Tuesday, July 31, 2012

election day

Today we were heading to the production of "The Emperor and the Nightingale". I told the boys about it yesterday and did not get very enthusiastic response. This morning, as I was rushing everyone to get dressed and daven, 8 yo proclaimed that he did not want to go. Knee-jerk response: fine, stay home. (Not sure how I was going to pull that off logistically.) Upon his second expression of desire to stay back, I asked him, why? He said, it's an opera and operas are scary. They have blood in them. I explained that it is for kids and I don't think it's an opera. He asked me what is it about. I drew a blank. We were sent a link to the synopsis, but, since the boys did not seem interested, I did not look it up. So there we were, half an hour before leaving our house, looking up what the show was going to be about. 8 yo said that he guessed it was about China and that he knew about the Lantern festival.

We got to the theater and the boys sat with their friends. The musical (it was not an opera) was very child-friendly, engaging the audience, funny at times and well-done. 6 yo was jumping in his seat. 2 yo squirmed in my lap. After the musical the actors lined up in the lobby. I excitedly proposed to meet them. My kids pulled and pulled to get away. I remembered last time 6 yo encountered Cat in the Hat at the book fair and ran out screaming and decided that we will wait outside.

Soon the rest of our group gathered. The kids had lunch together and then played some game which required running. There, we socialize and play with others. I got to talk with the other moms, something that I do not often get to do. What about adult socialization? Who is going to toot that horn?

Then we headed to vote. This is my second time voting in my life (blame it on the slow processing time of paperwork even for perfectly legal aliens). It is still new and exciting for me, and my excitement is somewhat contagious here. The kids lined up to see me sign the papers, present ID, get voting card and then march to the machine. I explained how some positions are uncontested, and we are really electing the person who is in  the office already. There is also a referendum on local traffic. The kids have been getting an earful about it, even at our past Shabbos lunch. Now, my husband and I vary in our political persuasions, so, hopefully, that gives my kids both sides of the story. They heard about why it is a good idea to pass the new transportation plan and why it is bad. At the end, they hopefully lined up for stickers, and there were none! The boys were disappointed.

On the drive back home, 8 yo remarked about placards on people's lawns and that we should get one. 6 yo sternly reminded him that voting is private and you do not want other people to know how you voted. They are getting the mechanisms of it. Can't wait for November... although I wish for my first major election that the choices were more exciting.

This afternoon, we checked out a tae kwon do studio. Today we were told just to observe. The boys declared that they liked what they saw and want to try it out. This place has 4 weeks free trial period and will mercifully put both boys into the same group. The teacher seems very strict, but good. I want to see that the boys will still be interested at the end of 4 weeks. I was also impressed that the teacher told us that kipas and tzitzis are ok, without me even asking, and that he understands that Friday afternoons might not work in the winter and we can switch to another day then.

Finally, I got in the mail today "What Your 3rd Grader Needs to Know". I like to get these books for myself, as I think they give me a general idea of which direction we are going. 8 yo saw the book, begged me to give it to him, and has been reading it to himself for the past hour. So if he will learning everything he needs to know in the next couple days, maybe it's time to move on to fourth grade?

Monday, July 30, 2012

on chipped plates

Ten years ago, we were getting married. I was still in college, with one parent living in another country and another living on another continent. My future husband was in medical school, technically on his own, with two frying pans and two plates. And a toaster. And an air-conditioner. If you lived in NY, you know how important it is to own a window unit.

We had a long engagement and no parental support. We were also getting married at the time Lechter's was going out of business. My college friends surprised us with going there and cleaning out their inventory, which meant that we (gasp) ended up with dishes and pots that we did not register for. Nevertheless, we were now proud owners of two sets of dishes, a set of pots and two sets of silverware.

Now, whenever I get an invitation to a bridal shower, it comes in with a discrete list of places the young couple registered at: Bed Bath and Beyond, Fortunoff's, Macy's. I usually start browsing online and, lo and behold! They are registered for a really expensive dish set. Well, being frum, two of them. The dishes look gorgeous, but I find it a bit funny: do you really want me to buy you one place setting? Are you planning on spending your own money to buy the other seven? Are you counting on family to buy you the rest? And let me tell you what happens after you get married...

If you live in a city and are still pretty young, chances are, you are renting a small apartment. If the city is NY, that becomes a really small apartment, with a really small kitchen. The first thing you will discover about your kitchen is that it is sorely lacking cabinet space. Most kitchens are not built to house two sets of dishes, so you end up compromising by having only a service for four on the low crammed shelf and the rest tucked in somewhere else. But if you decided to honor Shabbos by getting a third set of special china, now you have to figure out where to store that. Maybe you have a spare bedroom and it becomes the great graveyard of wedding gifts (all those over-sized bowls and platters and trifle bowls and serving pieces, in case you are making Shabbos for 16. But your apartment will not even fit 16.) Maybe you are now cramming in a sideboard into teeny living room, so you can store your Shabbos dishes in dignity. (If they are that expensive, they have to be treated with respect). Whichever way, you probably work it out to corral all your china and silverware and you spend hours hand-washing it all after Shabbos and putting it away.

And then you have a baby. Now, you are dealing with a severe lack of time, you do not have time to carefully wash and stack those fancy dishes. Either you switch to plastic and let your dishes gather dust, or you grumble how you need cleaning help or your spouse to pitch in.

And then your baby becomes a toddler. Toddlers like to experiment, and they do not know that mommy's expensive china is not the best way to check whether gravity really pulls everything down. Toddlers also get into cabinets and boxes and, to them, a plate is a plate, whether it was trucks or delicate flower motifs.

By now you probably chipped a few of your fancy dishes and  broke some. You keep consoling yourself that as soon as your finances get better, you will order their replacements and secretly wonder why they are so expensive.

And then your toddler becomes a preschooler, eager to help set the table. Now you are really stuck: do you encourage independence and let him set the table, holding your breath and hoping that nothing gets dropped, or do you keep telling him how precious these dishes are, how careful he has to be with them, and, when he's a big boy, he might even have a real plate of his own?

And then the preschooler becomes a yeshiva bochur and the parents start to wonder why he has no desire to help set or clear the table....

In hindsight, I am so grateful for those simple Lechter dishes. I also was not able to fit two sets in, but I never had Shabbos dishes. I also never had anyone complain that my dishes are not fancy enough. And I did not regret the chips and scrapes. When our fleishig set was too broken for further use, I marched into Bed Bath and Beyond and got the simplest set of glass plates they had. They were square (my preference), they did not clash with the remaining original bowls, and they have been serving us faithfully ever since. When we moved last time, I cheerfully passed on our milchig set to a friend just starting out and marched to Ikea, where I got an equally simple set.

My kids unload the (milchig) dishwasher, but I do not worry about new chips. My kids set the table and I let them take the plates. My energy is going to human beings and not to inanimate objects. Except when I have to wash them...

When we got married, someone did give us a nicer china set. ( By nicer, I mean that the whole set was about 100$). We are using it for Pesach, which I have been making every year. I get to enjoy fancy china, but I only stress about it for a week out of the entire year

And if we ever have more than 8 at our table, I reach for paper goods without another thought. It's not china which makes Shabbos, it's the peace in the home.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Philosophy or ma'amad har Sinai al regel achad

This morning, we are driving to my chiropractor's appointment. 6 yo and 2 yo davened at home before we left and 8 yo davened in the car, kind of quickly, because he wanted me to turn Handel's "Water Music" back on. Then out of the blue, he asks me, how do we know that Torah is from Hashem? I clarified his question, and I explained that Torah was given to Moshe by Hashem and we have Jewish people gathering around Har Sinai in a public event as proof ( for a thorough article on this approach, click here ). I gave an example of an earthquake which happened when I was  a child. I described my experience and said that the details of it would vary from person to person, but, if he would ask other family members who were there, the basic facts would be the same. Then I explained that if he would ask other people who lived in the same region, they would all tell him about this earthquake and he would have to conclude that it really happened, even if he was not there. Next step is for him to tell his children about this earthquake, and then they would tell their children. That would become a family story, which would be confirmed by children of others, who had the same story. Based on this evidence, one living many years from now would have to conclude that there really was an earthquake. I explained that's the reason that Torah was given in a public ceremony, so that there would be many witnesses to the revelation, and they would all have the same story to tell their children, and to corroborate the written account.

He listened to it and said that he has proof that Torah is not true, why else would it bother telling us everything that is in Breshit ( Genesis)? I said, aha, you hit upon Rashi's question on the first pasuk in the Torah, we was also wondering why the Torah did not start with giving us mitzvot and instead tells us the long story beforehand. I am hoping to show him that Rashi today.

Now this is basic philosophical questions underlying Judaism. I had theses premises explained to me in highschool. I know that I was lucky to go to a school where such questions and discussions were encouraged. I know that there are plenty of kids who grow up doing Torah without ever considering if it's true. It has been hammered into them that it's so and that's the end of the story.

The fact that these questions spontaneously arise in my son's mind and he is willing to discuss them are my proof that I am doing something right with this whole homeschooling thing. I keep thinking how to further our immersion in Torah, the way that we are immersed in science and reading and math.

On the way back, we passed by Best Buy. 6 yo asked, is it really the best buy tat happens inside? I told him that the store would like its customers to think so, even if its products or prices might be inferior. Now this Best Buy was next to The Dump, and that was the next question, how is that a good name for a store? I explained again how it attracts bargain hunters by making them think that whatever's is dumped there must be a good deal. That led to a discussion about opening up a vegetable stand and how one would want to have varied produce for sale, in large enough quantities. Somehow, we were discussing supply and demand, scarcity, pricing. I hope that all these early conversations about consumer economics will have impact later on, when the kids will have to be making purchasing decisions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Stone Mountain
This morning I boldly decided to join a hiking group for their weekly hike. I have been an online member for a yer, drooling over great descriptions of great places they go to. In my defense, they hike on Wednesday mornings, the time we had homeschool coop classes. So I figured that summer would be the perfect opportunity to try this out.

We drove to the hike's location: Stone Mountain Park. There we met a whole new bunch of hikers/homeschoolers. The rules for the hike were pretty simple: stay on the trail, stay with the group, wait for everyone at the fork of the trail, listen to any grown-up. The hike itself was in the shady wood, at the former site of 1996 Olympic target shooting and cycling venue. The stadiums were dismantled afterwards. The boys went ahead with the group and I walked with 2 yo. There were tons of mushrooms on the path, all different shapes and colors and kinds. She stopped and pointed out them all. She also saw every root, branch and overturned tree. Some of those were blocking our path so we had to climb over them. There were a few bridges and some stones to hop on. We ended up being a tail of the group. I brought a baby carrier for her ( for those curious, Ergo), but she preferred the freedom of walking. She walked over a mile on a 2 mile hike and would have kept at it, were we not so far behind everyone else.

We caught up to the boys back at the parking lot. There, a frog was discovered inside a pipe and a frog rescue commenced. Inside another pipe, a black widow was spotted. It seemed to me that all kids in that group knew what a black widow looked like. My 6 yo sat down for a minute to have his juice box and then jumped up in pain: a fire ant bit him behind the knee. He was jumping and yelling. One of the women had homeopathic drops with her and she offered to give them to reduce the stinging. I figured that by now, any psychological trick would do. (Kashrut-wise, it should not be a problem, whatever's in there is diluted beyond batel beshishim and probably till the Jupiter's orbit anyway.) Then she offered drops for stress; I joked that I should be the one taking them. Whichever way, he calmed down.

a frog in distress (supposedly)

Black Widow
Then we drove further with the group, till a wading area. where they were planning to have lunch and wade. I brought lunch, but not changes of clothes. Sadly, I told kids to wear sneakers, knowing that we'll be hiking, so they had to take off socks and everything. Wading while keeping clothes dry does not work, especially when you are playing sharks and mosasaurs. At least the day was quite hot, so they were not shivering when they got out.

Wading fully clothed: my mistake

Much better

Building a castle with a moat with a new friend
 On our way out of the park, we saw a deer crossing the road. The boys identified it as white-tailed deer.
deer crossing
We had a lovely outdoor day, and I am looking forward to more great hikes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

having fun with excel

This afternoon, after many hours of lounging around, 8 yo asked if he can play on Word. Microsoft Word, that is. I said, yes.

First, he typed his name in all different fonts of all different sizes. When you are 8, using a font which contains animal glyphs is very amusing. Next, 6 yo had his turn. He took a while to type up his name.

Then, they moved on to Excel. They made some graphs from charts, played around with entering crazy data and seeing what it does to the graphs, changed colors and scale. Last, they played with shapes. They know how to insert clip art, and they put in many shapes. They played around with stretching arrows and banners, all the while laughing hysterically. Very simple things pass as entertainment these days.

I watched. I wondered about my mother, who had all these programs on her computer and never even tried to do any of the things my kids so freely experimented with. I thought about a fellow college student back from 2000, who could not make a simple table in Excel and produce a graph and blamed evil computers. She was a very conscientious student, probably also taught never to touch anything without permission. I thought about my college roommate, who whizzed her way around computer because her father let her and her brother mess with anything they wanted, as long as they did not put it into trash.

I thought about how being taught by experts takes away freedom to mess around. After all, they are experts, and the one way that they teach must be the holy grail. And if there is no expert, then there is no learning. I thought about a recent article I read on NYTimes about students dropping out of college to use seed grant money to work on their dream projects, even though they might not materialize into a financial investment. I thought how much they learned from experience.

I thought about my 2 yo in the 1 ft deep swimming pool for the past two weeks. She was just there because we had to kill half an hour while her brothers were taking swim lessons. I was not teaching her anything. She went from sitting on my lap to blowing bubbles in the water, getting her face wet, trying to swim and float and becoming fearless of water. I could have paid an extra hundred dollars for the teacher to give her an age-appropriate swim class, where they would teach her how to be comfortable in the water. I also watched another miserable 2 yo, whose mother did pay that money and who sat on the side of the pool, screaming the entire time.

At dinner, I got a lecture on Francs and Gauls and Clovis. I have not taught this and my facts are quite fuzzy. I have not required this as a reading. I have not told them: read about Francs, because that's what well-rounded education looks like.

I also did not tell them that Excel is fun.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh no, MY child would never do that!

Maybe your child is accused of hitting another. Or biting. Or bullying. Your first thought: this cannot be, my child never did that before and would never do that! It is not part of his personality. I know my child better. There is no way my child could be this bad. They must have an agenda. They need to check their facts. They are accusing and I am on defensive here. This is so embarrassing.

They might be right.

Today's situation: I went online to research a local park with good hiking trails to take kids out in the morning before the thunderstorms hit. I wanted to check the hours, but discovered that the park is closed and its ownership shifted. Now there is a possibility that one will have to join a museum in order to have access to the park.

As I was looking all of this up, I looked up to discover that the kids took a ball of yarn and strung it all over the house. They looped it from one room to another, through the backs of the chairs. They strung it through the stair gate. They stretched it to the bedroom through the bunk bed. I caught 2yo with an end wrapped tightly around her hand and 8yo trying to free her. You could not walk through without ducking or stepping over.

I was furious: here I am, looking up something nice to do and they go on destroying the house and making a mess! It took us a while to find the end of it, and lift up every chair, roll it up into a ball. The clean-up prompted 6 yo to exclaim: I will never do this again and this is without bli neder! ( We learned parsha yesterday about not making promises and saying "bli neder" to show that whatever you say, it's not a promise. At least he assimilated that lesson).

Afterwards, I was thinking. This is something other kids would do. My kids would never do something so ridiculous. It was pointless, it was silly, it was messy, it evoked strong negative response. My kids are smarter than that. But here I am, faced with the evidence that they DID do it.

By now, I had a few of these moments, when you discover that a child is capable of things that you would like him never to do. One example was when 6yo, being 3 and in a restrictive preschool program, kicked his teacher. I was extremely embarrassed, especially when the teacher told him that saying "sorry" is not enough. Another is with 8 yo being mean to other kids. Again, as a parent you are mortified. The first reaction does seem to be to shift the blame, since you feel that you are accused of something: not teaching manners, or being too relaxed or not caring. And since you cannot shift blame on your child (that is still like blaming yourself), you shift the blame on the accuser.

I remember myself, as a child doing two really silly things. One was pushing the lid off a whole pot of jam with my slippered foot. The slipper fell off and ended up stuck in the jam. Why did I do it? I don't know. I was a smart kid, not wild, usually thinking things through. This one was probably an experiment of some sort. Another event happened when we visited my grandmother's sister. She had a young apple tree growing, still small. The summer we were there, it produced only one apple, right at my eye level. I think we asked about picking it and were told not to do it. After walking past it for days ( weeks?) I stopped one time and took a large bite out of it, still attached to the tree. That evening, one of the grown-ups discovered the bite marks. My sister and I were summoned and questioned. Both of us denied it. My sister said that maybe a dog did it, or maybe a neighbor boy came over and bit it. She was not believed. I was believed because I was a child who would never do something like that. Many years later, I confessed it to my sister.

So next time you are confronted with something that your child would never do, think: is it possible?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

baseless hatred

We are currently in the period of time known as "three weeks" or "between the straits". This is the time of mourning between two fasts, the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. On the 9th of Av, both of the Batei Mikdash were destroyed and countless multitudes of Jews were murdered, enslaved and exiled. Traditionally, G-d's punishments follow the pattern of mida keneged mida, or measure for measure. As long as the sin for which we are exiled is not rectified, it is still necessary to remove us from the land of our forefathers and the Third Beit haMikdash is withheld from us.

The reason for this second prolonged exile is sinat chinam, baseless hatred. As a nation, as a whole, we must still be exhibiting this to the degree that prevents us from going back.

Over the years, I wondered about this: do we really hate each other so much? Do we hate people for no reason? I understand that one can hear slander about others and form false opinions. But would you despise your fellow Jew without knowing anything about him?

I had a painful reality call yesterday. I shared the following picture on FB (it's been making rounds):
The sign says: secular, religious, ultra-religious (Jews) are one nation. I thought it was beautiful, especially held by a guy who obviously can belong only to one of those groups. I have been promptly informed that this sign is part of a rally to get orthodox people to serve in the Israel Defense Force (army), who do not serve otherwise. I was a bit confused by that: I have plenty of friends who either did serve, whose husbands serve, or who volunteered to serve. And all these friends are orthodox, practicing Jews. As my friends were waking up in Israel, person by person, they stated as much. The whole conversation was weird, as, on one hand, they were called not orthodox, and, on the other hand, they could not be serving.

I said that if we move to Israel, my two orthodox boys would most definitely serve in the army and work, not even a question. I was told that my kids are not orthodox....

I thought about all of this for a while. I realized that what I brushed against was not a call for unity--let all nation share the joint burden of army service, but against baseless hatred based on false assumptions. The assumption went something like this: if you are calling yourself orthodox, then you must sit in kollel, mooch off the government, avoid serving in the army, have many kids so you can mooch off the government some more, pay no taxes... I am sure that there are people like this. I am sure there are plenty of people like this. I am sure there are many loud-mouthed people like this who like it and want everyone else to like it, too.

But I also know that there are many people who are NOT like this. I know that I bristle every time I have to define myself: I am Jewish, I am Russian, but not really, I am from Moldova, but that is not my defining characteristic, I am a baalat teshuva, but I do not need beginner's minyan, I am orthodox, but not yeshivish, or modern or machmir or whatever else. ( I am so glad that I do not have to fill lout those inane shidduch website forms!)

I wonder how people in Israel would call themselves Charedi ( ultra-orthodox), but do not think like Charedi. How many are secular but deeply traditional. How many are religious, with mystical streaks? One of the things I saw and liked about Israel is that there seemed to be a continuum of observance instead of discrete groups like in America. Is that just an illusion?

I have a feeling when we start hating each other less than others hate us, we will be redeemed.

If you would like to hear what some Charedim have to say about status quo, click here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mommy, I want to be in school.

Ooh, the homeschooler's parent worst nightmare: what to do when your child asks to go to school?

That was the statement that my 6 yo made this morning.

Initial sinking feeling: I am failing him. Something is off, and I am doing a bad job. Why would he choose school over being at home? Is our life that boring and horrible that he much rather join the ranks of school children?

Fortunately, he made this statement when we were all sitting in the kitchen, eating breakfast. My husband immediately asked him WHY does he want to go to school? 8 yo tried piping up with HIS reasons, but we asked him to let his brother speak. The funny part was, he did not have a reason. Then we asked him what he thinks kids do in school. Last time he was in school setting was when he was 3. He said, they do work and sit in their seats. My husband reminded him that there is also homework. His brother started talking school up, how they had red day and ate licorice or blue day and they could wear blue. I reminded him about uniform and not being able to pick what to wear. 8 yo also said that you have to listen to what the teacher says and do your work. I said that you cannot stop when you are done, you have to do work till the teacher says you are done. He asked about field trips. I said, they do field trips, but he would miss out on our trips. I also told him that sign-up for homeschooling classes is this week, so I need to know whether to sign him up or not.

We left it at this.

Of course, I am nervous. The possibility of going back to school routine is terrifying to me. I hated carpool, I hated homework, I hated not being able to do activities that my kids would rather do all for the sake of being well-rested for school. I also think we would brush against his behavioral issues, which I have a handle on now and which, frankly, have not been so bad lately. They were the original reason why I did not send him anywhere at 4, or 5.

I also realize that most likely this request has to do with not knowing what to expect. He has no idea what school is like, only that some of his friends go to school. He hears about recess and zipline and lunches. He might also have some kind of secret idea that, in his mind, happens only in school. Growing up, I remember looking at school kids in uniforms, looking all formal and grown-up and thinking that school makes you smart. One school song even went: " Here is a teacher entering a classroom, he will teach us everything". For a kid  like me, eager to learn, that sounded like a marvelous proposition. Imagine learning everything! The reality, of course, included teacher who taught strictly to state curriculum and I can say that I remember boredom, but not actual content of what was taught. Contemporary American schools are certainly more jazzed up than those Russian schools. Now teachers sing and dance and bend over backwards, but, at the end of day, school is school, and a class of twenty boys still needs to be kept in line and reports need to be filed and worksheets filled out and teacher's performance evaluated and tests given. Somehow, all of this stands for education.

I will watch for more school requests. I am calmer about it now. I wish I could make a deal with the school for him to try it out for a week or a month, so he would see for himself what it's like, and he would have less yearning for that unknown.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pinchas, or Moshe had a little lamb

I meant to post this on Friday, but better late than never.

For the past week's parsha, Pinchas, I decided to use advanced learning approach, along the lines of talking about the parsha the whole week rather than cramming it in on Friday. It is summer, and we're not doing any formal schoolwork anyway. So, we read the parsha summary from Parsha of the Week, teased out midrashim. I also told boys that there are korbanot at the end, abbreviated as baa, and we'll talk about them later. Later was on Friday. I got an idea of printing out sheets of lambs, goats, bulls and rams and then asking boys to cut out and glue the correct number of animals for each day and holiday. I told them about tamid first, a continual daily offering of two lambs.I explained how they were completely burned up, and one was brought in the morning and the other in the afternoon. I also asked them to guess what do we do now to replace those lambs. With some prodding, they guessed shacharit and mincha.

Then we did shabbos. We added two more lambs to tamid. I showed in the siddur where we add in mussaf the mention of this korban. Then we did rosh chodesh. This got interesting, with bulls and rams and goats and more lambs. I explained again how tamid was brought daily. 8 yo asked what happens when it's shabbos rosh chodesh. We looked at our diagrams and figured out how many were brought. At this point, 6 yo split to play with his sister. Next we did Pesach. I ran out of preprinted lambs. After we did one day, I asked how many animals were brought over the course of entire Pesach. We got some multiplication in this way.

We did the rest of the chagim, saving Succot for the end. I knew those 13 bulls and 14 lambs will be curveball. I printed and printed more animals. 8 yo asked how all of these fit on the mizbeach, if they had to be fully burned. I didn't know. (He asked a rabbi in shul on Shabbos, and he didn't know either! Do you?) I thought about how I feel about printing and printing, and he feels about cutting and cutting. It took us hours. I thought that the reason patriarchs were shepherds was so that Jews knew exactly what it's like to raise so many animals and they could appreciate the real sacrifice in letting them "go" as an offering.

I know that there are many other exciting topics in the parsha: the speared couple! Division of the land! Daughters of Tzlofchad! Yehoshua taking over! But I thought how there will be another year and another topic will be covered. In the meanwhile, I can choose which area of the parsha we will focus on and what kind of project/activity we will do. Oh sure, I saw charts listing all the korbanot, but they are just numbers, dry and running into each other. Actually seeing all this livestock being brought on any day really gives a sense of reality to what was going on and what we are missing now.

On Friday night, I started with parsha questions and was pleased that boys were eager to answer. They especially got animated whent eh time came to the charts, each talking over each other, explaining what korban was brought when. They also remembered the Hebrew names of all the animals.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12th

A few snippets of today:

  • In davening, 6 yo added second part of baruch sheamar. One day, he just decided that he wanted to do it and he did it. He is complaining a lot about having to say birchot hashahar now, I am wondering whether he bit off more than he can chew. He is also reading all little blurbs in his siddur which explain different things about davening. I am seriously contemplating getting him a siddur with English translation, when time comes for his big kid siddur. I think he will get much more out of it than a plain, all-Hebrew one.

  • I took all kids bike riding in the park. 6 yo worked on his bike and got the hang of it, without training wheels. He did not want to go originally, but he really practiced on his own and it worked! I had to teach him how to brake with his feet, either he forgot, or he was too scared not to be able to put his feet out. He loved the burnt rubber marks left on the pavement after his "good brakes". To celebrate, we went out to Menchie's.

  • 8 yo practiced diving and 6 yo unassisted back stroke at the pool today. It is such a relief to see them both eager to swim and gaining so much. Of course, they are clamoring for even more swim time. I tried today watching all three in the deep pool, but it was too nerve-wrecking. 

  • At home, 8 yo is rereading Story of the World, part 2. We also got a book about Rashi through Feldheim, called Rashi HaKadosh. I found it to be disappointing: it is poorly made, poorly written, has legends given over as history and looks like they took blurry stills from a movie and published it without proofreading. The boys found it to be fascinating. I discussed with 8 yo the treatment of crusades by SOTW and Rashi book, and how history can be told from different perspectives. All of this reading is being down without any input from me, I much rather be "off", but this kind of learning does not seem to take a vacation.

  • 8 yo picked up a circular in Menchie's which had sudoku and a crossword. I found him later sitting down with a dictionary, working on it.

  • For goodnight stories, the boys picked a book about time travel to the time of the Vikings and that Rashi book. 

Now onto a challenge:

It's called the cleaning issue. I clean up, and the place is a mess. I don't clean up, and the place is a disaster. I ask the kids to clean, I beg them, I scream at them, I cajole them... it works, for five minutes. And then it's back to square one. I feel like I want that remote control which freezes everything, so that I have 24 hours to put everything in its place. Another thing I feel is that we have too much stuff, coupled with many things not having an established home. I want to start the next school year in an organized fashion. I know that for me, a certain amount of order brings happiness. Not plastic slipcovers on untouchable couch, but being able to sit on that couch without displacing piles of stuff that accumulated there during the day. I am using this time to think things through, but I know it's mid-July and there is only so much of the summer left to implement and cement new routines.

Monday, July 9, 2012

lots of exercise

Today was bowling and swimming lessons. We are signed up for kids bowl free, a program which allows your kids bowl two games every day at a participating bowling center for free. You pay for the shoe rental, but the games are covered. This year, I got a parent pass add-on, so I can also bowl.

I decided on the spur of the moment to take them bowling. This time, it was bumpers all the way. Surprisingly,  2yo bowled the second highest score on our first game, with 4 spares! Way to go, girl! She was using that little contraption which allows balls to slide down the lane, but one of my sons was using that, too, and he did not have the same success rate. What I liked the most about bowling was the good-natured sportsmanship the boys were exhibiting, even though it was competitive: high-fiving each other on the spares, cheering on, wishing good luck. They were not as nice towards me... but that's because I was in the lead. The second game, however turned around. I scored one measly spare the whole game, while all the kids got at least one spare. 8 yo won that one.

Today was also the first day of swimming lessons. We took them last year, but, for some reason, they placed the boys together and that was the undoing of 6 yo, he refused to swim, was scared to lie down on his back, and spent a few sessions kicking and screaming on the sidelines. This year, i made sure they were in different groups, as they should, since they have different skill levels. It was also 8 yo secret dream to be able to make a swim team. The boys were excited to get into their swimming suits, but even more so for their new Costco goggles. I got a 3-pack and they spent weeks obsessing over who will get which pair. When I opened it up, it turned out that one pair was too big, so they made do with the other two.

They boys joined their groups and I observed 6 yo enthusiastically jump right in, ask for extra practice turns and be in good spirits in general. 8 yo worked on the kickboard. I sat in the baby pool with 2 yo, who wandered around. I will try to remember to bring some water toys next time, which is tomorrow.

I was also surprised to see that whole families were coming in, both parents with the kids. This was 4:15, still standard work day. I kept thinking to myself, what kind of work/schedule do they have that they have the luxury to attend kids' swim lessons together? I am so used to doing everything alone.

When the lesson was over and I successfully extracted all three kids from the pool and got them home, there was the laundry dilemma: do I wash the bathing suits and towels? Hang them to dry? DO I wash the   kids? rinse them? Use shampoo? I have two weeks of everyday lessons and I need to work out  a plan to keep my sanity.

What do you do?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

17th of Tammuz

This morning, after having spent a Shabbos at home (finally!). the kids are getting back in the groove. I sent everyone to shower this morning and the boys got dressed before breakfast, which produce unexpected results: when my husband got up to go to shul and asked boys whether they would like to come with him, both of them decided to go. He asked them before, but they have not been taking him up on his offer.

When they got back, an hour and a half later, 8 yo glowingly told me he said the whole Shemone Esre and he read Shmuel Aleph through tenth perek. My husband could not corroborate, but I like that they went and davened and learned.

After their breakfast, they wanted to watch TV. I said they could watch after we talk a bit about today's fast. That did not go over so well. They went outside to water the plants, hung out a bit, but then decided that they would like to learn and then to watch. I pulled our Kitov's The Book of Our Heritage, as I know he quotes the Mishna listing 5 calamities of the day. I am giving myself a pat on the back for finding the right Mishnah, as Kitov has it listed incorrectly, and I guessed that Taanit is in Moed. I never studied Mishna formally, so I am groping here, too. I asked 8 yo to read the text, just the first part. 6 yo stayed on the floor, playing with 2 yo. About halfway through, 8yo said he does not want to read any more, it is making him too sad. I felt a bit stuck; I was not sure whether this is his sensitivity kicking in, or desire to finish an unpleasant task. I decided to push through a bit, helping him translate. I also explained the concept that I picked up from a shiur yesterday, how the disasters of 17th of Tammuz are reversible with Teshuva, and are not finalized. I thought we would finish on a high note of how these things could be undone, but 8 yo sulked and closed his ears and said that this is all making him sad and he does not want to hear any more. I basically got 6 yo to say how the golden calf was undone through teshuva and 13 attributes of mercy and how Hashem gives us an opening for repentance and even the right words.

I also stressed how fasting is secondary, but his feeling of the horribleness of this day is more important. I gave an example of how many FB statuses this morning had to do with people complaining of being hungry and not focusing on the reason they were fasting. By the way, we do not give out desserts or treats on fast days to kids.

I am not so sure whether my message was received. I know that a lot of what I think falls on deaf ears does get compartmentalized somewhere, so I am hoping that it was not just learning to get to TV watching. I will see how things go on Tisha B'Av. I am looking for meaningful, kid-oriented activities. I am thinking they might be old enough to watch Paperclips and who knows? Tennessee is only a state away and maybe that will be another filedtrip.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

on having a voice

For those who are wondering, we have not dropped off the face of the Earth, but went to visit my mother and grandmother in Toronto. By "we", I mean my three kids and I. There were many reasons for this trip: to visit, vacation, my grandmother's 94th birthday, my sister coming over with a guy to whom she got engaged... Mazal Tov!

One of the things I did not anticipate happening is losing my voice while being here.  By now, I am used to regular blogging and communicating as I am: a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, a teacher, a member of the community. Being with my family somehow sapped that. I wonder whether it had to do with communicating as a daughter, sister, another helping hand arranging things behind the scenes...

Oh, there was a lot going on on this trip. There were a lot of emotions, and a lot to write about. There is a lot to process. There is an offhand comment made by  8 yo which will cause me to reevaluate the way I homeschool. But, somehow, I do not feel like I have a voice to blog with.

I wonder whether it happens to all of us: we go and hang out with our parents and siblings and, suddenly, the well-established roles take over: the oldest, the youngest, the overfunctioner, the baby, the strong one, the weak one, the decision-maker. All the years of our adult life, all the roles that we spent time establishing and crafting go out the window. I also wonder whether some people are able to transcend these roles and bring to the table their adult selves. I also wonder whether separation from immediate family is crucial to finding that internal voice and whether adults living at home never get a chance to form their own voice, independent of the family dynamic.

I might need to back up a bit and explain that I left home at the age of 13, when I moved half-way across the world, from Moldova (look it up!) to Richmond, VA, to go to highschool. This was in the days before internet, before e-mail, and before Skype. This was in the days when airmail took 2 weeks, if the letter did not get lost, and long-distance rates were so prohibitive, that I spoke to my parents twice a month for 5 minutes each. In short, I was on my own, crafting my own voice, without constant looking back over my shoulder to see what my parents would say. That's why I have very little pity on college-age kids bringing home laundry on the weekends and texting mom between classes.

But right now, being home, is being thrown back to being 13, voiceless and assuming whichever functions I always assumed. While it is comforting to be taken care of, it is unsettling to be pushed into the same box I always occupied.

I want my voice back!