Tuesday, December 27, 2016

dreaming

OMG what is that? My baby has been napping for the past hour and the older kids were entertaining themselves (except for one tushie that needed to be wiped). I was not rushing to do chumash with 12 year old, I was not hustling anyone to do schoolwork or finish something or other that is hard to do with an active toddler. (The chicken in Moana is clearly modelled after a toddler: same freak outs, same ridiculous repetitive behaviors.) And all of sudden I find myself finally calling a handyman to install the blinds before too many neighbors diplomatically suggest that we do it for our own good. And I'm making lasagna noodle roll-ups with tuna and spinach, using up leftovers. And I'm getting on IKEA home planner to figure out how to fit in a few more kitchen cabinets while thinking that maybe I should look into design or architecture classes. Is there a market for 40-year-old architects? And I finally threaded the washed 3 year old's car seat after a too-close encounter with raspberry jelly. The wipes did not cut it, so it had to be washed. Pesach came early, and I did it. And I'm thinking what else can I do with the kids around their 3 pm dentist appointment: drop off DVDs at the library because there is a branch not far from the office, stop by Aldi, run to IKEA to replace a vital screw that $%#$& movers did not put into the bunk bed? I did not realize that 10 yo telling me about his fear of the whole thing crashing down was not based on overreaction, but on solid engineering reality that a certain amount of supports is needed for the top bunk.

And I finished two books this past week: "Hillbilly Elegy" and "Run" by Ann Patchett. I cannot recall what was the last impactful book that I read before these two.

My time is slowly coming back to me. My time can also be snatched at any minute by a baby awakening from her nap, spilling pasta all over the floor, dumping cups of water, just screaming to be held. My time is also carved from the hours previously spent homeschooling. There is a misconception that unschooling means not doing anything with the kids, so why are the moms complaining that they are so busy? However, when you unschool, you are still in the picture, still available to answer questions, help with projects, do research, drop everything to read, etc. I am not currently unschooling. I am letting the older kids marinate in their own juices while I go and do my own thing. It is not clear-cut, as 10 yo, after this morning marinade, came to inform me that he and his two older siblings are about to produce Illiad , but a Wild West version. Ok, kids, I can write this down as an educational activity. I can boast about it: hey, my kids know enough about both to synthesize their own mashup. But I cannot call it unschooling, as I am refusing to participate more than a spectator.

Am I too high-strung to even unschool? Am I too controlling? Too worried about the outcome? Do I have too few resources, too few other adults who can spell me for a bit as the adult on duty? I don't know if I failed my kids by sending them to school, failed the ideals of homeschooling, failed myself. I do know that we, as a family, are ready for a new chapter. 12 yo is starting in a week and he is eager to have friends, hang out with friends, do things with friends, be in a class with friends. 10 yo came to terms with his new school reality. 6 yo is happy to have her girls back. And I am grateful for renewed energy and renewed ability to dream. I do wish so badly that my dreams involved homeschooling, spend long intense periods of time with the people that I birthed, educating them, learning alongside them. Right now, that is my fantasy. Right now, I need my space. I wish I did not have to carve time out for myself. I wish there would not be implied violence to time, but a peaceful flow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

not following the rules

I've sent my baby girl to school. (I have been working on a blog post about sending kids to school, but it does not seem to get materialized). She has been going for a week. This is my six-year-old, my ideal homeschool candidate, the child whom I've been dreaming about homeschooling because she was easy, eager to learn, eager to please. There was just one big hole in my plan: she wanted to be with other girls her age more than anything else. And she had this perfect dream about school. So I've sent her.

Since sending her, I have been driving her and her brother every morning and picking them up every afternoon. It is December, so most other parents have worked out their carpool routine months ago. First I had 10 year old in one carpool, then, when we moved, a friend found another parent who drove for me. But she only had one spot, so with two kids in school, all of a sudden I had to be driving. But I still have two small ones at home, two kids who take naps and do not need to wake up at 6 am to do this drop-off and pick up.

On Friday, I asked 10 year old time and again what time is early dismissal and he confidently assured me that it is at 2:30. I got a phone call while I was driving at 2:15 that the dismissal was at 2 and the teachers need to get home to get ready for shabbos. I felt horrible and very embarrassed. I even offered for my kids to sit on the bench in front of the school, as I was on my way, but I could not make traffic move any faster. Today, Monday morning, I hustled and hustled everyone to get out the door at 7:20 so I would have plenty of time to drop off 10 yo at shul for his minyan with the classmates and then get 6 yo to her school. I ended up dropping off 10 yo at 7:45. It was freezing. I told him to go inside, not stay in the cold for 15 minutes. Then I drove my daughter. I got her to school at 7:54 and hustled her out the car. As I watched her walk to school, alone, I sighed about this little first grader. Then she pulled on the door. Locked. She banged. Locked. Teachers were walking inside, bustling, getting ready. I saw them. She saw them. She pulled and banged. And I remembered an e-mail from months ago asking parents not to drop off kids before 8, as the teachers needed to get ready for their day. I sort of ignored it at the time, as I was not the one driving in the morning. So there we were, my little kid standing in the cold, knocking, and adults whom she was supposed to be trusting, asserting their rights to five minutes of quiet before the kids entered. I realized that other parents sat in their cars in the parking lot, keeping their kids warm. I just did not notice it before, being so excited to get her somewhere on time and even early. (Till fairly recently, she did not know the definition of early, as were always late).

And then the tears came. Homeschooling was not going smoothly for her because I do not have a gaggle of girls her age up my sleeve. She was not reading and I had little time to read to her. We were butting heads. It was easier to send her to school. But now I have a kid who has to get up and get dressed and have breakfast and put up her hair and run to the car in the morning to be left in the cold banging on the doors of her school. She is a fairly early riser, but she likes to chill, lounge in her pajamas, snuggle on the couch, have a good morning story. She likes to have her breakfast late. I traded one set of things that are not working for another.

I am not blaming the school for their policy. I am blaming myself for not remembering what that policy was. With so many kids doing so many different things, it is very hard to remember every single detail. It was easier to keep them at home, minimize those external rules and regulations to abide by, but it was not working. So now we will be "those" parents", the ones who are chronically late, and chronically bending the rules.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

not good enough

I'm taking my kids to the zoo
Because it is finally sunny
Because tomorrow is a school tryout day
Because soon I will no longer be homeschooling.

We are going there quickly
Spontaneously
So that we will all properly miss this time
Of freedom to get up and go.

As I tug on jackets
And pack up snacks
Ignoring academics
And Torah learning

The words of my upbringing
Pound through my head
Like train wheels:

Not good enough not good enough not good enough

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I am tired

My G-d, I'm tired.

So, so essentially, weary in my bones .

My soul is tired. My whole being is tired.

We've moved into the neighborhood that we did not consider initially because it would require a long commute to the dayschool and my husband did not want me to have to drive the kids, so he chose to commute to his hospital instead. We moved into the other neighborhood to "fit in", be like everybody else, send our child to the most acceptable school, get him friends. We all know how well that turned out: we did not fit in. The friends that my son made (and that we made) either moved to other places or made aliyah. I chose to homeschool because once the social aspect was not there, the academics and intellectual stimulation were not there as a given. And once we were pegged as "different", we did not have much to lose by homeschooling anyway.

But that was a long time ago, before many job switches by my husband, before two more babies, before realizing that my second child is not outgrowing his fits, before drowning in noise and mess, before understanding that homeschooling is a lonely business. I thought my immediate family will rally, once they see what wonderful schedule we have, what the boys achieve, which opportunities open up to us. Flatly, I did not get that. There are no bumper stickers with "student of the month" in homeschool, nor are there tangible report cards, shiny trophies and diplomas. You don't hang "my children fight less than expected" on a wall. The grandparents are less than enthusiastic about my efforts. I thought what they thoguht would not matter to me, but it does.

And then there were those two babies. That means that the past four years have been consumed by nursing and naps and whining and meeting the needs of small people. My personal dreams became the size of pinpricks, and once they were so small, it was easy to lose them altogether. Not only my dreams were gone, but so were the dreams of my older kids. There is nobody to take them to a movie, a baseball game, an outdoor rope course except for the parents. But the parents are juggling small people and jobs and naps and height restrictions and financial costs of so many mouths to feed.

There is shabbos, relentlessly coming every week and every week I need to come up with a plan to make it. There is yom tov and dread that it brings: I never measure up to some standard of happiness and contentment that is blaring from all the lovely children's books. "Levivot kol ima tachin" Every mother makes latkes. That line from a Chanukah song used to bring tears to my eyes, as I resolved to make latkes, knowing that it is undertaking too much, and then I would be stressed and baby would be underfoot and dirty food processor would be in the sink as I would be yelling like crazy for kids to stay away from the hot oil...

There is my husband's call schedule. There are those phone calls that require him to drop everything and go save a life.

I tried. I tried doing it all: be a good mother, be involved, be a homemaker, be a teacher, eat healthy, provide learning opportunities, respect children's needs, be nice to grandparents. I tried nursing. I tried making my own baby food. I tried baking bread. I tried online course in graphics for my mental stimulation. I tried online school for 12 yo so he has peers and a rebbe. I tried engaging him in chumash. I tried buying lots of seforim and art supplies and strewing them around. I tried seeking out classes for kids: at the library, the zoo, through homeschool networks, through word of mouth.

I tried a lot.

I tried suppressing my introvert tendencies and staying calm amidst a very loud and hectic household. I tried being present for all of my kids, finding a way to connect with each one when I much rather go and seek quiet.

Somewhere along this path, my whole essence was broken. This is not the first time that it happened. The first time was when I was being treated for Hep C and the medications changed not only my personality and brain, but my whole approach to life. But that was external, and it was a matter of survival, and there were no other options. This time, I did not have to take the hard path. This time, it was not a matter of life and death. I chose to do things the hard way. I chose to educate the children at home.

All that I know is that I am very tired.

Monday, November 28, 2016

We moved

I am alive.

We are alive.

We have moved two weeks ago. It's a much larger house. For the first time, the master bathroom has a bathtub. I have two ovens and two sinks in the kitchen. Our dining room table became eat-in kitchen table, so we can all fit. The living room couches are arriving tomorrow. "I can't wait to assemble a couch!" pipes up 10 yo after spending the past two weeks assembling IKEA furniture. I had to disappoint him by informing him that the couches are from a real store and do not require assembly. (They were a floor sample, at a steep "As Is" discount, bought during black Friday weekend, but that is irrelevant to a child eager to click his tools.)

I made Thanksgiving. :Last time I made it was five years ago. We had a turkey and all the fixings. 12 yo made a Knex turkey to grace our table. He also made gratitude cards, at my request. The boys enjoyed furiously filling theirs out. 12 yo was grateful for diapers, of all things: it's not easy being in a house with a child who won't potty train. Overall, I loved hearing how each child independently appreciated other members of the family. To finish the meal off, we all posed my new dinosaur salt and pepper shakers. Just in case you think it was all lovely, 3 yo decided to have a nuclear meltdown over not liking any food. Eventually, we tucked him in, and all was quiet. Oh, and I almost forgot to make dessert...

The neighborhood is nice. The driveway has a flat area at the top and the street is quiet, surrounded by cul-de-sacs. 6 yo learned how to ride her two-wheeler. 3 yo learned how to pedal. There is a hidden shortcut through a dam across the lake that we can see from the living room. A great blue heron has been spotted, alongside with ducks, geese and other birds. This morning, a hawk visited a tree on our lawn. The neighbors say hello and brought us welcome gifts. The street is lined with colonials. Suburbia.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Designated time

I'm writing this on chol hamoed Succot. In Hebrew, moed means a designated time, an appointed time, a time of meeting. Holiday, as in "holy day" is a very loose translation, as it is not the sanctity of the day that is celebrated. Rather we acknowledge that year after year, Hashem/ mishkan/ shechina calls to us, and we show up. We do not always bring our best selves when we show up, despite what numerous divrei torah and frum writing makes one to believe. We do not always show up in the neatest and most prepared state, despite what sharing on social media leads us to believe. In fact, some years, we do not want to show up at all.

But where would we be if we did not show up? Where would we be if we did not have this protected time to find ourselves yet again in our succah, in shul, at the seder table, during hakafot, thinking, remembering and contemplating where we were in years past and comparing to where we are now?

Shabbos can feel oppressive, especially where there are small kids napping in the morning and afternoon, and older kids get listless. Yet I appreciate Shabbos as the "only time I sit on the couch" in my daughter's words. I wanted to be doing more, working on Nach Yomi ( don't even ask where I stand in my personal learning), reading over parsha, davening, having deep and meaningful conversations about what matters with my spouse. But I am not. However, I am grateful that I find myself forced to sit on that couch once a week and take a break from the external world, take stock in where I am now, what am I feeling, and not being pressured to run around and do something or other. It is not a high level of observance, but it is a designated time, forced upon me for my own good.

I am very good about yom tov observance, but I am not good at designating time that is not thrust upon me. Whether it is my upbringing, my uptight personality, the circumstances, not knowing how to do it myself, or not being selfish, I do not end up designating this protected time for reflection. I am not talking about pampering, but it is part of essential self-care. There is so much to do, and so little time. So I scurry and wipe behinds, nap kids, feed them, do chumash,  grocery shop, sneak on Facebok and tackle laundry. But I do not say: this afternoon is for blogging because mommy needs a written record of how today went. This half an hour is for journalling because I need to pour my heart out. When the baby will nap I will call my friend and connect. Today  I will plan a night away because I just need to sleep in and not be responsible for anyone else's needs.

I wonder if rosh chodesh was supposed to be a women's holiday precisely to force women to take monthly stock of their lives and stop doing.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Indian consulate and Shemitta

We were passing an Indian consulate this afternoon when 12 yo asked me what is a consulate. I explained that it is an official representation of a country on another country's soil and the consul is the person who can conduct his country's business. I also mentioned my favorite fact (learned from my father) that a consulate is like a small piece of India right here and the laws of United States do not apply inside it. 12 yo wondered why there is a consulate here, why not just in DC, and how many more Indian consulates are there in the US. I told him he can look it up later. I also said that we live in a big enough city that this is probably a regional consulate. I mentioned that there is probably an Israeli consulate here too, or maybe in Miami. (I am not sure). Then he asked me whether the land of the Israeli consulate is the same as the land of Eretz Yisrael. I asked whether he meant halachically and he said, yes. I laughed, come on, it's a legal technicality, it would not affect halacha. He launched into what if Israeli consulate were to grow produce on its roof, would it be subject to the laws of shemitta? I retorted, of course not! He set up a precedent: the land conquered outside the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael still has to observe shemittah as long as the land within Eretz Yisrael is within Jewish possession. By this point, I realized that he might have a case, so I suggested he ask a knowledgeable rabbi.

This is unschooling in action. This interaction happened because we were both in the car, in good mood, he was next to me, he was looking around instead of being lost in an electronic device or a book, and he had prior knowledge to apply to a little tidbit that I supplied. Sometimes I feel like we get so little "work" done. Then I need to be reminded that my most important goal is to produce thinking human beings, who can converse and be open to learning. For that to happen I need these small casual spontaneous interactions.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Not Okay

I am twelve. I am taking a trolleybus home with a friend back in Moldova. We are chatting and suddenly she tells me to get off. It is not our stop, it's too early, but I follow her off. Once we are off, she tells me how a guy was pulling up her skirt. She is also twelve, and she is a wearing a mini denim skirt, with the wide ruffle on the bottom. The drab brown uniforms were just canceled out of existence, and everyone is wearing whatever parents scrambled to get. The guy first pulled up one side of her skirt, then the other. It's crowded on the trolleybus, a great melee of people, so I did not see anything, even though I was standing right next to her. She sighs as she tugs her skirt lower: "What are you going to do? Mame ne rasskajeshi. You can't tell it to your mom." Rather, it shouldn't be told to her mom. We get onto the next trolleybus and never discuss it.

Later the same year, I am taking a trolleybus with my younger sister. I am still twelve, a skinny undeveloped girl. I am not even a hundred pounds. I am very spacey, very oblivious kid. But I find that someone is rubbing against me. It is crowded, so I move over a bit without turning around. The rubbing follows me. I do not know anything about erections. I do not know anything about molestation or predators or pedophilia, but I do not want to be touched like that. There are people everywhere, and my sister is next to me, in the way of my escape. I try to push through, but I am grabbed and held close as the rubbing continues. I tell my sister we are getting off here as I finally turn around and catch the eyes and a beard of a man still trying to hold on to me. 

We get off. My sister protests that it is not the right stop. I honestly do not remember what I told her, whether I disclosed why I wanted off that trolleybus. The refrain "Mame ne rasskajeshi" follows me. Somehow without knowing the name or having an understanding of what happened I know better than to confide in her lest I would be told to be somehow more careful in the future.

I am twenty, already for a few years on my own, in college. I go back to Moldova and I am sent to get some paperwork for my father who is in Canada. He is trying to get a discount on auto insurance based on his previous driving experience and we need to approach his former place of work, sign some papers. I am in a large office of the Academy of Science. An older man is chatting with my mother, holding the paper that we need. Then he notices my slouching posture and decides to adjust it, smack in the middle of the conversation. I am not interested in his touch because I sense lewdness. As he is pushing back on my shoulder while touching my back, where the bra snap goes: "A girl should be lean and straight, like a birch tree!" I grit my teeth. We need his signature on that stupid piece of paper so that my father pays less for car insurance. We need that money.

Fast forward quite a few years. I am at a birthday party at my in-laws' house, with my husband and kids. A whole gang of Russians is there, eating. drinking and conversing. A guy, who employs my mother-in-law, asks me whether married Jewish women are allowed to hug other men. I respond negatively. He proceeds to hug me right there, saying that sometimes it is ok. I am stewing inside and mutter obscenities under my breath. My husband, instead of punching him out, proceeds to work for him at a future date. After all, this man gives employment to so many around that table, even though privately I am told how they despise him.

I do not consider myself to have been sexually abused. I was not terribly traumatized by my experiences, although I disclosed the bit with the beard to my husband so he would be aware if and when he would be growing one and how I might have shifting feelings about it. However, with all the talk about women being grabbed, and how it's just locker room talk, and how only certain women get such attention, all of my emotions come bubbling out. Violations happen all the time. They happen to everyone. This overstepping of bounds of decency happens where there is an unbalanced power, and the strong takes advantage of the weak with impunity. The weak is supposed to roll over and suffer in shameful silence.

No more.

I am breaking my silence. I hope that others will, too.

We have sons to bring up and they should know better than to tolerate such talk or such actions. We have daughters to bring up and they have to know to yell and scream and kick and thrash and draw attention. We have to teach them to tell mothers so they can raise hell on their behalf. We have to make our voices heard, not for pity, but to shame those who deserve to be shamed.

#notokay

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gemara for 12 yo

After a lot of hand-wringing, phone calls, e-mails and just things falling all over the place. I signed up 12 yo for online school for Judaics. He is in 7th grade, where he is supposed to be age-wise. He specifically asked for learning with other kids as opposed to one-on-one, but he did not want to go to school. The program is four days a week for two hours each day, and it is fully interactive: he gets to see the teacher and other students, learn bechavruta, ask and answer questions in real time, get assignments and chat with others. The catch is that it is from 11 to 1, smack dab in the middle of the day.

Here is the funny part: the administration originally did not want him in this class because he had no formal gemara learning. First I agreed with them, then we realized that the other level is too low for him, so I insisted that he attend this class with his peers. In the back of my mind was an ongoing buzz of what am I going to do with a child who will be handicapped by a lack of gemara skills? Will this approach of not pushing and introducing gemara haunt us? Now in his class, during the second week I got an email from the teacher that he is planning on having my son and his chavruta do a separate assignment since his gemara skills are on a higher level than the rest of the class. I giggled: how can a child who spent maybe six hours formally studying gemara have more advanced skills than the boys who have been studying it for the past two years? Perhaps all the hours he spent poring over Koren Bavli in shul paid off. Perhaps he is naturally brilliant. Perhaps he can pull a fast one on the teacher.

Perhaps our laid-back approach (not quite unschooling) is not so full of glaring educational holes.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Just what he needed

Do you know who's thriving at home so far? My three-year-old. He potty trained and having a potty available to use as necessary is what did it. He naps as he needs, just goes and tucks himself in and then comes out when he's awake and ready to come out. He spent close to an hour every day painting with watercolor. I just need to get him water and close the door to the sunroom. He has been painting sheet after sheet, mixing colors, using different brushes, making up stories about his creations. Then he cuts them up, tapes them, modifies them further.

He has been playing with Cliks: building swords and guns of all kinds, imagining things, creating whole worlds. He is all about weapons and shooting and fighting, yet he's extremely mellow to his younger sister. This is a healthy release of aggression.

He made a cockroach
He has been playing with his older sister non-stop. I often end up breaking up their play to get her to do her schoolwork. He sidles up with his Costco book, and he does his "math"; he just circles what he likes on every page. He recognizes a few letters. Last year in Montessori he supposedly knew him all. Now I can see that not everything has stuck, but it's ok, because he is only three and I want him to think that what he's doing right now, all this painting and building, is what's important.

We've been to the zoo and aquarium and he loves the ocean pop-up book. He keeps asking to go back. He wants to go to the park or hike trails. He often tramps around outside our large yard, digging in the dirt, finding bugs and other treasures. He rides his trike down the path full speed.
At the zoo

Childhood is short. Childhood can also be easy and not require much. I forgot how much I love this stage, when they are old enough to talk and say the darnest things (Mommy, can I help you make coffee cause I Love you). They are still little, but they can already do things for themselves. They do not have an attitude yet, but the personality is there. I am pleased to have this child back at home with me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

An update

We were supposed to move, to a bigger house, in another neighborhood. I spent most of the summer packing, decluttering, and dealing with all the things that come with buying a house. I even spent energy on those hypothetical closets, convincing myself that it will he painful for a bit, and then there will be order.

The house sale fell through, but not early enough to realize that this is not happening. Some paperwork was required at the last minute, and that paperwork was something that we could not produce, no matter how much we pushed, begged and pleaded. Maybe I will write up one day what happens when a doctor gets a frivolous lawsuit and how little it matters who is right. Maybe I will write how some things have nothing to do with prudence and planning and saving. It is ironic that the house prices are so ridiculously inflated that it is impossible to buy a house without financing, no matter how carefully you save. The bottom line was, the same week that we were supposed to move, and all extensions were filed and not even exactly accepted, it became clear that this house is not going to be ours.

That left me in a very bad pickle: I have packed up all the books and most of the homeschool materials. I have taken all the posters off the walls. I was also planning on being near JCC and rely on their homeschool, afterschool, and adult classes for enrichment. We were supposed to be near a community college with its own course offerings. I gingerly checked out homeschool resources near the new location, but I definitely did not sign up for any classes where we live.

3yo made a fire-shooting tail for his dragon.
He is happy as long as he can find scissors, tape and paper
Those who were following this blog know that I also signed up 10 yo for school. First I put him on the bus so I would not have to drive him, then I told the school to take him off since there is no bus from the new location, then I had to beg them to please put him back on the bus since we did not move after all... At least his school bought all the school supplies through PTA and I was not stuck hunting all over town for perfect folders and exact markers. So far, he probably has a more put-together life than we do here.

MIT open course video that 12 y dug up
Since he already started school, I chose to start with 12 yo, 6 yo and 3 yo. But all of my materials are still packed up. And we still might be moving: our house did not grow more space just because the move fell through. The kitchen did not expand, the bedrooms were not added, more children did not move on our block... in short, all the reasons to move are still valid. So I started with whichever resources I happened to have on hand. I'm quickly discovering that if I let 12 yo have a lot of computer time, he will cobble something together. The problem is, without his brother to drag him out to the trampoline, and without classes set up, and without friends popping by, he will not see humans for days. He will not call for a play date (but my 6 yo daughter will!) So do I let this child stay at home and do his own stereotypically nerdy antisocial thing mostly on the computer, or do I set limits, boundaries, force him to go on outings that delight his younger siblings, all in hope of getting him out of the house?

I am also guilty of using him as a babysitter. I do it a lot: he does not want to go to the grocery store, but he will watch the rest of the kids, for example. Often I just want to run an errand by myself, and with all the stress of this "almost move", my need to be by myself is higher than usual. And he is so conveniently at home, and willing to stay at home. I am very conflicted about this. Is it a right thing to do to a 12 yo?

Since all the books are packed up, and I begged boys not to renew their library cards and confirm the addresses till after the move, we have a general lack of reading material. Everyone is listless. 6 yo wants a plan, and all my hopes, dreams, and plans got flushed away, so I swat her inquiries because, frankly, I want a plan, too.

Art supplies are for dumping
Don't forget the baby. She is a firecracker. She screeches on top of her lungs and gets 3 yo involved in yelling competitions. She is not walking (we are starting physical therapy which I need right now like a hole in my head). She is climbing instead, pulling herself up onto the couch and the chairs and the bay window. Then she launches herself down, body-slamming into the cushions. I worry that she will crack her head open. 10 yo worries with me, to the point that he cannot sit still and eat if she's on the couch. It's a good thing that he is in school most of the day, missing her antics. She crawls across our laps as I try to read to 6 yo and 3 yo. She pulls the books out of our hands and has been pulling 3 yo's hair. Thank G-d he's a mellow sweet child, who had not smacked her back. She destroys his puzzle, she dumps the crayons and the drawers full of clothes. When she had her fill of destruction, she heads over to me to be picked up. Then she wants to be carried either by me or by one of the kids. The baby is cute, but she is not easy, and she does not make any of our lives easy either.




12 yo helps make armor.

We have started homeschooling, but I have no idea where this year will take us. I know everyone loves the first day of school pictures, with their promise of new beginnings and order. I bring to you the messy reality. I also hope that those homeschoolers who have not started yet and dread seeing yet another post about organized resources will not feel so bad about hot having it all together.
First day of school.
Typical uniforms.
The boys laughed when they realized what they were wearing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Self-care and support advice: helpful or harmful?

I'm reading another self-help book, this one on marriage (First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors). In case you're wondering, the title intrigued me. I am not done, but the content makes me wonder because I have heard this before.

The author starts by saying that in order to save an ailing marriage, self-care is important and so is a strong circle of supportive females.

Oh yeah, all those homeschool pages say the same. When you are running ragged, when you don't know where to turn to advice, just go take a break, focus on yourself, and spend some time talking to like-minded friends.

Oh, and the same goes for motherhood and parenting. When the kids get to you, when running a household and simultaneously taking care of everyone's needs feels stressful, give yourself some pampering and go dish it out with other moms in the same boat.

Before I go further, I have given out the same advice myself. "I said and said and said those words, I said them--but I lied them."

What if this is classic chicken-and-egg situation? What if we are trying to solve various problems with the same solutions when, in reality, the lack of accessibility of these solutions is what's causing these problems in the first place?

Imagine yourself well-rested on a day when you selected what you wanted to do for yourself and did it. Most likely, you would be more pleasant to your spouse and his little quirks and annoyances would not be so annoying. Most likely you would be teeming with ideas for your homeschool. Most likely you would be eager to see your kids, hug them, spend some time with them.

Imagine having a community of women who are there to catch you, watch your kids, spell you for a bit while you run to the store or the doctor, and converse when you need it. They give you valuable advice that sets you straight in all your family relationships because they see you and your family day in and day out, and they truly, really have your best interest at heart. You would feel able to handle any ripples that rock your boat because they are there to catch you.

What if the most important part missing from all this advice is the fact that so many wives/mothers have neither the ability to arrange large chunks of their life according to what's good for them nor this female group of tight-knit friends? What if this is the true reason for high divorce rate, homeschool burnout, and parenting failure?

Maybe I am the only one who has a hard time arranging for self-care that I truly need rather than measly bits that are available. For example, I can stereotypically paint my own nails at home and call it self-care, but what I truly enjoy is a professional massage. I can take a quick walk around the block, but I really crave a couple hours of hiking through the woods. Being told that I just need to make myself a priority when nobody else is jumping in to pick up slack does not miraculously produce time and resources. It just makes me feel even worse. And that gets to this support network business. I am an introvert. We have moved a lot and I am in a city far away both from my high school and college friends. I am far away from friends that I made when we got married. I am far away from friends that I made in two years in Houston. It takes me a long time to warm up to people, and I am at an age when one does not instantly make best friends and confidantes, no matter how bubbly and outgoing a personality. So where am I supposed to dig up this circle of support? On the basic level, who will watch my kids in minor emergencies, but on a deeper level, whom can I confide with my bigger problems? (I am about to do it on a blog for the whole anonymous world to see, which might be introvert's only solution...)

I am not about to bemoan the entire disintegration of society because it appears that many have this all blissfully worked out. Maybe they have supportive family and friends and never moved from their place of origin. Maybe they have other arrangements. Yet, considering the amount of my friends who are on the move, who move into new communities, new cities, new countries, it cannot be that I am the only struggling to figure out how this helpful advice on self-care and support networks is not causing more pain than it was meant to resolve.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Desiring more and happiness

איזהו אשיר? השמח בחלכו

Who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot. (פרקי אבות ד א )

We usually take this to mean material possessions: the one who appreciates all the stuff that he has is content. Overall, the one who is satisfied with his lot in life, who can appreciate all the good things that have happened to him, is happy. But what if your lot in life is to yearn for more? What if you are always challenging status quo? What if it's not about material possessions at all, but about wanting to acquire more knowledge, so you always want another class? What if you want even closer relationship with your spouse and children? What if you want to be more than what you currently are?

I just had a funny experience with the contractors working on the house that we are (hopefully) moving into. The closets are not finished yet, so they told me that they have a certain budget and can customize within that budget. Alternatively, I can go and get my own closet components and they will install them. I was offered a long closet shelf and a rod running the full length of every closet in the house, including a ridiculously long walk-in master closet. I stepped back, saying that we do not have nearly enough clothes to warrant such a long hanging system. The contractor countered that I can go to Home Depot and pick up the closet system that they have and they will happily install it. Their idea of a happy customer was someone who took stock of the large space they offered for clothes storage and then went and bought enough storage implements for all the clothes. I started thinking and asking whether a rod can be installed only in one-half of the closet space and the rest can eventually be lobbed off into master bedroom. I was envisioning a crafting space, a place for a desk where I can type, spread art supplies without kids messing with them, go back to watercolor and acrylics, set up the sewing machine. The contractor raised his hands up in protest: Please do not move any more walls, we will not finish this house in time. The agent piped in about resale value of a giant master closet. I thought how having this huge wasted space without air conditioning or windows and using it for storage of stuff because in the future somebody will covet it is stupid.

This is bringing into sharp focus how my "wanting more" is not the same as most people's "wanting more". I would like to use certain material possessions and advantages to achieve space, time and product. I have noted to my husband how my homeschool friends and acquaintances are more interesting and outspoken than the regular school parents. Perhaps the common denominator is the desire for change, the lot of wanting more. I pulled my oldest out of school because I wanted to give him more than the school was offering. I wanted to give him the gift of free time. I wanted to give him the ability to choose his own reading material and engage deeply with the content. I wanted him to figure out what interests him and pursue it. I wanted him to have an opportunity to read Chumash and Gemara as one reads a novel: out of his own free will, at his pace, and his comfort level. I wanted my family not to be stuck in the same old race of waking everyone up early and rushing everyone out the door because things have to be done (work, school, extracurriculars, grocery shopping). I really wanted more for my family.

Where does all this leave me vis-a-vis the Mishna? Am I unhappy because I want more? Or is wanting more that is not material possessions an essential human drive and not included in the text of the Mishna?

I am dreading having to go to the store and look at all these closet systems that I did not even know existed and then having to choose which one goes where. I cannot convince myself that it is like going to the dentist: painful, but necessary and it is better to just quickly get it over with.

Friday, July 15, 2016

On Minimalism

Most likely you have heard about Marie Kondo's book, "The Magic of Tidying Up". Perhaps you have heard about the Mimimalists and their movement of living with less stuff. A friend of mine (actually, a few friends) have done KonMari on their house and have shared their journey publicly. I have been intrigued enough to snatch tidbits of this lifestyle here and there. Ah, the promise of simplifying your life, living with fewer possessions, managing less stuff and having more time for what matters... who would not like that? Who would not want clean, sparse space as one is drowning in laundry and toys strewn all over the floor and books plopped open on the couch?

I looked into it. I have listened to a few podcasts. I have read a few articles. I was on fire internally.

But...

It is easy to notice that most minimalists are single. There are married couples, and there are families who are minimalists for sure, but most ardent proponents of the lifestyle are single adults, somewhere in their twenties-thirties. I always said, I'll read Kondo's book that she writes once she has a few children. Life with children is messy and unpredictable. Outings with children depend not on packing the minimal amount, but on being prepared for the unexpected. I have five, and I have diaper bag packing on autopilot. I do not carry spurious stuff but what often saves the day (adds value to my life) is having that emergency pack of crackers in the bottom of my purse when we are out longer than expected. It is having an extra diaper for the baby and the 3 year old when he decides that he's too busy to go to the bathroom. It adds value to my life knowing that I have a ten pack of underwear at home for him, so I do not have to make the judgment call of whether to scrape poop off his underwear because he does not have enough pairs. Added value is having a pack of wipes both in the bag and in the car, so if we go out for ice cream (something that we do not do often, maybe a few times per year), I can wipe all those messy sticky faces. Brusters next to us does not have a bathroom, so washing off is not an option. I find myself happier having a large plastic bag in the trunk of the car that contains a complete change of clothes for each child. We can go wading, they can get messy, life can happen, and I do not have to think whether I want to allow them to participate in it.

We are going away for Shabbos. Since the older boys are at a sleep away camp, it is just three younger kids, my husband and I. I am not anxious about packing because I am not planning on packing elaborately. Yet I keep thinking about Minimalists soundtrack song:

Every little thing that you need,
Every little thing
That is powering your greed,
Oh I bet you'll be fine
Without it.

Yeah, beautiful. I do not need to bring my sheitel. I do not need to bring clothes on hangers and worry about garment bag. But I do know that having a spare outfit for Shabbos will save the day if one of my lovely children will get me dirty (or I do it to myself). I have gone away for Shabbos packing minimally, and then had one child spit up so much that by motzei shabbos I did not have a single piece of clothing that was not obviously stained and stinky. I knew the hosts well enough to borrow a spare skirt and do an emergency load of laundry. That is not the case this time.

Dear minimalists, have you ever gone away and forgot a child's favorite blankie or lovey? Have you ever had a child who could not fall asleep and tried singing to him the lullaby of how it's the greed and the child will be just fine? I have been actively discouraging my children to form attachments to bulky irreplaceable objects, to material possessions, yet, somehow, quite a few of them did. Have you ever had a child walk around like a zombie singing "I want my paci" song and thought, gee whiz, it would have been easier to pack it? I am packing few things for the baby, but I am planning on bringing a small floor heater. She sleeps better with the white noise from the fan. I did not want her to be attached to it, but in a small house with many active and loud children, it added value to my life to run this device and get a well-rested baby. We have gone away before and forgot to bring it, or chose not to bring it. It was not pretty. She was NOT FINE without it.

I have gone to my in-laws for a couple hours on Sunday. I forgot to bring diapers. Let me tell you, running to the closest grocery store when you discover that the baby pooped and there is not a single diaper anywhere in the diaper bag or the car makes you wonder how this is better than having a stack of diapers, "just in case".

We are hoping to move, so we are packing. I have gone and pared down clothes for 3 year old. He had boys' old clothes coupled with hand-me-downs coupled with grandma's gifts. I was able to sort it all by size and put away quite a bit. No child needs more than a week's worth of clothes. However, at his current age, when he can go through three pairs of pants per day, not having to do laundry daily adds value to my life. Not worrying whether he will run out of shorts is better than having just three pairs on rotation. Same goes for my baby's clothes. She dislikes bibs and she wants to self-feed. Frequently, I have to change her clothes after every meal. She likes to crawl around and scootch on her behind. It kills the pants that she wears. I much rather have plenty of outfits on hand and change her as necessary rather than be constantly doing laundry.

I have thought about minimalism and realized that it is a movement of being able to let go of material things because you firmly know that you will always be able to get them if need be. This can only be achieved if you have secutiry knowing that you have the finances, and that the items are easily obtainable. Growing up in Russia, where new purchases of clothing, furniture, etc, were few and far in between, and the opportunity to buy came up unexpectedly and did not even necessarly fit your needs left me with a residual worry. Our parents were minimalists, but not by choice. They were forced into the minimalist lifestyle by the system. As soon as they found themselves on American soil, their need to buy as they see fit went into overdrive. And I have it, too. Couple that with my entry into the States on a student visa and with only a suitcase worth of possessions (and no clear finances to buy more), and it becomes clear that I have hard time letting go of objects that come into my domain. Yet I am weighed with all the junk that comes with running a household full of kids of different ages. I want to declutter, I want to have those simple, clean lines, I want my house to be a Montessori classroom where every object has a purpose and a place, and gets used and put away. So I am seesawing between the need to have extra and having just bare minimum. Both of these bring me peace of mind.

I am hoping that in this new house I will have space to create my personal minimalistic space while leaving large swatches of household in kid-friendy zone of excess.

Have you encountered minimalist resouces that are family-friendly? I would love links to books, blogs and articles that address how to lead a meaningful life with less while having more people in your life.

P.S. The Minimalists mention decluttering people in your life who do not add value. Kids add very little value when they are little. In the language of "All Joy and No Fun," they are economically useless and emotionally priceless. I wonder whether minimalists shun marriages and childrearing for this exact reason.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Earning Olam Haba

Some people think that to earn Olam Haba
One needs to do kiruv,
Or write a sefer
Or be a martyr,
Or do a lot, a lot of mitzvot.

But

A friend invited us over for a Yom Tov meal.
First on Pesach,
And then on Shavuos.
All seven of us.

We are not close.
We are not best friends,
But she sensed my desperation
Being daunted by all these meals,
And all these mouths to feed,
And all the expectations of joy
And perfection.

I don't do perfect.
I do good enough.

Yom Tov looms large in my mind
As I do not have a childhood yardstick to measure it by.
Its expectation of ecstasy
Of facing the Divine
And noticing how
I am empty-handed.

My friend earned her Olam Haba
One casual meal invite at a time.

Please G-d,
When she stands on Yom Kippur
And beats her chest
Remember her kindness.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A day trip to Chattanooga aquarium

I had all the kids home with me last week. We were talking about different things to do and Chattanooga Aquarium came up. We have been there once, almost four years ago, and I have much fonder memories of it than of our local overpriced and super-commercialized aquarium.

So this morning I woke up (after the baby has been sleeping through the night for the past week) and when one of the boys asked whether we can drive to Chattanooga today, I said: "Why not?" And just like that, we had breakfast, packed up lunch and a diaper bag, and set out. By "we" I mean myself and five kids. My husband had to work. I joked with him how I really need to go to farmer's market and Costco this week, but I much rather drive to an aquarium two hours away that go through the store with my crew.

On the way there, we finished listening to "The Dragon Rider" by Cornelia Funke. We started on the way to and from the homeschool conference, but since we have to intersperse music for the younger kids, books on CDs take a while. 3 yo's new favorite CD is Frog Trouble by Sandra Boynton, another library find. At least Sandra Boynton CDs are not annoying when played frequently, something that I can't say about Raffi or Wiggles.

I brought an umbrella stroller for the baby, a backpack cooler with lunch for 12 yo to carry, and a diaper bag. When we got to Chattanooga, we had lunch first and then entered the first building of the aquarium. I kept on thinking about the gorilla incident and the angry chorus how animals should not be displayed. And then I saw how much my younger kids, 6 yo and 3 yo, who have not been to the zoo in the past year, or any other place with animal exposure, picked up from seeing live birds, fish, and mammals. How can one teach a 3 yo to be brave enough to plunge his hand into cold water and pet a stingray? How can I give my daughter the experience of discovery that stingray feels like jello and she can reach in and touch it? How can they learn what a butterfly walking across one's face feels like? How else my 3 yo will discover excitedly that penguins "fly" underwater? That he can use two fingers to feel the scales of a cornsnake?





We had a great time. Nobody ran off, nobody got lost, nobody cried. 3 yo even didn't have any accidents, and the baby stayed awake and relatively happy the whole time. And I kept thinking: this is what a good homeschooling day feels like. This is what I love doing with my wild and crazy bunch: drive them to a cool place, get all excited about it, see them get all excited, and watch as they ask each other about what they liked the most. 

Before we headed back, the kids asked about Ben and Jerry's corner store right next to the parking garage. I said that I will take a look at their prices. When you have five kids, getting everyone a scoop gets expensive very quickly, not to mention that we already spent money on gas and parking and admission (technically membership since I am planning to get there again). When I ducked into the store ( more accurately, as we spilled into the store) and I saw their prices, I felt ready to leave. Enter 12 yo, the rationalist: "If I split a cup with my brother, and sister splits a cup with 3 yo and you get a small cup for yourself, it is much cheaper than getting everyone a scoop". "Yes, we all all ready to share". Ok then, The older boys ordered their cup, but 3 yo, spoiled by getting his own (free) baby cone at local Bruster's was not inclined to share. So he dropped on the floor, kicking and screaming that he wants his own. The beauty of having so many kids is that it is no longer mortifying. I knew that either he will stop yelling soon and chooses to share, or he will continue yelling and I will take him outside the store without ice cream. Knowing this child, I was betting on the first. Sorry, patrons, but I had to pay for our treat. By the time I paid, he calmed down and chose to sit next to his sister.
We finished our scoops, got in the car, and drove back home.

May I be known as a mom with a messy house and without groceries, but the one who took her kids places that generated happiness.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Acceptance

I have been trying to get 10 yo into school. It is a different school than the one we tried a few years back. Today he took a placement test. I knew from the past that he does not like being tested, and he is very anxious about his performance. But he just passed him black belt test in taekwondo, and, in my mind, that ought to be harder than what the school will come up with. So I warned him beforehand about this placement test, but I downplayed it: it is less than an hour, it is just to see what you know and what you don't so there probably will be some really easy questions, and some so hard that you will not be able to answer them, and it is not a big deal.

This morning he took a really long time to emerge from the bed, usually not a good sign. He was very frustrated that we did not have his poppy seed bagel. My husband drove him over and texted me with the time to pick him up. Before I even got myself ready, I got a call from the school that he finished early. I told them that I'm on my way. 6 yo and 3 yo decided to tag along.

10 yo was waiting in the school's lobby, so I got him quite quickly. As we loaded into the car, the principal came out, calling after me. He wanted to let me know how 10 yo did. The principal said that he tested very high both in reading comprehension and in math. He congratulated me on doing a good job homeschooling him. My heart skipped a beat. 

In homeschooling, a lot of learning and growth takes place away from prying eyes, and it is not easy to assess, let alone to receive praise. I kept on thinking: is this the same child that the other school thought was so far behind as to be placed a grade lower? Is this the child that needed shadow, or medication, and a trial to see how it goes? Do we really just need to give time to these super-difficult children, and they will be fine, and they will excel, both by our standards, and by those of the world?

Later, we received an e-mail with the official acceptance letter.

I wish that I could report that the rest of the day was carried on these good news, but 10 yo spent a large part of it melting down. I mentioned doing chumash while the baby sleeps, and he tearfully told me that he did not "expect" to do chumash today. Well, we learn Torah every day, and he knows that. After lots of misery, I got out of him that he just wanted to do one pasuk. I agreed, He kind of did it, then got stuck on a word during review screaming at me that yesterday he translated שעיר עזים as a ram and it cannot possibly mean anything else. 

Around dinnertime, he declared that the food I was making was his least favorite and he has to eat something else, all the while trying to surreptitiously grab it on the go while I was frying up dinner. I stopped him and he stormed off into the basement, locking himself in.

So, academically we are fine, maybe even more than fine, but where are we emotionally? I keep telling myself that I am sending him not for the academics, but to break up our bad dynamic. And I keep hoping that he will learn to relax enough during test taking so that he does not have to punish himself and everyone around him afterward.

Torah Home Educators Conference

I would have written a review, but a good friend of mine and an exceptional homeschool momma wrote up a great one. Her blog follows her unschooling journey.

With her kind permission, here is the link:

http://homeschoolchumash.blogspot.com/2016/05/torah-home-education-conference-2016.html

I should add that there was very good childcare, which gave me peace of mind both for my presentation and for the rest of the conference.

After the conference, there was a Mom's night out, which I needed like air. We actually stayed that extra night just so I could go out. And I discovered that despite having spent the whole day being social, talking to strangers, and networking (activities that I like only in small doses), I did not mind hanging out with strangers some more. There were chair massages in a candlelit room. There was a tichel sale, where I acquired a gorgeous sari wrap and was shown how to wrap it. There was a Pampered Chef presentation and a giveaway. Now I'm a proud owner of a spiralizer. There was a chessed project of making non-skid socks for hospital patients. There was an artist's corner with canvasses, acrylic pain0,t and masking tape design suggestions. I have not painted since before the baby was born. There were wine and yummy pastries. And there was casual conversation. It was nice to get out.

So if you are at all on the fence whether to attend a conference in the future, come. You will walk away with something new.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kids get away

If you have not been hiding under a rock, you have heard about the unfortunate incident at the Cincinnati zoo where a 4-year-old boy made his way into the gorilla enclosure, fell 15 feet and was tossed and displayed by a large silverback gorilla that had to be shot and killed. The story has layers: the child supposedly taunted his mom before making his break, other people were trying to stop him, the silverback seemed protective at first, the female gorillas left the exhibit but the male wouldn't, the crowd went frantic, the child was being flung around by the male.

And the chorus of haters immediately surfaced:

  • mom must have been negligent
  • she should have been watching the child/holding on to him the entire time
  • she should have jumped in and saved him from the gorillas
  • the gorilla should have been lured away with treats
  • the gorilla should have been tranquilized
  • ten minutes of response time is much too long
  • parents should be sued by the zoo
  • parents should sue the zoo
  • gorillas don't belong in zoos
  • the enclosure should have been higher
I am feeling sick to my stomach. Sometimes really horrible things happen, and there is nobody to blame. Sometimes it might be someone's fault, but what have been gained by pointing fingers? 

And my heart goes out to that mom in the spotlight.

I have written before about parents who claim that their children would never do that. I am impressed by the amount of parents who are confident that they are fully aware of all their children's whereabouts at all times. So in the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, I will share my stories of children getting away.

My second child, 10 yo, was always a runner. Since he learned how to walk, he didn't walk, he ran. Once I took him and his brother to the zoo. He was still 3, so I brought a stroller for him, where he sat most of the time. At that zoo, the primate area was a giant loop, with one entrance/exit and exhibits off to the sides. The boys kept asking me to pick them up so they could see the monkeys. I must have been lifting them up and down for a while, alternating. At some point, they went ahead and I was catching up, with a stroller. I didn't even have texting on the phone, so no, I was not doing anything else, just following after the boys. It was getting close to lunchtime and I had to teach right after, so I was anxious to leave the area, feed them, and head back. I turned the corner and my oldest, 5 at the time, was there, but no sight of 3-year-old. I assumed he walked ahead, after all, this is a loop, so he must be at the next exhibit. I am following them, I am hoisting them up, he must have gone ahead to the orangutans where he can see without being picked up. I drag my oldest along, but 3 year old is not to be found. I come to the exit and freak out: now he could have gone into the rest of the zoo, or back into the exhibit, or I somehow missed him. I knew he was a runner, so I was staying right there, close behind, with him in the stroller. Where is he? I drag 5 year old back with me, looking closely. He protests, he cannot see any animals like this. I circle back the entire exhibit and fully panic now. He must have exited and gone into the zoo. And he's three. And I have no idea where to look for him. And I have to teach soon. What am I going to tell the school, that I am late because I lost a child at the zoo?!

Waves of gut-wrenching panic sweep over me. I find a zookeeper and tell him that I am missing a child. I remember what he was wearing (back in the day I used to get my boys dressed in bright orange or red shirts, because I knew one is a runner). He pages the rest of the zookeepers and tells them to scan for a small boy. Meanwhile, he wants to head back to the primates where we started, to look again. 

I have no pride left, just a tense ball of nerves. I am dragging my other child who is complaining and complaining. As we enter the loop yet again. the keeper gets the page that my son was found. It was wintertime during school hours, the zoo was not busy. He was spotted sitting at the table not far from the cafe area. I ran, stroller and dragged 5 year old in my wake. The boy is sitting there, unperturbed. "I was waiting to have lunch, mommy".

At least we did not make the evening news. At least he was not curious to see what the orangutan was having for lunch.

I asked him about that incident now and he did not remember it. But it still quickens my pulse just to think of it.

And another time, when we were in Costco and he and his younger sisters got away and hid in the canoes. I also looked and looked, this time for two kids. Again, swallow your pride, ask for assistance. But Costco does not do loudspeaker announcements, so I get to die again, as each associate is paged separately. My son did remember that incident. He said that the canoes looked cool and he just wanted to see what the inside of one was like, and then they crawled inside and hid not to be kidnapped...

And multiple times, in stores, when I turned around and he was gone...

It is different with my other kids.  If they get lost, it is because they got separated. They will stand there, they will not escape. My current3-year-oldd does not wander off. But I am not bold enough to declare that it will never happen because I am so vigilant.

So let's drop finger-pointing and posturing, and share your stories of kids who got away. It does not make you a bad parent, it makes you an honest one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It could always be worse?

Yesterday my 3 yo woke up wet. He is potty-training, and he did not get the full hang of it yet. So I washed him, stripped his bed, washed his sheets, and sent him off to school. In the afternoon, when I picked him up, he had a bag of laundry: he had a major accident, his teacher ended up throwing away his underwear, and I had another load of laundry to do. I did it.

Yesterday was a bath night, so I washed the baby while my helpful 6 yo washed her brother.

This morning, he woke up wet again, only today it was when the baby was strapped in her high chair for breakfast. I had to decide: wash him and let her scream? Or get him dressed as he is, and feed the baby? I chose to get him dressed: that would be his third bath in 24 hours. But then the baby refused to eat. And then she had diarrhea. And another bout. And she threw up after her nap, all over her crib, all over her hair. So I had to wash her caked-in hair, and run another load of laundry. And then I had to decide: take 10 yo to his violin lesson? For various reasons the lesson did not happen in the last two weeks, and I did not want him to miss yet another make-up session. And do I go to park day afterward, so boys get to see their friends? Or do I declare baby to be sick, and not take them? But then I still have to pick up 3 yo and 6 yo from school in the afternoon, so I will have to take thebaby out again. And they are having a bake sale at school, so there is no carpool, and the kids will not be taken out to the cars.

So I watch the baby, and she seems fine. I quickly throw some lunch together for the boys, tell them that if their sister appears to be sick, we are leaving early, and go.

She is fine during the lesson, she is slightly cranky during park day. I buy her juice boxes while 10 yo is at his lesson, hoping to get fluids into her. She drinks the juice box, but spends more time chewing the box and the straw.

We drive to pick up the younger ones. She falls asleep. We are listening to this course on the History of the Bible, and it is talking about Babylonian and Roman captivity. Historically, it is corroborated that Jews fought bravely and held out till the point of starvation. And today is Yom Hazikaron.

10 yo sweetly offers to stay in the car with his asleep sister as long as I get him a treat from the bake sale, but the baby wakes up as soon as we park. I bring everyone inside and get them all treats. 3 yo is sporting a different pair of shorts than the ones I put on him in the morning. "An accident?" I ask his teacher. "A small one," she replies. The baby throws the piece of cookie that I offer her on the ground. I get comments from teachers that they did not know that I had older kids. Nod and smile, finish up the cookies, throw the plates in the garbage, buckle up and drive home.

As we are driving, 10 yo announces that he is sure that his sister's diaper needs to be changed. I wonder whether 3 yo's laundry smells, or whether it is the baby again. But I am falling asleep, so I need a drive-through coffee. The kids grumble how I am not rushing home to change the baby's diaper. I am feeling guilty as is. Where did she get this stomach upset? Is it the bathwater that she started drinking? Or the floor that she is licking? Or my slippers that she keeps on chewing? Or something else?

I get home and tell the kids to unload as many things from the car as they can. The baby's diaper has leaked, so I rush with her to the bathroom, trying to contain the mess. I change her, wash her, scream for someone to bring me a tub to put in her soiled clothes. I nurse her and feel guilty for taking her out today.

Later, I have to return to the car to get all the water bottles that were left behind. The unmistakable stench warmed up by the sun hits me: she must have leaked all over her car seat. I have to uninstall it to remove the cover. And there are the inaccessible cheerios that i did not vacuum up before Pesach because i could not get to them. Or are these post-Pesach Cheerios? She has been eating for the past week.

Yes, it could be worse. Somebody could be in a hospital. Somebody could be much sicker. But here is the deal: when it gets much worse, people get mobilized. People make meal trains. People offer to watch kids. Family steps up. Who will step up so I can strip the car seat? Take a child to a violin lesson? Watch the baby so I can take 3 yo to the bathroom yet another time? My boys have been great, but they are kids.

So do not say "it could always be worse". It does not help.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

post-Pesach

seder table
5:30 erev pesach
My older boys were born right around Pesach. 3 yo was born three weeks before Pesach, and the baby (who just turned one), was born a week after Pesach, which, this year, fell out on Pesach. My line used to be that Pesach is my favorite holiday. I like the challenges of new cooking, I look forward to kids' birthdays and recalling each crazy year, I like many days of Yom Tov when I can change the routine and sit down instead of feeling that I need to accomplish something or other. Usually, I do have a bit of a pre-Pesach freak-out, but it all comes together by Yom Tov, when the kitchen is turned over, the house is chametz-free, and all grocery store runs have been completed. We do our own seder since there is always a small child who needs to go to sleep before we ever start, and I fret about making it meaningful, yet somebody always comes up with some insight out of the left field, making the Yom Tov enjoyable.

seder table
6:30 erev pesach
Kids have to eat
This year, Pesach was just not coming together. I have a Pesach kitchen in this house, precisely because I always make Pesach, but it was still not working out. The bathroom next to the Pesach kitchen had to be repaired. Despite having a full year, the project was completed just three weeks before Pesach. I tried getting an early start on baking by making meringues which I adore, but they flopped. And I could not get enough motivation/anxiety to clean out chametz. Did I mention that we hold by not selling chametz, so we have to actually remove it? Days were ticking off, time was getting close, and I was still in a funk.

Then it dawned on me: what's harder than having a Pesach baby? Trying to make Pesach with a 1 year old! She was doing her part to keep things interesting. She kept throwing things out of her high chair, and spreading those Cheerios everywhere. Besides, a baby of this age needs to be constantly watched. She does not sleep nearly as much as a newborn, and she does not yet have any common sense, but she is mobile and active. I did enclose the living room as a space where she could be contained, but she is only happy in there for so long before starting to cry. So, out of 13 years that I have made Pesach, I was heavily pregnant or with a newborn for 4, and with an acitve one year old for 5. That's nine years of challenges. No wonder I don't feel so gung-ho about Pesach any more.

seder table
7:30 erev pesach
I did pull myself together, invited people over for the meals of the last days, and cooked and served for those meals. The company was pleasant, and it did feel like Yom Tov.

As for the seder prep, I pulled out my collection of Hagadahs, but the boys were most fascinated with The Exodus You Almost Passed Over by Rabbi Forhman. They both read it, and more than once. 10 yo kept bringing it to the table, reading out loud and discussing various points.3 yo stayed up for the seder, saw my husband put on his kittel and asked: "Why are you doing that?" "Thank you for fulfilling my obligation, So you could ask." He was not amused, but he was explained more about coming out of Egypt. And he even recited a nice part of Ma Nishtana. I know he was taught it in school, but I also have a Pesach CD that he kept asking me to put in, which contains it.

10 yo showed brotherly love
by putting up with 3 yo
messing up his experiment
(you need someone
of similar height for it to work)
at the science museum
On Chol HaMoed, I took kids places, hoping to rally just a bit. On Monday we went to the Museum of Natural History.

Kings of the rock at Noah's Ark
On Tuesday we visited an animal sanctuary with another homeschooling  family. The kids all had someone their own age to interact with, so the boys were able to go at their pace, and I could keep up with the littles.

Wednesday was the last day of coop classes followed by park day. I saw the boys' presentation from Lego Robotics class and missed the Bridges class one due to the littles being in toddler room. We brought out miracle bars to share. 12 walked around, advertising how good they are and sharing his insights about Pesach. I thought we will leave early enough for the babies to nap at home, but they both could not sleep. So, on the spur of the moment, I grabbed the willing kids and went to Botanical Gardens to sneak a peek at Chihuly exhibition. Our membership was running out and it did not officially open till after Pesach, but the glass was already installed. The kids loved running around finding the artwork: "There is a Chihuly!" And Thursday I went to taeknowdo with the boys followed by a cooking marathon for the last days.
Boys are presenting their robot

Now Yom Tov is over, the kitchen is back to chametz, laundry is churning from mounds of dirty into mounds of clean, and we bought our chametz. I am looking forward to Pesach when the youngest is 3. In the meanwhile, I will keep on trying to do what I can, and ignore the over-optimistic accounts of how easy it is to make Pesach.


Chihuly in the Botanical Garden

Friday, April 15, 2016

Time spent on Facebook

I have been on Facebook a lot lately. By "lately", I mean since the baby was born. I spent hours on the couch nursing her, and scrolling and liking things with one thumb was all I had ability to do. She also did not take pacifier, and there was a whole lot of yelling on her part and pacing on mine. Walk up and down the length of the room, baby in a carrier, nowhere as content as 3 yo used to be. I got Baby K'Tan with him and he loved it and slept in it. This girlie just yelled. So I paced and I scrolled. When I wasn't scrolling, I was crying. Truth: it's my fifth baby, and she grew out of it and I knew that it will pass and I was a pro, but she was still yelling, and I was still sobbing. I also got less support with her from my immediate family than I got with any other kids. Facebook was a great distraction.

So I was lost in Facebook wormhole. I could sort of read intelligent articles that my friends posted. I could not watch videos because that requires sound and sound wakes up baby and brings over a swarm of older kids: "What are you watching? I want to see!" I could not comment beyond a monosyllabic answer. I could see what my friends were up to. I could see their kids. I could see their happenings. I unfriended and stopped following a few whose life was artificially perfect. I followed people's political stances. I read their memes.
I was living a virtual life.

Lately, I have been catching myself posting whole monologues in comments on my friends' posts. The baby is almost one, I do not pace her to sleep any more (thank G-d!) I do not have long nursing sessions, so I can type a proper response.

Facebook is an introvert's paradise. You can lurk in conversations without joining in. You can float out as soon as you want. You can type a witty comment minutes, hours, or days after the initial conversation, and it does not seem weird. You can choose whom to talk to. And you can turn it all off.

So I have been wondering lately: why do I spend so much time on Facebook?

I have come to the conclusion that the digital world, no matter how curateded, takes over when the real life does not offer happiness, intellectual stimulation and excitement. I am quite controlled by the schedule of afternoon school pick-up. I am controlled by taekwondo, which is going wonderfully for me and the boys, but it segments our day. I am controlled by 10 yo's tantrums which I frankly want to dissociate from. I am controlled by a baby who leaves a trail of mess in her wake and my inability to pick it up faster than it earns my husband's displeasure. I cannot seem to get to that wonderful state of "flow" when you deeply engage in activity and time stands still. I am always interrupted. I am acutely aware of time at all times: time for baby's nap, time for pick-up, time to put everyone to sleep, time wasted on tantrums. But I can snatch a minute here and there to get on Facebook and see that everyone else can have a life, even if I can't.

Take a deep breath, they say.
This, too, shall pass, they say.
Wait till the youngest is 3, and it will get easier, they say.
It's a stage, they say.

I have been finding myself wishing for time to either freeze, so I can get something done without distractions, or to speed up to the age of independence of the youngest. Time is a gift, yet I cannot value it when my brain feels like scrambled eggs. So I am on Facebook, whiling the time away until it gets to point that time will have meaning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

school visit

Yesterday I took 9 yo and 6 yo for a mandatory tryout day at school. It's the elementary portion of the preschool that 6 yo and 3 yo attend. The night before, as I was telling kids to prepare them, 9 yo said: "I don't have much choice, do I?" and I wanted to scream: you had choices for the past five years! You could have appreciated homeschooling. You could have tried to control yourself, or do relaxation techniques, or not be so stubborn, or... something. But you didn't. And I'm burned out. And we are trying school for a change. Let's hope they take you.

But I didn't. Instead I asked boys to have everything they need for the morning, since I had to take them in by 8:15 and pick them up by 10:30.

My husband was on overnight call that night, and we have a guest staying in the space where teh boys keep their clothes. Luckily for me, my husband was able to come home in the morning to drive 3 yo to his preschool at his usual time. But before he arrived, I asked 9 yo and 6 yo to get dressed and get breakfast before we drive out. That's when 9 yo went into total meltdown mode before 7 am: he could not find his clothes, and the rest of his clothes were in the space occupied by our guest who was still sleeping. I calmly told him to get into his clothes from the previous day. He screamed that he they are not in the laundry, and he has no idea where they went. I told him to rummage through clean laundry of 11 yo and put on something of his (the boys are almost the same size). He screamed that he will not do this and he cannot go. At this point, I had 3 yo tantrumming about his breakfast not going according to his plan and baby crying to nurse. Did I mention that it was 7 am? I just ignored 9 yo.

My husband sweetly informed me that he will be on time. I responded that I needed him now. He came home instead of going to shul and convinced 9 yo to wear his brother's clothes. Then there was no time for his breakfast, so he took a bagel to go in the car.

When we got to school, both kids went into appropriate classrooms. 9 yo has a few friends in his, and he walked in and was greeted warmly. 6 yo was all of a sudden very shy. However, she did separate and walked to the listening center. I turned around and ran, full of mixed emotions. The building is not well-suited for a school. It was a last-ditch attempt by the previous administration to find temporary rental space. I was told that the school will be held here next year, but the plan is to find a permanent home the following year. However, after bright and cheery Montessori preschool, the gloominess and darkness was the first thing my husband and I noticed on our tour. I know it's not something they can do much about, but still, it feels more like a dungeon than an institution of learning.

When I picked up the kids, they both seemed in good spirits. The teachers said that they did fine. 6 yo made a project. 9 yo did a few pesukim in Chumash. He was excited that he knew them, since the class seems to be about a perek behind from where we are. I breathed a sigh of relief. In my head, we are going through Chumash so slowly, that I was sure all 4th grade students are ahead of us. Additionally, 9 yo complained about the way they do chumash: "They are given all the words, Mommy. They just need to read and translate, not to look up new words. Then they just memorize it. It's kind of lazy." Hm, and what about all the fighting that you put up in our way of doing Chumash? I guess it paid off.

6 yo was quite ambivalent about her experience. She is cognizant of her environment and she remarked about classroom feeling squishy. She also remarked how they didn't learn much. I am normally not into kids having a final say in such big decisions as going to school, but I wanted her input. That night, I had to decide: do I send her along with her brother, or do I keep her home?

It would be so much easier to send her. She would get along with other kids. She already made friends, and her current classmates would make her peer group. My life would be easier without having to manage one more child. Yet, I have very good reasons not to send her. First of all, it's that gloomy classroom. Last year, her playgroup was in someone's basement. And she is the child who rocks the boat the least, whose needs tend to be be overlooked by her louder siblings. It is only first grade curriculum, I can definitely do it. 11 yo will be home with me, and he can help out, She can play more, color more, do her little bursts of school work. There are other girls her age who are being homeschooled, so there is a peer group. I can take her to the zoo and the museums, something that she has been missing out.

So I am sending just 9 yo to school. Now, let us all utter a collective prayer that he gets accepted and that this place is the right fit for this child.

Monday, March 28, 2016

It's all in your head

We went shoe shopping in Walmart yesterday. We really needed to go to Costco to buy shmura matzah, but Costco was closed, so we ended up in Walmart. 11 yo needed shabbos shoes, 9 yo needed sandals, 6 yo needed shabbos shoes and sandals, and 3 yo needed sandals, too. While there I decided to stop by the food aisles and stock up on  Pesach ingredients, such as salt, sugar and baking soda. We passed the coffee and tea aisle and I grabbed instant coffee and a box of Bigelow tea. There I saw a box of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea with chamomile. Since 9 yo likes tea (more the process of making tea and adding sugar and vanilla to it), I asked him whether he would like me to get for him some of this tea. I personally hate chamomile, so this is not something that I would be drinking. He said, yes, he would like it. We checked out.


This morning, while everyone was rushing and getting breakfast and getting underfoot, 9 yo took a long time to emerge from the bedroom. He resents Mondays like grownups do; and I am tired of being cheery about it. Once he got his breakfast, he asked about making his tea. I distractedly said yes. He said, as he was brewing it, that he might need another cup later on to calm down again. I was too busy trying to feed the baby, wipe snot off allergy-suffering 3 yo, and get some food into my system to pay much attention to what he was doing.

After breakfast, he davened and calmly prepares his chumash, same chumash that he threw a major fit over on Friday. He wrote down the words, politely asked me to help him with shorashim and asked to indicate which parts of speech he should be looking up. He did his chumash very smoothly and pleasantly. At the end he remarked how the tea is working and making him calm, almost sleepy.

I bit my tongue.

In the movie "Dumbo" the baby elephant cannot believe that he can fly unless he is holding onto a lucky feather. The feather is just a prop, but Dumbo does not believe in himself without an external crutch. Today, the tea was the crutch. The magical effect wore off right before lunch, when the violin lesson was cancelled and I asked boys to do some schoolwork on their own while I took a phone call. He had to do some math which required application of division. He knew how to do it, but he decided that they are asking him to do something else, something that he does not know how to do. Luckily, 11 yo stepped in and helped him, step-by-step. 9 yo rewarded his brother with a second cup of Sleepytime tea.


I don't want to knock the calming effects of chamomile, but I doubt that they are that pronounced. I also don't know how long the magic will keep on working. Please G-d, let it last at least the whole week.