Friday, October 21, 2016

Designated time

I'm writing this on chol hamoed Succot. In Hebrew, moed means a designated time, an appointed time, a time of meeting. Holiday, as in "holy day" is a very loose translation, as it is not the sanctity of the day that is celebrated. Rather we acknowledge that year after year, Hashem/ mishkan/ shechina calls to us, and we show up. We do not always bring our best selves when we show up, despite what numerous divrei torah and frum writing makes one to believe. We do not always show up in the neatest and most prepared state, despite what sharing on social media leads us to believe. In fact, some years, we do not want to show up at all.

But where would we be if we did not show up? Where would we be if we did not have this protected time to find ourselves yet again in our succah, in shul, at the seder table, during hakafot, thinking, remembering and contemplating where we were in years past and comparing to where we are now?

Shabbos can feel oppressive, especially where there are small kids napping in the morning and afternoon, and older kids get listless. Yet I appreciate Shabbos as the "only time I sit on the couch" in my daughter's words. I wanted to be doing more, working on Nach Yomi ( don't even ask where I stand in my personal learning), reading over parsha, davening, having deep and meaningful conversations about what matters with my spouse. But I am not. However, I am grateful that I find myself forced to sit on that couch once a week and take a break from the external world, take stock in where I am now, what am I feeling, and not being pressured to run around and do something or other. It is not a high level of observance, but it is a designated time, forced upon me for my own good.

I am very good about yom tov observance, but I am not good at designating time that is not thrust upon me. Whether it is my upbringing, my uptight personality, the circumstances, not knowing how to do it myself, or not being selfish, I do not end up designating this protected time for reflection. I am not talking about pampering, but it is part of essential self-care. There is so much to do, and so little time. So I scurry and wipe behinds, nap kids, feed them, do chumash,  grocery shop, sneak on Facebok and tackle laundry. But I do not say: this afternoon is for blogging because mommy needs a written record of how today went. This half an hour is for journalling because I need to pour my heart out. When the baby will nap I will call my friend and connect. Today  I will plan a night away because I just need to sleep in and not be responsible for anyone else's needs.

I wonder if rosh chodesh was supposed to be a women's holiday precisely to force women to take monthly stock of their lives and stop doing.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Indian consulate and Shemitta

We were passing an Indian consulate this afternoon when 12 yo asked me what is a consulate. I explained that it is an official representation of a country on another country's soil and the consul is the person who can conduct his country's business. I also mentioned my favorite fact (learned from my father) that a consulate is like a small piece of India right here and the laws of United States do not apply inside it. 12 yo wondered why there is a consulate here, why not just in DC, and how many more Indian consulates are there in the US. I told him he can look it up later. I also said that we live in a big enough city that this is probably a regional consulate. I mentioned that there is probably an Israeli consulate here too, or maybe in Miami. (I am not sure). Then he asked me whether the land of the Israeli consulate is the same as the land of Eretz Yisrael. I asked whether he meant halachically and he said, yes. I laughed, come on, it's a legal technicality, it would not affect halacha. He launched into what if Israeli consulate were to grow produce on its roof, would it be subject to the laws of shemitta? I retorted, of course not! He set up a precedent: the land conquered outside the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael still has to observe shemittah as long as the land within Eretz Yisrael is within Jewish possession. By this point, I realized that he might have a case, so I suggested he ask a knowledgeable rabbi.

This is unschooling in action. This interaction happened because we were both in the car, in good mood, he was next to me, he was looking around instead of being lost in an electronic device or a book, and he had prior knowledge to apply to a little tidbit that I supplied. Sometimes I feel like we get so little "work" done. Then I need to be reminded that my most important goal is to produce thinking human beings, who can converse and be open to learning. For that to happen I need these small casual spontaneous interactions.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Not Okay

I am twelve. I am taking a trolleybus home with a friend back in Moldova. We are chatting and suddenly she tells me to get off. It is not our stop, it's too early, but I follow her off. Once we are off, she tells me how a guy was pulling up her skirt. She is also twelve, and she is a wearing a mini denim skirt, with the wide ruffle on the bottom. The drab brown uniforms were just canceled out of existence, and everyone is wearing whatever parents scrambled to get. The guy first pulled up one side of her skirt, then the other. It's crowded on the trolleybus, a great melee of people, so I did not see anything, even though I was standing right next to her. She sighs as she tugs her skirt lower: "What are you going to do? Mame ne rasskajeshi. You can't tell it to your mom." Rather, it shouldn't be told to her mom. We get onto the next trolleybus and never discuss it.

Later the same year, I am taking a trolleybus with my younger sister. I am still twelve, a skinny undeveloped girl. I am not even a hundred pounds. I am very spacey, very oblivious kid. But I find that someone is rubbing against me. It is crowded, so I move over a bit without turning around. The rubbing follows me. I do not know anything about erections. I do not know anything about molestation or predators or pedophilia, but I do not want to be touched like that. There are people everywhere, and my sister is next to me, in the way of my escape. I try to push through, but I am grabbed and held close as the rubbing continues. I tell my sister we are getting off here as I finally turn around and catch the eyes and a beard of a man still trying to hold on to me. 

We get off. My sister protests that it is not the right stop. I honestly do not remember what I told her, whether I disclosed why I wanted off that trolleybus. The refrain "Mame ne rasskajeshi" follows me. Somehow without knowing the name or having an understanding of what happened I know better than to confide in her lest I would be told to be somehow more careful in the future.

I am twenty, already for a few years on my own, in college. I go back to Moldova and I am sent to get some paperwork for my father who is in Canada. He is trying to get a discount on auto insurance based on his previous driving experience and we need to approach his former place of work, sign some papers. I am in a large office of the Academy of Science. An older man is chatting with my mother, holding the paper that we need. Then he notices my slouching posture and decides to adjust it, smack in the middle of the conversation. I am not interested in his touch because I sense lewdness. As he is pushing back on my shoulder while touching my back, where the bra snap goes: "A girl should be lean and straight, like a birch tree!" I grit my teeth. We need his signature on that stupid piece of paper so that my father pays less for car insurance. We need that money.

Fast forward quite a few years. I am at a birthday party at my in-laws' house, with my husband and kids. A whole gang of Russians is there, eating. drinking and conversing. A guy, who employs my mother-in-law, asks me whether married Jewish women are allowed to hug other men. I respond negatively. He proceeds to hug me right there, saying that sometimes it is ok. I am stewing inside and mutter obscenities under my breath. My husband, instead of punching him out, proceeds to work for him at a future date. After all, this man gives employment to so many around that table, even though privately I am told how they despise him.

I do not consider myself to have been sexually abused. I was not terribly traumatized by my experiences, although I disclosed the bit with the beard to my husband so he would be aware if and when he would be growing one and how I might have shifting feelings about it. However, with all the talk about women being grabbed, and how it's just locker room talk, and how only certain women get such attention, all of my emotions come bubbling out. Violations happen all the time. They happen to everyone. This overstepping of bounds of decency happens where there is an unbalanced power, and the strong takes advantage of the weak with impunity. The weak is supposed to roll over and suffer in shameful silence.

No more.

I am breaking my silence. I hope that others will, too.

We have sons to bring up and they should know better than to tolerate such talk or such actions. We have daughters to bring up and they have to know to yell and scream and kick and thrash and draw attention. We have to teach them to tell mothers so they can raise hell on their behalf. We have to make our voices heard, not for pity, but to shame those who deserve to be shamed.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gemara for 12 yo

After a lot of hand-wringing, phone calls, e-mails and just things falling all over the place. I signed up 12 yo for online school for Judaics. He is in 7th grade, where he is supposed to be age-wise. He specifically asked for learning with other kids as opposed to one-on-one, but he did not want to go to school. The program is four days a week for two hours each day, and it is fully interactive: he gets to see the teacher and other students, learn bechavruta, ask and answer questions in real time, get assignments and chat with others. The catch is that it is from 11 to 1, smack dab in the middle of the day.

Here is the funny part: the administration originally did not want him in this class because he had no formal gemara learning. First I agreed with them, then we realized that the other level is too low for him, so I insisted that he attend this class with his peers. In the back of my mind was an ongoing buzz of what am I going to do with a child who will be handicapped by a lack of gemara skills? Will this approach of not pushing and introducing gemara haunt us? Now in his class, during the second week I got an email from the teacher that he is planning on having my son and his chavruta do a separate assignment since his gemara skills are on a higher level than the rest of the class. I giggled: how can a child who spent maybe six hours formally studying gemara have more advanced skills than the boys who have been studying it for the past two years? Perhaps all the hours he spent poring over Koren Bavli in shul paid off. Perhaps he is naturally brilliant. Perhaps he can pull a fast one on the teacher.

Perhaps our laid-back approach (not quite unschooling) is not so full of glaring educational holes.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Just what he needed

Do you know who's thriving at home so far? My three-year-old. He potty trained and having a potty available to use as necessary is what did it. He naps as he needs, just goes and tucks himself in and then comes out when he's awake and ready to come out. He spent close to an hour every day painting with watercolor. I just need to get him water and close the door to the sunroom. He has been painting sheet after sheet, mixing colors, using different brushes, making up stories about his creations. Then he cuts them up, tapes them, modifies them further.

He has been playing with Cliks: building swords and guns of all kinds, imagining things, creating whole worlds. He is all about weapons and shooting and fighting, yet he's extremely mellow to his younger sister. This is a healthy release of aggression.

He made a cockroach
He has been playing with his older sister non-stop. I often end up breaking up their play to get her to do her schoolwork. He sidles up with his Costco book, and he does his "math"; he just circles what he likes on every page. He recognizes a few letters. Last year in Montessori he supposedly knew him all. Now I can see that not everything has stuck, but it's ok, because he is only three and I want him to think that what he's doing right now, all this painting and building, is what's important.

We've been to the zoo and aquarium and he loves the ocean pop-up book. He keeps asking to go back. He wants to go to the park or hike trails. He often tramps around outside our large yard, digging in the dirt, finding bugs and other treasures. He rides his trike down the path full speed.
At the zoo

Childhood is short. Childhood can also be easy and not require much. I forgot how much I love this stage, when they are old enough to talk and say the darnest things (Mommy, can I help you make coffee cause I Love you). They are still little, but they can already do things for themselves. They do not have an attitude yet, but the personality is there. I am pleased to have this child back at home with me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

An update

We were supposed to move, to a bigger house, in another neighborhood. I spent most of the summer packing, decluttering, and dealing with all the things that come with buying a house. I even spent energy on those hypothetical closets, convincing myself that it will he painful for a bit, and then there will be order.

The house sale fell through, but not early enough to realize that this is not happening. Some paperwork was required at the last minute, and that paperwork was something that we could not produce, no matter how much we pushed, begged and pleaded. Maybe I will write up one day what happens when a doctor gets a frivolous lawsuit and how little it matters who is right. Maybe I will write how some things have nothing to do with prudence and planning and saving. It is ironic that the house prices are so ridiculously inflated that it is impossible to buy a house without financing, no matter how carefully you save. The bottom line was, the same week that we were supposed to move, and all extensions were filed and not even exactly accepted, it became clear that this house is not going to be ours.

That left me in a very bad pickle: I have packed up all the books and most of the homeschool materials. I have taken all the posters off the walls. I was also planning on being near JCC and rely on their homeschool, afterschool, and adult classes for enrichment. We were supposed to be near a community college with its own course offerings. I gingerly checked out homeschool resources near the new location, but I definitely did not sign up for any classes where we live.

3yo made a fire-shooting tail for his dragon.
He is happy as long as he can find scissors, tape and paper
Those who were following this blog know that I also signed up 10 yo for school. First I put him on the bus so I would not have to drive him, then I told the school to take him off since there is no bus from the new location, then I had to beg them to please put him back on the bus since we did not move after all... At least his school bought all the school supplies through PTA and I was not stuck hunting all over town for perfect folders and exact markers. So far, he probably has a more put-together life than we do here.

MIT open course video that 12 y dug up
Since he already started school, I chose to start with 12 yo, 6 yo and 3 yo. But all of my materials are still packed up. And we still might be moving: our house did not grow more space just because the move fell through. The kitchen did not expand, the bedrooms were not added, more children did not move on our block... in short, all the reasons to move are still valid. So I started with whichever resources I happened to have on hand. I'm quickly discovering that if I let 12 yo have a lot of computer time, he will cobble something together. The problem is, without his brother to drag him out to the trampoline, and without classes set up, and without friends popping by, he will not see humans for days. He will not call for a play date (but my 6 yo daughter will!) So do I let this child stay at home and do his own stereotypically nerdy antisocial thing mostly on the computer, or do I set limits, boundaries, force him to go on outings that delight his younger siblings, all in hope of getting him out of the house?

I am also guilty of using him as a babysitter. I do it a lot: he does not want to go to the grocery store, but he will watch the rest of the kids, for example. Often I just want to run an errand by myself, and with all the stress of this "almost move", my need to be by myself is higher than usual. And he is so conveniently at home, and willing to stay at home. I am very conflicted about this. Is it a right thing to do to a 12 yo?

Since all the books are packed up, and I begged boys not to renew their library cards and confirm the addresses till after the move, we have a general lack of reading material. Everyone is listless. 6 yo wants a plan, and all my hopes, dreams, and plans got flushed away, so I swat her inquiries because, frankly, I want a plan, too.

Art supplies are for dumping
Don't forget the baby. She is a firecracker. She screeches on top of her lungs and gets 3 yo involved in yelling competitions. She is not walking (we are starting physical therapy which I need right now like a hole in my head). She is climbing instead, pulling herself up onto the couch and the chairs and the bay window. Then she launches herself down, body-slamming into the cushions. I worry that she will crack her head open. 10 yo worries with me, to the point that he cannot sit still and eat if she's on the couch. It's a good thing that he is in school most of the day, missing her antics. She crawls across our laps as I try to read to 6 yo and 3 yo. She pulls the books out of our hands and has been pulling 3 yo's hair. Thank G-d he's a mellow sweet child, who had not smacked her back. She destroys his puzzle, she dumps the crayons and the drawers full of clothes. When she had her fill of destruction, she heads over to me to be picked up. Then she wants to be carried either by me or by one of the kids. The baby is cute, but she is not easy, and she does not make any of our lives easy either.

12 yo helps make armor.

We have started homeschooling, but I have no idea where this year will take us. I know everyone loves the first day of school pictures, with their promise of new beginnings and order. I bring to you the messy reality. I also hope that those homeschoolers who have not started yet and dread seeing yet another post about organized resources will not feel so bad about hot having it all together.
First day of school.
Typical uniforms.
The boys laughed when they realized what they were wearing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Self-care and support advice: helpful or harmful?

I'm reading another self-help book, this one on marriage (First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors). In case you're wondering, the title intrigued me. I am not done, but the content makes me wonder because I have heard this before.

The author starts by saying that in order to save an ailing marriage, self-care is important and so is a strong circle of supportive females.

Oh yeah, all those homeschool pages say the same. When you are running ragged, when you don't know where to turn to advice, just go take a break, focus on yourself, and spend some time talking to like-minded friends.

Oh, and the same goes for motherhood and parenting. When the kids get to you, when running a household and simultaneously taking care of everyone's needs feels stressful, give yourself some pampering and go dish it out with other moms in the same boat.

Before I go further, I have given out the same advice myself. "I said and said and said those words, I said them--but I lied them."

What if this is classic chicken-and-egg situation? What if we are trying to solve various problems with the same solutions when, in reality, the lack of accessibility of these solutions is what's causing these problems in the first place?

Imagine yourself well-rested on a day when you selected what you wanted to do for yourself and did it. Most likely, you would be more pleasant to your spouse and his little quirks and annoyances would not be so annoying. Most likely you would be teeming with ideas for your homeschool. Most likely you would be eager to see your kids, hug them, spend some time with them.

Imagine having a community of women who are there to catch you, watch your kids, spell you for a bit while you run to the store or the doctor, and converse when you need it. They give you valuable advice that sets you straight in all your family relationships because they see you and your family day in and day out, and they truly, really have your best interest at heart. You would feel able to handle any ripples that rock your boat because they are there to catch you.

What if the most important part missing from all this advice is the fact that so many wives/mothers have neither the ability to arrange large chunks of their life according to what's good for them nor this female group of tight-knit friends? What if this is the true reason for high divorce rate, homeschool burnout, and parenting failure?

Maybe I am the only one who has a hard time arranging for self-care that I truly need rather than measly bits that are available. For example, I can stereotypically paint my own nails at home and call it self-care, but what I truly enjoy is a professional massage. I can take a quick walk around the block, but I really crave a couple hours of hiking through the woods. Being told that I just need to make myself a priority when nobody else is jumping in to pick up slack does not miraculously produce time and resources. It just makes me feel even worse. And that gets to this support network business. I am an introvert. We have moved a lot and I am in a city far away both from my high school and college friends. I am far away from friends that I made when we got married. I am far away from friends that I made in two years in Houston. It takes me a long time to warm up to people, and I am at an age when one does not instantly make best friends and confidantes, no matter how bubbly and outgoing a personality. So where am I supposed to dig up this circle of support? On the basic level, who will watch my kids in minor emergencies, but on a deeper level, whom can I confide with my bigger problems? (I am about to do it on a blog for the whole anonymous world to see, which might be introvert's only solution...)

I am not about to bemoan the entire disintegration of society because it appears that many have this all blissfully worked out. Maybe they have supportive family and friends and never moved from their place of origin. Maybe they have other arrangements. Yet, considering the amount of my friends who are on the move, who move into new communities, new cities, new countries, it cannot be that I am the only struggling to figure out how this helpful advice on self-care and support networks is not causing more pain than it was meant to resolve.