Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On buying a yortzait candle

I'm grocery shopping, and in between tomatoes and hummus, I place a yortzait candle. My father's yortzait is coming up. Isn't that the province of older women, with shaking wrinkly hands and eyes teary from age? Aren't they the ones prowling the kosher aisle, looking for memorial lights? What am I doing here, buying a yortzait candle next to a lunchbox for preschool and three gallons of milk?

It's eight years later. It's three kids who never met their grandfather. It's my grief, feeling my hair turning grey under a gorgeous sheitel and a plastered smile of "Okay!" It's years and years of grief, of absence, of an absurdity of celebrating while there is a yortzait candle in my cart and a gaping hole where parental presence is supposed to be.

I check out. Another celebrity proclaims from the tabloid how she found happiness and got her life back, and you can, too! It is so pointless, so silly to listen to this. How can I get my life back?

I am loading groceries into van's trunk. As I click it closed while I return the cart, it beeps and doesn't close. The candle got tangled in the bag and is blocking the lock. The item that does not belong got in the way.

Why am I writing this? Because I have learned that there are other young moms, going through their days while experiencing the incongruity of being bereaved. It's been years, people do not talk about it any more, people do not ask, people assume that you have moved on, came out of it, are busy, do not want to talk, or simply do not know that you feel so alone as you are buying that yortzait candle.

May my father's neshama have an aliyah.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The post that I was not supposed to write.

Normal people who blog, blog semi-regularly. They stick to a subject. The work on building an audience and then maintain it by giving over what the audience expects to hear. I have kept my blog as a sort of open journal. The name, "Breathing Space," was supposed to reflect the nature of this blog.

I started blogging five years ago, almost to a day, when I pulled my oldest from day school to homeschool him. I had a sense that many were curious what homeschooling was like, and I needed a place to share, process ideas, look back, get support. Over the years, things have changed and shifted around. Two more kids joined the family. I chose to get my second-oldest evaluated for learning issues. We have moved. I have tried getting various children into various school settings. But I felt that my core philosophy stayed the same.

Now I am at a whole new beginning. We have moved two months ago. I had 10 yo enrolled in a Chabad school. He is doing reasonably well. I have gotten a break from his intense and sometimes unpleasant personality. But I have also seriously burned out. I was tired from butting heads with 12 yo over getting schoolwork done and finding a good fit for his Judaic needs. I was not expecting the resistance that 7 yo (she just had a birthday) put up about her school work. My baby is a super spirited child, very active and very troublesome. I nicknamed her "baby terrorist" because destruction is on her mind. She wants to climb. She wants to be taken places. She does not want car seat or the stroller or the shopping cart. She wants to imitate older siblings but make tremendous mess at the same time. I found myself wishing that she would just go down for a nap so I can get a break. (Anyone who says that labeling is disabling can spend a day with her.)

I have enrolled 12 yo and 7 yo in two different schools. Both started at the beginning of the month. It has been smooth for 7 yo, since she rejoined her classmates from last year and she gets to see her older brother around. It has not been that smooth for 12 yo. He is in a different school from his siblings because he would end up in the same classroom as his brother. His academics are totally fine. I will give myself a little pat on the back: he is above and beyond his peers in Judaics, to the point that the school suggested he take high school classes next year. This has less to do with skills and more with depth and breadth of his knowledge. He is also advanced in Ivrit: apparently, all you need is a child who is motivated enough to finish Rosetta Stone and a few well-spaced freak-outs when you read over children's Hebrew books. His major issue is following directions and not sticking out. I silently cracked up when the teachers mentioned that he seems to make himself out to be different: what do you expect after many years of hanging out with people who value doing your own thing over conformity?

I had three kids placed in school. yet I was still not breathing. The unhappiness and the sheer lunacy stayed. So I went against my core parental beliefs and enrolled the two youngest ones in preschool. I toyed with sending just one of them, or sending just two or three mornings per week, but then I realized that what I craved was order and predictability. I needed to know that every day, these few morning hours are mine. I have been neglecting myself. I have not been scheduling those annual check-ups because childcare was iffy. I have not been blogging because the stress level was through the roof. I have not been walking because EVERY SINGLE TIME some child or other was sobbing how he/she didn't want to go. I have not been exercising, or going to yoga right around the corner, or even saying morning brachos with any intent. As far as mindfulness went, I scarily kept on noticing myself approaching shabbos week after week and not being able to recall how the week went.

All of this is a lot of changes. All of this is radical. I have been flustered by yet another form asking my occupation: I cannot put down homeschool educator because there is nobody that I am homeschooling. I adamantly refuse to put down homemaker or housewife. So who am I?

As I've been driving carpool, I have been catching myself doing open mouth vocalizations. I learned about them from natural childbirth books. It's a primal release of energy. Whatever I will be doing from this point on reminds me of giving birth: it is lonely, it is painful and scary, you do not know what the result will look like, and there is no going back to the previous state.

If you have been following me for homeschooling, sorry to disappoint you: you cannot do it all, You cannot do it well. Everything has a beginning and an end. This journey, in its current form, is over. I still view homeschooling as an ideal learning environment, but I do not envision myself homeschooling more than one at a time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How easy and pleasant it was to be in a large classroom with one student, or two, or three--even four or five. Above five was when the noise problems began. One grownup can't teach twenty digital-era children without spending a third of the time, or more, scolding and enforcing obedience. What if we cut the defense budget in half, brought the school day down from six hours to two hours, hired a lot of new, well-paid teachers who would otherwise be making cappuccinos, and maxed out the class size at five students? What if the classes happened in parental living rooms, or even in retrofitted school buses that moved like ice cream trucks of bookmobiles from street to street, painted navy blue? Two hours a day for every kid, four of five kids in a class. Ah, but we couldn't do any of that, of course: school isn't actually about efficient teaching, it's about free all-day babysitting while parents work. it has to be inefficient in order to fill six and a half hours.

Nicholson Baker, Substitute pg493-4

Happiness and contentment

I will throw a simple question out there: are you happy? Are you content? If yes, tell me what makes you feel that way. If no, what will it take for you to feel happiness? What brings you contentment?

Also, have you experienced these, or are they as exotic birds, somewhere out there, experienced by others (yogis, saintly rabbis), and maybe you'll get to touch them one day.

This is not a trick question. There is no right or wrong answer. You can answer anonymously if you'd like, just a penny for your thoughts.