Monday, March 26, 2018

stress-free Pesach

I discovered the secret to a stress-free Pesach. I have been making Pesach for 15 years, so I had a lot of practice.

Listen, the secret is this:

  • Don't be pregnant.
  • Don't have a newborn.
  • Don't be nursing.
  • Don't have a crawling baby.
  • Don't have children around who spread Cheerios all over multiple times a day.
  • Put your children in school so you have plenty of time to hit multiple stores multiple times in search of out-of-town ingredients like yogurt and butter and parsnips.
  • Don't make a bris on Pesach (or right after Pesach).
  • Don't make a bar mitzvah on Pesach.
  • Have year-round cleaning help.

But the biggest secret is that this year I cannot muster that care or anxiety or drive or whatever it is called that sends me into a frenetic cleaning and panic mode. If it will get done, it will get done. If it won't get done, then it won't. Contrasting to the previous years, I have cried from Pesach stress only once so far (but there is still four more days, so stay tuned, freak-out might be coming). This could care less attitude resulted in me yelling at my teary-eyed daughter who wanted to make meringues with me. Too bad it was way after her bedtime. She refused to go to bed. She stalled. And then she came to tell me how she waited THE WHOLE YEAR to make those meringues. Well, I needed them to be the last thing I made for the night because they need to sit in the oven overnight to dry out. So I callously yelled at her. (The meringues turned out sticky. Midda kneged midda? An opportunity for another batch?)

The truth is, I am suffering from caregiver fatigue. When you spend so much time, so much energy and control yourself so much in order to care for someone, you become callous and snappy to everyone else. Sadly, the nearest and dearest did not notice that I have snapped.

But there were all those years and all those babies. And all those people who expected to be hosted, and doted on. And I did all that, all the while slowly breaking inside.

I have invited company for Yom Tov because I feel like I am the fortunate one, without that baby on the hip this year. I am aware that there are others worse off than I am. But there is also a part of me that does not expect anything great from Pesach anymore. I used to plot and strategize how to engage the kids, what shtick to do, how to make Seder about an educational experience and not about the food or the mumbling of the Hagaddah. This year, it will be same old, same old. Someone will be crying. Someone will be complaining. Someone will be unhappy. The food and the effort will be lost in the less-than-pleasant atmosphere. The fun and the lightness: that will come with Chol Hamoed that my school kids await like the coming of Moshiach. But Pesach proper will grind on.

It would be so much easier if I did not think about all of this. It would be easier if I did not consider all the years of small babies and pregnancies as a cruel joke. I have one March baby and three April babies. Oh, you want more from your Yom Tov experience, do you? Well, what can you expect when the kids are little? But the kids do not stay little forever, and the older kids grow up in the shadow of parents being overwhelmed by the little ones. All they experience is stressed-out Pesach.

My oldest three have taken to skipping out on Shabbos lunch. First I rejoiced: they have peers who invite them out! Then I realized that it is not what they are running to that matters, it is what they are running from. By now, I don't know if I have it within me to stop the tide. I just hope that I have a few more years till the children will skip out on the family Seder.

As for me, I will go back to puttering in the kitchen, moving boxes of dishes, cooking in less-than-ideal conditions and focusing on not crying.

Monday, March 12, 2018


I attended a yoga class today.

I have not been to yoga since last spring. We are JCC members and that membership includes free group classes. I was very excited when we moved here to finally get to work out, take care of myself, get in shape, release the worries, feel healthy. But then summer came, with all the kids staying home. And then school year rolled around, with carpools and sick kids and multiple commitments and more appointments that I care to talk about. And somehow fitness slipped. My children have been enrolled in multiple JCC sports classes: swimming, gymnastics, tennis. Me? I have barely made it there to pick them up.

Then you see a psychiatrist for your child and she insists on removing him from the room and telling you that you need to manage your anxiety. You have to take care of yourself. Your husband should cook you a nice dinner and give you a break. You exit. When you are done crying about things in your life that you cannot control, people who will not change, lack of support, you think that going to a yoga class is sort of imperative. Another article floats your way and look, breathing and exercise and yoga help with anxiety. A therapist is teaching your child to take a deep breath. You so wanted to be that teacher, but despite all the directions you have pushed yourself, your air mask is not on as you are fumbling to put on your child's. This blog has been very quiet. I have not been breathing.

Today I ended up with a few hours' break in between activity drop-off and pick-up. I did not go grocery shopping or came up with a million other errands that could (should?) have been done, I headed to JCC yoga class.
Image result for yoga
Yoga is like Chabad: come as you are, no judgment. You stayed away for awhile, but we sure are glad you are back. Practice what you feel comfortable, but here is an extension if you want to push yourself further. Take a breath in, feel the warmth. You do a certain breathing pattern and a warmth grows. There is even mysticism behind it, for those so inclined. Let go of your expectations, accept your limitations. Know that many limitations are just in your mind. Do you feel good when you are done? Do you feel rejuvenated and accepting of yourself and others? Come again when you can.

I feel a little bit sad that I cannot find that kind of meaning, reach this state of mind in traditional Judaism. My prayer is shot by multiple curveballs, by too many people dying, by not understanding how I have to wait for the good in something that is so bad. (Incidentally, today is four year anniversary since a Chabad rebbitzen passed away Her legacy of Torah and Tea did not continue in my community, but I gained two friends who have moved more "intown" since her passing. It's a pathetically thin silver lining to a tragedy that her death must still be to her orphaned children.) When I was undergoing my treatment, ten years ago, something happened to my tefillah and the wide-eyed naive belief just left. It was not even cynisism, it was more like a brick wall. I get glimpses of meaningful prayer here and there, but it is rarely sustained. I felt visceral closeness to Hashem while in Israel, but there is no plan to make aliyah. I prayed sincerely and on fire this past Rosh HaShana, hoping that I finally found a shul, a rabbi and a community where I can be comfortable, pouring my heart out to Hashem over a new heartache. While the answer to the pain was a slow and hesitant "yes", the shul and the rabbi have since dropped off my list of places where I can push myself to get close to Hashem. How can I daven with kavanah when it is business as usual despite evidence and allegations that should shake most people to their moral core? How can I be told that shechinah resides over such a congregation where there is no transparency, no safety, no plan for moving forward, but just lies and sweeping everything under the rug? Unfortunately, I can enter the shul building, but I cannot connect to Hashem there.

I wanted to connect to Hashem intellectually, through learning. However, even that path remains closed. Maybe I lack commitment, maybe I need to keep on searching and prioritizing opportunities, but I know that in order to feel closeness and connection, one needs focus.

For better or for worse, yoga it is for now. I stretched, I flowed, I thought, I did.
I came out better than I went in.
I do not feel anxious now.
I can breathe.

Monday, March 5, 2018

What is wrong with me? (motherhood)


Oh, we all know what it is. If you are not a mother yourself, than you were certainly born of one, and that gives you ideas of what it's like.

There is media, advice columns, parenting books, classes, your friend, your neighbor, your sibling, children's books, grown-up books. movies, shows. There are message boards, there are coffee venting dates, impromptu gatherings of moms.

You look at it, and you think you know what you are getting yourself into. If I take the right class, buy the right gear, follow the right parenting guru, my child will turn out allright and I will reap a large amount of satisfaction in knowing that I did everything just so.

Bu then reality hits. The baby hates all the gear except for one ratty blanket of unknown provenance. The baby will not eat, will not sleep, will not be soothed no matter what you do. The toddler will not walk on your schedule. The 2 year old will not potty train. The 3 year old thinks naps and rules in general are for wimps. The child gets ahold of scissors and damage ensues. The school age kid gets into fist fights. The preteen sneaks junk food and video games. The girl pouts, the boy sulks. The teen rolls his eyes and pointedly ignores anything leaving your mouth.

And you question everything. And you doubt yourself, but not before you yelled yourself hoarse.

What is missing in our parenting culture is the conversation about the small still voice. It is your voice, the same voice that shed tears of happiness for your child at some point or other. It is the softness of a baby that fell asleep in your arms and you held him just a bit longer than necessary. It is the cuddle of a daughter's body on the couch, snug under the blanket. It is the innocence of a child trying to make something "just for you, mommy". (I just deposited two bouquets of wild flowers in the garbage can because I missed that small still voice moment yesterday when I was presented with them). It is not the glowing all perfect family enjoying breakfast in bed. This still small voice is the genuine feeling, possibly the opposite of Photoshopped perfection. It shuns attention. Since it is so very quiet, it is easy to forget that it is there. But it is that unconditional love for your child, passing quietly through. Remember that when they become teens.

On the other end of the spectrum we also have a gap, but this one occasionally gets a mention. It is the bone-wearing tiredness and numbness of parenting. It is the monotonous soul-sucking repetition that slowly drives one mad and makes one want to bolt outside and scream very loudly. Except that you can't because you are alternating between "Pat the Bunny"and "Clone Wars" for the fiftieth time. This frustration (that has nothing to do with the kids) gets aired out here and there, but it is often coated in "I love them, but can't stand them" wrapper. Unfortunately, those daring to mention these feelings are often mistaken for cold mothers who just buck social conventions, but I'm not like that, am I, because I stayed until midnight baking muffins for my kids, see the photo of how much I love them? Remember that we all experience this frustration.

Motherhood is the constant seesaw from one end of this spectrum to another. As we are swinging through, we wistfully look at those other mothers, the ones who seem to have it all together, who neither feel like the love for their children will bring them to tears, nor that boredom will suffocate them and wonder, what is wrong with us?

Honey, nothing is wrong with you, nothing at all. Even this questioning feeling is normal. And those moms who say that they always knew what they were doing? They don't remember.