Tuesday, December 29, 2015

on being present

During the past legal holiday, we visited a nursing home. My friend posted that she would like to visit, as a חסד (kindness), but her kids are out of town, can someone with cute babies come with her? My husband was on call anyway, and I wanted to give my kids this experience, so I agreed to go.

This is so not my thing: going and making small talk with strangers while making sure that my kids are not too wild or loud. My insides clench at the thought. I don't know what to say, I don't know how to say it, and I'm afraid to offend.

Still, I went. I talked it up to the kids, trying my best to make it sound good and exciting: you can sing for the residents, you can do taekwondo presentation, it will be fun. The nursing home itself was brand-new, more like a fancy hotel. We went into the memory care unit, a fancy way to describe a place for those who no longer can orient themselves. The coordinator pulled out games: bowling, balloons and badminton rackets, balls. The kids busied themselves with the equipment. They tossed the balls to each other and to the residents, whacked at those balloons and were noisily happy. 11 yo played a game of "keep it up" with one of the ladies, solicitously tossing the balloon within her reach. He continued for good five minutes, patiently retrieving the balloon when it wandered off..

5 yo asked for a drink of water. We had to go around a corner, to the dining area to get her one. Over there, an old man was sitting in front of his breakfast tray. He looked at us, and something in his eyes looked like he wanted to connect. I had plenty of reasons not to do so: the rest of my kids were not within my line of sight, the residents who wanted interaction were in another room, the drinking that my daughter wanted was done. Yet I said something or other to this man, and he started talking. The words were tumbling out, with urgency. I sat down at his table, looking straight at him, nodding. He had a message, and he was trying to tell it to me. Israel, kibbutz, scientist daughter, millions of books, wise men, military: it was all there in the story, Yet I could not catch all the words that he said, and the details (who, when, where) were all missing. The story was circular, clearly without an end. My daughter left; I stayed, rationalizing that there are enough adults watching my kids. I consciously willed myself to stay and do nothing productive at this time. I stayed for a bit, and when my kids entered the space again, I excused myself.

As we were loading in the car, 11 yo angrily said that these residents do not need us: they have all these fancy activities. I explained how these people specifically need us. Our visit brought a certain positive experience to them, even if they won't be able to remember who came and what happened. They will remember the joy of interaction.

---------------------------

For the past three days, 5 yo has been sick. She has fever and feels overall miserable. She lounges on the couch and calls for me to sit with her. She wants me to cuddle. She does not want me to read books to her, she does not want me to get her drinks, or do anything else, she just wants me to sit next to her. It is excruciatingly painful for me. I want to do something to make her feel better. I don't want just to sit, I want to move, to fix, to tidy up, to do something with her or for her. I feel trapped, bored and lonely. I want to check my phone and arrange things. She complains about my phone. I try to just sit, but I can't.

In our lives, we are constantly told to be efficient, be quick, get things done, accomplish something, have a tangible measure of achievement. Sitting next to my sick daughter does not produce anything. Sitting to an old rambling man with dementia does not achieve anything. Yet both of these idle activities generate a sense of well-being in the recipient.

I am quite good at doing fun things with my kids. I am not quite good at simply being with them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When errands turn into pleasant outings

You have one child, and you worry and you fret. You fret about getting out of the house, nursing in public, crying baby, having enough diapers, not getting enough sleep, baby not sleeping.

Then you have two kids, and now you fret about coordinating naps, or one child running off, or being split into two directions. You fret about going out in public and not being able to control them, or having enough snacks, or using the restroom.

Then, somewhere, around three kids, magic happens. You still fret and feel overwhelmed, but you fret much less. You probably have a handle on nursing in public, you know which establishments have the cleanest bathrooms and are kid-friendly, and you have emergency diaper stash in the car. You gave up on coordinating nap schedules and accepted sleep deprivation as a trade-off to spend time with these little people.

It is the second day of the winter break for 5 yo and 2 yo, and, I have to confess, I'm loving it. I love no afternoon carpool. I love having them all home. I love having all the kids hang out together, separate into playmates as they see fit. I love that 2 year old is entertaining the baby. I love that 9 yo and 5 yo are playing their games. I love that we are all going to places together.

Today could have been insane. The boys had their taekwondo in the morning, I was testing right after their class, and then we were taking the car for an overdue oil change. I could not attend the class, since I had all the younger kids with me, but it turned out to be fine. Both 5 yo and 2 yo packed their backpacks with toys and books of their selection. 5 yo stayed in the dojang and watched the boys. 2 yo stayed right outside the door, watching the practice, getting drinks from the water fountain and being quiet. The baby was the hardest: she did not nap in the car on the way over, and I needed her to be happy for my test, as I was relying on 11 year old to watch her. She was fussy, but I was able to nurse her to sleep and leave her in the car seat.

I fretted about not stretching before being tested. I knew the material, but my body was not warmed up. However, the test went well (and I have to thank the teacher, who is a parent himself, for keeping it short and sweet). 11 yo watched the baby and played Hangman with 5 yo. 9 yo watched 2 yo. He was impressed with my board breaking, on the first try.

Then we all changed into regular clothes and drove over to drop off the car for the oil change. Since it was a fast day, even though none of us were fasting, I did not want to take kids to Starbucks for hot cocoa, and I did not want to get them treats. However, we did have an hour to kill. When I unloaded the kids, they lined up around one of the car bays: I forgot how exciting it is to see the car go up and see the underbelly. Once they realized that our car is not getting hoisted up any time soon, they asked me what we are doing for an hour. I suggested going to a nearby square, but they spotted the library first. "Ooh, can we go?" One of the boys was sad that he did not have his library card with him. This is not the branch that we usually go to, so it was even more exciting. I said that we can stay inside as long as the baby doesn't fuss, and then we discussed why the library is expected to be a quiet place. When  we got inside, the boys disappeared into the stacks. 5 yo found some puzzles, 2 yo found a book and asked me to read. The baby squirmed, so I sent her crawling. We stayed inside, with me reading to the younger ones for about 20 minutes, when the baby's level of noise started getting louder and louder. It was time to leave.

When we came out, I told the kids that we can break into the only snack I brought: a half-eaten bottle of peanuts topped off with almonds, craisins and dried apricots. We walked over to the square, where there were benches and space to run around. 11 yo protectively held 2 yo's hand when we crossed the streets. 9 yo pushed the stroller. The kids looked around at the shops and the restaurants and commented on their names and food options. In the square, 11 yo sat on the bench, while the younger ones ran around, playing tag, and climbing on the sculpture. I took the baby out and held her in my lap. It was warm, it was nice, the kids were taking turns grabbing snack from the bottle and strictly enforcing fairness. 

I thought to myself: how lucky I am to reach a point where an oil change is a welcome break from our routine. It was such a good outing. I did not fret about the snacks, I already changed 2 yo at taekwondo, so I did not fret about the diaper. and we would get home, when we would get home, and they will either nap, or not. The older kids will either eat lunch, or not. And none of it matters.
What matters is that we are all here, right now, together. What matters is that I am not overwhelmed by my five kids. What matters is that I am enjoying them, in a pure way where parents get nachat not because of what kids do, but just from having them.



Monday, December 21, 2015

Trends in Jewish Education

This past week, I attended a lecture on Trends in Jewish Education, specifically targeting day school age population. I brought both boys with me (they probably wanted pizza that came with the shiur...) The takeaway was that the future of Jewish education looks more like homeschool than traditional school. There is need to differentiate, less frontal instruction, recognition of multiple intelligences and various learning styles, addressing special needs population. There is need to teach students how to learn, and how to spark in them desire to learn. There is need to build close relationships with teachers and rebbeim. There is recognition for tremendous potential of online learning, and awareness that the world in which current kindergarteners will graduate will look very differently from the world they started in.

But there is also the economic side and that is unwieldy. The speaker kept saying how the tuition is already high, and, with implementation of all these new ideas and individualization, there is no economy of scale, so the cost keeps on spiraling up.

Moreover, he quoted the principals who consider a student a success as long as they still engage with Judaism and Jewish identity in some way, be it through Zionism, advocacy, social causes, textual basis, or religious observance. Additionally, studies have shown that a 6 to 12 months stint in Israel (not a gap year which has turned into "fifth year of high school", but a self-selected program like discontinued Masa) have the same impact on the rate of intermarriage as eight years of day school.

Coming out from the lecture, 11 yo thanked me for homeschooling him, that's how bleak everything looked on the other side. However, no need to attend a lecture for that. It seems that every week now I hear of another family seeking out alternatives to day school/yeshiva. Parents are desperate: the children are not thriving, the children are not learning, the children are not accommodated, and the messages of day school are not sticking. Unlike the free public school, all of this comes with a hefty, back-breaking price tag. The parents are sincerely wondering whether all the sacrifices that the families are making to give their kids a Jewish education end up producing Jewishly-educated kids.

I kept thinking about the famous pasuk from Mishlei, the battle-cry of Jewish educators everywhere: חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר, עַל-פִּי דַרְכּוֹ--    גַּם כִּי-יַזְקִין, לֹא-יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה
Train a child according to his way: so when he grows old, he will not turn away from it. It seems that the day school world is waking up to the first part of the pasuk, but they are not doing a good job transmitting values, so the second part does not work. The secret is that the pasuk was not aimed at an institution, it was meant for a parent.

I sincerely feel bad for the educators who are trying to scale up the dynamic that is meant to take place at home and apply it to a classroom of diverse human beings.

Another painful point that was brought up had to do with socialization. Aptly, the speaker did not praise highly the socialization that takes place in the classroom, but he noted that there is a lot of ostracism for those who deviate from the communally-accepted modality of education. Many homeschoolers experience it on their own skin, as do those who do leave yeshivish or chassidish environments. It seems that day school does a fine job teaching whom to affiliate with, and whom to stay far away from. The speaker noted that this behavior is modeled by the parents and rabbeim.

What trends do you see in Jewish education?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

One day out of many

7:15 am and I hear the baby cooing. Or is it older kids talking? Oh, it's both. The baby has been up again during the night, a bunch of times, too many to count.

Is it dark? No, it's getting light. Where is my husband? His bag is gone, he must have gotten called up and I slept through.

The younger kids are cuddling in 5 yo's bed. Time to get them dressed. It is menorah painting day, so they need ratty clothes. 5 yo starts arguing that what I picked out is too nice. I tell her that it will be OK to get paint on it.

The baby is cooing. Will I have to drive the younger ones to school? When will I nurse her? I set up her babysitter so I can go to taekwondo with the boys, but if I have to drive, I might not make it back on time. I will definitely not have enough time to nurse her before dropping her off.

Where are the boys? Are they playing the new Pokemon game downstairs? Is my husband possibly in shul, and coming back to drive the kids?

I text him, he's on his way back from an early delivery, but he won't be back till 8:30. OK, get his breakfast in order, get myself dressed, make oatmeal for 5 yo, pour cereal for 2 yo. The boys are just getting up, pulling the shtick of late rising.

Start making coffee; I'll try to stall on nursing till closer to 8. She nursed the whole night, she should be fine. Here, sit in the highchair, eat a piece of mushy banana and a muffin.

Where is the insulated coffee mug? It is in the dishwasher which is dirty. Wash the mug, so my husband can take his coffee to go.

The baby throws the leftovers of banana on the floor.

My husband texts me that there is a lot of traffic and he will be getting in at 8:50. The kids need to be at school by 9. It takes half an hour to get to school in the morning.

Say brachot, and think: he's sitting in traffic, just to get home, grab the kids and breakfast and turn around and go back. He will be late to the office. I should drive.

But if I drive, I don't have time to eat breakfast. I will have to nurse the baby now. I might not make it in time to drop her off and still get to taekwondo. We might be late.

I decide to take them. I call my husband and tell him that. Spread butter on his bagel (I wanted some protein, but there is no time to make eggs, or to figure out what else to have). Wash, eat the bagel while nursing the baby.

Shoot, I only made fish sticks for lunches, and I didn't pack anything else. mad rush to get the lunch boxes, and shove some snacks in. "Don't step on the banana on the floor!" Shoes for all, grab my uniform, tell boys to run the dishwasher while I'm gone, daven and get started on the schoolwork, Tell them to be all ready by 9:30, so I can just pick them up.

Buckle everyone up. It's a good thing that it is warm, so I do not need to preheat the car. No jackets to wrestle with, either.

We drive. In the morning, Waze takes me on a different route than in the afternoon. More traffic lights, more stop-and-go. We listen to the iPod. I get lost in my thoughts.

Chanukah is coming. I need to plan something fun. I need to plan a family dinner and invite my in-laws. We have not been invited out for a meal in months. We have five kids; it is too much for most people. I need to invite others for Shabbos meals. What about that new homeschooling family? I need to be social.

I get to school. The kids happily clamber out, 2 yo waving to his teacher. "He's always so happy!" They love the school. It is a constant, a happy place.

I drive back. I just get home by 9:30. The boys jump in and we drop the baby off. She wakes up as I pull up at the sitter's. I run and hope that she will last till I'm done with taekwondo.

Change quickly into the uniform. I have to review the forms with the boys, I haven't done them for the past two weeks and before that there wasn't enough practice for my muscles to remember what to do. The boys are gracious teachers, going over the steps with me, and practicing whatever I ask.

The workout feels brutal, especially after my break. My legs shake, but I do it. I feel strong and powerful. I forget about Chanukah planning, about schoolwork that still awaits. I focus on repetitions of the side kick.

When I change back at the end of class, I find a message from the babysitter, diplomatically wondering when the baby nursed last. The time stamp is from 20 minutes ago. A wave of guilt washes over me: here I am, self-improving, and she was probably yelling her head off. I text that I'm on my way.

When I pick her up, she's outside with the babysitter. She's not crying, so I finally exhale. She fusses the second I start placing her in the car seat and I briefly wonder about nursing her now. But I drive home, get the boys to open the house and bring in my bags while I sit down to nurse. She falls asleep while nursing and transfers to the crib.

I exhale again.

I get to eat lunch. The boys eat lunch of their own making. I rush them on, so we can get some schoolwork done before afternoon carpool, before the baby wakes up and I will need to finish nursing her.

We do chumash. They do everything else on their own. 11 yo really needs to add more to his day. His mishna teacher is no longer available to teach. For Judaics, I am only able to do chumash. 9 yo was upset about chumash yesterday, but today it goes smoothly. I do not prepare for him, I still remember VaYetze from last year. I remember the Rashis, too. I am getting to mastery. For 11 yo, I have to prepare. The language is different, and there is no narrative. Rashi cites gemarot and opinions which I have not heard before.

The baby wakes up. The boys trip over each other to take her out of the crib. 11 yo mentioned earlier how he misses her, For once, we finished Chumash without interruption. I nurse her. I make a chai latte for my afternoon drive. Now that the dishwasher has been run, I have a clean insulated mug. A piece of chocolate completes the afternoon pick-me-up.

I drive to get the kids from school. They are talking about Alfred Hitchcock's work on NPR. I have never seen Psycho, but when will I get the time? I get the kids and drive to pick up our betta fish from a friend. The kids are quiet in the back seat because the NPR is switched to iPod. The baby is asleep.

I get home and 2 yo does not want to get of his car seat unless I unbuckle him. His fussing wakes up baby. I need to nurse her, again. 9 yo is up to math, and he is having new issues. I still have not made dinner.

I text my husband and he's not coming home till later, much later. I nurse the baby and wonder whether I should be organizing something for Chanukah for the local homeschoolers. 9 yo moved to to have issues with his spelling words which need to be organized in an alphabetical order. I asked 11 yo to peel the potatoes, but he walked away.

I prepare dinner. First I decide that there will be no potatoes. Then I relent from punishing us all and decide not to give any to 11 yo. The baby is crawling into the kitchen, Is that chipped paint that she's licking off the floor? Why does she decide to start crawling when my housekeeping skills are at an all-time low?

I get her to sleep and hustle everyone to set up for dinner. 11 yo does want those potatoes, but I'm firm. And it's a shower night. And I'm still alone.

There was an ice-skating event for the women tonight, a chance to socialize and hang out. I forgot until the pictures started pouring in. I wanted to go. It is not happening. Is that why we have no Shabbos invites, since I don't see anyone?

9 yo washes 2 yo. "I even changed his dirty diaper and wiped him!" Thank you, child. I wash 5 yo. Then I beg the kids to watch the baby so I can take an early shower. I don't know how late my husband will come back. I don't know how long the baby will be up.

I read a story to 5 yo, tuck her in. I nurse the baby to sleep. I look up summer sleep away camp for boys. Darn, we already missed the deadline for one of the grants. I'm in a bit of sticker shock from the price. I share it with the boys and tell them that I will discuss the whole thing with daddy. 9 yo immediately decides that this means that he's not going and starts ruminating about it. I send them to sleep.

At 9 pm, my husband walks in. At 9:05, the baby gets up.

__________________

What am I doing wrong?
What am I supposed to be doing differently?
How did I trade the stress of five kids in the house for the stress of carpool?
When am I supposed to get any time to do something for my enjoyment?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Do not be afraid!

I lied.

I got on the Internet after Shabbos and there was an article about a credible threat from ISIS through Anonymous that there might be a local terror attack planned for tomorrow. 11 yo was sitting next to me as I was scrolling, and he saw it, too.

"Are you scared? Are they going to blow us up?"
"There will not be a terrorist attack here tomorrow. Are you kidding?! They will beef up security, they will scan and check everything, it would be simply stupid to try to do anything like that tomorrow."

I said these words with a straight face.

I lied.

I do not know whether or not there will be an attack here tomorrow. By definition, anyone who straps a suicide belt on and goes out to maim complete strangers is not following the rules of logic. They are the ones most likely to do stupid thing like try to carry out an attack at all costs.

So what do I say to my kids?

Do I tell them that there is a part of me which wants to crawl into bed under a large blanket with all of them and hold them close and shut my ears until the world is going to turn sane again?

Do I tell them that there are scary and mean people out there, willing to knife us just because?

Do I tell them how I want to feel safe and not go anywhere?

But that means that those terrorists won. They would win by instilling that level of fear. And I cannot stay in tomorrow. It's a Sunday and my husband is home. 9 yo has a rescheduled violin lesson. 5 yo wants to ride her bike with her daddy. I have a bat mitzvah to go to. I am not staying inside, cowering from fear!

So I will tell lies how we are in the safest place in the world right now because there is so much security waiting just in case. I will not be afraid.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

taking up taekwondo

http://img14.deviantart.net/7921/i/2014/203/b/e/
taekwondo_girl_by_kainaturally-d7rruym.jpg

I always considered myself to be more of a yoga person, in need of relaxation, deep breathing, stress relief, but lately I have been realizing that I need to be strong. I wanted physical expenditure of energy, a good workout, a confidence builder. So I decided to take up taekwondo together with the boys.

I have been going for the past two weeks, taking the same mid-morning class that the boys are attending. When the boys started, the standard talk was: "From now on, it's "Yes, sir!" Is that clear?" When I signed up, I was told that Motrin and hot baths will be my best friend. The instructor was not kidding: my muscles are sore. What looks so easy for the boys is a challenge to me. All those moves, kicks and blocks that I saw them do take a lot of strength.

On Thursday, I was placed into no-touch sparring for the first time: three kicks from me, three from the opponent. My opponent, a higher belt, after watching me sort of lift my legs: "Do you know any other kicks?" It felt weird kicking towards someone that I feel neutral about, almost impolite. But I mustered some strength and went on with the exercise.

As we were coming of class, 11 yo told me; "Mom you looked like you were flying during sparring!" I scanned his face for traces of irony. Was he making fun of me? Was he referring to the time when the drill was shuffle-step across the dojang and I tripped over my own feet and fell?

"Clumsy"
"Uncoordinated"

My mother's voice follows me. I was born a preemie, back when they did not do much for preemies, did not expect much. She was told to expect difficulties coordinating movements. She made sure that I knew my limits.

A flashback to my grad school. I am working on fruit flies. I am injecting fruit fly eggs with DNA. It is a super-precise and delicate work. I am able to do it. I am clearly coordinated enough.

In my son's eyes, I am flying there on the mat, in the dojang, a fearless mommy sparring alongside. In a few years he might not be so kind towards me.

In "All Joy and No Fun" Jennifer Senior writes:
The most productive, generative adults see their children as their superegos. Their kids hover over them and guide all of their moral choices. If these adults falter of behave ignobly, they know their kids will see; the same is true if they do well. They are exquisitely aware of themselves as role models.They know they are being watched.
This isn't how everyone thinks. Roughly one hundred years ago, Freud observed that many people spend their time reenacting the dramas of their pasts, seeking the approval of ghosts. They think of their parents as their superegos, the imaginary judges they've constantly got to please. But this is not true of the adults who are most concerned about leaving a lasting legacy. In their eyes, "the evaluator shouldn't be the past generation," says (researcher) McAdams. "It should be the next." They are freed up to invent their own lives, knowing that won't be governed by the norms of a previous generation. They want their children to be their final judges.

I need new vocabulary for a mommy who is taking taekwondo.

"Strong"
"Powerful"
"Fearless"
"Persistent"
"Flying"

And, a nod to Brene Brown,

"Badass"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Rising Strong"

For a while, my newsfeed was divided between the people who talk to their socks and those who want to live wholeheartedly. (Perhaps if I have a wholehearted talk with my socks, they will find their matches and stay that way?) I was intrigued by "Daring Greatly" and put it on hold at the library. To my amazement, it came in pretty quickly, and just around the time that my baby was born. I thought all the nursing time would translate into reading time, but the calculation is different when there are four other kids and mommy is suddenly spending plenty of time on the couch. Also, "Daring Greatly" touched on a lot of deep conflicts and feelings, and did not make for a good discontinuous read. ("Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" was a perfect nursing read: so many places to stop and still be able to pick up the story). Being a popular book, I had to return "Daring Greatly" to the library before I even seriously got into it, but I made a mental bookmark to revisit it under different circumstances.

Lo and behold, "Rising Strong" came out, causing a new stir of conversation. Brene Brown seemed to be interviewed everywhere, and the idea of grit, persistence, and coping with failure seems so essential to healthy functioning. It is hard to learn if you can't cope with disappointment. It is hard to recoup, if you can't learn from failure. So once again, when I was in the library, I found myself putting a hold on a popular book.

It also arrived pretty quickly, and I knew that I have to retrieve it before it goes back in the system. Only this time I was shocked to find that I apparently put an audiobook on hold. I quickly flipped through: nine disks, hours and hours of listening The confusion of the moment almost lead me to leave the CDs in the library.

I hate listening to lectures. I am not an auditory learner, and I do not process info that way. I hate trying to pick out one voice to focus on from all the background noise. Today it would be called auditory processing disorder, but I just call it "avoidance of sound". I have a hard time carrying a conversation in a crowd. I listen to music only if I can put it as a background noise, not as something that I have to actively focus on.

Would I dare listen to a book on tape, all nine CDs? When would I find the time? Would I be able to gain anything? Is it a waste? I was making a call whether I would rise to an occasion, or whether I would admit defeat, say that this is not for me, that I am beat.

I decided to take it out, pop it into car's stereo, and hope to cobble enough time to listen to this book. I do drive afternoon carpool every day, and that is good twenty minutes alone. I can also rope the boys into listening with me, they need to learn how to get up after a failure just as much as I do.

I am on the second CD. The author is driving me nuts. She keeps listing points, and then going off on tangents. I cannot keep mental track of her lists, some of which contain seven or eight points. She keeps talking about herself, and her research, and how everything is so enlightening and important. I am lost in the forest of her words. Yes, she repeatedly brings up points which resonate with deep emotions, yet her examples are so mild and non-specific, that I keep on focusing on how inconsequential they are. I keep alternating between feeling that she is a genius, or a self-indulgent repetitive whiner.

Maybe I would process the book better if I could read it instead of constantly being subjected to the personal auditory hell. Maybe I am not emotionally ready to process these important ideas. Maybe the emperor has no clothes, and there is no step-by-step guide to getting up after a setback. We just have to decide to keep on going.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

growth and teshuva (repentance)

It is a good thing that my husband is my memory keeper. I was exasperated, complaining how 9 yo will never get fluency in reading Hebrew, and he reminded me how I worried and complained about him not knowing any English letters back when he was 5. "He will never read," I said. Then one day it clicked, and now he's a proficient reader.

That got me thinking. We know that he has anxiety. There might be a writing disorder. There might be dyslexia, or some sort of other learning difficulty. There are quantifiable and visible issues. The medication, both traditional and alternative, has cropped up. We have tried therapy, and we have talked about looking into more therapy. When you are a desperate parent, it is so easy to start grasping at any story of a child with a similar difficulty following XYZ plan and getting results. We want results now. We want change now. Moreover, we want a very certain prescription for change, something that we can follow and elicit change.

But that is not how things work.

9 yo still has hard time writing, but he is capable of doing it. 9 yo still has hard time reading Hebrew, but he has slowly built up stamina to try and read accurately. He can read many פסוקים in a sitting now, and he can translate and pick out שרשים. Also, he is at the point where he has interest in board games, competitive games. The same child who would not even try a game before for the fear of losing is now happily engrossed in Sorry, Monopoly and Parcheesi, all well-known for the competitive edge. He loses graciously, even despite his older brother egging him on.

His tantrums, while still occurring over seemingly trivial things, are much smaller. In fact, he came to the realization that he should work on not throwing fits. One of his self-discovered cures is playing the violin. Violin is not easy to play, and he is a beginner, which means, putting it mildly, he is not very good at it yet. Playing the violin and not getting the right sounds is very frustrating to him. I was anticipating this frustration, and got the rental insured, just in case here will be some throwing. Yet, 9 yo discovered that it is a calming activity.

I wish that I could point to a magic pill, and tell everyone else what the secret to these changes is, but, I'm afraid, it is just giving it time. With this extra time comes extra maturity and introspection. All of this makes me wonder whether in our desire to change our difficult children we jump the gun, counsel, treat and medicate instead of just waiting things out. Maybe what ends up working in the end is not the latest cure, but the simple gift of time.

The time between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is known as עשרת ימי תשובה, ten days of repentance. Reading over Rambam's description of תשובה גמורה (complete repentance), one is struck with the complete transformation of a person, up to the point that one is called by a different name, because it is not the same person who did those sins. Yet, any aspect of תשובה that I have worked on was incremental. Change is slow, change takes time, change takes slip-ups and sliding back. Change appears instantaneous to the outside observer, yet, in the thick of it, change is often barely perceptible. Change is often a different thought pattern, Change is biting your tongue instead of saying something. Change is measured in these small steps, and often, one is not certain whether these steps are in the right direction.

Part of my תשובה is to be more patient with my kids, to give them the gift of time, and to allow them to change, mature and learn slowly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

First few weeks

5 yo and 2 yo have been going to their school. 5 yo loves it. She is happy to go and happy to come home. She talks about her projects, about reading, about making chains for skip-counting. She sings songs about Rosh HaShana. She talks about the new friends that she made. Overall, she is a happy child, having the time of her life.

I keep thinking  how school is meant for girls, rewarding and encouraging their behavior patterns of socialization, listening, and group activities.

2 yo is having harder time adjusting to having his nap time messed up. He is excited to go, but he is a mess in the afternoon when I pick him up. I get lots of pictures from the school and he is happy in them, participating in activities, sitting down, paying attention, crafting. Yet I do feel quite a few pangs of regret about sending out a child so young.

The boys are continuing with taekwondo three mornings a week. On Wednesday mornings we participate in the coop classes. Both boys are taking engineering and Minecraft History of Weapons. Unfortunately, these activities eat quite a bit of morning time. By 2 pm I have to leave to pick up the younger ones, so there is a lot of pressure to finish schoolwork before I go
. The baby is hanging out with us. Due to all the shuttling back and forth, she does not end up napping in her crib in the mornings. She is not a good sleeper and she is not easy to put down.

We are all adjusting.

I have finally finished reviewing בשלח with 11 yo. We have started on יתרו and, for once, he is excited to get to the "juicy stuff". I am trying to get out of the way and not kill his enthusiasm with too many Rashis. We have also been going over ספר יונה. So far we covered two פרקים. Please G-d that this year we actually get to finish it. Additionally, we have been slowly making our way through הלכות תשובה. I thought I have learned them all at some point or other, but, as I am reading them over, I am stunned by how much I do not remember. A while ago someone posted Beta Midrash app. I downloaded it and that is the text that we are using. It is nice, since there is an option to have Hebrew and English side-by-side, or just one of the languages. I can also make the font larger, Finally, all the citations are linked to the text. Moreover, 11 yo seems to enjoy the technological aspect of learning, As for me, this is quite a serious preparation. I am shaken by how much I am doing wrong, and 11 yo is getting the message, too. Sometimes I wonder whether this is too much, too soon, Yet I know that we will stop by יום כיפור, somewhere in the third פרק. This year, it is more of a taste than an in-depth study.

For math I checked out Khan Academy, but I was too nervous so I got Math Mammoth. 11 yo finished his first unit which was mostly review. Next unit has to do with equations, and I will need to sit with him, to make sure that he is not lost. So I let him loose on Khan Academy, hoping that he will either get ahead, or will get to review more of the material that he is not solid in.

We are continuing with Rosetta Stone, and I am hoping to read more of the picture Hebrew books with him.

With 9 yo, it has been touch and go. I dropped חומש for now and we are doing a lot of pages from the reading primer. I am hoping to build up his fluency and accuracy. There is still a slight possibility of dyslexia hanging over. It will not be picked up easily, as he reads fluently in English, but in Hebrew we've got problems. 9 yo is still better at reading Rashi script that regular Hebrew and I wonder whether I taught him and pushed him to read too soon.

We have been reading יונה from Artscroll children's edition. There is a lot of explanation and midrash in there, but it gives him welcome breaks between each פסוק. I have not been asking him to translate, just to focus on reading Hebrew text with corresponding English.

For math, 9 yo is going over Math Mammoth. He seemed fine with it until his brother started doing Khan Academy; now he wants to do that instead. He got to play around with it a while back, but he did not want to explore areas which were unfamiliar or difficult.

For science I am planning on using a standard 4th grade textbook with our usual mix of eclectic learning thrown in. We hanged a hummingbird feeder right outside the kitchen window and the kids have been watching the tiny visitors. There were many questions ( most from 5 yo), so i asked 9 yo to make a poster about hummingbirds by doing some research online. He threw a fit: "I am not good at science and you know it!" I understood that he simply did not know where to start. I asked him to bring me 5 index cards and told him that each card will be for a question. He sulked. I asked him whether there was something about hummingbirds that he wanted to know. He said, no. I gave him a few examples and wrote them down, leaving the last index card for him question. He finally admitted that he wanted to know how fast the hummingbird's heart beats. Then he went to Google the info, A minute later he excitedly came back, spewing numbers. Apparently, it beats anywhere between 60 and 1260 beats per minute. We have hummingbirds that live here year-round, but other species spend the winter in our state. Hummingbird eggs are the size of black-eyed peas. Many hummingbirds return to the same feeder year after year, so we have to keep ours up. The baby hummingbirds come potty-trained: they "do their business" over the side of the nest. Parents feed their babies a mixture of nectar and fruit flies, so it is a good thing that we resurrected the compost pile ( to which 9 yo dutifully takes out compost every day). Finally, hummingbirds are pushed out of the nest as soon as they are able to fly. This fact made 9 yo sad. He actually came back to me in the morning and told me again how sad he is for baby hummingbirds. I asked him, why he thinks parents do that. He said, so that they can grow up and be independent and live their own life. Somehow, this thought cheered him up.

So are we, as parents, pushing our kids out of the nest so that they can get a chance to live a life and to fly.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

kids in the kitchen

apples in honey

I got ambitious tonight ( the younger two were asleep) and started on sunken apple tart from Kosher by Design. No sooner had I sauteed apples in honey and inhaled their heavenly aroma, and the baby woke up. 11 yo picked her up while 9 yo walked into the kitchen, wondering whether he can help.
dry ingredients











I asked the boys whether they want to take over. And take over they did. They made the rest of the tart, while I sat on the couch and nursed. They hunted down the lemon zester, measured and mixed. I was not consulted, but, by now, we have baked enough that they knew their way around the kitchen.
wet ingredients


Of course, there is a risk that something was not done right, and the tart will not come out. However, as I sat nursing, I truly relaxed. I have no ego in this, just pride that my kids can help and can tackle even a pretty elaborate recipe.


a bit of sampling

and a bit of goofing off


cinnamon sugar topping

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Every day

Every day I spend hours rocking the baby to sleep, long past the time that the rest of the kids fell asleep, long past the time that makes an acceptable bedtime. 

Every morning I wake the same baby during her morning sleep to drive the rest of the kids to their destinations.


Every afternoon, I scream like a banshee because the house is a disaster, I'm covered in spit up, the dinner is not ready, or not cleaned up, and somebody still has schoolwork and the temerity to ask about watching TV. 


Every day I get a forward with amusing something or other from one of the grandmas. 


Every day my mother calls, asking me to call when I can. 


Every day I wonder whether my husband will be home for dinner or bedtime, whether he will bother to tell me.


Every day my son asks why I yell so much.


Every day whatever gets started does not get finished. 


Every day I'm solving yesterday's dilemmas, cleaning up yesterday's mess, checking yesterday's schoolwork. 


Every day I yearn for connection beyond superficiality, but I have no time and energy for one. 

Every day feels like an escalator from which I cannot get off. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

requiem for a thin girl

Once upon a time, I was thin. I was objectively, crazily thin. I did not diet, I did not exercise, I did not have an eating disorder. I just was thin.

Then life happened. I got married and had five kids. Each pregnancy came with very average weight gain, and each child left behind a few extra pounds.

I am not thin any more. I am not fat, and I do not feel horrible, but I am not thin.

I will not abuse myself by calling myself names, by beating myself up about the way my body is now. It did miraculous things, like nourishing and growing five human beings, and then it birthed them and then it nursed them. It carried them up and down numerous flights of stairs. It climbed to the top bunk to tuck a child in. It got up and paced for hours, trying to get babies to sleep. It ran to and cuddled a hurt child. For all that I was able to do, I am grateful.

What about that skinny girl, the one who could always eat without looking back, and who could try the smallest size on the clothes rack?

This is my little requiem.

That girl was always hungry. That girl attended a boarding school where, at times, food was not available or provided, yet she did not have her parents' credit card to buy extra food. That girl did not buy snacks or soda at the mall because she could not afford them. That girl carefully totaled her college food expenses and ate strictly from the cafeteria's food plan. That girl bypassed salad bar because it was sold by weight, and all those watery vegetables were expensive and lacking in calories. That girl had two slices of toast for breakfast with a tea made from free hot water and a tea bag brought from the dorm not because she wanted to, but because it only cost her 20 cents. That girl was super active because she walked to her apartment cleaning jobs instead of spending money on the subway.

Yes, it would be nice to be skinny again. But I do not want that skinny girl's life.

If I do slim down again, I want to happen because I am eating my fill of healthy food and spend my days chasing kids. And if I do not, then let that skinny girl recede into the past.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Jewish education my kids are not getting

Being a baalat teshuva and not attending day school makes me nervous about my Judaic knowledge. I am even more jittery when it comes to educating boys. When do they start mishna? When do they start Gemara? What format does halacha learning take? What about Jewish philosophy? I don't even know what it is supposed to look like, let along teach it. I feel so inadequate, so ready to put them into dayschool or hire a rebbe, someone who knows this stuff, who can teach them.

What I tend to forget is that learning without application is worthless. Luckily, there are plenty of situations to remind me about it.

Today the kids held a "student council meeting" and decided among themselves that they want to be governed by republican democracy. Well, 2 yo objected by saying no. When 11 yo offered tyranny, 2 yo jumped excitedly up and down. Part of this new system of rule included taxation. The kids set a tax rate at 10% of their allowance, after tzedakah. They decided to store their taxes in an envelope in 5 yo's drawer (being the most responsible and the least likely to lose it). They also entered a clause about stealing from the tax fund and that was set by 11 yo straight from his mishna.

Later on today, we had an afternoon bris to attend. (The baby was jaundiced, so the bris was delayed). This is a sibling of one of their friends, so the kids were quite eager to go. As the crowds shuffled into the shul, I surveyed the situation and decided that it might not be worth it to stay for the סעודה afterwards, as it looked very crowded and I had all five kids by myself. Moreover, the boys went downstairs while I stayed upstairs with three younger ones. 5 yo asked to go down to the boys, but since this is not the building that we usually go to, I was not sure whether she knew her way around. I let her go, but then I could not find her afterwards. As I was trying to get the stroller into the corner and find a seat for 2 yo, I saw people trolling next to the food table, with the staff telling them that the food is not being served yet. I saw kids grab fistfuls of candy from the sweet table, more that any one child can eat at a time. I stopped mine from doing the same. I saw a rabbi hover around the food with the plate, trading remarks with the staff as to why he is not filling his plate yet. And I saw kids swoop in and repeatedly grab cookies from the sides, where the staff could not get them to stop.

All these kids are going to local Jewish schools, getting a Jewish education. The rabbi is a teacher in one of these schools. Yet all I saw was a lack of דרך ארץ. If the purpose of learning all those mishnayot is to pass a test and then leave them behind in the classroom, I am not sure whether that can be called education. If the rabbi teaches Pirkei Avot, yet fails to behave as a mentch, I am not sure whether his teaching means anything.

I gathered up my kids and left, not waiting to see the stampede of everyone else once the food will be opened up. I did not want to see people pushing and shoving to fill their plates. I did not want my kids to see people piling on more food that they can eat. I did not want to see the parents of the baby shake their heads and regret this late afternoon bris and the crowd of hungry Jews that were lured by a free dinner. But before I walked out, I saw the disgust in the eyes of a not religious grandma, surely produced by the less than fine behavior of the religious Jews.

My kids might be missing out on Jewish education, but they will not miss out on being educated in how to be a mentch.

Monday, August 17, 2015

end of summer

Summer is drawing to a close. I filed Declaration of Intent to Homeschool for the boys. I also shopped for school supplies for 5 yo and 2 yo. I looked into Khan Academy for math and got Math Mammoth, just in case. It sounds like we are rolling into school year, yet, in a way, we were "doing school" all along. We have kept up Chumash study. 11 yo just finished שירת הים in בשלח. We skipped many Rashis and he complained plenty about the poetic language, even though he knew the words from davening. 9 yo is in the middle of תולדות. Both boys continued with taekwondo and just received a black stripe on their belts, putting just one more level between them and that coveted black belt. 9 yo begged and begged me to start violin. After ignoring his requests and wishing they would go away (and trying to sway him towards a less challenging instrument), I found a teacher for him. He has been very conscientious about it, treating the instrument gingerly and practicing. Of course, it has barely been a month, so I'm still taking "wait and see" approach, but this is definitely an unschooling step of following the child's interest.

At the zoo. They made sketchbooks and sketched some animals
5 yo, not to be outdone, wrote a note to her new aunt (who is a music teacher) to teach her how to play the piano. I'm not holding my breath on that either, but so far, she has been practicing.

Joint reading of Harry Potter
In the afternoons, the boys have been advancing through new levels of computer games. I have almost an allergic reaction to the amount of time they spend in front of the screen, but I don't have much to offer instead. Usually we are stuck indoors because one of the babies is napping, or is cranky or I have to get that dinner going or I am nursing. So let them enjoy computer time, let them figure out how to take turns and meet their own electronic needs. That will come to a close in another week, and we are all aware of it.
Nothing inspires creativity like a box of brand-new pencils.
While 11 yo and 5 yo are drawing,
9 yo is organizing them by color families.

We also made some changes in our house. They boys agreed to move their sleeping quarters downstairs, into the basement, so I can place 2 yo with 5 yo and give the other bedroom to the baby. The baby is a terrible sleeper, which causes me to be extra tired and grouchy. Then, after we put all the effort in getting her to sleep, we tiptoe into the bedroom and wake her up by rummaging for clothes, etc.

I wish to have more of a house to place all these kids, and less of a house to clean and maintain. I know that down the road, three bedrooms are plenty for our five kids, but right now, a kingdom for a spare bedroom, or even a nook where this baby can get some sleep.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

printer (encore)

Two weeks ago I took out 4 DVDs out of the library. One was a grown-up movie and rest were meant to interest my kids. When 9 yo saw them, he said they all look boooring. I asked him what he thought they were about. He said: one is about pianos ("Making of a Steinway"), one is about soup (Andy Warhol) and one is about holidays ("Mr. Bean Takes a Holiday"). I cracked up and said, you are missing good stuff because you are judging DVDs by their covers.

The joke was on me.

A week later I caught 2 yo with an open DVD case. He has been known to open them and play with them, so I was not too worried till I realized that it is Mr. Bean and that the disk is missing. We asked him where he put it, and he kept leading everyone downstairs where we have a DVD player. We looked and looked, but the DVD was not found. I kept renewing the DVDs, hoping that it will turn up before I will have to go to the library and confess.

Today I needed to print out the supply lists for 5 yo's school. 11 yo kept telling me how the printer is broken and won't print, so I put my husband in charge. He came to me: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the supply list is printed. The bad news is that Mr. Bean's DVD was crammed into the printer, and now it is cracked in half."

I will have to go to the library and explain that my printer ate the DVD...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

wanting to blog more regularly

I'm back to blogging.

Sort of.

Not really.

I want to be back. I want to blog. I NEED to blog. I have a visceral need to unload, to process everything that is going on, and I do it best through a creative outlet. I like to write. I like to create.

But all these activities take time. Time and energy. They are reenegizing, yet draining at the same time.

Time is limited. Every morning when I wake up, I want to go for a walk or a jog. (I'm badly out of shape, so it is a walk). I also want to make a nice breakfast: smoothie, pancakes, bagels, fake bacon, or eggs. I also want to have time for that good morning story or a snuggle with whichever kid requests it. And I want to daven. It is important to start your day with a conversation to G-d. How do I expect my children to have a relationship with Hashem if I'm not working on building mine? Oh, and the baby will wake up and need to nurse at some point. I would love to share a peaceful cup of coffee with my husband. And morning showers are invigorating in the way evening showers never are. And doing Chumash with 11 yo early on, when he's fresh is better that squeezing it in later in the day. And if I do grocery shopping early, I can knock off a chore off my list. There is nothing like shutting a door and doing some yoga, gentle stretching, meditation to calm the mind.

But most mornings I open my eyes because one of the kids is already up and needs me. I stumble around, and I don't get to do what I want, I end up doing what I need to do. The kids need to be packed up for camp and dropped off, the dishwasher needs to be loaded/unloaded, the babies need to be changed, crisis over missing socks/toys/money/hair brush needs to be resolved.

I want quiet time to blog, but I end up sacrificing it to the needs of the family.

My boys are having "the best week ever", in their words. They are off from camp, while 5 yo and 2 yo are still going. On Sunday they had a water gun party with a friend followed by a family swim in a local pool. Both boys are very comfortable swimmers and loved diving. 5 yo got a few practice rounds with the help of daddy and a pool noodle. 2 yo splashed in 1 foot deep kiddie pool.

On Monday I drove them to taekwondo only to find out that this week there is camp, so there are no morning classes. In the afternoon we were invited to a friend's pool. Since I only had older boys (and the baby), I got to relax instead of supervise.

On Tuesday we went to Legoland Discovery Center for a long-oversude siyum. 11 yo finished Sefer Breshit and 9 yo finished Vayeira. They had a grand old time. I was assaulted by all the noise.

Today, on Wednesday, my husband is taking the boys to Six Flags to redeem their Read to Succeed tickets. They have been waiting for this for months, and the excitement is palpable. I'm getting an unexpected quiet day at home with the baby.

So I am blogging.
I hope to go jogging.
Oh, did I just hear the baby?

Perhaps it is too ambitious to want all of these. Perhaps it is imcompatible with five kids and a husband with a crazy schedule. Perhaps nobody can do it all. But can't I wish to do some? Shouldn't I be doing the few things that are necessary for my health, both physical and mental?

I hope to blog more regularly. And jog, ahem, walk.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What it takes...

My kids are in camp this week, and I got an e-mail with a waiver for my daughter's field trip.

Here is what it takes to print out a waiver:

1. Get onto the desktop the night before the trip. Discover that it is again bugged up with extensions. Curse the day you allowed kids on Tanky/Minecraft. Start task manager to remove the extensions so you can get into e-mail.

2. Find the correct e-mail. Find the attached form which opens in some funny format that you can'r print directly.

3. Download the form.

4.Turn the printer on, so it can start warming up and getting to the print screen.

5. Discover that the printer USB cable is not connected. (The wireless printing ceased working a long time ago. Why? It's a mystery) Plug it in.

6. Select print and see that the computer claims that the printer is offline.

7.Watch as the printer is completely turned off, despite making reassuring noises earlier. All button pressing leads to nothing. Somehow the printer is no longer plugged into the power strip, which is laying tantalizingly out of reach behind the file cabinet.

8. Move the file cabinet, plug in the printer, turn it on.

9. The preview for the file will not load.

10. The printer claims that it is out of paper, despite a stack of paper in the tray. As you pull out the papers to stack them up better, Cuisenaire rods will fall out from the paper slot.

11. Reinsert the paper, and find yet another rod inside. Pick up the printer and shake it out.

12. Save the file as an image.

13. Watch the printer spew out five pages of ads for the lemonade stand that the kids ran last week. Mentally remind yourself to check document queue next time.

14. Husband comes in, wondering what's the matter. Bite his head off over not working computer, printer and darn freaking kids. Watch husband back up, while encouraging you to blog and TAKE YOUR TIME.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

2 year old goes to camp

2 yo is going to a backyard camp. This camp is run by a woman who has a playgroup in her house during the year for 2 year olds. I don't know how many years of experience she has, but she is a seasoned teacher, highly recommended in our neighborhood.

The first day of camp I did not do a good drop off. I scheduled to drop off 2 yo last, after his siblings, but, by that point, the baby was screaming hysterically, wanting to nurse, and I was running late. So I marched my little boy into a noisy room full of kids, dragging his bag of diapers and his backpack with lunch. The Morah (teacher) asked me the usual questions: what do you call him? And does he know any kids in the room? I quickly glanced around, did not see any familiar faces, told her that I have a crying baby waiting, and ran. Not a very good introduction to the new place, I am afraid, especially since we have not been to the house before.

When it was time to pick him up, I came on time, hoping to smooth out whatever did not go right in the morning. The Morah told me that he napped, and he did great. Then she asked me: does he go to school anywhere? I said: no. (She knows I homeschool). She expressed surprise and started telling me how he listened, was very comfortable, and played with the other kids. I said that he is with his older siblings all day long, playing and interacting, so he is used to it.

I did not make much of this, except for thanking G-d for an easy transition. I also chalked up some of this to flattery.

Yesterday, again, the Morah asked me whether I am sure he is not in any program. "He is such a sweet kid, so happy, so easy, just lies down for his nap without crying, talks, plays." I chuckled: does she think that I am hiding some great socialization program from her? Then I assured her that he is home with me, but we do get together with other homeschoolers and he does go to babysitting in shul on Shabbos.

I thought about it. This woman has seen many 2 year olds, and my child is not the easiest toddler on the block. I guess, when she gets 2 year olds who have not been to "school", they have hard time separating from their mothers or interacting with children who are not part of their family, so she expected a similar situation with my son. Also, there is this image of homeschool kids being isolated in their home, unhappy and unsocialized. I wonder whether we broke another stereotype here.

How did we get here? How is this child able to go into this intense situation, which could be anxiety-provoking, yet he is fine and happy?

Part of it is the personality. He is an outgoing boy, who is not shy or reserved, but he is not an exuberant extrovert. Part of it is the birth order: when you are the fourth, you are used to having many loud people around you. You have to speak up your mind to get things. You are used to running with the pack. Part of it is homeschooling, and hanging for many hours with kids of all different ages. We go to different places and I am not always on his tail, closely supervising every single step. Other mothers have watched my kid, brought him to me, gave him snacks, so he is used to having different people take care of his needs.

And part of it is parenting. Being the fourth child, 2 yo gets a good mix of parents who are too tired to micromanage, yet who know that an extra hug, or pick up, or snuggle will not spoil a child. He is secure asking for comfort, so he can go into the world and explore.

To be honest, I have a huge moral conflict with sending out a 2 year old to camp (or to school) for such a long day and for so many weeks. There is a part of me which strongly feels that the reason I have a happy, secure child is due to him being at home, close to his mommy, and that is where he belongs. Now I am upsetting this delicate balance. Now I will have to adjust to the reality that I cannot provide him with what he enjoys, like water play or messy projects, without turning into a disaster manager, losing my cool, and yelling. Yes, I have to accept the reality that I am THAT parent, that mom who is sending out her 2 year old because it is just too hard for me.

On the plus side, it is only for a year. I keep telling myself that we are taking life on year at a time, and we can always stop, assess, and change our circumstances as necessary.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

camp leading to great expectations

Yesterday was the first day of camp.

All four older kids are going, the boys to one camp, 5 yo to girls' camp and 2 yo to a backyard camp.

I had great plans for this day. I had great plans for what to do while I only have one child at home instead of five.

I dropped everyone off, with baby crying hysterically during the drop off of 2 yo. I got home and nursed her, then put her to nap in 2 yo's room. I organized some things in my closet: moved my husband's clothes to the spot where he can get them without moving the pack-n-play, and finally switched out maternity tops.

Then the baby woke up.
Nursed her again, changed her diaper.

Made lasagna for dinner, had lunch.

Then the baby woke up.
Nursed her, changed her.

Loaded her into the stroller, went to the local Judaica store for a bar mitzvah gift and to Whole Foods for three items which are cheaper there than anywhere else. Spoke to my sister on the way back.

Opened up my laptop to blog.

Then the baby woke up.
Nursed her, got covered in spit-up, changed her and my clothes.

Got in the car for the afternoon carpool.

When we got home, she fell asleep. I stuck lasagna in the oven, read to 2 yo, directed everyone to hang up their bathing suits and towels. I almost told kids to go watch something, but they asked first.

Then the baby woke up.
I nursed her, got kids to set the table, served dinner.

Opened up my laptop for the second time, but did not get around to blogging before the baby was ready to nurse yet again.

By the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted. I also felt deflated: I had all these ideas and plans for the day, with kids being out of the house, and, in the end, it did not feel like anything got done.

This morning, I realized that I will have to adjust my expectations yet again. The baby requires just as much work as my other kids combined at this point. I still have a child at home who needs to be tended, and tended in a more hands-on manner. Each day I hope to do one thing for the house, one thing for the family and one thing for me (hey, this is my "staycation"!) Anything that gets done in addition to these is a bonus. Besides, my great plans often seem great before I get started on them, but when I am done, I feel like I did not accomplish much.

It is amazing how really nothing have changed, yet changing the perspective and approach made a huge difference. I feel much calmer today than I did yesterday. I did not find a cure for cancer or trained for a marathon. My house is not cleaner or more organized. But I have come up with a concrete way to measure accomplishments and to say: enough! I am doing enough.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How do I do all this?

Five kids.

Homeschooling.

Running a household.

Getting out of the house.

How do I do this?

The truth is, I don't do it all. I don't do it all well. I do not have the magic bullet for making it all work out. I am not super-organized. I am not calm and all happy. I am not getting a lot of schoolwork done. My house is a mess. The meals are haphazard. The kids are marginally dressed. They are not all happy, either.

I hate the whole supermom cliche. I have these kids, so I have to take care of them. I have to feed them, so I have to plan meals, shop and cook. Sure, they help out, and sometimes go above and beyond. But sometimes they want to be left alone, engrossed in a book or a game, and not surface till the food is ready on the table.

They need to be washed, so the older ones wash the 2 year old and cajole him to put a diaper on. 11 yo watches our baby so I can wash 5 yo's hair. But I much rather wait for my husband to come home and wash 5 yo and 2 yo properly. Often he gets held up at work, and then we scramble.


The kids need to get out of the house, which is more of a challenge now that we are on a break from taekwondo. The park does not hold the same appeal. The other day they preferred to sit in the shade and read their library books rather than play. Actually, it is more complicated than that. The boys chose to read, 5 yo ran around with friends, and 2 yo kept climbing to the highest point of the play structure and refusing to go down a long tube slide, so I had to keep on sending one of the kids to help him down. Oh, and the baby wanted to nurse. One mom remarked: these outings never go as planned. I thought, I did not expect it to go smoothly, this is what I expected it to be.

We are doing daily chumash and Rosetta Stone. We finished Vaera with 11 yo. Somehow, it went by very fast. He is not so into it, which is a shame, since this is exciting stuff: makkos. I'm using Chumash with English translation of Rashi, and I scramble every day. I feel unprepared, and he senses it. However, I'm sticking with it, hoping that it makes an impression. He was building Paro's palace in Minecraft the other day, and then he unleashed makkos. I'm not so sure how it all worked out, but he had fun.

I am doing Chumash with 9 yo, too. For most of the year, I left it up to my husband, but then we picked it up again. We are in the middle of Chayei Sorah. He is able to do Rashi at this point. I have a strong suspicion that he is dyslexic, but it will be hard to prove, since his English reading and comprehension are excellent. He has easier time reading Rashi than regular Hebrew. He keeps reading the words backwards, reading wrong nekudot, switching nekudot and letters around, etc. I wonder what would have happened if I waited to introduce Hebrew letters till he showed interest instead of pushing them when he was 5. I was nervous, and he was the only child of homeschool age and aren't all kindergarten children supposed to at least recognize aleph-beit? Strangely, I am not concerned about these things for my daughter. She is 5, and she might or might not know all her Hebrew letters. She is definitely not reading in English, despite knowing all her letters and even writing quite a bit. But I am not pushing, and I am not worrying. 

I often joke that I will get homeschooling (and parenting) down to a science by the fourth and fifth kid. In a way, it's a blessing that there are so many of them, and I get to learn from my mistakes and get it right down the road. 

No, I do not do it all. I have no desire to do it all, either. Right now, we just need to survive.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

on mortality

My grandmother passed away on Monday.

She was 96 years old. She lived on three continents. She raised two children and had six great grandchildren. She survived World War II. She worked as a neonatologist when the survival rates for preemies were dismal. She raised us when my parents had to work. She was always in the kitchen, cooking, or fretting about food. She had recipes which said to "add enough flour for the dough to take it in," and "knead until the texture feels right". She cooked by feel, and she fed from her heart. She spoke up her mind, and it was not PC. She had wonderful stories of studying for exams at a cemetery across the street because her dorm room was too noisy. She was super emotional, drawing people into her emotionality and getting them to feel what she was experiencing.

In her last years, when dementia kicked in, and then slowly her body deteriorated further and further, it was clear where things were going. I was honest with my kids about her condition, but since we do not live near, they did not see her recently. When I told them that she passed away, I had all three older ones run off crying in different rooms. I was unprepared for such an emotional reaction. One child told me that he wished I did not say anything about her passing, ever. Another said that he wishes someone else would die in her place. A third was just crying because everyone else was crying. 2 yo came to sit with us, unsure of what just happened. One boy wanted to go to the funeral. I had to inform him that we will not be going, as I cannot fly with a 3 week old baby. My daughter suggested driving, and I had to tell her that I'm not driving with a 3 week old baby, either.

When we hear about a late term miscarriage, we are sad. When we hear of a child dying young, we are sad. We are sad for the potential that never happened, for the parental hopes and dreams that are crushed.

When we hear of a young adult, we are sad. That person was just starting to live, spreading the wings. They had the whole life in front of them, and are no more.

When we hear of a someone dying in the prime of their life, we are sad. When we hear of someone dying in their middle age, we are sad. There is family to consider, spouses and children, elderly parents.

But even when we hear of someone dying in the deep old age, we are still sad. There are no friends attending the funeral, there are no age mates to reminisce about the deceased. There is comfortable existence of someone who was always there, but now that lull is gone.

We are greedy. We all want to live forever, to save the contemplation of death for another day. We all want all those we know, all those close to us, to be switched for someone else. When death does come, we all want to "do something", so that we can focus on the rituals and avoid thinking about mortality. So we arrange meals, drop off food, help with household tasks.

We are, and then we are no more.

I have been a nervous wreck right before my grandmother passed away. Maybe it was a spiritual connection getting severed, maybe it was the stress of hearing how things are deteriorating and being unable to do anything. Maybe it is being hormonal after the birth of my daughter. The newborn is named after my grandfather. Maybe it is feeling that by naming my daughter after my grandmother's husband I unleashed the memory train. He will not be forgotten; he will live on, so she can go.

With five kids, I have a new worry. It might sound delusional, but in not such distant past, not every child made it to adulthood. Many did not live to have offspring. When you have one or two children, you have the luxury of assuming that this is it; the odds have been beaten, the statistics are in your favor. We in the west believe in 100% baby, 100% of the time. With five kids, the statistical odds of everything being just dandy change. It is plain impossible that nobody will end up in an accident, or be perfect, or just simply be OK. Somebody will have a problem, Somebody will get hurt.

These are not pleasant thoughts. These are not the thoughts that I want to focus on. Yet now, helplessly sitting miles away from a funeral that has to happen because everyone's time to die comes sooner or later, I am flooded with this feeling of time marching on, and life unfolding.

May we know no suffering.

May we experience only simchas (joyous events).

May my grandmother's neshama have an aliyah.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

patience

Today is Mother's Day.

Today my husband is on two calls: one during the day and another overnight.

No, we did not celebrate with breakfast in bed. Yes, he got the baby changed and dressed so I could finish my breakfast at the kitchen table.

No, I did not get a bouquet of flowers. Yes, I got a bunch of weeds hand-picked by my daughter.

No, I did not get picture-perfect brunch. Yes, I got cupcakes made from scratch by 9 yo. I also complained on Friday how I'm falling on my face and chocolate would be a nice pick-me-up. My hubby pulled out a box of Godiva truffles. He anticipated what I would have liked, but he decided not to wait till Sunday to hand them over.

On Shabbos, he was also on call, and there was no childcare in our shul. My husband took three older kids to shul with him. 2 yo was in pieces about being left behind. I kept telling him how we will go to shul later, once the baby wakes up. We walked, while I pushed the stroller with the carseat. 2 yo stopped to examine every rock, every flower, every leaf, every bird. The walk that normally takes twenty minutes took us an hour. I was starting to get impatient, but I bit my tongue. This is his exploration opportunity. How often do we take walks at the pace of a 2 year old? How often do we literally smell every single rose bush? How often do we pause to acknowledge the ants? I was patient with him, especially since he walked and did not complain that his stroller is occupied by the baby.

(I was not so patient once we rounded the corner to the shul only to be greeted by my exiting family. We missed everything, and now we had to turn around and head back home. I left 2 yo in care of my husband and rushed back, trying to get home before the baby would wake up).

I was patient today when 9 yo was searching for an activity to do with me, special for Mother's day. He wanted to do a hike; just the two of us. I demurred, since I'm tied to the baby and my husband can be called up anytime. He settled on cupcake making. I sighed internally: I know how these baking things go; they are all nice and dandy until there is a spill and then the baby wakes up, and you are either rushing, or putting everything on hold. But I decided to be calm and patient about it. 9 yo really did everything himself (with some assistance from his sister). He got out the ingredients and the mixer, halved the recipe, measured and mixed. He ran out of patience when it was time to fill up small muffin cups. I was rewarded with cupcakes.

What motherhood taught me is patience. The baby will fall asleep eventually, the children will sleep through the night eventually, they will walk and talk eventually, they will say "please" and "thank you" eventually, and they will learn to read and write eventually. It just takes time. I used to worry and freak out a whole lot more about a whole lot of things. Having all these tiny human beings around allowed me to focus on what is important.

To all moms out there, no matter how young or how old: I wish you the gift of patience.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

May I, if you please?

"I'll take a quick nap, honey. It will only be 20 minutes."

Guess which gender uttered this statement?

If you guessed female, you are right. What guy ever apologizes for taking a nap? Which guy even asks to take a nap? Guys just go and lie down, and then you find them, sleeping.

Our sweet baby girl made her appearance on Tuesday morning. She is healthy. As with my previous labors, I ended up laboring through the night, after being up and taking care of the kids all day. Luckily, I got a short nap in the afternoon, and a bit of sleep in the hospital bed while being monitored. But overall, I was running on a sleep deficit. This baby slept pretty much the entire first day, and I slept, too. I even joked with my husband how being in a hospital feels like a vacation: all I do is sleep, eat, read, relax. So quiet, and so different from the hectic life at home.

But then those newborn nights started. She was up and up and up. And I was nursing and rocking and walking and bouncing. Changing diapers. Patting the back. Nursing in bed, ignoring the spit-up stains taking over. More yelling, more responding, more taking care of a tiny human.

I have been taking it very easy. My wonderful friends took care of dinners for my family for the next two weeks. I have not been cooking, or cleaning. I firmly adhere to the rule of not driving anywhere for the first week postpartum, not because it is contraindicated, but because it increases the amount of running around and stress. I have been focusing on just nursing and taking care of the baby, spending the rest of the time with 2 yo and 5 yo.

Newborns are exhausting. Not sleeping during the night is also exhausting. So why am I apologizing for taking a much needed afternoon nap? Why am I begging to watch the baby so I can sleep? Why are we, as women, conditioned to justify our actions?

My husband had no problem at all with my nap. He did not issue the permission grudgingly, or indicated in any way that I need to explain myself. So why the apologetic tone?

Monday, April 20, 2015

closing time

On Friday I took both boys for their annual check-up. I had to beg the pediatrician to fit us in between their actual birthdays and before this baby, as they do not schedule three appointments at the same time. 11 yo needed shots, so the insurance would not cover a visit before his actual birthday. I ended up taking them on Friday afternoon.

Between my dear friend and my MIL, I did not have to bring all four kids with me, so I assumed the appointment will be a piece of cake. The pediatrician is located not far from the taekwondo studio, so maybe we would even make it to a Friday afternoon class, in the spirit of trying to get in as many classes before the baby as possible. I told boys to pack up their uniforms and gear and load up.

When we were being taken in by a nurse, 11 yo asked right off the bat whether there are any shots in store. He was told that there are going to be two, and he took that info in stride. Then 9 yo timidly inquired whether he is getting any shots. He was reassured that there will be none, and he visibly exhaled. Then, as the nurse was finishing inputting their measurements, she said how 9 yo will need a finger stick to measure his cholesterol, but it is not a big deal.

It turned out to be a big deal. For a child with anxiety, being told something new like this was a big deal. He immediately kicked into full panic mode: crying, screaming, begging not to be pricked, asking why he deserves this, etc. It took three nurses to hold him down to get that prick. By this point, 11 yo was starting to lose his cool, so be stepped out. I was trying to talk to 9 yo, and I even asked the nurses to back off, to give him on minute to decide which hand will get pricked, but he was too far gone. I remained calm for as long as I could, but when he started trying to kick the nurses, I firmly said that he cannot do that. Meanwhile, the nurses invoked: "Don't upset your pregnant momma" mantra which I really wished they didn't. At the end, he was left sniffling and screaming, huddling on a chair, waiting for a doctor.

11 yo hopped onto an exam table, and mumbled something about losing his resolve to stay calm for his shots. He tried lightening the mood in the room by clowning around a bit. The rest of the appointment was unremarkable, and 9 yo cooperated with the doctor just fine. Then those shots came. By the time the nurse told 11 yo to relax and stuck him, he went into hysterical giggling: "It didn't hurt! It didn't hurt!" He was laughing, but there were tears in his eyes. Clearly, he had had enough emotions and they were spilling out.

When we checked out, there were only ten minutes left till taekwondo, so I asked boys whether they wanted to rush it. Both of them shook their heads "no", so we hit the ice cream store instead. Ever since the kids were vey little, I promised ice cream for those doctor appointments which involved shots. It was a nice way to end a possible nerve-wrecking outing, and it left a taste of something sweet. I did not promise such a treat to boys apriori, but, after what we've all been through, it seemed fitting.

It was raining, and it has been raining for the whole week. The ice cream place is outdoors, but they have a small canopy. Everyone ordered a scoop, and we stood there, silently eating our cones and looking out into the rain.

It was the zen moment of the day. 9 yo finally relaxed. 11 yo was rendered speechless, just savoring his cone and standing there. I was thinking of what my life would be like if I only had to take care of a 9 yo and 11 yo, instead of catering to much smaller creatures. I was enjoying this moment of knowing that everyone near me is relaxed, content and thankful for the treat (both boys thanked me, easing into gratitude).

The speaker above us pumped in "Closing Time" by Semisonic. How fitting: I have heard this song numerous times, but never paid very close attention to the words, assuming it is all about being kicked out of a bar. Recently, I have seen a little tidbit floating around, saying that the song is really about impending parenthood, and the ambivalent feelings that come with it. Now I was really listening.

I am in my last weeks pregnancy, yet I feel strangely unsettled. I can't put a finger on it: what is that project, that nesting activity that I need to complete in order to feel ready and prepared for this baby? It is not a matter of finding a trusting practitioner, or getting labor support. It is not a matter of a doula. It is not a matter of getting baby things set up. I have all of that in place, or close enough. It is a hang-up in my brain, keeping me from being ready.

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

As we were looking into the rain, my two older boys and I, I had this strong feeling how this might be the last Shabbos that I am having with just four kids. This baby is a new life, a new beginning, yet, it is also an end of an era. It is the end of "four kid" stage. It might sound funny to those who have one or two kids: does it really make any difference whether there are four kids or five? Isn't four already in the slightly crazy, big family category? Besides, the youngest is only two, so this "four kid" stage only lasted for a short while. Yet, in my head, four was within some grander logical scheme, and five is beyond that. Five is a whole next step. Five is where I cannot keep them all at home. Five is where we do not fit into any sedan, no matter how we contort ourselves. Five does not fit around a standard table. Five is this new area, which does not fold into itself neatly. It is a prime number, it is a star.

"Every new beginning come from some other beginning's end."

My last surviving grandmother is on her last breath. My mother is with her, and it is also an end of an era. It's the end of my grandparents, it is the end of my kids being blessed with having seen their great grandmother. We visited her in the summer, but she has long joined the dementia world of endless summer, or endless dark, so it was not a coherent visit.It was a long good-bye, drawn out over many moons, many years. Now, as a great grandchild is about to take a first breath, a generation is taking its last. The interplay of grief/relief/joy, the end juxtaposed with a beginning.

We finished our ice creams and came home to the usual hustle and bustle of a four kid household in preparation for Shabbos. "You don't have to go, but you can't stay here."