Monday, June 30, 2014

May their memory be a blessing

It's all over my newsfeed.

It's on everyone's mind.

The three poor boys whose bodies were found today. The three teens who were hurriedly murdered and not even disposed of or buried, just dumped in the field.

The three families who ended up in the spotlight and now must show us all how to grieve. The three families where life will never be the same, where there will always be an empty place setting for Shabbos, where brothers will be missed, kaddish will be said and the life as they knew it ended a bit over two weeks ago.

I feel incredibly sad and very angry. I am waiting for wails of revenge from Israel, diplomatic mumbling from the US, indifference from the rest of the world. (There must be some celebrity getting into mischief now, so that the world can shrug and move on). But what will happen? What will all the other mothers in Israel do now? How will they go to sleep, knowing that the murderers are at large, supported and praised directly by Hamas and indirectly by sympathizing hordes?

I have a humble suggestion: let's kidnap the kids of the kidnappers. We know exactly who they are. No, we will not murder them nor hurt them (that will be inhumane, perpetuating the violence and giving a cause to Hamas to proclaim them as martyrs). We will resettle them anonymously in Israel, in ardent Zionist communities, in peace-loving liberal communities, in Dati-Leumi communities, so that these kids will grow up to be moral upstanding citizens, valuing human life. They will be supporters of Israel. They will forget who they were before. They will forget their roots. They will move on.

 I cannot think of a better way to take revenge and avenge the innocent blood.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

tracking every step

I got a pedometer. I didn't get it to lose weight. There, I've said it: I am happy with my weight. I do not need to lose some extra pounds. I do not want to be five pounds slimmer. I am quite happy with where I am now.

I got a pedometer because I was curious how much physical activity I do get in during the course of a regular day. The vestiges of my lab researcher remain and they want to track such things through cold hard facts. So I wore the pedometer yesterday, and I was wearing it this morning.

4 yo: "Mommy, what's that watch?"
"It's not a watch, it's a pedometer."
"What is it for?"
"It helps me count how many steps I take during the day."
"Why do you need to know?"

Ooh, a hard one.

WHY do I need to know how many steps I take in a day? Does it matter how many steps I take during the day? Or does it matter more WHERE am I going while taking all these steps? Does it matter more WHAT I do while taking all these steps?

So here is goes: I do not work out. I would like to exercise, and I spend a certain amount of time and energy beating myself up for not exercising, for not being more healthy. I do not do those sit-ups to tone flabby tummy. But I spend a lot of my energy running after 1 yo. I work out while chasing him on the playground from one slide opening to another. I get down on the floor to play with him and to read. I do laundry, I cook and clean, I haul Costco loot and Home Depot pebbles for 10 yo's zen garden. I tie trampoline nets. I lift 4 yo.

Obviously, I take a lot of steps in my day. From the cold hard facts of the pedometer, I get to that 10,000 steps without making any additional effort to walk. But I would like to think that spending those steps in a family setting, with my kids, putting them into my household is going to pay off in a much larger way than jogging alone down the street or pounding the treadmill.

I'm going to ditch the pedometer. Thank you, dear daughter, for asking such an important question.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Phones: they are just like us!


I have been a latecomer to the smart phone thing, partially due to the fact that it required carrying around a fragile expensive device in my clumsy and messy life. When we finally got smart phones over a year ago, I marveled at how slim and delicate they looked and immediately ordered a heavy-duty OtterBox for mine. I did not let kids touch my phone till the protector arrived and then I gingerly placed it inside, snapped it shut, and started using it.

It made perfect sense: why risk breaking something expensive when it can be covered up and protected? But then I forgot what my phone actually looked like, since all I ever saw, day in and day out, was a thick rubbery case of heavy-duty protection. The OtterBox was serving me well: my phone has been dropped and splashed on numerous times, but it still worked beautifully. 

Until last night.

I was in the middle of texting my husband at work when the phone just quit on me. It did not turn off, and it did not run out of charge. It simply would not respond to anything I was doing, showing a blank screen. I panicked, for a second, and then got onto Google. (I am not sure what people did before). I found out that I might need to remove the battery, let it sit out for a minute, and then replace it. Now I had to figure out HOW to remove the battery. Of course, there was a Youtube video showing how to do that, with removal of Otterbox thrown in as a bonus. As I followed the steps, unsnapping and coaxing the phone out of its case, I saw again what my phone actually looked like: a slim white exquisite device, more powerful than the computers used to send astronauts to the moon, sleekly fitting into the palm of my hand. The thickness, the rubbery feel, the grime was gone. I was holding the actual essence, not the outward layers.

I was successful in removing the back cover and the battery. After an anxious minute, the battery went back in and the phone came back to life. I wiped and cleaned the case, but I was a bit sad to package it back up, to hide such beauty.

Then I took a look at myself. I wear slightly frumpy clothes: it makes perfect sense not to ruin classy outfits when chasing after kids. I wear "sensible" shoes: I like for my feet to feel comfortable. I seldom put on jewelry: 1 yo has a nasty habit of yanking at the necklaces and earrings. I skip on everyday make-up: I choose to spend those few minutes serving kids breakfast or reading a good-morning story to 4 yo.

But behind all this "sensibility" there is still a person who likes to have an occasion to dress up, to look nice, to go out. My essence is still delicate, even if the outside is protected by a rough and casual attire. So I wonder how many other women feel this way: you are doing something practical, something that makes perfect sense, but it is covering (smothering?) what you really are. Then one day you are confronted with the removal of layers and suddenly you realize that you are not what you seem. Of course, you knew that all along, but others are surprised.

So yes, I would love to have tailored clothes. I am looking forward to my BIL's wedding and a chance to have a bridesmaid dress made. I am planning on getting professional make-up done for the first time in my life. I am even considering getting a fun sheitel for the occasion.

On a deeper level, though, even if currently I am not running at my intellectual highest (no doubt due to spending many hours in the company of a baby whose favorite conversational piece is a roar), I am still that girl who would like to keep sharp, who wants to read intellectually stimulating material, who wants to learn, and who is eager for some grown-up conversation which goes beyond the superficiality.

Which brings me to a dilemma: when you look dolled up, nobody takes you seriously. When you look comfortable, nobody takes you seriously. Only when you wear a power suit, have a few initials after your name and drop credentials right and left, people start taking you seriously. How much of a true essence is left after that?

A phone has it much easier.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

babies can wait

A friend invited us over to swim with her family. I have never taken all four kids swimming, so I was a bit nervous, especially since the boys like to go deep, and 4 yo does not know how to swim. I figured that I will bring a stroller for 1 yo and strap him in as need be.

When we got to the pool, the boys took off, 4 yo stayed close to the side and I tried entering the water holding 1 yo. He did not like it. He screamed and tried scrambling to the top of my head. He did not want to be in the water. I waited a bit and tried again. No such luck; this child was adamant about not being immersed, not even sitting next to me on a shallow step. He climbed out and sat outside the pool.

A flashback: many years ago, when my oldest was one, we were also invited to a pool, and he also refused to get into the water. I spent an hour trying to get him in, and he just would not do it. I was so frustrated, sitting next to him on the edge and unable to submerge in the pool, to swim. I waited and waited, coaxed and coaxed, but nothing came out of it. I was frustrated to the point of tears: here is a chance to be in the pool, and you are not taking it!

Many years have passed. 10 yo got over whatever fear or discomfort he had. He swims, dives and enjoys himself. My other kids did not pause before entering water, so I forgot that a pool could be something novel and potentially scary. 1 yo reminded me that each kid is different, and he is in no mood to get in there and get wet.

Myself, being older and wiser, I did not push him. I sat him down on the edge, next to the shallow entry steps. I sat nearby in the water. 4 yo was taking turns with her friend practicing kicking and swimming. My friend kindly took her out into water and brought her back, so I could just sit next to the baby and watch him.

After some time, he reached with his hands and splashed a bit. Then he took a long water gun and swung it back and forth in the water, all the while safely sitting on the side. Then he reached in with one foot. Finally, I saw him turn around and try to climb into the pool. At this point I tried holding him on my lap while sitting in the water, but he clambered back out. He was doing this on his terms, not mine, and he did not need my assistance.

After another little while, he turned around again and again climbed slowly onto a shallow step. He stood there for a minute, and then decided to sit down in the water. After that, somehow he got comfortable and now I really had to watch him, as he was interested in going deeper. I was able to take him into water with me.

All of this process took over an hour. I do not know what he was thinking, or why he had to take that long to get into the water. What I do know is that there was no need to rush him to "just do it already."

How often at the park I see parents pushing their kids to just do this swing (and the child is screaming in fear), or go down this slide, or just ride their bike. I have the urge to walk over and tell them that the kids will do all these fun things one day, when they are ready, but this day might not be today.

I wonder if the same holds true for 8 yo's writing: maybe one day he will be able to sit down and write, but that day will not be on my schedule.

Friday, June 20, 2014

bring back our boys

Can you imagine your child getting kidnapped?

Can you imagine getting a report a week later that there is intelligence that your child is alive? Can you imagine not knowing whether your child has been harmed? Can you imagine other children rejoicing that your child is kidnapped and urging more kidnappings?

Oh, these things don't happen in America. Well, in my neighborhood there have been three reports over the past few weeks of a car scouting out children, possibly with an intent of kidnapping. Yes, these things do happen, and people do get outraged.

So let's be outraged over the fact that three families will be spending Shabbos apart, in a state of dread that no parent and child should ever experience.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

good old American fun

Today I took 8 yo to Six Flags. He did "Read to Succeed", a reading program in which, once the kids document six hours of reading over the course of many months, they get a free ticket to a nearby Six Flags park. We did it two years ago, with multiple reminders from me. Last year, both boys failed to record their reading hours. They read more than six hours in any given week, but they kept on not writing down what they've read. This year, 8 yo wrote down his reading, while 10 yo did not. He got multiple reminders and even a deadline extension by a week (from the program, not from me), but he still could not get his act together and write down what he was reading. Being a mean mommy, I did not get him the ticket. He was very disappointed, and he kept coming up with different schemes of how to go, including using his allowance money to buy his ticket, but I said that I will not allow him to buy something he should have earned.

So today was 8 yo's day. Additionally, he got to spend it all with me, one-on-one (my MIL came over for the whole day to watch the other kids). I have not been to an amusement park to be amused in a very long time. First, 4 yo was too young to go on any rides. Then I had to wait with her while everyone had fun. Then I had to watch her. Then I was pregnant. In short, I have not had good American fun in years.

In high school, we used to go to the local amusement park often. I loved the water park, the roller coasters, the hanging out. Today was a brief recapture of those carefree days. Before I left for the park, my MIL asked incredulously whether I am planning to go on any rides. I said, of course. As we were going down a log flume, getting splashed and yelling, I thought, that is the kind of mom I am, the one who will get down with her kids to have fun. We did another water ride and then we got to the new water park, the main thing that 8 yo wanted to do. It has a shallow entry lagoon, with waves and tubes to float on. We jumped some waves, splashed, and then I plopped in a chair, warm in the sunshine. 8 yo stayed in the waves, somewhere in the depths of the lagoon. I relaxed, for the first time in months. I did not keep a close eye on 8 yo, but I knew he would not leave the area without me. Whether that makes me a slacker mom, or a relaxed mom is up to you.

When 8 yo had enough of the waves, we went on the water slides. He helped me carry the tubes to the top, and we floated down together. He was so pleasant, so agreeable, and so happy. He also noticed that the lighter the load of the tube, the higher it splashed up the zero gravity slide (and the heavier the log, the bigger splash it produced at the end). He was obviously paying attention to details, soaking in info, drawing conclusions. There was also a bit of a discussion on centrifugal force, and I will lie if I will say that I initiated it, or carried it on. He wondered aloud how many logs it will take before our turn. I jumped at that one, asking him to guess (estimate). He said that he does not want to. Learning and education happen on his terms, not on mine.

As an aside, I should mention that the reason I enjoyed the water park and the wet rides so much had to do with (finally) getting appropriate swimwear for myself. I use a regular bathing suit with Lands' End long sleeve rashguard T-shirt and skirt/pants from Princess swim wear. All material is swimsuit fabric, so it is not heavy and it is meant to get wet and dry quickly. I even got a swimmer's cap, but a tichel does just fine when no real swimming is happening, and it is light enough to dry in the sun.

The last water park ride that we did was to walk to the top of a playground and slide down water slides. There we had to go one at a time. Right next to the entrance of a slide a small boy was standing, shivering. Some older boys said that he is looking for his mommy. Right before my eyes, the lifeguard who was controlling traffic on top made the boy sit down and slide down the slide, with me going next. That slide was scary! It was pitch-black on the top, with water shooting down, and it was long. I actually happened to slow down in the middle, and a person overshot me, apologizing. When I got to the bottom and got my bearings, I saw the same small kid standing next to the exit of the slide. I approached him and tried asking whether he is looking for his mommy and whether I should help him. I did not want to grab his hand until he understood what I was planning to do. Finally he agreed to go with me. I tried approaching another lifeguard, who just offered to contact his supervisor. Luckily, at that moment the boy's mother appeared, distraught, and apologetic. He was supposed to be with somebody else, and then he got lost. I totally sympathize with her: unless the kids are on a leash, in a large space like that someone is bound to get separated.

After this whole experience, I wonder whether this boy will develop fear of the dark, or fear of heights, or of water parks, or of life guards. I wonder whether I should have done something at the top of a slide, but I could not imagine that a life guard would just shove a small kid down a slide to get him off his hands. In a bigger way, I wonder how our kids get treated in a larger world. Is everyone nice and thoughtful and kind, or are people mean and short-tempered and your kid just gets in the way?

After the water park, we went to bumper cars. 8 yo said that he will ride on his own. I saw that he had trouble with his car, causing a traffic jam. I saw that people kept on telling him to turn the steering wheel all the way to the right and then gun it, to get out. I saw that he was not listening. I kept my mouth shut about the whole experience. Either he will get better next time, or he will ride with someone.

Our last two activities were a metal chain carousel and a roller coaster. Right as the carousel took off and started looping, my stomach let me know that I am not fifteen any more. I just closed my eyes and tried to relax. No such luck. Moreover, then 8 yo asked me to come with him on a nearby roller coaster. I said that he could go on his own, but he wanted company. There was no wait, so we got on pretty quickly. This was one major ride, with big drops and multiple loops. When it was over, I was not sure how I will walk, let alone drive us home. I was thinking back to all the grown-ups from my high school days: how were THEY able to ride and not lose their lunch?

Finally, the earth solidified somehow, and I calmed down enough to drive us home. 8 yo proudly announced that he went on that last roller coaster for his brother; to say that he tried it, but it was a bit too much. He also confessed that he kept his eyes shut the whole ride. I find it amusing that his brother was able to control him even in his absence.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

education on their own terms

So often I feel that my kids are not learning anything, and so often they remind me, in most unexpected ways, that they are learning...

We were finishing the story of Yosef and Potifar's wife. I asked Shmuli what he thought of Yosef ending up in jail and becoming in charge of prisoners. He said: "I think he got that Scandinavian syndrome. Stockholm syndrome. He now takes his captors' side, and he is even working for them. He is in a good position to tattle on the other prisoners, just like he tattled on his brothers." Hm, what an interesting reading! Yosef must have been trusted by authorities, or he would not be put into position of power. Having juts finished Natan Sharansky's biography, I have an acute sense that only people cooperating with authorities were promoted to easier jobs. I was quite impressed with this analysis.

I ordered caterpillars. They came in a little container without instructions. 10 yo hypothesized that since it is a refill, the assumption is that we have instructions. Previously, when I ordered them, I felt an urge to make a lesson, draw a diagram, fill in a chart, DO SOMETHING! This time, we just sat around the jar, observing them and making sure they are all alive. The baby is very curios about them, so our job has been to make sure that he cannot reach them. The kids immediately noticed the silk that the caterpillars were leaving everywhere. After each one asked me about the silk (and I did not know the answer), I finally googled it. The silk is to attach caterpillars to the leaves in the trees.

By today, all of the caterpillars made cocoons. They liquefy, literally, you can see caterpillar suspend itself and then turn shiny and fluid before becoming a hard chrysalis. I was talking to 10 yo how I wondered whether anyone know exactly what is going on inside, as I am not sure whether it is possible to know without killing the butterfly. later I caught him on the computer watching videos explaining what is going on. He told me how X-ray and UV studies were done, and it is a good thing that insects are impervious to UV damage. I recalled how years ago, in my X-ray crystallography days, a paper came out on using X-rays to study the insides of grasshoppers. Since the exoskeleton is so strong, the grasshoppers survived and minute detail of their breathing was studied. (If I was still type A, I would insert a link to the article here, but I am not type A any more).

Maybe, just maybe, they are learning, on their own terms.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Is there school in our future?

I am seriously considering sending kids back to school. Maybe I will send all three, maybe I will send just the boys, or maybe I will send one of them out. The question is: which one? Which kid is the odd one out? Is it the one who drains all my energy with constant fits and meltdowns and behavioral issues? Is it going to be the one who should be doing more worthwhile things with his time rather than watch TV/ play Minecraft/obsess about Pokemon and generally disregard what I am saying? Is it going to be the one who makes "projects" all over the house and yells really loudly (I wonder whether she picked it up from me, or from her brother, because the words that come out of her mouth are her brother's: "I'm bad". "I can't do it". "Leave me alone!"). Or is it going to be my spirited troublemaker baby, who is in need of constant supervision and constant hugs and reassurance? I am kidding about the baby, but sometimes I do feel that if he were camped out, I could probably handle the other three.

I had an assistant for months, in hope of alleviating some of the stress and helping with the schoolwork. The only one who truly benefited was my daughter. The boys avoid having anything to do with the assistant, they always seek me out. 8 yo refuses to work with her, except for rare occasions. 10 yo has really been down to very bare-bones learning, and I do not have energy or desire to figure out what is the next big thing that I would like him to do. He has not been taking an initiative in his learning as I had hoped.

I am exhausted. I do not end up with time for myself, as inevitably something or other comes up. Moreover, my husband is not planning on assisting in teaching the kids anything on a consistent basis, and he is unable to provide relief at night, as he is always on call, something always comes up, and I am stuck with my dashed hopes of a "night off". Add to all of this the fact the that baby got into a habit of waking up at 5 am, and I am ready to pull my hair out.

A few months ago, I was struck how people glibly were encouraging others to homeschool. Single parent? You can do it! Working full-time? You can do it! Kids with special needs? You can do it! Can't stand spending time with your kids?..

Maybe there are circumstances when homeschooling is not the answer. Maybe, even if homeschooling is in the best interest of a child, it is not in the best interest of the family. I have shared some of my doubts with the others and one of the first questions was: how firmly am I committed to the ideals of homeschooling? Well, I am committed, and I do think that for each one of my children individually, it is the best thing. What I am having hard time with is, how to synthesize everyone's needs, and then not to overlook my needs completely. 

Case in point: taekwondo. It has been singularly the best activity for both boys. It teaches them commitment, discipline, self-control, physical mastery. It forces 8 yo to focus and to control himself. It is also horribly inconvenient for me. The boys are in different age groups now, so their classes meet from 4:45 till 5:30, and from 5:45 till 6:30. That means I am out of the house from 4 till 7. If I am lucky (and I have been very lucky lately), my MIL comes over and watches the two younger ones during this time. But coming home at 7 and only then serving dinner is very late, not to mention that is it hard to prepare dinner when I am not in the house. Last summer, when we tried combining taekwondo with camp, it was too much and the boys were too tired. I am sure that if I do send them to school, the attendance would have to decrease, if not cease altogether. Yet, who wins? And who loses? If we stop going, I gain the time back, but I also get extra-fidgety 8 yo. And if we continue going, I am running myself ragged.

10 yo is adamant that he does not want to go to school. He keeps telling me how he would do anything to stay at home. Conversely, 4 yo is excited at the prospect of school. 8 yo flatly told me that he thinks he would not like it (translation: I will not cooperate if I don't want to). I oscillate between making this one year of school for the kids so that I can get my bearings, the baby can grow up a bit and calm down (hopefully), and between sticking it out, getting more help (maybe an au pair) and generally cutting more corners. I need to arrive at the decision, and just stick with it, but in my current kotzer ruach (shortness of breath) state, I am not thinking clearly. I do not want to make an emotional decision based on one bad or one good moment, but the time to decide is now!

I know that many homeschoolers have similar dilemmas and also harbor secret fantasies of sending kids to school. My ideal would be to send them for a month, so that we all decide whether we like it. Unfortunately, school is a one-year-at-a-time proposition. So chime in, jeer at my weakness, add your helpful advice, and tell me what you would be doing if you were in my place.