Tuesday, December 30, 2014

winter break or unschooling?

This week I am not doing formal schoolwork with the kids. 10 yo is on break from mishna, our coop classes are not meeting, and there is no taekwondo. I am sort of calling it a winter break.

However, it is shaping up to be a funny break. 1 yo has been sick, so I have not been getting a whole lot of sleep. I also scrambled all my plans. I arranged this whole outing for today, rallied a whole bunch of people to join me, and then had to cancel and stay home. Now, being shut in with four kids for a whole day, and no set schedule does sound like a recipe for disaster. A smart mom would have a back-up plan, with lessons and TV and other planned activities. A wise mom will play it by ear.

At 7 am, I was greeted with a detailed castle building plan, drawn up by 10 yo. I had to squint to see it, and could not process it without coffee. He was excitedly telling me how he is going to build this castle in Minecraft.

My husband took 10 yo and 4 yo yo shul with him. 8 yo ended up sleeping in till 9 am, which is unusual, but he said that he was up during the night, twice. Maybe the baby kept him up, just like he did to us. Thankfully, since we were not rushing anywhere, it was not a big deal. All the kids had breakfast with daddy, while I got dressed.

Then my husband learned with both boys before work, one at a time. He reviewed Vayigash with 10 yo, and then did three new pesukim with 8 yo. I helped 4 yo with her puzzles, and read to 1 yo his books. His favorite nowadays is "What's in There? All About Before You Were Born" by Robie Harris. He calls it "In there". We took it out of the library, and I do like it, although we do not always get to read each page. 4 yo called he brother a scoundrel, at a very appropriate moment. I guess we do not have to worry about SAT vocabulary prep.

10 yo moved on to designing his castle on graph paper, with detailed designations of which type of Minecraft blocks to use. Then I sent all three older kids out of the house, to play in the back yard. They came in appropriately muddy, with 10 yo carrying his hammer. I was told that there is a whole tool chest back there, mostly made out of sticks and discarded wood.

For lunch, the kids requested frozen Costco blintzes. We ate the whole double package. During lunch, somehow, we ended up discussing parts of speech. 10 yo gave a verb to 8 yo and asked him to add different prefixes and suffixes to it ( no doubt influenced by Lashon HaTorah). Then we switched to taking how some words can function as more than one part of speech, depending on the context. Funny how these things come up.

After lunch, I got started on trying to make a no-sew quilt from fleece squares. Unfortunately, I did not follow the instructions exactly, and 10 yo kept mumbling how if I would only let him use that borrowed sewing machine, he could sew a sleeping bag. I put my foot down, and said that he can sew by hand; I cannot allow him to use that machine. He sulked and told me all sorts of discouraging things about this quilt, which was not exactly turning out. I cut the fringes too short, so I could not tie them together. Meanwhile, 1 yo woke up, so I left this sulking kid to tie up the rest of the test side. It did look horrible.

So I let him go on Minecraft for an hour, He was able to log into his homeschool class, which officially does not start for another week. Then he proceeded to build his castle. An hour later, 8 yo got on, got into his class, read the first week's assignment, and did the quiz. All of that took place without any input from me. And this is the kid who might not test well. I guess when the material is interesting, and he is highly motivated, he can do it. Oh, and it was up to him whether to take that quiz or not. Maybe he does not understand about the stakes of testing. I do not know, but I am finding this to be a very interesting experience.

4 yo took a long piece of fleece, tied it around herself, and made a "baby carrier". Then she tied it in a different fashion, and demonstrated how her doll can be carried while awake, and while asleep. All she asked me to do was to save this piece for her. Then, later, she casually wrapped it around her neck as a scarf.

By this point in the afternoon, I decided it might be ripe time to load everyone in the car and head for a drive. 1 yo was raring to go outside. He is a funny kid: he is not flat out sick, he is still running around, just leaving a trail of snot. His eyes are teary, and he is a bit more subdued and moody than usual, but he does not sit still. We headed to the Museum of Design where boys had a workshop on Sunday, to pick up their 3-D printed creations from Minecraft. On the way over, I found out that the kids thought I went to "some prenatal dancing party" on my day off. I laughed. Mom got her groove! Watch out for that belly! I did tell them what I did, which sounded a whole lot less mysterious.

When we got to the museum, we found out that only 10 yo's sculpture was printed, but not 8 yo's. We were told that it is unusual, as they do not e-mail for pick-up till everything is ready. But there were 3 3-D printers right there in the lobby, with samples of work being printed on them. The boys pulled up chairs and watched the printers for a bit. 4 yo took up a designer challenge: design a chair for an astronaut on board a spaceship out of pipe cleaners. It had to accommodate a bulky spacesuit and work in zero gravity. She sat there, twisting and building, for good 15 minutes, till I pulled her away.

After we came home and had dinner, 8 yo suddenly remembered that my husband assigned him homework: to review ten pesukim. This is the first time I heard of it, but he opened the chumash and did it on his own. 10 yo used scraps of fleece to make himself a slingshot. He used juggling balls, and kept working on his design.

My husband sat 4 yo down and did some parsha with her.

Looking at the whole day, it is hard for me to say that my kids did not put in required 4 1/2 hours of "educational activities" for it not to count as a school day. It certainly did not require planning from me.

So I am at a crossroads: do I embrace unschooling now (with limits on screen time, especially for 10 yo), or do I continue with more traditional subjects until close to baby's arrival? Letting go of control is both liberating and terrifying.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

mommy's day out (photoblog)

I got out all by myself today. Here are some images:
The day was gloomy, with 100 % chance of rain. Luckily, just as I left house, the rain has stopped. I walked on a paved trail and saw these birds.

Train overpass

Everything was wet, and I just loved seeing the reflections in all the puddles.

selfie in a puddle

Acorn caps

The overcast day made for beautiful lighting.

The tree reflection in droplets on a bench was very Escher-like.

After the walk, I got a salad for lunch ( with all the ingredients that I wanted) and headed over to the museum to spend some time exploring on my own. I rarely get to spend as much time on the exhibit as I would like. I saw the exhibit on local folk arts. What stuck with me was a hand-spun maternity dress, over 150 years old. The color was a bit strange, but the style was nice. I wonder what future people will say about current maternity clothing (may it all rot in a landfill).

After the museum and the prenatal massage which I was totally craving in  my head, and not scheduling, I stopped by Hancock fabrics, on an impulse. (Could that folk art exhibit have anything to do with it?) Since I am borrowing a sewing machine, and since there was a huge fabric sale, I got some fleece to make no-sew blankets with the kids, and some cutesy fabric to make simple skirts for my daughter.

Finished 20 min skirt ( OK, it took me an hour)

As my last hurrah of the day, I met with a friend for some schwarma. I have been craving turkey, but how can I get just one slice? It was nice to pick out just the salads that I wanted instead of worrying what the kids will eat.
We split an order of fries, but we were unable to finish it. I brouhgt home the leftovers, to my kids' delight.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


It's Christmas and my husband is on call. He was called in twice during the night and I knew he had a c-section scheduled at noon today, so I could not count on him being around. The problem was, 1 yo woke up once when he was leaving, and then got up at 6 am.

After mulling and thinking what to do with all the kids, I agreed with a friend to meet at the playground, to let the kids run around. My boys wanted to go on a hike, but I am at the point in my pregnancy where I cannot use the baby carrier any more, so no more hikes without another adult.

By the time we drove to the playground, 1 yo managed to fall asleep in the car. The kids played and ran around, with quite a bit of attendant drama. Then I was planning on taking them out to lunch to one of the few kosher places open. The problem was, I did not do my research, so we drove up to a closed restaurant. 1 yo managed to fall asleep again.

Finally, we settled for pizza place, which was booming. My husband was able to meet us there, in between the procedures. Afterwards, as the kids finished, they went outside, and were walking on the ledges surrounding the walkway. 8 yo accidentally bumped 4 yo, who fell and skinned her knees. She was crying so hard, that even band-aids were not helping.

I headed home, with faint hope that 1 yo will take a proper nap in his crib. The boys asked to play in the backyard; it has been raining for days, and today was the first sunny and dry day. 4 yo told me that she is heading straight to her bed. I tucked in 1 yo, but after his two short naps, he did not sleep, 4 yo did nap, and for two whole hours. She came out refreshed.

She does not ordinarily take naps, but she knew that she had enough, and she knew exactly what to do. I never use naps as a punishment, and it is a pleasure to have a kid who can self-regulate like that.

Meanwhile, the boys came in, muddy. Around the time that 4 yo woke up, they asked to watch a movie downstairs, and I agreed, thinking how I will finish shabbos cooking. I even pulled produce onto the counter. Then I sat down on the couch, and the house was quiet. I just briefly closed my eyes...

I woke up quite a bit later, and the house was still quiet. The produce was still on the counter, the dinner was not made, and I was hoping that 1 yo was securely watching the movie or tearing down the basement, not escaping down the street.

I groggily checked on the kids, threw some food together, and grumpily called them up, to set the table. I did not feel rested, more passed out than anything. My husband did not come home till closer to 7, and 1 yo decided that dinner is the perfect time to throw a full tantrum and refuse to eat most of the food.

I keep thinking how my daughter knew exactly what she needed, and did not push herself to stay up, to play, to watch a movie. I keep thinking how I seem to be so out of sync with what my body needs, and even obvious signs of fatigue do not get enough attention. Perhaps I know that I need a nap, but I cannot relax enough to take one without an adult available to watch the kids. So the body takes over, and I literally fall asleep.

A babysitter called me earlier today, saying that she is available over the next week. I could not think of any specific outing that I would need her for. Wouldn't it be great to call her and say: hey, I feel like I need a nap now, can you come over?

As adults, how often are we given an abundance of things we do not need or want, yet we are sorely lacking in those immaterial essentials? Is it a result of upbringing, always pushing your needs away for the sake of some greater good? Or is it just a reality of being "an adult"? How much of happiness depends on healthy boundaries? How can we set those boundaries without being selfish?

Monday, December 22, 2014

no reason to worry

My daughter is reading. Yes, we have been doing a Bob book here and there (she is on fifth book in the first set, I believe), and yes, I knew that she could sound out first letter of 8 yo's spelling words, and yes, I have been pointing out words that she asked me about. But I did not expect that she is much further along.

My future SIL gave her a set of sticker books for Chanukah. They are pretty simple, with sticker outline in the book and a sticker on a separate piece of paper. However, there are words under the outlines, telling which sticker goes there. I saw that she was reading/guessing some of those. Of course she did not know how to blend two consonants, or "e at the end makes the vowel say its name", but she was motivated enough to try to figure those out. Unfortunately, all of this was taking place in 20 minutes before I had to leave for taekwondo, so we parted in the middle of this activity. I should also mention a certain young man who was busily trying to peel off stickers and rip up the whole exercise. Before today, I spent a fair amount of time beating myself up for not reading those Bob books consistently.

Yesterday, I took three older kids bike riding. 4 yo inherited her brother's bike, which is sort of big. My husband attached training wheels. This was second or third time that she was riding it. She was so not sure of herself at the beginning, with boys zooming right ahead into the park and then returning to hustle us along. She was worried about going too fast. She was worried about not making it up the incline. She kept braking and stopping "to breathe". Considering the size of the park, I almost asked her whether she wanted to put the bike back in the car and simply walk. Yet she persevered. We made it to the playground, and there, after swinging and playing for a few minutes, she got back on her bike, to practice some more.

By the time we were done, she was quite a pro. She even started talking about taking off those training wheels. All of this blossoming of confidence and mastery took place over less than two hours.

1 yo is talking. He was quite a quiet baby, lots of expression, but almost no words for a long time. He got just about everything he wanted by pointing, saying "this", and making incoherent sounds. For a while, he would not imitate words being spoken to him. All my other kids started speaking pretty early or on time, so he was definitely behind. He was constantly being spoken to, and read to, so exposure was not the concern. Yet, over the course of a past month, his vocabulary exploded. I am not even keeping track of how many words he has, but all those words spoken to him are there. He has word combination, idioms, fragments of speech. His speech is purposeful and clear. I have no more reason to worry.

8 yo has been saying "al hanisim" the entire Chanukah. I know it was hard for him, as we read over it together a few times and he was not fluent. I was discussing with my husband how his chumash has not been happening over the course of a past week, but he pointed out that he is clearly working on all this davening. He has been going to shul, saying the entire shemone esre, and participating in shabbos mincha and maariv. The other day, he got to say birchot hashachar for the congregation. He glowed like a million bucks, although he said that it was no big deal. For a child who cannot sit still through long davening, all this hard work is taking place on his terms.

As parents, it is so easy  to look at all those other kids, and worry. It is easy to worry about kids walking, and talking, and reading, and mastering Judaics, and developing middos. It is easy to give up, thinking that kids will never say "please" without prompting, or they will never grasp algebra, or get to gemara, or stop harassing their sibling. Yet, one of the beauties of doing homeschooling ( or just spending so many darn freaking hours) with a child is the slow realization that most of these things will happen in their proper time, on child's terms. My job as a parent is to be a guide, and a support. I do not need to constantly cheer them on, I do not need to bribe or harass them. I do not need to punish them. I do not need to reward them, either. I just need to be present, available for help or consultation as it is solicited.

I need not worry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

on fiercely competitive latkes

Every year, my kids look forward to Chanukah. Every year, I feel like a phony going into it.

It is not a major holiday, yet the expectations are through the roof. There are eight days, so there is hypothetically time to get it "right", even if not on the first night. There are candles to light (and husband who might or might not be around when it's time to light). There are menorahs to fill with oil. There is food, lots of labor-intensive food. There are presents, which I normally try to avoid, yet they somehow crop up.

There is a song, which contains a line "every mother prepares delicious latkes". It makes me feel like a fake more than anything. I can make good latkes, but, somehow, I do not always feel inspired around this time of year. I did not grow up celebrating Chanukah, and my mother was certainly not making latkes. I feel that there is this expectation of latke perfection, crisp and hot, emerging just as candles are lit. Usually for us, it is time of intense phone negotiations of whether my husband will be home to light or not, coming back from somewhere, rushing, whiny kids, toddlers trying to knock off the menorahs. These awesome latkes just do not have space to be made in such an atmosphere. Every year, I dread them, and every year I end up making them, with bitterness and resentment.

This year, it seems, the foodies are trying to outdo themselves. I saw a recipe for beet latkes with goat cheese. I did not even investigate: my kids will not eat them, and I hate goat cheese, There are poutine latkes, which made Wall Street Journal. One friend proudly displayed Jerusalem artichokes, harvested from her garden, surely organic, about to become her latkes, So the pressure is being ratcheted up.

I bought 10 lbs of potatoes, in anticipation of all this latke hullabaloo. I also bought my secret ingredient: yucca. It goes nicely with potatoes, and adds crispness to the latkes without adding any taste that my kids find disagreeable.

This morning, I got up, dreading the night. My husband said that he should be home by candle lighting, and taekwondo was not happening due to promotion test. 8 yo told me last night how he had plans to make a Chanukah puppet show, and would I so kindly write it down into his planner as an activity for today?

So I figured that no real school work will take place, not on his end. 10 yo ended up helping him with drawing the backgrounds. I had to remind him a few times not to hijack his brother's story, but, overall, they worked together, drawing and cutting. At some point, 10 yo was writing down his own script. He also wrote down his own plan for today, which included mishna homework, chumash, language review and geography. 8 yo did typing and Rosetta Stone. Not bad for no interference and whip cracking on mommy's part.
Older brothers are the best: they put you in a swing, they push you

The baby took an earlier and shorter nap, and the sun came out from behind the clouds. I hustled the boys to the park for a few hours, to enjoy this gift of great weather, before it was time to get my daughter from her preschool. When we got home, I rigged up the extension cord for the PVC menorah and wound up the last two strands of lights.

Then I came inside. 10 yo followed me on my heels, offering to peel potatoes for latkes. He peeled and chopped, and then suggested adding carrot to one batch, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of a stuffed bunny. I have been hearing about this birthday bunny for weeks now, but it did not make food demands. I told 10 yo that I expect humans not to complain too much when they find carrot in their latkes, and was reassured that some humans will eat it, as long as I make a separate batch without carrot.
crunchy munchy latkes

Then, as I was mixing batter, he offered to show 1 yo Chanukah movies, to keep him out of the kitchen and away from hot oil. I asked him to organize his brother and sister to set the dining room table for dinner. They got out a cloth tablecloth,wine glasses, candles, and a light-up globe. I was not supervising at all, hoping for the best.

A great miracle happened here: my husband did make it home for candle lighting, the latkes were all done by the time he came in, nobody got burned on the candles, and we were treated to a beautifully set table. The kids ate the carrot latkes. Then they each had a bag of chocolate gelt, with 1 yo managing to eat one coin still in foil. 8 yo treated us to a puppet show. He got 4 yo to hold up the backgrounds, as he narrated and spoke for all the characters. They were not fancy, all drawn in pencil, with an obvious touch from 10 yo, but it was clear that some thought and preparation went into the narrative. Jokes were inserted. Some paper violence might not make it a suitable show for very young children. No presents were mentioned, not even once, even though I sat on Amazon and ordered them something. (I usually get them yom tov gifts, but this year I did not get around to it when chagim were here, so I sort of owed it to them. Nothing like mommy guilt to make the world go round.)

Now I dread tomorrow night, when there will be taekwondo, and there will be crazy dinner crunch coupled with candle lighting. At least I have some latke leftovers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

PVC pipe menorah

Last year, I got ourselves PVC pipes, draped them with LED lights, and called it our outdoor menorah. It felt funny, like channeling some inner Chabad. Also, I wanted my kids to look out the window at our menorah, not just wistfully at our neighbors' lit-up lawns and houses.
Marking off the measurements
This year, I had the whole plan to make a base for the menorah out of PVC connectors. I was hoping that the boys would design the stand, make all the measurements and I would serve as an advisor and chauffeur to Home Depot for the supplies. As it was getting closer to Chanukah, it was becoming clearer that if i wanted the menorah to have a base, I will need to take matters into my own hands.
10 yo using PVC cutters. I was nervous about his fingers,
 but he was quite careful
Very conveniently, a local Chabad was holding a menorah building workshop in Home Depot this past Sunday. I signed the kids up, and, once they were situated under my husband's supervision, I went off to collect the necessary supplies. I must have been quite a sight, marching through the store with a 10 foot pipe protruding from both ends of the cart. I got one long pipe, T connectors to hold up each "candle" and X connectors for stabilizing feet. I also got super cement to glue the whole thing together. Finally, I splurged on PVC cutters, as I was not sure what length we will need for each piece.

This morning, I started off by telling 10 yo that his math involved figuring out how to measure and cut the correct length of each piece. We sketched and diagrammed. I ended up calculating with him together. It was not as trivial as it appeared, and he ended up having to multiply both decimals and fractions (that is the section that he is currently learning in math). Once all the measurements and the calculations were complete, we had to wait for 1 yo take his nap, so I could focus on the older kids.
the base
At the beginning, all three participated, but then the younger two went off to play. 10 yo did most of the work. He marked off the measurements, used cutters to clip sections, and connected the pieces. He commented how the completed base looked like an antenna. I ended up winding up the lights.Two of the strands were used for the Succah, so I'm yet to retrieve them.
attaching the legs to the base


I did not ended up using PVC  cement, as we found that the piece fit in snugly without it. I liked the idea that I can take the menorah apart every year instead of being forced to store it as one bulky piece (it is 5 feet long). That being said, I am not sure whether it will be sturdy enough without the glue holding the pipes in place. We will live and we will learn.

Monday, December 8, 2014

a prisoner of mood swings

We have been having some really great days with 8 yo. No, we have not changed anything that I can say. Daddy has been around a bit more, and they have been horsing around a bit more, but not in any new way. We have not started any medication, supplements or therapy. We have not cut out gluten (although I do try to avoid food coloring and extra sugar, but I am not strict about it). Anyway, it has been almost gloriously smooth.

Until today.

Today we were supposed to go to the nature center for a homeschool day. We have been in the past, and I always wonder how much schoolwork to plan on a day like this. On one hand, it's a field trip, and I get quite tired from it to do anything extra. On the other hand, I find the kids are sitting around, when they could be learning or reviewing something. So I decided to keep it to a minimum.

10 yo was learning mishna right after shacharit, and then I asked him to do one page of math. For 8 yo, who also went to shul, I asked him to do math only, hoping that if my husband comes home early enough, they can do some chumash. 10 yo shrugged and proceeded to math. 8 yo dramatically dropped to the floor, and laid there,  motionless.

Now this was going on as my daughter was pulling out large scissors and glue stick for her project, and 1 yo was diligently dumping books off the bookshelf. I still had to pack our lunch. I had it all laid out, it just had to be placed into the cooler backpack. I knew that if I focused on 1 yo, and read him a book, he would stop, I knew that 4 yo wanted me to read to her, too, only 1 yo kept yanking that book out of my hands. I was getting upset that 8 yo balked at one school thing that he was assigned. Meanwhile, 10 yo was having difficulty with his math, and also needed help.

I found myself helplessly sitting at the table, yelling at 4 yo having scissors where 1 yo can get them, yelling at 10 yo rounding off answers and not showing his work, yelling at 8 yo for being so darn freaking dramatic and not even trying. It might be hard to explain what it feels like to be held hostage by a child's unpredictable mood.

In the end, he sulked off to his room to do his math, 10 yo did not even finish his one page, and I forgot to grab my cellphone. We were running late, and 1 yo was screaming. I shushed and shushed kids in the car, even though they were not doing anything objectively objectionable. We barely made it.

Today's homeschool class involved a Starlab, an inflatable dome onto which the night sky is projected. I knew it was meant for kids ages 5 and up, but I was not sure whether my daughter would stay. (For the purists, she will be five in a month, so this is a technicality). She chose to stay with her brothers to go inside the dome while I took 1 yo out in a stroller to see the beaver in his enclosure.

Later, the kids came out and even did the little prepared crafts. 8 yo was concerned about making a "holiday" craft, which involved pinpricking the stars in a printed constellation and then decorating a frame with nature objects such as acorns, tiny pine cones, seeds and leaves. I said that I do not feel that there is anything wrong with making such a craft.

As the kids were working at various stations, a staff member came up to tell me how much 8 yo knew about the stories of the constellations. I assumed he meant 10 yo, the master talker, but he said, no, the younger one. I asked 8 yo where he learned all these stories; I certainly do not recall teaching him any, or him reading up on the subject matter. He reminded me of the astronomy class he took at the coop last year. Yeah, I definitely do not give this kid enough credit...

Then we drove home, and the math was still looming. 10 yo sat down and did his one problem, incorrectly. Then he moved on to his mishna homework. 8 yo went back to complete meltdown. I told him to step outside. His best response was, Hashem made a mistake in creating me. I said, Hashem does not make mistakes, and you have to be the best kid that you can be.

Soon, it was time to leave for taekwondo. I told the boys to bring their schoolwork, and to do it there, while waiting for their class.10 yo brought his mishna, and the second volume of Harry Potter. Harry Potter won. Meanwhile, 8 yo brought his math binder over. We ended up doing it after his class. He finished the whole page, with very minimal help, in five minutes. As we completed it, I asked, were your fits worth it? He responded, no, and that he is sorry for his behavior.

So here I am, a hostage to my child's moods. I know that I should be a wise parent, rising above such hiccups, I know that I should take a deep breath, hold it together, stay calm and reassuring. But I also know that there is no rhyme or reason to these fits. Today can be horrible, and tomorrow can be sunny. Today can be peachy, and tomorrow the world will be coming to an end. Today I can plan, and carry out, and tomorrow everything will get scrambled. I am flexible, but this is taxing beyond basic flexibility.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On tzniut (modesty)

Tzniut is not the skirt that a little girl wears, but the leggings or the pants, so when she swings upside down on the monkey bars, the whole world does not see her underwear.

Tzniut is not the early age when a girl starts wearing a skirt, but the insistence that she changes her clothes somewhere private, because her body is private.

Tzniut is the gut reaction I have to my daughter's ballet, with its emphasis on leotard and frilly tutu dress code, and on looking beautiful and perfect.

Tzniut is covering my hair. Under my hats and tichels, I do not stress whether I am having a bad hair day. I do not worry about the grays. I do not concern myself with how often I get a haircut. I do not hide under these wraps, rather, I feel confident. I love my hair, and it did change from all the years of being covered, but I am more than an outward appearance.

Tzniut is not having to "put on a face" and being worried about being seen without makeup. I present my internal "me" instead of feeling that I need to cover up and make myself into something socially expected.

Tzniut is watching which words I use in a conversation with my friends. If it's an inappropriate reference that I would not use in front of a rabbi, I should not use it in front of a friend. G-d is always there, you know.

Tzniut is never about the length of a skirt. Tzniut is not about hiding in a tent. Tzniut is not about being hidden from view, being timid. I do not like Sarah, privately sitting in a tent. I like Rivkah, who crafted her own destiny, and the destiny of her son. I like Leah, who made the best of a terrible situation by going out and brazenly hiring her husband. G-d answered Leah, she had three more kids.

Tzniut is aligning your outside with your inside, not aligning your outside with the outside of everyone else. I am liberated by the freedom to be comfortable, to wear the clothes I love instead of following the current trend.

mug cakes

A friend posted about making mug cakes. 10 yo saw this post this morning, and made me watch the video which showed how to make those cakes. I was a bit skeptical, but he was very excited by it. I emailed the link to him, asking him to print out the recipes. None of them spoke to me (I am not a fan of food coloring or peanut butter), so I looked up a mug chocolate cake to make for myself.

My chocolate cake
By lunchtime, I made my cake. I did eat real food first. It was easy, and I liked how quickly it went from ingredients to edible product. My eldest sampled a spoonful and made funfetti cake next. I warned him that it is not the same as in the video: he will need to mix it in a bowl and then split it between two mugs. Then I got my behind out of the kitchen, hoping not to meddle.

I was called in a few minutes later with a quote: "Sometimes it looked like spilled milk, and it was the spilled milk." There was a small milk spill being mopped up. Only one parve bowl switched to being milchig. 10 yo did handle the instructions by himself. I showed him how to convert the recipe part calling for self-rising flour to the right baking powder proportion. I did not measure anything out.

We did not have funfetti, but we did have some sprinkles. 10 yo dumped in the last bits, commenting how this is the only product that he knows of that contains trans fat. I inwardly sighed: fine, poison yourself, eat totally unhealthy food. He did need help dividing the batter between two mugs.

When the final product came out, he applied whipped cream and dug in. He went from being all thumbs up to disappointed pretty quickly. "This is terrible! It doesn't even taste good. I don't want to finish it." His brother, who got the other mug, had no problem with his cake. I didn't taste it, being all filled up with yummy chocolate.

Over the weekend. we had a whole discussion about the role of teachers in education. I was thinking about today's experience, and the numerous life lessons it contained. There was very little grown-up input, and no instruction beyond following the recipe. It was a purely child-driven experience: he saw something that caught his eye, he was interested, he had time and resources to carry it out, and he had to assess himself whether he was happy with the results and deal with disappointment.

Another homeschool friend was commenting on inability to do creative things with her older child due to the presence of a much younger sibling. I feel that my kids are finally entering that realm where they can direct their own creative experiences, and I can sit back and wait to be summoned. 1 yo was napping while the mug cake production was going on, but I did not feel responsible for either supervision, or the final result. I was quite relaxed and just enjoying the goings on.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where are we?

10 yo finished Horaiyot in Mishna and moved right into Bava Batra. Why? He is planning to finish Nezikin. He also taught me that Avot (Pirkei Avot) is in Nezikin. So far he has done Sanhedrin and Makkot, so it makes sense. He is also fired up (today) to learn Gemara. I said that it is up to his rebbe.

In Chumash we are nearing the end of Vayigash. He is comfortable, flying right through. We normally do five pesukim a day, but today it was genealogy, so he chose to do more. He also noticed that both Reuven and Peretz have a son named Hetzron. "Must have been a popular name!" I never noticed it. I look over Rashi before we start and decide which ones to do. Lately, it has been working out to one-three Rashis per day, although I never refuse a chance to do more, if he asks me a question that Rashi answers.

10 yo finished Level II of Rosetta Stone. We also read our way through a Hebrew paperback, a few paragraphs per day. He did not mind pulling out a dictionary to look up words that he did not know. I supplied him with some words that I did know, but left some important ones foe him to look up. My Hebrew was nowhere near the level where I could read the whole book and understand every single word. I hope to read more of those books this year.

As far as Lashon haTorah, he is in the middle of workbook hey, on tzivui. It is easy, and I am almost stretching it out for him.

In math, we are slugging through Math Mammoth, which obfuscates with its Common Core garbage. An example is the drawn-put and confusing explanation of how to multiply decimals. I think they are pushing for understanding that numbers can be rounded off to whole numbers, and that answer still needs to make sense, but I am getting impatient having to explain yet another nifty (and useless) approach to something that can be shown much more easily either with fractions, or with whole numbers. Just teach the kids to stick in decimal point later!

8 yo finished 1st grade spelling program from k12reader.com. I used it to build up confidence, and he really learned how not to get totally frustrated when he does not know how to spell a word. Now, whenever he writes something, he tries to spell, or asks me to help him instead of refusing like he used to. He also seems to see the patterns to spelling rules. Now he tries to write the word out, and read it, and see if his spelling makes sense. While it seems silly to rejoice that he can spell on the 1st grade level, I feel that we have a major accomplishment here.

He is in the middle of Keyboarding Without Tears. He likes those trophies, and always chooses to do typing first. I wonder whether this constant input of words has helped with his spelling and his writing abilities.

We are doing First Language Lessons slowly. He tends to do them on a more sophisticated level than the book expects, which is fine with me. He finds them easy, and annoying sometimes.

In math, he is on par with Math Mammoth. He is reviewing telling time from analog clocks, and it seems to click much better now than it did before.

The boys keep on reading, a lot. 10 yo took put first volume of Harry Potter out of the library, and read it in two days. Now he felt ready for it. It was always available, and he was aware of its existence, but a part of him was not ready to read it until now. After our vacation, he commented how not reading anything besides Calvin and Hobbes for a few days made him moody.

4 yo does her own thing: lots of coloring, lots of imaginative play, lots of snuggles and reading on the couch. I keep beating myself up for not doing more "academic" things with her, but she seems to be thriving. One thing, though: she keeps on playing "school". She is always going to school, coming back from school, and, in some way or other, involved in school. I have a lot of my own reservations about putting her in school next year, but, due to this persistent theme, I am thinking about it.

1 yo is a walking, talking, eating machine. He still spends a lot of energy on unclear communication, but he is doing all normal toddler things: tearing up the house, making messes, coloring where he shouldn't. He now has his favorite books, and will sit through a whole book.

As an overview, I see how we are slowly getting there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

staying positive

8 yo is all excited about our trip. As I am tucking him in (all deep and meaningful conversations seem to happen at bedtime), he is telling me how he is planning on bringing one of his stuffed animals on the trip.

8 yo: " I will have to make a warm bed for animals left behind. This one really wants to come with us. It's so cuddly."
Me, distractedly : "If you lose it, it's your responsibility. I will not be looking for stuffed animals that leave home."
8 yo: "Mommy, can't you stay positive? Why do I have to lose it?"

Yes, my dear child, you are absolutely right, I will try to stay positive.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a really big heart

This morning, I ran out to get some scarves from a private showing. It is Sunday, and my husband was planing on taking the older kids to Gem and Mineral Show while I was planing to nap 1 yo and organize the sunroom.

When I came back, steam was coming out of my husband's ears, and 8 yo was crying. My husband asked him to do chumash. He did not expect to do chumash today, so he totally melted down. It took them an hour to torture their way through three pesukim. I was just shaking my head. At some point, I volunteered to take 10 yo and 4 yo to the show, while the learners would sit and finish up. However, they did complete it, had brunch, and left.

I got to the point in the sun room where I emptied out all the messy cubbies, and then 1 yo woke up. So now there is a pile of mess on the floor of the sun room, but the cubbies look nice and neat. The pile is bad enough for the kids to ask: what happened here?

But that is not what I want to focus on.

The car pulls up. The kids pile out. 8 yo comes in, beaming: "Mommy, I got you a gift!" I turn around and see that he is holding a tiny jewelry pouch. Inside are little earrings. "Mommy, these are mystic quartz. You irradiate quartz and you get mystic quartz. Mommy, do you like them? I got them for you for doing all those nice things that you do for us. It's nice to get you a present once in a while to say thank you. Mommy, we're having pizza for dinner? I love pizza, thank you for making it."

He leaves the room, and I am speechless and choked up. I am putting on these little studs. My husbands shakes his head: "Where did you get a kid like that?" Then he tells me how 8 yo got a grab bag of stones for 4 yo since she does not have her own money, and he was considering getting me another set of earrings, but that was outside of his price range. 10 yo was upset; he got nothing because he is saving his money. However, he used golden wire and wrapped it around a black polished stone (8 yo's gift to him as a consolation), and presented me with that pendant.

Before they left for the show, when the kids were outside and out of ear shot, I was complaining bitterly to my husband how I cannot take 8 yo's angry outbursts any more, how his hysterics and dramatics leave me drained; how I feel like a hostage to his emotions. Now I feel like the luckiest mom on the face of this earth: I have a sweet, caring kid. Maybe he will not master chumash, maybe he will not be quick with his numbers, but his heart is so firmly in the right place, that I have a thing or two to learn from him.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

enjoying schoolwork

This just happened, and I almost missed it.

The boys were taking a long time getting into bed tonight and I almost did not tuck them in. Then I had pity and went into their room to give them kisses. They already said Shema. As I am bending over to kiss 8 yo:

"Mommy, I can't wait for our trip. (We are going away for Thanksgiving). Why are we going?"
"We are going on a little vacation."
"Mommy, can I bring a little bit of schoolwork? I was thinking just chumash and a pencil and spelling. Oh, and a couple of math worksheets. Can I bring those?"
I am a bit stumped, as in struck by lightning.
"You like doing those school things, don't you?"
"Yes. So can I bring them?"
"Yes, let's make a list tomorrow morning so we don't forget."

Just this week a friend was telling me in the same sentence how she is burned out by homeschooling, and they are going away for a week, but she is planning on bringing some schoolwork. I was advising her to let it all go for a week, and give herself and her kids a real vacation.

My own kid proved me wrong. This child just requested to do schoolwork on vacation! So here is my revised suggestion: if your kid asks to bring schoolwork along, do it; if they don't, leave it at home.

And this is what child-led learning looks like.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

morning rush

8 am dentist appointment

If you are a homeschooler, you are groaning already, just from reading a previous line.

Two weeks ago, I saw a dental appointment written into my planner. Six months ago, when I made it, it was perfectly clear (or I was too rushed to make a full note) who the appointment was meant for, but now, I just could not remember whether it was my cleaning, or the kids' dentist. My husband was also telling me how our dental coverage is running out at the end of the month, so whoever the appointment was for, another one would have to be scheduled before the month was out.

I guessed it was for the kids, so I called their dentist. Turns out it was for me, but the receptionist was able to squeeze all three of them into one morning slot. The only hitch was, it was 8 am slot.

My kids are generally early risers. The only one whom I ever have to wake up is 8 yo, and I try not to resort to that often, But what my kids do with their early morning does not involve rushing out the door. They lounge on the couch. They read. The eat slow bowls of breakfast. They unload the dishwasher. They decide whether to toast bagels, and how long to spend on spreading them with cream cheese. They learn how to make tea for themselves and mommy's coffee. And then, when the breakfast time is over, they get dressed and daven. We pit a premium on slow morning pace. Even with all that, we are usually ready to start on schoolwork by 9 am, earlier for 10 yo.

It's no fun to rush in the morning.This morning, we would have to be there by 8 am. My kids love their dentist, and the office. They did not stall, but getting out the door that quickly was turning into a nightmare. I found myself constantly hustling them along: Eat already! Go brush your teeth! Why are you not dressed yet? Do you have enough time to daven? The height of ridiculousness was reached when I found myself saying: put on your feet! They all burst out laughing.

Then we got to the car and I found it covered in a layer of frost. The scraper was inside the house, and I literally did not have those extra five minutes for the car to properly defrost. I started driving, and then, with the sun shining on the ice crystals (which were beautiful, by the way, but I had no time to reflect on their beauty), I realized that I am driving without any visibility. We ended up stopping and I used the flat back of a tube of lotion to scrape a spot big enough to see.

People always think how homeschooling is so hard. I say, getting out of the house with all the kids early every morning is hard! I actually wonder whether part of the reason people resent spending time with their kids has to do with constant rushing and constant keeping up with the schedule. I heard of people putting their kids to sleep in clothes for the next day, or sending them to school with a granola bar because there is no time for breakfast. I heard of people dragging half-asleep kids out of bed to school because, well, they have to go! And what if they are late, and get enough sleep, and take their time? What if there is no time crunch?

I was thinking this morning how if I had to do this every single morning, I would go crazy. I would resent my kids, and they would resent me. It's a cliche about homeschoolers sleeping in  (and then doing school in their pajamas), but there is more to it than a simple laziness. It's a reflection of a different, calmer lifestyle. It's a progressive step in parenting. It's an adventure in self-regulation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

getting creative

It is November. As one of my veteran homeschooling moms reminds me (every year) it is a time for burning out, wanting to throw in a towel, or storm out of the house, get on the first bus to nowhere, and disappear off the face of the earth. It is also a prime time of year to see other people boast about what their kids are accomplishing, and to feel like a total failure.

I am suffering from burnout. I am also suffering from unsaid assumptions that I can take on other responsibilities, and put up with grown-ups behaving like kids. If it wasn't for my brutally honest homeschooling friends, and for some other friends who are willing to put up with my insane mood swings, I would be on that first bus.

I have set a new limit this week: I am off after 2 pm. That means that all the schoolwork that requires mommy's checking or assistance has to be completed by that time. It is probably not the best thing for my kids, for me to be unavailable like that. It is probably another cause of anxiety for 8 yo. But it is a much-needed mental boundary for me. Therefore, now it is 2 pm, 1 yo is still napping, and I can sit down and write a blog while I still feel sane rather than at 10 pm at night.

This new boundary is liberating. I might regret it, and I might not stick with it, but, at the moment, this is what I crave the most.

I love drinking tea and coffee. I allow myself one cup of coffee a day (some days it has to be two, if I don't want to fall asleep while driving). But I drink cups and cups of steaming decaf tea. The sad story of moms and hot drinks is that, often, too much time passes between the time the drink is poured, and mom can actually drink it. And I feel cold, always. Even being pregnant does not warm me up. But coming back to these lukewarm cups of beverage seems to add to misery rather than soothe me. This morning, I poured my tea into an insulated mug. Ah, a moment of inspiration! It has a lid, so the drink stayed warm all while I could casually sip it. I am on my third hot cup, and I am feeling peaceful.

Last summer I got into watercolor painting. I enjoyed it tremendously, and got basic supplies while the kids were in camp. The baby, who was a few months old napped, the kids were at camp, I painted. I also dabble in acrylics, and some pottery painting. The problem, all these lovely hobbies take time and creative energy. All of them are incompatible with an active and demanding toddler. And all of them lose all luster at 10 pm, I am a morning person. That's when I get desire to shake things up, create, give to the world. By the evening time, I am wrung out. I do not want to give, and I do not want to produce. I want a warm blanket on a couch, and a good book.

I found that the longer I went without doing those creative things, the sadder I got. I saw how days went by, but there was nothing that I could show for them. Finally, I just used my babysitter time to go and work on a trivet at a pottery painting place. I happened to pick a pattern which is very heavy on details, so it is taking me multiple sessions to finish it. It is probably not the wisest use of my time, but I am finding that no matter how efficient and productive I am, there is always more to do, and none of that "to do" was going towards my sanity or self-care. Somehow, doing those little curlicues is like a balm. I am not kidding myself into thinking that I am producing a great work of art, but I am relaxing.

What little creative things do you do to boost your mood?

P.S. I am finishing this blog post at 9:30 pm. Sigh...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

snippets of unschooling

10 yo insisted that we start on Vaigash, even though he did not finish reviewing Miketz. I read the first perek and casually told him that we will not be doing a lot of Rashis, as they seem to contradict p'shat. In p'shat, Yehudah is begging Yosef for mercy, in midrash (which he was aware of), Yehuda is powerful and threatening. I thought 10 would rejoice, but he insisted on doing those Rashis inside; he was intrigued by what was that hidden drash. We finished the first perek.


Tonight, at dinner, 4 yo asked me what's six plus three. I mindlessly told her to try to figure it out. She declared that she wants to do math, now. I asked her what she wants to use for counting, assuming it will be blocks, beads, or books (her recent choice). She chose her fingers. I was in the middle of washing dishes when I realized that she was counting out six, on two hands. Then she added three, and then she added them all together, all on her own. She was very satisfied with nine, and that was the end of math for tonight.


I got a video out of the library on math tricks and card tricks. 8 yo picked it to be watched tonight. I thought it would be more about math strategies than card tricks, but I was wrong. The last trick, called "The Mail," he did not get. It is actually a pretty silly trick, so I asked him whether he wanted me to show it to him. He was agreeable, so we practiced it two times, and he finally got it that there is no trick, just an assumption. The real show of confidence and understanding would be him performing it for others.


1 yo pulls a step stool up to the kitchen sink, climbs on it, and says: "Wash!" He is finally talking, although there is still a lot of gibberish. However, he is clearly learning the ways of a Jewish home.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


I am expecting.

I am not a fan of such public announcements. There is a part of me where I would want to see you in person and tell you myself, or let you notice my expanding belly and comment on that. But there is a large group of people whom I would want to notify, but we do not live in the same city, and we have not seen each other in years, so they would not know unless I tell them.

I can wait till I have the baby, till it's obvious. But there is something else that I need to share.

We have four kids. Somehow, when you have four kids, people feel that it is their business to ask, right off the bat: "So how many more are you having?" In this scenario, and in a frum world, it is not a surprise to be having another one. People expect it, almost, same way as they expect their unstable relative to ruin the holidays, or for a toddler to throw another tantrum. It's easy to roll your eyes, and twist your finger at the temple afterward.

With each one of my kids, we had good fortune of deciding: "Honey, let's have a baby", and then get pregnant right away. (I will throw it in here that I did have one miscarriage, and I am familiar with the painful, dark place which brings up all sorts of feelings of inadequacy.) But this time it was different. This time, I felt like I am already drowning. This time, I was in the midst of figuring out what to do with 8 yo, school-wise. This time, we were using birth control, and no human error occurred. This time, it was: "Honey, we are having a baby. AHHH!" This time, my logical self demanded another pregnancy test, because it was just too weird. I was not supposed to be getting pregnant at this point in the game.

Why am I confessing to having an unplanned pregnancy? Because 50 % of all pregnancies are unplanned, including married people, including families, including people who already have kids. And the feelings that come with an unplanned pregnancy are very different.

We love smirking at unwed mothers; we love feeling superior to teenagers who somehow managed to get pregnant, and more than once. We love feeling that we, as stable married people, know better. We also love that we do not have to fess up if there is an "accident".

Before anyone goes on a rampage about how all life is precious, and all babies are meant to be, I want to share a little experience. When my daughter was born, I had boys out of diapers for months. It felt good not lugging a diaper bag and a change of clothes everywhere I went. We planned for my daughter, we were thrilled to have her, and I knew by that point what taking care of a newborn looked like. Still, having to go back to elaborate packing routine just to get out to the park after not having to do it for a while felt painful. It felt like a setback. It felt that we were almost at that threshold, and then we took a step back. On this day, we made it out to the park. At that park, somehow, the conversation among mothers turned to some poor woman who discovered that she was pregnant, again, at her postpartum visit. The lady telling the story regaled how she was sobbing her eyes out, and the whole block knew. She finished by saying how one just needs to spend some time with women struggling with infertility to realize what a wonderful blessing it is to have another baby so easily.

I was about 6 weeks postpartum, and I remember thinking: if I found myself pregnant at that point, I would probably sob my eyes out, too. It would be a wonderful world where women suffering from infertility would put their energy and mothering emotions into helping other overwhelmed mothers who just need an hour of sleep, of sanity, of peace. Yet it does not work that way. Once you have too many kids (and that number varies by culture and by place), people look at you and expect you to solve this puzzle all on your own. And those women struggling to conceive will not help out, they will just look at you with jealousy or anger, since you have it so easy.

So let's quit pretending that only unwed mothers end up with unplanned pregnancies. And let's validate emotions of women who do find themselves accidentally pregnant, no matter what are their circumstances.

As for me, I am still taking time processing how this will affect our life. I know exactly what it's like to have two kids two years apart. I also know that it takes about 18 months postpartum to reach the point of trying to plan anything in life which is not directly tied to the baby. It takes another 18 months till those plans can be achieved. The youngest has to be about 3 for a mommy to get her energy and life back. I am recognizing that after my headstrong and curious 1 yo I will not get that space, I will sail straight into another postpartum. I am just getting a smidgen of those grand ideas going now, and I know that all of those will need to be on hold for another 3 years or so. I am making peace with that.

The story of my life is learning to let go of being in control, and being forced to take the journey wherever it might lead me. I often think that I internalized that lesson. Yet, time and again, I find out that I did not absorb it enough. Having an unplanned baby is the ultimate surrender of control.
Credit: http://www.anythinglime.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/heart_hands_pregnant_belly-1024x682.jpg
Unplanned, yet wanted.
Unplanned, yet the kids are overflowing with joy at the news of another sibling.
Unplanned, yet teaching me already some valuable lessons.

The road less traveled... made all the difference.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

elusive nannies

Hiring a nanny online is like online dating. I was always thankful that I met my husband in the "olden days", before online dating was a thing, and I did not have to suffer through the uncertainty that nobody can vouch for that person, that I will be stood up, that the online profile will not match with reality.

When we spoke to our friends with any experience about hiring help, everyone told us that they use care.com. Ironically, this is the same organization that a school suggested for hiring a shadow, so I figured they must have  a very wide pool of applicants. I took a plunge, wrote a posting and got my husband to look it over. He said: "It sounds nice, but where are we going to find a person like that?" I sent it out there into the cyberverse, together with a small prayer.

Within 24 hours, we started getting responses. There were people out there who were interested! And some of them sounded normal enough and qualified enough. Some were weird, some sent a generic response, some did not have hours that matched our needs, and one person was almost stalking. But there seemed to be people who looked promising. Now, as with online dating, there was a question of safety, and a question of disclosing a bit too much information too soon. I tried playing it safe: meet at the park, and try not to disclose my phone number.

We scheduled the meeting time for this morning. I figured that there were no coop classes, and my husband was off, so it should work for both of us to be at the park, for the kids to play (hopefully with other kids), and for us both to feel out the candidates.

The first blow was the realization that one out of three did not respond that she is willing to meet us. Then, I heard from a few homeschool moms that they will not be making it, so no friends for kids to play with. Next, as we were getting ready to go, the sky grew dark, and unmistakable rain came down. I figured, I will call the first person and ask her to meet us in the rec center instead, so the kids can stay indoors. When we got there, there was no sight of her. I tried calling her; no response. I left messages, my kids played Foosball, 1 yo played with his usual toys. At least the rec center staff was nice about us just hanging out there.

Then I tried contacting the second person, for whom I did not have a phone number. I sent her a message through the website, telling her that we are waiting indoors. Time was ticking by. My husband said that we should wait the full half an hour, give her a chance.

Oh, this was ridiculous. We do not have so many mornings off, and I felt stood up, just like on a date. We could have done so many things with those killed hours. Moreover, we are exactly where we started, looking for that outside help.

In the defense of the second person, she did call me later that afternoon, apologizing, and saying that she had car trouble. We rescheduled for Friday morning. I will not have my husband along, which increases my anxiety about making a a desperate choice, and just grasping the first person who bothered to show up as promised.

So we are back to online dating (for nannies). We are scared of what it will cost us, but we seem unable to get to the point where this would figure as part of a discussion.


In a funny twist, after all our morning adventures,  8 yo did his usual allotment of work in record time and with positive attitude. It took him less than an hour, maybe even half an hour? So pleasant, and so surprising. 10 yo, meanwhile, decided that HE will play the role of an uncooperative child, sulking and complaining, with outbursts about "grueling work". I cannot have it nice on both fronts, can I? Maybe, when 8 yo cooperates, 10 yo has a space to release his frustrations. But why do they all get released on me?

Monday, October 27, 2014

not a success

I Saw this today on someone's Facebook wall and my first reaction was, Oh yeah!

And then it turned into : what a bunch of baloney.

I was waiting for today, really waiting. Today was supposed to be an appointment with a psychiatrist for 8 yo. This was through a group recommended by another mom whose son also struggles with anxiety. It took us literal months to get this appointment, and lots of phone calls from my husband.

I was anxious about it. Last therapist was not doing much headway, but he was strongly advocating medication (and public school for services). My pediatrician said that they will not prescribe anti-anxiety meds. So we needed a psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, as long as I do not expect anything from 8 yo, things are peachy. However, any expectation is an assault on his freedom, and I am out of patience. I have not been giving up on this child for a long time. I am tired of being told that I just need to spell out conditions and expectations. I am tired of being told that I just need to be firm in my consequences. I am tired of being told that we need a reward system in place. I do not think it is vaccines or sugar or gluten or food coloring.

So a lot was hinging on today. I sat last night and finally faced the intake paperwork, a small mound of it. I gathered whichever documentation necessary. And I lined up a babysitter whom I was willing to play through the nose, just to get to this appointment.

Midday, I got a phone call from my husband that the doctor had a family emergency and the appointment is cancelled. Oh, and since it is at a teaching facility, we might be seen first by a resident, then by a fellow, and then, maybe, by a psychiatrist. He pushed very much for us to be seen by a psychiatrist. Meanwhile, it will have to be rescheduled for mid-November.

This bit of news came on the heels of not one morning meltdown, a meltdown over same old multiplication and "I'm scared!" and all the usual pencil throwing, and time out outside and apologies and then more of the same.

I am tired of all this. I am giving up.

A friend who is being very honest about her bipolar disorder shared how hard it is to have mental issues and for others not to understand, How hard it is to be on meds, and dealing with the fact that meds are needed. I needed to see that bit, to realize that what I have on my hands is not just a brat, or a case of bad parenting, but an honest situation which requires more than I can give,

My 4 yo probably knows more Hebrew words than 8 yo. My 1 yo wants to name the few letters that he recognizes. Both of these kids want to learn and they get to learn, 8 yo is faced with a brick wall of anxiety which suffocates any desire to try, to be challenged, to be open to new possibilities. His anxiety is setting my bar so low for the rest of the family, for the whole day, that I cannot commit to anything getting done. Will we get out of the house? Or will we spend the whole morning managing a tantrum?

So I am not a successful mom. I am giving up on my child, I am giving up on my situation. I dream of a camp, a farm, where kids with anxiety can go and pet goats, have chores, do manual labor, and be left alone to do whatever calms them. I dream of an alternative where there is only 8 yo, and we can pursue only what he wants to do.

But I can dream all I want. I can share those pep talks how everything will be ok. I can even revel in the lies that we whisper to each other, to soothe. I can keep on focusing on the positive. But the stark reality is that I am giving up.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

first day back to "school"

We took off from doing formal schoolwork over Yom Tov (although 10 yo still managed to review the whole masechet Succah and read a ton of textbooks during that time). I wanted the first day back to be gentle, all the more so since I had a morning dr appointment and I was not sure when we would get back.

making "moshiv haruach" signs
First thing that I wrote down for everyone is to make posters/reminders to add "moshiv haruach" (a special prayer for rain). I spoke a bit about it to 8 yo. The older boys copied the text from their siddurim and I was pleased to see that, for once, 8 yo was fine copying Hebrew and even spent some time decorating his wall hanging. 10 yo went all out, with block letters. I printed out a dot-to-dot umbrella for 4 yo, which contained letters of the alphabet, and a regular umbrella image for 1 yo. For a whole five minutes everyone sat at the table, coloring. I even managed to snap an idyllic picture of how it could be...

Then the boys did mineral testing for my geology class. They described their rocks, tested their hardness and magnetism, checked for reaction with vinegar and finally, smashed them with a hammer to see how they cleave. Finally, they got to try to identify their rocks using guides and Internet. I am not sure how correctly they identified their rocks, but they surely had fun!
testing rocks

checking cleavage/fracture
Tums in vinegar
 4 yo said that she wanted to do her own experiment, so I gave her Tums tablet and told her to drop it into leftover vinegar. She giggled that bubbles appeared and took time shifting it around the container. 1 yo was trying to get in on the action the entire time, snatching rocks and other supplies. It is hard to do any experiments with toddlers around, especially with toddlers who are very interested in grabbing, but not so much in looking. I almost wish he was old enough and patient enough to watch TV, so I could buy some time while he is awake to work with others.

I did some math review with 8 yo. We are in the middle of memorizing multiplication tables, and we are at sixes. We did them before the break, but every time I try to review them, he just totally melts down. I do not have a full plan for how far I am planning to review: only sixes, flashcards for sixes, flashcards for all the tables that he already knows, multiplication worksheets... I am open to getting wherever we get on any given day. Most days, unfortunately, we did not get to even looking on the chart which is prominently hanging on the wall. He just drops to the floor: "I don't know it, I cannot do it!" and that's the end of it. I tried persisting, I tried hanging back, I tried pushing, I tried talking, I tried punishing.

Larry Cohen in "The Opposite of Worry" talks about the edge and how to approach it. My child is over the edge at the mere suggestion, and he is not interested in getting back. He is in free fall, and he does not want to practice calming down techniques. He does not want to be hugged, he does not want to be held. He is not interested in learning how not to end up in free fall.

This is the point where I am finding myself despairing. I do not want medication for this child, but, often, we have no functionality. We are to meet with yet another mental health professional, in hope, yet again, that this whole process will go somewhere. I was told how all Jewish kids have anxiety. I know that I have it, and I see where my other kids have it. It is just not debilitating, same way as someone who likes to wash their hands thoroughly is different from a person suffering from OCD who cannot tolerate hands not washed to some utterly unrealistic standard.

So yesterday, I mentioned those sixes and 8 yo promptly dissolved into a puddle on the floor. I said that he should review them from the chart. 4 yo came with me and we went over that row, with him screaming behind us. Then I told him to go outside and not come back in till he's ready to review them. I offered him his shoes, but he preferred to sit on the door mat, sulking. I went on with my activities.

After 20 minutes, I heard him knocking. (The door is unlocked). I let him in, asking whether he is ready. He said that he does not want to do them. I said, I understand, but are you ready to try? He moseyed on to the chart and reviewed them. Then we reviewed them out loud, together. Then we reviewed them counting backwards. Then I pulled our just flashcards for sixes and we did those. Then, seeing that he really does know them, I said, let's go over the rest of the deck, and when I hit a card that you did not learn yet, you can yell: "I do not know it!" He giggled, but he chose to tell me politely the ones that he did not know.

He knows them all.

He knows all the multiplication tables that we have studied.

Some part of him is not ready to own up to the fact that he knows it all.

I was struck by this week's parsha, Breishit. Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge because they wanted instantaneous, magical knowledge of the matters which one normally would acquire through a lot of effort. My son's line is that he just wants to know it already. He wants the tree, and he wants the fruit. Consequences are irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

common core math

If you are expecting me to support it, you will be disappointed. If you are expecting me to bash it, you will be disappointed, too.

We have been using Math Mammoth for math for the past three years. I do not love it, but it is thorough, so I feel that we are covering our bases. It was Common Core aligned before Common Core was implemented. This program is popular with homeschoolers who do not end up shelling up big bucks for textbooks, yet get a complete curriculum.

So how does so called "Common Core math" look like? It looks like offering many different ways and tricks to solve a problem. For example, the third grade addition and subtraction review lists different mental math tricks: counting backwards, completing the next ten, etc. All these are good strategies, what's not to love, right?

Well, since I had two very different kids go through the same curriculum, I can say what I see as the issue. My oldest, who is quite good at getting work done, reads the suggestions, implements then for that page, and then moves on. He might use them in the future, he might not. He might think about them again, he might not. Either way, he can solve those problems when they come up in real-life situations and get correct answers, which means that whichever strategy he chooses to employ works just fine, even if it's not the most efficient one.

My younger one is rigid in his approach. I know that he has better number sense than my older one, but he does not believe in himself. Having all these different approaches to try and remember and use only paralyzes him. He tries to add to the next convenient number, same as they do in this example, but to him, there is no next convenient number, so he randomly guesses: should I add three more? or four more? If I add three, that's fifteen, and if I add four, that's sixteen. And then I have to add some more... meanwhile, he totally lost track of which problem he was trying to solve in the first place. Instead of feeling that he has one solid way to solve the problems, maybe a but clunky and inefficient at time, but the one that will solve them correctly every single time, he feels that there is some unknown magic in picking out a good strategy and then arriving at the right answer.

I wonder how many other kids are there in the classroom like him, who are able to think in one way which works for them, and who are bewildered by all the choice and options. Speaking of choices, in the above example, I was solving coffee change problem differently from the author. I still got the same answer. I would take away four dollars, and get 14$ and then take away 30 cents and get $13.70.

By the way, maybe by doing many. many problems "the old way" and really feeling that you know what goes on is a start to be motivated to find shortcuts and easier solutions? I doubt that many students dutifully subtracted 1999 from 2000 and never wondered what on earth is going on. I think many of them simply wrote "1" in the answer line, only to have teacher grade it as incomplete and be told to show their work, while they mentally figured out the "new math" trick.

I was in Russian school learning my math. Russian math is not known for its flexibility or user-friendliness, but the idea behind it all was that first you drill and practice till you are fluent, and then you can spend time thinking and understanding. I remember being in 6th grade and spending time on the bus thinking about positive and negative numbers, how they add up and cancel each other out. I am pretty sure we were doing much higher math at the time, but since I felt so safe and confident in those properties, I could just mentally play with them.

Then came 10 yo's long division. Now I am confident in my ability to carry it out, but it always leaves me with that teeny wobbly bit because in Russia we were taught to set it up a bit differently than in the states.


In Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Romania, Turkey, Greece, Belgium, and Russia, the divisor is to the right of the dividend, and separated by a vertical bar. The division also occurs in the column, but the quotient (result) is written below the divider, and separated by the horizontal line.
    127|4    124|31,75
I hope that you feel just that tenny bit of anxiety looking at this set-up, and you understand that teeny bit that I feel when faced with American way.

When Math Mammoth introduced it, it was fine, and he practiced, and he got it. Then, this year, they decided to reinforce that division is just multiple subtraction. The way it was set up, it took me a few minutes to figure out what they were driving at! And let me assure you, nobody divides like that, not for any good reason that I can think of.

To check my hypothesis, I tried doing this problem mentally, and I showed it to my husband. Both of us estimated, but neither felt that the suggested approach is the one that we would use if we encounter such a problem (and total lack of paper and pencil to solve it!)

So, yes, Common Core math could be good and could be useful, but I do not think that expecting every student to learn and use every single technique is realistic. Moreover, it is discouraging to students who do not "get it", and confuses the students who like knowing that they already have a tool to tackle the problem.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

what it takes to homeschool

I usually don't do this, but if you are contemplating homeschooling, thinking that homeschooling is not for you, and, especially, if you are in the trenches and despairing, this blog entry will make your day.

Here it is:


I don't know who the author is, and I have not read any of her other entries. But this one is a sanity saver must read.