Monday, July 28, 2014

gearing up to a change

I'm slowly going through the sunroom, planning out the next school year. I have really fallen off the planning-ahead wagon, and I am desperate to get back on. I want to have achievable goals for what I am trying to accomplish with 10 yo.

I want to work on his grammar and writing. I am not worried about spelling as I think that will catch up with writing. I want to make sure that he gets math concepts. I want to finish Rosetta Stone. I want to focus a bit more on Hebrew grammar. I want to challenge him in geography and science. I want to increase the amount of daily pesukim in Chumash to five and finish Breishit, maybe even do a chunk of Shemot and move away from using nekudot in Rashi.

What I am realizing, sadly, is that how many of these goals are achievable, but I have not been pursuing them because they required my focus. The whole past year, all my focus has been on 8 yo and the baby, probably in that order. All the projects, ideas, objectives that I set out were thoroughly diverted. Many were not undertaken because I knew that 8 yo would never go along with them. Many were not undertaken because trying to get 8 yo to do any of his work could take any length of time. I was terrorized not knowing whether I will just need to sit down with him for 5 minutes and complete something, or whether he will throw an epic tantrum, follow me around, have tearful conversations full of hugs and then, hours later, we will be done. He would be reenergized and I was completely emotionally and physically exhausted.

While I still feel not very settled and calm about sending him to school, I feel much better realizing that now I have freedom to educate my other child in the way that he deserves to be taught. We had a conversation about starting back with Chumash. He was not very happy about the idea, but I insisted. He was grouchy and dramatically threw himself on the couch. I said that we will just find the place where we left off, and we will not do any Rashis today. He found the spot (we did not do Chumash for probably close to two months) and read it like he learned it yesterday. I saw that he was starting to get into his learning, so I left him with a few points dangling. Then we discussed when we will start official school year.

After this whole exchange I thought how normal it was: he voiced his opinion and preference, I stated my preference, he went along with what I suggested, implicitly trusting my judgement and I was careful not to exploit the situation. I got so used to constant explosions from 8 yo that I stopped having normal conversations with 10 yo, shouting commands instead or just giving up.

As I am going through different supplies and teaching aids that I made over the years, I am boxing many of them up. I am saving them for the day when 4 yo gets a bit older. She is easy to reason with, and she is eager to learn and eager to try new things. Perhaps she will appreciate all the different things that I collected, printed out, laminated. I feel a huge gap between what 10 yo knows and what 8 yo knows. I feel sad that despite all my efforts and different plans, I was not able to design a method which satisfied us both. But I am also looking forward to spending enjoyable time learning with my other kids.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Freedom of speech?

I did not grow up religious. I also grew up without any Jewish pride or Jewish symbolism. Maybe that's the reason that publicly, overtly displaying Jewish symbols always felt over-the-top to me. Those Chabad people with their menorahs, the Chassidim screaming in their clothing that they are from some other era: all of those seemed just a bit too pretentious and ostentatious. It probably sounds funny coming out of a mouth of a woman who dresses in long sleeves and long skirts in hot weather, and always covers her hair in ethnic fashion and whose kids always sport kipas and tzitzis, but in my head, the way that WE look walking down the street fits into the average American diversity, while what THEY are doing is too much.

A friend's family recently moved to Germany. Right before her move, we discussed how she is not planning on hiding her family's Jewishness away: her kids will wear tzitzis out, and kipas without baseball caps. I sort of counseled her on being careful, asking around, finding out what the local Orthodox Jews do. "We are what we are", she said, "and we will not hide it."

This was all just a few short months ago.

How the world had changed!

My oldest on Daddy's shoulders
Last week we went to a pro-Israel rally. It was organized through Jewish federation, and, from attending a previous rally two years ago, I knew they will have high security. Therefore I was not hesitating to bring the boys. I wanted them to see how we Jews come together to support our brothers and sisters in Israel. I wanted them to be aware of what's going on, and I wanted them to understand that it is important to show up and listen up. I wanted them to see what a peaceful demonstration looks like. Still, I prepped them that there might be anti-Israel protesters screaming mean things. I told them to make sure to stick close to me and if they would get separated, they should look for a policeman.
Over 2000 people gathered to support Israel
I need not worry: the rally was very calm, very sedate, and there were no counter protesters that I saw. I printed out signs for the boys to hold:

8 yo
They held them, waved them and then, when the rally was done, I was left with a few of them. A thought occurred: maybe I should place one in my car, on the dashboard, make a statement like a bumper sticker? Immediately another thought occurred: but is it safe? Is it too much? Is it "asking for it"?

Before you think that I overreact, I will cite the instances in Paris and Berlin from the past month where just being Jewish was enough incitement for violent anti-Semitic acts. Too far from home? I will cite Chicago and New York this past week. So I believe that there is a reason to worry.

Yet, just as these thoughts were occurring, another thought was running through my mind: don't I have freedom of speech and freedom of expression? Am I not entitled to my views? Am I not entitled to make a point on my car, just as millions of Americans do with their bumper stickers? I am not infringing on anyone else, I am not doing anything illegal by displaying this very pro-Israel sign. Will I not be protected by the law? Why am I finding myself in a position of fear? Are we not living in a democracy?

So what's the worst that will happen? Somebody will put a rock through my windshield and I will have to call the cops. Somebody might stand by my car, itching for an altercation. Somebody might start up with me. I will handle it. And then it might be time to start packing bags for the only place where people drive around waving Israeli flags without worrying what others think of them.

I hate myself for the fact that I even have to worry what displaying Israeli flag might mean to me.
My flag is on my dashboard.
I stand with Israel!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

comic relief

My oldest, upon hearing me debate which browser to install instead of Chrome: "Maybe you should be like Shimshon and get Firefox?"


My daughter lost her sandal. I picked her up from camp with both sandals on. Sometime between her pick-up, boys' pick-up from camp, pit stop at home for a library card and the library's parking lot, her sandal went missing. She did not leave the car the whole time. I checked in every bag and dug under all the seats: no sandal. That's how she hopped to the library, on one foot. I hope one shoe satisfies "shirt and shoes required".


My husband overheard 8 yo tell that 4 yo promised never to tell on her brothers.
My husband: "That will not work, she is not required to do that."
8 yo: "She promised."
"I cancel her promise. It was in this week's parsha."
"She promised yesterday. You can't cancel it today, too late!"
"I just heard about it today, so I am cancelling it today."


The other day I woke up to a detailed budget of what it would cost to keep a dragon:

I am not sure that I am a dragon person.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

on going to school

I am sending 8 yo to school next year.

By "next year" I mean next month. I have completed online application, submitted the paperwork, and I am now waiting for the "screening" before the acceptance.

It has not been easy. It has been hard. Those who spoke to me in the past two months know that I considered all different options. I tried many different things with this child. I thought about what I can do and what I want to do.

There wasn't one moment of clarity when it was obvious that he should be going to school. There wasn't a moment that cinched it. Instead, there was this slow realization that I am unable to teach him in whichever way I try. By now, I got to the point that I did not feel like trying any more.

I look at my daughter. She scribbles lists in her notepad. She tells me which letters the words start with. She wants to be shown how to write. She stops me to ask where is any particular word that I read. She is even-tempered and pleasant. She copes with her mistakes and corrects herself. She is eager to learn. I look at her and see that she is a product of my efforts to provide a stimulating and encouraging learning environment.

I look at 8 yo. How can this child be so different? How can he be so helpful, so pleasant, so caring, and then switch to being so impossibly hard? He does not want to learn, not from me, not anything that I deem important. He will not even try. Moreover, I end up engaged in an emotional confrontation, sapping all my energy. He does not gain, and I lose.

At some point, when I was considering sending both boys to school ( 10 yo is no angel either), somebody asked me: if you believe in the principles of homeschooling as ideal education, aren't you selling out? Well, I am still committed to the idea of homeschooling, but I am running out of stamina. And I have looked at how much of my energy is devoted solely to 8 yo, and how that adversely affects the rest of the family, and I realized that I do not have any more energy to give. It is not fair to the rest of us.

So 8 yo is going to school. I have used this threat as a possibility before, so at first he thought I was bluffing. When he realized that this time it's for real, he got upset. He does not want to go. He thinks he will not like it. He will miss out on all the fun things we are doing. He is worried about being held behind and about being stared at. I do listen to him, and I do commiserate, but I am firm at this point. As much as it feels that I am giving up on him, I feel like I am opening up a new vista here, both for him and for me. He can lead a life totally separate from his idolized brother. I can plan activities to do with 10 yo without worrying whether the younger one will participate, or take the whole time throwing a tantrum so that I will not have time and energy to work with the other kids. It is a new perspective, being able to plan and stick to it rather than wait for the next explosion.

While we are on the subject of school, I am thinking of sending my daughter to playgroup a few times per week. She is the one who really wants to go to school, and she loves the company of other kids. She is having a grand time in camp, and when she comes home, she sings songs, talks about what she did and name-drops her friends. I hope that being in a playgroup two days a week would satisfy her need for sociability and for the environment geared to her age. Now, don't get me wrong, on the first day of camp she was mistaken for a 1st grader, so assuredly and maturely she carried herself (she is 4). I know that all comes from being around older kids, but her older kids happen to be brothers, who do not want to make little projects and who are not excited about glitter and tracing letters.

I am also looking into some sort of assistance with 1 yo. Maybe a part-time babysitter, maybe his own playgroup. He is still so little, and he still nurses, so I am not even sure how this would all work. However, I am pleased to see that slowly different pieces are falling into place.

Now we only need to make sure that 8 yo is accepted, and that the cure is not worse than the disease.

P.S. I am saving the financial burden that is slowly dawning on us for another post.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The problems with unschooling

I have two gripes with unschooling. Maybe others have solutions to them, but they seem to evade me for now.

1. All joy and no fun.
No, I have not read the book (yet), but today's complaint by 10 yo brought it into focus. Today was Sunday, but it was also a morning after my husband was out all night delivering, the baby needed a morning nap, the boys got invited out to a birthday party at the last minute, and I had to catch up on house things like groceries and laundry. So I ran laundry while the baby napped, and, as soon as he was up, we went to Target to get gifts for the birthday boys and a few items for the house. I let the two older boys go and look at good gifts for their friends while I pushed the cart with the younger two picking out items that we needed. So the boys didn't even have to go through the whole store with me, just hang out in the toy/Pokemon card section. Then we went to Farmer's market to get produce, where the two older boys got baskets with wheels and picked out items from my list. They seemed to be having good time.
Then we got home and had lunch. The boys finished putting away their laundry. While they were waiting for the party, 10 yo remarked how he is sad that it doesn't feel like Sunday. I reacted: it's because every day for you right now is a Sunday! You do not have assignments, no school work, no projects that you are completing. There are just household things, and I was trying to get all the kids out of the house so my husband could sleep. For goodness' sake, we went to get a present for your friends! I guess when every day is a party, it kind of loses its luster and fun. Maybe that's when unschoolers pick up academics: so jaded by all the fun and freedom, that tedium and hard work feel good.

2. Inner focus.
I still do believe that all true learning, the kind that gets internalized, has to happen individually. However, with unschooling and children choosing so much which activities they will engage in, it is very easy to put yourself first in all situations. It probably works just fine if you have one kid. He's the apple of your eye, so of course he gets listened to. By the time there are four kids, and each one is naturally vying for attention, coupled with the attitude of "I get to pick what to do", it gets to be a total mess. 10 yo is horrible about putting things back. He is always in the middle of something which gets dropped and then he moves on to the next thing. He is also picking many solitary activities: computer games, Lego building, reading. All these are good if you, as a parent, give your child space to think, to process, to learn, to synthesize. All of these get to be problematic when a child is so engrossed in his own world (escaping?) that he is oblivious to those around him. I am not talking about good old not listening, I am talking about not being aware of who's in the same room, whether others need your space, whether others need your assistance, whether you are being annoying and disruptive.
Maybe I was kidding myself, but I was hoping that spending more time together as a family would make the kids more attuned to the needs and wants of each other. What I see instead is a lack of sensitivity and a lot of self-absorption.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

on being married to a doctor

There is one book that gripped me and really spoke to me: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It must have spoken to many other people too, otherwise they would not have bothered to make a movie out of it. In it, there is a love story told by two separate parties, time apart. The husband spontaneously and unpredictably travels through time: one minute he is there, next minute he is gone to another time. Only a pile of clothes remains. The wife has to adjust to this schedule, live her life, as she has no way of knowing when he will be back. She also does not know which condition he will be in when he comes back. She has the most uncertainty, and she has to live with it.

This book really spoke to me as a wife of an Ob-Gyn, and especially as a frum wife. There are plenty of occasions in Jewish life when the presence of father is expected and eagerly awaited, and there are so many times that he is not there. Then there are all those times that he did finally come home, and just as you are adjusting to having each other around, switching from single person functioning to a couple, he gets called up, drops his clothes for scrubs, and is out the door for an unknown period of time. No weak protests that he is not on call, that you had plans, that things are supposed to be getting easier help. So you pick up leading your single person life, move the clothes, and keep on functioning until he returns and the dance starts all over again.

It is really lonely and really hard. I tried talking to other wives whose husbands travel. Most of then know exactly when the hubbies leave and when they come back. When those husbands come back, there is a usually a break for the mom: dad is around, he can take care of the kids, the house, mom can get out on her own, it is possible to plan a date, a family outing... while this life stinks in its own way, it is not the same. Over the years, I have met other wives of Ob-Gyns. Some do major retail therapy. Some do regular therapy. Some are depressed. But when it is just me, stuck in my house on a Shabbos afternoon because my husband got called up, and the baby is sleeping, and there are no neighbors popping in, it is just plain lonely. Moreover, I feel left out and misunderstood.

When my husband was in residency and I felt like the only person in my frum neighborhood who was making Sunday plans by herself, I looked for a support group for wives of frum residents. It did not exist back then. I even toyed with an idea of starting a message board myself, but I resigned myself to the fact that I will be dealing with my crazy life alone.

When we moved for my husband's fellowship, we met another couple where the husband was also an Ob-Gyn. Talking to the wife, a whole new world of empathy, compassion and understanding opened up. Here was a person who knew what I was going through! In fact, since her husband did not have a shomer shabbos residency, here was a person who had it worse! Oh, we chatted and chatted. Finally, I did not feel so alone. In fact, I used to pop by her on those Shabbos afternoons.

Since then we have moved, and they have moved. In my current location, I am back to being an odd bird. I often feel how hard life is, how unfair it is that I cannot plan anything and rely on my husband being there, or at least, helping me at the end of the day. There is a lot of resentment. Then there are kids, and homeschooling and life in general. At the end of the day, it is just freaking hard. Do not go on telling me about those kollel families: when they have marital issues, the rabbi tells the guy to take it easy, spend more time with your wife, relax, listen to a shiur, go on a retreat... When you are married to a doctor, people do not see you, they see dollar signs that your husband is supposedly making, and they assume that you are just stingy at buying your happiness.

Well, that same friend just alerted me to an existence of a group of frum women married to doctors. I asked her to get me in, and I found myself no longer alone. Many of these women have husbands still in residency, so some of their concerns and venting remind me of bygone days. But the matter still stands: it is freaking hard being married to a doctor while raising a frum family. It is hard financially (residents get a stipend which is usually barely enough to squeak by), it is hard physically (the husband gets little sleep, while the wive picks up more and more household duties), it is hard emotionally (husband and wife have to oscillate between functioning as a couple and as totally independent single beings, without reliance on each other). As I was reading through the topics, they all spoke to me. But the responses spoke to me even more: these women actually knew what the other one was going through, and they were offering support and reassurance to each other!

Becoming part of this group made my day. I often forget how much of my homeschooling stress is linked to my function as a wife of a doctor.

So to all the wonderful women out there raising their families while the husband is finishing his medical training or launching his career: you will get through this. You have so many others watching your back, ready to lend a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. It will get better; the children will get older, you will master the bedtime routine, the housekeeping standards will either relax or you will get a housekeeper, and husbands will move past the stress of essays and applications to actual practice. In the meanwhile, breathe, accept this new reality and know that there are others ready to listen.