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.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

When I was becoming frum, my not religious grandmother, a"h, would say every time she turned on the light on Shabbos or ate not kosher food: "G-d will forgive me". She was in her eighties, and there was no point in arguing with her. I remember stewing inside: how do you know that G-d will forgive you this? How do you know that he does not care about you eating not kosher or not keeping Shabbos?

But now I wonder whether my old grandmother understood something deeper. After all, her sins were not of the leaders of my city's community. She was not reluctant to speak out about a convicted con artist who was scamming multiple people for years. She was not covering up child molesters. She was not guilty of selectively warning some congregants but not the others when a dangerous individual moved onto a block. Those were not her sins.

Torah warns us to make a railing around our rooftop, lest a person falls off the roof. Torah does not tell us to wait till somebody falls off and gets hurt and then make a railing. We are told to be proactive, to avoid innocent people getting hurt so the blood is not on our hands. So why do rabbis think that we need people to get hurt, get hurt badly, and keep on getting hurt before somebody decides that it is time to do something? Why are they so careful about the laws of Lashon Hara but not so careful about guarding the physical well-being of those who rely upon them? Why is it up to the congregants to ask: is this person dangerous? Do I have to avoid him/her?

I am very upset. I cannot be the clearinghouse for the rumors circulating here because these rumors have substance. However, why do I have to call rabbis to substantiate the rumors? Why do I have to direct others to call the rabbis? Why cannot the rabbis get up and lead by saying: this person did such and such, stay away from that person. Why does it take a mother in the community, an oddball to be speaking the truth, get attacked, get questioned?

I do not know how those rabbis sleep at night. I do not know how they go about daily life while the congregants keep inviting these neighbors over because they are trying to be open and welcoming. Those out of the loop do business with them because why would you suspect someone who goes to your school, your shul? Why would you suspect a fellow Jew when you are encouraged to love him/her? And why do rabbis love their congregants less than the congregants love their neighbors?

I do not know how these rabbis stand on Yom Kippur and recite vidui, doing teshuva for leading others astray. And I do not know how am I supposed to worry about my kashrut and Shabbat observance and ask sheelot of the same rabbis. They will not eat in my house because "it is not kosher enough" based on totally arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with halacha, but they will not worry about how kosher their actions are?

My grandmother was onto something because the G-d that I believe in can forgive an 80-year-old lady not keeping Shabbos, but Hew cannot forgive community leaders for not publicly and forcibly warning members about dangerous individuals.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

getting triggered by health coach posts

I have not bought a new piece of clothing for months while slowly shedding and discarding old, worn, not fitting or "I'll never fit into it" clothing". Frugality? Depression? Minimalism? Fatalism? Body positivity? Body image issues? Accepting myself for who I am now? Lack of time to shop? Lack of desire to shop and tap into consumerism? Or maybe I am just content with what I have for the stage of life that I am in right now.

I have yet another acquaintance who befriended me on Facebook and is on a health journey. She is trying to lose weight, get healthy, eat healthy, be coached and supported, support others. I see it, I watch it, I observe it. I am happy that she is trying to do something about her weight and body image. But at the same time, I keep thinking how there is so much more to life than abstaining from licking fingers, posting recipes and motivational quotes. There is so much more to it than weight and the size of your dress and the shape that you see in the mirror.

As someone who was always thin while eating whatever I wanted, who never consistently exercised, who never agonized about going a size up, this might be dismissed as a thin girl being dismissive of a not-so-thin girl. But I have gone through five pregnancies and the weight gain that comes with that. I weight right now what I weighed at the end of my first pregnancy. I have gone through nursing and weird body sizes and bras that somehow never fit or looked flattering.  I have gone through going to the store and coming out upset because even if you are fairly thin, your belly is not the same size as your breasts which are a different size than your hips and the clothes designers do not keep that in mind. And I have gone through Hep C treatment when I lost ten pounds in six weeks, was very thin, sick as a dog... Yet through all that I have never hated my body. All these body size and shape fluctuations were a background to the life I was living, the children, homeschooling, outings, trips, classes.

So dear friend on a health journey: I know you mean well. I know that you need support, especially since you want these changes to stick. I know you are excited for what you are seeing in the mirror and on the scale and you want to share the formula of your success with the world. But I am finding myself triggered by your constant pep talk. If I want a cookie, I'll have a freaking cookie and not worry about repercussions to my thighs or the scale. If I want a get-thin-quick secret, it's ribavirin. It kills the appetite (along with a few other useful things in your body).  But come on, beautiful friend. You have lovely kids. Don't they deserve a little bit of Facebook space too? You have so many other things going on in your life. If you don't, there are so many causes to get involved in. There must be more to life than cauliflower crust pizza.

So get rid of your clothes, get cute new ones, say hello to the one you start to love in the mirror, and I will be waiting for when you are ready to have friendship go beyond calories, recipes, and self-negation.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

working on not yelling

After facing the reality of how devastating yelling is to some of my kids, I have consciously cut down on yelling. (I have written about yelling before, but then I slipped, things got crazy again. I am human and imperfect and that was the emotional release shortcut.) It has been very very hard to control myself even when anger seemed justified, even when punishment seemed warranted, even when yelling was a primal scream of despair. One of the consequences of not losing it and not yelling has been how that child has reduced his tone of voice. Because the overall volume has been much lower, he modulated his voice to speak more quietly. His overall tone is so quiet that I often have a hard time hearing what he's saying, so I end up raising my voice to ask him again to speak up...

It seems that I have been the primary source of noise with my children because now I experience other people's elevation of tone or yelling as a physical slap. Probably didn't help that I was belted as a kid, so the body remembers drawing into a panic state because that kind of escalation by another adult would be followed with hitting. Oh no, no childhood abuse, just "I was spanked as a child and I have turned out alright, respectful and all." But now that the gut reaction of recoiling and protecting myself is activated, I am experiencing precisely what my children must have been experiencing all the years and times that I have raised my voice at them in frustration and anger.

And it hurts.

Because I spend so much of my day and emotional energy on controlling myself, I am drained by the evening time, when the rest of the children get concentrated mommy while trying to kick, back, let go, get comfortable and wind down. I have so little emotional reserve left that I end up losing it, either externally or internally. Sometime between 4 and 9 pm, despair sets in, the sort of despair that one experiences while pacing with a baby who just would not sleep. I am drowning while trying to rescue others.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Interlinear seforim

Chanukah is almost here and that means both Artscroll and Feldheim are having Chanukah sales. I have asked 11 yo to browse their websites, perhaps some books will catch his eye. I am hoping for more Jewish learning.

"Mommy, why isn't there interlinear Mishna Succah?" he asks, intently focused on the screen.

How do I explain, dear child, that by the time most people (children?) learn mishna, they do not need interlinear translation? How do I delicately put it that interlinear books are meant for those who do not yet have a grasp of Hebrew vocabulary or fluency, and who will probably never read Mishna Succah in Hebrew?

I feebly suggest that we have interlinear Pirkei Avot. He searches for other mishnayot, but none of them are interlinear. I see a worry form on his face. He has been meeting with a rabbi, studying Mishna Succah. I have an all Hebrew edition that I got for 13 yo when he was learning mishna. I have an old-style Hebrew-English mishna, but that one is hard to follow. I see that he is seeking an easy way to see an immediate translation of the words. The words still do not yield their meaning. The words are hard to read, do not connect into a coherent whole. Where I see mysteries, challenges, wisdom ready to be plumbed, he sees insurmountable obstacles.

I do not know why Hebrew is so hard for him. I do not know why he still cannot read it smoothly. I do not know why he does not see shorashim or remember the meaning of simple words that he encountered numerous times. I also feel so alone in trying to crack this puzzle. I want to help him, but give him enough room for growth and challenge. I want him to experience the sweet taste of achievement.

I have prayed this morning. I do not ask for the removal of obstacles, "why me?" or "why him?" I am not praying for miracles. My new insight is to pray for the right people to turn to. May Hashem keep on sending them onto my path.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Daily schoolwork for 11 yo

I have one child at home and this is what we aim to do every day:


  • Chumash. His bar mitzvah Torah reading is the first day of Pesach, last bit of Parshat Bo. We have started Shemot from the beginning. We have agreed to do four pesukim per day. The latest round of child's input landed us at him reading one day and me reading the next, with him translating to the best of his ability and me supplying the words he does not know or remember. We are using a Chumash with Rashi menukad, and I aim to do one Rashi per day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. He continues to have reading difficulties, so my goal is to build his confidence in being able to read Chumash and Rashi.
  • Yahadus. We are using Yahadus textbooks, reading a chapter a day. I do all the English reading, while he reads the name of each mitzvah in Hebrew and the pasuk that the mitzvah is derived from. Then we pull out Stone Chumash and he highlights the relevant part of each pasuk. 11 yo also made a "Mitzvah Man": on graph paper he made a large rectangle that contains 600 squares (geometry snuck in there) and added extra 13 as hands and feet. For every mitzvah deoraita, he highlights a square. I also use The Taryag Mitzvot Manual tables as a review and reinforcement. Since 11 yo is a kinesthetic learner, I photocopied the relevant pages onto cardstock, cut out each mitzvah and separated its Hebrew name from Hebrew description from English summary. As we learn more mitzvot, 11 yo's goal was to line them up in order and match up all three parts. This was not trivial when we got to Avodah Zara. My secret goal is for him to know all 613 by heart following the order for Mishne Torah. I got these ideas from the One Minute Masmid by Jonathan Rietti. I am proud to say that we finished the first textbook this week and he was able to organize all 86 mitzvot with their explanations and translations correctly.
  • Chayienu. He does one page of Chayeinu workbook Daled. I know that he's technically in 6th grade, but Vav proved to be too hard and he started to give up, so we backed up a bit. It's Yediyot Klaliot, and there is plenty of new to him material in there. Currently we are working on knowing the seder of Parshyot in order. ( I know there are young kids who know this, but I also know plenty of adults who learned the song as kids and totally forgot it).
  • Lashon Hatorah. Honestly, I could not remember where we were a year ago before he attended day school, so I did what I do best: went online and ordered a new workbook for middle and upper school students. It is faster paced than other books. So far, it is review material, and he is going at a good solid pace. I skip along pages that are repetitive.
  • Math. He asked me more than once NOT to continue with Math Mammoth. Since last year he did some 6th grade math, he placed himself into 7th grade Khan Academy math. There are holes in his knowledge, so I have to often sit next to him when he hits unfamiliar areas. He gets to pace himself, so he sees his progress through badges and percent of material covered and decides how much time he wants to devote to math on any given day.
  • Grammar. He also does that at Khan Academy. From what I see, good solid progress. 
  • Coding. Khan Academy and Scratch from homeschool coop.
These are the skeletal basics. This is what he has as a daily plan. He can get it all done by 10 am, but it does not always happen.

Now, what this does not reflect is the insane amount of helpful housework 11 yo does. He sets the table without being asked, unloads the dishwasher, cooks for himself and others, plays with younger siblings, changes diapers, washes 4 yo, brings in groceries, cleans up, babysits. As far as being a mentsch, this child shines.