Monday, September 30, 2013

why nothing gets done

I was planning to do chumash with 9 yo while the baby was taking a nap. So I waited to start till the baby fell asleep. Once he was asleep and we were in the middle, I saw 3 yo looking real sleepy in the chair. I asked her whether she would like to go lie down, but she refused.

I was hoping that we will finish chumash quickly enough for me to take a little nap (baby has been waking up at 5:30), but it took longer, so just as we were completing it, I heard the baby wake up. As I was going to pick him up, I saw that 3 yo did manage to fall asleep in the chair.

I nursed the baby, saying that I will try to transfer 3 yo to her bed afterwards. If she is not soundly asleep, that will not work. But she transferred, only hugged me sleepily and murmured something.

We were supposed to go to the library, since some books are non-renewable and are due today. I wanted to go while the baby was freshly awake, so we would have time to browse. Now I am waiting for 3 yo to wake up, She has been also waking up at 5:30. By the time she wakes up, it will be time for her brother to nap, so I will have a choice: take them all in whichever state they are in, or wait some more.

Meanwhile I am supposed to throw a lasagna together. I was going to do it after the library, but I am not sure now that there will be time for that. As I am putting it together ( no-boil sheet noodles, canned marinara, ten minutes tops), I hear the baby who was sitting starting to kvetch. Do I pick him up? Try to talk to him and finish the lasagna?

The boys are on Nintendo, deep in their own world. At least we finished all the schoolwork that I planned for today, but now I feel a twinge of guilt that they are spending so much time staring at a screen instead of being out and about.

All of you homeschoolers, who have perfectly planned and choreographed days: how does it work?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

the bunny

Maybe we are suckers, but I would like to refer to this as being "big-hearted people". Now we have a custody of a white bunny.

A few weeks ago, 7 yo was coming back from shul at night with my husband. When they got home, they excitedly told me about spotting a white rabbit sitting under a bush right at the side of the road, not far from our house. 7 yo told me how he got very close to this rabbit, almost touched it before it ran away. I joked about whether it was a rabbit at all, and how weird it is that it is all white. We have a few regular grey rabbits in the neighborhood. Then I started wondering whether it is somebody's pet that escaped.

Next morning, as we were all going to shul, we spotted exact same rabbit, sitting in the exact same spot. It gave chase once the kids got too close, but I became sure that it is somebody's. Now we have a busybody lady on our block ( doesn't every block have one?!), so my husband went to knock on her door and inquire whether anyone is missing a rabbit. Sure enough, she said that our neighbors' bunny got away, and they are unable to catch it. This got the boys all fired up. They started planning mission "rescue the bunny", a la Wonderpets style. I chuckled, thinking that if the owners cannot catch it, we might not stand a chance. I was also hoping that it would not become roadkill in the meanwhile.

Since then, we have been seeing it here and there, lurking in the bushes. This week, the bunny made an appearance on our lawn. The boys gave chase, with IKEA collapsible hampers. The bunny was faster. Then, on Friday afternoon, it came back. The boys grabbed the hampers and followed. There was a a cartoonish chase around the pine, with 9 yo chasing the bunny running around and around, but he got him in the end. The boys triumphantly called my husband, who closed the hamper up, and the bunny was in the process of being returned to its owners. I stayed at home, washing the dishes and cooking something or other. Next thing I know, the boys are running back home, announcing that they are giving the bunny to us, with the cage and all. My first reaction was: absolutely not! I also know my husband well enough to know that he would not willingly accept this rabbit without consulting with me first, so I knew that something was up.

His name was Snowflake,
but since he's a boy, 9 yo renamed him Blizzard
I walked over, and saw the father of the family calmly tell us that they got this bunny for their daughter six months ago, but then she got tired of it, so they just let it go. I mean, they just threw it out of the house. Then it transpired that our next-door neighbors already captured this bunny once, returned it, and the owners did not want it back, so they threw him back out. The father was being nice and said that we can just let him go, or if we want to keep him, he will give us the cage and food.

Who the heck throws out a pet, especially a totally domesticated albino rabbit? Who teaches their kid that this pet is there when you want it, and when you don't want it, off it goes? Now I saw why we were getting this rabbit. It is almost miraculous that it lasted outdoors as long as it did.

All of this was taking place on Yom Tov, so I was quite worried that I don't know how to take care of this rabbit. The cage that the owner gave us was a bird cage, with those three little lift-up doors. You had to dismantle the top to get the bunny in. Then there was some dried pellet food, which the bunny at first refused. There was no water bottle. I figured that we will feed it lettuce and carrots for a day, till Shabbos ends, and then I can look up how to properly care for a rabbit.

As we were walking home, I explained to the kids that we are just keeping this rabbit temporarily, until I can find it a nice warm family to take care of it. My baby will be crawling any day now, and I know that I will not be able to keep him out of rabbit's food and droppings. I also know that the time is not right for us to get a pet. My cup runneth over just from homeschooling and taking care of the house, so having a pet will just add to the stress.

On Shabbos morning, we sat down to learn some parsha not far from the rabbit. Al of a sudden he closed his eyes and just collapsed. I looked at this with horror: the rabbit passed right before my eyes! The kids seemed not to notice, so I let it be for a moment, and that was a good thing, since five minutes later the rabbit was done with his nap, got up, and brushed himself, as if nothing had happened. Whew!

Last night, after Shabbos I went and did some online research. I found out that water is a must, and that the rabbit's diet should be mostly hay. The carrots, celery and lettuce that we fed him over Shabbos are OK, but they could bother his digestive system. Clover was apparently a good treat, so before 8 am the boys were outside, collecting clover for the bunny. One of them found a four-leaf clover...

Then we went to the pet store, to get hay and the water bottle. I asked about them taking the rabbit back, but they said that they cannot do it, only put it with a sign for adoption. They also recommended finding a classroom that is interested in keeping a pet, since they have a special grant program where the store would supply the cage, food and training.

Was it so hard to find a new home for this bunny? Did he have to be kicked out? Why couldn't the neighbors take five minutes to think what to do with him before cruelly setting him loose?

Finally, I am not so sure how halachically OK it was for us first to capture this rabbit, and then to take ownership on Yom Tov, but somewhere between the lesson of hashavat aveida ( returning a lost object) and tzaar baalei chaiym (not inflicting suffering on animals) I think my kids learned a few valuable lessons. Oh, and I hope that whenever we will be ready for a pet, they will take the responsibilities that come with it seriously.

I much rather be called a sucker than heartless.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

running errands with kids

I drag my kids everywhere. I have no choice: I do not have babysitter/housekeeper/au pair/neighbor whom I can drop the kids off with while I run my errands. Sometimes my husband can run some errands for me, but that depends on whether he will get called up or not, so his errands skew towards non-essential or 24 hr Kroger variety. All the other errands are on me, and that means that I grocery-shop with kids.

I have two secrets: practice and expectations.

Practice: I need food every week, often more than once per week. The means that we hit a grocery store 4-8 times a month. That also means that we have lots of chances to work out how the visit will go. The kids know how to come out of the car in a busy parking lot, how to help younger siblings unbuckle, how to push a younger sibling in a cart or stroller, how to cross a parking lot and how to navigate the store. They know which store's bakery gives out cookies ( if you ask nicely), and how to do self-check-out. They also know that if they help me, it will go faster. I use Myshopi app and always come with a shopping list, so we spend very little time wandering around aimlessly. The kids do not always want to come, and it does not always go smoothly, but because of the sheer bulk of these shopping trips, they get plenty of practice.

Expectations: since we end up shopping so much, they kids know my expectations. They will not throw a fit in the candy aisle: I will not get that candy anyway. They can pick one cereal that they like, but I will ask to pick the one with the least sugar. Then it's up to them to work out which cereal goes in the cart. They will not run off, since I expect the boys to help me maneuver the cart and the stroller. I expect help when I am loading and unloading groceries. All of these work because we shop so much.

Before Succot started, I had a crazy day when I had to take care of multiple errands. First, it was the chiropractor, then I had to get some groceries, pick up mail from a UPS store, laminate posters for the succah and buy wooden clothespins for 7 yo's trivet project. I also needed to drop off the books at the library. All of this had to be completed by 3 pm, when our backyard would be sprayed for mosquitoes. Some days I could have looked at this day and thrown in the towel before even getting started. However, it worked out well. After the chiropractor, I came back to the neighborhood closer to our house. I parked near a laminating place, then walked with the kids to the local grocery store's take-out counter for lunch. I do not do this often, but I figured it will save time instead of going back home and then going back out again. It also put everyone in a good mood. The boys helped me carry food to the tables, thanked me for their hot dogs and even helped clean up when the baby knocked over my container. They helped me shop and carried the groceries to the car. Then they held doors while I picked up mail. While the posters were getting laminated, I asked the boys to find card stock, since we used up all that we had and they did. Afterwards, we went to a hardware store, looking for clothespins. 9 yo pushed the stroller, 7 yo and 3 yo played some kind of imagination game, and I smiled, thinking how idyllic this is, walking down the sidewalk on a sunny day, getting things done and enjoying the company of my kids. At that moment, 9 yo told me how much he is enjoying this day., and I knew that it was truly pleasant.

We fund the clothespins and stopped by a game shop so that 9 yo could ask a few questions about Nintendo DS ( he finally got it, but that's a topic for a different post). Then we all loaded in the car and drove to the library. One of the boys dropped the books off and we made it home just in time.

It is so easy to discount all of this. My kids are not perfect and we've had our share of disasters. 7 yo once hid from me in Costco, and I could not find him. I had to call security. It is equally easy to say that we should not waste so much time on shopping and errands. Maybe they should be sitting down and learning something, producing, creating, feverishly filling out worksheets. After all, you can proudly display a worksheet on the refrigerator; you cannot hang up a memory of a great day when everyone was pleasant and well-behaved. Maybe this is bitul Torah (wasting time not learning Torah). But one needs derech erets (proper behavior) before learning Torah, otherwise what is the point of all the learning, if it's all hypothetical. And in the real world, people still need to buy groceries. People need to plan ahead and stand in lines. People have to interact with other adults and ask for products. People need to know how to walk on the sidewalk so that others could pass.

Finally, people need to know how to acknowledge that they are having a great day in each other's company.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

keeping it light

A day before Yom Tov I ventured down into the basement and found it in a total state of chaos. This was after it was supposedly cleaned up by the kids. I could not hold back and I started my mommy rant.

"Look at this mess! You call this cleaning up? I am flabbergasted! This is horrible and has to be cleaned up!"
"What is "flabbergasted"? Is it upset?"
"You go look it up in a dictionary! You need to be cleaning this up right now, before I come down with a garbage bag and throw all the toys away!"
They started cleaning up, and I kept on ranting. Then I heard one boy saying quietly: "Go to ef."

Ooh, that got goat up! I faced him:
"What did you just say?"
A bit louder: "You go to ef." He looks up at me calmly, with big innocent eyes.
"Where did you hear this? What are you saying?!"
Unruffled: "To look up "flabbergasted", you go to F in the dictionary."

Whew. All the air went out from me. I almost blew this one.

Note to self: do not assume the worst possible scenario. Keep it light.

They did look up "flabbergasted" in the dictionary, and the basement is marginally better-looking.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

mishna and Pythagorean theorem

altar with the ramp and aravos towering over
Today 9 yo had his mishna lesson. He is in 4th chapter of mishna Succah. His teacher asked him at the end what kind of review he wanted and he said that he wanted to build a mizbeach (altar) surrounded by aravot (willow branches). His teacher agreed, but it ended up being up to me to enforce it. When the time came, he built a slapdash quick version out of construction paper. I said that it is unacceptable and it needs to be scaled properly. He was annoyed, as by that point whatever idea he had from the morning left his head. Then he said that he does not know how to build to scale. I used example of Legos and said that one ama ( hand span) could be one Lego block. He complained that he did not know the dimensions. I pulled out my handy-dandy Mishkan book and showed him a  picture, with all dimensions and descriptions. He took it downstairs and started building.

His final product was all yellow, to reflect the color of copper, I guess. It was ten amos high and five amos on each side. Then the discussion turned to the ramp. He found a Lego block which can pivot and attached flat boards to it. He excitedly said that he knows the ramp to be 30 amos.

While I was making dinner, and he was finishing building, an idea crossed my mind. When he brought the final model up, I asked him, which dimension of the ramp was 30 amos? Of course it was the base, but, as I expected, he built the actual ramp to be 30 Lego blocks long. I was able to detach it and show him how it makes a difference whether the base is 30 amos, or the ramp part (hypotenuse). Then I told him that there is a simple way to calculate how long the ramp should be, once you know the length of the base and the side. I was also hoping that I will do it correctly, as any calculations while holding a kvetchy baby tend to be off. I counted out loud: "The mizbeach is 10 amos, that's 100 once you square it, and the base is 30 amos, that's 900 squared, add them together and you get 1000. Now the square root of 1000 is..." and I realized that I cannot do it in my head. I discovered that my phone calculator does not have a square root function. 9 yo knew that the one on the computer does. He tried guessing the answer while I was finding an appropriate device for our math. He was surprised by the answer. He tried a few estimates, and played around for a bit, squaring numbers with more and more decimals, approaching closer and closer to 1000.

I told him that there was a Greek by the name of Pythagoras, and made up how he had to build up ramps, too, especially when people got tired of running out of wood. He did not exactly buy my story, and he was not so keen on adding 1.6 amos to his ramp, but we had a great fun with this mizbeach.

A few days ago he expressed fear and upset over falling behind his peers in school. Specifically he mentioned math and fractions and division. I said that I do not think he is behind, but if he's worried, we can do some math. He did not want to do math, he said that he just used it as an example. After we finished our calculations today, I whispered to him that I am pretty sure they are not learning about Pythagoras in fourth grade.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

appreciating life

This Yom Kippur, 9 yo did not daven. At all. He went to shul with my husband, there straight to babysitting and did not step foot inside shul. The babysitters fed the kids cookies, and that was the highlight of the experience. Oh, and they played dodge ball. That's all he talked about when he got back.

I talked to my husband how we have to make sure that he is in shul next year, how he needs to start davening, and we need to enforce it. I sometime feel so hopeless about him: his clothes could be backwards, his attention on something only he is aware of, not listening to us. He is not doing what we want him to do. Oh, why can't he be a bit more malleable? Why can't he just bring us nachas (happiness)? Why is there so much head butting?

Then, after Yom Kippur passed and I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I saw pictures of hospital rooms. Hospital gowns. Lots of Hebrew which I did not comprehend, but "refua sheleima" (get well soon). Pictures of a smiling boy, a son of our friends. He is also 9. And before I read through all the posts, I knew. That knot in the stomach; this is not good. Nobody posts picture after picture of their son in the hospital, with multiple declarations of love, unless this is serious.

Once I scrolled through enough posts, I saw the diagnosis: leukemia. My insides churned, as a memory flooded me; another boy with leukemia in a hospital over Yamim Noraim, many years ago. That time it was a son of a family from Richmond, and I was in highschool. I remember my host parent, who had a son same age, come back from visiting him in the hospital after Rosh HaShana. She told me how he was also swamped with toys and gifts and love. She told me how he was in so much pain over Yom Tov, that his mother allowed him to play computer games, anything to take his mind off suffering. Unfortunately, that boy did not make it. He passed away just a short time before his bar mitzvah.

That put my grumbling about my 9 yo in perspective. Please G-d, he will live another year. He is a healthy boy, doing what 9 year olds are interested in doing: playing around. He is not in a hospital room, but comfortably sprawled on the floor, reading. He is not in pain, and I do not have to decide whether he should be breaking Yom Tov to alleviate suffering.

Why is it so hard to appreciate the simple things: good health, normal children, a roof over our head? Why does it have to take a misfortune to stop and think and give thanks for the incredible goodness that we are blessed with?

Please pray for Adi Yechiel Netanel ben Avigayil.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

money, money, money...

We just started a new semester of classes at the coop. 9 yo is signed up for Project-Based Learning class, where he would get guidance to pursue whatever project he chooses and then he would share it with the group. The teacher e-mailed me a short questionnaire for 9 yo to fill out, to learn a bit about him. I printed it out and passed it on to him. He was done pretty quickly and I decided to go over it with him.

The first question was: What is the coolest thing in your house? His answer: money.
Next question: What is the coolest thing you had seen in a friend's house? His answer: Nintendo DS 3D.

I was very upset by these. We are comfortable financially, but not exuberantly wealthy. We do not spend our free time shopping or fantasizing about owning things. We eat out once a month and have not taken any vacations since last November. I am the kind of person who much rather get things for free or as a bargain than pay full price. When we moved to Houston, we went for almost a year without a couch, and almost two  years with one car. We are definitely not keeping up with the Joneses. I had a tzedakah guy shake his head in surprise at our house, not meeting his expectations. Yet my son thinks that the coolest thing we have is money.

We have too many books (my fault) and too many toys. Both my mother and my MIL are in a competition of who will get the kids the next great thing. Right now, 9 yo is obsessed with getting a Nintendo DS. He spent quite a bit of time online comparing prices, looking at options, checking out accessories. At some point he had almost enough allowance and gift money to buy one, but he impulsively spent it here and there and abandoned his dream. I did not mind, I thought this is teaching him fiscal responsibility. By the way, his weekly allowance is $2.25, with a tenth going to tzedakah. When we are talking about such small sums, I do not care what he does with them. As of late, he got quite a bit of gift money, and he revived the DS dream. He spent hours calculating how many weeks of allowance plus recycling it would take him to buy it. He remembered to include sales tax and tried figuring it out, first on his own, and then with some assistance from me. I did not mind this; there is a budgeting lesson in there, not to mention some math. There is working towards a goal. There is delayed gratification and anticipation.

Then my mother decided to be very nice and generous, and is sending him the rest of the sum to get that Nintendo. He became very happy; I became upset. He was getting a lucky break, which nullified all the positive lessons of saving patiently. After a day, his happiness dissolved, as is evidenced by the fact that getting a Nintendo DS is now not as cool as 3D DS he saw in someone's house. And the DS is not even ordered yet! I think he was getting more happiness from browsing and fantasizing about DS than he will get from the actual thing. I mean, if he really needed it, I would have gotten it for him already. And who needs a handheld game?

I spoke to him about how his answer on the questionnaire was not showing what he was like, and he, being honest said that he WISHED he was different and did not want to play computer games all day and not think about money, but that is the true answer.

Is this an age-appropriate fixation? Will it pass? Are your kids thinking about money?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

child-led learning

Yesterday's biology lesson:

Target was selling bug vacuum for a song, so I could not resist and got it. The boys were enamored with it and caught four spiders, identified them (I did not check, if they say it's a wolf spider, so be it) and placed them in the same observation chamber. Then, over the course of the day, they watched one of the spiders kill off the others and spin a web around them. I got detailed oral reports of their observations.

Today's writing/spelling:

I downloaded 4 Pics 1 Word onto my phone, and the kids gathered round. They were all clamoring with suggestions, and all took turns entering in the words that they guessed, including 3 yo. She guessed "pink" and knew what all the letters looked like, so she helped out. My refusenik writer, 7 yo, did not count this as writing, or spelling, just as having a turn at a game.

Oh, and the baby decided to skip the whole rolling over from stomach-to-back thing and work on sitting instead. He also despises all baby food mush and prefers something he can hold on to and control, like bread sticks and broccoli stalks.

G-d, give me patience not to jump in too soon with my grand agendas. Let me guide these kids on the paths that interest them and not the paths that they HAVE to take.

Monday, September 9, 2013

reading as a way of life

This week I saw a statistic that 80% of Americans did not buy or read a book in the past year. I am shocked.

In our house, reading is synonymous with breathing. The way my boys operate: you get up in the morning, and saunter over to the bookshelf, pull something out, and start reading. We have books strewn everywhere: on the floor, on the couch, on the table, piled up in stacks, spilling out from cubbies. We have a box of magazines. We have a dedicated shelf for library books which kept getting mixed up with our books. We bring a giant bag to the library every time and then the boys teeter under its weight as we walk to the car. They have their pick of books, and I add some that I think they would find interesting or important.

I used to worry about what they read, especially when the first chapter book that 7 yo picked was "Captain Underpants". Now I find that overall they consume a varied and balanced literary diet: fiction and nonfiction, chapter and picture books, above and below their grade level.

About a year ago I read a recommendation from a librarian never to deny a picture book to a child on the grounds that it is too young. There is more to a picture book than words;
there are illustrations, design, story, conflict. I like this suggestion, and I often see 9 yo browse through his sister's books. 7 yo will often join as I am reading a book to her. Nowadays the boys really prefer to read on their own, and I miss reading to them.

The nature of unschooling is the lack of preconceived notions. The other day in the library 3 yo kept picking up chapter paperbacks based on their covers, bringing them over to me to read, and deciding based on the first couple pages whether she wanted them or not. She was not daunted by the length of the books or their lack of pictures. Later, when we got home, 7 yo read one of those girly paperbacks that she picked out. He was not embarrassed about reading a girl book.

If literacy is so important, and reading is the primary way to acquire new information, why aren't more Americans reading? Do they feel that reading is something you do for school only, as an assignment, and never for pleasure?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

meaningful Rosh HaShana

a fish names gefilte
I spoke too soon about waiting for next year to have a meaningful Yamim Noraim ( Days of Awe).

We went to shul, but not our regular shul. Our regular shul does not have babysitting for all ages and for the whole service, so we go to the other shul. 9 yo was unhappy to be missing his regular shabbos groups, but he did not seem interested to be in shul either. I got all the kids for shofar and then they went back to babysitting. Later I found out that 9 yo snuk out, because he was telling me about seeing people bow down on the floor for Aleinu.

I am always berating myself for not producing enough rich and meaningful experiences on Shabbos and chagim. Being a baalat teshuva, I have this nagging feeling that if only I knew how to capture that spirit, that moment, that opportunity for growth and spirituality, my kids would want to enjoy shabbos and yom tov more. I fret a lot about losing that yom tov feeling, not being in a zone and how that affects my kids. Then we'll have some sort of experience and I see that, somehow, we've still got it.

Yesterday morning, seemingly out of the blue, 9 yo asked me to forgive him for all that he has done wrong. It seemed very sincere, so I dropped everything, walked over to him, hugged him and said that I forgive him. I apologized to him for yelling at him so much, and he forgave me. It was a very sweet moment, almost Hallmark-y. Seeing this, 7 yo got agitated and said that he does not feel like it's Rosh HaShana and he does not know how to daven and he cannot daven. I think he was not ready to ask for forgiveness, or the need to ask for forgiveness did not hit him the same way, but he had hard time expressing it.

Later, when Shabbos already started, somehow the calendar discussion came up. This year, just by looking at the wall calendar, 7 yo figured out that Rosh HaShana is on rosh chodesh, and he's getting a really big kick out of it. Then we started talking about the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur and somehow the conversation segued into what it takes to do teshuva (to repent). I started going over the steps and asked for an example of a sin. 7 yo piped in: "You bought an etrog from a bad city". I guess he was listening closely to his brother's mishna lesson! We tried coming up with a more pertinent example, but the boys were running wild with worshiping idols or killing people or other, quite severe and inapplicable actions. My husband suggested hitting your brother, which hit a bit too close to home, as 9 yo asked not to use the word "you" in an example. We settled on a kid ice skating and tripping other people up, just for fun.

Finally I thought we got to the steps. I said that first you have to realize that you are sinning, then you need to stop sinning, then you have to apologize to people whom you've tripped up (people that you caused to die came up AGAIN, the gruesomeness factor is just off the charts) and then you have to say viduy (personal verbal confession). 9 yo wanted to find out what you say in that confession, so I opened up a linear machzor and showed him. He read it with great interest and kept on reading, but after a page he wanted to know where is the end. I explained how viduy contains all possible ways in which people could be sinning and that's why it is so long, to jog your memory to anything specific.

7 yo kept talking about the scales before Hashem and how he hopes that his scales tip crazily towards merit. 9 yo wanted to know whether it is better to do one mitzvah, or to remove an aveirah. In this manner, sometimes solemn, sometimes silly, but totally spontaneous, we established the spirit of Yamim Noraim.

Monday, September 2, 2013

next year it might be different

9 yo has his own g-mail account. I sometimes send him messages there.

A few days ago I sent him an e-mail asking whether he would like to go through Rosh haShana shemone esre, now that he says weekday one all the time. Last year I showed him the basic structure, but he was not davening the full shemone esre yet, so he could not appreciate fully the changes and additions.

Yesterday I got his response: "No thanks."

Oh well, there is always another year. There is always a very long Rosh HaShana davening and maybe he will look inside the siddur then. Good thing I did not spend hours preparing and fantasizing about how lovely it will be, mother and son, sitting down and learning all about Rosh HaShana.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


I did put the kids to work this Friday. I discovered that we owned two Swiffers, so 7 yo and 3 yo became the "Swifferers of the Day". They picked up everything in their room, and wiped the floor, then moved on to my room: "That's where all the dust bunnies are!" proclaimed 7 yo. Meanwhile I wiped the toilets and sinks (thank G-d for Clorox wipes and that we do not have a gazillion bathrooms). 7 yo mopped the bathrooms and then we moved on to the laundry room. The cleaning people have not been quite good there ever, just mopping a small floor area that was showing. Since this time I was in charge, I took out everything and the floor was quite grimy. 7 yo attacked it with a mop, even under the fridge. I got to throw out a bunch of things, send a double stroller to the garage and organize a few others. Since the baby was up and 9 yo was with his mishna teacher, this was not a major project, just a few minutes or so. I made sure to comment on how clean the floor looked and 7 yo beamed.

Then, when 9 yo was finished, we tackled the living/dining room area. First all the things were picked up, then 9 yo came up with the idea of putting chairs on the table to sweep under. When he was sweeping the living room, I discovered a crazy amount of dirt in between couch cushions. Since my kids like to vacuum, I offered it as a job up for grabs. 3 yo and 9 yo shared it, working out who will unwind the cord, turn the vacuum on and vacuum each section. Finally, as they were getting ready to put the couch back together, 9 yo decided to rearrange the furniture in the room. I told him not to block the air vents and gave him carte blanche. He first pushed an armchair into one corner, then tried getting a couch next to it, then decided to get a yardstick to measure the couch's length to see whether it will fit. It wouldn't, so he moved the armchair out. 3 yo was helping by carrying the baskets from the toy shelves. I helped swing the furniture corners. I kept thinking, it will take five minutes to put back the way it was, so why not? He pushed the couch against the door frame, and made an armchair into a throne. 7 yo popped up from his reading and said that he does not like the couch blocking that doorway, so they pushed it further into the room. Next they added a poster and a map to the walls and started playing some kind of ranger training game.

When my husband came home, he took one look at that room, also said that he does not like it and also added that it is easy to rearrange back. I guess we unschooled him, too. He said how he surely did not get to move furniture around as a kid. I thought, they are not painting walls or anything, they are making the room to their liking. They spent a chunk of the day cleaning the house and all of a sudden they have a stake in it. Later, 9 yo asked to mop the kitchen. He used a bit too much water, so it took a really long time to dry, but it was OK at the end.

At the end of the day, I came to a few realizations. Our house is nowhere near as dirty as I imagine it to be. It is even not that messy, otherwise the kids would not be able to get everything off the floor so quickly. Other people do not have a stake in the cleanliness, so if I want it cleaned a certain way that shows caring ( like moving things out of the way instead of cleaning around them), I am better off doing it myself. The kids are quite eager to help if they are given a meaningful task. The kids will "own" their cleaning if they have a stake in what they are doing. Maybe they will even make less mess eventually. Finally, it will probably take a year of weekly cleaning to get everyone into a routine of it. It took over a year for the boys to work out how to unload the dishwasher fairly and not grumble about it. It took the boys a year to fold and put away their laundry. Am I ready to usher the era of new level of responsibility? Will I get fed up with imperfect job and just jump in and end up doing it myself, grumbling that nobody cares about anything around here? I do not know now. I did clean the house myself before I got pregnant with the baby. I consciously decided to outsource cleaning. I just like to know that I can rally my troops if need be and get the job done.