Thursday, January 30, 2014

I don't look down on you, I pity you

 "I Look Down on Young Women with Husbands and Kids and I'm not Sorry". 

Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself? There’s no way those two things are the same. 
No, they are not on equal footing. It is much easier to go to work, shut the door on the chaos and the mess and the unpredictability that comes with running a household with multiple people, and embrace the orderly world on cubicles and punch cards. A woman at work has a boss to take care of her tasks and goals; a stay-at-home mom has to set those goals herself and then handle them on an unpredictable schedule. You might be shocked to find out that there are stay-at-home moms who run businesses out of their homes. There are moms who work on the side, and volunteer. There are moms who not only take care of themselves, they manage to take care of others.

We have baby showers and wedding parties as if it’s a huge accomplishment and cause for celebration to be able to get knocked up or find someone to walk down the aisle with. These aren’t accomplishments, they are actually super easy tasks, literally anyone can do them.
When there is a baby shower or a wedding, the celebration is of the potential, not of the actual accomplishment. It is easy to get married; it is hard staying married. (Cue the divorce statistics). It is easy to have a baby; it is hard to raise a decent human being.

I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing which is the path of least resistance.
Wait a second, I am missing something here. The reward for all the accomplishments you mention should be experiences along the way, the learning and wisdom it took to get there. The end result should be  a sense of personal satisfaction. Why do you need external recognition and additional party? Are you so desperate for approval of others? Or is it not an accomplishment if the world does not recognize it?

You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.
Well, not to brag, but I feel exceptional. I will play your game of external accomplishment here. I came to the States as a foreign student. I got a degree in college despite lack of financial resources. I got into a top graduate program. Heck, I got accepted into two graduate programs immediately, so that I cancelled my interviews at other schools. Oh, and I managed to get married, too. I got a paper published of my research. I did a liver donor search for my father. I landed a dream job working from home. I landed a teaching position without asking. I took courses in an area far from my expertise, for the sake of intellectual stimulation. I drove by myself up and down the country. I hike in great parks. I volunteer through my shul. Oh, and I managed to have four kids. I stay at home and homeschool them.
And if you really want to know what makes me exceptional, it's the learning of who I am that happened along the way. I thought I am Type A personality, but I discovered that I can function as Type B. I thought of myself as a brainy science-y type, but I discovered that looking at nature as an artist is extremely enjoyable. I thought I will suck at household chores (ask my mother), but instead I got the hang of them and even a certain rhythm. I thought I will end up a vegetarian, and here I am, stuffing birds' cavities upon occasion. I am flexible like that. I am not boxed in. You, on the other hand, are stuck being a career woman, out to prove something...

Women will be equal with men when we stop demanding that it be considered equally important to do housework and real work. They are not equal. Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. 
It's ironic that as I am blogging this (me, a stay-at-home mom without real accomplishments), my doctor husband (with a real job) is doing housework: picking up toys, wiping the counters, gathering laundry. I guess your parents still do your laundry since it is just so not important. I went to college with your ilk, carting laundry bags home on the weekends. 

So, dear Amy, I pity you. You obviously do not have a husband or kids. You obviously never spent more than five minutes thinking that the world cannot go on if women decide that accomplishments deserving external praise are more important than having kids. We would be dead in a generation in your version of liberated feminism.

Would you like a challenge? Find a person to engage in meaningful relationship with. It could be a friend. Then, once, give up a bit of an ambition for the sake of the relationship. Maybe you will find some meaning in life.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

when life gives you snow...

 When life gives you snow in the South, and you will probably not see snow for the next four years, and your husband still did not make it home, make maple snow candy!
We boiled maple syrup for close to an hour, The snow we collected yesterday, and it spent the night on the porch.
We poured syrup onto the snow, and it hardened.

The tacky candy was delicious! The boys' teeth stuck together and we talked about the pig from "Farmer Boy" who also could not open its mouth full of tacky candy.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

another day

I've got an assistant.
I am still undertaking too much.
4 yo got her shots today and was very unhappy about it.
When I got home, I had three kids yelling at the same time, despite having another adult in the house.
7 yo managed to throw a fit even in my absence and refuse to do his work. And he locked himself in the laundry room.
It snowed a whole freaking inch and the traffic came to a standstill. My husband is stranded in the hospital. Of course, today he is not on call...
9 yo asked to have a crab stick with his sushi ( kosher fake DynaSea crab for those who are wondering). I found it later half-chewed on the windowsill.

I lost it.

4 yo refused to take a bath since she is worried about Band-Aids from her shots coming off.

The baby cut another tooth.

I hope my pipes will not freeze tonight, a pine tree will not fall on my house, and a workshop that we are supposed to attend tomorrow will get cancelled ( it is STILL on). I hope taekwondo will get cancelled too. I hope my husband makes it home safely.

And I hope that a Krispy Kreme donut goes well with mulled white wine, cause that's what I'm having!

Thursday, January 23, 2014


On Tuesday, I had a whole grand plan for the day laid out. Both boys chose to start with math. 9 yo was in the throes of long division. He did a page, and then another, and then he asked me to give him any long division problem that I wanted, and then he made up his own problem and kept adding digits to the dividend until he could finish dividing without remainder.

He mastered long division and he could not wait to get more problems to prove his mastery.

Meanwhile 7 yo had a pre-multiplication unit. It mostly involved skip-counting, and he did page after page of math, probably 10 pages in all, till he was done with the unit. He understood the concept, and each page was another opportunity to apply it.

I thought math would be quick that day; instead it took over an hour. Both boys engaged in learning out of their own free will, and did not want to stop.

That same day a friend posted this post about unschooling math. I agree with some: kids will take lead in their learning, you will learn the math that you need to function, curiosity about math will go a long way. What I have a problem with is the blank assumption that math is hard, abstract and impenetrable subject, to which only people with a special aptitude take a liking. And the first thing that bugged me is the assertion that long division is useless.

People roll eyes at long division (and at fractions). They think nobody uses it. They also never memorized times table, so long division becomes tedious. Whenever I had any problem come up in kids' presence that required long division, I always grabbed a paper and did it out, the long way. They saw it, and even if they did not understand what I was doing, they saw that it is useful, and accessible. Oh, and I spent quite a few hours working with 9 yo on times table. We drilled it from Math Mammoth. I got flashcards and tested him. I hung up two multiplication tables. I asked questions which required multiplication. He does not know it super well (he HATES memorization), but he came around once he saw how useful it was to just know the product for 2- and 3-digit multiplication rather than work it out every time. Now that we hit long division, he saw that it is simply applying that multiplication and, voila, it works! Moreover, he can check himself by multiplying.

At dinner that night, out of the blue, 9 yo asked: "Is fifty divided by 6 equal to 8, remainder 2?"
"So to go on a five hundred mile trip, we need 8 hours and 20 minutes."

Before you think this is trivial, watch this:

Monday, January 20, 2014

of men and dolphins

The most recent story that seems to get posted time and again is a story about dolphins, stuck in a Japanese harbor, awaiting slaughter. Mothers will be separated from the babies, there is blood. How sad.

Are we for real?

Do you know how many people died in Hiroshima? 45,000 civilians wiped out in a blink. Do you know that there is a civil war going on in South Sudan, and human mothers are being separated and killed along with human babies? As the most true line from "Hotel Rwanda" goes: you are not white, you are not even black, you are Afrikaans, and that's why the world does not care.

It is Martin Luther King Jr.'s day. I'm sure there are speeches about how far we've come, and yet I wonder. In Pollyanna, there is an orphan boy looking for "folks". He is willing to work, he does not want to be a free-loader. Yet none of the Ladies' Aiders take him in, as that will cut into the bottom line of the report on saving heathen souls of India children. When are we going to stop caring about those noble causes far away, and not human causes, and when we will start caring about people right under our noses?

In the meanwhile, show indignation for the slaughter of dolphins.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

letting him own his learning

Friday morning. 9 yo is reading on the couch about the Battle of Gettysburg. He is excitedly telling me who was where and what they did, and who won and how and what losses were on each side. I call him to have breakfast. Since it's Friday (and I still have to finish cooking for Shabbos), we are debating whether he should start on long division in math, a new topic. He is wary of it. I ask whether he knows divisibility rules, and he tells me the one for 5. I tell him the one for 3, and he is trying it out. He has seen me do long division, and since I'm feeding the baby, I am more telling him which numbers to put where rather than making him do it. He is very excited by this new rule, and he has to try it out on some numbers from his head. I am watching as he is doing long division on his own, and then he checks it through multiplication. Then, as I am writing down the rest of the list, he starts figuring out gemmatrias of the names of all people in our family. He discovers that 7 yo has the biggest one, and aba (daddy) is the smallest.

After all this, it is kind of silly to say "nu, get started on your learning already".

He is enjoying learning. He is on his own schedule, and he has his own agenda. As the years go by, I know that his agenda will totally overtake my agenda. If I am any good, his agenda will include subjects which are important to me (Torah learning, for instance), and subjects which he is passionate about (history categorization; Pokemon/video games; imaginary world maps). If I am very lucky, his subjects will help him figure out a path in life. And, with G-d's help, he will be happily pursuing that path.

It's so simple that  I am hyperventilating: what about higher math? English grammar and composition? Gemara? What if he ends up living on my couch in the basement? What if he will be ill-prepared for life?

But what if he got his experimentation and bumps on the road early on, instead of waiting till college? What if he has a head start to figure out who he is? What if he gets a chance to listen to himself and figure out what makes him tick instead of marching to someone else's beat? What if he learns that challenges are surmountable? What if he learns to think instead of waiting for someone else to tell him what to do? This sounds like acquisition of life skills.

I am oscillating between structured learning and unschooling. Towards highschool years, unschooling has to take an upper hand.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

a great day

Today was such a good day, that it would be a disservice not to share it. There were almost tantrums, and almost meltdowns, and, as I am typing this, my kitchen is a mess and I have not made anything for shabbos, and my husband is dealing with ectopic (translation: reinforcements not arriving any time soon), but the day was lovely.

We did schoolwork in the morning. 9 yo did division with remainders, a story from S'fateinu about Tu BShvat, mishna with his rebbi and chumash. We are reviewing Vayetze, and we are almost done. 7 yo did math (review of addition with regrouping), chumash (Bright Beginnings), spelling ( copy the names of seven types of fruit from Israel both in English and in Hebrew) and S'fateinu.

Then we had friends over for Tu B'Shvat party. The kids made pine cone bird feeders, planted parsley seeds for karpas to use on Pesach, made a few brachot and ate all different fruits. Mostly, they just played, hung out, and had a good time.

After the party was over, 4 yo got out the vacuum cleaner and started cleaning up. She was really trying, and even dragged it from room to room, looking for more things to vacuum. I praised her efforts, even though I knew that I will have to sweep up later. I learned that this sense of doing something useful is more important than critiquing a final result. She will have the rest of her life to learn how to vacuum properly. Now she is learning that vacuuming is fun.

Then the baby went for a nap and I made chocolate chip cookies with 7 yo. He has been asking me for a long time to cook something with him, but every time something came up. Yesterday, when he asked to make a dessert together, I decided to commit firmly. I did not allow other kids join him unless he was interested. Onto the shabbos menu went the cookies. So when it was finally quiet, it was cookie-making time.

This boy really did everything by himself. He read the recipe, collected the necessary ingredients, found measuring cups and spoons and followed the steps. I did not help unless I was asked, and that happened rarely. I helped with the flour, but mostly I kept my mouth shut and just watched. He cracked the eggs. I did not say anything when one of them missed the mixing bowl. He cheerfully cleaned it up and got another. He figured out that three teaspoons make a tablespoon. He molded the first batch, called the beater for licking, and I just marveled at how much he knows about cooking. My 9 yo is still not sure where I keep everything in the kitchen, but this kid knows his way around.

When I saw him reading later on, I gently reminded about Read to Succeed, and how he might want to keep track. He dissolved on the spot: I do not want to go to Six Flags, I cannot read for 6 hours, I cannot write this all down... I calmly suggested keeping track of how long he is reading now, and just write down this little bit. It turned out that he read for 40 minutes (I let him do the calculations), and he had no issues writing this down.

For dinner I had a crockpot stew with quinoa and kale chips. These tend to be touch-and-go, but everyone found some part of dinner that they liked.

After everyone got into pajamas, I sent 7 yo and 4 yo downstairs to clean up the basement. I heard the vacuum cleaner go on, and when they came up, they said it looked good. I reviewed mishna with 9 yo.  Then I put the baby down for the night.

They boys asked to sew. 9 yo saw a design for kimono in one of his history-comes-alive books, so he has been after me to make one. I suggested that he starts with making a doll-sized one, but he was not having it. This time I said that we will start with sewing on a button. It's a skill worth having even if he kimono ambitions do not actualize. I found old shirts of mine and I was planning to cut them into scraps for each kid, when they called the sleeves. I cut the sleeves off and then the boys said that they will sew on the buttons as eyes. Everyone was able to thread their needle. I had to make the knots for them. I showed each one how to sew on a button, and how to make a stem under it. They both sewed on two, and then sewed the ends of the sleeve shut. 7 yo, while sewing said that this is what he wants to learn how to do: to sew and to cook. I have a budding "husband of the year." But the real secret is that my husband sews and cooks, so my boys do not see it as woman's work. 4 yo picked out her buttons, and I sewed them onto her sleeve. It was idyllic, almost out of scene: kids sitting around the table, busily sewing...

When they finished, they showed off their sleeve puppets. All of a sudden they turned into sleeve eels.
Next thing I know, they are night caps.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

a few simple things

I have not written about actual learning, so here are a few simple things that we are doing:

Read aloud. About a year ago, the boys politely but firmly declined my offers to keep on reading to them good night stories. 7 yo said that he can read well enough on his own. I fretted about it for a bit, discussed it with other homeschoolers, but decided not to push the issue. We still got tons of library books, and the boys read all the time. 4 yo (as of this week!) looks at tons of books, too, and she has her favorites. She is more than eager to get HER good night story, and has been bringing two or three books at a time. About a month ago, out of the blue, the boys asked me to read to them a story while they were lying in bed. I thought that we need a chapter book and grabbed "Pollyanna" which I was pretty sure nobody read yet. I got it from some library sale. We have been reading a chapter a night. 9 yo very early on said that she has the concept of hakarat hatov (recognizing the good). I have never read it before, so it is fun to follow the story with the boys and to be on the same page.

Label everything. For years, I was thinking about labeling objects around the house in Hebrew, so that we could learn all the new words painlessly. Somehow, I was not getting around to it. Since 7 yo got diagnosed and I was searching for all possible approaches to deal with his writing and spelling difficulties, a teacher friend recommended doing a word wall, so that the words and their spelling was constantly before him. I combined the two ideas and started labeling everything around the house. I do five words per night. It tends to skew towards objects, and I try to pick the words where English spelling is not obvious. Some nights it's fun, other nights I am having hard time coming up with what to label. 

Base ten blocks. For 4 yo, it's perfect material for building a succah. 7 yo uses it for regrouping in adding and subtracting large numbers. 9 yo used it today to model division with remainders. I got a relatively cheap plastic set, and if you are considering getting one good math manipulative, I recommend getting this.

Daily vocabulary calendar. I picked it up in Costco sometime in the fall. We keep it at the breakfast table. The boys like reading the word and especially its etymology on the back. Yesterday 9 yo said: "Today will be bad. The word of the day is berate." Somehow, we managed. I can envision writing sentences, using words in conversation, challenging everyone to come up with a sentence which uses the most new words. Instead, it is unobtrusively sitting there at breakfast, waiting to be looked at.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

the scientific method

I was sent this video:
The scientist in me called to replicate results. So I bought two types of sweet potatoes: conventional and organic. I got the boys to label two jars ( they had to look up in the dictionary how to spell "conventional"), pick out a good-looking potato from each type, stick in a few toothpicks, and pick out a sunny window.
I will post the results.

No, we do not eat organic. Yes, I am open to the possibility. But I need to see proof, with my own two eyes.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It is our business

Last week, the online Jewish world was abuzz with the disappearance of a teen from Boston. Posters were shared, missing person info passed along, people were asked to pray and keep an eye out. Thank G-d, the child was found and was returned to his family. Postfactum, an article asking to respect the family's privacy appeared. The main point was that it is no longer our business what happened and how the parents will deal with the situation. I agree with this point; going further into this story would just feed unhealthy voyeurism. But there is one piece of this story that we have to make our business.

For three days, the story dominated my Facebook feed. Thousands of people were involved. The publicity that the story received, undoubtedly helped find the boy. But the publicity has a flip side.

Somewhere, in someone's house, a teen is sitting in front of a screen, following this piece of news. He or she is looking closely at the amount of attention that the story generated. That teen is thinking of running away from home. He is trying to decide whether to do it, or not. And this is where the publicity piece falls in: nobody notices me now, wouldn't it be great if my face was all over Facebook? Would MY parents care to search for me? Would they mount a campaign of such proportions? And the most important piece of all: what will happen when I come back home ( eventually, in some hazy future, all grizzled from my seeing the world)?

For that teen, the most important piece of the story is not how Boston family reunited with their son, but how HIS OWN family would react to his disappearance. Right now, that is the missing piece.

It is easy to say, oh, my child would never do that, run away from home, break my heart, be so thoughtless. Sure, we have our squabbles, but it's not that bad. Especially if you as a parent think that it is not so bad, now is the ripe time to talk to your teen. Tell him what would happen if he decides ever to run away. Tell him that you would be very sad. Tell him that you will move mountains searching for him. Tell him that you will hug him tight when you find him. And tell him that his sorry behind will be grounded in an unimaginable way afterward.

Make this story your business.

Monday, January 6, 2014

on my father's 5th yortzait

Another year has passed. Now my father missed meeting three of his grandchildren: two of mine and one of my sister's. He was supposed to be the involved grandparent, the one interested in spending time with his grand kids, tinkering around with them, asking them those goofy math problems that I always attempted to do and then brushed off. He was supposed to be the one who could get excited about things that excited me, or, at least, listen patiently. He was no angel, my father, but he was what a father was supposed to be: a kind man, a man who admitted his mistakes, someone who cared and someone who would do a lot of silly and hard things to show that he cared. He did not complain, and he did not demand. He was soft, somewhere in his core; but he was soft in just a way that I needed him to be.

He knew that life in Russia was not for likes of him. He liked the law-abiding society, instead of constant bribes and contact seeking. He wanted to stand on his own merit. He could have gone to Israel, have his life there, be a brainiac among brainiacs. He was not a goody-two-shoes, a perfect student, a teacher's pet. But he knew that whatever he needed to learn, he would master, and then have it at his fingertips to use. He was not stuck in past, nor fearful of the future.

My best years of relationship with him were during college years, when I was in the dorm in Manhattan and he was in Toronto, working, and living alone. I would get on the phone with him and share about my day, and the classes I was taking. I minored in math, and there were many different subjects. No matter which class I was in, I could tell him the current topic and he could help me with the problem sets. He knew his stuff. I am scared whether I still have enough math base to take my kids through middle school. But, more importantly than actual knowledge of the subject, he was there to listen to me.

I ended up with an emergency surgery while in college. He hopped on a bus and came over. He paced with me in the hospital, made jokes, and then told me of my loopy, morphine-drenched answers which I forgot. He knew it will make a good story one day, and I still smile when I think of the whole situation. He sat in the lobby of my dorm, taking apart and reassembling my computer, improving it. One of the guards came to investigate, and we were laughing: oh, he thought we were constructing a bomb! (This was before 9/11, so it was funny). When he met my future husband, he took right away to calling him by his Hebrew name, instead of his Russian one, just as he was introduced. My guy liked it tremendously, and so did I.

My oldest with my father
If it wasn't for awful Hep C... how different everything could have been! There are years and years worth of conversations: to treat, not to treat, too late to treat, no options, liver transplant, who will be the donor, whose responsibility to find the donor, go to China, they are a dime a dozen, so who cares if it's a little fishy, come on, it's your father! I wished in those years that I could problem solve and just do it myself, be the donor. But I could not, having the same virus. I was also watching with horror, as my father's condition deteriorated: this is going to be me, in twenty to thirty years. These issues are going to be my issues.

All the crazy things I did at that time: prowling chatrooms and message boards, talking online to random strangers who were interested in offering pieces of their livers, for a good price, of course. Talking to some crazy missionaries in Africa, who were part of this organ donor movement. Posting on all sorts of lists, sending out e-mails, asking and searching: are you the right blood type? Could you do a mitzvah? Would you consider davening for my father? Would you help out financially? Calling bikur cholim in Toronto, asking them to visit and to assist with rides, and being told that it is hard to find a male who can do a visit. Then convincing my non-observant parents that a visit from a total stranger would be good for them. We are still waiting for that visitor...

In all this craziness, it was me who figured out that my mother, being a type O, was a universal donor and could serve as a liver donor to my father. Meanwhile, I got my news that my liver was starting to get affected by Hep C. Same Hep C, same strain. My father saved my life. The family lore goes like this: when I was born two months' premature, the hospital did not exactly have a survival plan for such babies. So my parents were advised to take me home, heat the room as an incubator, and just try their best. I landed in the hospital at the tender age of 18 days. Somebody called for a blood transfusion. My father had the same blood type. They quickly reeled him in, bled him, and poured it into me. Blood, the elixir of life. Walking on knife's edge, it is also the toxic brew of whichever viruses happened to be there. Hep C was in that blood. Hep C was not discovered till later, and screening for it did not commence till even later than that. With that gift of life, I got a much more sinister gift. If there will be a vaccine for Hep C, I would take it in a heartbeat.

I started Hep C treatment as soon as my second son was weaned. I was determined to give it a good shot, because I would not make my kids go through what I was going through with my father. Considering my virus's genotype, I was told that 48 week treatment of Peg Intron plus ribavirin had a 50% chance of succeeding. The treatment is being described as having chemo, for 11 months, and without the sympathy reserved to cancer patients. The side effects were brutal: I lost 10 pounds in a few weeks. All you diet people, get some ribavirin and pound yourself into skinniness. You will look slim. You will also have no energy and constant nausea. You will also spend a chuck of your day laying on a couch, too tired to move. My blood counts plummeted, so I had to inject myself with more meds. I do not mutilate myself, and I hated the pain that came with each shot, and the new wave of sickness. Brain fog, loss of mental acuity (to me, a PhD candidate, former math minor, thinking "I will always have my smarts", literally losing my mind was cruelly painful). Insomnia requiring Ambien. Severe depression hit, so severe, that I had to be on medication and in therapy. All this for a 50% chance to beat the beast. I fretted whether my kids will remember me as the mommy who just laid on the couch for a year. They did not, but my second boy  spent a lot of time cuddling with me.

post first transplant
Two months into my treatment, my parents went for the transplant. I came for Rosh HaShana, three weeks later. My mother was home already, my father was supposed to be home, but something came up, and he was not released. I snuck my boys into the hospital lounge, so he could see them. I wore a mask since I was sniffling, and I did not want him to catch my cold. We paced the ward's floor, talking about treatments and quality of life. He was concerned about his friend with cancer. He did not look good, but he was optimistic, making plans.

That first liver, my mother's liver, was rejected by his body. He needed a second transplant, this time cadaveric. I flew in a few months later to visit. I found him in hospital bed, reading about Windows Vista, which just came out. I went to the gift shop and bought a chess/checkers set. I knew better than to play chess against him, so we settled on checkers. He beat me. I accompanied him to the exercise room. He surprised the nurse by asking for a slightly heavier load, to keep in shape. He somehow radiated this simple calm.

Around the time that I finally got word that my killer treatment is working, and all this sledgehammering that I am doing to my body and brain is not in vain, he deteriorated badly. One winter day, I got a frantic call from my sister: come now, this is it, his blood pressure crashed, they can't stabilize him. We threw kids in the car and went. I was still waiting on my citizenship, so I was not even sure whether Canada will let me in, without the proper papers, whether we will get turned around at the border. We made it, and I went up. They stabilized him in ICU, but he was unconscious, intubated, there, and not there.

He pulled through. My husband had to fly out the same night (they do not like to give residents emergency time off). I drove back with the kids a few days later, with my sister in tow. At the end of the month, my father got the second transplant.

It sort of worked. He became conscious, he started moving, started talking and walking. I flew in again, just for a day. (It was hard to place the kids; were it not for all my good New York friends, I would not have been able to go at all). I also managed to mix up my antidepressant with Ambien during that week, so I literally sleepwalked. I remember just bits and pieces: not enough time together, not enough privacy, getting him a hot chocolate from Tim Horton's, watching him struggle to stand up and walk with a walker. What I do remember clearly is him making plans to come and visit me in New York. He was aware of his condition, he knew full well what is going on. But he also knew what he had to do, and this was part of his duty, desire, and no darn freaking transplant or inability to stand unassisted was going to get in the way.

The last time I saw him was Thanksgiving. I finished my treatment and two weeks later we moved to Houston. The summer was busy with setting up a new life in a new place. I was offered a job on the spot to teach science, and my kids went to school just for the hours I was teaching. Meanwhile, this second transplant was not it, either. The virus reinfected the new liver, and there was nothing else to do. My father did come home. When I booked Thanksgiving tickets, it was not a nice visit with the family, it was a good bye. I knew it. I was bringing my kids, in vain hope that they would remember what their grandfather looked like. I made the most out of that visit: let's go out to eat! Let's go to the mall! Let's make a big shabbos meal! No cheer could pierce the new cloak of despair. When I saw that look of resignation on my father's face, I knew that he gave up.

Thanksgiving visit
Darn Hepatitis! It won! I beat my dragon,but my father lost his battle to his. He pulled through just at a year's mark, technically making his second transplant a statistical success. And my father loved those little technicalities.

When he passed away, it came as a shock to people in Houston. They did not know him, they did not know of him, and they did not know of my treatment. I felt like someone making an impolite mess, and apologizing profusely. Sitting shivah, visitors filing in, not knowing what to say. The usual questions: was it sudden? Was he sick? Oh, for how long? Do you have any family? Oh, a sister. Is she single? Well, this is not the time, but, afterward, please contact me, I might have someone for her...

The bottom fell out, Months passed and I did not notice. I got up, took care of the kids, taught, and yet I cannot recall a single moment of huge chunks of time. It was not intense grief, more just fog. I had distinct feelings that first year, moments, when I looked at the world through his eyes, not mine. Sobbing over a song from a record that he brought home many years ago. Feeling emptiness. Intense regret that my children will nor remember him, will not know him. Looking for signs of him in my kids. Saying kaddish when I made it to shul, and being upset when nobody on men's side would lead in mourner's kaddish, so the congregation skipped it.

It's been five years. We moved, yet again. My daughter can identify my father from the picture on our mantle. My baby is named after him. The older boys do not talk about him, as 9 yo told me that it is too sad. For a while, he was worried that he could also have that bad virus and die. I do not push. I am virus-free, and officially cured. But for the rest of my life I cannot be a blood donor. I am slowly starting to make plans to live past sixty, the age of my father's death. And I am planning to hold my kids, tell them I love them and I am proud of them, and let them go.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

to each their own

As we were in the last hour of Shabbos, I started hearing murmurs about DS playing time. My husband was called up to deliver, the kids were already in pajamas, and I wanted them to be aware that it is still Shabbos. I asked whether I should sing "Shabbos is Going Away" song. My daughter said yes. As I am singing it, I see that she is frowning, then pouting and then outright crying: "Mommy, this song is making me sleepy! And sad!" I hugged her, and comforted her. About three years ago, the same scene replayed, this time with my 9 yo. He asked me not to sing this song, it brings tears to his eyes. I have not sang it since, till tonight.

It is easy to call my kids sheltered. I prefer to call them "sensitive".


After Shabbos, and after everyone was tucked in and the dishes were washed, (and my husband still was not home,) I sat down to take care of some online business. I joke that I hold late office hours. One of the items on my agenda was to place an order through for some food items that we cannot get. 7 yo popped out of bed for the second time. He wanted to sit on the couch, and I wanted to wrap up the order. Then he saw me looking up some products and asked me, why don't I rate them and review them? And a thought was born: what if I get him to type in the ratings and reviews for me? He went for it, composing his sentences, patiently going back and putting in missed spaces, even joking a bit. He sat on my lap, and I kept my mouth shut except to offer spelling assistance when I was asked. He was so calm, even when he had to retype and capitalize and fix his spelling. Actually, for the first time I saw that he can see that the word is spelled incorrectly, and he would go back to change it. When he writes, he gets so would up that I never could figure out where in "creative" spelling he stands, whether he is able to spell at all. He got a special one-on-one mommy time, feeling that he is doing something useful.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Roman breakfast

I woke up this morning to a smell of coffee (and yelling from the baby). 9 yo, who woke me and the baby up the previous morning at 6 am and got severely chastised for it, decided to make it up to me by making me a cup of coffee. I was most appreciative. As I was nursing the baby on the couch, 9 yo wanted to pull up a TV tray table and serve me breakfast on the couch. Very cute and sweet, but I was worried about my crawling baby dropping the whole breakfast on the floor and the table on his head. 9 yo would not let such difficulties get in the way of his plan. He wanted to bring up a baby fence that is in the garage, but it was too heavy to be hauled up the stairs. Then he improvised by rearranging the furniture and making a barrier around the couch and the table. Next, I see him pulling out my heavy Kitchenaid, to make special french bread. I told him that it will not be ready till lunch, but I have some frozen baguettes that he can thaw and bake.

He set the folding tables, then took out cheese and butter. He got an apple slicer and sliced two apples. As a final touch, he got a bottle of juice. 9 yo and his sister had quite a nice breakfast on the couches. Next thing I know, it is a Roman breakfast since they are eating while reclining, and he's a sentry, not a servant, so he won't clean it up. Meanwhile, I joined my husband for a breakfast at the ordinary kitchen table, to the protests from the reclining quarters.

Luckily for me, the sentry turned back into a servant, and did clean up, Then he turned back into a boy who did not mind bentching and davening Hallel for Rosh Chodesh. 7 yo managed to sleep through all of that, till almost 9 am.

The kids had great fun, their needs were met, and even one of my needs was met. Today would have been the day to send 9 yo to school, as everyone came back from winter break. I am grateful that I had a talk with him and decided to keep him home, for now. I am grateful that we replaced the morning rush out the door with a spontaneous leisurely Roman breakfast.