Wednesday, October 31, 2012

tucking kids in

When I was pregnant with my oldest, I read "The Baby Whisperer" by Tracy Hogg. I liked her no-nonsense approach, step-by-step instruction, and the idea that parents also need a life. There was a proposition of bedtime ( and naptime) routine. I followed her on it, and, since my baby was old enough to be bathed, our nightly ritual became : bath, book, cuddle, nursing till drowsy and down you go! Since he was a textbook baby, he did exactly what all the books said he would: with an established routine, he had no problem going to sleep. When he got a bit older, I added a goodnight story between bath and nursing. Around a year, he lost interest in nursing, and went to sleep.

Every night, right before putting him in his crib, I gave him kisses and told him how I and My husband love him. Then I said: Have a good night, as I laid him down.

Since it worked so well for him, I established the same routine with his brother. By that point, I had two kids to tuck in, most nights on my own. The younger one was not the same type of baby; he had major gastric issues, had hard time settling down, spit up buckets, nursed for only five minutes at a time, would not fall asleep while nursing, would not take a pacifier, etc, etc. He would not sleep through the night till he was two, and not for the lack of trying on our part. However, even this tough baby would fall asleep with this established routine ( albeit not for too long).

When my daughter was born, we went to the same routine. She was an easy baby, nursed well, slept well. She loved her bath, her books, and her tucking in routine. By now, the list of people who loved the kids grew to include all the siblings. Once she was able to talk, she would ask for cuddles, which meant lying down with her for a minute.

I found this bedtime ritual quite important as kids got older. By now, everyone can fall asleep without all the steps, but, usually, just as I am tucking the kids in, the pressing hurts, questions, and the need for cuddles surfaces. The fears are expressed, the hugs are solicited and the reassurances are sought. Some of these would never come out in the broad daylight.

Oh, this bedtime routine takes time, especially when I factor in the bath and reading time. It could easily be an hour. An hour I can spend cleaning the house, talking on the phone, surfing the web, reading my own book. After all, the boys are big, they know what to do to get themselves into bed. But I also know how fleeting is all of this. It will pass in the blink of an eye, and soon, very soon, my tucking in services will not be solicited.

I see the signs of it. Some days the boys read their own good night stories sprawled out on the floor instead of trying to squeeze in around me. They bathe themselves. When they are tired, they might have said Shema on their own, before I came to their room. Lately, 8 yo found that he can do without the goodnight kisses.

While this might feel painful to me, in reality, it is developmentally appropriate separation, initiated by the child. They are letting me know when they need me for comfort and when they are ready for independence. It reminds me of the way all thee weaned themselves: one day, around the same time they learned how to walk, they simply skipped a nursing here and there, and then, just a few days later, acted like they had nothing to do with me at all. With some of them, I did not feel done, and it did feel like rejection, but seeing them quite happily occupying themselves demonstrated that they were ready to move on to big-kid things.

So, if your kids do not rebuff you yet, give them some cuddles and goodnight kisses tonight. This will only take a few minutes of your time, and you will reap the rich reward in closeness.

Monday, October 29, 2012


I informed my kids that we will have school this morning, That was not accepted lovingly, just to put it mildly. 2 yo woke up at 5:30, just as my husband was coming home from a delivery (I did not know that he left to deliver). So we camped out on the couch. She wanted to look at her pictures, she wanted to snuggle up, I was taking too much space. The boys came out, 6 yo first: "Mommy, today is my promotion!" He is getting tested for the next tae kwon do belt.

I figured that no sleep is coming my way, and the kids started bickering. I send them to get dressed, with the promise of french toast for breakfast. It's the best way to use leftover challah, and everyone seems to like it.

During breakfast, I announced that we will have some school in the morning, while daddy attends his continual medical education classes. It was supposed to be for an hour or two. I also explained that tomorrow we're going to Spivey Hall, so we will miss the morning's schoolwork anyway. I wrote out four things each: math, Lashon HaTorah, handwriting and script, and Lama and Chumash, with leaf raking and scarecrow making as bonus activities.

8yo started with math. He had review, but he was drawing it out, singing, making careless mistakes. 6 yo started with Lama, and then "suffered" through it: threw himself on the floor, threw his pencil, cried how he can't do it, etc. Voluntarily he went to his room a few times, to complete work without interruptions. The funny thing is: he knew all the answers, he was able to write them all down, but the perception of the task's difficulty was clouding his ability to sit down and get it done.

Then 8 yo moved on to script, while 6 yo started math. Same story with math: he can do all the problems, but the text insists on drawing illustrations, and he gets completely stumped, even though I DO NOT require him to draw anything, only to solve the problems.

Next was Lashon HaTorah. 8 yo finished his in a flash and we started 24th perek in Chayei Sarah. He wanted to do four pesukim; no objections from me. We got to "moshel". I explained the word's meaning and wrote down "rosh hamemshala", with translation. He immediately quoted back from Yishtabach: oz u'memshala. We high-fived.

Then he asked about that strange swearing under the thigh. I brought in Rashi. He lit up when he realized that it had to do with the brit mila. Those are the nicest moments; I feel grateful to be his teacher and experience with him the discovery of wisdom. It is amazing to see that there is a difficulty in the text, wait for him to ask a question, and then point to a right Rashi, watch him start reading it, propose his own explanation, then see what Rashi has to say and then glow with enlightenment.

For myself, I have seen these parshiyot for so many years by now. I learned them in depth in high school, but the level of new clarity and new questions is still astounding. I see these pesukim in a new light, and new ideas, or long-forgotten commentaries now make more sense.

6 yo finished math, then did handwriting and Lashon HaTorah in a jiffy. He remembered about plural suffixes, what they are and  what they do.

Then the extracurricular leaf raking commenced. The rakes were located, and the leaf pile grew and grew. I know that this is the first raking of the season and the enthusiasm is bound to wane, but for now, it is nice to see the boys working together and enjoying it.

Well, I messed up and the promotion test is on Monday. That gave us a whole unscheduled afternoon that was filled with some TV watching.

My husband found a pair of dirty socks belonging to 8 yo in the basement. He fumed (not the first time it happened). I fumed too, but then I proposed turning this into a consequence: let him go and pick them up and, since I already finished all the laundry, hand wash them. I called 8 yo off in the middle of his movie. It took him a few minutes to find the socks and then I took him to the bathroom and showed him how to wet them, rub with soap, scrub, rinse and wring them out. The funny part was: he found the whole activity enjoyable, probably because he never had to do it before. Both my husband and I reminisced how we had to wash our own socks as kids, regularly, as a necessity, and there was nothing fun about that. Now my son has a life-long skill of being able to wash his clothes in case he runs out and (gasp) there is no washing machine nearby.

To top the day off, I got to overhear this conversation between the boys:

6 yo: Did you like it when you were going to school?
8 yo: Yes!
-So why did you want to be homeschooled? Did you want to be like me?
-No, I wanted to have fun and get a good education. And have more field trips. Hey, Mom, when are we going on a field trip?
Me: Tomorrow, to a concert in Spivey Hall, then, next week to a governor's mansion and the Capitol. What about NY trip? We could have not done it if you weren't homeschooled!

I guess he's warming up to the idea of school at home, after all.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Community, where are you?

When I was in Stern for college, I was a definite out-of-towner. What defined an out-of-towner was staying in for Shabbos. There were shabbatonim, you singed up, found other people who stayed in for Shabbos. Eventually we had a small group: foreign students and out-of-towners, sharing meals together, at best having fun, at worst, trying to make the best out of uncomfortable situation.

Now, the standard conversation with a girl who lived within tri-state area, while we are taking a shuttle from one building to another:

-Hi! My name is Sarah Cohen. Where are you from?
-Russia (I learned early not to say Moldova, that just confused things).
-Oh! Very nice! I had a cousin who went to a summer camp in Minsk, is that far?
Smile and nod, nod and smile.
-Is your family here?
More complex explanations how they are not.
-Oh, so what do you do for Shabbos?
-I stay in.
-Hey, come to me for Shabbos, OK?
The girl gets off the shuttle. This was in the days before cell phones, so there is no easy way to transfer phone numbers.
Now, dear Sarah Cohen, am I supposed to look you up in the student directory and call you and explain to you that I am that nebach who has no place for Shabbos that you met on the shuttle? Am I supposed to pretend that the whole conversation never happened? Did you mean it about Shabbos invitation? If you did, then why did you not leave any concrete way of getting in touch wit you? Why didn't you say which Shabbos?

No thanks, I will hang out with other out-of-towners, and you can look at us as nebachs. That is my community.

Fast forward to present day.

We have been in this community for two years. Two years of going to shul, seeing people, being seen, attending events, classes, having my kids in camp. My oldest was in school for over a year. This community keeps advertising how friendly it is, how welcoming it is, how it is a shining example of southern hospitality. Yet when I had to be out of town this past Shabbos for my sister's wedding, and my husband had to fly back in for work, he did not have Shabbos meals set up. Moreover, he was still scrambling Friday afternoon trying to find a place.

Our life is not a standard frummy life, with mommy taking a whole Friday to shop and cook, daddy getting home at 3pm with flowers, and a relaxing Shabbos. Our life is full of mommy making everything for Shabbos and then making kiddush because daddy is still at the hospital. Out life is full of Blackberry calls, sudden departures, interrupted meals and mommy traveling alone. Our life is full of Shabboses apart, not by design, but by necessity.

When we got into this community, we were appraised and lumped with the Russians, up to the point that I was confused with someone who looks nothing like me, but is also Russian, so there. When we complained about this to the rabbi, he said that people are supreficial and we better ignore it. Well, two years later, we feel quite ignored.

You know why my husband did not have those Shabbos meals? Either he did not have a conversation long enough to find out that he will be on his own that Shabbos, or there was no offer of a meal. At the end, he made some phone calls, found himself places and it all worked out, but there is no social group to fall back on. This is not college where you find like-minded weirdos, and he spent plenty of years in Brooklyn as a single guy, calling up people for Shabbos meals.

Oh, we do not fit the mold. There is no black hat, our hashkafa is too odd, we are homeschoolers, and I drive across state lines on my own. My husband digs in women's vaginas for a living! I get it, we get get what we signed up for. You cannot be different and belong.

I tried. I made women's shalishides a couple times and got one to two people to come. I tried organizing women's learning on Shabbos mornings in the summer, when there were no groups for kids ( meaning, women could not go to shul anyway) and got one person, once. And standing there in a crowded and noisy social hall during kiddush and talking to random people about where their clothes came from and who does their sheitels is not my style.

We invited people for meals and got stood up a bunch of times. We had some people over and it never went beyond that one polite meal. I am better off hosting people traveling through, or singles, but then I have to explain why my husband is on his Blackberry and how's that halachically OK...

But where do we belong?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

yet another day

8 yo charting the travels of Avram
We have been on a crazy trip to NY. My sister got married last Wednesday, so we drove up. By "we", I mean myself and the kids.

I am hoping to blog about the highlights of the trip someday soon.

We got back late Monday night and the rest of the week was spent trying to come back to our senses. We did a bit of Lashon HaTorah and math every day. I got 8 yo to review Chayei Sarah, to catch up to the place where we were. It only took two days, and he was able to translate everything on his own.

On Tuesday 8 yo woke up with a toothache, which was caused by an infected tooth and a few cavities. I am clamping down on my relaxed teeth brushing habits. My son is on antibiotic and, hopefully, we will save that tooth. He got pretty scared, decided to avoid dessert and is quite anal about taking his medicine. Thankfully, I do not even remember last time he took any antibiotic, so there is novelty in it. He also claims that it is like getting dessert three times a day.

Today was my turn to visit the dentist. I had to get a babysitter, as I was not sure how long the visit would take, and we got new insurance which sometimes takes forever to process. I did not want to make my kids wait for a long time in the waiting room. Now I know exactly how much my "services" cost: $13.75 an hour. Now 13.75 times 24 hours times 7 days a week is 2310$. There, that's my weekly salary.

While I was at the dentist, I got a call that the friends of ours from another town will be coming over for a visit. My kids like to play with them, and there was pizza involved, so when I got home, I used this as a bargaining chip to get schoolwork done.

This week is parsha Lech-Lecha, which 8 yo learned in school last year. I asked him whether he would like to prepare it and teach it to his brother. He agreed. I told him that I usually take notes of the main highlights of the story. He opened up a Stone Chumash, and wrote two pages worth of notes. He also requested a map of Mesopotamia to chart Avram's travels. Oh, and he wants to study a Ramban on the parsha. That one will have to wait till tomorrow, when I have time to prepare one.

When he was telling about abduction of Sarah, here are the illustrations he drew:

Apparently Sarah was referred to as "cutie pie", and, when things did not work out, Avram and Sarah were told to scram, in their car.

After this part, 6 yo lost interest, so 8 yo learned a valuable lesson of teaching: teach each according to his way. I sent him to do math. Both of the boys have been slowly working through Math Mammoth. Neither one adores it, but they do not complain too much. 8 yo is plagued by careless mistakes, and his addition/subtraction is still not automatic. 6 yo is moving right along, except when he decides that something is too hard.

By the time out friends got here, 6 yo has been done with all his schoolwork for a while, and 8 yo still had Lashon HaTorah and new pesukim left to do. We all went to pizza, which gave everyone a chance to catch up. Then the kids came over to play. I asked 8 yo to finish LHT before playing, and he asked his friends to stay outside while he finished.

The kids eventually subdivided by genders: all girls went downstairs to play with tents, while the boys played with bows, arrows and tepees outside. There was quite an age range, and the kids did mix for legos, but, overall, the division was by interests, same as grown-ups subdivide into social groups and clubs.

After the play time was over, I sat 8 yo down and reminded him that it's his night to make dinner. He said that he is not hungry yet. Then I said that we will do chumash. We had 4 pesukim left till the end of the perek, and he completed them. He called on one Rashi when something in the pshat did not make sense. I also asked him the overarching question of why spend all this space on telling us that Avraham got a burial plot for Sarah. Eventually, we concluded that this is the proof that the land was bought ( acquired) in a public transaction. I felt quite a bit of satisfaction, but my son glowed: I finished a perek in 3 days!

Then it was on to dinner. He originally wanted to make salami sandwiches, but he rebuffed my idea of putting necessary items on the shopping list when we went grocery shopping on Tuesday. Now it was a bit after 5pm, and he had to come up with dinner. He found some rolls from our trip. The salami he was planning to use was worrying me, due to not being the freshest, so I suggest frying it up. He joked that it turned into little kippas. While the salami was frying, he made a salad: sliced romaine lettuce, chopped cucumber and baby carrots. 6 yo came and also wanted to help. He chopped some pickles. The amount of ketchup used at this meal qualified it as a vegetable. In the middle of this meal, 8 yo said that he had a good day, not a fun day, but a good day nonetheless. He also expressed quite a bit of pride in his meal and said that now he can move away from PBJs. I am just hoping to get him into habit of planning ahead, executing, and cleaning up.

After everyone had diced peaches for dessert, I did a Tom Sawyer move of the night: I told boys that they could watch the presidential debate if they clean up everything upstairs. 6 yo protested and suggested Pokemon instead, but 8 yo convinced him that at least he gets to watch something. 6 yo lasted for about 20 minutes, while 8 yo had to be interrupted in the middle to go to sleep. The most curious thing though: after telling people that he would vote for Romney, he said that he likes the things that Obama said. He talked about taxes and solar power and new teacher hires and being concerned how much money those new teachers would cost. ( Confession: maybe this kid should vote instead of me, I did not watch the debate!) I am also so proud that he is open-minded enough to listen to the arguments made instead of sticking to his guns.

We concluded our day with a new nightly ritual: trying to feel the baby move. I get to answer questions like what's it like inside the uterus and can the baby cry and whether all the parts are formed already and why is the baby swimming in its own pee. Overall, it is very sweet and mellow, as everyone is being gentle and I feel so many loving hands on my belly.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

somebody has got to pay

This is a little rant, slightly off-topic, but on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: natural childbirth.

A bit of background: my husband is an OB-GYN. I had one highly interventionist birth and two natural ones. I am not a crunchy granola type, but I read up quite a bit on natural birthing and midwifery. Therefore, I do believe that most babies can be born safely, without medical intervention or assistance and probably not even in a medical setting. Or, as my husband would paraphrase: an OB should have small hands and big behind, so that he could sit on those small hands with his behind and let the birthing commence.

However, there is a subset of women who do require medical assistance, whether in coping with prolonged labor, pushing baby out, or for obvious fetal distress. There are extremely overweight patients, diabetic, with multiple health issues, requesting an epidural and laboring on their back. Needless to say, by the time it comes to pushing, they might not be very active participants at all. They cannot flip on all fours to resolve a shoulder dystocia. There are women who are scared of the pain, so they prefer epidural and whichever drug cocktail during labor. Finally, there are clear indications for c-section. Unlike what a lot of militant midwife literature would lead one to believe, c-section was not invented in the 20th century to streamline doctors' schedule, c-section has always operated as a last resort. Till 20th century, the choice used to be between the life of the mother or the life of the baby. Nowadays, most people expect a happy ending, where everyone goes home safe and sound.

Why am I writing this now? That's because my husband is attending a birth of a woman whose baby has been in distress since 4 am. (It is 9 pm now). This woman chose to labor at home with a midwife for a VBAC. So far, so good, more power to her for trying to swim against the current, making her own choice. The problem is, the midwife did not have a doctor backing her up, so when the baby showed signs of distress, the woman was brought to the nearest hospital and they called the doctor on call, who happened to be my husband. Now, the happy ending would be a section right then and there, but the problem was, this lady wanted an epidural to cope with the pain. Epidural slows labor down. Epidural confines mother to the bed. Epidural does not allow one to walk and use gravity to bring the baby lower into the pelvis. In short, a patient with an epidural is not laboring as effectively as one without. By the time my husband got there, the woman was dilating, but the baby was high up in her pelvis, nowhere near the delivery, and showing those signs of distress for which the midwife brought her in in the first place. The other problem was, this lady was adamant about not getting a repeat c-section.

All of this dragged on the whole day. I understand that woman's perspective: nobody wants a major abdominal surgery. She probably envisioned a very different birth, and a certain amount of control over the situation. She wanted to be given a bit more time, let the things progress on their own.

But I would like all patients like this to understand the situation from our perspective (my husband's and mine):
My husband has been up and at the hospital since 4am, when the nurses called him in. He had another two c-sections scheduled today, together with a gynecological surgery. He has not been home the whole day. I have not seen him the whole day and neither did the kids. This is not a nine-to-five job, with a round of golf and martinins to take your mind off things. So we  adjusted to a very different day from the one we were supposed to have. (Not golf and martinis, but, maybe an outing to Bruster's after dinner and some help in tucking kids into bed). Now, this lady's baby has been in distress for so long, that there is a possibility that something might be wrong with it. There might be some oxygen deprivation, some developmental delays, or some other form of damage. And that's where the lawyers come swooping in. This patient did not have a previous relationship with a doctor, so, instead of thinking about how she might be responsible for any possibly bad outcome, a scapegoat will be found. A scapegoat in the form of an evil doctor, who SHOULD have done something different. By this point, all natural hopes go out the window, and it becomes a malpractice suit, because someone has got to pay.

An average obstetrician gets sued four times during his career. The lawsuits are usually brought by the patients who do not have a relationship with a doctor, the walk-ins. The insurance companies are so worried about losing a case that they often choose to settle, even if the obstetrician did nothing wrong. And it is easier to accuse an obstetrician of wrongdoing when nothing was done, than when medical procedures were performed, such as a c-section.

I am all for natural childbirth, women's education about what our bodies are meant to do and as few interventions in labor as possible. But next time someone goes on a rampage blaming obstetricians for every singe thing that went wrong, please spare me.

oil and water do not mix

It's been Tishrei. There have been holidays up to wazoo. There has not been a lot of formal learning going on. Ok, there has not been any formal learning, nothing which produces nice neat worksheets, completed pages, checks, grades, nothing assessable with a multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank standard test. And next week my sister is getting married, in New York, so there won't be any formal schooling taking place till we come back, in the middle of the following week.

A part of me is panicking. That's the part which wants to be able to have something to show for our homeschooling: those pages covered, material taught, worksheets completed. A wiser part of me is saying that there is still tons of learning going on, of the more permanent kind. It is not easily quantifiable and assessable, but it is still there.

For example, our lunch today. We had to run a bunch of errands: fix the car's headlight, get haircuts for all the kids, buy groceries for Shabbos and snacks for the road. As a result we finally got home for lunch by 1:30. The boys asked for pizza bagels and were snacking on veggies dipped in ranch dressing while waiting for them to bake. 8 yo, dreamily: "I wonder what happens when you pour oil into the cup first, and then pour water on top." The teacher in me: "So what do you think happens?" 8 yo:" The water is denser, so it will be on top of oil."

The teacher in me thought of the mistakes in this reasoning. The teacher in me thought of the oil droplets floating on top of the chicken soup. The teacher in me thought that by the point a child reaches 8, he SHOULD know what happens when you mix oil and water. Luckily, the wiser side of me took over.

"Do you think it matters what gets poured in first: oil or water? Why?"
6 yo chimed in that he thinks that oil will float on water because water is heavier. 8 yo maintained that if oil gets poured in first, it gets pushed down by denser water. By that point, we had to try it out. 8 yo was actually surprised that oil floated on top. He was also surprised that it formed bubbles. I asked what happens when you mix juice with water (something we routinely do). There he knew that it stays mixed. I introduced terms "hydrophilic" and "hydrophobic". 8 yo was able to take them apart and figure out their meaning. I explained how oil molecules are afraid of water and try to stick together, looking for each other and holding hands.

The boys added more water to the cup, till the oil layer separated into droplets. Then they stuck their fingers through the oil layer. Then they cleaned up the mess.

Ok, nothing great and amazing here. No scientific breakthroughs, no charts, graphs, not even a short entry in a science notebook. But the difference is, the question came from within, the experiment was designed to answer the question, and 8 yo peacefully acknowledged that his younger brother was right all along. I think that the answer is more likely to linger in his mind this way.

How many times, when I taught science to middle schoolers, I was waiting for them to ask a question and then to come up with an answer! But their minds were more often on the interrupted game of kickball, or the  assigned reading of the day, than on what I wanted them to do. It is impossible to run a classroom like this, waiting for kids to formulate their own burning questions and then figure out how to get answers. Yet, somehow, by the time one reaches graduate school, one is expected to do just that: here is what we know, figure out how to ask what has not been asked yet, and then figure out how to answer that and to prove it. In short, we are doing a lousy job of producing true thinkers.

This is a graphic of the High School report card of John Gurdon, this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Obviously, his teacher did not think much about his abilities. Obviously, this guy did not fit into a neat little box. Obviously this "out-of-box" thinking is what led to his Nobel Prize.

Now, I am not expecting my kids to win Nobel Prizes, but I expect them to think and work beyond what is traditionally expected. The more I think about it, the more I realize that unschooling is a fertile ground, waiting to be mined for gems, beckoning to be explored.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

tackling mishnayot

Do you know what was the original reason why I did not homeschool my 8 yo when we moved? I was afraid that he will have to start on Mishna in 3rd grade, and I have no idea how to teach him Mishna. I was never taught Mishna. Yes, we have Mishna with translation at home, yes, I know the basic organization, and yes, I am aware that it is not that hard. Some brave souls might have even feebly suggested that I can do it, but I was so afraid, that I chose to put him in first grade because I was worried about teaching him a subject in 3rd grade.

As last school year was coming to a close, and I already had him at home, I had to confront this Mishan issue. I spoke to a few people and friends, trying to figure out whether I would find a rebbi to teach him. By this point, we were bending so many rules, that I found a suggestion of waiting another year (or two) and not starting Mishnayot at 8 quite reasonable. And it gave me more time to either tackle it myself or to find an appropriate teacher. Meanwhile, we invested in a book called "Tallis Ends and Other Tales" by Rabbi Don Channen. My boys devoured it. It presents a few different mishnayot in cartoon format, with rhymed story line. I figured that it is a good, fun introduction for now, with the hope of making Mishnayot less daunting in the future. I also found a file on about systematically teaching mishnayot, so that demystified the whole process to me a bit. In the meanwhile, I was planning on sitting this year out.
Tallis Ends and Other Tales (The Cartoon Mishnah Learning Series)

Well, a couple weeks ago, my husband took both boys with him to the early shabbos minyan. They davened some, helped set up kiddush (with great pride), noshed and then they had an hour to kill before Shabbos groups started in our regular shul. My husband decided to crack a mishna with 8 yo. 6 yo did not want to do it, so he was given Artscroll Chumash, opened to the weekly parshah. He read the whole thing while my husband introduced the older one to Nezikin. (He chose Nezikin because that's what his rebbe started him off on, and, I guess, he was familiar with it off the top of his head). That day, both boys came home happy to share what they learned. 8 yo told me about four damaging things and even remembered their names in Hebrew. I thought: great, he is not intimidated and even interested. Perhaps this whole Mishna learning could become a father-son bonding thing.

Another few days went by, and there was a quiet Friday night evening. Two younger ones went to shul, so I asked 8 yo whether he wanted to learn something. He said that he wanted to continue Nezikin. I trembled, I absolutely did not know what to do and where to start and how we are going to do this... but before I had a chance to voice any of this, he said that he will just read it in English and he does not need me. He spent an hour reading the mishnayot on his own. He excitedly called out when he came to a case that he was familiar with from "Tallis Ends".

This past Shabbos, as I was gearing up to read goodnight stories, he said that he wants to read more mishnayot, and he proceeded from there. He even said that he hopes to make a siyum on Nezikin, only he does not know what he'll give his d'var Torah on. It seems that mishna is not as scary I thought it to be.

I am aware that it's not the way Mishna is studied. I know that he is missing out on the intellectual rigor of setting up a case, establishing and organizing the categories, arguments pro and con, etc. I would love to pull out a chart and start organizing all that info. Just reading through Mishna is inefficient. But then I think about how many things that kids do which appear to be completely inefficient from the adult perspective. All that digging in the sandbox, pretending to be an astronaut, doodling, daydreaming, jumping into puddles so that the inside of the rainboots is wet, poring over maps, making dams with your food...all of these appear to be a total waste of time. But they are essential learning components of childhood. While on the surface these activities are unproductive, inside the brain is working something out, something which will come out at some other later time.

I think that 8yo's individual reading through the Mishna is the same. There is some kind of satisfaction that he is deriving from it which is not of the same orderly kind that grown-ups like to impose on it. There is some kind of informational intake, and, if I am patient, I will find out, sooner or later, how it will be processed ans synthesized.

In the meanwhile, I can consider myself off the hook as his Mishna teacher.