Monday, October 28, 2013

dancing the dance/stumbling in the fog

Some days, we make a list, get everything done before lunch, the boys are agreeable and pleasant enough, then the baby goes for a nap, older kids assemble themselves to chill, and I get a break. On those days, I feel like we are dancing.

Other days, it is an uphill battle. Nobody listens, everyone sulks, I feel snappy and stretched too thin, nothing gets done, and we are all grumpy and exhausted by each other's presence. I am groping in the fog, trying to find my way back to the dance floor.

I give more structure, and my kids push back against it. Hard.

I look at 9 yo, as his desire for a perpetual shortcut, the "easy way out" and keep thinking: this kid will do really well later on in life. He'll invent things because he's lazy to do something the proper way. But now we have to survive till that point. Today, instead of writing "he sanctified" he wrote "he holidized". When I asked him, why, he said that it was easier. It is easier to invent a new word than tediously copy one.

I look at 7 yo, how he's struggling with reading Hebrew. He gets the whole prefix/shoresh/suffix deal, but he wants to be able to see a word and know what it is and what it sounds like right away. He's a sight reader, whole word reader. This is bizarre, since I am a believer in phonics and we did Bob books for English reading. Hebrew is a whole new beast, with changing nekudot and the related words sounding so different. Besides, his frustration level rises so suddenly, that one minute he's sitting next to me, working hard and at peace, and the next, the book is flying across the room and he's arching his back, screaming. Today I asked him what he would like to do for modern Hebrew practice. We hit a roadblock in Rosetta Stone, which he is not ready to overcome, and he did not want to go back and finish Llama. I said that I have S'fateinu, and he seemed interested in taking a look. He did the first 6 pages of first grade book, remarking that he likes it. He read all the words, underlined and circled, but he drew the line at coloring in the pictures. Then he told me exactly where he wants to stop ( on page 7) and that he wants to do 6 pages every day. I was thinking of my homeschooling friend and her three year rule: it is possible to learn all the material very quickly and pleasantly when the student is mature enough instead of butting heads with a younger child over concepts and skills. Why not wait and make it easy?

I thought that by now I would have more of a rhythm, of a groove. I thought that I would be wiser, know what I am doing. Instead, a lot of it feels like making the same mistakes again and again.

If all is well, tomorrow will be another day and we will all get another chance to start anew.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Shmuel and Ishmael

My husband asked 9 yo what does he think is the difference between Shmuel and Ishamel. Without missing a beat, he answered:
"G-d listened to Ishmael, while Shmuel listened to G-d."


In Vayeitze, we got to the part where Yakov promises maaser ( a tenth) to Hashem. 9 yo said, this is the first maaser. I said that there was another person who previously gave maaser. I threw in Krispy Kreme as a reward. He sat with Chumash for hours, and found it. I got a sneaky review of the p'shat from beginning of B'reishit.

Friday, October 18, 2013

thoughts on "crying it out"

"Crying it out" had gotten a bad rep. One friend recently posted on facebook: why would anyone let their baby cry it out? The response was: because you are desperate. And because it works, and the kids (and parents) finally sleep,

Oh, we are supposed to be all cuddly and lovey-dovey. All the time. Even when the kids would have deserved that smack on the behind (from the olden days). Even when we spent the whole day catering to everyone's needs and nobody bothered to ask, what do you need, Mom? Even when there has not been a good night of sleep in months and months, and no break,  we are supposed to be calm and patient saints. Yet, once you talk to these "saints" it becomes clear pretty quickly that they have a whole team behind them. Usually there is a husband with a flexible job, or a 9-to-5 job, home for dinner. Usually that said husband lets the mom sleep in in the morning, or gets her breakfast, or takes the kids out of the house for a couple hours. Usually there is some other adult doing some kind of other duty: regular babysitter, house cleaner, au pair, teenager. Then the mom gets to be all saintly, and radiate peace and calm in all those trying situations. Those tend to be the types who are oh-so-opposed to "crying it out".

My husband has not been home since yesterday's morning. First thing, 9 yo threw a fir about davening and life in general. We were late for a concert in Spivey Hall which 9 yo called babyish despite enjoying it. We were late to taekwondo because I tried bribing everyone with a run to Krispy Kreme, hoping to get a kvetchy baby extra twenty minutes of a nap in the moving car. Next thing I know, we are stuck in traffic, baby is yelling anyway, one kid is freaking out because I said we are only getting original glazed form a drive-thru, next kid is freaking out that we are late to taekwndo and we should just go home....

Then it is me, alone, sitting in taekwondo lounge with 3 yo and the baby. Then I have to serve dinner which at least one kid finds a fault with, then tuck everyone into bed, then make Shabbos. I managed to burn rice so thoroughly that the pot had to go in the garbage, not to mention that I had to cook rice again. Then I have to do at least basic straightening up. No other adult in sight, not till Friday afternoon.

Just as I am turning in, the baby is up. Paci is rejected, so I nurse and go to sleep. Then, an hour later, 3 yo is uncharacteristically up, crying. I go and say something to her or other, sorry, I'm a bit fuzzy on that, but she gets quiet. Then, just as I manage to fall asleep again, the baby is up again. No paci, I just nursed him, and he is screaming, and waking up 9 yo.

Oh, just shush, just let me sleep. Just somebody do something, anything, to get him quiet, and get me some sleep. Remember, my husband is not home, so there is no sleeping in in the morning, no way that I can make up this exhausting stretch. He is yelling, I am trying to alternate between a paci and nursing and a tight swaddle. That hard edge of despair is there. You want an emergency? This is it. Now I am remembering that they have those new parent hotlines, call any time of day or night. But at that moment of total despair, I was not thinking of that. I was thinking, just shush, shush already.

You know what? He was crying, I was crying. We were both crying it out. Am I not a person, too? Do I not deserve a bit of compassion? We would have all been better off if I would have just left him in his crib, crying, then race frantically from one corner of the room to another, clutching him. And it would have been better for all if I would have let him cry it out a month ago, and be sleeping through the night now.

I did "cry it out" with my oldest. It took one night, 40 minutes of crying (his and mine, in separate rooms), but that kid slept through the night ever since. He is the best sleeper out of all of them. I do not regret it, not one bit. If he's going to be in therapy, it will not be for this.

Do not throw suggestions at me, unless you are willing to be on my speed-dial and be summoned in the middle of the night to come and work your magic. Do not throw soothing words. They do not help when you get that desperate. When it gets to this point, you just need your sleep and sanity, and you need that kid to be quiet.

Hopefully, you will have your support team, and you can read this, shake your head at my "unenlightened" ways and say that nobody should get so cruel. Then you will send the kids out to your husband, go take your solitary morning walk, and complain how if only people were all a bit calmer, the world would be a better place.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

why more sturcture?

Deep down, I hate surprises (ask the people who were unsuccessful in throwing a surprise baby shower for me when I was pregnant with my oldest; I was dead set to go to IKEA that Sunday and they basically had to sit me down to keep me from being absent). So having a plan is semi-essential to my being. My oldest is the same way; he always likes to know what's going on. 7 yo will quite often ask what's planned, too. With chagim, and a different schedule every day, and baby waking up at all hours, it was becoming a  mayhem. My friend likens a good messy unschooling day to a great party. I like my parties slightly less rambunctious, where guests clean up after themselves...

One of my biggest concerns with our unschooling period was what to do with 9 yo, as he clearly needed more structure to get anything done. He is brimming with ideas, but he is very disorganized, so he is having hard time getting anything done unless it is put down in writing somewhere and then reinforced. We had many a night when just as I was tucking him in, the regret of all the things he wanted to get done but did not get to came out.

On my end of things, I am very lucky to be guided by a few veteran homeschooling moms. One of the threads that resonated with me is that it is easy to unschool and then it is just as easy to see where there are gaps. Then you are willing to enforce those areas. I have kept up chumash with the boys over the summer, so we never unschooled that. I have decided that math is vital, so that was also part of the schedule since August. I saw that 7 yo had hard time writing, so Printing Power joined the list of daily exercises. Finally, as we were getting further in chumash, I saw a need to work on more grammar, so we picked up Lashon HaTorah. 9 yo was so lost after not doing it for 6 months! We were in the middle of a unit of tense-changing vav, and he did not have those verb conjugations down. However, after a week of working on it ( and printing out a basic conjugation chart), he is much more comfortable. 7 yo knew his prefixes well, now we are working on those suffixes.

Finally, Rosetta Stone was my offer to the boys, and they both took it up, for now. I am worried about conversational Hebrew. I was kind of hoping for getting some exposure to native speakers in a casual setting ( a Hebrew-speaking babysitter, perhaps?), but it did not happen.

Now, on coming full circle, 7 yo asked me today to pick up history and science. While on the surface this is a request for even more structured learning, it is also a child-led inquiry. In this regard, that little unschooling experiment was a success: when they are interested and ready to learn it, they will ask for it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

back to more structured learning

These past two days we went back to having more of a structured day. The kids had breakfast, got dressed and davened as usual, and then I wrote up the plan for the day. Both days they were done with the schoolwork by lunch, which meant that they worked from 9 till 12 ( with breaks). Both days we had an outing in the afternoon. Even though the baby did not nap as much as I wanted him to, staying home while he napped and working with the boys helped. I even dare say, these two days went along the lines I would like our days to go: a good balance of assigned work, spontaneous learning and play.

In a nutshell, here is what 9 yo was assigned to do:

  • math
  • chumash
  • mishna-with rebbe
  • Lashon HaTorah
  • script
  • Rosetta Stone-Hebrew

Here is what 7 yo was assigned to do:

  • math
  • chumash
  • Lashon HaTorah
  • Printing Power
  • Rosetta Stone-Hebrew

Yesterday we went to mini-golf as a siyum for 9 yo completing parshat Noach. He gave a short d'var torah on the Rashi which explained the difference between the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersal. Today we went to see a new Marco Polo exhibit. Both days we were home by 4, which gave me enough time to cook dinner.

Both days the kids spent quite a bit of time reading and playing. 9 yo killed at least an hour each day on his DS. They watched some TV (documentaries and Magic School Bus, their choice). 3 yo did her projects and played. I caught her this morning leafing through a chapter book.

These two days, structure felt nice.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

buy life insurance

This unbelievable and touching story has been posted and reposted today. The sum of remarks was that this man's life is inspiring. While this is true, my first reaction to it was: he did not have life insurance! ( Caveat: I do not know how life insurance works in Israel, but I assume it is similar enough to the States). Therefore, his poor widow, in addition to coping with his death, now faces a life of financial struggle. She will have to rely on chesed of others instead of her husband doing chesed to her and their children, and providing the family with income, in case of his demise.

Many years ago, when we have been married just two years, with a brand-new baby, still struggling financially, our next-door neighbor dropped dead. He was our age, and the couple had been also newly married. It was shocking, it was terrible, and I had all these questions. My older and wiser friend was there to talk to me, but one of the first things she told me to do, to insure ourselves from just such a loss, is to buy life insurance. Now, we had no money. We were totally on our own, and there were bills to pay, and we were young, and how could something so morbid be a priority...

We pinched, went without silver candlesticks, and bought life insurance. I did not even get such a great rate, due to some health issues, but at least I knew that if, G-d forbid something would happen to either me or my husband, our children would be provided for.

A year later, another friend told me a sad tale of a father of many kids who just died, and now the community was straining and scrambling to provide for the family. My automatic response was: buy life insurance.

Today's story is no different. It is wonderful that this guy was such an incredible baal tzedakah (charitable giver), it is humbling to think what he went without to provide for others, and it is beautiful that he touched so many people. But doesn't tzedakah start at home? I wish that he was not such a thrifty guy, and spent some of his money on life insurance. We all would like to think that we will live forever, or, at least, until a ripe golden age. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. Why add to the tragedy of being taken when still young with additional monetary strain on your loved ones?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

doubting myself

We have been listening to "Tom Sawyer" in the car. After Tom testifies against Injun Joe, the townspeople feel that he could become a president, if he does not get hung first. That encapsulates the way I feel about my boys.

I am totally relating to Aunt Polly, ready to "whip" them one moment for some infraction, and then they do or say something so sweet, and I just melt. This morning I could not get them through breakfast and davening and 9 yo misplaced his siddur yet again and I was fuming, as I was trying to get schoolwork done before the baby would wake up and they were just not complying. As I was getting dressed, I heard that they started on davening, and, for once, they put their individuality aside, and were rocking together, singing in unison. They were both grinning, having good time, and saying everything clearly. Ah, such a pleasure for an eye to behold! What was I even mad about?

I have been getting more and more desperate about how little writing they are producing, how, despite copious and constant reading, they are hesitant spellers, how 7 yo throws a fit over any writing that he has to do. Since 9 yo finished parshat Noach, for his siyum I asked him to come up with a d'var Torah. I was thinking more along the lines of an outline, from which to speak. He did not seem too eager, but all of a sudden, he is writing an elaborate biography of Noach, with illustrations in the margins. He is putting in details, like freshly-plowed field, and the surrounding generation of sinners. I do not know how long he will keep it up, but this is the kind of writing that I was hoping to see.

I wish I was "unenlightened", could just stick to a few textbooks, a curriculum, present it to my boys, and make them follow it, for their own good. I wish that I knew that we only have to cover this much material in this amount of time, and then I can check off that my job is done, and done well. I wish that I could just measure this, give them a test, waive the mark in the air like a flag of victory and proclaim to all: here, this is working! My kids are becoming educated!

However, it is my nature to ruminate, think things through, and question myself. I know that my boys are very different in their approach to learning. I know that what worked with 9 yo will not necessarily work with 7 yo, and some things that I am doing with 7 yo would not interest 9 yo in the least. I know that just being tough and single-minded and ignoring the child's input into learning backfires. So I cannot just enforce and enforce.

Maybe I am doing my kids a disservice by keeping them at home, yelling at them, not having a clear, planned approach and a lesson for each day. The thoughts of sending them to school, especially the oldest, having been flashing through my mind lately. Around lunch time today, after a particularly grueling Lashon HaTorah and more yelling and tears and redoing, when we were alone, I asked him: do you want to go back to school? He said, no. I asked, why not? First he said, then I will not have fresh lunch (he was having a PBJ). I pressed a bit, and then he said that he would not be able to attend homeschool zoo classes. I asked if there is anything else, and he said that he does not like finishing his work in five minutes and then sitting around, waiting for everyone. He also does not like how they daven so close to z'man kriat shema, while at home he can daven at netz. Funny, since this morning if I haven't pressed, he would have missed that z'man.

There are no easy answers. There are ups and downs. Just like Aunt Polly, I feel that my boys will go far, unless we screw up somewhere along the way....

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

planned and unplanned

I am in the middle of Lech Lecha with 7 yo, at the pasuk where Hashem tells Avram to look in all four directions. Since we spend two days on a pasuk, when we read it yesterday, I thought: "I should really print out a map of Israel and ask him to draw and label a compass rose. That way he will see why south is called desert and west is called sea." I mentioned it to him and he said, no thanks. Comes today, and I realize that I never printed out that map. While he is filling out a workbook page, I quickly printed out a map from and he very agreeably drew a compass rose on it. He asked me to draw a circle, then he added the points. I reminded him that north is usually on top, then he copied the word from the pasuk. He added the rest, very nicely asked for help in writing the letters that he was not sure how to form, got every direction in the right spot. He already knew that desert is to the south and the Mediterranean is to the west. Once the compass rose was completed, he asked me if he could hang it up in his room. He placed it over his top bunk.

This is giving me a serious pause. This kid does not like projects and decorating and workbooks. He really did just bare minimum here, but it must have tapped into something, otherwise he would not care where his final result would be.

The unplanned and totally unschool-y moment happened when I was tucking in 9 yo. We agreed that he will do his mishna assignment first thing tomorrow morning. Lately he has been very interested in defining things precisely, so he wanted to know how early he should get started. I said that he can eat breakfast, get dressed and daven first. Next thing I know, he is manipulating these and trying to figure out how many combinations could there be: first get dressed, daven and breakfast, or first get dressed, breakfast and daven... He came up with five. I told him these are called permutations. He thought there were nine possibilities. I said that there are six, for three items. I mentioned factorials (he has read most of Life of Fred, I bet they are there somewhere). I also explained what they meant. Then he wanted to know what happens if you have four: get dressed, daven, eat breakfast, look at assignments. I explained that the number of possibilites is 4*3*2 and he figured out that. We got up to five items and he calculated that 5!=120

That was so unplanned, but all of a sudden, it was so vital to know, just how many ways are there to get things done.

Maybe that's a lesson for me, too.