If you are taking out time from your busy Pesach prep to read this, well, I am honored.
It seems that our family ends up with all kinds of interesting hospital visits around Pesach time. I don’t think it is a coincidence. Springtime + school vacation can equal broken legs, noses, bumps, scrapes, etc….. not to mention the fact that 6/8 of our children are Pesach babies! Thank G-d, so far this year all are healthy in our home this year, ptfu ptfu; so far, so good.
My son went for an MRI last night. This is not due to some recent malady, but rather a stubborn pitcher’s elbow that doesn’t seem to want to go away. The prescribed treatments so far haven’t seemed to work. He has been eager to have the MRI, and impatient with the process that is Israel’s socialized medicine. The MRI for him symbolizes our increasing attention and management of his problem, taking it seriously, and an intensified effort to get whatever treatment is going to help him make it “to the majors” in baseball someday.
There were two noteworthy aspects to the MRI. The first is that it was scheduled for 6.30 pm and happened closer to 11 pm. Not noteworthy at all, but sadly typical, right? The administrator at the hospital in the MRI department called us four separate times, each to alert us of the delay and to tell us to come later (and later, and later) to spare our waiting around in the hospital. A true Pesach miracle: the hospital went out of their way to be sensitive to us and reduce our wait time! What I love most about this is that the first time I told this kind man on the other line how busy we are getting ready for the holiday and how much I appreciated the heads up, so he took it upon himself to keep updating me. That Pesach informs hospital procedure is one of those little “only in Israel” moments that just never get old in this amazing country.
My son was shocked to learn that the procedure wasn’t simple, and that the IV he had to have for it hurt. He wasn’t being treated, and he had been looking forward to getting more information about his injury and closer to recovery. So to find out it was going to be annoying and painful was a big shock. He was upset, uncomfortable and scared. I did what I could to reassure him, and now that it is over, he is relieved and smiling (although exhausted).
But I see in this a true Pesach lesson, and the MRI is going to be my “teachable moment” at the Seder this year.
Very often in life when Hashem gives us something wonderful and special, we have to experience a great deal of discomfort first. Childbirth is an example that naturally comes to mind for me. But it is true for many other times in life too. For some, an excrutiatingly difficult divorce is the necessary pain before finding the love of one’s life, and many years of marital bliss. I had to have a procedure on my toe this week (you don’t want the details, I promise), and it hurt so much to have it done that I put it off for at least a month. And after a month of suffering and one day of pain, everything feels great now. The process can be true for a move, getting a PhD, or losing weight.
To heal, we often go through a great deal of pain, and it has to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if the reason is, as the Rabbis teach us, that we need difficult transitions to strengthen us enough to cope with a new reality. Or if it is a test and then a reward. Or, if it is simply the truism that change means coming out of ones “comfort zone” - and doing that is almost always painful. It is probably all three.
Leaving Egypt was painful and difficult. We weren’t zapped and then just left. We had to learn mitzvot, follow commands, get out of our slave mentality, stand up to our former masters, pack up in a hurry and run away (I can’t even pack up my kids quickly to run to the corner store, never mind out into the desert) .. and then choose between what must have seemed like certain death by drowning or certain death by oncoming Egyptians.
Lehavdil*, sometimes preparation for the Seder and the holiday is painful and difficult. I hope it isn’t for you! But Hashem is there in the pain, in the transitions. Our natural world is constructed that way to help us learn about our spiritual world. I think that leil haseder is about choosing to relive the pain and the transition of yetziat mitrayim in order to better appreciate the redemption and healing that followed. I think this is obvious to most, but I wonder if the MRI’s, toe procedures and childbirths in our lives can help us truly empathize and experience that process on an emotional level.
Chag Kasher v’Sameach. May you have an uplifting and transformational Pesach.
*Lehavdil is an expression that is hard to translate. My best effort is to say “Similarly, but of course not the same!”
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I have had some interest from Kveller to possibly blog there. Which is a big honor. Since I currently don’t have time to blog here, I assume taking that on just now would be a supremely bad idea. It’s nice to be asked… maybe one day. Kveller asked me to submit a sample piece, perhaps on how the 8th child is different.
The answer is, of course, that they are all different. Bringing a baby home to no children is just as unique a circumstance as bringing home a baby to four children (under the age of 5) or bringing home a baby to a house full of pre-teens that talk back and lecture you. I didn’t say they were all the same, I said they are all consistently unique.
… But when it is baby #8, one stark difference is that Ima is only sitting down now that he is 4 months old (!!!) (coincidentally when I should be Pesach cleaning and not procrastinating) to finally explain the baby’s name, Yehuda Chaim.
Rav Chaim Lifshitz, z”l, was a tzaddik, and an important Rav and teacher in my husband’s life. He passed away last year. He was a brilliant man, studied directly with Piaget, and was a renowned handwriting analyst who had questions sent to him from around the world. He was also the father of our Rav, about whom I have written here. I never met him personally, which is quite sad. But he read our handwriting while we were dating and was astonishingly accurate in terms of how and why we would be a good match and what our primary challenge would be if we got married.
I am blessed that the majority of our small family’s members that would have a baby named for them have been memorialized by family already, or are alive and well. Remembering Rav Lifshitz in this way was important to my husband, so this is what we did. We were honored to have his son, our Rav, present at the brit milah to talk about his father and his amazing qualities.
I knew I was having a Chanukah baby, and a boy. I still didn’t think Matityahu was a good idea. Looooots of name for a very tiny person.
Yehuda was also a Maccabee, and that was one reason I thought of naming this little boy Yehuda. And that was before I knew he would be a headstrong and fierce fighter even during pregnancy and delivery.
The real reason I was set on Yehuda comes from Leah’s words in the Torah when her 4th son is born. She says “HaPaam Odeh Li Et Hashem” (Parashat Vayetze). It says directly in the Torah that this is the reason she named him Yehuda. Rashi explains to us that Leah knew that Yaacov was to have 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes, and therefore the future of Israel. She also knew Yaacov had 4 wives. Doing the math (apparently Leah was taught math ) she reasoned that her fourth son meant she got more than her “fair share” of Yaacov’s legacy.
I don’t think Leah felt like she got much of any fair share in the marriage/love department. But when it came to having kids, she recognized blessing – the special blessing that feels like it goes beyond destiny, or logic, or even-handedness by the creator. Just a blessing. So his name expressed her gratitude.
In some irrational recesses of my brain and heart, I used to feel at many times that I was blessed with easy fertility and a stepson and such a house-full of children as some time of “consolation” for the twelve hard years I had to be exiled from Israel and living in New Jersey.
No, I am not comparing Leah’s “My husband meant to marry my sister not me and now I have to live with him adoring her as his new wife” hard to my “Stuck in suburbia with a Target 10 minutes away” hard. Everyone’s hard is different, and for me, twelve years forced to live outside of Israel because of a decision my husband’s ex wife made was hard.
We finally came home, returned to Israel, and chose to settle in our favorite place outside of Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, which is the hills of Judea, “Harei Yehuda“. This place means so much to me. The hills of “Yehuda” are an ever present gift outside my window, one I appreciate ten-fold precisely because of the time I couldn’t be here.
After being blessed with our return, I feel “dayenu moments”, as we refer to them, every single week, if not every day. Singular moments that in and of themselves would each be enough to say “dayenu” – to make all of the struggles of aliyah – twice – totally worth it, just for that one moment.
So when we finally made it home, and the kids are finally settling into life here, and I can finally feel like we are really here, really home…. Hashem blessed us with another healthy, happy baby. And he feels like that “extra portion” that was just a gift from Hashem. Of course they are all gifts. Yet, at 41, with a full house, my youngest already 5 1/2 and a busy, heaping full plate of noise and hugs and love and mess and holy holy chaos… “Hapam Odeh li at Hashem”.
This time is just “Thank you”… hence, the name “Yehuda“.
The Judean Hills, or “Harei Yehuda”
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I have always made a conscious choice not to be that olah that goes through life in Israel comparing. That approach works for some, but I just like to live in the thick of things here and not compare it (or prices) to how things might be outside of Israel. It lowers my expectations and creates fewer opportunities for disappointment.
But on election day here in Israel (yes, it has taken my quite a while to post this one, humble, little post) I just couldn’t help myself. This being my first year here with school-aged children, it was different than any other election day I had experienced here, or in the US.
One can easily understand the astounding voting rates here when you see and feel the celebratory air. Schools close, banks close, offices close, and the country takes a day off.
… And partially because of that, but I think mostly because in Israel we still don’t take our democracy for granted, voting is a family affair.
Most families came up to vote as a group. Children went with their parents to choose a party and many placed the envelope in the ballot box with or for their parents – including mine.
Since we had the day off, after voting we went to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. As did at least 1/3 of the rest of the families in Israel, apparently. Navigating parking was an exercise in and of itself, but after surviving the z00-at-the-entrance-to-the-zoo, we went into what was just an amazing experience.
Only in Israel can I take my kids to see the same animals we have seen time and time again in the zoo, but there are plaques with Biblical quotes describing the six days of creation from Genesis.
… I couldn’t stop myself from comparing. As regulars at the Philadelphia Zoo in the US, my children would always remark “Psst! Ima, look! There are other Jews!”. Funny how that didn’t happen once here.
And then we came upon it. Only here does our venture to see the animals end at, of course, Noah’s Ark.
The overpriced concessions inside are all kosher, of course. So this time I could say “yes.”
As we got near the exit of the zoo, I came upon the largest collection of birds I have ever seen, and thought to myself “I have never seen so many different kinds of birds in one place before.”
But then I immediately looked up and thought “I don’t think I have ever seen this many different kinds of Jews in one place before.”
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When my children were younger I felt like I was always playing catch-up, scrambling up the learning curve to meet their needs. Somewhere past toddlerhood I guess I started to feel competent. Surprise, surprise, each of the children followed a similar developmental pattern. Lots of things were predictable. The “terrible twos” weren’t really so terrible. It was nice.
The trouble is that while I started to gain confidence, let down my guard, and even blog about the joys of “phase II” parenting…. the older ones kept growing up, bringing with them a whole new set of complex needs and struggles – ones I didn’t get any proper training to handle.
I remember that almost two years ago I was on the phone with our Rav, second guessing (again) our family size decisions. He cautioned me that I was about to hit a “whole new level of intensity and needs” as my children entered their second decade. As is so often true with advice, I couldn’t fully relate until it happened.
I know that “big kids, big problems” is a cliche, but I don’t know that this is always true. First, big kids let you sleep at night. Second, older children can often articulate what is going on. It’s a pleasure to receive more feedback than crying vs. not crying and I blunder through.
When I try to wrap my head around the fact that I am already dealing with boy-girl issues, I just can’t. They are just too young! Everyone around me also seems to react that they are “so young”. Then I remind myself of Jimmy M. in the 5th grade. Although oblivious to me and any of my thoughts and feelings, Jimmy caused a blowup with my father about the injustice of only being allowed to date Jewish boys.
It actually didn’t upset me too much that I was expected to date only Jews. It upset me that I was sent to public school in preppy-town, USA, with practically no Jewish population and then told I could only date Jewish boys. Perhaps this was a clever strategy on my father’s part, a means of putting off the inevitable.
But I doubt it. With hindsight, he probably made decisions about moving there when he was still in Phase I of parenting himself, and Phase II snuck up on him sooner than he had suspected as well. I suppose he couldn’t wrap his head around having boy-girl issues when I was in 5th grade any more than I can wrap my head around it now. I bet he had his first crush around that age himself. He probably only remembered that as he stood there post-blowup thinking I was too young.
The thing is, we never really get to stop scrambling up the learning curve trying to meet their needs, do we? I am not sure that we would want to. If I ever master meeting their needs, won’t that mean that their lives have stagnated? If they continue to grow and develop, this will mean an endless series of of new challenges, just like mine. Won’t that be a good thing?
I hope they will continue to grow, and I know that it means that I will have to as well. I also hope that they will continue to need me; seek my advice, solicit my support in the hard times, and welcome my applause in the good. My mother dropped her own life this last month and again last week to help me pack for our anticipated move. A significant evolution from fifth grade romance boundaries, it’s just a different, not lesser, call for help after all of these years.
And I know that they are glad I still call.
… I think all of this is what Hashem (God) wants me to understand of his relationship with me. He wants more than anything for us to continue to have challenges – always new, always harder – that are signs of our ongoing growth and development. Having to cry out to Hashem for help is a sign of both continued relationship and ongoing progress, just as in my relationships as both child and parent. He really doesn’t want me to be “there yet” and to stop growing… and he really wouldn’t want me not to call.
The key difference is that Hashem doesn’t have to run up the learning curve. He, as the ultimate parent, has already arrived. As for me? I am not there yet, and since I hope for my children to keep being challenged and therefore challenging me, I am pretty sure I never will be.
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I am aware that not all of you reading this are at the potty training stage, but for our family is has been “that time again”. I have developed my own system, or maybe more accurately described as a tradition, based on what just seems to work for us.
Rule #1: Completely different approaches for boys than for girls.
Different biology, different neurology, different potty training methods. (As well as different lots of other stuff. You already know I am a sexist.)
My daughters trained at 24 months and 17 months (!). All of my boys trained after 3 years old. That wasn’t because of me, that was them. I know that every daughter out there is different, but my girls – and many of my friends’ daughters -wanted to train. They figured it out, were super motivated and then just did it. “I can be a big girl” seemed to be all it took, and then some help from mom on getting the panties or pull ups down fast enough. I know of more than one little girl that made the decision, announced to her mother “enough diapers” and that was that. In the case of my second daughter she watched her 3 1/2 year old brother trained and declared “I can do that.” Then she went on to prove it.
Boys are a different story. “Why should I do all of that work when Ima can change me, take care of me… I get to lie down, it’s relaxing, I don’t have to stop playing to go; now why would I give that up? Ima even talks to me when she is changing me. It’s a sweet deal.”
None of my sons were in a rush to train. With my twins I was all charged up to try at three… and had to give up for a few more months.
#2 – There is NO peeing standing up. We always sit down. All of us.
I like potty training. I don’t mind cleaning up pee from the pants, and the floor and occasionally a chair. But urine all over the bathroom? No thank you. They all learn sitting, and it encourages them to maintain the practice later in life. 7 males in my house; you can imagine my bathroom cleaning efforts as it is. No target practice, thank you. Always sitting. I know some moms have used the target practice idea as a motivator, but I think one loses more than one gains.
#3 – Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda.
… Well, I am a PR consultant. I spend easily a month prepping for the big event. While still in diapers, we talk about the exciting time when we will go on vacation (see #4) and say bye bye to diapers. We create lots of “buzz.”
This is followed by an obnoxious repetition of horrid children’s videos singing bouncy tunes about potties, toilet paper, underwear and the joys of being dry. The songs are so catchy and are repeated so often that the older siblings are plagued with singing them around the house without even realizing it… thereby increasing the propaganda level for the young potty trainee.
Then our little trainee gets to watch the bouncy, repetitive videos while sitting on the potty. And sitting and sitting and sitting. Zombified by more television (video) than the trainee will ever watch at any other point in life while still living under my roof.
Of course success in the potty, (albeit passive while sitting in front of a video) is then met with the customary fanfare and hoopla, forced onto the rest of the children in the family who are order to participate. Someone did it for them, they can do it too….
This massive influx of adulation and attention in a family where attention is always in more demand than supply is like a sweet intoxicator, more powerful as a motivating force than any chocolate chip or M & M could prove to be. At least I think so, since we don’t do candy.
#4 – We potty train (the boys) while on vacation.
What?!? Vacation? Around a potty? What a way to spend vacation, right?
Well, the lack of regular routine and structure, the customary increase in numbers of adults around and the being-away-from-the-neighbors-when-the-child-is-constantly-naked all seem to help.
This also makes it easier to force the siblings to engage in the fanfare and hoopla, since they are around as well.
As I said, this is what works for us. I don’t know if everyone wants to spend a family vacation this way, but I don’t get out much on vacations anyway. While it may restrict me slightly while away, it results in a whole lot more freedom when I get home!
Any guests that want to visit us at the beach simply have to love us enough to accomodate the potty chair in the middle of the living room. And the naked child running around…. and the occasional obnoxious and catchy potty training tune unconsciously being sung by other family members at odd times.
#5 – Don’t tackle nights for quite a while after days.
I know there are parents who try to train at night right after the day. Perhaps they have drier kids than I do. I just have to pick my battles. I wish I were past the stage of frequent wet beds, but I am not. Until I am, the youngest can stay in pull ups at night. Sorry kiddo; sometimes it has to be about me.
#6 – Don’t sweat the accidents. But don’t be afraid to throw away underwear either.
I am proud to say that when I was training twin boys I simply cut off and threw away several pairs of pooped-in underwear. I was just not going to clean that up. I expect the accidents, and since they don’t ruffle me, they don’t cause my kids to panic. Having said that, if it’s a gross mess, I can afford to buy a few more pairs of little underwear. I can keep my cool, but when there’s poop involved, I have my limits.
I am about to send my youngest off to day camp in underwear. This is an exciting new phase. The thought of using up the case of diapers we have for nighttime and for long trips makes me 100% happy and not one bit sad to see it end.
Okay, so maybe I can say that since my 3 year old still sleeps in a crib and still wants to “cuddle in my nest” most days. For now, he still needs my help more often than not. He still wears footsy pajamas and wants to know if that shoe goes on that foot.
So no more diaper bag? Now that’s a vacation….
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I went to a “mediashmooze” last night in Manhattan. While I decide whether or not to write about the whole experience, I do want to spread the word about one of the sponsors, Jdeal, and a great proud moment for those of us here in my little Jewish community.
Jdeal, a project launched by MetroImma is kind of like a Jewish Groupon, and is growing quickly.
The lastest deal is a discount on tickets to the Maccabeats’ performance this Monday night in New York, at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill on Monday, February 21st at 8PM.
The Maccabeats - Yonatan is in the white shirt, bottom left
I wish I could go. It’s a day off for a lot of people, but not for Imas to seven, so I have to bow out. But it promises to be a great show.
One of the band members, Yonatan Shefa, grew up in my little town in my little Jewish community. I have had the privilege of singing with his mother, a talented musician in her own right. Every time I hear a word about the Maccabeats I feel like a proud momma. I couldn’t wait to show my kids the clip of the Maccabeats on live network television. If you click on the Jdeal link, you get to read about their success story. There I am, crowing, right?
When I meet their fans, I crow about our local boy. I am probably embarassing him a great deal. So Yonatan, if you ever see this, and if I am right, I am sorry.
This event marks a great accomplishment for any aspiring musicians – arrival on ticketmasters – and Jdeal. If you grab the deal and enjoy the show please come back here with a comment and let us know.
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When I was growing up in the 80′s, IBM in my mind was big, mean, corporate America. The enemy of the bleeding heart liberal. Looking back, I wonder if growing up in a home with an Apple computer had anything to do with that?! I have since come to look at corporate America differently, of course, and nothing, including big companies like IBM is so black and white.
IBM turns 100 this year, and Start-Up Nation‘s Saul Singer has pointed me towards this wonderful video produced by the company to celebrate this fact. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39jtNUGgmd4&feature=player_embedded.
Why do I put this here? Because I think it is a fabulous opportunity to let your children watch a Youtube video that won’t make you gag.
I want my children to be inspired to THINK, to value innovation, to appreciate technological advances, and to understand the role of private industry in economic and social advancement. I think this video helps them with all of that. They won’t get it all at first take, but they might walk away understanding that NASA had to work with private companies to get a man on the moon. They will hopefully understand that cutting-edge scientists who work in a lab are not only academics, or are removed from the world of industry. They are responsible for everyday items in their lives that they may not connect in any way to their studies in school.
Too much to put on a short video? Maybe. But I will take this over Barney or trash on television any day.
Way to go IBM, and by the way, Yom Huledet Sameach.
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Our family owns this wonderful PJ Library book “It Could Always be Worse”, and old Yiddish folktale retold here by Margot Zemach.
I believe that most Yiddish folk tales are charming and fun, but this one hit particularly close to home this week.
I assume most of you have probably heard the story; a man goes to his shtetl’s Rabbi for help with his cramped house/family/life, and the Rabbi tells him to move the cow into his shack…etc.
I have one son in particular who has an extreme love of animals. Let’s call him Dr. Dolittle for now. A dead squirrel on the road leaves him devastated. He is of course a vegetarian, and he once asked a zookeeper with full earnestness what would be required for us to take one of the giraffes home with us. As you can imagine, the appeals for a pet are therefore emotional and frequent.
This is the same child who made a successfully angelic and manipulative appeal for a scholastic book order, so you can imagine how it pulls on my heartstrings. Despite all of that, we aren’t getting a pet. It just isn’t going to happen. One day feeling quite worn down, I actually took Dr. Dolittle to the pet store so we could slowly rule out with good reasons why every animal there is inappropriate. Anything with a lot of poop to clean up is out of the question.( Seven children is enough poop. I say so.) Fish would die quickly and then he would cry. Birds living in cages goes against all of his animal sensitivities, etc. I actually considered a snake. As we went over to their cases he saw the terrarium filled with the cute (?) little mice right as he asked me what the snake eats. Dr. Dolittle burst into tears and that was the end of any and all snake conversations, thank G-d.
So I walk around with pet-depriving guilt, knowing that this child would have several pets if he had parents that had chosen to have a smaller family. This guilt must be why I had such an open mind when our dear friends told us they were leaving for five days to Disney and asked if we by any chance would want to take their dog in to live with us for the week.
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give my son a taste of having his own pet, let him enjoy having an animal for the week. And of course, see how much work it is and realize on his own that I was right all along, thereby ending the pet discussions, at least for a few years. I asked my husband to make the decision along with a family vote, and it seemed like a decent idea to him too.
One month later, in came Dog.
Not an picture of actual Dog, just a similar one. Dog is even cuter.
Dog is very cute and sweet. A cute, sweet dog that is used to its own house and environment, its own people and rules.
The week began with the marking of territory – all over the house. I looked up the top two behaviors for dogs feeling separation anxiety, and it turns out they are urination and violence. We clearly had a healthy, normal dog feeling lots of anxiety on our hands. Love and patience was required, right?
I also realized for the first time this week why I never really used baby gates much (my kids learned to climb stairs at really young ages.) We chose to gate off the upstairs, containing the chaos and eliminating whines from children wanting the dog in their beds. When you have seven children and the laundry is in the basement, you spend a lot of time up and down stairs. With the gate up, I felt like an olympic hurdler. I don’t know how you pet owners do it. You must give up and let the dog go in the bedrooms pretty darn quick.
Then came the snowstorm. That is, the first one. Walking a dog at 11:00 at night in the freezing cold so that my kids can enjoy having a pet temporarily is one thing. Doing it in fresh snow is another.
At this point I began to realize that when I had a dog many – MANY – years ago, I think I actually managed to never walk that dog once. I have a newfound appreciation for the dog’s co-owner and for getting away with that! The dog went to Canada after only a few months, and I never saw her again. I am sure she never missed me for an instant. She is still there, now an extremely old dog, having been raised and cared for by the woman who truly loves and appreciates the dog.
Between Dog acting like, well, a dog outside of its own environment, and the snow we started becoming very aware of the insanity of the whole idea to begin with. This wasn’t an instance where I had convinced my husband of a crazy scheme or vice versa (as if that ever happens…) This had made sense to both me and my husband, for some reason.
And then the virus arrived. A nasty virus/flu that slowly got to every single family member. (Stepson was spared, having not been around that weekend. He is sadly but wisely staying away until quarantine ends.)
I was able to nurse the kids and the husband and manage the dog… for about half a day. When even Dr. Dolittle got too sick to walk the dog, then I knew we were really in trouble.
My husband dragged himself out of bed late in the evening on day three to try and finally eat something. I had run up and down the stairs all day – perfecting my olympic hurdling – dealing with whines of “Ima” and all sorts of lovely fluids – including the dog’s – to the point of complete exhaustion. I plopped down on the opposite couch, unable to move. Dog jumped up onto my husband and with lots of “gusto” tried to get my husband’s dinner. When that didn’t work, we received a lot of understandable, but extremely unpleasant, barking. That was it. We cried uncle.
Dog is now at a Pet Grooming Service where he has been in the past, awaiting his family’s’ return. We just didn’t make it.
So this morning when the second snowstorm in one week arrived, along with our third snow day in ten days, and I spent the day trying to keep my job(s), tend to a houseful of sick children and a sick husband and contend with the inevitable cancellation of the cleaning lady due to snow, my suddenly expansive house felt magically manageable.
Perhaps the next time you are feeling overwhelmed by your life you should take the advice of the old Rabbi in the shtetl from that story, and offer to move your neighbor’s dog into your house.
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I was a little surprised by my children’s reactions to the rebuilding of our sukkah this year. Every year has been met with some level of wonderment and suprise as well as excitement. This year…. there was recognition. They had very clear expectations of what it looked like, where it would go, certain decorations, and even our annual problems with it.
As I was scrambling to get ready for yet another 3 days of yom tov in a row, I considered why this made any impression on me at all. They aren’t babies anymore was the most obvious and immediate thought.
Then I stopped to realize that I have now lived in this house longer than I have lived anywhere since I was sixteen and we left my childhood home in Connecticut. My parents moved to Boston at the beginning of my junior year which felt like a death sentence to me at the time. My life was my friends, and leaving that behind was unimaginable. Rather than put down new roots for the remaining two years of high school, I chose to spend part of 12th grade in Israel. This led to many years of moving; three years at university in Canada, a brief return to Boston, and then aliyah. I had thought for many years that once I had settled in Jerusalem that that was it. The end. Enough wandering.
First I would find a job. (I did.) Then I would find a husband. ( I did.) Then I would find a nice house in a nice Israeli suburb, settle in, and never leave. That part wasn’t exactly what Hashem had in mind. So I moved to New Jersey, and took a while to settle here in the amazing community in which we live.
Time has passed and many babies have been born, thank G-d. I have been busy with much and don’t pause to consider how long we have been here. I DO spend time “counting down” until Israel, but that clearly has distracted me from the roots that have been planted and grown here.
I think there is something wonderful about the wonderment and surprise of the sukkah box that emerges each year. I am also enjoying this phase of recognition. The familiarity is becoming part of their holiday experiences, as ritual is intended to be.
This is just one piece of a much larger adjustment to a new phase. After over a decade of “making babies”, my husband and I daily come upon some new aspect of having a house full of children, not infants and toddlers. For example, we both took a nap at the same time on Shabbat. Imagine that.
How does this change sukkot? Well, their expectations of us have changed, since they now have expectations for the holiday and its routine. Certain decorations from year to year have become important to them. Sleeping in the sukkah with a specific set-up matters. (Even at the expense of hundreds of mosquito bites, apparently.) Our sukkah door, (which I photographed and tried but failed to upload here ), must be added to every year, according to certain parameters not only not determined by me, but for the most part I am not even privy to.
This means I get to adjust my expectations too; children old enough to recognize so much from year to year are definitely old enough to start helping get ready for the holidays in a BIG way. : )
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I had a shocking experience today. I have a cordial and somewhat of a “working” relationship with the local public library. Now.
I remember the librarians’ trepidation when as new residents I would stroll in with six children in tow, confident in my ability to maintain “order”.
There is one librarian in particular is, well, just the cranky type. Over the years, I have listened to my fair share of curt reprobations and reminders, and I have tried to respond to with consistent smiles, patience and cheeriness. Over the years she has come to understand that my children actually won’t trash her library. She has come to appreciate my desire to not only respect her, but the library itself. My volunteering to teaching music programs there hasn’t hurt. I only learned this year that the library is her baby. She is responsible for its existence, and has been there tending to it since it was a storefront with some boxes of donated books. So, she is naturaly protective. I have come to understand and have tremendous admiration for her efforts and concern for the library. I recognize her worries as those of a mother cub, the library being her baby.
I gave a performance at the library yesterday, a celebration of Jewish music for children and their families. I went back to the library today for some follow up, and she was very kind and appreciative.
And that is when she said it: “You know, I have to say, you are just, well, more put together than a lot of those Orthodox women. You should talk to them. You know it really is such a shame.”
She truly meant it as a compliment. What I think is lost on her is that when I go into the library the VAST majority of the people coming in are in T-shirts, tank tops, jeans, shorts, flip flops, etc. It is totally, utterly normal in our small, rural town to be very casually dressed. From where I am standing, “dressed” is a very kind adjective some of the time. Yet it’s those “Orthodox women” that are slobs. Isn’t it always?
I think it goes without saying that the only reason she noticed so starkly and felt she could say something to me is because she is a non-Orthodox Jew. You know the lack of funkiness on the part of us religious ladies is really giving the rest of the Jews such a bad name… and clearly it isn’t appreciated.
I don’t resent her feeling the way she does, or even her telling me. In fact, I am glad she feels she can speak plainly to me with candor.
Having lived in the US as a non-Orthodox Jew, Israel as an Orthodox Jew, and then back in the US as an Orthodox Jew, I really, really do understand exactly how she feels.
Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock* produced an album of original songs called No Limits. On that album he has a song called “Representing”. “Every day we’re representing…” he sings. And we are. We are Hashem’s agents. Ambassadors. Everything we say and do is watched, noticed and judged. By EVERYONE who isn’t a religious Jew, especially other Jews. It is true all of the time.
This morning I put on a little makeup and jewelry to go to the library and grocery store. I am known in both. (Did I mention this is a small, rural town?) No one who spends what I do in the grocery store on a weekly basis goes unnoticed. Consistently needing two shopping carts doesn’t help either. Today they remarked on the miracle of my having no kids in tow. Really.
Part of me feels really silly getting done up for the library and grocery store. Why take the time? Who cares what other people think? It is a trip to the grocery store, after all.
The other part of me knows that every three to four weeks a complete stranger will stop me while I shop and tell me about their intermarried daughter, their trip to Israel 15 years ago, or even that they have a “baal te-something” child that won’t eat much in their home. Do I mind if they follow me and watch what I buy?
There was a day I was wearing particularly shlumpy clothes into the local CVS. Who would notice? Who would even know I was a frum Jew? In a denim skirt, sweatshirt and baseball hat I could be anybody…. only I forgot that my son with his tzitzit and kippah was with me. A Jewish couple that had just moved into town stopped me outside and introduced themselves as I went back to my car. I have (embarrassing) reminders like this happen to me all of the time.
It is Elul, and we are supposed to remember now more than ever that Hashem is always watching us. That he sees what we do, how we behave, and that he deeply, deeply cares. It can be a positive motivator to remember that people are watching too. Whenever you think “it’s just me” and they aren’t watching you, they are. It isn’t just a question of whether we bothered with makeup or some jewelry, or clothes that have even some modicum of fashion.
We frum Jews sort of think that the world is holding us to a higher standard when it comes to how we speak, how much we smile at others, our patience when waiting in line, etc. But “we” is awfully communal and vague. Each and every individual one of us really is. The way I see it, it is an obligation and a burden, but also a privilege .
It is a burden of privilege the same way that living in Israel is: it is a burden of relevance.
*Shlock Rock is coming to the US later this year and I am booking engagements for them, so if you are interested, write to: email@example.com
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