Tuesday, November 25, 2014

staying positive

8 yo is all excited about our trip. As I am tucking him in (all deep and meaningful conversations seem to happen at bedtime), he is telling me how he is planning on bringing one of his stuffed animals on the trip.

8 yo: " I will have to make a warm bed for animals left behind. This one really wants to come with us. It's so cuddly."
Me, distractedly : "If you lose it, it's your responsibility. I will not be looking for stuffed animals that leave home."
8 yo: "Mommy, can't you stay positive? Why do I have to lose it?"

Yes, my dear child, you are absolutely right, I will try to stay positive.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a really big heart

This morning, I ran out to get some scarves from a private showing. It is Sunday, and my husband was planing on taking the older kids to Gem and Mineral Show while I was planing to nap 1 yo and organize the sunroom.

When I came back, steam was coming out of my husband's ears, and 8 yo was crying. My husband asked him to do chumash. He did not expect to do chumash today, so he totally melted down. It took them an hour to torture their way through three pesukim. I was just shaking my head. At some point, I volunteered to take 10 yo and 4 yo to the show, while the learners would sit and finish up. However, they did complete it, had brunch, and left.

I got to the point in the sun room where I emptied out all the messy cubbies, and then 1 yo woke up. So now there is a pile of mess on the floor of the sun room, but the cubbies look nice and neat. The pile is bad enough for the kids to ask: what happened here?

But that is not what I want to focus on.

The car pulls up. The kids pile out. 8 yo comes in, beaming: "Mommy, I got you a gift!" I turn around and see that he is holding a tiny jewelry pouch. Inside are little earrings. "Mommy, these are mystic quartz. You irradiate quartz and you get mystic quartz. Mommy, do you like them? I got them for you for doing all those nice things that you do for us. It's nice to get you a present once in a while to say thank you. Mommy, we're having pizza for dinner? I love pizza, thank you for making it."

He leaves the room, and I am speechless and choked up. I am putting on these little studs. My husbands shakes his head: "Where did you get a kid like that?" Then he tells me how 8 yo got a grab bag of stones for 4 yo since she does not have her own money, and he was considering getting me another set of earrings, but that was outside of his price range. 10 yo was upset; he got nothing because he is saving his money. However, he used golden wire and wrapped it around a black polished stone (8 yo's gift to him as a consolation), and presented me with that pendant.

Before they left for the show, when the kids were outside and out of ear shot, I was complaining bitterly to my husband how I cannot take 8 yo's angry outbursts any more, how his hysterics and dramatics leave me drained; how I feel like a hostage to his emotions. Now I feel like the luckiest mom on the face of this earth: I have a sweet, caring kid. Maybe he will not master chumash, maybe he will not be quick with his numbers, but his heart is so firmly in the right place, that I have a thing or two to learn from him.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

enjoying schoolwork

This just happened, and I almost missed it.

The boys were taking a long time getting into bed tonight and I almost did not tuck them in. Then I had pity and went into their room to give them kisses. They already said Shema. As I am bending over to kiss 8 yo:

"Mommy, I can't wait for our trip. (We are going away for Thanksgiving). Why are we going?"
"We are going on a little vacation."
"Mommy, can I bring a little bit of schoolwork? I was thinking just chumash and a pencil and spelling. Oh, and a couple of math worksheets. Can I bring those?"
I am a bit stumped, as in struck by lightning.
"You like doing those school things, don't you?"
"Yes. So can I bring them?"
"Yes, let's make a list tomorrow morning so we don't forget."

Just this week a friend was telling me in the same sentence how she is burned out by homeschooling, and they are going away for a week, but she is planning on bringing some schoolwork. I was advising her to let it all go for a week, and give herself and her kids a real vacation.

My own kid proved me wrong. This child just requested to do schoolwork on vacation! So here is my revised suggestion: if your kid asks to bring schoolwork along, do it; if they don't, leave it at home.

And this is what child-led learning looks like.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

morning rush

8 am dentist appointment

If you are a homeschooler, you are groaning already, just from reading a previous line.

Two weeks ago, I saw a dental appointment written into my planner. Six months ago, when I made it, it was perfectly clear (or I was too rushed to make a full note) who the appointment was meant for, but now, I just could not remember whether it was my cleaning, or the kids' dentist. My husband was also telling me how our dental coverage is running out at the end of the month, so whoever the appointment was for, another one would have to be scheduled before the month was out.

I guessed it was for the kids, so I called their dentist. Turns out it was for me, but the receptionist was able to squeeze all three of them into one morning slot. The only hitch was, it was 8 am slot.

My kids are generally early risers. The only one whom I ever have to wake up is 8 yo, and I try not to resort to that often, But what my kids do with their early morning does not involve rushing out the door. They lounge on the couch. They read. The eat slow bowls of breakfast. They unload the dishwasher. They decide whether to toast bagels, and how long to spend on spreading them with cream cheese. They learn how to make tea for themselves and mommy's coffee. And then, when the breakfast time is over, they get dressed and daven. We pit a premium on slow morning pace. Even with all that, we are usually ready to start on schoolwork by 9 am, earlier for 10 yo.

It's no fun to rush in the morning.This morning, we would have to be there by 8 am. My kids love their dentist, and the office. They did not stall, but getting out the door that quickly was turning into a nightmare. I found myself constantly hustling them along: Eat already! Go brush your teeth! Why are you not dressed yet? Do you have enough time to daven? The height of ridiculousness was reached when I found myself saying: put on your feet! They all burst out laughing.

Then we got to the car and I found it covered in a layer of frost. The scraper was inside the house, and I literally did not have those extra five minutes for the car to properly defrost. I started driving, and then, with the sun shining on the ice crystals (which were beautiful, by the way, but I had no time to reflect on their beauty), I realized that I am driving without any visibility. We ended up stopping and I used the flat back of a tube of lotion to scrape a spot big enough to see.

People always think how homeschooling is so hard. I say, getting out of the house with all the kids early every morning is hard! I actually wonder whether part of the reason people resent spending time with their kids has to do with constant rushing and constant keeping up with the schedule. I heard of people putting their kids to sleep in clothes for the next day, or sending them to school with a granola bar because there is no time for breakfast. I heard of people dragging half-asleep kids out of bed to school because, well, they have to go! And what if they are late, and get enough sleep, and take their time? What if there is no time crunch?

I was thinking this morning how if I had to do this every single morning, I would go crazy. I would resent my kids, and they would resent me. It's a cliche about homeschoolers sleeping in  (and then doing school in their pajamas), but there is more to it than a simple laziness. It's a reflection of a different, calmer lifestyle. It's a progressive step in parenting. It's an adventure in self-regulation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

getting creative

It is November. As one of my veteran homeschooling moms reminds me (every year) it is a time for burning out, wanting to throw in a towel, or storm out of the house, get on the first bus to nowhere, and disappear off the face of the earth. It is also a prime time of year to see other people boast about what their kids are accomplishing, and to feel like a total failure.

I am suffering from burnout. I am also suffering from unsaid assumptions that I can take on other responsibilities, and put up with grown-ups behaving like kids. If it wasn't for my brutally honest homeschooling friends, and for some other friends who are willing to put up with my insane mood swings, I would be on that first bus.

I have set a new limit this week: I am off after 2 pm. That means that all the schoolwork that requires mommy's checking or assistance has to be completed by that time. It is probably not the best thing for my kids, for me to be unavailable like that. It is probably another cause of anxiety for 8 yo. But it is a much-needed mental boundary for me. Therefore, now it is 2 pm, 1 yo is still napping, and I can sit down and write a blog while I still feel sane rather than at 10 pm at night.

This new boundary is liberating. I might regret it, and I might not stick with it, but, at the moment, this is what I crave the most.

I love drinking tea and coffee. I allow myself one cup of coffee a day (some days it has to be two, if I don't want to fall asleep while driving). But I drink cups and cups of steaming decaf tea. The sad story of moms and hot drinks is that, often, too much time passes between the time the drink is poured, and mom can actually drink it. And I feel cold, always. Even being pregnant does not warm me up. But coming back to these lukewarm cups of beverage seems to add to misery rather than soothe me. This morning, I poured my tea into an insulated mug. Ah, a moment of inspiration! It has a lid, so the drink stayed warm all while I could casually sip it. I am on my third hot cup, and I am feeling peaceful.

Last summer I got into watercolor painting. I enjoyed it tremendously, and got basic supplies while the kids were in camp. The baby, who was a few months old napped, the kids were at camp, I painted. I also dabble in acrylics, and some pottery painting. The problem, all these lovely hobbies take time and creative energy. All of them are incompatible with an active and demanding toddler. And all of them lose all luster at 10 pm, I am a morning person. That's when I get desire to shake things up, create, give to the world. By the evening time, I am wrung out. I do not want to give, and I do not want to produce. I want a warm blanket on a couch, and a good book.

I found that the longer I went without doing those creative things, the sadder I got. I saw how days went by, but there was nothing that I could show for them. Finally, I just used my babysitter time to go and work on a trivet at a pottery painting place. I happened to pick a pattern which is very heavy on details, so it is taking me multiple sessions to finish it. It is probably not the wisest use of my time, but I am finding that no matter how efficient and productive I am, there is always more to do, and none of that "to do" was going towards my sanity or self-care. Somehow, doing those little curlicues is like a balm. I am not kidding myself into thinking that I am producing a great work of art, but I am relaxing.

What little creative things do you do to boost your mood?

P.S. I am finishing this blog post at 9:30 pm. Sigh...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

snippets of unschooling

10 yo insisted that we start on Vaigash, even though he did not finish reviewing Miketz. I read the first perek and casually told him that we will not be doing a lot of Rashis, as they seem to contradict p'shat. In p'shat, Yehudah is begging Yosef for mercy, in midrash (which he was aware of), Yehuda is powerful and threatening. I thought 10 would rejoice, but he insisted on doing those Rashis inside; he was intrigued by what was that hidden drash. We finished the first perek.


Tonight, at dinner, 4 yo asked me what's six plus three. I mindlessly told her to try to figure it out. She declared that she wants to do math, now. I asked her what she wants to use for counting, assuming it will be blocks, beads, or books (her recent choice). She chose her fingers. I was in the middle of washing dishes when I realized that she was counting out six, on two hands. Then she added three, and then she added them all together, all on her own. She was very satisfied with nine, and that was the end of math for tonight.


I got a video out of the library on math tricks and card tricks. 8 yo picked it to be watched tonight. I thought it would be more about math strategies than card tricks, but I was wrong. The last trick, called "The Mail," he did not get. It is actually a pretty silly trick, so I asked him whether he wanted me to show it to him. He was agreeable, so we practiced it two times, and he finally got it that there is no trick, just an assumption. The real show of confidence and understanding would be him performing it for others.


1 yo pulls a step stool up to the kitchen sink, climbs on it, and says: "Wash!" He is finally talking, although there is still a lot of gibberish. However, he is clearly learning the ways of a Jewish home.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


I am expecting.

I am not a fan of such public announcements. There is a part of me where I would want to see you in person and tell you myself, or let you notice my expanding belly and comment on that. But there is a large group of people whom I would want to notify, but we do not live in the same city, and we have not seen each other in years, so they would not know unless I tell them.

I can wait till I have the baby, till it's obvious. But there is something else that I need to share.

We have four kids. Somehow, when you have four kids, people feel that it is their business to ask, right off the bat: "So how many more are you having?" In this scenario, and in a frum world, it is not a surprise to be having another one. People expect it, almost, same way as they expect their unstable relative to ruin the holidays, or for a toddler to throw another tantrum. It's easy to roll your eyes, and twist your finger at the temple afterward.

With each one of my kids, we had good fortune of deciding: "Honey, let's have a baby", and then get pregnant right away. (I will throw it in here that I did have one miscarriage, and I am familiar with the painful, dark place which brings up all sorts of feelings of inadequacy.) But this time it was different. This time, I felt like I am already drowning. This time, I was in the midst of figuring out what to do with 8 yo, school-wise. This time, we were using birth control, and no human error occurred. This time, it was: "Honey, we are having a baby. AHHH!" This time, my logical self demanded another pregnancy test, because it was just too weird. I was not supposed to be getting pregnant at this point in the game.

Why am I confessing to having an unplanned pregnancy? Because 50 % of all pregnancies are unplanned, including married people, including families, including people who already have kids. And the feelings that come with an unplanned pregnancy are very different.

We love smirking at unwed mothers; we love feeling superior to teenagers who somehow managed to get pregnant, and more than once. We love feeling that we, as stable married people, know better. We also love that we do not have to fess up if there is an "accident".

Before anyone goes on a rampage about how all life is precious, and all babies are meant to be, I want to share a little experience. When my daughter was born, I had boys out of diapers for months. It felt good not lugging a diaper bag and a change of clothes everywhere I went. We planned for my daughter, we were thrilled to have her, and I knew by that point what taking care of a newborn looked like. Still, having to go back to elaborate packing routine just to get out to the park after not having to do it for a while felt painful. It felt like a setback. It felt that we were almost at that threshold, and then we took a step back. On this day, we made it out to the park. At that park, somehow, the conversation among mothers turned to some poor woman who discovered that she was pregnant, again, at her postpartum visit. The lady telling the story regaled how she was sobbing her eyes out, and the whole block knew. She finished by saying how one just needs to spend some time with women struggling with infertility to realize what a wonderful blessing it is to have another baby so easily.

I was about 6 weeks postpartum, and I remember thinking: if I found myself pregnant at that point, I would probably sob my eyes out, too. It would be a wonderful world where women suffering from infertility would put their energy and mothering emotions into helping other overwhelmed mothers who just need an hour of sleep, of sanity, of peace. Yet it does not work that way. Once you have too many kids (and that number varies by culture and by place), people look at you and expect you to solve this puzzle all on your own. And those women struggling to conceive will not help out, they will just look at you with jealousy or anger, since you have it so easy.

So let's quit pretending that only unwed mothers end up with unplanned pregnancies. And let's validate emotions of women who do find themselves accidentally pregnant, no matter what are their circumstances.

As for me, I am still taking time processing how this will affect our life. I know exactly what it's like to have two kids two years apart. I also know that it takes about 18 months postpartum to reach the point of trying to plan anything in life which is not directly tied to the baby. It takes another 18 months till those plans can be achieved. The youngest has to be about 3 for a mommy to get her energy and life back. I am recognizing that after my headstrong and curious 1 yo I will not get that space, I will sail straight into another postpartum. I am just getting a smidgen of those grand ideas going now, and I know that all of those will need to be on hold for another 3 years or so. I am making peace with that.

The story of my life is learning to let go of being in control, and being forced to take the journey wherever it might lead me. I often think that I internalized that lesson. Yet, time and again, I find out that I did not absorb it enough. Having an unplanned baby is the ultimate surrender of control.
Credit: http://www.anythinglime.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/heart_hands_pregnant_belly-1024x682.jpg
Unplanned, yet wanted.
Unplanned, yet the kids are overflowing with joy at the news of another sibling.
Unplanned, yet teaching me already some valuable lessons.

The road less traveled... made all the difference.