Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul. My oldest got back really late last night from his class trip to the eclipse totality. I gave myself a small pat on the back for staying put and not being stuck in the same traffic. This late arrival led to a late start in school, at 10:15. Now, my other kids get picked up in a carpool so this late start meant that I had to drive him. Time to insert gratitude for having the flexibility that these schedule changes are mere inconveniences than major life disrupters. He was a bit nervous about getting to school on time, feeling that this was like a pardon not to be squandered. I had some errands to do, so I hustled 11 yo to come with us.

It happened. Statistically, it was supposed to happen sooner, but it happened today. The fastest and most direct way to the school requires one to get onto one highway, exit onto the left lane of another highway and then exit on the right off the second highway in 300 feet onto a service road. One is expected to transverse three lanes of traffic while entering on the left (fastest moving lane) in 300 feet. I used to avoid this route. I used to tell kids to shush, as I cannot see the traffic on the second highway till I exit the ramp. But I have been lucky to successfully merge, cross those three lanes, and exit where we need to exit. It does not help that the next exit is a few miles away.

Today, since I was coming mid-morning, I was not able to cross all three lanes while going at highway speed. There was a car merging left, and the guy in the right-most lane did not give me space to exit. So we ended up being pulled towards the next exit, with my teen slowly hyperventilating how he's going to be late. I asked him to Waze our way. We were arriving at 10:16. But I was quite rattled. I kept saying how this was bound to happen, how at least we did not crash, but internally I was in turmoil.

After drop off, we set out on the same highway to run our errands. I decided to go to Office Depot not far from our old residence since I needed to make multiple copies for homeschool chemistry class. Lo and behold, their price is 14 cents per copy while I am getting reimbursed at 10 cents per copy. Multiply that by a couple hundred pages and I slowly backed away from the counter, thinking that I need to find a place with a better rate.

As I got into my car, chatting with 11 yo, I put the key into ignition and ... nothing. It would not start. It just started! We drove here! What now? I tried this, I tried that. No, it would not start. The previous time this happened was with our old van, two days before Rosh HaShana and we needed a new alternator to the tune of a crazy amount of money, a day in the shop and a rental car, Today I had to pick up 2 yo at 2:30 on the other side of town. No wonder I went into the hyperventilating mode.

Time to insert gratitude that we broke down in the major shopping plaza, that I do have AAA, that AAA repair shop is in the same plaza, that there is kosher food available right there, that a friend who was texting me at the exact same time offered to help. I am also grateful that I did not leave 11 yo at home, because who knows how long this would take?

I decided that it is quicker to walk over to AAA than to call the hotline. It turned out to be a smart decision, as they sent a mechanic with a jumper battery to see whether they could just jump me. The car started enough for me to drive it over, but the battery was dead. They assured me that it is not the alternator, just a battery and they can switch it out right in the parking lot, here is your bill, have a great day. As I ran the rest of the shopping errands, we got some lunch. While we were eating it, I said out loud how it is Elul and maybe these two car malfunctions were a kapara (a redemption) for something I did. Incidentally, we went over Vidui yesterday and the line at the end where we ask Hashem to erase all our sins, but not through illnesses and major suffering stuck out to me. 11 yo listened to me musing out loud and said, I get it already, you've convinced me. I muttered how I am trying to convince myself.

On the heels of the eclipse, we definitely take the sun for granted until there is a major celestial event that brings our awareness to what it does for us day to day. I was thinking how I take my car for granted. We went for years with one car and that was hard. I loved having two cars after that. I was very aware of what a difference in mobility a car makes, especially with small kids in a spread-out city. But that was many years ago. Now we have had two well-running cars for over 8 years, so it is not on my mind so much.

However, there was another theme, something that I did not articulate out loud. As much as both of these incidents could have been a kapara, did I really need it like this? Do I really need to get into a near accident? Do I really need to drop a large amount of money on a sudden car repair? Do I need to run mental lists of whom can I call to get my baby from preschool if this car issue turns out to be serious? What happened to kapara of reaching into a pocket for a quarter and pulling out a dime?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

second day of (home)school

11 yo davened at home. I had to drop off 2 yo and get an oil change. We agreed that he will complete a certain amount of school work on his own and he was all done by the time I came back. He did three pages of Chayeinu workbook and read over the next mitzvah in Yahadus. Meanwhile, I'm slowly plowing through Rabbi Rietti's One Minute Masmid. I am very inspired since for the first time in a long time, I feel that there is an approach that I can use both in my own learning and in helping 11yo. The basic is that you start with Tanach, then Taryag, then Mishna, then Gemara, cover a lot of ground to build up the breadth and to feel progress and review like crazy. Since we are doing Yahadus at 11 yo's request, it leads naturally both to looking mitzvot up in Chmuash, reviewing Taryag and learning halachot. Today, when I got home, I asked him to find a high lighter and go back into Chmuash to highlight parts of the pesukim where the mitzvot are found. They are quoted right in Yahadus, so it was a beatiful exercise to see where Rambam pulled each mitzvah from. I also got a review in and even some Hebrew reading. 11 yo asked me whether Daddy will approve of his marking up Chmuash. I said that it is for purpose of learning, so it is OK.

I had grand plans for doing one more mitzvah, reading one perek of Navi a day with him, reading one Aliyah of Parsha, but for now, I will have to sit tight and see how all this goes. I told 11 yo to take a piece of graph paper and mark up a shape encompassing 613 squares. That sent us on a half an hour hunt for the ruler. We never fully unpacked homeschooling supplies since our move. I was also thinking how disorganized space reflects disorganized mind... but I have totally given up on that. I just don't go into the basement, don't deal with those boxed up hopes and dreams. I also cannot keep up.

So once the ruler was located, drawing this shape proved to be an estimating challenge with a small dose of math. 11 yo wanted to use extra 13 squares to make a person shape. I just watched. I can be very patient with one kid. Then, when he got the shape to his satisfaction. I told him to color in the squares equal to a number of mitzvot we high lighted. I want to give him a visual of our progress, in hopes to both address his anxiety about learning Judaics and to encourage him with tangible progress.

As an aside, he looked up the very last word in the Torah, noticed how some pesukim already contain more than one mitzvah and noticed how Rambam used the pasuk about not testing G-d to mean not to test Navi too much.

I went over his Chayeinu pages. I located abandoned Lashon HaTorah.

We had lunch. We tried going biking, but the bike rental rack would not allow me to get into the system today. 11 yo tried out dirt bike trails. We saw deer. He got exhausted after less than an hour. He also remarked how the day is going well. I asked him how he knows and he said, I'm not throwing fits.

When we got home, I did Hebrew Duolingo. I tested out of a whole bunch of levels, so now I am swimming in a sea of new words that I supposedly know. He watched me. I would like him to try his hand at it, but not now, when he feels confident or curious enough.

He did Khan academy math. I don't know what he knows, so it is nice that they are catching the holes and giving him a chance to practice both lower and higher level skills. He placed himself in 7th grade even though technically he's in sixth. He did grammar and some coding too. I caught him pausing the explanatory coding video and taking notes because he knew from previous experiences that they will expect him to use those commands.

taking notes on coding
Finally, he had his first tennis lesson at the JCC around the corner. 13 yo and 7 yo also started on swim lessons yesterday. I dropped them off and ran into the issue that the coach would not let my oldest walk back on his own. I had to drive back to pick them up all the while thinking how we complain about spoiled rotten millenials. 13 yo is allowed to use the pool on his own according to JCC rules. Why is he not allowed to walk back home? The coach said that he just needed to hear my agreement before letting them walk. So today with tennis, I found 11 yo's coach and clearly told him that I am allowing my son to walk over and back on his own. Coach's first words: "Does he know the way?" We live around the corner, literally. The child is 11. What is this world coming to? Who is not allowing for independence and responsibility?

Today was overall a good homeschooling day, even though all the crazy from the rest of the kids ended up being concentrated into a few evening hours.

P.S. I have so many photos of just kids' backs. It just hit me today that all those photos mean that I do not stop my kids in their tracks with my presence, but I get to see the path that they are on.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Charlottesville

Let me put it like this: I am neither shocked nor surprised that someone out there who never met me wants me dead. Maybe it's being Jewish. Maybe it's being foreign. Maybe it's growing up in Moldova and waking up one morning to the nationalists marching right outside screaming slogans that Jews and Russians should go home. What home? What do you mean? I have been born here, I grew up here, my father grew up here, where exactly is this home that I'm supposed to go to?

I have seen this hatred. It's the pure evil. It's the hatred of Palestinians who run and stab Israelis. They do not care that some of their victims are fellow Arabs, Druze, Christians, maybe even other Palestinians. What else but pure hatred would cause one to run up to a person to stab them?!

My friends are upset by the silence of fellow Americans. Silence is deafening, they say. They are very uncomfortable. They cannot believe that this is happening here, now, in 2017, on American soil. Me? I can believe it. It is evil. It is always here. I have never been able to get comfortable enough to believe that I belong, that I can pass as someone other than a Jewish woman who wears conspicuous clothing and speaks with an accent. I am "the other".

After being made to feel distinctively uncomfortable in my land of birth, I am not kidding myself. America was supposed to be different. But is it? I think that handwringing is over the fact that America turned out to be just like the rest of the world.

Growing up, the butt of the Russian jokes were Germans. Think: we were the third post-WWII generation, but the jokes about "the other" were about the Germans. But those same Germans are the ones that killed my great-grandmother. I have a hard time meeting Germans now. I know it's prejudice. but, deep down, I wonder: was it your distant relative who pulled that fateful trigger in Zaporojie in '41? What did he say when he came back home from war? Did he talk about it? Did he think about it? Why would he want her dead? Many years and many generations have passed. What would it take for you, the person conversing with me, to want me dead?

It's an uncomfortable feeling to walk around with. It is borderline paranoia. But I know that these things can happen. Even now. Even here. Even in 2017

First day of something

This school year has officially started. I have four kids that went off to school this morning: 13 yo to 8th grade, 7 yo to 2nd, 4 yo to preK and 2 yo to preschool. The preschool is different from the school where the other kids go because then it would be too simple. 11 yo is at home. "Mommy, now I know what school is like. I've experienced it. I think I will throw fewer fits now because it is not an idle threat." Yeah, exactly the perspective I wanted you to take on the school system, son.

So here are the obligatory pictures. Notice how 7 yo is the only one who made a sign for her grade:
7yo, 4 yo and 13 yo are all in the same school

"Bunny ears mean love"

2 yo

11 yo doing research on camera obscura for the upcoming eclipse

11 yo is off to play Dungeons and Dragons with homeschool friends. He had one session so far and he loved it. I asked him what does it teach him and he said, decision making. I'll take that. (It also teaches him that not everyone is out there to bully you).

And I'm off to glorious few hours of having no kids in the house. It had not happened since May. Every single activity was done by me. Every pool time, every outing, every park time, zoo, museum, ice cream trip... Yes, I can do those things. Yes, I can turn on a dime and give my kids the gift of summer. Yes, I can even do most of those things with a smile on my face and without losing my temper. But I cannot temper my resentment over being the only major presence in my children's lives. I cannot simmer down that if I don't do something for them, nobody else will. I am upset at the death of the village.

That is why those SEED boys were such a ray of sunshine. Somebody will learn with my boys! Somebody will talk to them about what they want! They even took them bowling and to Six Flags (I had to do the driving, but they took them on the roller coasters).

And that is why I am just swimming in the sudden quiet. It will be gone soon enough because Dungeons and Dragons is not every week, because 11 yo will be home with me and he did not become a mellow presence overnight. I am just enjoying a sudden rush of freedom from being always on guard for someone else's needs.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I wanted to go walking

Image result for be in natureToday was supposed to be hiking day. There was nothing scheduled until the evening, kids start school the following week, I need to get into nature, we didn't hike enough. But today was raining.

I made other plans, threw three youngest kids into the van, drove to Ikea to salvage the day. The Smaland was closed. I killed half an hour in front of it until the manager confirmed that it will not open. Doing Ikea with three kids, one of whom does not want to walk in a straight line resulted in a lady reprimanding the kids for climbing onto the podium where they don't belong. No, I did not buy what I needed, but I still spent money. The store's credit card system was down. One thing after another.

I came home to discover my boys who were supposed to be learning with the SEED boys on their DS. I was not amused.

I wanted to go walking. The rain stopped, so my daughter asked if we could go swimming. Since it was 70 degrees, I nixed outdoor pool. She sulked. I offered to do a hiking path in the park. She expressed her extreme displeasure. My oldest slyly suggested bowling. I retorted that he's grounded. 4 yo wanted playground. It is extremely wet.

I wanted to go walking. After intense negotiations, 4 yo and 2 yo came with me. I brought an umbrella stroller. 2 yo refused to sit in it. Instead, she pushed it. When she yells: "Help me!" it actually means "don't help me". We got to the bottom of the driveway. It started drizzling. 4 yo did not look so sure about walking. 2 yo kept on pushing the stroller without the ability to see where she was going. 4 yo walked two doors down with us and then announced that he's going home. I tried coaxing 2 yo into the stroller. She refused. We stood there, turning circles, me keeping her away from the passing cars.
Image result for walk outdoors quotes
I wanted to go walking. We came home. 13 yo and 7 yo were sketching from photos. 2 yo drew on the wall. I made soup. The sun shone through the clouds.

I still want to go walking, Exercise is good for anxiety and depression. Walking is a safe exercise that does not cost anything. Being in nature lifts one's mental state. Everyone should get out there.

Everyone that can, that is.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Where is inreach?

"There is no inreach", tells me a FFB person. I was chatting about text-based learning, about my visceral desire to grow. "At the end of the day, I don't want sources, I want to read about emunah. Before you complain, ask, did you get everything there is to get from inspirational classes?"

This remark devastates me. This is lashon hara, evil speech, and no amount of classes on Shmirat HaLashon will explain how deeply such words wound. There is no inreach. I do not connect to spiritual classes. I have gone to women's talks for years and I liken them to cotton candy: sweet, inflated, empty calories. I leave them and I hunger for more, all the while regretting the time wasted away. When I learn a text in depth, when I grapple with it. when I have to work my brain cells, make connections, look words up, that's when I get the satisfaction of learning Torah.

The SEED boys are in town for the past week. My boys have been going to shul to learn with them. On erev Tisha BeAv my 11 yo came back beaming after learning for hours. He has started his bar mitzvah parsha prep. This brought tears to my eyes: in six years of homeschooling, this is FIRST TIME that someone who is not his parent and who is not getting paid, learned with him what he wanted to learn. I did not think it will be like that. I thought there will be people (rabbis? fathers? bachirim? older gentlemen?) who would hear of our homeschooling journey, see that we are baalei teshuva, see that we do not have skills, just see an interested kid, and help him out. He came home glowing. The boy who was learning with him did not care that he has anxiety, that he might not have skills of a 6th grader, that he was rejected by two schools... He was here to learn with the boys and here was a boy, ready to learn.

On Tisha BeAv proper, I encountered this statement from Gemara:

It was apropos for our situation: please learn with me! Please make time. Please find energy. Please do it as a chesed. Please get me to the level where I can learn on my own. It is taught as one of the causes of the Destruction. Yet I have not seen anyone talk about it. Perhaps it is painful to wonder what is to become of all the baalei teshuva, the ones who know just enough to be observant on the outside, yet do not get the life-sustaining gift of in-depth learning.

In Lech lecha, when Avram goes to Canaan, he brings with him "all the souls that they made in Haran". A classic interpretation of those souls is all the people whom Avram taught about G-d. Yet this is the only mention that we have of them. Where are they? Presumably, they did not stick around. Maybe, just maybe, despite Avram's efforts at hospitality, he was really holding out for his biological son. Maybe there was no inreach, and the believers slowly, yet inevitably, left.

What is to become of the baal teshuva movement? What is to become of all those who do not have an established network of relatives and rebbeim to plug into? What is to become of those who thirst for more, yet are so misunderstood by those enjoying the privileges of being "on the inside"? What is there to tell that just because you have been frum for years, there is still no family to have you over for a Pesach seder? That all divrei Torah at that seder are on you (and your husband who is working overtime so he can have Seder off)? I know that plenty of those who have come to Orthodox Judaism on their own are afraid to admit the gulf of ignorance beyond browsing halachot on Aish or emailing rabbis at OU. They read English side of the siddur, hoping that nobody notices. They read the Hebrew side, but it might as well be in Chinese. They put their kids in school, hoping that someone out there will teach them and they will be able to do more. Those parents still cannot review Chumash with their kids, let alone Gemara.

We talk and talk about how Torah learning is important. Well, let's learn some Torah. And if you are able to teach, let's teach some Torah lishma.