Monday, June 18, 2018

permission to have fun

My older boys are sitting at the computer, typing up a shareable spreadsheet of what they would hypothetically want. It was my idea, when 12 yo approached me with yet another wish that he had. I suggested that he starts writing those wishes down and then, closer to his birthday or Yom Tov, he can take a look and decide what he is still interested in. He wanted to make a Word document, but his more electronics-savvy older brother took over and suggested Excel. I chimed in that if they do a Google doc, we can all see it and edit it and share it. 14 yo immediately corrected me that it is a Sheet...

I am standing there, folding laundry. It is not boys' laundry, but it does contain their bedsheets, towels that the whole family used and many other items. I am folding laundry and every once in a while go to do something else: chop fruit to make a pitcher of sangria "for later", check my phone, put away dinner leftovers.

Since this wishlist ended up being designed like a family wishlist, 12 yo asked me what is it that I wished for. I said, I wish I were not the only one folding laundry so that I could get to sit on the back porch while it is still daylight and watch the second Lion King movie. I have never seen it. I checked it out of the library for the kids because it was free and not available through Netflix or Amazon Prime. The kids saw all three Lion King movies, and some of them twice during the period that we had them out. I know it is due back later this week. I know it was released two decades ago. But I still have not seen it.

So instead of doing what I wanted to do (watch a G movie with sangria and maybe even with the company of those who appreciate Disney sequels), I am folding laundry, convincing myself that as soon as I am done with the laundry I will get around to watching the movie. It is almost like making myself swallow a bitter pill because I know sweet things are coming. Except that I often never get to the rewarding part of doing what I want to do. Because the reward is not a given, I am really resenting this laundry. I am constantly interrupting my tedious task with those other diversions: what's on Facebook? What's in that e-mail? Oh, look, food to be Saran-wrapped and put away. I am distracting myself from a distraction.
Sample Bus Permission Slips & Medical FormsBrene Brown talks about writing a permission slip to herself to loosen up and have fun. I might need to take up her practice. My boys certainly gave themselves permission to sit and browse and hypothesize while the dinner is still on the table, the family laundry is piled high and they might not have a clean dry pair of socks between the two of them

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Refuse has use

I have started composting again. Last time I was composting was four years ago. Then I got pregnant with the fifth and the stench of decomposing matter and garbage, in general, did not do well with my nausea. I had to beg boys to take out the bucket of kitchen scraps or face the pile myself. It was easier to give up on composting than to keep it going.

I wanted to do it again for a while, especially since so many raised garden bed sites said how you go to buy soil to fill the beds while simultaneously throwing out the very organic matter that would benefit your garden. I looked into composting containers. I thought about the location of the pile: off the kitchen, next to the garage, but far away from high traffic backyard area and the trampoline. I was thinking about buying chicken wire and making a cylinder like I did at the previous home, or trying again to get three wood pallets and assemble them into a proper enclosure for the pile.

But I just started one day simply piling up the food scraps, the peels, the ends of veggies and the guinea pig straw. There was a small heap on the ground, covered in Sunday coupons, attracting flies. It is not glamorous-looking. Every time I come out and throw a new batch on top, I see how the quarter of the watermelon is changing color, becoming soft and brown, crawling with ants. The process is unappealing, but I get to see the decomposition in real time.

I have always been intrigued by the pasuk from Hallel:
אֶבֶן מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים. הָיְתָה לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה
The stone that was left by the builders has become the main cornerstone.
Psalms 118:22

Clearly, whatever "the experts" considered to be unworthy of another look became the essence of the foundation. I have seen previously that this refers to David, who was rejected from kingship because he did not look the part.

I wonder, how many of us "do not look the part" either and get rejected by the experts to the garbage heap. It seems that the obvious solution is to try to blend in, look and behave appropriately, fit in because nothing hurts like being sorted out and hurled into refuse. But what if this trip into the nothingness is exactly the necessary part to transform into rich nourishing compost, the sustenance that will feed the rest? What if this is not a rejection, but a separation that results in a new rebirth? It does not look pretty just as decomposing stinks. But it is the only path to come up with something essentially new.

I will keep on gardening. I will keep on composting. And I will keep on thinking about how doing my own thing can give me insights into how to construct my life.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

summer is coming

It is June. End of school year is nearing or already passed. It seems like a good time to draw some conclusions, see where we are holding.

I started a vegetable garden after a long hiatus. We had wooden boards leftover from the deck construction that have been sitting for all these months. I wanted to make raised garden beds because local clay soil is not conducive to plant growth. Every simple DIY project called for circular saws and power tools. I don't own any of them. I could not manage to be around when others could help me. Desperately, after digging through my husband's toolbox and coming up empty, I went to Home Depot on Mother's Day and bought L-shaped brackets for the corners. At that point, the kids came out to "help". Then my husband appeared, drilled the holes and voila, after months, I had garden beds.

I planted some veggies and begged the kids to keep the backyard gate closed, lest the deer, rabbits and other local wildlife would eat the plants before us humans.

My oldest graduated from middle school. He is going out of state to yeshiva high school next year. I have been very careful to separate my feelings about it from his feelings. He seems to be excited about the idea. I am excited for him. This past year it felt like he was dragging his feet, not getting anything out of school. A change was necessary. Change ought to be good.

12 yo just finished the review of Beshalach today. That is four parshiyot covered this year. His Hebrew reading has improved, even though he balked at any and all approaches that I tried. Somehow, it clicked enough to be smooth enough when he is calm enough. However, Hebrew is still gibberish to him. The shorashim mean nothing. He flails in the dark, not sure what goes where.

I found a gymnastics/parkour place for 12 yo. They also have classes for 8 yo sister. It is not around the corner, but at least I found a place and signed them up. They seem to enjoy the lessons. 12 yo is especially looking for teachers that do not put kids down.

We are babysitting two geriatric guinea pigs. A friend got them from someone who was moving and then she went out of the country for three weeks. Good thing we practiced on my daughter's class pet. The average lifespan of a guinea pig is 6-8 years and these guys are 9. I feel that this is a very easy assignment: no need to bond, train, discipline, contain. Just feed the piggies and keep them comfortable. Try to keep them alive, but if they happen to kick the bucket while on our watch, well, that's old age... They are cute. The kids enjoy them. 3 yo has gotten quite gentle with them, although she keeps moving their castle houses because leaving them alone and observing them with her eyes is not an option. I am considering this a trial run for pet ownership.

3 yo is potty-training. It had to happen one day, and that day was a day before an 8-hour car ride for Shavuot. She is still working on bowel movement, but no pee accidents and dry all night. We have not shut down the pool (yet).

Speaking of the pool, we will be living there this summer. I have four swimmers! I am even finding myself enjoying pool time because there is much less watching required. 5 yo has been trained by me to swim and then his older siblings took over, especially 12 yo. He has been encouraging and working with his little brother, teaching him to dive, to swim in the deep end, and even to go down the water slide. That leaves me just 3 yo to watch. That girlie got comfortable near the water. She can stand in the shallow end of the deep pool, which was a large confidence booster. Within a few times, she started jumping into the pool, putting her face in the water, blowing bubbles and even attempting to swim in the baby pool. I sort of hope that she will learn how to swim by the end of the summer. All of this happened without swim lessons. When the kids are ready, they will try things. When the kids are gently encouraged by an adult in the water without pressure to do this today and that tomorrow, they will develop their own timeline and set their own goals. My 5 yo son was SURE that he will have to be 7 or 8 until he'll be ready to go down the water slide, and I was not so sure whether his timeline was wrong. But then he got enough encouragement and support from his siblings to try it. No, he is not interested in stroke refinement. He is interested in being dumped into 11 feet of water.

Oh, and 12 yo somehow almost finished 7th grade Khan academy math... And he is excellent with little kids. And he knows exactly the right thing to say to a child who is feeling down. And he gives awesomely sincere pep talks. If only he would apply them all to himself...

The kids are not going to Jewish summer day camps. I do not trust the leadership. I do not trust that anyone out there cares for the well-being of my children. I love the concept of a Jewish summer camp as a positive experience of Judaism, but I am no longer naive (or desperate). I wish it were not so. I wish I would get a week's break from all the kids' management. But it looks like camp Mommy all summer long. Zoo, science museums, pools and parks, here we come!

Monday, June 4, 2018

betrayal of disengagement

I finally finished reading "Daring Greatly". There is a passage that haunts me, from the beginning of the book when she talks about vulnerability myths. I keep coming back to it again and again.

Brene Brown uses a marble jar analogy for trust, how trust is a collection of marbles slowly gathered over time, one marble here and one marble there. One cannot wait for it all to work out to start collecting marbles, but one is entitled to dump the entire collection and smash the jar when betrayed.
Image result for daring greatly
"When we think about betrayal in terms of the marble jar metaphor, most of us think of someone we trust doing something so terrible that it forces us to grab the jar and dump out every single marble. What's the worst betrayal of trust you can think of? He sleeps with my best friend. She lies about where the money went. He/she chooses someone over me. Someone uses my vulnerability against me (an act of emotional treason that causes most of us to slam the entire jar to the ground rather than just dumping the marbles). All terrible betrayals, definitely, but there is a particular sort of betrayal that is more insidious and equally corrosive to trust.

In fact, this betrayal usually happens long before the other ones. I'm talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. The word betrayal evokes experiences of cheating, lying, breaking a confidence, failing to defend us to someone else who's gossiping about us, and not choosing us over other people. These behaviors are certainly betrayals, but they're not the only form of betrayal. If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement.

When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears--the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can't point to the source of our pain--there's no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making.

We may tell a disengaged partner,"You don't seem to care anymore," but without "evidence" of this, the response is "I'm home from work every night by six P.M. I tuck in the kids. I'm taking the boys to Little League. What do you want from me?" Or at work, we think, Why am I not getting feedback? Tell me you love it! Tell me it sucks! Just tell me something so I know you remember that I work here!

...Like trust, most experiences of betrayal happen slowly, one marble at a time. In fact, the overt or "big" betrayals that I mentioned before are more likely to happen after a period of disengagement and slowly eroding trust. What I've learned about trust professionally and what I've lived personally boils down to this:
Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement. Trust isn'\t a grand gesture--it's a growing marble collection.

(pages 51-53)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

davening at the gate

I had a twenty-four-hour whirlwind out of town trip for a wedding. I went solo. No children, no schedules, no reminders. It was jam-packed with reunions and a whole lot of talking for an introvert.
Yet as I was waiting to board an early morning flight back home, I opened up a siddur app to daven. Oh, I did say brachot on the flight in, but it was more in my usual tone of mechanical mumbling in the desire to discharge my obligation of tefila before I eat. On this trip back, I found myself wanting to daven, wanting to find the meaning behind well-worn familiar words. No, I did not say more than birchot hashahar since I was waiting at the gate. However, even that five-minute tefila had a different flavor than what I usually end up doing.

I keep on thinking how few positive and uplifting davening experiences I have. There was unbelievable davening in Israel, that I attributed to being surrounded by people who understand the words and mean them. There was my intense desire to daven at the Kotel because in the presence of those ancient stones a different mood comes over me. I want to pour my heart out. There was Rosh haShana tefila that I cried over this year, asking and beseeching Hashem to please give me a good year and prolong life. I think that was influenced by my belief that I am surrounded by a caring congregation. That illusion has since fallen away. I cannot daven in a place of hypocrisy. I have been having hard time going to shul, simply physically entering the building. I have attended a few bar mitzvahs, but I cannot fake a tefila.

So what do I need to daven?

  • removal from the ordinary
  • brain space away from children
  • a feeling of security and trust
  • a heartache
  • a space to organize my thoughts
I do not know the answer to the biggest personal theological question: why did I end up in this pickle? Why did we end up in a community where the rabbi and the shul are the major obstacles to prayer and halachik observance? Why did Hashem lead us on this path?

And what do I tell my children about G-d and prayer? How can I lead them by example when I do not feel comfortable in shul and cannot model "good davening behavior"? I know I am modeling integrity, but I do not know if my kids know or appreciate the full extent of my dilemma.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Slowly but surely, I am entering a new stage of my life. 5 year old transitioned to showers on his own, so I only have one child to wash. 3 yo decided that two days before a major trip is a good time to start potty training in earnest, so soon I will not need to buy diapers by the Costco box.

We are up to consuming 2+ gallons of milk every week. I no longer freeze large shredded cheese bags because we use them up quickly enough. I seem unable to keep enough cereal and bananas and Morningstar chik patties in the house. I have not set a table for a while.

There is no spit-up on my shoulders. I have been rocking dresses for a straight year, enjoying the freedom of not nursing. I loved nursing my children. It went well: everyone made it to at least a year. It was nice and sweet and close and bonding, but I cannot deny that it is over and I do not look back at those five cumulative years of wardrobe manipulation with sadness.

My three oldest could bike anywhere. 5 year old is working hard at keeping up with his training wheels. I have four out of five swimmers. Pool time this summer might even be enjoyable.

There never seem to be enough clean socks. Most socks are wadded up into little black balls, shedding dirt. When I unravel them before their trip to the washing machine, huge heel holes gape at me. The socks are the casualty of the trampoline, of the deck, of the hammock, of active play, of engagement where a cartwheel practice takes precedence over order and appearance.

Life is crazy and good and unpredictable and whirlwind with five kids. It is like being inside a covered water slide: you can fight the current, but it will pull you along through dark and light patches, not caring one whit whether you are ready, whether you are afraid. You might as well surrender, throw your head back, and enjoy the ride.
Related image

Monday, May 7, 2018

In his own words

Five year old (who spent a large portion of his young life bouncing between preschool programs): Teachers put children in time-out. That's what they do.
Me: What do mommies do? (I do not employ time-out with him because there has really not been a need).
5 yo: Mommies take care of kids. That is what they do.

This makes me sad. This is why I wanted so badly to be able to homeschool all of them, for all the years of their school experience. Oh, he is resilient, and he will get over this. But in his head, teachers are there to punish kids and moms are there to love them. I wonder how that will affect his attitude towards teachers and learning down the road.