Thursday, May 29, 2014

futility of futilities

I had a cleaning lady come in yesterday morning. I got the kids into the car and we left, for Costco, to be out of her way. By the time we were done, she still wasn't, so I got the kids to help me unload the car while walking on tippy toes and, as soon as we were done, we went to the park.

When we came home in the early afternoon, 1 yo was exhausted. He fell asleep in the car and even transferred to his crib. The kids were quite pooped themselves, so I let them plop in front of Netflix till taekwondo.

My MIL came to watch the younger kids for taekwondo. When she came in, the baby was still sleeping and the kids were still watching. She looked around: "Somebody came to clean today!" Well, yes, and you could tell, it was actually clean and neat.

Then the baby woke up, and I took the boys to taekwondo.

By 8, after serving dinner and tucking everyone into bed, I finally finished with the kids. My husband came home, took a look around: "Wasn't that cleaning lady supposed to come in today?"

Well, yes dear, she did come in, but that was many hours ago. That was before four active kids were active in this house. This was before 1 yo rearranged play bins in the living room. That was before dinner and accompanying spills and crumbs. That was before a whole chunk of life happened.

I hate the fact that my house will not look neat for any extended period of time for the next (fill in the blank) amount of years. But I am grateful that I have all these neat kids making this terrific mess. They do clean up after themselves, and I do clean up after them, but the cumulative effect is just staggering.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

mothering the mother

We have lived in our current city for four years and I did not have a primary care physician. I definitely got sick during this time, and I even had a baby (and a fractured toe!) My kids are already on our second pediatrician, but I did not have primary care physician.

A friend moved back and asked whom I would recommend. I had no answer for her.

How can it be? How can it be that my family, my kids, my husband come first and I do not have anyone to take care of me? How can it be that when I get sick, I do not even have a doctor to call?

I got a few bad sunburns as a kid. I burn easily every spring. I have some birthmarks that should be checked and observed. I had never been to a dermatologist. My 1 yo is getting regular physical therapy, I'm in talks of getting an OT evaluation for 8 yo, my kids have been seeing their pediatrician regularly, but I have never made that one appointment for myself.

It is hard to arrange, these appointments. I need to get a babysitter (or drag my whole entourage with me). I have to find a doctor who takes my health insurance. I have to find someone whom I "click" with. But still, there is no excuse why it had been four years and I have not been taking care of myself.

I got on ZocDocs and within a few minutes I had appointments both with the primary care and with the dermatologist within my insurance plan. I even made both appointments without having to make a phonecall. And I filled out forms which, hopefully, will allow the appointments to proceed faster.

How come as mothers we always give and give and give, but we forget that we need to give to ourselves, too? We are human beings, and we are in need of care and mothering. It is so easy to put everyone else first, and think that you will get to your needs later. It is easy to say that we do not care whether the kids are sleeping in our bed the whole night long, or barge on us in the bathroom, or disrupt every adult conversation, or sip from every drink we make for ourselves. But one day, we wake up, look at our crumpled clothes, at these little people to whom we give and give, and realize that we have nothing left to give because we gave it all away. Then we feel drained. Then we get resentful. Then we need to start taking just as good care of oursevles as we reserve for the others.

So here it goes: make your annual physical, put those kids in their own bed, reclaim bathroom as a private space, and make mommy's drink sacred. Your kids will thank you one day.

overparenting and kiddush Hashem

We went on a nature hike today with a bunch of other homeschoolers. I drove there with a friend and her son. In the car, we were talking about parenting nowadays and how it is so hard: you feel guilty for not hovering over your kid the entire time, you feel guilty for not signing up your kid for every single wonderful and fulfilling activity under the sun, you feel guilty about feeding them random food, you feel guilty about them watching too much TV and not producing Pinterest-worthy projects together. Somehow, parenting becomes a hard chore instead of a pleasure. Somehow the kids are always supervised. Somehow, the definition of a good mother is synonymous with helicopter.

A few days ago we were in a casual restaurant. There were two moms eating out, with their kids. The moms were obviously very excited to catch up with each other. The kids, dressed to the nines in matching white outfits, were getting quite restless since the moms have been catching up for a while. One of the girls took a styrofoam cup and sat with it on the floor, ripping it to pieces. She shredded it. Another one dropped her half-finished food. The moms kept on talking. Eventually they got up and left, with styrofoam pieces strewn all over the floor, and the food splatters under the table. As they were leaving, a Mexican worker surveyed the damage, got out the broom, and started mopping up. I said to my husband: what a chillul Hashem!

I do not hover over my kids. I do not get them dressed in matching outfits. I do not watch every move and fret about every choice. But if my kid makes a mess in a public space, he will have to clean it up. It is not a very fancy definition of kiddush Hashem, but not leaving a giant mess for the restaurant workers means a whole lot more than having your kids appear all well-groomed. If a kid of mine gets into a scuffle, I am assuming that he is to blame, and he will have to apologize or work it out.

It is time to take a giant step back and figure out what are the important values to convey to our kids. Is it the outwardly appearance, or is it internal values? If the kids' middot are emphasized, eventually (I hope) there will be no need to hover and fix and smooth everything for them; they will be able to take care of these matters satisfactorily on their own.

Monday, May 26, 2014

biting girls

Sugar and spice and everything nice...
No, this is not my daughter.
This is how we like to portray girls as a society.

But even aidel meidels (sweet girls) are not always sweet. Moreover, maybe they should not be expected to be always sweet.

Yesterday, 4 yo decided to put lotion onto boys' stuffed animals. When they found out, they came out of their room, fuming.
I asked: "Why did she do this?"
10 yo: "She wanted to turn them into girls."
"How putting lotion onto animals turns them into girls?"
"Have you ever seen a boy willingly put on lotion?"
Good point.
After a good wash cycle, the animals were all clean and fluffy.
Meanwhile, 4 yo cracked a robin's eggshell that 8 yo found and was planning to trade in at the nature center. She would not put away her laundry. They boys were quite mad at her, and I was losing all my patience. At some point, she stomped out: "The reason I am causing all this drama is because I want to take a nap!"
Well then, I will not stand in your way.

She sulked in her bed. The boys called an emergency meeting in another room. They drew a pretty mean cartoon of 4 yo and her animals. Now she was upset at them. She said that she feels like crumpling their paper and putting it into garbage.

I asked her why she put the lotion on the animals and she said that she just could not control herself. That's a line from 8 yo, but that is a valid point: she is usually very good at going with the flow, toeing the line, being all nice. But once in a while, something sets her off, and she does not want to do as expected.

I sensed that the mood has changed just enough for everyone to come to mutual understanding. I asked each kid how they felt about what happened. Everyone said how mad they felt and how they felt like doing these horrible things to each other. Then they came up with the idea how now they feel better and are ready to make up. I suggested they all go to separate rooms and draw a new picture of how they feel now. 10 yo added: "Draw two pictures: one of how you felt before and one of how you feel now." They all scrambled to different rooms, even 8 yo.

4 yo asked me how to spell "for". I helped her. I am not sure if she understood what 10 yo meant; she drew some squiggles and wrote "for me". 8 yo drew two stick figures going at each other with light sabers. One was labeled "me" and the other one "not". "Me" had some advanced light saber with the middle shooting part. It was clear that "not" will be slaughtered, and that was his sister. On the other side, he drew two stick figures standing close, with a heart between them, clearly communicating loving feelings.

10 yo drew some complicated diagram of a person being thrown off a cliff and into some machine with gears and moving parts. He showed the path which would surely dismember the figure. His "happy" drawing was also stick figures with a heart.

Bottom line, all the kids made up, with just a bit of intervention.

Then, at bedtime, 4 yo bit me. It was so unexpected that I even asked her: "Did you just bite me?!" She nodded. I immediately told her that I will not continue tucking her in, but I said it very calmly and matter-of-fact. I said that I do not like being bitten and it hurts. I also thought how by now I can expect that even my calmest and sweetest kid might not always be calm and sweet, so I can handle it appropriately instead of blowing my top. She looked like she immediately regretted her action.

Tonight, at bedtime, before I even started tucking her in, she told me that she is very sorry about biting yesterday and she will not bite me today. (She was very agreeable today). Lesson learned, I hope.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

feeling burnout

Typical homeschooling day:

Baby up at night, then sleeps in till 8 am, messing up all naps (as in he will not fall asleep during his regular nap time). Husband left for work before the kids got up, so breakfast, getting dressed, davening, cleaning up is on me. Kids happily playing with a set of K'nex that a friend passed on. It is great, really, that they have no problem improvising and figuring out which motors do what and how to build anything. They do not need instructions. However, I have to call them time and again for breakfast. Then I have to tell them to clean up. Then they finally show up upstairs, in pajamas, each with a set of K'nex arrows tucked into waistbands made of rainbow loom bracelets.

It is all fine, really, except that 10yo has a mishna teacher coming at 10:30, and I would like to do chumash and the rest of the schoolwork with him before. Then the question of going to swim arises. I do not feel confident in their swimming ability, or in my ability to supervise four kids at a pool without a lifeguard. More, I have to call a friend to arrange this swimming session. They whine, and I lose it and tell them that for sure no swimming today, and not with me as the only adult present, ever.

8 yo goes down to the basement to daven with 4 yo, but they are not davening, they are playing with K'nex. I tell them to come upstairs and daven within my earshot. 1 yo is happily destroying the living room, after wrecking two kitchen drawers. I am trying to make challah for Shabbos, so the bread machine is in the laundry room, away from the baby.

8 yo throws a fit about davening. 4 yo wants to do projects, but not before she davens. She is waiting for me to daven with her, but I had to go wipe her tush in the middle of putting up dough, and then at out-of-town friend called to make shabbos plans and then I had to vacuum cut-up feathers from her yesterday's project. Bottom line, I am standing next to a bowl of dough trying to figure out how many cups of flour I already added while she is asking and asking to daven with her.

I try to nap 1yo and go outside to do Chumash with 10 yo. The baby will not nap, and 10 yo keeps insisting that Yehudah wants to get married to Tamar. He does not like the word "prostitute"; he insists that she is a hippie. He mentioned before that Tamar was the daughter of Shem, so I showed him that Rashi. He remembered from Sanhedrin that the penalty for a daughter of Kohen who has an affair while being married is burning, while for a regular person it is strangulation. Then he asks, but she is not married (I related this story later on to his mishna teacher and he said that Ramban asks the same question). I just answered that she is married to the family. He was wondering whether Yehudah was also going to get burned.

Meanwhile, 8 yo supposedly davened on his own. While I was outside with 10 yo, he even came up with ideas for his daily writing. In the morning, he mentioned that he's interested in learning script, something I was planning on skipping with him. His printing is still atrocious, and he hates writing. Now he wants to do chumash, but that was at the same time as I was learning with 10 yo. Now that I am available, he comes up with all interesting things: the chair has bird poop, it is too hot outside, he does not know what to write about for his writing, and he does not know the first word in the pasuk (that he read and translated yesterday). He changes the chair, I offer to go inside with him, I tell him to focus on Chumash now and not on writing, and I will help him with the word. Never mind, he just throws a fit and stomps off. I am not calm, I am as far away from calm as possible.

Did I mention that the baby is not sleeping?

I am up to my elbows in dough. I am trying to do Shabbos cooking. 10 yo offered to start on 5th grade math instead of Lashon HaTorah (we have not done either in weeks/months), but he is stumped by mental math calculations. I should be helping him, but I need to finish with this dough. I am much more worried about 8 yo's outburst over nothing, than about a math lesson a grade ahead.

I speak to the mishna teacher about his chicken keeping and whether 8 yo can help out in some way. When we went to the nature center, he was all over the chickens, picking them up, petting, and even finding an egg. I need to find an outlet for this child, something that he is naturally inclined to do. The rabbi's chickens do not like to be held, but he agrees to let my son come and feed them and collect the eggs.

For the first time ever, I just send out my assistant with the three older kids to the park. 1 yo finally fell asleep and I am cracking on that shabbos cooking.

Is this what burnout looks like? When you do not want to take out that baby who woke up from a nap way too early? When you do not want to pick up kitchen utensils for the fiftieth time today? When you do not want 4 yo making any more projects because there is always a mess accompanying them, and no end in sight? When you do not want to accommodate and strategize on how to teach a difficult anxious child? I do not want to hear about another cute/creative/breakthrough strategy. When you do not want to check math because it involves uninterrupted period of time to be effective, and you need to stay positive about careless mistakes?

baby rescue fox
When I look at my homeschooling friends, I see a lot of outsourcing, preferably with kids being dropped off somewhere and parent having time to themselves. It tends to get more intensive the larger the amount of kids involved, and the wider the age gap between them. When I look at my homeschooling, when I think about which days work, there is a pattern: very little schoolwork, kids got out of bed on the right foot, an outing without hidden educational agenda, lots of time out of the house. This past Tuesday I ran a whole bunch of errands with all the kids and then we drove to an animal sanctuary almost an hour away from home. It was a great day. No, I am not kidding; on those terms it was great to spend so much time with them. We did Chumash very quickly in the morning, but that was it for formal schoolwork. Then we stopped by OfficeMax to print 5th grade Math Mammoth, picked up mail, stopped by the bank (8 yo helped me figure out how much I need to withdraw and 10 yo studied the safe and the bulletproof glass), stopped by the grocery store to get a few things for dinner, then picked up copied math pages and got paninis-to-go for lunch. Yes, all these errands with all the kids: no problem! The rest of the day in the animal sanctuary was also quite fine. We saw a ton of free-range peacocks, talked to a keeper about a baby rescue fox, looked at all the animals. We came to a secluded spot at the edge of the forest. I sat on the bench and nursed while the kids played some advanced game of hide-and-seek. It was so idyllic, so calm, so perfect. No walls, no workbooks, no expectations.

Maybe these early years, when the baby is not sleeping, when the house is a total mess no matter what I do, when I cannot have a completed thought to myself are not the time for rigorous academics and high expectations. Maybe these years are meant to be spent as far away from the confines of the house as possible. I have no problem coming up with what to do with the kids all summer long.

But I do not want to check another page. I do not want to call another therapist. I do not want to answer another question. I do not want to commit to another field trip, no matter how amazing and educational. I want to have a break. Maybe I can start with having a cup of coffee all by myself, still hot, without anyone yelling at me or tugging at my skirt.

So, fellow homeschoolers, are you feeling burnout? What do you do about it?

Monday, May 19, 2014

teaching the story of Yehudah and Tamar

We are up to the story of Yehudah and Tamar with 10 yo. I might have chosen to approach this whole issue with trepidation. But I didn't. I already told him the story a few years ago on a walk to shul, so he knew the basic outline. Now, I did not remember which details I told him and which I left out, but I also know that he spent enough time reading Chumash to have stumbled onto this little bit on his own.

We were up to the pesukim where Tamar removes her widow's garb, wraps up in a scarf and covers her face and Yehudah thinks her a prostitute. I made sure that he knew that Yehudah was not married at this point, that Torah is not given (10 yo brought up an issue of kosher food for Tamar to find at the crossroads), and that Tamar feels that she is still married to this family. 10 yo thought that Tamar must have looked like a hippie, wrapped in scarves. I smiled at the image.

My next stumble was that word "zona" (prostitute). He has no concept of what it means, so just telling him the word and expecting him to parrot it back did not make sense. I said that a man could pay a woman to have sex with her one time, without any expectation of marriage, and that is what happened here. 10 yo: either Yehudah was very rich, or Tamar was very poor. I said that she was still bound to the family, and she was expecting to get married to Shelah, which she saw was not happening. I made it clear that Tamar did not do this for money. 10 yo said, like Ruth, she also went and found the man she was supposed to get married to. I got excited and asked him to remind me about Ruth at the end of the perek; I don't think he realizes that this little story with Tamar is connected to Boaz. 10 yo got all off track, talking about how Ruth was from Midian. I said, semi-annoyed, she was not from Midian. He corrected that she was from Moav and Moav is related to Yehudah. I was eager to get back on track, and I was not sure whether this whole sidetracking was to avoid this uncomfortable topic. Then I realized that he forgot where Moav came from, so I found those pesukim. He said, oh yeah, Lot and his daughters. And suddenly, a new pattern emerged.

The Jewish monarchy seems to emerge from daring, even blatantly propositioning and decidedly immodest acts of three women: older daughter of Lot seducing her father, Tamar seducing her father-in-law, and Ruth, how do we put it delicately, "uncovering the feet" of Boaz. Lot's daughter gives birth to Moav ( Me Av, from my father). Tamar gives birth to Perez, the ancestor of Boaz. Ruth, a descendant of Moav, unites with Boaz, a descendant of Tamar, to give birth to Davidic dynasty, and, ultimately, Moshiach. From such daring and "coarse" women the light of the world is destined to shine.

Why not from Sorah, the modest tent-dweller? Why not from Tziporah, Moshe's wife? Why does David come from these brazen women? Dovid himself is not exactly a picture of piety and modesty, wrestling lions, waging battles, getting Batsheva. Yet he is "the sweet singer of Israel", and the most famous Jewish king.

Perhaps, for these women it was a matter of seeing an opportunity and taking matters into their own hands. Perhaps these were the women of action, forever altering the course of history. Perhaps we should model our daughters after them instead of passive-aggressive Rachel and Leah.

And perhaps there is nothing unseemly in explaining the actions going on in Tanach instead of hoping that we can skirt the issue and our kids will learn the story "somewhere else, sometime later, from a morah/rebbe".

Saturday, May 17, 2014

shabbos pearls

We are talking about political campaigning.

8 yo: "My party emblem would be Big Foot. I would call it Honest Ape."


My husband is explaining to 10 yo how he is not sure whether he would vote for a lesser-known Republican candidate, since the chances of beating a better-known Democrat go down. 10 yo launches into a Pokemon analogy where two weaker Pokemon cannot win a battle against a stronger one.


10 yo has been obsessing over Star Wars (they had seen Clone Wars, since Star Wars are not on Netflix). "Yoda talks the same way as Chumash is written: Wise you are."


Despite my reservations about pop culture and waste of time associated with it, I am starting to see wisdom in allowing kids to follow their passions and letting them crop up in unexpected places.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

even more unschooling

4 yo started reading Bob books. I had them forever, and I was pretty sure that she knew her letters, or at least enough of them to start reading. I knew that she was interested. When I pulled down the first one, she looked at it and read it as if she knew what is inside. She definitely has a tendency to name letters rather than say the sounds that they make, but I am sure it will go away. I am in no rush to get through the set or to get her reading fluently, but she is ready and interested. No drilling, no pressure, no stress, no reading readiness programs, just good old interest and house full of books.

Yesterday 10 yo chose "What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know" as his car reading on the way to tae kwon do. From what I know about those books, if he learns everything that is inside, he will be ahead of most 4th graders. Since this is not the first time he is reading that book, we should be OK.

8 yo agreed that he should practice some writing. He has been picking poems to copy, of all things. We tried a limerick, but the lines were too long. Tonight he copied some lines from "Why oh Why Are Deserts Dry?" Considering how I feel ready to give up on getting this child to write down anything, this copying is very good news. He plans to copy the entire book, one stanza per day.

4 yo fed the chickens while the boys attended a workshop on poisonous plants. Afterwards I got a long lecture on which plants I should be careful not to eat ( foxglove, oak leaves, pear seeds). 1 yo crawled and crawled through the grass and pointed at those chickens.

The boys had zoo homeschool class. I took the two younger ones to the sprinkler park. 1 yo crawled through the splash pad and scuffed his knees and ankles pretty badly. By the end, he seemed eager to walk, downward facing dog style. If the PT will not cause him to walk, the desire to be on all surfaces will.

At home, 8 yo and 4 yo are organizing a desk in their room to serve as their workshop (some sort of ninja training center, I suppose). They brought over markers, scissors, a chair, and a notebook. I am wondering whether 8 yo is ready to start making projects on his own terms. I cannot even imagine what they will look like, but they are his projects, not mine.

10 yo made a model of a hillside with a secret entrance to an army base underneath, complete with stairs and chambers. The other day he made a pueblo. His material of choice is card stock. I thought I will use it to print out posters and flashcards, but kids have other plans.

In the middle of doing Chumash today, right before we got to new pesukim, 10 yo asked me, totally out of the blue: "What is your biggest fear?" I answered: "Something bad happening to one of the kids." I asked him what is his (I was pretty sure that was the reason for the question). He said: "Losing out financially in a major way." Well, I did not know that was on his mind, although after blowing a whole lot of his allowance and present money, he has not been spending any of it lately. I told him how even if you lose all the money, as long as you are willing to work hard and be smart about it, it is possible to be OK.

Serendipitously, a friend of mine just recently wrote how kids' emotional health comes before academics. I was thinking how his question had nothing to do with what we were learning and could have been misconstrued as stalling or distracting. By now, I seem to sense when they are distracting, and when they have a pressing need which takes precedence over learning.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Day 5

We spent the night in the northern reaches of Indiana. From experience, I can tell you that it is better to get a suite with a separate bedroom than one full room. Everyone is more likely to get sleep that way. We slept in till a whooping 7 am (central time). When the kids woke up, and they all woke up together, we got the olders dressed and I took them to the pool. In this hotel, the jacuzzi was not working, and the pool was not as balmy warm as the first one. By the time everyone swam and played, by the time i brought them back to the room to shower and get dressed, we missed most of breakfast. At least the yogurt was kosher in this one.

As we started to Indianapolis, first we got stuck behind a police escorting a truck carrying an oversized beam. This truck was taking up all two lanes of the highway, so we spent over an hour not going faster than 40 mph. Then the gas got low, but the exits were few and far in between. I was truly believing that we were about to spend half a day on a shoulder waiting for AAA to get us some gas.

We were planning to swing into Indianapolis to meet up with another homeschooling family, and then on to Cincinnati for more indian food, but, due to starting out late and the traffic delays, we ended up skipping both. The place in Cincinnati is closed between lunch and dinner, and we would not get there early enough ( or late enough). However, thanks to the great american consummerism, there is always a Walmart around the corner. We pulled off into one, got some tortillas, lettuce, tuna and mayo and made tuna wraps for lunch. I also got some fruits and veggies for our dinner, and ice cream for dessert.

In the car we are listening to "The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World". I am not so sure if I would have picked it out, if I knew the contents more intimately than the description on the back of the CD case, as it is clearly geared towards older kids. However, the themes it touches upon: fitting in, conforming, wealth, friendship, relationships, WWII, art, are all covered in a fascinating manner. I find the need to alternate the CDs with either musical CDs or silence for the sake of my daughter, for whom probably large portions of these books fly over her head. We spend quite some time talking about giving others a turn, and being respectful of their choices and preferences. During one of the CDs that she picked, the boys were so bored, that out of desperation they started reading youth Pirkei Avot.

Then we rolled off to Kentucky Mammoth Cave national park. We got to the hotel while it was still light, a first on this trip. This is a one-room suite, but very well-kept. We had our traditional hotel dinner: Tradition soups and deli sandwiches. The baby opened and closed every drawer and every crevice. Then my husband took kids swimming, for the second time in a day, and I tucked the baby in.

more unschooling

I was planning on taking kids to the Gem and Mineral show today and then to the nature center. I told them about these plans. 8 yo wanted to print out a picture of a butterfly that he took with his camera in Tennessee. First I showed him how to load the files onto the computer and how to print them out. Then he wondered out loud whether his butterfly was a blue morpho. I said that he can look it up online. He searched for images of blue morpho (which involved typing) and found out that his butterfly is different. He seemed stumped, so I suggested just looking for blue butterflies. He searched some more and found a website for identifying butterflies. After some trial and error, he found out that his butterfly was red-spotted blue. I asked him to label his image and he copied the name from the screen.

Meanwhile I printed out a picture of a ladybug for my daughter that she asked me to take on Chol HaMoed. She remembered this whole time that she wanted that picture of a ladybug. She wrote her name, and then I wrote "ladybug" on a dry-erase board which she copied onto the paper.

Our first stop was Gem and Mineral show. There are forms to fill out for door prizes, with separate category for kids and last year 10 yo won a door prize. Last year 8 yo melted down while being unable to fill out his form, so I was bracing myself. 10 yo flew through filling out his, and 8 yo started on his form. He wrote his first name too big, so he had to squeeze our long last name onto the next line. Then he stalled at writing down our address. Our street name has a few words in it, so he ran out of space. I suggested finishing on the back and he said, nobody looks there. I suggested adding an arrow. He was so close to meltdown, but held himself together. When it was time to write down a phone number, I saw that he reversed almost all the numbers. Sigh, we definitely need to work on handwriting, and I definitely need to get him to an OT.

He started writing down "homeschool" for school, wrote capital M, froze, tried squeezing in the rest of the letters before it. When it was time to write down teacher's name, he even managed to mangle "mom". Finally, he submitted the form.

To our great surprise, he was picked for a door prize! Since his slip was so funky, he was called up by his first name and the first word in our street's name. It was funny, but it was definitely his slip. He was given a slab of agate that he proudly hauled around. It even made up for the fact that he did not have his money with him (I think it is in the great pile of confiscated stuff). I got each kid a grab bag at the exit. Each bag was $2. I pulled out a twenty and asked 8 yo, so how much will the grab bags cost for the three of you? Before 10 yo had a chance to pipe up, I shushed him, saying this is for 8 yo to figure out. He said, 6$. I asked, and how much change will you get back? The person behind the grab bag table started egging him on, and I saw a trapped look in 8 yo's eyes. I quickly led the kids outside, sent 10 yo and 4 yo walking around the planters while 8 yo thought. He did some fantastical calculation, something with adding by twos and threes, but eventually he arrived at the correct answer. I sent the kids in with the money, staying outside with the baby. They came back with their grab bags.

In the car on the way over to the nature center, they examined their loot, and each kid had an item to trade from their bags. 10 yo found a large piece of quartz with pyrite ingrained in it. 4 yo had a very good piece of petrified wood. She was able to say that it is wood, and she gave over her ladybug picture.

We had lunch and the kids listened to a naturalist talk about red-shouldered hawk. 1 yo was fascinated with an opposum behind the glass just at his eye level. He kept pulling up and looking in and even trying to say "opposum". Then we did one hike. We even had our trail blocked by a fallen pine, which was so large that we had to blaze a trail around it. The boys stopped and read all the new signage.

Without any external agenda, we did math, computer, research, science, writing, reading and PE. The good mellow mood settled over the kids, and 10 yo wished that we had more Sundays like this. I mused to myself, we are unschooling, so why do we have to wait till Sunday to have an experience like this?

Friday, May 9, 2014

chumash this week

When we were on our trip, we were not doing any Chumash. And we were not doing any Chumash over Pesach, so I was a bit anxious to start up again. On Wednesday, 10 yo did his Chumash without any issues, but 8 yo resisted, putting it mildly. He refused, absolutely refused. He slept in (the kids were on Central Time), and then we had coop and then we had tae kwon do in the afternoon, and he just would not do it. I waited, asked, modified, but he was not budging. I told my husband in exasperation that night: I cannot that kid anything! Off to school, or to somewhere!

On Thursday, lo and behold, both boys wanted to do Chumash at the same time. I chose to do it with 8 yo first, and he read that pasuk that he was afraid of the day before. It went so incredibly smoothly, as if this was a different kid. He even asked some good questions, and he was eager to move on further in the story (Avraham pleading to spare the cities for 50 tzaddikim).

Today I had a science workshop for 10 yo, so I was planning on leaving the younger kids with my assistant and just taking the oldest one. I told both boys that I would like to finish Chumash before I have to leave, which gave us plenty of time. 10 yo did his Chumash, and 8 yo refused to do his, again. I said that he cannot play or do what he wants until he finishes his schoolwork (one pasuk of Chumash and parsha, whichever way he chooses). he said that he will do Chumash when I come back. I said that I will not return till 1 pm. he said that he will wait.

When I got back, he mentioned doing Chumash with me, but both 10 yo and I were starving, so we had lunch first. Then I called 8 yo to do Chumash. By this point, my assistant left, and the baby was in the same room, not really bothering us. 8 yo started saying that he does not want to do Chumash with the baby right there. His sister lured 1 yo to a different adjoining room. 8 yo said he does not want to do Chumash with the baby in his line of sight. He also added that he wished the baby was not born. I asked how he would feel if someone said that about him. He buried his head in the pillows.

Baby or no baby, he would not do it. He said that he does now remember the first word ( kicking and screaming on the floor). I asked him to look at it. He would not. I pulled him up and asked him to write down the letters from the word. He kept on screaming. 10 yo wondered when he can watch TV. 8 yo kept on refusing. I asked him to tell me what is the first letter in the pasuk ( beyond elemental). He would not. I took away tonight's dessert ( very un-Alfie Kohn). Nothing.

I got tired of this behavior and sent him out of the house, to cool down. Then I went into the kids' room and discovered a huge mess. Then I took a giant box from the truck that 8 yo just bought with his allowance and filled it up with his possessions: the truck, his animals, DS, tchotchkes from the desk, etc. I made the other two kids clean up the rest of the room. 10 yo asked me what am I planning to do with the box. I said, I am taking these away.

By now, 8 yo was watching through the glass. He also asked me what am I doing. I calmly said: these are going away. If you behave well for a day, you can earn one of these back. If you don't, then you won't.

He chilled, came in, sat down, read that first word, corrected himself, translated the pasuk, read the next one, looked up a few words in the dictionary, translated the second, new pasuk, did baal koreh online.

What the heck?

Some days I feel like I am going insane. Some days this kid will not try at all. Some days, he cannot do anything. Some days, he is so annoying and so obnoxious and so stubborn that I feel that maybe a swift kick the the behind is in order.

Other days, he is the sweetest, most agreeable kid. Some days, he will go out of his way for others and for me. Some days he floors me with his grasp and abilities. Some days he will tell me what is bothering him and we can talk about a plan on how to deal. Some days, I just want to hug him and hold him close.

His possessions are staying in time-out, for now. And I am nowhere closer to figuring this kid out.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Day 4: bullying

We were spending Shabbos in Chicago, staying with a large family. It was so nice to stay in a house full of kids and toys. I watched how 4 yo made friends with 8 yo daughter of our hosts, and how the boys seemed to get along with the boys. They played a round of Chicago-opoly, talked about Willis tower and which other Chicago landmarks they would like to visit. I was told how the whole block is frum, and watched kids go from house to house, playing with friends. I became wistful of living in a large enough community, with enough people to have a whole block of frum kids.

In the afternoon, 10 yo and 8 yo went into the backyard to play basketball. A whole bunch of neighboring kids showed up for the son of the host. Next thing I saw was 10 yo leaving with them, going across the street. I was not pleased that he did not ask permission, or told me where he was going.

Next thing I see, he is coming back, fighting back tears. First thing I told him, I did not know where he went, so that is a problem. Then he told me how he went with those boys to play some sort of a game. They made him "it". Then they got into a little altercation. From what I gathered, he showed off a bit, and the other kids made fun of him: of his bukharian kippa, of his homeschooling ("what's 2 plus 2?"), of taekwondo. He finished with getting into a scuffle and using his taekwondo on a kid who claimed to be a black belt in karate. He was mostly upset that they said that he was weird, and all kids from our current city are weird.

So there we have it: such wonderful-looking yeshiva boys, with such great middos, making fun of a stranger because they knew they could. Never mind that we were asked whether our current city is in the US and whether we speak English there (I can assure you that we do). Never mind that these kids do not know whether Wisconsin and Michigan are states or cities. Never mind that in all the time we have been part of our secular homeschooling coop, my boys were never teased for the way they look, talk, dress or behave. These Chicago boys look frum, but they do not seem to understand that they did not behave in a manner befitting a religious Jew.

I talked to 10 yo. I said that there is nothing wrong with being weird or different. I said that the reason other boys made fun of him was to make themselves feel better. I said that they probably did not meet many kids who were homeschooled, or who wore different kippas. But the anguish that 10 yo was feeling was so mature, that it was making me sad. I said that he is better off being himself rather than showing off, and he is more likable as his true self. However, if people cannot accept him for who he truly is, that is their problem.

Once I was talking to this woman about homeschooling and she said the beef she had with it was that kids need to go to school to learn how to deal with teasing. At the time I do not remember what I answered, but it stuck with me. Now I have an answer: kids will have to deal with teasing whether they are homeschooled or not.

I was also saddened that nobody took the side of my son, although that's understandable: risk social consequences by siding with an outsider, or stay safely within the pack. Where is all that great Torah, where is the lesson of not oppressing the stranger because we were slaves in Egypt? I guess I am upset that these kids look all right, but they turned out to be somewhat rotten.

I still have school option on a back burner for my kids, especially during trying days. I fantasize how they could go and learn so much more than at home, and play with other kids, and be out of my hair. Then I have one of these brushes with reality of what school children are like, and I think how I would hate for my kids to be exposed to all this. I was talking to my husband how our kids are not having a standard childhood whichever way you slice it. I wonder whether I would want to give all of this up for conformity and close-mindedness.

Day 1 of our trip

taking a picture of a butterfly
It's one of those road trips which has the potential to be really good, or really bad, depending on the attitude. We are driving to Chicago for my husband's medical boards. Normal people fly in the day before the test, get a good night of sleep, take the test and fly back. Since the boards are on Friday morning, if my husband were to do this, he would not be able to get back home before Shabbos. He has done this in the past, but this time we are making a road trip from the whole experience, driving up and then back down.

the boys heaved the biggest stick they could find
Normal people spend the day before a major trip packing and then drive out the first thing in the morning. We both had something going on Wednesday morning: my husband had to work, and I had to teach my coop class on Battles and Weapons. Oh, and by that point we still did not have a place to stay for Shabbos. The few obvious suggestions fell through, my husband called the shuls, but nothing was coming through, and our preferred alternative (state park cabin) was not to be found within immediate Chicago vicinity. As I was teaching my class, another homeschooling friend was trying frantically to get in touch with me to let me know that she found us a place.  We were able to set out on this trip without worrying about what are we going to do for Shabbos.

You can teach your kids about Earth's rotation and time zones and the vastness of the US, or you can drive through the time zones. You can teach about terrain and weathering, or you can observe curvy highways cut through the mountains and waterfalls pouring off them, right beside interstates. We clearly saw when we drove into Appalachian mountains and then when we left for the foothills. We stopped at Tennessee welcome center on an island in the middle of the dammed Tennessee river. We swung into Nashville for some authentic Indian food. We used to get Indian food in Houston, and we have missed it. In Nashville, I found Woodlands, which is vegetarian and kosher. And authentic: all the spices are right and strong, all the dishes hot and steamy. My boys ordered dosas and chappati, and my husband and I got combo dinners, with mango lassi on the side. However, the baby has been up for a long time, and he was not interested in sitting in a high chair. He actually climbed out twice despite being strapped in, and kept trying to bang the spoon on the table. He would not be distracted with food. We took turns with him outside. Meanwhile, the temperature dropped, so I put on his fleecy snowsuit. My kids were wearing shorts and t-shirts, which was perfect wear for this morning. Now they were huddling in their winter jackets.

You can tell your kids all you want about proper table manners, or you can take them to a fairly casual restaurant and they can look around and decide for themselves that this is "fine cuisine" and requires better behavior. 10 yo straightened up, tucked in his napkin, kept his voice down. The younger two calmly walked around the table for the tastes of rice patties. If only those table manners would rub off on the baby...

The best piece of baby equipment that we ever got was pack-n-play. We got the most basic Graco one, and it served us well through four kids. That was where the baby slept last night. Between changing the time zones and not having his crib slats that he likes to grab, he was up at 5 am. Worse, he woke up his siblings, who tried their best to be quiet. He crawled and checked out every single drawer and crevice. The best source of entertainment was the roll of toilet paper. I usually do not let kids waste it, but this was getting a bit desperate. He ripped off a few sheets, wiped the floor with them, crumpled them, ripped them to shreds and then placed them into the garbage can. All this entertainment lasted for about half an hour.

The pool was opening up at 6 am, so I took the three older kids down there by 6, while the baby kept my husband company when he davened. Nobody was in the pool at that time, which was very nice for us. It was indoors and heated, one of the nicest hotel pools I have ever seen. The boys splashed and swam around and we did not have to worry about being quiet. 4 yo was a bit unsure about going into the big pool, but she warmed up towards the end. It was just so nice to watch and spend some time just with the older kids and not be catching anyone diving into the pool head first. 10 yo can really tread water, if not outright swim. 8 yo is cautious enough not to go deep enough. We just laughed and had fun. Then I switched with my husband, who had by now a pretty tired and hungry 1 yo.

The baby ended up falling asleep on me before we were ready to leave, so I sat holding him in the lobby while the kids had breakfast. I liked how I did not have to be anywhere else at that moment, and I was unavailable to pack or check my e-mail or hunt down elusive reception (the hotel was supposed to have wi-fi, but it was spotty). After the kids left to pack up, I had an elderly lady approach me and tell me how the kids are well-mannered. She said that she liked how they listened. I nodded politely, thinking how lucky I am that she did not witness them while they were squabbling or ignoring their parents. Then they rode into the lobby, my husband and 10 yo pushing the cart with all our luggage, 4 yo sitting on top of the suitcases, and 8 yo hanging on in the back, wheeling a duffel behind him, grinning. We do not roll quietly.