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.


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


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:

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.