Wednesday, July 31, 2013

eruv mailing

A few days ago our local listserve had a request for people to help with the eruv mailing. It was for stuffing and stamping envelopes. I figured it is something my boys and I could do, so I responded. I just asked for it to take place out of my house since my husband was on call and I did not want to commit and then not be able to make it. The person in charge agreed and said that another lady was coming to help, too.

They came last night. The mailing was going out to the members of both orthodox shuls, which consisted of a bit over 600 families (that's how many labels we stuck on!). I would guess that at least a half of those use eruv. We got one of those letters last year, so I asked what kind of response do they get. I was told that it is about one hundred responses. Obviously people here are very comfortable using the eruv and not contributing anything towards its maintenance: hey, somebody else will pay for it. Judging by the fact that only two people responded to help with the mailing, eruv is not on the list of communal priority. I suggested taking it down for a Shabbos, to raise awareness. The response was that eruv has barely been down ( true, in three years we were here, it has not been down ONCE), but when it goes down, there is no end to complaining.

My kids have never stuffed envelopes before, so we showed them how to do it. 7 yo was in charge of the first step: placing a response envelope inside a folded letter. He could not stop marveling at the assembly line and the importance of his work. He was fast and careful, and remarked again and again how each step follows another, to produce a complete letter. 9 yo was in charge of sticking on address labels. He was calling out every time we got to the next letter in the alphabet, or he got to someone we know. He also helped remove some for people who moved away.

Overall, the mailing took a bit over two hours, way past the boys' bedtime. My boys worked the entire time, not slacking. I had a little discussion with 7 yo on the halachic importance of eruv. Having not lived in a city without eruv, he was taking all his Shabbos carrying for granted. He also asked whether we will be getting paid for this job. The lady in charge told,him it's a mitzvah, and I said it is a chesed that we are doing, and Hashem pays us for our work. He beamed.

I am on the lookout for more chesed opportunities where I can be involved with my kids. I think doing meaningful volunteer work produces a sense of well-being that is hard to replicate otherwise.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

a pleasant surprise

7 am.

I stumble out into the living room, bleary-eyed, to find 7 year old sitting on the couch, reading Artscroll Tanach. He is dressed.

"Wow, you are all dressed!"
"Yes, and I davened. It is easier to daven than just to say Birchot haTorah."

I glance at the kitchen table. A box of cereal is sitting out, next to an empty bowl. He already had his breakfast.

What a pleasant surprise!

Some days our kids will disappoint us, let us down, embarrass us. Some days they will surpass our expectations.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

lack of sleep

I will become coherent when I will be getting more sleep, but, for now, it is what it is.

The baby is almost 5 months. He is a chunkster, he is nursing exclusively, so I am always on. He is a very sweet-natured baby, rarely cries, and goes perfectly with our schedule: go with the flow. That is all nice and dandy when we run out in the middle of the day at all hours, but it is a real issue when I try to get everyone down for the night. All my kids have bedtime, and, most nights, they are in bed by 8. My oldest was always early to bed, early to rise, 3 yo pretty much stopped napping unless she falls asleep somewhere, and 7 yo can usually settle down some time around 8:30-9. But the baby is not consistent in going down. He is also up at night, a lot. He does not cry, but he is cooing and kvetching. Sometimes he takes a paci, sometimes he just wants to nurse. Sometimes he just wants to be held. Always, I am the one who is not sleeping.

Meanwhile, the sleep deprivation is compounding. I walk around in a fog. Thoughts enter and flee like could wisps. Ideas pop in and out. To do lists never get written down. Planning seems like a remote concept, reserved for those who know what it is that they want to accomplish.

The more traditionally-oriented homeschoolers are discussing plans for the upcoming year. I am just grateful that chagim are so early, and we will not be starting till after, in October. My formerly organized sunroom is slowly descending into chaos, as I am not doing even basic maintenance. The level of clutter is reaching a point where it is starting to bother me, but not enough to do anything about it. I know that once the baby becomes mobile, I will have to solve this issue, and quickly. For now, I went to Target and got those items that went missing: scissors (probably in the backyard), rulers, erasers. They are sitting in Target bags, waiting for a moment of lucidity to be labeled and put away.

One thing that I have planned is to do only two subjects "formally": chumash and math. We have been doing chumash since the boys got back from camp. Some days it is going smoother than others. 7 yo is reading nicely, and he is finding the workbook (Bright Beginnings) to be a breeze, but he is not letting on much. 9 yo alternates between all raring to finish up a perek and sulking about doing every single pasuk. I dropped Rashis for now, but he is still anxious that we MIGHT be doing one.

For math I will be using Math Mammoth for 9 yo and a slim workbook of Spectrum Math for 7 yo. I am not sure if I will be assigning pages, or just telling them that a certain number of pages need to be completed each week, or just giving them a chunk of math time daily. I thought about this hard, and realized that I am not sure that they will get the necessary skill level otherwise. They are demonstrating the use of concepts all the time, but I think we need to finish all basic arithmetic before I would be ready to let go.

Other than this, we are continuing with taekwondo. Also, we will continue with classes at the coop. which is one morning a week. Other than that, there are homeschool programs at the zoo, art museum, science center. There are field trips which are planned through coop. There is Spivey Hall. I think we can get quite a nice program rolling without more planning.

Meanwhile, if I could only get more sleep...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

resuming chumash

Today I tried resuming chumash with the boys. The camp is over, Tisha B'Av passed, and we are trying to settle into our routine. I had a chiropractor appointment this morning, which meant that everyone had to be ready by a certain time. They did not mind that, but 9 yo did not want to go. I suggested for him to bring along his book (Ranger's Apprentice), and he read it the whole time.

When we got back, the boys settled with their books. I took care of the baby, waited for a calm moment and approached 7 yo about doing Bright Beginnings. He absolutely refused. I calmly walked away. About five minutes later he came to me to throw a new fit about how he does not want to do it. I listened. He told me how it makes his mouth and hands tired, all the while talking and fiddling with a toy. I pointed out how his current activities also occupy his hands and mouth. He kept churning and twisting. I tried a few suggestions, all the while time staying calm. Eventually, I asked him to bring the workbook over, so that we can take a look. He complied, much more calmly. I suggested setting a timer and doing chumash for only five minutes. He rejected that. Today, he did not want to color matching words, so I suggested using a line to connect them. I also asked whether he wants me to read the new pasuk first. He said, yes. I read and translated it, word by word. Then he read it, and quite fluently. Then he very quickly matched up the words, and even joked about how they are trying to trick him, by adding in a word without a match. I asked him to read the pasuk one more time, and he did.

The whole learning experience was very calm, and he was cooperative. I have a feeling he threw a fit beforehand to lower expectations, both for me and for himself.

Then I approached 9 yo about his chumash. He was extremely unhappy about it. I suggested we just review the first three pesukim of the third perek. He read them fluently, but broke down in the middle of translating, saying that he does not want to pretend that everything is fine. I backed off, especially since the baby started crying. When I got back, he told me that he can translate all three, and he did, peacefully. I told him that I can teach him the first pasuk with trop. This suggestion was met with a lack of enthusiasm.

He left, and I practiced trop out loud. Then I got online and listened to a baal kreh read that aliyah. Annoyingly, I do not sound anything like him. 9 yo started correcting my trop based on what he heard. In an underhanded way, this worked, as 9 yo has such a musical memory, that he can probably chant those pesukim correctly now, just from hearing them twice. I am still left to work on my trop.

It is hard getting back into routine. I am not starting school, but my plan is to integrate chumash into daily living, same way as kids get up and get dressed and daven, make it a non-negotiable activity. I am torn between offering rewards for it. Right now I told both boys that I would take them to Six Flags if they finish a chunk of learning: one perek for 7 yo and Parshat Breishit for 9 yo. I still think it is doable, but I am not sure if I want them to be learning for rewards. On the other hand, if I make it an automatic activity, I will be able to phase the rewards out eventually.

I also have to prepare myself for tantrums and unpleasantness. I find that expecting them, and tolerating them ( as long as there is no rudeness) makes them blow over much faster. They can show me how much they despise this activity, and I should not expect too much, and then the emotional negativity is gone, and they can perform on whichever level they can muster that day.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

pre-Tisha B'Av thoughts

"Overall, it's a lot harder to be an acceptable Jewish kid today than it was a generation or two ago." This is a quote from an article addressing why so many kids are off the derech by Rabbi Kelemen. Ouch! The expectations are through the roof, and the kids get tired of not measuring up, so they drop out.

My failing are my sky-high expectations. I expect my kids to be smart, put-together, tender-hearted, morally strong, educationally advanced, grasping complex concepts, obedient, well-mannered, clean and neat, creative, accountable, free-spirited... the list goes on. Some items on the list are mutually exclusive. When the kids repeatedly do not meet whichever expectation I applied to them, I am displeased. Whether I show it or not, they know it. I am setting them up to fail.

A strategy to changing the kids' behavior is addressed in this shiur. It is under five minutes, and is probably shorter than the time it takes to read some of my posts. It is leading by example. Once you are so perfected as an individual, the others will naturally want to follow you and work on their shortcomings. In this sense, unschooling is harder, as is can only thrive when the parents set an example that is worthy of emulation.

Monday, July 8, 2013

climb every mountain... because it's there

Where we live, there is a famous mountain. It is a major tourist attraction. It looms over the city. It has a park and hiking trails. Surprisingly, we have never climbed it. I took kids on a hiking trail next to it last summer, and, of course, they asked when are we going to climb the mountain. I said, one day (constant refrain). Then I was busy being exhausted while being pregnant. Then my belly became too big for Ergo to carry my daughter in. Then I had a newborn. Then something else happened. And something else. In short, there were multiple reasons why climbing this mountain was getting postponed.

Deep in my heart, I was hoping to check it out, climb it one day when the kids are in camp, and it's just me and the baby. I was even considering one day last week, but there was a high chance of rain. It rained the whole week. I was crabby. This week rolled in. This is the last week of camp for the kids. This morning I told myself: it is going to be today. I will walk up the mountain.

I am sure that there are plenty of people who live here and have never been to the summit. I am sure there are plenty of people who took the cable car up and down. I am sure that there are plenty of reasons why I should not be climbing this mountain. But it has been calling me, and here I was, at the bottom, ready to ascend.

I put the baby in Baby K'tan, grabbed an over-the-shoulder diaper bag, and went. I've got a few comments on the way: ooh, she's doing it with a baby! I also looked worriedly at sweat-drenched people descending. But I also saw another mom, who had one kid in a backpack, and another small one whom she was encouraging to walk. I mentioned to her how I admire her stamina. As I keep walking up, more and more beautiful views were opening up. I have been reading up on watercolor painting, and each view made me think of what a gorgeous picture it would make. At some point I saw the birds soaring eye-level. I saw the plants stubbornly pushing through the rocks. I kept walking up, one foot in front of the other.

I made it to the summit, following a much older gentleman. He was a tall, skinny man, slightly stooped; walking slowly, yet purposefully. He was at least four decades older than I am. I kept thinking: if he can do it, I can do it.

The baby slept the whole time, his face looking upward. Standing on the summit, taking in the view I've got that sweet rush of success. I did it! The mountain called, and here I was! The sky, the trees, the sheer expanse of rock. Top of the world.

There on the summit I got a phone call from my mother. I knew better than to tell her exactly what I have been to, but I did say that I was out walking with a baby and checking out a hiking trail. She immediately came up with the reasons why I should not be doing this. I could have told her about my dream of getting up here. I could have spun it into exercise. I could have told her that she is shooting down my dream. I did not. I just told her that I make my own decisions.

We made it!
On the way down, I thought: how many times do we say "no", and for no good reason? My kids certainly have their own dreams and ideas. They usually need my help in implementing them, and I am usually too distracted to listen carefully, and think whether my reflexive "no" will shoot down yet another dream. How many times I have my own dreams, and I shoot them down myself, because I have been trained to be sensible...

I am planning on printing out some photos from my climb and posting them everywhere around the house, to remind me that sometimes mountains need to be climbed simply because they are there.

the summit

I hope they are still happily married

the sky reflecting in a puddle

Thursday, July 4, 2013

following by example

I always say morning brachot before having breakfast. Usually it is the only davening I get in. The kids know what I mean when they offer me a piece of their breakfast food and I say, hold on, gotta say my brachot first.

Yesterday, 9 yo opened a new package of chocolate granola from Trader Joe's. As he was offering me a taste, I said the usual line. He stopped, put down his spoon, and said that he will also say his brachot before starting to eat. He got his siddur, and said birchot hashachar, then proceeded to enjoy granola. (It is good, as anything that contains chocolate chunks in the ingredients should be).

I never insisted for the kids to daven before having breakfast, but 9 yo had seen me do it for years, and now something clicked for him to do it, too. This morning, by the time I got up, he was dressed, had breakfast and davened, so I do not know in which order he did things, but I will take a kid ready to start the day right.

People are nervous about how to teach kids to read. My first question is: do you read yourself? Do you read a lot? Do the kids see you reading for pleasure? And do you read to your kids? They are bound to be interested in picking it up, sooner or later. 3 yo brings me books, points out the letters she knows, asks me about the letters she does not know, and she sees us all reading. I read a ton to the boys. 9 yo knew all his letters by the time he was 2. 7 yo resisted telling me the names of the letters, but once we got through all the BOB books, he just started reading on his own. I complained how his first chapter book was Captain Underpants, but now he's reading Ranger's Apprentice. He read a lot of Beverly Cleary and Judy Bloom. Chapter books are clearly not an issue any more.

What is it that you want your kids to pick up? Think about it, and constantly practice it; they are bound to notice the value you place on it, and will follow your example. You just have to be sincere about it. If you do not truly value it, they will sense the hypocrisy and will not value it either.