got back into it, but it has not been in the same groove that I had before the wedding. I have been starting on it too late in the night, and falling asleep while reading. When I fell asleep in the middle of Ammon and Tamar's story, I knew that the material had nothing to do with it; my choice of time and level of exhaustion were to blame.

So I have not been as consistent about it since October. I did finish Shmuel Beit two nights ago. I have been surprised at the end of it; I took Shmuel Beit in highschool, but I guess I do not remember that we did not finish the sefer. The wars of David, the census, the enigmatic threshing floor for sale to stop the plague; none of these stories rang the bell. I am also slowly crawling my way through "Lies My Teacher Told Me", and the central point of that book is that history is written by the winners. Even 8 yo noticed that. He wondered why we do not have more history from the rest of the world, why is everything taking place first in the Mesopotamia, then in the Mediterranean and then in Europe. Perfect case for why history survey courses are called Western Civilization.

Shmuel Beit is written by Davidic dynasty to establish it. Even though David had all these wonderful qualities quoted by Chazal ( conquering his yetzer hara, humility, zealotry for Hashem, desire to build the Beit Hamikdash), he does not come off as quite a popular king. It takes seven years for people to even recognize his anointment, and then he has three major rebellions during his lifetime. Oh, and his general is a serial killer, yet David's hands are metaphorically tied. I wish I had a chavrusa to work through particularly enigmatic and disturbing parts of the book.

I will continue to Melachim. That is the last volume that we have in Artscrol Rubin edition. At the rate I am going, I do not know how long that will take me. Maybe they will publish the next volume by the time I finish.

As for the drumming: 8 yo seems to pass into the area where practice is fun. He is practicing on his own, and we trade the minutes he practices for Pokemon movie time. His teacher says that his drumming has improved. He can show it off now, even though it still does not sound perfect. His commitment seems to be more solid than mine.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

too much Pokemon

My kids got into Pokemon this summer. Really got into it: the cards, the lingo, the games, the stats, the videos. I assumed it is a fad and will pass. But this fad has been fed by 8 yo getting Pokemon cards as a reward for good davening in his groups on Shabbos. I also got the wind that the other boys are not so into Pokemon, so has quite a good time picking.

I have been waiting for this to go away. I gave it months and months. I let them play some games and watch some videos. I let them keep their cards and washed quite a few of them in their pockets. But the love of Pokemon is not diminishing. Moreover, it is all they talk about and play. At least it seems like that. It is consuming a large amount of their time and energy.

I have two choices. The first is to ban Pokemon outright. I tried it the first time around, about 3 years ago. I said that no Pokemon talk will take place at the table and they can talk Pokemon with their friends and not with me. It worked, but the primary reason was that 8 yo was not a fluent reader, and 6 yo could not read at all, so there was no feeding into it. They also did not have stacks and stacks of cards. This time around it will not work.

The second choice is that of quail (slav). When the Jewish people wandered in the dessert, they had mann: a perfect food. But all the wanted was quail, the real meat. The lesson of the quail was that it covered the ground one day, and there were giant heaps of it. It was more that anyone could eat, or wanted to eat. It was coming out of their noses. Afterwards, the people did not ask for quail again.

So I am thinking: oversaturation. I will get some library Pokemon books, I will make them spend a whole day doing just Pokemon games and Pokemon movies. I know that they will reach a point where nobody will want to deal with those Pokemons. My limit setting has been backfiring, so no limit might be just the cure for this malaise.

I am planning this Pokemon marathon for one day next week. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

learning from others: Mayim Bialik

First of all, I have to give credit to my friends: I only found out about her divorce because someone was defending co-sleeping. Nobody spent the whole day obsessing over this. But I would like to put in my two cents.

I have not watched "Blossom". I have seen 1-2 episodes of "Big Bang Theory". I don't do baby slings, co-sleeping, elimination communication, anti-vax. I do homeschool and I do believe that natural childbirth is a better way. However, when Mayim Bialik came to our community about a year ago, I heard some gushing which could not be easily ignored. Then she came in to a fundraiser for underprivileged moms. It was her and Ina May, and I really wanted to hear Ina May, so her speech was a cherry on top. I did not agree with most of the things she said.

What I heard about Mayim was that she works and how she does this very hands-on parenting. Being a stay-at-home mom, I know what it's like having kids around all the time. I also know that someone has to pick up all the boogers while one of the parents is out, so I assumed that she had a fleet of nannies carrying out all those intense, hands-on things. I was reassured that they do not use babysitters, which means that it is just them, two parents, doing all the dirty jobs. Except that one of these parents happens to have a very high-profile job, with long hours, routine time out of the house, interviews, book promotions. That means that her husband has been doing all the scut-work.

Attachment parenting is not to blame, but it is hard to do attachment parenting if the parent who preaches it the loudest happens to be the one who has the least time devoted to it. It reminds me of this woman who was a spokeswoman for housewives. She extolled the virtues of staying at home, and having no career and taking care of your family as your primary fulfillment. Well, she made herself a nice career traveling all over the country, speaking at conferences, while someone else took care of her house. It is ironic to be telling others what to do when you stop practicing what you preach.

What am I taking away from all of this?

My blog has been primarily chronicling our homeschooling days. As such, it defines me as a homeschooler. With that definition come certain expectations, both external and internal. Some expect my kids to be getting better education than what is available through school. Some expect me to be more in tune to my kids. Some expect me to be a sage teacher, aware of every nuance of child development and coming up with perfect programs to tap into the kids' strengths. Overall, there is an assumption that we have it all figured out. Then I dispense advice like some guru, and it all goes to my head...

But the reality changes all the time. What was good last month might not work any more. What was an advantage might end up being a throwback. The homeschooling philosophy as we practice it now is what works right now, but it might not be what will work down the road.

For those who asked me how long we are planning on homeschooling, I honestly answered: we are doing it this year, and we will decide about the next year when the time comes. This is my public declaration of ability to back-pedal, so to speak, and be able to choose what's best for my family instead of being stuck defined as a homeschooler. If the circumstances change, and my kids would be better in school, I will send them to school. Possible scenarios: job changes, health issues, extreme unhappiness.

I sort of hope that if Mayim had not written a book and locked herself as an attachment parenting advocate, she could have alleviated some of the burden of keeping up the image that her husband was feeling. It is hard to break the mold when you are defined so rigidly. And no level of attachment parenting can remove the trauma of divorce.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

getting away

Clouldland Canyon
We took a mini-vacation for Thanksgiving. Oh, what the heck, this is the only family vacation we got, and we will not be getting another one any time soon, so I can call it a full-fledged vacation.

I found a state park not far from Chattanooga and we rented a cabin there over the weekend. We got to the cabin Thursday afternoon (my husband was on call Wednesday night, so he did not get home till the morning). I was told that the cabin has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living/dining room, but I was not expected to find out how nice and spacious it is. I looked at a full-sized kitchen, with a self-clean oven and microwave and large fridge and joked that our NY apartments were smaller than this. There was a screened porch with rocking chairs, a wood-burning fireplace, a fire ring and two grills outside. Moreover, there were woods everywhere. A perfect location to spend a couple of days.

Learning to strike a match

I kashered the oven (just self-cleaned it!) and we went on a hike. We descended into the canyon, saw two waterfalls, climbed a million stairs up and down. I was grateful that I did so many hikes with the boys; they knew all the rules: stop at the fork, make sure you can see or hear your parents, stay together, hug a tree if you are lost. 2 yo walked the whole way down, but was carried up by my husband. I cannot manage Ergo any more over my expanding belly. Then we got back, grilled some hot dogs and baked potatoes. The evening was topped off with roasting marshmallows in the fireplace. The boys were taught how to light matches: not a trivial task. When I was teaching middle school, I discovered that out of four boys, only one was comfortable lighting a match for an experiment. Perhaps our safety rules are trumping common sense.

long steps down into the canyon
catching drops
hot dogs


gathering wood for the end of Shabbos
 On Friday, after kids gathered enough firewood for post-Shabbos fire, we set out for Tennessee Aquarium. In our current city there is a large aquarium which somehow means that the local zoo has no water animals whatsoever: no fish, no sea lions, no alligators... Consequently, my daughter never experienced a touch tank, or saw fish up close. The boys dove right in with the sting rays and sturgeons, but she was cautions. She stuck her hands in the water, but seemed uncomfortable touching fish. She loved walking alongside a diving penguin. I have a soft spot for penguins, we even had them on out wedding invitations and benchers, so for me they are quite special. I also just read a National Geographic article about how they can release bubbles of air trapped in between their feathers to get a speed boost when jumping out of the water and it was incredible seeing them accelerate and whoosh out in a stream of bubbles.

Overall, it was a good outing. Afterwards I remarked to my husband how different it is now, going to a new place with two kids who can read all the signs on their own. I do not have to interest them, they look and read about whichever animal they choose. I could unschool like that!

Add caption

We had lunch outside and then headed back to the cabin to get ready for Shabbos. I brought hot water urn and blech with us. For dinner we had Chinese take-out, with leftover hot dogs and roasted veggies. We played a few games of Connect Four, dominoes and Rummikub. One of the kids accidentally turned the light on in the bedroom, but they still managed to fall asleep and stay asleep.

On Shabbos morning everyone davened, then we had our first meal (brunch) and headed out for a walk. There was no eruv, and no city, so we had a limitation of not being able to carry anything with us and not walking too far. Nevertheless, we blazed a trail to connect to a marked trail on the other edge of the canyon. It was early, it was cold and quiet. The views were breathtaking. We walked for about half a mile, which took us down into the canyon. 2 yo managed all of this on foot.

Then we got back. For seudat shlishit (at 2) we had cold cuts, potatoes, veggies and leftover Chinese. Then 8 yo and my husband played a long game of Monopoly. It lasted till the end of Shabbos. 8 yo won. I managed to finish two books: Packing for Mars and Baby Catcher. According to 8 yo, I was interrupting the Monopoly game to read interesting excerpts. 6 yo read some, played with 2 yo and played with his stuffed toys. We went over the parsha.

When Shabbos was over, another fire was started in the fireplace and the kids had a melave malka of hummus and salami sandwiches. The whole scene was so idyllic: everyone sitting around the fireplace, rocking and snacking. The feeling was so relaxing.
melave malka

Rock City
On Sunday we drove back to Chattanooga, this time to Rock City. The drive there is quite interesting; one minute you are in one state, the next you are in another. From the top of the mountain one can see seven states. However, since we went right after Thanksgiving, the "holiday cheer" was everywhere: in the music, in the decorations, in the lights. Also we did not find the whole attraction so attractive. There are rocks and paths and small caverns. There is a great view. Maybe it is because I like things more unadulterated, less commercialized. Maybe we have been on better hikes, in real caverns, and without everything having a little cheesy note attached to it. At the end of the attraction there are Fairyland Caverns, culminating in a room full of illustrated Mother Goose rhymes. The dolls looks scary, and the rhymes are, well, sadistic. 
one last fire

The best part of this whole vacation was its remoteness. We were on our own, being able to do our thing, not running on anyone's schedule, not being connected and tuned it to anyone. We were unplugged (except for a few pages my husband got. 8 yo remarked: "We only have one car, so daddy cannot go anywhere!'). There was a TV in the cabin and 8 yo asked to watch it, once. I demurred. The rest of the time we just, well, were. There was all this time: to sit around, to build a fire, to gaze into the fire, to read, to play, to think. There was no rushing.

warming up with hot chocolate
State parks are underrated, in my opinion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two days: a comparison

Yesterday was a marvelous day and today was a total disaster.

Let me start with yesterday. It was Sunday. My husband was not on call. He took 6 yo out to get him his special yellow belt gift, which was really a ruse for them to spend some time together. And yes, this guy got his yellow belt before his brother. I am strongly pro tae kwon do at this point for self-control.

We were planning to go to the Gem and Mineral Show. Both boys were up and dressed early. They ate breakfast quickly, unloaded the dishwasher and davened. 8 yo had his drum lesson and we got a good report from the teacher on his progress. Then, before we drove to the show, 8 yo folded and put away his laundry. The time was 10:15 am, and two chores were done!

My husband and 6 yo were planning to meet us at the show, so we drove there and wandered around a bit. 8 yo was very good about looking around and not touching without permission. He marveled at the fossils, recognized some minerals, watched the fluorescent rocks. He asked how a faceting machine works and got a personal demonstration. At another table, he was shown how grams are converted into carats and the price of a jewel is calculated. 2 yo had much harder time, first with not being able to see the high displays and then with not touching. I got both boys a mystery bag to add to their rock collection.

Then we all drove to the park where the kids played. 8 yo took turns giving and getting rides on a spin ride, 6 yo ran with some other boys pretending to be Spiderman with his new soaker glove and 2 yo found a girl to play with and to follow around. My husband pushed her on a swing for a bit. I got to sit back and relax. At some point, 8 yo walked over and told me about how he feels that the day is going just right and feels so perfect. That was encompassing my feeling in its entirety.

As we drove back, 8 yo was plotting on how to build his club house in the backyard. His plans included a shelf for games, a tent cover, bushes for infrastructure and for benches. He even asked me to turn the music off so that he could think. When we got home, he went right to it.

My husband got some sand and we filled up the punching bag base that I scored for free from boys' tae kwon do. Then it was dinnertime (falafel and ice cream), followed by showers and bed time. I was leaving to a fundraiser, so I just kissed boys on the way out the door and got a little speech from 6 yo about how kisses are good both for kids and grown-ups.

Today was miserable. We got up late, then we ended up rushing to go to a friend's house to play since there was supposed to be an art lesson for our 8 yer olds. We were rushing because I wanted to give them time to play before the class. The class was cancelled, but the kids did play. We got home around lunchtime. The boys went to the backyard while I was warming up lunch and writing the schedule. There was slow eating, resistance from 2 yo to taking a nap and then stalling before getting started on formal schoolwork. 6 yo wrote up Lashon HaTorah and then threw a major fit when I asked him to read what he wrote. Meanwhile 8 yo started on math, but he was working very slowly and sloppily, skipped some pages, got some problems wrong and did not memorize the table of threes like he was supposed to. Then 6 yo started on math and did that quickly. 8 yo moved on to spelling without bringing over any of the supplies or writing the date. 6 yo brought over Lama, decided that it was easy, but took forever to write his answers. 8 yo finally completed spelling, accused me of giving him the words that do not follow the rule and stomped and fumed. 6 yo moved on to his spelling where he got two of the review words wrong. I did not want to give him more words to study, so I told him just to study those two. Another major fit. 8 yo was ready for Lashon Hatorah, but the page was not to his liking. He expressed all his feelings about it. By now the time was 3:45 and I was done. 2 yo woke up from her nap, and I still had errands to run. I wrote up the chumash assignment for 8 yo, and told both boys that they will be completing their schoolwork later, on their own time.

8 yo told me later that he was all done, which elicited another fit from 6 yo who had literally two lines of work left. Turns out that 8 yo lied and did not do his work... and there was a water bottle spilled all over the car, and there was fighting over music or over silence, and over the granola bars and the car door was slammed without the light being turned off, and the wrappers were not in the garbage and it was all my fault!

By the time we got home, around 7 pm, I was tearing my hair out. I ordered everyone in pajamas and actually threatened not serving dinner. The boys did get pajamas on and sat on the couch, reading for a bit. I reheated the leftovers. After dinner, 8 yo lied, this time about brushing his teeth. Considering that we still have a dentist's bill from his previous three cavities, I do not find this to be a trivial matter. 6 yo decided that now is the time to go look for yet another stuffed animal to sleep with. Now I had three kids to tuck in by myself.

Did I mention that my husband is on call tonight?

So what went right yesterday and wrong today?

Now that I have cooled off myself and can think clearly, here are a few things:

  • two adults vs. one adult
  • split up kids, especially the temperamental 6 yo vs. having all three feed off each other's tantrums
  • clearly spelled-out expectations for the day vs. flying by the seat of our pants
  • more time to get things done vs. rushing to keep within certain time frames
  • no written-up schoolwork vs. a formal list of assignments
  • pleasant and expected activities (drumming, show, park) vs. drudgery (spelling, chumash, lashon hatorah)
  • low-pressure weekend vs. high-pressure weekday
  • day spent mostly outdoors vs. day spent mostly indoors
  • feeding off a positive feeling that the day is going well and will keep on getting better vs. a yucky feeling that the day is bad and cannot be spoiled any further with more horribleness
  • looking forward to a grown-up activity, alone vs. knowing that there is no end in sight (those leftovers are still waiting to be cleaned up...)

What can I take away from all of this, or, how can tomorrow be better?

For starters, tomorrow we do not have anything scheduled and I will keep it that way. Then, my husband should hopefully be home for dinner and bedtime, so I can try to see myself as being off-duty at that point. I can split the kids up between upstairs and downstairs. I will write up a clear list of schoolwork for the day, with pages and expectations. I will also promise park time in the afternoon if all the schoolwork is completed early. Finally, if the day is not going smoothly, and we are just butting heads, I will put myself in timeout, remember to breathe ( or have a drink), or call it quits rather than escalate the tension further. And I will try to get out of the house alone, even if it means sitting in Starbucks for 20 minutes because I cannot come up with any better plan.

We all have days like these...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

this one is not a mentch

This past Shabbos, R. Chanoch Teller was a guest speaker in our shul. He gave a class about being a mentch (an admirable person). He started by saying how all parenting classes tell parents to love their children, but that a lot of them do not say that it is much easier to love your children if they are well-behaved and are mentches.

Overall, I agree. It is easier to love a child who is lovable. But what about your child who is not? What if your child is the one who is throwing a major tantrum? What if your child routinely bites/hits/hurts/screams at you and his siblings? What if your child makes you wonder where he came from, because he is not like you and like your other kids?

Before I go further, let me clarify that this is not a parenting issue, that your other kids are being brought up in the exact same way, in the exact same household, but their behavior is more reflective of your expectations, while this one child is off the wall. If all your children are off the wall, then you might need to reexamine your parenting.

You have that one child who is different. The one who melts down over the slightest things, the one who drives you nuts, the one for whom you wish there were parents to call and to complain to, except that you are the parent. What are you supposed to do?

All of a sudden, a chorus of blaming voices materializes. These voices usually find fault in the parent.

  • It's your genetics, you must have had undiagnosed (or diagnosed) ADD or some other disorder and now look what you transmitted.
  • It's your reluctance to medicate, there must be a nice pill which will magically turn your little monster into a human.
  • It's your eagerness to medicate, must be that one of those drugs is causing a side effect, and you are blindly shoving more medicine in.
  • If only you would cut out gluten/sugar/carbs/food coloring/dairy, you would see such a difference.
  • If you were only stricter and show who is the boss, the child would obey.
  • If you only hugged them and held them during tantrums, then they would feel comfortable and not have to express themselves this way.
  • If only you would have held off on those vaccines, your child could have been normal.

The list goes on...

I included the items from both sides of the aisle, since I find that both sides scream themselves hoarse over the choices they make or regret making. The overall sense of guilt and wrongdoing starts to envelop the parent, who is coming to grips that this child will not be a conventional child. The parents either are paralyzed by realization that this is not going away, or seek out every single cure in hope that one of them will do the trick.

What happened to embracing differences? What happened to realizing that not everyone is cut out to be mentch by temperament? What happened to accepting the child for who he is, warts and all?

King David
David HaMelech was a warrior by temperament. By plain p'shat, same temper which caused him to act fearlessly in battle led him to audaciously seize Batsheva and concoct a cover-up with Uriah. Despite all the whitewashing of the story, David's actions were not in accordance with Hashem's will; he clearly performed an evil deed, and confessed later that he sinned. The larger question is: why is this story recorded, especially since it has to come with so many explanations of how it is not as bad as it sounds? It must be that an important lesson is hidden in there: even a great personality is not always acting as a mentch.

Based on midrashim, David's own family did not think very highly of him. He was odd, he was weird, he was different, he did not seem suited for leadership, and he wrestled bears and lions with his bare hands. Does not sound like a nice yeshiva bochur. His parents probably stayed up at night, whispering and shaking heads, wondering what would become of him. But he was given an opportunity to be a shepherd, stay in the wilderness, play his harp, expend his energy, find what suits him.

Are we giving our difficult children the same opportunity? Are we depriving them of a chance to become the next great leader by constantly squeezing them into a box that is too small? Do all of them have to behave like a mentch all the time? Do we have to point out every time how they do not measure up?

I am guilty of this. I have a child who is not like either my husband or me. Today I wish there were some parents somewhere to call and to complain to about how his behavior is just plain wrong. But now, sitting down, I think how this child is most likely to behave like a mentch in the most unexpected situations: share something, help someone, make someone feel better, tune in to the feelings of others. As I enlarge the box, his finer qualities manage to squeeze in, too, and overshadow the inappropriate behaviors.

I need to find more opportunities for this child to shine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12th

Hubby was on call last night, but he came home for breakfast for an hour. All three kids jumped him, literally. We are big on wrestling time with daddy, and 2 yo does not let him leave the house without kisses. I remember, when we just got married  walking by someone's house in Far Rockaway. The father was just walking up the driveway, and, in the window, there were two girls, jumping on the couch and cheering for daddy. I feel happy that this is the ritual my kids developed on their own. Some days, they will run out on the lawn to greet him.

After breakfast, it was time to change a tire on my van. I planned on walking the kids to nearby McDonald's with some schoolwork, and letting them climb on the play structure till it was time to pick up the car. In the ideal world, my husband would take the car and I could just stay home without hustling everyone out of the house early. In the ideal world, there would be a park nearby where the kids could play. In the ideal world, the local eatery would be kosher, or, at least, not so stereotypically treif. But this is the way the cookie crumbles, and I thought it gives kids a nice motivation to finish their work quickly so they could play. As we walk in and settle down at the table, I hear a voice behind me, saying: Shalom, chaverim! Boker tov! (Hello, friends! Good morning!) So much for coming in undetected... I got myself a coffee, so that we were not just using their facilities without them benefiting.  I also learned that they blast music, which made it hard for boys to concentrate. However, despite all that, they were able to do Lashon HaTorah. 8 yo worked on memorizing his multiplication. 6 yo filled out a page of Lama. Then everyone went outside to play.

The tire was done, and, as I am picking up my car, I bumped into a friend. She told me about story time at the library which was starting soon. When the boys were younger, we used to go all the time. We were also in different cities then. Here, I tried it a few times, but it never worked out well: either the librarian quit, or the new librarian kept mispronouncing words from the books she was reading, or it was a month off, or something else. Besides, it is hard to justify dragging all three kids to an activity which is only meant for one. However, I had some books to return, and I thought that the boys could sit and read in the kids' section while I held 2 yo on my lap. So off we went.

What I completely forgot about was that today was Veteran's Day, so the library was closed. We still got to slide all 40+ books down the book drop and the boys informed all other people in the vicinity that the library is closed.

When we got home, I wrote up the list of what was left to do. It included raking leaves and going to farmer's market, neither of which happened due to the rain and sleeping 2 yo. She took a long time settling in and then a long time waking up. Those naps do not last forever, but I am holding on to them, with both hands and all my sanity.

I have an interesting dichotomy within my boys: one could not give a hoot about neatness of his work, while the other is paralyzed by the thought of getting something wrong. I find that I sound like a cray person, telling one kid to fix this and show me better work, and encouraging the other to write down just about anything, and that it's good enough. I wonder whether it is part of "chanoch l'naar al pi darko", teaching each child according to his disposition. I also wonder whether it will make me crazy. I wonder whether I will have enough patience to be really doing it, and not just paying lip service to the idea.

2 yo has been climbing into 6 yo's bed when I tuck him in, but for the past week, it was bothering him. He pulled on his blanket, tried kicking her off and came up with all different strategies why she should not be in his bed. Depending o the night, I could go along with that, after all, it is his bed and he should be able to make rules about who is welcome there and when. Tonight it happened that I was tucking him in and nobody else was in the room. We said Shema and then he wanted to know where is his sister. I said that she is out, and he sounded that he was expecting her to be in his bed. I thought about how he really wants her there, but on his terms, and now that she was not present, he was missing her.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

in defense of unschooling

Part 1.

We got a book through PJ Library in the mail, addressed to 8 yo. It's called Jeremy's Dreidel and talks about a boy who makes a dreidel with braille letters on its sides so his blind father can play it with him. Simultaneously, the book introduces what it's like to be blind and to live with someone who is blind. It highlights how much blind people can do. 8 yo recommended that we read it out loud tonight. At the back, there are directions for making a few different kinds of dreidel, including the Braille one. I noted that Hebrew Shin is not like any letter of English braille. Next thing I know, we are googling Hebrew braille charts. And the next thing after that, I find an article on the development of Hebrew braille, attached here for those who are interested. Now 8 yo wants to read that article, but it is bedtime, so I am printing it out. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Requests for more articles? Writing something in Hebrew Braille? And which category does this learning belong to? History? Language arts? Does it matter?

Part 2.

As I am tucking the boys in, 6 yo says:
-Please do not look under my bed, Mommy!
Now he really got my attention.
-Why? What do you have there?
-You will be mad, so please do not look.
-What is it?
8 yo peeks under:
-It's a book!
-Were you planning on reading in bed?
-Yes, because it is Torah! You never give us a chance to read, and it is Torah, so you have to let me read it!

It was his parsha book, the one he has been reading on Friday. Of course, he read plenty today. He read a chapter of Henry Huggins (good old Beverly Cleary!), he read Magic School Bus in the Time of Dinosaurs, but he felt that he needed to get even more reading time in, and of Torah, too.

This is a kid who did not know his letters early on, had no interest in reading (but loved being read to), and did not develop fluency till fairly recently. I am pretty sure he would not be willing to read out loud: I have to sneak it in by asking him to read the quotes in Magic School Bus. But here he is, sneaking in Torah reading, yet being too honest not to let me know that he's planning on sneaking. We compromised by me putting the book out in the living room, so he can read it first thing tomorrow morning.

Friday, November 9, 2012

awesome Friday

You know those days when you look back and say: this is so enjoyable and I am getting so much satisfaction? Well, today was one of those.
edible aquifer

It did not start exactly on the right foot: 2 yo and 8 yo were duking it out for my lap space on the couch and I do not enjoy mediating fights while it is still dark outside. 8 yo asked for pancakes for breakfast, and I asked him to set the table in return.

Everyone davened, and then I presented the schedule for the day. It was not met with great enthusiasm. 6 yo complained that I did not include Lama or any reading time. 8 yo complained that I did not include Rosetta Stone. I thought I am going easy on everyone since it is the first early Friday. However, 6 yo zoomed through his work and was done by 10 am. In that time he did math, handwriting, spelling and Lashon HaTorah. We still had parsha to do, so I told him to find a parsha reader and go read quietly in his room while 8 yo catches up. The older one was done by 11 am. He did review in math, script, spelling and Lashon HaTorah.

giddy up!
Then we moved on to parsha. Since 8 yo is learning Chayei Sorah in depth, I was quite familiar with the part that we covered so far: Eliezer meeting Rivkah. I was not sure what to do about the rest: cover it in depth? Skip it, so it is new and fresh? Cover it lightly? I decided to focus on a few highlights and keep the rest for more in-depth study. Then we acted out the story by the well. 8 yo wanted to be Eliezer. 6 yo wanted to be a camel, and so did 2 yo. I got to be Rivkah. The boys found saddles and harness for the camels, jewelry for Eliezer to give to Rivkah, a bucket for the well and a gallon jug. They asked me what a nose ring is, and I googled it to show them. We also discussed how much a camel can drink. They filled up the gallon jug with water and tried carrying it around on their shoulders, but nobody lasted too long. I am thankful for indoor plumbing, these kids would make lousy water carriers!

this camel is resting
WE acted out the story till they got to Betuel's house. The boys remarked on how much fun they had, and I made a mental note to do this more often.

Anachronistic prayer of Eliezer

Then we had lunch and for dessert, we made edible aquifers, to show how a well works. I got this idea from this blog. We talked a bit about wells before and we tried making one with clay/soil, sand and rocks, but I saw that the idea was not sticking. We used dyed seltzer for water, ice cubes for the aquifer, ice cream for impermeable layer and cookie crumbs for the soil. The straws were the wells. When 6 yo asked: so the well has to reach the aquifer to get water, I knew that he finally got the concept.

2 yo helped me make the lemon bars, there is chicken soup simmering on the stove, the kids are washed and we are set for Shabbos. I did most of my cooking yesterday, so not scrambling at the last minute adds to today's calmness.

Shabbat Shalom to all!