Thursday, February 27, 2014


We were doing this pasuk with 9 yo today:  וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל שִׁמְעוֹן וְאֶל לֵוִי עֲכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי (Breishit 34:30)
I remembered that this pasuk has hard words, so I pulled out a Chumash with English translation. Rashi explains it as being agitated, and I stuck with that explanation. 9 yo chimed in: "This word was used in Yehoshua". 
"At Ai, when Achan took spoils. Hey, they took spoils here, and he took wrong spoils there. Maybe that's the connection."

He remembered learning about it in Sanhedrin, where it is talking about vidui. 

Here is the pasuk that he was talking about:  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ מֶה עֲכַרְתָּנוּ יַעְכֳּרְךָ יְהֹוָה בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה ( Yehoshua 7:25)

I wish I had memory like that. I wish 9 yo would apply his amazing memory to something other than Pokemon statistics. I wish I knew how to challenge him appropriately in his learning.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A reminder to myself that there are good days

Yesterday was irrevocably rotten, so rotten that I did not even had energy to post about it.

Today my husband took the three older kids to shul for shacharit and then to Publix for bagels and to Starbucks for hot chocolate. It's a new thing: when he makes it to shacharit, he brings 9 yo, but now the others like to tag along. Once in a while he gets then this breakfast out. Meanwhile, my adorable little baby decided to make up for the absence of siblings by requiring as much attention as three kids. Somehow I got myself and him through breakfast. He was so cranky that I tucked him in for a nap before the older ones got back.

They unloaded the dishwasher, and then I sat the boys down and told them that we will do four school items today: two before co-op classes and two after. I asked to do Chumash first, since the baby was sleeping and it was quiet. 7 yo went first: he is almost done with Lech Lecha. We are finishing up with Bright Beginnings, but he is getting more comfortable with the vocabulary and I can even cover up English and he tries to translate on his own. The exercises are a piece of cake. His reading has also improved. He zoomed through it, did the exercises and listened to baal koreh. 9 yo came next, with a bit of resistance. We are finishing up Schem and Dina and we are up to the pasuk where Shimon and Levi plunder the city. After he read and translated, he asked me whether it was right for them to kill everybody. I asked him what he would have done and he said, just kill Schem and Hamor. I asked him to think of some advantages and disadvantages of this plan. Ultimately, he said that they were not right, and because of this they did not receive a bracha from Yakov.

Then we did megilla. 7 yo threw a small tantrum that he is not doing megillah; it is too hard. I let him be. 9 yo was finishing third perek. Conveniently, the word for plunder and children reappeared here in the same form as in his Chumash, so he was able to translate that part. By now I suspect that he has the story memorized in English, so he was fill in the unfamiliar words based on what they should mean. It is also possible that doing megilla third time around is easy (this kid also has amazing memory).

The baby woke up and we rushed to the co-op. This was the second week of classes. 3 yo is taking Beasts and Botany class, where she plants and draws. Her second class is art exploration; more drawing and craft projects. 7 yo is taking Amazing Space and Battles and Weapons, taught by yours truly. 9 yo is taking Spark talks ( similar to TED talks, a public speaking class) and Battles and Weapons. I help out in the toddler room the first hour and teach the second. It is a crazy schedule, it is hectic, and the class that I am teaching is not something I am naturally interested in. However, by now I read so much about all different military equipment and strategies, that I am semi-enthusiastic.

Last week we learned about hoplites of Alexander the Great and talked a bit about the Battle of Gaugamela. This week we reviewed the hoplite armor and made a full-sized suit. There are 5 kids in a class, so everyone got to participate. We traced a hula hoop on cardboard for a shield and then decorated it. I got a long skinny PVC pipe and we attached a metal cone to make it into a spear. The kids designed body armor by themselves and figured out how to tape it together so it would hold. Finally, we made the helmet: I had a plastic hard hat, to which we attached cheek flaps and a face shape, with cut-outs for eyes. Some kids worked on cutting pipe cleaners and making them into a crest. All in all, we got a nice set of hoplite armor. The kids took turns trying it on.

By this point, the baby had more that enough of the co-op, so we left for home. The baby fell asleep in the ar and transferred to his crib, thank G-d. I was able to have a quiet lunch with the kids and then we moved on with out school work. It was not all smooth: 7 yo still resisted doing megilla, but ended up doing it just fine. He read the fourth perek in English and then we sat together and he read fill-in-the-blank Hebrew page. 9 yo had to redo some of his grammar and math. I am using a small paperback for grammar, and I am not very impressed with it, but it is assuaging "mommy guilt" for not teaching my child formal English instruction. In math we are doing geometry, specifically triangles. He had to draw a few, with specified angles, and he kept trying to draw them without a ruler. I had to bring him back to fix his work.

7 yo did a review in math. He finished the first unit of 3rd grade Math Mammoth. He has no difficulty with it whatsoever. Funny kid: second grade Math Mammoth was too much, but now third grade is no problem.

Then we went to taekwondo. My in-laws came in and watched the two youngers while I took the boys. I went to the farmer's market while the boys were exercising. When we got home, I finished putting the dinner together. It was a hit: crock pot salami in tomato sauce, fried polenta slices, and broccoli slaw. We washed the younger ones and I put the baby to sleep. My husband tucked in the older kids. Now they have "Moishy story": he is telling them Yetsiat Mitzrayim in a funny way ( Moishy could not say: Moishy sells sheep by the seashore because of a lisp; Moishy's staff is called stickosaurus; Paro is in DeNial). All of a sudden, after years of kids always clamoring for mommy, it is daddy and his stories that they want.


I have been hard on myself lately: I am not doing any Jewish learning, I keep missing class opportunities, I dropp my Nach Yomi. The other day I realized: I am learning a lot. I am doing the entire Breshit with Rashi with 9 yo (I have to read all the Rashi to select the ones that I find good for explaining p'shat difficulties), I am reviewing Lech Lecha, I am doing Megillah and Mishna Pesachim. I do not have control over what I am learning, but I am learning along with my kids.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the past couple days (photoblog)

 Friday afternoon in the park ( for 20 minutes, I dragged all the kids to the library for the book sale which is taking place in MARCH).

 7 yo and 4 yo davening together

 We went to the RV show. None of us have ever been inside an RV, but, with 4 kids, hotel room rental is getting tricky. We are dreaming about RV ownership at this point, but we learned a thing or two. The kids had a blast going through different RVs, looking to cool features.

 Our dear friend built a tether ball for the kids. They love it and spend all their free time playing.

 A trip to 4H. The kids learned about animals, petted and fed the sheep, saw the eggs incubate and handled the baby chicks. 

 This is the second part of 4H trip: wilderness survival. The kids learned what to put into emergency kit, how to avoid survival situation, and how to take care of your needs in case of emergency. The culmination was building a shelter. Each one of my kids ended up on a different shelter-building team. Somehow these unsocialized homeschoolers were able to come together, delegate, self-organize, and build. The last step was taking the shelters apart and the kids did it without fuss (mostly).

Friday, February 21, 2014

they will surprise you

I was all organized, staying up late, writing up the plan for today.

In the morning, 4 yo decided to do water experiments in the sink.

She filled a few different containers, used a funnel to pour water from one to another, and dumped and measured and poured. She even made vacuum. When I protested about the mess, she calmly informed me that it is just water and it is only in the sink (true). The only inconvenience was walking around her chair and inability to use the sink, although she gleefully accepted any dirty dishes we put in there.

It rained last night, so giant, foot-long earthworms came out. 7 yo and 4 yo went to take a look. I did not have science on my agenda at all, but they were quite happy holding slippery worms, placing them from one area to another. 7 yo asked how he can tell which end is the worm's head, and I showed him the thickened part towards that end. I also said that he can just observe which way the worm is crawling, and that is the head end.

We have a book about worms, high school and college biology includes dissection of worms, but it take a personal close experience with one to actually wonder which end is the head. AT the end. the kids made a new home for the worms, where I hope they crawled happily ever after.

I heard Rebecca Masinter speak last night about homeschooling, and she reminded me how homeschooling is a movie, not a snapshot. She also brought up parsha and Shabbos d'var Torah. Ours have not been going too well, and last week I promised boys that I will write up parsha questions to ask on Shabbos, so they better come prepared. I figured that 9 yo will read Chumash (in English) and 7 yo will either read, ask me to read to him, listen to Rabbi Juravel, read a simple parsha book or refuse to participate. 7 yo did get all nervous about it, but his suggestion was for him to read from Artscroll Chumash and for me to write down a summary of what he reads. He wanted it to be very detailed, so that he would not miss anything. I said that he could just open Chumash and look things up, on Shabbos, but in his mind that would be cheating. Apparently, looking on a prepared sheet is not cheating, but using original material is. Mercifully, the baby took a giant morning nap, so we were able to sit on the couch, snuggling, and work our way through Vayakhel. To tell the truth, I never found Vayakhel to be quite so interesting until I had to slow down to the pace of summarizing. At some point, 7 yo gave me a bear hug and said how he likes doing parsha with me. If I would have chosen to enforce my original plan, we would have missed out on this great bonding and learning opportunity, not to mention that he did it on much higher level than I expected.

That's the devil with being flexible in homeschooling: you plan, they subvert your plans, and you have a choice: take a direction in which the kids are leading their learning, or enforce your original expectation.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

what he learned

I was having hard time with 7 yo. He refused to do his writing. I suggested doing it outside, on the deck. He brought his workbook out, barefoot (our temperatures are in the 70s). With one-on-one attention, he did one page. He wrote sentences, ordering pictures, and he asked for the words that he was not sure how to spell. I even pulled out a dictionary, showing him how I was not sure myself how to spell something.

So he finished the page. Supposedly, he learned how to use time order words: "first", "next", "last" in his writing. However, there were the intangibles, not reflected on that page. He learned that he can break up a task into manageable chunks and do it. He learned that if he runs out of space on a line, it is not the end of the world; he can either write below or in the margin. He learned that it is OK to make mistakes, erase, and not be sure how to spell something. He learned that a change of scenery is good for concentration.

He also learned what sound a cardinal makes. He learned the serenity of sitting outdoors. He learned that he can relax.

Only time will tell which of these lessons he'll remember, and which ones will make a difference in shaping him as a human being. I suspect that his slightly sloppy sentences will not be the essence of what he learned.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

a shout out to mikvah ladies

We all hear horror stories about mikvah ladies. That one touched you when you did not wan to be touched, this one told you to do this, or you won't tovel, the other one made you wait while she chatted/walked away/picked her nose... we have all heard those. But how about some good ones?

I have been married for 11 years, and we have moved a few times, so I have been to different mikvaot dozens of times. What strikes me time and again, how often it goes well, it goes smoothly, and how much the mikvah ladies do behind the scenes for it to work. Often they do not get the recognition and appreciation they deserve because it is a tznius issue, and nobody discusses AFTERWARDS what went right.
  • A mikva lady asking me what I want checked, how I want to tovel and giving me utmost privacy.
  • A mikvah lady not batting an eyelash at my long nails.
  • A mikvah lady being all cool when I have to tovel on Shabbos. And motzei Yom Kippur. And Purim night. And seder night. And second day of yom tov. Inevitably there is more than one woman hanging around, waiting for the correct z'man, and inevitably the conversation goes: I was so worried that you are coming out just for me! 
  • A mikvah lady opening a mikvah on second day of yom tov just for me in a different community.
  • A mikvah lady who is all calm and smiles as I finally pull up, half an hour late, lost in unfamiliar community. 
  • A mikvah lady who tells me it's OK that I do not happen to have enough cash (I did not check the fee carefully).
  • A mikvah lady who makes me feel like I have all the time in the world to get ready.
  • A mikvah lady who is giving me later and later appointments as I am waiting for my husband to come home from being stuck in traffic.

So here is a shout-out to all the amazing mikvah ladies. The ones who do their job as it is supposed to be done.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

snowy day

Since we actually got snow and ice, I declared today to be a snow day. We have not been having very good days lately, and I have been quite anxious about my husband being at the hospital overnight while I was home with constant talk of losing power and heat and water. I was snappy, and the kids were not cooperating.
So this morning I said that today will be snow day, only chumash and mishna for 9 yo ( his rebbi walked to our house; I am so impressed with his level of commitment, and I think it made an impression on 9 yo, too). 9 yo finished Sanhedrin today.
The kids were not even eager to get out into all this. I thought: they have been hearing all the crazy things about ice and snow, so why would they think there is any fun to be out there? Meanwhile I got dressed and marched out, at 8 am, using the opportunity of my husband being around.

I was the only person out. It was still snowing, and beautiful. I kept stopping to look around and take pictures. As I turned around to come back, I was confronted with a set of footprints in the snow, my footprints. I have not been so starkly aware of the path I leave behind me. I was retracing my steps and clearly saw: here I slipped, here I dragged my legs, here I stopped. It is so easy to think that what I do and how I do it does not matter, but here I had a material evidence of my mark.
When I got back, the boys went out to shovel and play. They sledded in the backyard on a roll-up plastic sled I got in Goodwill years ago, made little snowpeople and scraped off the cars. 7 yo came in first; he was hungry for breakfast. 9 yo stayed out close to an hour.
By noon the sun came out, and everything started the melt. By the end of the day, snow remained only on the lawn. I was so glad that I did not tell kids to do schoolwork today and instead let them go out there and enjoy this brief winter visit.

 This video is from yesterday. It is baby's first experience in the snow. He loved crawling in it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

shabbos conversations

Friday night. We are discussing the clothes that the kohanim wore, from this week's parsha. I am trying to figure out whether the boys know the proper terminology for the turbans.
9 yo: "Do you mean the one that looks like a volcano, or the one that looks like nuclear explosion?"
The Turban, wound as a "Mitznefet" (left) for the Kohen Gadol
 and as a "Migba'at" (right) for the ordinary Kohen
I chuckle, and say: "So what do you call the one that looks like nuclear explosion?"
7 yo: "A mushroom cloud!"
My husband was called up to the hospital three separate times this Shabbos. He did not get much sleep, and totally missed shul. At least he was home for the meals. As we are sitting down, and he starts a popular shabbos song: "Menucha ve'simcha (Rest and happiness)" he says how he did not have either. I said that the rest part was not up to him, but happiness is still in his hands. And we did end up having a joyous Shabbos, with book reading, parsha questions, boys wrestling and calm atmosphere.
At the third meal, 9 yo blurts out: "Disney totally killed Pocahontas! That is not how it happened. She was forced to marry that English guy." I asked him how he knows this, and he said that he read enough history books. I am feeling sort of glad that he is not in a traditional history class.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

This morning, my 4 year old daughter snuggled with me on the couch. She took one look at my belly, full of stretch marks and asked, wistfully: "How did you get all those diamonds?" I choked up, hugged her, and said that those marks came from carrying all those babies in my belly. It stretched and stretched and stretched, to encompass all those that I love.

I remember being surprised when the marks first appeared. I remember being told that I should try to look skinny and not baggy. I remember being surprised that I got more with the next child. I remember being told by my GI, at the end of my treatment, that I might want to do something about them, moving to Houston and swimming pools and all. I also remember making total peace with them. Keeping tzniut (dressing modestly) means that I do not need to expose myself to the world. I do not need to hyperventilate about how I look in bikini.

What I did not realize was that I had a belly crisscrossed with treasure. In my daughter's eyes, I am covered with diamonds.

I hope and pray that 4 yo maintains this outlook, that she will not buy into external beauty peddled by pop culture. I want to bottle up her current attitude and douse her in it when she hits her teen years. I want to shield her from shallow comments on how she looks good, and what she has to do to herself to look good. I want her to FEEL good, because that feeling shows. There is no diet for that, there is no exercise, and there is no guilt.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

expectations and anxiety

7 yo's best friend had a birthday party today. He has been anticipating going there for a long time. He checked for the correct date on the calendar. He was counting down the days. This morning, he made a card for his friend, without fuss. I thought it would be so nice that he gets to go without his older meddling brother, and have something cool and exciting just for him.

I drove him over, a bit late, but not too late. He has been to his friend's house dozens of times, so when he came inside, I drove away.

When I came to pick him up two hours later, I saw a bunch of people and kids mulling outside. I did not see 7 yo. I saw the mom, and we went inside to look for him. More people were there. I saw the father of the birthday boy. He asked me what was I doing there. I said, I was picking up my son. He said that he was not at the party. I thought he was kidding with me.

A minute later, 7 yo emerged, in tears, with the mom apologizing. He spent the whole party hiding out in his friend's room! He said that he EXPECTED the party to be outdoors, but it was inside, so he just left and hid out. Now I got it that the father was not kidding: he really did not see my kid for two hours.

7 yo also realized that the birthday boy did not even see him there. I prompted him to say goodbye and thank you, and he ran to the car.

He missed the whole party because it did not go the way he expected it to go. He said that he read books in the room. He missed cake, activities, fun, playing. He missed when the kids did go outside to play. How can a kid be so rigid? How will he function? He was so looking forward to the party, but once he had to deal with the actual party, he shut down, and sequestered himself.

Later, when I was tucking him in at night, he got all teary-eyed about the whole experience. He said that he feels stupid, but mostly he was still upset that the party did not go as he expected it to. He did mention that he saw kids working on a timeline and he did not want to do that, and that there was no space for him around the table, and nobody saw him, except for the birthday boy's older sister. Now I wonder whether I should have gone in with him, stayed, made space, pulled him out for cake... But he is almost 8. Shouldn't he figure out how to function on his own, and adapt in whichever way necessary?

He sighed in bed and said that now he will have to wait another year till his friend's next birthday. I bit my lip; his friend is possibly moving away.

It is so painful to see kids suffer. It is so hard to figure out whether my job as a parent is to swoop in and make it all better, or to hang back and let him discover the natural consequences. And it is also hard to figure out what to do about his anxiety. Lately, it has been getting worse. I have been thinking how unschooling is so good for him, but now I see that when a kid has this level of anxiety, he studiously avoids any activity which might push him out of the comfort zone.

Over the past few weeks, 4 yo not only demonstrated that she knows just about all letters, she even made her name from magnetic letters, and then attempted to write it down. She made a card for her older brother and wrote down his name on the front, unprompted. Quite a few letters were legible. 7 yo NEVER did that. Even now, just to write his name is a torturous process. He does not draw and doodle; he does not do Google searches; he does not illustrate. He avoids those activities that require writing/typing.

I have been told to establish a reward system for him. I always knew that it will not work. If a child forfeits a long-expected birthday party because he would have to encounter something unpleasant, would he work for a golden star?