Monday, February 25, 2013

Is giving in worthwhile?

Two moments from this Purim.

We were supposed to make groggers, We were supposed to make them from the beginning of Adar. 6 yo asked to make groggers. When we got to the specifics, he wanted his to be wooden, with a gear inside around which the rest of the grogger turns. Well, we do not have any like that. I even Googled it, and it required power tools whose names I did not know, let alone how to use them. I kept hoping to make it to Michael's and see if they, by any chance, sell wooden gears, but it never happened. We were in the middle of making a paper towel roll grogger, when 8 yo said that we need to poke it with toothpicks and make it like a rain-stick. 6 yo listened to his brother, it did not work, the toothpicks fell out, and now the paper towel rolls was pockmarked with holes. I tried taping up the ends, but this was not satisfactory. Bottom line, I assumed that we will survive without groggers.

I was proven wrong on Shabbos, when 6 yo innocently announced that he does not want to go to a megillah reading because he does not have a grogger. Oops.. and we cannot make one on Shabbos. He was willing to stay home. I was planning on splitting up the kids with my husband, especially since they all decided to have a sleepover in 3 yo's room on Friday night and all were woken up at 5:30, so the chances of everyone being human by 7:30 pm were slim to none. Except that my husband got called in to a delivery around shalishudes time, which meant that if I wanted to hear a megillah, I have to make it to shul by 7:30, with all three kids in tow, and keep them quiet. That is hard to do when two of them are on men's side. And one of them was quite clear that coming to a megillah without a grogger is unacceptable.

Shabbos was over at 7:10. I grabbed three plastic cups, dumped some kidney beans in each, told boys to grab scissors, and traced three circles for the openings. I told the boys to cut theirs out, while I was cutting 3 yo's. By now I know better than not to make something for her when the boys are doing a project. Then I grabbed packing tape and taped the circles on the cups' openings. Most creative grogger ever? I don't think so. More like quickest grogger assembly.

We got to the megillah reading just in the nick of time, huffing and puffing. And I was so pleased to see that some of the kids' friends had very similar groggers (two cups taped together)! The boys sat quietly, and gleefully shook at Haman, 3 yo bounced between my lap and the floor space, and also shook while everyone booed.

In the morning, we went to a megillah reading after shacharit. Since parking can be an issue, we decided to go all together early enough for my husband to daven. This meant that there was a good 40 minute davening before we got the the megillah. This time I only had 3 yo to watch. I did get to daven, but she was getting a bit restless. I showed her Torah, pulled out her books, gave her a few little toys. All was going well till the actual megillah time. I was holding a Youth Megillah, the one she barely glanced at the night before. As soon as the reading started, she decided that she HAS to hold it and look at it now. I could not talk, so I was trying to give her another book, or somehow indicate that mommy needs this book. She was starting to get whiny and that whine was about to escalate into a scream. But I needed a text to follow... suddenly I remembered that I had a Laffy Taffy in my purse from the carnival the week before. I quickly gave her the candy, hoping to distract her temporarily. She asked me to open the wrapper. I slowly unwrapped it, still thinking where can I get the text to follow. She got busy with the candy, and I had fifteen seconds, during which I spied a megillah in the next pew. Yes, I fed my child candy at 9 am. But I was able to reach for that megillah and give up the decorated one, and there was no screaming and interrupting everyone else.

I used to think that both of these moments would show me to be a weak mother. A 6 yo should understand that not making a grogger beforehand will result in no grogger on Purim. A 3 yo should understand that now Mommy needs this book. But then I am thinking about the conflict that would create, the tears, the screaming, the disruption, the hurt feelings. Is it more important to be right, or to make the best out of the situation?

There are other times when I can teach my kids the consequences of their (in)actions or the appropriateness of their behavior. But in these circumstances, giving in seemed like the best response.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Relaxed schooling

I have not posted much because last week everyone took turns being sick, and then we have been out and about as much as we can before the baby comes. So this is a photoblog of some of the things we have been busy with.

We finally sprouted some seeds, almost a month after Tu B'Shevat. The kids wrote the labels, put the seeds into the right compartments, and observed them for a week. They were upset when I did not let them plant the seedlings outside, but we still get frosts here. 
We went to the park to ride bikes. The oldest brought my adult-sized scooter, that my friends got for me in college, and mastered it. 3 yo finally learned to pedal on her tricycle. One of the biggest regrets about the area where I live is that you have to drive to the park, it would be over an hour walk, with crossing a major street. There is no sidewalk on our street, and our driveway slopes downward, so the kids have to be taken places to ride their bikes. The boys also got to wing with abandon, and 3 you finally decided that she's ready for a big-kid swing.

Since we do not follow a school calendar, we were able to have some friends over for President's day, who were off. The boys still had a list of scheduled things to do, but they did them quickly, since they wanted to spend more time with their friends. It worked out nicely for me, since I could focus on one boy at a time, while the other one played. Here is the whole gang, eating lunch. The secret to easy set-up and clean-up: paper goods and get everyone to pitch in.

It was also the last day of the Great Backyard Bird count. I printed out a tally sheet, explained to everyone what we are doing, and they went outside to bird watch. There was a record keeper, bird spotters, time keeper, crumb thrower, and whichever other positions they came up with.

One morning I woke up to 8 yo and 3 yo making bridges out of card stock. They were using Polly houses to test out their strength. They made a reinforced arch and strong triangle bridges, then they doubled up cardstock to see what happens and what kind of load it could take.

Yesterday, after coop classes we went to the zoo. The kids asked for the reptile house and the pandas. They finally spotted the king cobra, which previously had been hiding in one of the pipes in its exhibit. There is so much to b said for getting memberships to zoos and museums and coming there every couple weeks, so that small changes can be observed and whichever concepts are learned can be reinforced. 6 yo learned how to read by looking at the exhibit signs. That works well if I take time to read those exhibit signs, even if it is for the fiftieth time and I know them by heart!

In the Story of the World, where we slacked off for a bit, we finally came to the wars of the Greeks. One of the suggested projects was soap carving, to make Greek statues. The boys tried their best, but followed their hearts. 8 yo carved two fish, an Olmec head and a self-portrait. 6 yo carved two faces, schematically, after some crying that he is no good at carving.

Today we went to the Puppet Theater. The show was good, and there is also museum and a build-a-puppet workshop. The kids made lighting bugs. The presenter first asked about some facts about bugs, and 8 yo raised his hand and explained how the chemical reaction takes place inside by mixing two chemicals, and how bugs use it to find mates. Then there were detailed instructions on building a puppet and optional participation in putting a show together. They boys were on the team with two other kids. They worked out who will say what, and then presented it to the audience. 3 yo built her puppet with some help from me, and then went buzzing around the room, tagging other people. 

3 yo buzzing 
her own monster
reading about different kinds of puppets

In the news without photos, since we were stuck home last week, we were able to crack quite a bit of megillah with 8 yo. I offered a siyum in Lego land (his dream) if he finishes the whole thing. Being at home allowed us to do a perek a day. Today he declared that he wants to finish it up. The only problem: we did not get home from the puppet show till one, and, with lunch, did not get to schoolwork till 2. And we had the last three perakim to go, of which two are really long. He sat at it for over hours, and we got a perek and a half down. He reads the Hebrew and translates, with some help from me. I am quite proud of his skills and his perseverance.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


At some point we all have to fill out some forms: name, address, phone number, followed by occupation and employer. Ever since I started staying at home, this question bugged me. The easiest answer--homemaker-- rubs me the wrong way. I immediately picture a shapely lady in a button-down dress with a frilly apron, a duster in one hand and a perfect perm being held up with another.
No, that is definitely not me.

Homeschooler? That sounds like I am the one who is being taught.

Homeschool teacher? A bit too pretentious, and this conjures a blackboard, American flag, and a whopping three kids lined up behind desks.

So who am I? And, more importantly, what do I occupy myself with?

When my oldest was just a few weeks old, my mother came to visit. I was in the midst of graduate school in biology, or, more correctly, in the midst of quitting graduate school. I knew even before I had my baby that being gone for twelve hour stretches was not what I was aspiring to do, even if my research was going well, even if I was a very good student, and even if I could find a way to balance motherhood, lab work, stipend for an income and random babysitters. My mother was very disturbed by this. I remember a conversation where she was pushing me to define myself, sort of in the way that those forms want you to describe yourself in one word. She said that she is a doctor, and my grandfather was a veteran. I, fresh from yet another nursing and diaper change, and a whole new mommy brain, which felt like being stuck in honey after high-flying intellectualism of scientific papers, said that I am a mother. My mother laughed, and said that it's something you do on the side, and the kids grow up and they do not need you and you need to be something else.

Almost nine years into motherhood, I beg to differ. It is easy to dismiss motherhood as yet another pursuit, but it is impossible for it not to redefine you in such fundamental ways, that both of your ears are left ringing. On the other hand, those professions and occupations come and go. My mother became a doctor because of a certain degree of family pressure, and while she found what she likes, I often think about how many other things she could have been pursuing, were she not so rigidly defined by being a doctor. My grandfather was an organizer of veterans from WWII, but, I am sure, he would have been much happier if the war never happened, and there were no veterans to organize. Would his life be incomplete without them?

What am I? I was a foreign student, and that defined me for a bit. I was also a very good student. I was type A, always driven, always organized. I still approach any sort of testing or personal learning that way. But life threw enough curve balls already, that I learned to mellow out, let go, and not always strive for an A when B would be just fine, and NOBODY is grading anyway!

I am a life-long learner; just as I audited physical chemistry in college, so I took a graphic design course, and so I read midwifery books, and so I started my Nach Yomi and so I keep on learning alongside my kids. I am also not shy to try something new, push a different button, move out of my comfort zone.

I have been working on my character traits, because there are six eyes constantly learning from me, especially when I am at my worst. When you are home with your kids all the time, you cannot blame others for the way they are turning out. So personal growth is on my agenda.

I can make a dinner in 15 minutes, if need be. I can get the kids out the door in 15 minutes, too. And I can watch your kid if you give me a 15 minute notice. I can also have a friend over, for tea, for a talk, just to drop in. My house will not be spotless, but whatever needs to be picked up (to my standards) will get done in 15 minutes.

I can read a book to one child while nursing another. I can resolve conflicts, chauffeur, grocery-shop with kids in tow, sneak in math, teach aleph-bet, answer questions about foramen ovale and why is Shaul after Dovid (chasing, that is, not chronologically). I can wipe tushies in the middle of the night, chase away bad dreams and soothe a child back to sleep. I can teach how to ride a bike and fly a kite, how to read and multiply, how to apply for a library card and write an apology letter.

Is there a name for all of this? Moreover, as I am filling out yet another form, is there space for all of this?

Most of this falls into the category of conscious motherhood. Yet I strongly doubt that writing "mother" as occupation, and "being my own boss" as employer is what those forms are after.

What defines you? What occupies you? And how flexible are you willing to be with your self-definition when the circumstances change?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

on having fun

It is Sunday, which means laundry day. Nowadays, that means that the boys have to fold their laundry and put it away. They like this experience about as much as pulling teeth. They think it is tedious and annoying. I find it annoying when I end up washing clothes which were barely worn or never worn. Either way, I do laundry once a week, make a pile for each boy of his clothes, and it is his job to fold them and put them away.

To be honest, every Sunday morning there is also a dishwasher to unload, so there are more chores. Some days I do wonder whether this is making for a pretty intense Sunday, but I think it is important to get help from the boys in these chores, especially since it affects them directly.

We were also trying to make it out to the zoo and arrive there by 11 am, when they have a bird show. It is only on weekends, and I normally take kids to the zoo at some point during the week. Additionally, my husband was coming along and even coming in the same car with us, a rare occurrence when he's on call.

So the dishwasher was unloaded before we left, but then we got back and there were two piles of laundry waiting for the boys. 6 yo proceeded to work on his as long as I was warming up his favorite curry cauliflower soup for lunch. 8 yo was not so calm. This pile of laundry was taking away from his fun day and he really did not want to fold it. He sulked, kicked the pillows off the couch and got tattled on by 3 yo. When I asked him to put the pillows back, he said that he's mad and I said to punch something when he's mad. I sent him downstairs to punch a punching bag. He stalked off.

A few minutes later he came up, in better spirits, and proclaimed that since the day started well, he wants it to continue well, so he decided that after he folds his laundry he will take apart the broken DVD player. Then he moved right onto his pile, and finished it quite quickly. After lunch, the boys took out screwdrivers and went to tear that player apart.

I stepped back and watched all of this. The DVD player was designated to be taken apart probably a month ago, and I was wondering to myself whether I should quietly dispose of it or remind the boys of its existence. The laundry situation is the same every week. I did not promise any more "fun" for today (pizza for dinner since it is rosh chodesh). However, 8 yo decided that today started out as a fun day and he made a conscious effort to continue it as a fun day.

The other night, when I was tucking the boys in, 6 yo asked me about making wishes on a wishbone. Before I even replied (Do you think they come true? Isn't G-d in charge? etc.) he told me that he would wish for everything to be fun-fun-fun. 8 yo chimed in that he would wish to find fun in everything he does. I thought that it was cute at the time, but now I see that he took it quite seriously.

How many of us go through life waiting for someone else to make things fun and to make us happy? How many of us do not realize that we are in control of our own happiness?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

some things are meant to be hidden

This morning we trekked to maternal-fetal medicine specialist. The reason: according to my midwife, the baby measured small, and was not lying head down and she did not like that I do not have a specialist managing my pregnancy-induced hypothyrodism. So I found myself sitting in a high-risk office and trying to figure out how did I get there.

In all my other pregnancies, I could clearly tell that the baby is head down and the feet kicking my intestines. This time around, it did not feel the same way. I kept feeling two bumps, lying across my belly. The midwife I am using agreed. Moreover, because of the way this baby is lying, it kept measuring small, even though my weight gain was fine, and there was nothing else to worry about.

So here we were, waiting for a detailed ultrasound to measure to baby and check that it is head down. The technician came in and did a very detailed scan. Thank G-d, the baby measured just where it is supposed to be, and it is head down. Everything else looked good, too, except for a possible duplication or splitting of one of the kidneys. The high-risk doctor reassured me that they are not even positive if it is doubled, but we might want to follow up after birth with additional ultrasound and maybe contrast injection, just to make sure that everything is fine.

While the good news were good, this whole experience left me thinking. The gemara says that we do not know the way of the baby in the womb, it is hidden from us. Today it might sound downright silly: we have technology! Doppler! Ultrasound! Genetic testing! Amniocentesis! Surely there are many ways to poke and prod and extract information. There seems very little that is hidden. Moreover, there seems even less reason to keep things hidden, especially since they can be known so easily.

I remember my first pregnancy, when I proudly announced to my grandmother over the phone that I am expecting. She, being in her late eighties, and never dealing with pregnancy tests, could not understand how I can be so sure so early on. I kept trying to tell her about the hormones, but she was not buying it. Well, a few babies later; a few spottings later, and a few miscarriage stories later, I think she was right. You can have a positive pregnancy test, but it might be more prudent not to rely on it too much. Historically women waited till they felt fetal movement to be sure that this is a viable pregnancy. The information gained by a pregnancy test is minuscule compared to the possibility of things not working out.

Same for the rest of the technology. With one of my kids, the ultrasound did not show a four-chambered heart, so I had to go back (everything was fine, except for a few weeks of anxiety). You can have a genetic screen and still miss a mutation.

With the other kids, we found out the genders. I was more ambivalent. My husband really wanted to know, so we found out. Both boys were due on Pesach, so it made sense to know whether to make a bris or not. This time around, I put my foot down and firmly decided to wait. Apparently, this not knowing is driving everyone crazy. The kids were jumping up and down, trying to figure out the gender today. All my reassurances that we will know within a month were falling on dead ears. How will this bit of information change anything? We have clothes for both genders, and they babies are impartial which color to spit up on...

Now we have a new piece of information to fret and worry about. Most likely this kidney thing is nothing. Most likely, it would have been fine being "hidden", and I would not have to subject the baby to yet another invasive test.

With my other kids, one had a funny heart murmur, and another hiatal hernia. With hiatal hernia, he was awful as a baby, constantly spitting up, not sleeping, not gaining weight, etc. I really wanted to know what was going on. My husband said: " Watch, we will get a name for this thing, but they will not do anything!" He was right: the hernia is supposed to resolve on its own and they do not follow up on it. Was the endoscopy on a few months' old baby worth getting the diagnosis which is just a fancy name for the misery?

Some things are in G-d's hands alone. Health is definitely one of them.

הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד-עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
The hidden things are for Hashem, and the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to fulfill the words of this Torah ( Devarim, 29, 28).

Monday, February 4, 2013

it's been a year

It's been a year since I took a deep breath, and pulled the oldest out of school to embark on the homeschooling journey with all the kids under the same roof. While a part of me wants to make grand statements and find the sum total of the experience, another part simply wants to describe what our day looks like now.

My husband was on call, so I woke up alone. I slept in till almost 8. The boys have been up for a while, trading Pokemon cards and playing their games, still in pajamas. 3 yo was still sleeping or chilling in her room. Either way, she did not call out till I was walking around.

By 9, everyone had breakfast, cleaned up the breakfast dishes and got dressed. The boys started on davening, while I davened with 3 yo. She routinely says Mode Ani, Torah tziva lanu Moshe and the first paragraph of Shema. Both boys went downstairs to daven, and I heard some drumming, usually a sign of 8 yo davening. Then it got quiet. When I called them, I found out that they were davening together and 8 yo was teaching 6 yo how to say Shemone Esre. They came upstairs to continue. 8 yo pointed out all the words to 6 yo and said them slowly. The last bracha that he knows is Al haTzadkim. 6 yo stood nearby and followed. Then they said Aleinu together. All of this took place without any direction from me.

My homeschooling friend called and we headed over to their house. She taught a Montessori lesson on the beginning of the universe to the older kids while I kept an eye on the younger ones playing tea party and building. Then the older kids played some more Pokemon, the younger ones played with train tracks and we got to sit and schmooze.

We got home around 11:30. I wrote up the schedule for the rest of the day. 8 yo sulked a bit about chumash. Both boys chose to do math before lunch. 8 yo zoomed through addition with thousands and ordering numbers. 6 yo broke his ruler while measuring in centimeters, and then got frustrated when he had to choose objects to measure. It was not the measuring part that was hard, it was spelling out the objects' names. I served leftover mac-n-cheese, which was inhaled, followed by baked beans with fake taco meat.

After lunch, both boys continued in Rosetta Stone. 8 yo is in the middle of the second unit on level II, 6 yo is in third unit of level I. 8 yo usually does three activities at a time, while 6 yo sticks with one, unless he's particularly motivated.

Then both of them did Lashon Hatorah. 8 yo just started 4th book, the past tense. 6 yo started the Kaf family in the second book. Both were done pretty quickly, as the material was new and introduced slowly.

Then everyone took a break to finger-paint with their sister before her nap. There was talk of painting erupting volcanoes and tornadoes.

Afterwards, it was on to spelling for 8 yo. He stopped me after getting two words wrong, and studied those. 6 yo read a new section in Lama. He read it smoothly and translated. Then he moved on to spelling. Two of his words were "there" and "their". I explained the usage. He had hard time coming up with a sentence using "their", "I want the sentence to be about me, not about them!" Well, don't we all...

8 yo finally got to chumash. My husband popped in for lunch, which was good because the kids might not get to see him tonight. 8 yo went to him to finish up. He wrote down the words he did not know from the new pesukim, looked up kin'ah (jealousy) in the dictionary, and reviewed some previous pesukim.

All in all, we were done a bit before 3.

The boys have taekwondo later, 3 yo is napping, I am making a yogurt cake from expired yogurt. The boys are downstairs doing their own thing, which is unexplainable, unquantifiable and untestable. Whatever it is, it is keeping them happy, engaged and occupied.

I did not know a year ago that a good homeschooling day would look like this. I am not sure if everyone would agree that this is a typical good homeschooling day.

What I did learn is that I do not care. what everyone else thinks I know how we feel and I know what works for us, and that is making me happy.