Friday, April 13, 2018

My oldest did not stay up for the second Seder, at all.

My daughter, 8yo, stayed up for both sedarim, but we were paid back in an abundantly cranky child. My youngest finished off Yom Tov by throwing up in the car on the way to get that first chametz fix post-Pesach. So good that we are so flexible, such good sports, just came back home, changed the baby, wiped more vomit, stopped at Kroger for packaged bagels instead of piping hot Krispy Kreme...

On Monday, 2 yo stayed home because I do not like spreading stomach yuck to other preschool kids. Thank G-d she napped, but it took me a good half an hour of lying down next to a whirling dervish till she settled down.

On Tuesday, 8 yo broke a pinkie finger playing soccer at recess, so good thing I had pesach matzagna stashed away for dinner that night because we paid an unexpected visit to urgent care. Kids ignored the matzagna, especially 5 yo who yelled his head off that there is nothing yummy to eat and went to sleep without dinner by choice.

Today is my oldest's birthday. He is 14 and I do not feel as optimistic about this whole teen maturation thing. What I do get is a shlep to get Chinese takeout for his birthday dinner while the other boy is at his science nature physics class. Then I get to pick him up, rush him home, quickly dump the groceries and go pick up the rest of the children.

On Monday, when he is in extended drop-off at D&D, I get to go and take my daughter with her broken finger to an orthopedic surgeon to rule out that she needs surgery or cast or anything. Somehow, in the next little while, it does not look like there is a break coming.

My oldest finally rigged a hammock on the pergola, but my youngest uses it as a personal swing when she is home. She is quite possessive of it. I keep envisioning sitting in it, having a cuppa, enjoying the birdies chirping. My fantasy keeps getting rudely interrupted by the reality of many mommy, mommy, mommy, wah!

My youngest will be three at the end of the month. She is not even home for hours at a time. But whatever mojo I thought I would be getting back, whatever hopes and dreams I was supposed to accomplish, whatever schemes and plans were supposed to arise in my mind with the possibility of coming to fruition are lying dormant.

I am tired, bone-weary tired.

I kept wondering why mothers of many children do not write tell-all books. Now I know they do not have much to say except for hold them, love them, throw some food at them, yell some, and keep everyone alive. And somehow it will all pass.

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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Conflict of interest

I signed up for a drawing class with 11 yo. We signed up together because he expressed a rare interest in doing something outside of his comfort zone. I signed up because I have been waiting my whole entire life to take art classes. First it was not for me, then how would I make a living like that, because artists are starving... then I could not afford the supply fee that accompanied art classes in college and then there was no time and no money and no place to take them. And finally, finally I live within a short distance of an art center and they offer a glorious selection of multimedia classes. I took an evening class in acrylics followed by watercolor. It quickly became evident that I need to get the basics of drawing down first. When I was looking at the selection, trying to avoid Friday nights and Saturdays and Sundays, I saw a mid-morning class. I asked 11 yo whether I can leave him at the house to take that class or whether he wanted to take it with me. He wanted to sign up, and I dared not breathe from happiness. I imagined us drawing together, learning side-by-side.

Now, these classes are my outlet, both for creativity and as a chance to experience "flow", get swallowed by an activity, let the time pass unnoticed. I so rarely experience flow that I forget how I need it. Blogging took a hit because with teens I am up and talking and dealing with them late into the evening. If I want to do anything immersive, I need it on the calendar and away from home. I am not aspiring to produce the next work of art, but I am treating this time as a therapy of sorts. And I really, really need it.

Every class comes with a supply list. We printed it out and hit Hobby Lobby. marveling at the materials. 11 yo seemed intrigued. When we attended the first class, everyone was asked to disclose their level of training and what they were planning on getting out of the class. Everyone was older than me by at least a decade. Three people were retired. I think it was a confidence boost to hear that everyone was a beginner. 11 yo jumped in, but I saw that he was not exactly taking all the creative risks that the teacher recommended. Then we sketched at home. He seemed excited to practice what he has learned.

11 yo sketching out of his own free will
The following week I made a mistake of scheduling an early morning appointment with a psychologist for 11 yo. I can probably write a whole angry megilah about childhood mental health professionals who refuse to help you and think it is perfectly fine to tell it to the child's face. It was a total waste of time, accompanied by lowering of self-esteem for 11 yo. That was not exactly the best way to be going into doing something hard and outside of your comfort zone. And now we were late to class, 40 minutes late. I felt that missing that time from a two-and-a-half hour class that is not graded is not a big deal. I told as much to my son, grumbling about all the time we wasted that morning. But he realized that we were late, and not a little bit late, but ridiculously late, and he started asking to go home. Now I used to be super anally punctual. My old self would probably preferred to go home and hide under the covers too. My new chutzpadik self proclaimed that there is more than enough class time to salvage and I am going in. My son refused. I gave him an option to join me at any point, or to hang out in the library next door. He buried himself in a comic book.

This week, my 2 yo has been sick. I called on my MIL to watch her so I could take 11 yo and myself to the class. She came. 11 yo woke up crabby, declared today to be a bad day and notified me that he quit drawing. I kept cursing the psychologist for the damage he did the previous week because this week my child did not attempt sketching. He probably felt that he fell hopelessly behind, despite my assurances that every class could be free-standing. I used all my calm arguments trying to coax 11 yo to come. He flat out refused. No reasons were given except that he quit and he's not coming. I told him that I expect him just to come and sit in on class, not necessarily draw. On that note, staying calm, I told him that I am starting up the car and I will be waiting for him. he said sadly that I will be waiting for a long time.

I went to the car and sat in there, as promised. The clock was ticking. I'm reading a book on meditation. I have taken yoga. I know about putting yourself in timeout, counting to ten, to a hundred, deciding that it is not that important, not worth the fight, letting go. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe...

But I couldn't. This class was important to ME and I was missing MY class time dealing with my child who declared that he is not coming. I had to psych myself into going, into jumping in, into believing that at the end of eight weeks I will get all the necessary sketching skills under my belt. I had to believe that I am not frustrated suburban housewife dallying in art without any talent and what a waste of time and money anyway! And you are abandoning a sick child!

...I had been so good about not butting heads with 11 yo. I had been flexible, understanding. I dropped a whole lot of academic expectations, just let him be, worked on the relationship, listened to his side, tried to understand what it was like to be him. But now he was at odds with what was best for me. I want so little, and now one thing that was supposed to be purely for me became about HIM.

I stormed back into the house. As promised, he was on the top bunk, hiding in the blankets. I told him firmly that I expect him to come right now! And I do not want to count. And I do not want to punish. And I do not demand much. But he was not coming. I yelled how I hate quitters and people who do not try. He did not respond.

I walked out and drove to my class, late yet again.

Unless you have a difficult child, of the kind of "difficult" where psychologists decide that they will not handle this, you might not understand what day-to-day life feels like. I cannot overpower his will, I cannot punish him, I cannot produce enough consequences to make him do the things that he decides to refuse to do. Moreover, he usually does not have a solid reason why he dug in his heels. I just feel that I made a big mistake with trying to take this class together because this is setting up the ground for a conflict every single week and poisoning one activity that I could have claimed as my own.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Fee(n)ding for themselves

Last day of the winter vacation for the dayschool kids, and they made both lunch and dinner. Yes, that includes even my moody teenager. He was tired of leftovers. So he made mulligatawny soup and garlic bread. I was downstairs organizing with a friend, so I was not available at all. I would have settled for PBJ or chick patties, as long as I did not have to supervise. But the three older kids rallied together and made soup and bread. And then they rebelled against even more leftovers for dinner, so they made mac-n-cheese (from scratch because I don't use boxed stuff, so that's how they think mac-n-cheese is supposed to be).

And before that, on New Year's Day, when I finally got everyone back from the JCC swimming pool, I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Yeah, doctor's wives do not get a winter break. We get pinch hitting calls when the legal holidays are many and the Jewish doctors cover for everyone. And nothing is open. So I took everyone to JCC for an AM swim before they would close. I promised them hot pretzels, but the cafe closed (or was it never open?) before we came out. By the time we got home and I was faced with a full load of chlorinated laundry after wrestling two kids through showers, the last thing I wanted to do was worry about lunch.

Same older kids jumped on it. 7 yo scrambled eggs. 11yo and 13yo worked together to make a vegetarian taco salad, served on top of skillet-toasted tortillas. They even fed something to the younger siblings because they practiced no child left behind.

How do I explain to all the moms who rejoice that the break is over and that the kids are back at school that these moments of motivation do not happen when they are gone? That 13 yo has not been packing his lunch, let alone making food for others?

I know, I know, kids can cook in their spare time. Kids can cook for Shabbos. Kids can cook on Sundays. I know I could have made this post into a feel-good story about how independent my kids are, how good. But I really wonder what stands behind their motivation. Why do they rise to an occasion only when they have been home for a while, and not on a daily basis? Are they too stressed and overwhelmed? Do they need to spend a large chunk of time bonding as a family first, and then they start to see the needs? Do I need to completely drop out of a picture for them to rise to an occasion? Or do they feel cornered, like there is no grown-up who will "take care" of them, so they might as well fend for themselves?

As much as their actions look good, I think it is very important to find out what is driving them. Each one might be driven by a different factor, too.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

in search of realistic parenting advice

I finally got around to reading "No Drama Discipline" based on a recommendation of a friend. I am reading the book and nodding my head: yes, connection, yes, a behavior is a cry for help, yes, regain composure. Slowly but surely a seed of doubt crawls in: this is all nice and well, but the parent has to always control herself, not to react, act loving, be comforting, suppress the impulse to yell, to release tension, Moreover, all the examples conveniently have only one child that the parent has to connect to at any given time, and somehow that connection happens fast enough not to interfere with the rest of life.

Overall, I have nor found any super new, earth-shattering material (I am about a hundred pages in). I have been applying a lot of the advice in this book in my parenting already: talk to the child, spend a lot of time in his or her world, connect, calm them down, redirect, be present, look at the big picture instead of immediate behavior change. But what the authors of this book (and other similar books) do not mention is how exhausting all of this is, how mentally draining. Now throw in more than one child and you got a situation ripe for a disaster.

My husband is on call the entire weekend. Somehow that very important piece of information slipped my mind, so I invited a friend over for Shabbos. Then I tried inviting other families who have kids in the similar age range to her kids, so all of a sudden, the Shabbos table had to be set for 20. Naturally, that is the very Shabbos that my husband got called up to deliver a baby before lunch even started. So I am madly prepping food, my kids are in shul unsupervised, my baby is running around in pajamas, and I should go over to shul to get those kids and guests. My friend helped and helped. My guests all pitched in. But naturally, this is the Shabbos that my 2 yo will not go down for a nap, I have people gathering downstairs that do not know each other, my daughter is trying to find girl-centric space in a house heavy on the boy side... My sobbing 2 yo just needs her mommy to hold her and rub her back to fall asleep.

But I end up trying to host this lunch, and with everyone helping and being easy-going, it ends up working out.The 2 yo does not end up napping. I am stressed already. I mentally make a note of making a better job scheduling large company when my husband can get called up. But now I host, serve, talk, take a drink of wine.

The guests leave, sweetly taking 7 yo and 4 yo with them. The older boys leave for shul with their friends. It grows quiet. And 2 yo decides it is time for connection. I talk to her, I read to her, I make myself a cup of tea, but I spend more time finding animals in her book than reading my book or drinking. I feed her some sort of dinner.

Everyone comes back for havdalah. My husband rushes out to round in the hospitals. And I am left trying to get everyone to collect laundry and into pajamas and into bed. I need to recharge and I know it, but instead I get a sulky teen and cranky daughter who does not want to go to bed and 4 yo who needs to go and get an ice cube to suck before falling asleep. And can they have computer time? And don't they see the state of the house?!

I wake up in a sour mood, but I try to cheer myself up with a quiet cup of coffee before everyone resurfaces for the day. 4 yo is peeking out from his room and HE wants to cuddle on the couch. so I do (connection, right?) but I miss my chance at a quiet cup because more and more kids wake up and they all want something. And I want boys to go to minyan that is at 8 so I am rushing them to be ready. And I'm trying to make pancakes because I'm hungry and who does not like pancakes? But my kids do not touch them, as my husband comes downstairs, at five to 8, phone pressed to his ear, scheduling a procedure at 9. So I shove the boys out the door to superfast shul while 2 yo makes maple syrup handprints.

And then they are back and everyone ignores my third polite request to please start sorting and folding the clean laundry. I become more direct with 13 yo: either you fold the laundry and I get 2 yo dressed, or vice versa. He picks his sister (aw, sweet!) and I go to the basement to make the guest bed witrh clean linens.

When I come back up, I am greeted by wails from upstairs. 11 yo comes down and pointedly asks me don't I hear what is going on and why am I ignoring her? I go upstairs where I find 2 yo manically trying to remove her diaper while 13 yo is tugging in vain to keep it on. They are both screaming in frustration. I take the baby who sits on me, butt-naked, sobbing and direct the rest of the kids back downstairs to sort and fold laundry. They go. I am connecting with her, but not with them. I see that she has a diaper rash and offer her a quick bath. She is delighted. She takes her time. I holler downstairs for someone to please bring me a towel and a bath mat because they are in that laundry. No response. I do not want to leave the girly alone in the tub, so I holler again.I am informed that those items are still wet in the dryer. I quickly run to get a spare.

By the time the leisurely bath with a calm 2 yo is coming to an end, I am hearing wails of 4 yo from downstairs. He comes up crying that he has way too much to fold and sort and he cannot do it. The truth is that I have been usually doing his laundry for him, so I am sure his siblings just made a large pile and that is overwhelming. Hearing her brother cry, 2 yo starts whining again. I rush to get her dressed before she loses it and come downstairs.

7 yo is exasperated because she has been trying to train her younger brother in the art of clothes folding, but he was having none of that. I pick up crying 4 yo and let him melt into me. Connection, right? Now 2 yo runs over and tries pushing him off, making space for herself. Neither of them is happy. I end up folding clothes for 4 yo that he puts away through tears. 13 yo is sulking, again. 11 yo pipes up how what I am doing is unfair, again. I see a large pile of leftover unsorted socks, again. And I have a few more loads to run.

So when 7 yo decides to open the blinds a few minutes later, she yanks on the cord a little bit harder than usual and the whole molding falls down, with the blind still attached. And it is Sunday right before New Year's day. And there is a large nail protruding. and a nice gash in the wall, And I lose it and yell all the frustration and all the connection that I have been giving away without getting anything for myself, without getting a break, without time to recharge, to even read about what is supposed to happen after all the connection. And I yell a little bit harder than the situation calls for. And I break all the connections that I have been building. 7 yo runs away from me, screaming. Two younger ones disappear.A few minutes later I get a hand-delivered note saying that she is sorry and I can do with her whatever I want. Poor child, one minute your mother is a saint and the next she is a raving lunatic. I sit next to her, I pick her up and hold her and tell her that I am sorry for yelling at her. I just did not want a broken wall.

And I do not get to finish because her friends come and pick her up and she leaves through tears.

I am looking for a parenting book where a parent is not a pushover, an only adult for most of the situations, and there are multiple children to deal with at all times. Because I have all the tools, but I do not have the circumstances that allow me to apply them successfully and healthfully.

Disclaimer: as I was typing this late at night, 13 repeatedly interrupted me to read yet another panel of the comics that he founde funny (his bid for connection) and I repeatedly asked him to stop so I could focus.