Monday, December 10, 2018

Getting over the hump

Image result for hump ahead sign

Many years ago, a seasoned homeschool friend told me about homeschooling humps that everyone hits in November and February and how, instead of making drastic decisions because nothing feels like it's working, there might be sense in waiting it out, giving it a go, and not assuming that something is terribly wrong. I really valued that advice because, like clockwork, I hit those humps. They felt terrible. I felt terrible as a teacher, as a mother, as a person. Moreover, I was not even sure that my kids would not have been better off in school somewhere, under someone else's care. I would be working, plugging in nine to five and be a productive member of the society. And the torture and drudgery would cease. Usually, when I waited just long enough, and reset enough, I would overcome those humps and would go back to star-eyed homeschool devotee, trying to convince others to give it a try.

Around the time that I had my youngest, I hit a major hump. With child number five, I thought I was an old pro at this whole parenting and homeschooling and getting balance thing. I gave it time. I waited. I schemed and arranged. I sent this one to school, these ones to preschool, this one out. I demanded support and cleaning help in the house. I searched for babysitters and nannies. I tried online school. I even tried moving into a different community, hoping that being within walking distance from the park and JCC and other frum homeschoolers will make a difference. Yet the hump kept on not getting smaller. I just could not go over it.

I was desperate.

I was depressed.

I was so miserable that I made a decision to send all the children to school, including the youngest, in the middle of the year just so I could get a reset. I sent them all out, but I did not recapture that feeling of peace that I was after. I breathed, but it was shallow panting.

Then, the following year, I kept my second child home and sent everyone else to school. It was clear by this point that whatever issues my child was having had nothing to do with my educational approach and that he needed homeschooling/unschooling to function. In fact, I started out again in the place of desperation: there was no good school to send him to. It was a year of hell, for many private and personal reasons. I felt like I was still climbing over the hump, out of breath, and miserable.

This year I have two at home. It is not perfect. But it is significantly better. They get along really well. They are content, for the most part. My daughter picked up reading. My son is (finally!) expressing interest in trying out things that he never would have attempted before. I am slowly, slowly rebuilding myself. I do not doubt myself anymore, not today, at least. When the kids are happy, momma is happy. They are also older, can be left at home alone, can work independently. I can get out, take a walk, run errands, make it to appointments on my own.

It only took me good three years, but I think I am getting over this hump.

I am glad that we live at a time with long life expectancy. I can afford the luxury of spending this part of my life on homeschooling, and then still feel like there will be plenty of time to work, develop interests, get involved in projects.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

On feeling weak


Who benefits from you feeling down? Who gets to feel strong as long as you feel weak? Whose narrative do you feed into as long as you are not at your top capacity? And who is standing in the way of your hoping and dreaming?

These might not be conscious. Some of these might be sabotage from within because you were fed a narrative that these things are not for you. Some of these come from your nearest and dearest because of the familiarity of the sentiments.

Be curious about it. Explore it without judgement or fear. Let the answers come to you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thoughts on emunah and bitachon.


Take a break.

Have a breather.

Stop and smell the flowers.

Take care of yourself. Put yourself first.

I have written many times about self-care and how that seems to be impossible to achieve. Today is one of those days that sounds almost like a comedy, were I not in the midst of if.

I have overscheduled, but I was counting on two adults being home and dividing up all the driving and all the prep and all the emotional labor between two people. But my husband got called up into the hospital for a VBAC that became a c-section. It is almost 3 pm and I have not seen him yet today, let alone him doing any of the things that were planned for today.

I know how these days play out: I will be emotionally going offline just as my younger kids will be coming back home and "unloading" from their day of interactions. Those once a week gymnastics that I signed all four kids for will seem like an unnecessary torture instead of a pleasant activity. I will end up being short-tempered because that's what happens when dinner is not served until 7 and then they still need a bath. And then my husband might want to unwind, too. And my mother will grumble how fine, she will martyr herself, we should go out, have fun, attend a lecture... and all want to do is crawl under my covers at 5 pm just as it will be getting dark with a good book or with a mindless magazine, but with a sense of completion of the day.

These realities crashing with my needs will be painful. I am really awed by those who manage to balance their needs with the needs of their families. I am also not so sure whether everyone is faking it, or those who claim to have it balanced really squelch somebody's needs down.

We are often told to have emunah, loosely translated as faith. Having any troubles in your life? work on your emunah. Things feel overwhelming? Your emunah is lacking. What I am really after is bitachon (security). Bitachon is a firm belief, backed by facts and realities on the ground. Bitachon is knowing that there are others who will catch you if you falter. Bitachon is knowing with certainty that you are not alone.Bitachon does not mean that there are no troubles, but bitachon is knowing, deeply and fully knowing, that things will turn out OK. Emunah causes anxiety, emunah is blind trust. Bitachon is lack of anxiety because there is no point in worrying (NOT an absence of worrying!)

I am a bit allergic to emunah, but I can squarely get behind bitachon.

(Yes, I know that G-d runs the show, that he is involved in my life, that everything is for the best, that it is easier to believe G-d won't give you more than you can handle, that it is all a test, that I should not sweat small stuff, be grateful for what I have. However, until these resonate as truths and not as platitudes, they are pointless)

Friday, November 16, 2018


There is this harmful and damaging myth that one (especially a woman) can do it all and do it all with a smile. This myth leaves so many of us crying out in frustration because we are trying to do the best that we can, with the resources that we have, yet somehow we are constantly bombarded with the messages that we are not enough. We are not doing enough, not caring enough, not volunteering enough, not healthy enough, not happy enough... Notice that I am avoiding such things like being thin enough, put together enough, or rich enough. I sort of hope that we have stopped comparing ourselves with others or realized that it is a pointless task. But what about all these other areas, that are immaterial and seem so important?

It is a matter of priorities and those priorities are constantly shifting. I will throw out there some choices that I made today, possibly not "correctly enough", but I hope that my disclosure will make all realize that you do you, and don't worry about others doing it bigger and better.

I was jetlagged, so I am relying on challah from my freezer plus assorted pitas and bagels for shabbos. I am not making challah from scratch.

I wanted to take the homeschool kids out today, so I had to cook the bulk of shabbos last night. No aroma of homemade prep in my house this Friday.

I wanted to go walking, collect beautiful fall leaves and maybe do that leaf watercolor activity, but the kids' eyes lit when I mentioned Gem and Mineral Show. I wanted them to attend a workshop on gem identification, but they were more interested in wandering between the vendors, looking at the stones and fossils, and conversing about them. I prioritized a pleasant time at the show over the educational component. Also, since I took the kids today, I will not be taking the younger kids to the same show on Sunday. On the plus side, for once I did not have to worry about losing kids in the crowds, or constantly reminding not to touch and look with your eyes, not your hands.

I wanted to get a chunk of homeschool work done in the morning before the show, but the basement was in a hair-raising state, so I asked them to clean it up as a birthday present for me over buying me yet another set of earrings or a necklace from the show. I also saw that I have their cooperation in cleaning because they did not seem overwhelmed by the mess.

I wanted 12 yo to do laining, but math ended up taking more time, partly because I saw that one of the concepts needed additional practice and he admitted to not understanding how to work it out. I wanted to show him a complete solution, but he wanted to take over and do his mental math as soon as he understood what needed to be done.

I wanted to have a homemade lunch, but we left late for the show, hung out there longer than I thought it would take, and so I ended up grabbing random food before driving more carpool. No, I did not pack lunch or snacks. I did not even grab my water bottle.

I wanted to do my nails before shabbos, but I chose to be blogging.

Shabbat shalom!

(Am I freaking out about academics and skills? A bit, yes, but I think learning how to do things pleasantly, and how to prioritize is also important. I need to give the kids time and space to try those things out, in a safe environment when the stakes are not too high.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

reflections on a trip to Israel

I came back from Israel from Women's Reconnection trip. It was a trip designed for all of us (nebachs) who did not qualify or otherwise were not able to go on JWRP. In a nutshell, it was an amazing trip and I do recommend it to open-minded seekers. Here are some more of my jumbled jet-lagged thoughts before they escape and become not important.

I was the youngest of the group, by a decade at least. However, I had no problem connecting and participating and interacting with other women. I know that we were a self-selecting bunch of those open to new experiences and new connections. I also know that being in the presence of so much wisdom acquired through age and trial and error was humbling. Also, I noticed how many women were divorced or on their second marriages. I wondered how many of them needed this trip at a different, earlier point in their lives. I was grateful to take it now instead of waiting another twenty years to "focus on myself".

The trip and the participants made me feel normal, like I belong, that there is no problem with being myself, feeling what I am feeling, observing what I am observing, learning Torah and practicing the way that I do. There was no sense that there is a need to investigate anyone's kashrut or check anyone's tzitzit. I marveled at that because the trip included a few rebbitzins and I even noted it to them explicitly. We were all just Jewish women, enjoying the hospitality of other Jews.

I got a confirmation that my connection to Hashem is intact. I davened at the Kotel and kever Rachel and at Shiloh, and had no problem pouring my heart out in heartfelt prayer. G-d's presence (shechina) was there, and I could feel approaching it, focusing my thoughts, letting whatever burdened me to flow from my lips. I was not ashamed to cry. I was not limiting my thoughts, wondering if I am asking for too much, or whether it is my place to ask. I am not mad at G-d, or questioning his existence or ability to influence the events. I am mad at the people on the ground, who are committing evil in his name, denying me access to the Divine by their hypocrisy.

I was truly happy and content in Israel. Maybe it had to do with the lack of responsibilities. Maybe it had to do with a distance from my children and being able to be defined by something other than an overwhelmed mother of five. Maybe it's because the caregiving for my extra-needy child was not in my hands. Maybe it was because everything was simpler. Maybe it had to do with being able to move, walk a lot, not have to spend hours sitting in the car driving carpool, driving to activities. Perhaps it had to with having a loosely set schedule, where at any given time there was only one place I was supposed to be and only one thing I was supposed to focus on instead of the constant barrage of preparations and anticipations and things that I forgot to do that I experience in the States. Maybe it was being physically removed from the trauma that is my current shul and rabbi and alleged child molester and no ability to bring this all to light. Maybe it was being surrounded by so many women who simply bearing no ill will towards me.

I am a self-defining introvert, normally hanging back, reserved, not social, not seeking to reach out, needing my own space and craving peace and quiet. In Israel, due to the nature of the trip and the comfortable supportive atmosphere, I found myself seeking the company of others, reaching out, disclosing personal details, volunteering answers, and being "out there". Yet that felt like a very authentic part of me. There were a few times that I did feel overwhelmed and overstimulated, but nowhere near as much as I feel in the States on any given day. I wonder whether I am not just an introvert, but I simply try to minimize draining and cursory interactions so that I do not end up with extra pain.

Finally, as far as the learning aspect of the trip, I felt that the bigger messages of gratitude, recognizing and acknowledging the Divine, being G-d like in my actions, and being vulnerable with our pain and with the pain of others made me feel like I am on the right track. It took me many years and many uncomfortable twists and turns to arrive at the place where I stand but to find the classes that reinforced and deepened those themes was affirming.

From the very first time I went to Israel to this trip (my third), I felt that in Israel there is a continuum of observances and beliefs rather than discrete groupings that are taking place in America. Some of them are way out there, and some of them appear to be most like familiar American divisions, but the unity of the Jewish people somehow trumps over everything. We had a kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel (my first Shabbat in Jerusalem) and, as we were signing with our small group, we formed a circle. All of a sudden, other women joined in: frum, not frum, in skirts, in pants, with hair covered and not, and even quite a few tourists who I am pretty sure were not Jewish. Somebody was recording the whole spontaneous scene with a cellphone and nobody was waiving for her to stop. A few days before we explored the theme of feeling a touch of the Divine. Joint experiences in the multitude of others came up. At this moment, singing and dancing together, like one person with one voice and one heart, I felt G-d's fingerprint in the world. I am not a mystical person, I am very rational and logical by nature. However, the way that this trip spoke to me was mystical and mysterious. For some reason, this is what I needed to take away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

One small action and the ripple effect


You should do yoga. It helps with stress, it is low-impact, it does not require a whole lot of special equipment, you already know the basic routines.

Why am I not doing yoga?

Then my homeschool friend offers to give a short ten-minute yoga session in between the classes. I dutifully put on my leggings and toss the mat into the car. We set up mats outdoors, and feel every bump of the soil. In a cute twist, each one of us has a daughter who joins her mother on the mat. I never shared my mat before, but it feels cool, doing this with my athletic girlie. Besides, this is just a taste, a short light-hearted session, punctuated by laughter.

It was a nothing, really.

But this nothing spurred me to go back to JCC. I made it to three yoga classes in the past week. it feels like an amazing accomplishment.

I feel better.
My body feels better.
My head feels more centered.
My heart is filled with gratitude to this friend and her casual yoga suggestion.

Do not underestimate the power of your impact.
Image result for yoga

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Morning tefila

Dear G-d,

Give me wisdom today to spend my energy where it matters, where it will be nourishing.

Give me room to make mistakes and a space for forgiveness. Give me the perspective to acknowledge the mistakes of others. Give me the strength to hear the truth, even if it hurts, even if it feels like a betrayal, even if it lets me down.

Give me space to breathe. Give me expanse to be myself, feed my soul-sustaining food, find time for my interests.

Give me clarity on what is important, what is essential, and what is the chaff, fleeting, temporary.

Give me peace and serenity.
Give me the ability to be content.

Dear G-d. please send this to me, and to all others who need it.

Thank you.