Monday, February 6, 2017

so hard just to be

New week, new day, drop the kids off at their schools and the time should be yours to relax, right? But your car needs new tires and you know it, you can see how worn the edge is because you didn't pay for alignment or balancing or you didn't have time to get it done and now you are driving on highways daily with a worn-out tire. So you swing by Goodyear where they take one look at your wheels, whistle, and get you onto tire replacement tomorrow morning. And you get a call from your husband that the work on adding a second dishwasher and fixing the laundry room will start in a few hours. You do not want to have a gaping hole where the dishwasher is supposed to go so you go into Home Depot right next door to scoop out the appliances and find out that the soonest they can deliver is on Friday. But it will be free. But now you are staring at these washers and dryers and dishwashers and try to remember what is it that you actually want out of them short of doing their job, not breaking down, and being cheap. And then you remember that your car needs new wiper blades because the rubber is falling off one of them, You find the right kind and decide to be courageous and switch them yourself. But not in Home Depot's parking lot: you do not want to embarrass yourself.

As you get home and pull up a few step-by-step tutorials, you discover that somehow you cannot remove the worn-out blades, no matter how much you search for a clip or pull firmly down. Yet another tutorial directs you to a non-existent clasp. Ok, hubby will need to do it tonight except that he's already annoyed that you didn't shop around for the cheapest tires. But you need them replaced during those four precious hours because you need the car to pick everyone up from their three schools.

To feel productive, you decide to save brown bananas by baking banana muffins. And you fold the laundry that was left on the table. And you hang up shirts and skirts. And you see a despairing amount of mess in every single room. And as you start picking up, you need to go to another room for more hangers or to bring in one more item or you decide that this child will have to do this part later when they come back from school.

And there is no peace.

And you remember to text someone for a name and number of a pediatric psychologist. And you leave a message with a lady who washes sheitels. And you pick up a few more items. And you wait for the construction guy to come.

And then it's lunchtime and you are trying to read "Smart But Scattered" about improving executive function to help your oldest stay organized, but you can't focus yourself. You know that your executive function is misfiring which is why you cannot get anything done in an orderly manner.

And suddenly it is 1, and you will need to go and pick up the younger ones in twenty minutes, and you still didn't make time to relax, to heal your brain. You look around and find that none of the rooms inspire you to sit down and relax. You sink into a couch, pick a five-minute meditation from Insight Timer and close your eyes. You breathe, you relax, but at the end you peek because you are nervous that it won't signal when the five minutes are up and you will be late picking up the younger ones.

As you drive out, it is starting to drizzle. The annoying old wiper swings across the glass. 3 yo starts whining that he dropped something. Baby flings off her shoes and you hear them drop on the car's floor. Baby falls asleep, 3 yo asks for yogurt despite having had lunch in school. You refuse to mix in chocolate chips and he refuses to eat it and cries and sulks off for his nap.

And you have half an hour before you will have to get everyone up and drive to pick up the older kids. The construction guy is still not here.

I made space for myself to be,
But I have trouble being in it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mother's meditation

As you are running late and loading the kids into the car, you discover a cup of milk that baby left in the car seat from yesterday.

And you allow it.

As the baby is eating Bamba off the car's floor crevice while you are buckling in an older brother, you allow it.

When you are dropping off older kids at their schools, you husband calls you frantically that he needs to leave for the delivery and would you please hurry up to take over minding the younger ones.
You floor it.

And you allow it.
Image result for meditation

You should be productive with those four hours of morning time because your mother will ask you what did you get done.

And you allow it.

Your friend reminds you that couches are for sitting on and enjoying throughout the week, not for collapsing and promptly falling asleep on Friday night.

And you allow it.

Your child didn't get into yet another school due to his anxiety. You will need to get him his own psychiatrist and behavioral therapist who (please G-d) takes your insurance.

And you allow it.

You seal the good benefits of this meditation with a few choice phrases muttered under your breath because two of your kids asked you more than once pretty please not to curse. They don't allow it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On buying a yortzait candle

I'm grocery shopping, and in between tomatoes and hummus, I place a yortzait candle. My father's yortzait is coming up. Isn't that the province of older women, with shaking wrinkly hands and eyes teary from age? Aren't they the ones prowling the kosher aisle, looking for memorial lights? What am I doing here, buying a yortzait candle next to a lunchbox for preschool and three gallons of milk?

It's eight years later. It's three kids who never met their grandfather. It's my grief, feeling my hair turning grey under a gorgeous sheitel and a plastered smile of "Okay!" It's years and years of grief, of absence, of an absurdity of celebrating while there is a yortzait candle in my cart and a gaping hole where parental presence is supposed to be.

I check out. Another celebrity proclaims from the tabloid how she found happiness and got her life back, and you can, too! It is so pointless, so silly to listen to this. How can I get my life back?

I am loading groceries into van's trunk. As I click it closed while I return the cart, it beeps and doesn't close. The candle got tangled in the bag and is blocking the lock. The item that does not belong got in the way.

Why am I writing this? Because I have learned that there are other young moms, going through their days while experiencing the incongruity of being bereaved. It's been years, people do not talk about it any more, people do not ask, people assume that you have moved on, came out of it, are busy, do not want to talk, or simply do not know that you feel so alone as you are buying that yortzait candle.

May my father's neshama have an aliyah.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The post that I was not supposed to write.

Normal people who blog, blog semi-regularly. They stick to a subject. The work on building an audience and then maintain it by giving over what the audience expects to hear. I have kept my blog as a sort of open journal. The name, "Breathing Space," was supposed to reflect the nature of this blog.

I started blogging five years ago, almost to a day, when I pulled my oldest from day school to homeschool him. I had a sense that many were curious what homeschooling was like, and I needed a place to share, process ideas, look back, get support. Over the years, things have changed and shifted around. Two more kids joined the family. I chose to get my second-oldest evaluated for learning issues. We have moved. I have tried getting various children into various school settings. But I felt that my core philosophy stayed the same.

Now I am at a whole new beginning. We have moved two months ago. I had 10 yo enrolled in a Chabad school. He is doing reasonably well. I have gotten a break from his intense and sometimes unpleasant personality. But I have also seriously burned out. I was tired from butting heads with 12 yo over getting schoolwork done and finding a good fit for his Judaic needs. I was not expecting the resistance that 7 yo (she just had a birthday) put up about her school work. My baby is a super spirited child, very active and very troublesome. I nicknamed her "baby terrorist" because destruction is on her mind. She wants to climb. She wants to be taken places. She does not want car seat or the stroller or the shopping cart. She wants to imitate older siblings but make tremendous mess at the same time. I found myself wishing that she would just go down for a nap so I can get a break. (Anyone who says that labeling is disabling can spend a day with her.)

I have enrolled 12 yo and 7 yo in two different schools. Both started at the beginning of the month. It has been smooth for 7 yo, since she rejoined her classmates from last year and she gets to see her older brother around. It has not been that smooth for 12 yo. He is in a different school from his siblings because he would end up in the same classroom as his brother. His academics are totally fine. I will give myself a little pat on the back: he is above and beyond his peers in Judaics, to the point that the school suggested he take high school classes next year. This has less to do with skills and more with depth and breadth of his knowledge. He is also advanced in Ivrit: apparently, all you need is a child who is motivated enough to finish Rosetta Stone and a few well-spaced freak-outs when you read over children's Hebrew books. His major issue is following directions and not sticking out. I silently cracked up when the teachers mentioned that he seems to make himself out to be different: what do you expect after many years of hanging out with people who value doing your own thing over conformity?

I had three kids placed in school. yet I was still not breathing. The unhappiness and the sheer lunacy stayed. So I went against my core parental beliefs and enrolled the two youngest ones in preschool. I toyed with sending just one of them, or sending just two or three mornings per week, but then I realized that what I craved was order and predictability. I needed to know that every day, these few morning hours are mine. I have been neglecting myself. I have not been scheduling those annual check-ups because childcare was iffy. I have not been blogging because the stress level was through the roof. I have not been walking because EVERY SINGLE TIME some child or other was sobbing how he/she didn't want to go. I have not been exercising, or going to yoga right around the corner, or even saying morning brachos with any intent. As far as mindfulness went, I scarily kept on noticing myself approaching shabbos week after week and not being able to recall how the week went.

All of this is a lot of changes. All of this is radical. I have been flustered by yet another form asking my occupation: I cannot put down homeschool educator because there is nobody that I am homeschooling. I adamantly refuse to put down homemaker or housewife. So who am I?

As I've been driving carpool, I have been catching myself doing open mouth vocalizations. I learned about them from natural childbirth books. It's a primal release of energy. Whatever I will be doing from this point on reminds me of giving birth: it is lonely, it is painful and scary, you do not know what the result will look like, and there is no going back to the previous state.

If you have been following me for homeschooling, sorry to disappoint you: you cannot do it all, You cannot do it well. Everything has a beginning and an end. This journey, in its current form, is over. I still view homeschooling as an ideal learning environment, but I do not envision myself homeschooling more than one at a time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How easy and pleasant it was to be in a large classroom with one student, or two, or three--even four or five. Above five was when the noise problems began. One grownup can't teach twenty digital-era children without spending a third of the time, or more, scolding and enforcing obedience. What if we cut the defense budget in half, brought the school day down from six hours to two hours, hired a lot of new, well-paid teachers who would otherwise be making cappuccinos, and maxed out the class size at five students? What if the classes happened in parental living rooms, or even in retrofitted school buses that moved like ice cream trucks of bookmobiles from street to street, painted navy blue? Two hours a day for every kid, four of five kids in a class. Ah, but we couldn't do any of that, of course: school isn't actually about efficient teaching, it's about free all-day babysitting while parents work. it has to be inefficient in order to fill six and a half hours.

Nicholson Baker, Substitute pg493-4

Happiness and contentment

I will throw a simple question out there: are you happy? Are you content? If yes, tell me what makes you feel that way. If no, what will it take for you to feel happiness? What brings you contentment?

Also, have you experienced these, or are they as exotic birds, somewhere out there, experienced by others (yogis, saintly rabbis), and maybe you'll get to touch them one day.

This is not a trick question. There is no right or wrong answer. You can answer anonymously if you'd like, just a penny for your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


OMG what is that? My baby has been napping for the past hour and the older kids were entertaining themselves (except for one tushie that needed to be wiped). I was not rushing to do chumash with 12 year old, I was not hustling anyone to do schoolwork or finish something or other that is hard to do with an active toddler. (The chicken in Moana is clearly modelled after a toddler: same freak outs, same ridiculous repetitive behaviors.) And all of sudden I find myself finally calling a handyman to install the blinds before too many neighbors diplomatically suggest that we do it for our own good. And I'm making lasagna noodle roll-ups with tuna and spinach, using up leftovers. And I'm getting on IKEA home planner to figure out how to fit in a few more kitchen cabinets while thinking that maybe I should look into design or architecture classes. Is there a market for 40-year-old architects? And I finally threaded the washed 3 year old's car seat after a too-close encounter with raspberry jelly. The wipes did not cut it, so it had to be washed. Pesach came early, and I did it. And I'm thinking what else can I do with the kids around their 3 pm dentist appointment: drop off DVDs at the library because there is a branch not far from the office, stop by Aldi, run to IKEA to replace a vital screw that $%#$& movers did not put into the bunk bed? I did not realize that 10 yo telling me about his fear of the whole thing crashing down was not based on overreaction, but on solid engineering reality that a certain amount of supports is needed for the top bunk.

And I finished two books this past week: "Hillbilly Elegy" and "Run" by Ann Patchett. I cannot recall what was the last impactful book that I read before these two.

My time is slowly coming back to me. My time can also be snatched at any minute by a baby awakening from her nap, spilling pasta all over the floor, dumping cups of water, just screaming to be held. My time is also carved from the hours previously spent homeschooling. There is a misconception that unschooling means not doing anything with the kids, so why are the moms complaining that they are so busy? However, when you unschool, you are still in the picture, still available to answer questions, help with projects, do research, drop everything to read, etc. I am not currently unschooling. I am letting the older kids marinate in their own juices while I go and do my own thing. It is not clear-cut, as 10 yo, after this morning marinade, came to inform me that he and his two older siblings are about to produce Illiad , but a Wild West version. Ok, kids, I can write this down as an educational activity. I can boast about it: hey, my kids know enough about both to synthesize their own mashup. But I cannot call it unschooling, as I am refusing to participate more than a spectator.

Am I too high-strung to even unschool? Am I too controlling? Too worried about the outcome? Do I have too few resources, too few other adults who can spell me for a bit as the adult on duty? I don't know if I failed my kids by sending them to school, failed the ideals of homeschooling, failed myself. I do know that we, as a family, are ready for a new chapter. 12 yo is starting in a week and he is eager to have friends, hang out with friends, do things with friends, be in a class with friends. 10 yo came to terms with his new school reality. 6 yo is happy to have her girls back. And I am grateful for renewed energy and renewed ability to dream. I do wish so badly that my dreams involved homeschooling, spend long intense periods of time with the people that I birthed, educating them, learning alongside them. Right now, that is my fantasy. Right now, I need my space. I wish I did not have to carve time out for myself. I wish there would not be implied violence to time, but a peaceful flow.