Tuesday, March 31, 2015

pre-pesach jitters

Pesach is coming.

I don't want to read about fifty gazillion amazing things I can do with matzah.
I don't want to read about twenty desserts that taste like chametz.
I don't want another handy Pesach checklist.
I don't want to read about your panic over dirt in the bottom of your fridge which your OCD will not let you pass over.
I don't want to read about your emergency of a cleaning lady or a babysitter quitting. I definitely do not want to read how stressed you are over having your kids home for a whopping three days.

As we get closer, I do not want to see cute ideas for seder set-up. I don't want to see a charoset bar. Charoset was supposed to symbolize clay, the back-breaking labor of the Jews. There is a good reason why we had to leave Egypt and materialistic slavery behind. I am not planning on slaving over charoset.

I do not want to see your seder set-up unless:
1.I am invited to the said seder.
2. Your kids set the table up, with all the imperfections and cuteness, and you JUST LEFT IT as they set it.

Every year I tell myself not to stress over Pesach, and every year I find myself stressing. I have been in tears just about every night last week. Last night, to top it all off, 2 yo managed to march downstairs, into Pesach kitchen, with a cup full of chametz cereal. We do not allow food downstairs, keeping it chametz-free year-round. We usually keep the gate closed, but I guess it was left open with all the cooking and running back and forth, He used the opportunity. I lost it. I yelled at all the kids to get into the pajamas NOW, and get into bed. I did not tuck anyone in (except for putting 2 yo into his crib). Then I sat on the couch and cried.

Pesach is supposed to be about freedom, and we are supposed to free ourselves from expectations. We are supposed to let go, be ready to shift perspective. Every year I beat myself up for not reading up more about the seder, for not feeling ready to tell the story of Yetziat Mitzraim, for not engaging the kids enough, for stressing too much about food and cleaning, and not enough about what is really important.

Every year I want to make something memorable for the kids, and every year it ends up being a last minute project, not completed because I am out of time and steam. This year, I sat at the computer and typed up a bunch of questions pertaining to the seder. Most of them are open-ended, not halachic, in hope of engaging even my younger kids. I printed them, cut the out, and folded each piece of paper. I' m hoping to place them in the middle of the seder table to spark some discussion. I'm also planning on serving a lot of veggies for karpas, to keep them munching. Finally, I made candied nuts, to be given out to kids for good questions and good answers. That is straight from the Gemara. The wine was supposed to engage the adults, the treats were supposed to engage the children.

Every year I hope it will be different.
Every year I hope to get more learning done with the kids, so that they come to the seder prepared.
Every year it ends up being the same: short of my expectations, stressful, sometimes meaningless.

My boys love Pesach because of their birthdays. They love the season. They love plotting how to steal the afikoman and where to hide it. (We had a memorable hiding spot many years ago behind the garbage can in the bathroom). I doubt they love the stress that I am feeling. I don't want them to remember the stress, I want them to remember the excitement and the joy. I don't want them to remember the food. I don't want them to dread the food, either, but it should not be the focus.

I am still learning how to balance it all: be happy in cooking and cleaning, be learned enough to know what to clean, be relaxed enough so that I am available to the children, and get it all done on time.

If we all had to leave our current materialistic Egypt, would we be able to? Or would we be too attached to the way we always do things to let go?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dance ensemble

Today was the last Young People's Concert of the season in Spivey Hall. This year, considering how hectic everything was, and how overwhelmed I felt, I have not made use of this great resource as I have in the past years. Also, due to large range of my children's ages, it was hard choosing a performance which would engage everyone. We have gone to three concerts: one was cello quartet, one was a children's opera and this last one was the university's dance ensemble.

My daughter was in playgroup today, so I ended up taking only the boys. I had to get gas, so we ended up leaving so early that we got to the university's grounds with half an hour to spare. This worked to our advantage. The weather was nice, and there are beautiful ponds with waterfowl. My kids often watch them through the window while we wait to be seated, but it rarely worked out for us to spend any time walking around. Today, we got close and personal to a swan and quite a few geese. The older boys spotted a bunch of turtles, and even a water snake. They ran around one of the ponds while 2 yo diligently collected sticks and tossed them in. I often kick myself for not building in this type of free, unscheduled time, especially to enjoy and contemplate nature. We are always rushing to and fro, always working around nap time and taekwondo and playgroup pick-up.

When we went inside the Hall, 2 yo decided to try sliding down the staircase on his stomach, just as he does at home. There were not many people, and I was glad not to have to carry him down all those stairs. At the same time, I felt that it might not be exactly appropriate, considering the decorum of the place. As we were reaching the bottom, one of the ushers approached me. I tensed up, suspecting that it has to do with our entrance. Instead, she asked me how far along am I and where is my missing daughter. She spoke about looking forward to seeing our family next season, with a little one in arms. I exhaled in relief. Maybe we are not that socially inappropriate. Maybe we make a good impression. Maybe people have compassion for us.

Usually the concerts involve singing and/or musical instruments, so having a dance performance was not something that my boys have seen on stage before. Additionally, there was a program this time. 10 yo looked at a black-and-white cover featuring a ballerina, and grouched that it will be all about girls in frilly pink skirts. I kidded him back, that maybe the tutu will be white, or black, or pale blue. He browsed through the program and then tapped me excitedly: one of the dances was set to The Piano Guys' Code Name Vivaldi. My husband recently introduced boys to The Piano Guys, and they have been obsessing over it.

This is a college-level dance program, but, as the choreographer explained, it is a fairly new program on campus, less than three years old. Consequently, it was obvious that we did not have professional ballerinas and dancers performing; rather, students who chose to take a dance class. What struck me is how diverse were their body types. Often, when one watches ballet, or even back-up dancers in music videos, it is easy to assume that one has to be emaciated-looking in order to dance. Now these ladies were voluptuous. Some might have even qualified as obese. Some were petite, but there was no uniformity to them. Yet they all danced with passion and with grace. They all knew how to move to the music, and how to enjoy themselves. It did not look ridiculous, it looked like great fun. And there were no pink frilly tutus. There were body suits, and off-the shoulder leotards. There was jiggling of flesh; there was movement and confidence. I am glad that my boys got to see these real human bodies moving, instead of glossed and polished versions on TV, or in a professional program.

My daughter is finishing her year of ballet and tap. There is going to be a recital and all the hoopla that comes with it. One thing that bothered me from the first day about ballet was how much emphasis is placed on appearance, on wearing the matching outfits, on staying in line, etc. My reasoning for signing her up (she was asking for it) was to get this ballerina dream out of her system when she is young, and then move on to some activity which requires less emphasis on appearance. After watching the young ladies on stage today move their bodies with confidence despite lack of uniform appearance might make me reconsider. No, I am not plotting a dance career for my daughter, but I want her to be confident that her body can do wondrous things, despite the body type and appearance.

Friday, March 20, 2015

teaching responsibility and other lessons

My oldest is a dreamer.
He is distracted.
Loses things.
Creative and cannot be bothered to clean up.

By this point, either you are nodding your head in agreement, or shaking it in frustration. I used to think that this is a reflection of my lack of organization, or poor parenting skills. When he was in kindergarden, I was told how he was the only kid whose lunchbox was not in his cubby, and neither was his backpack. His jacket was on the floor instead of being hung up.

I thought that by homeschooling him I will be able to fix this character flaw. I will be on top of him, I will make him clean up, he will suffer the consequences, and we will get this straightened out. That was good five years ago. The rest of the kids are pretty good about putting their things away, and being responsible, but this child is still stubbornly refusing to be molded into an obedient citizen of our household.

The boys take taekwondo, which comes with a pristine white uniform. Before they received their uniforms, they were given a speech on its proper treatment. It is their responsibility, and they are supposed to keep track of it and keep it clean. The boys are also teaching a taekwondo class at our homeschool coop. For the class, they change into their uniforms, and then change back into regular clothes. 8 yo packs his up in a plastic bag. Now imagine what a child-who-cannot-be-bothered does with his... I'm lucky if he rolls it up and tucks it under his arm as he rushes out.

This Wednesday, I had a particularly hard time getting kids out the door. When I got to the van and had to negotiate with the three older kids how sticks/magic wands are not allowed inside, while simultaneously attempting to buckle up 2 yo, I noticed 10 yo's uniform by his feet, with his muddy shoes planted right on top. I pointed this out, more like yelled at him yet again.

When we got to the park, and the boys saw their friends, all bets were off. They did change into their uniforms to teach the class, and then changed back afterwards. 8 yo was very upset about what was going on during class (kids not listening, his brother not sticking to the script that they wrote beforehand, being stuck trying to teach younger kids while the older one showed off his forms to the older ones), yet he changed, placed his uniform into a plastic bag, and asked me to unlock the van to put it inside. 10 yo dropped his on the ground, and went into the woods with his friends. I did not pick it up for him.

When it was time for me to leave the park, I told both boys that all their possessions are their responsibility. They both nodded distractedly, and ran off with their friends.

As I drove home, I was pretty sure that 10 yo just abandoned his uniform and his belt in the park. He did not realize that it was missing till 7:30 that night. Then he wanted to drive back to the park to go looking for it, RIGHT NOW! I said that I have a class to go to (I really did), and that I do not have time to go looking for something that he did not bother to take care of. My husband started getting worried, too: 10 yo was supposed to get tested the following day, and how is he going to test without a uniform? I said that it should concern him more than it concerns us. 10 yo said that if he has no uniform, he does not want to test. I asked him what his plan is from now on: what is he going to do next time he's in class? He started ranting about taekwondo. I said that he can buy himself a new uniform with his allowance money. He said that he just spent it all on Pokemon cards. I asked about his savings, and he said that he had none. I suggested calling the dojang, explaining the situation to his master, and finding out whether he can still test tomorrow.

Then I left for my class.

When I got back, my husband said that 10 yo did call, and was told that he can get a new uniform before the test. They worked it out that my husband will lend him money, and then he will have it withheld from his allowance until the value is paid off.

The next day, I took 10 yo early enough for his testing to get fitted for his uniform. He went into the office, definitely subdued and nervous. Then he came out, beaming: "The Master gave me a new uniform! And he said it is a present! I don't have to pay for it!"

You are one lucky ducky. Just when I thought you will be taught a lesson about responsibility and consequences, you get handed an article as a present. On top of this, even though he lost his belt, and now had a white belt on, he was lined up in his proper placement, instead of in the back, with the white belts. I was starting to wonder whether this unexpected excessive kindness  is undermining the lesson to be learned.

He tested well, and he answered quite a few questions thrown at him. He even got congratulated on his great knowledge. As we were driving back, and I could not hold back and remarked how he lucked out on his free uniform, he said: "Mom, I davened to Hashem, and he answered me. I paid special attention to Shema Koleinu, and Hashem sent me a great day, with a good resolution. Come to think of it, any time that I ask Hashem for special things in Shema Koleinu, he helps me. When I just rush through and don't ask, nothing happens. How does it work?" I said that preparing mentally before davening, and thinking which the good things to request helps one outline the steps necessary to achieve the desirable goals. Of course, one must still ask Hashem for assistance, so that everything goes according to the plan.

10 yo learned a lesson from his taekwondo experience. It might not have been a lesson that I had in mind (and I'm not holding my breath that his distracted ways will change so quickly), but he drew his own conclusions. I also wonder how many lessons I remember due to the kindness of someone who should have been strict with me, instead of having an exact punishment meted out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

two steps forward, one step back

We are in the middle of Shemot with 10 yo, moving right along, I think I will end up with the best textual preparation because of this; I have never read so many Rashis.

10 yo finished Bava Kamma, and we are almost done reviewing it. For the past few months, he has been going to shul with my husband for minyan, then staying to learn with his rebbe and scootering back home, and then, most days, going to taekwondo. To me, this sounded like an ideal set-up: get your davening and Torah learning done first thing in the morning, when you are fresh, and then get some physical exercise, to get your body moving. Unfortunately, it has not been panning out. He was cranky about leaving the house so early, upset about having to scarf down breakfast, and feeling that he has no time. He seemed to be retaining mishnaiyot just fine, but he was clearly not happy, dragging his feet. Once he finished Bava Kamma, we decided to take a break from formal mishna learning till after Pesach. I don't exactly know what we will choose to do at that point. Drop mishna for the summer? Find a difference set-up for learning? Jump right back in?

Meanwhile, in my panicky state of "when am I ever going to teach kids about Pesach, if it is not happening again this year", I decided to review mishna Pesachim with 10 yo. He is nor super-enthusiastic about it, but his younger brother eagerly asked whether he can join us and learn mishna together. 8 yo has been able to read the text of the mishna, and talk about the cases that we discussed. He also said how he can stay with 10 yo and his rebbe and learn mishnaiyot together, so his brother would not be lonely. 10 yo responded that his rebbe is more of a one-on-one kind of teacher, feeling infringement on his time.

8 yo asked to learn Rashi script. We have a laminated chart hanging in our dining room, and I do not recall seeing him ever studying it, but he felt ready. In fact, he repeatedly asked me about learning Rashi. I found a workbook that I got years ago for 10 yo, but did not end up using. I was actually looking for a chinuch.org file which I did use previously, but I could not find it, neither on my computer, nor online. 8 yo saw the workbook and asked whether he can do it. So far, he is getting right through, happily filling out pages.

It is funny, since both mishna and Rashi script traditionally start in 3rd grade, and I am pretty sure that were I to introduce 8 yo to them both when he was not ready, he would balk. Now, that he is the one initiating the learning, he is happy as a clam (about these two things).

We are gearing up to take ITBS next week with a bunch of homeschool kids. I am squeezing in as much info as possible, especially into 8 yo. I want him to feel ready, and to work out strategies about what to do about questions that he has not learned yet, or that do not make sense to him. It is working out, and backfiring spectacularly, all at the same time.

What's working: apparently, I can explain months' worth of math in five minutes, and the boys can do it. I can explain contractions, and simple subjects, and not worry whether we have spent a day per each, or just enough for them to understand it and apply it. I explained multi-digit multiplication and simple division to 8 yo, as it came up, and he was using it right away. I explained percent and fractional operations to 10 yo. Of course, it flies in the face of all sorts of educational theories about reinforcement, and not cramming too much material into a too small period of time.

What's backfiring: 8 yo is progressively becoming more anxious about the test. He dissolved into tears the other day, stomped out, threw the test booklet, etc. Ironically, the following day, when he picked it up again, he was able to do most of the work. So this has nothing to do with ability or knowledge. I am  a bit worried that he will shut down during the actual test, but I also hope that he will know what kinds of feelings testing provokes in him, and how to handle them.

Meanwhile, just the other day I was stressing about 5 yo and how she is still not reading. She has been more reluctant to try to read words as I'm reading to her, and we are nowhere near done with the first set of Bob Books. And then, just as I enter the living room, she greets me with the next Bob Book from the series, asking whether we can sit down together to read it. Did she read my mind? The following day, she read the next one to me. Today, she wanted to read one, but I was too frazzled, and she was a bit distracted, too. Maybe we'll pick it up later today, maybe not.

It seems that every time I start to worry, the kids will do something reassuring. And every time I feel that we have found our groove, the kids will do something or other to keep me on my toes. It's a delicate dance, a cha-cha. I am not in the mood of dancing; I am in the mood to put my feet up and have a latte.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Great mercy--every day

It's 11:16 at night and I should really be heading off to bed. These past couple weeks have been hard. I was telling myself: first Purim, then Pesach, then baby, but it is all scrambled now. I had to order Pesach products before Purim, and then I realized that putting off preparing for the baby till after Pesach is not smart: there is simply not enough time. On top of it all, I signed up both boys to take ITBS (standardized tests) with a homeschool group a week before Pesach. So now we are stressing over test prep. 8 yo lovingly abbreviated it to T.P. and 10 yo immediately deciphered this acronym into a more familiar form. I am finding all this math material that we did not cover yet. 10 is fudging his way through, 8 yo is melting down.

I remarked to my husband how now would be a good time for a summer break, or complete unschooling (coming shortly with our new arrival), or some sort of change. Obviously, trying to make Pesach on top of all of this is not enough. Oh, and all the kids need new shoes, both sneakers and shabbos shoes. 10 yo asked me the other day about four symmetrical holes in the sole of his sneaker, swearing up and down how he did not puncture it with a nail. I explained that it happened because he wore his shoe clear through the sole. And all boys need haircuts.

After much soul-searching, we have applied to Montessori Chabad school for 5 yo and 2 yo for next year. Now there is more and more paperwork to be filled out. And now there are finances to stress about.

The kids have not been on their best behavior. I have not been most patient. We are all stressed, only we all react to stress differently.

Just as I feel ready to throw in the towel (not on homeschooling, but on picking things up off the floor, or checking schoolwork at 11 pm, or trying to print from an uncooperative computer), it strikes me that tomorrow Hashem will return my soul to me, almost as a new being, and I will have a chance to start over again. I cannot promise that I say Mode Ani every morning with the most kavanah ( and I cannot promise that my kids do it, either), but this realization that tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow can be different, buoys me into putting a little bit more effort into planning HOW to make tomorrow different.

  • Don't yell.
  • Don't grump.
  • Take a breath before reacting to a situation.
  • Explain instead of expecting.
  • Go outside.

I will see how it goes. I have to return my soul to Hashem to see which gifts will be bestowed upon me in the morning.

Monday, March 2, 2015

chumash shemot and Purim

We started Chumash Shemot with 10 yo. I went to our local Judaica store, to pick up a copy with Rashi with nekudot, but they did not have it in stock, so they are ordering it for us. In the meanwhile, I pulled out regular Mikraot G'dolot.

10 yo seemed eager to start. He even talked about doing an aliyah a day. (I panicked, since I only prepared about 15 pesukim, assuming we will stick with 5 a day, and Purim being at the end of the week.) We ended up doing 10 pesukim. He seems ok reading Rashi without nekudot, although he vocalizes any way he pleases. He asked, why is Yosef not mentioned as one of the children of Yakov, but then he figured it out from the p'shat. I showed him Rashi on women having 6 babies at a time, and then we discussed whether it really meant that. I used example of post-Holocaust families having more children than average, and how that, going on for a few generations, results in appearance of teeming.

We also discussed whether this was a new Paro, or the same Paro. He asked me whether Paro was from Amalek, since he was being cruel to the Jews. I said that Paro was Egyptian, and we will see the differences in Paro's approach vs. Amalek. So far he figured out that Paro felt threatened by the Jews' reproduction rate to the point that he felt they were more numerous. I told him to consider how many Jews were there entering Egypt, and how many Jews came out, compared to the number of the Egyptians. I am finding this a nice segue into both Purim and Pesach.

Speaking of Purim, I feel like I have totally slacked off. I pulled out Purim stories after my daughter repeatedly asked about them. I have not read over the megillah with either boy. Well, actually, 8 yo read the first three pesukim to me. He read them pretty smoothly, and even translated quite a bit. That was a pleasant surprise. And then the rest did not happen. I thought, maybe we'll get through the first perek, but it does not look like it.

Every year I think, it's OK, we'll get to it next year, and every year, something is going on. I downloaded the Purim Story from Mostly Music, so the kids listened to it on our trip to the conference last week. The boy rejected my usual Purim music; they are getting too old for this stuff. I did make them compare the book that we got from the PJ library to the real story of Esther, and write out the discrepancies. In fact, the book was so bad that I ended up recycling it. My daughter asked me to read it to her, and after the first reading, I just could not bring myself up to keep on reading such inaccurate story. I recommend "Queen Esther Saves Her People", another PJ library book that we previously got.

I leave you with a picture from this book. See if you can catch what's wrong with it.