I have seven children. (You might have picked up on that by now.)
Five of them are of one mold. Of course they have their differences. Of course they are each their own individual “soul print” on the world, with unique traits, quirks, strengths and challenges. But five of them look so much alike it is almost eerie. Those five get similar report cards, feedback from teachers, and I hear consistently “they are all just like your husband. They look like him and act like him, it’s amazing.” They have their ‘Ima moments’, but they are their Abba’s children.
One of the other two is my stepson. He actually looks more like his Abba than all the rest. Many of his differences from the other kids are an interesting playing out of nature vs. nurture. But genetically, I cannot claim any likeness in form or substance. He did claim he got his singing voice from both his Abba and me when he was much younger….as flattered as I was, I can only claim influence.
But then there is my six year old. She is built like me. Her report cards read like mine did. She is the child my mother “blessed” me with. She is more like me in every way than the whole clan combined. This makes her the easiest and hardest child of the bunch for me to parent – for all of the same reasons. I understand her in a way that I never will my other children. At the same time, a complaint of her behavior can feel like a criticism of my six year old self, still dwelling inside. I constantly work at letting her blossom into her own being without expectations that she will do what I would have done. As much as I see the similarities, I don’t want to fall into a trap of a self-fulfilling prophecy. She is already miles ahead of where I was in so many ways.
When I give her what she needs, it is redemptive for me. Because I am giving her sipuk, but I am also giving my childhood that sipuk – oftentimes sipuk I didn’t get the first time around. I can’t advocate for my own misunderstood little self, but my advocating for her, my understanding her is more than parenting… it is a tikkun.
Sipuk is the Hebrew word for satisfaction, although I understand it to mean the satisfaction of our soul’s needs. Stunningly, if one removes the yud and vav, both of which are associated with Hashem/Godliness, one is left with safek – which means doubt. Tikkun means “repair” in Hebrew, but the concept of repair, again, is an idea of repairing our souls, and in doing so repairing a piece of the world. So when I get it right (occasionally) with this particular little one of mine, I am nurturing her, nurturing me, fixing our souls, and fixing the world.
One of my daughter’s unavoidable and unfortunate similarities to me, is her hair. Hers is much lighter than mine ever was, but the fine, thin baby hair that oils faster than everyone else’s and is impossible to brush – yup, it’s the same. And she is the only one of the bunch to have inherited it. The rest have the beautiful, thick hair my husband
has had. As for eventually losing it? They are doomed on both sides of the genetic aisle, so I hope they enjoy it while they can.
I tried to grow my hair as a child and the tears and fights weren’t worth the locks that just didn’t grow in nicely anyway. I tried to grow it out as an adult — and it still caused me tears to brush out! I was actually rather gratified to learn from our hairdresser that it isn’t me; it’s the hair. That my daughter’s similar lack of cooperation in the hair department is with good reason.
It means that she, like I, is destined to a life of pixie cuts, Dorothy Hamil styles, and little bobs. And like me, she will probably be quite grateful to finally cover it when she B”H gets married.
This week, my six year old and I both cried defeat on trying to grow her hair for the second time. She knew she wanted and needed a short cut, but she came to me “worried that children will tell me I look like a boy.” Her worries were that little child inside of me talking again. I was mistaken for a boy often as a child, and it hurt more than I ever let my parents know – at least until this very minute. ( Being flat chested until 16 years old didn’t help, I must say.)
So I offered her that which had been [understandably] forbidden to me. I asked her if she wanted to pierce her ears the day after we chopped her hair. So the Ima who doesn’t like makeup and jewelry on little girls went off to the mall to pierce her ears. With girlie little pink rhinestone studs. I have rarely seen her so incredibly happy.
And you know what? My six year old self is jumping up and down right alongside her.
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So much for my blogging Elul. I haven’t been here in a number of days.
We have continued our experiment, choosing a mitzvah a day to focus on as a family, but I have seen the kids so little this week that I haven’t been able to
nag them monitor their progress as much as I would have liked. They chose v’ahavta l’reecha kamocha yesterday. This mostly related to school and didn’t seem to spill over to a cessation of sibling rivalries or bickering, unfortunately. Today they chose don l’kav zchut, giving someone the benefit of the doubt. This seemed to go better, but wasn’t as relevant throughout the day as some other choices, like brachot.
Back to school and back to my full-time work load has simply been the focus this week, consuming a lot of time.
I am not sorry for staying away for the few days; I was needed in the real world, not the cyber-world, and it is an important part of my Elul experience to remember that and stay focused on it.
Jack B. put up and interesting article in June that I stumbled upon now, called “Mean Girls Come from Mean Moms.” He has an interesting premise that basically states that girls aren’t mean because their moms are mean to them. Girls are mean because they see and hear their moms being catty and mean to other women. I never really thought about it that way before. But it is just another stark reminder that our children do as we do, more than as we say.
My eldest daughter started a blog this week. She is both more proficient and more profound than I. I am at once awed by her efforts so far, and equally unsettled by them. She spends her time singing, reading, working with / playing with little children and now blogging. Which is exactly what she sees me doing. (To be fair to myself, she also loves to come learn Torah, something she sees me do as well.)
I suppose I should be proud. If she resented my time blogging she certainly wouldn’t emulate it right? At the same time, I never want my children to feel that my time on the computer comes before them. Sometimes they do feel that way, since I can’t always shut off work when they are home.
So once again, it all comes down to balance. I invited my daughter to “guest blog” here, even though her doing so may put me out of business.
My hope is that in sharing this on line experience it becomes family time instead of competing with it.
Now to just translate this into everything else in my life. I have to keep reminding myself every single day that my children will grow to become what they see us be, not what we tell them to be. I realized very early on as a parent that raising good kids meant raising up myself. Being a better me would make the best “thems”. Yet I have to keep being reminded. It is so much easier to give fine speeches than to set a fine example.
So when I don’t blog Elul, you will know that I am demonstrating to my children that this isn’t my parnasa and it isn’t my family. It is my outlet. An outlet which has value and is important to me but never to the extent of eclipsing higher priorities.
And that’s me raising up myself.
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This has been a transition year for us. My stepson is now a young man. My daughter is in middle school. My twins are turning double digits. My almost-6 year old is reading and writing…. and the baby, well, he just isn’t a baby anymore. We cut his hair for the first time, B”H, in just three weeks.
I spend a lot of time feeling wistful that we don’t have any cute little newborns around anymore. No squishy, non-verbal, nursing gigglers in sight.
… Then my daughter opens up a “Birthday Spa” just for me, with the works, including a pedicure with a most interesting shade of red…
And I thank Hashem for the blessing of a house full of big kids.
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I have had a very frustrating month unable to upload photos. This is only one of many excuses reasons I have not been blogging for so long.
I know, I know: Chanukah is over. For most of you, I would imagine that it is already out of your mind. As my big return, shouldn’t I post something timely and relevant? Probably.
But I really wanted to put up this post, and I can finally do so with photos, so please bear with me, dear readers (all two of you that haven’t given up on me.)
My almost 11-year old daughter came to me about a month before Chanukah declaring that she wanted to make a completely unique menorah this year, as a project – and as a surprise for the family – with just me.
I haven’t had time to blog because I am adjusting to worki
ng full-time, and not adjusting well so far. I don’t have time to breathe, and I certainly don’t have time for special projects! But I have to have time for my daughter…. so we came up with a project together.
Homeshuling’s Amy Meltzer let me know it isn’t all th
at unique… but it is creative, and pretty, and was not a lot of cutti
ng and gluing or creatively molding or shaping, all of which I don’t do very well.
Daughter decided we weren’t going to buy anything; the challenge was to use what was in the house. SO, this is what we did:
We washed and saved jars from food with relatively similar heights and wide nec
ks. Then, we glued the together, like this:
Next, we filled them with water. In order to make them the same height, I had to eyeball the water to get the levels the same, since the jars are different. (In order for the menorah to be kosher, the candles have to be the same height.)
Then dear daughter had a great time adding food coloring to each jar to create a variety of colors… we had agreed earlier that the shamash would get to be purple.
Then we added the tealights. Despite my husband’s worries to the contrary, they floated beautifully, and didn’t sink once throughout the holiday.
It isn’t a very compact solution, but we had a lot of fun, and the colors looked beautiful. We did reuse materials in our house, and we had our mother-daughter time.
I know it is late, but perhaps this can be filed away for next year…I hope you had a Chanukah holiday full of lights, latkes, love, freedom and family, music and matanot (gifts.)
…I also hope to get to starting blogging again more frequently than once a month.
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My daughter is at sleepaway camp 133 miles away. She has been sending letters daily explaining that she cannot wait until visiting day – since she will be coming home with me then. That Visiting Day was this past Sunday.
A week earlier, she had called from the office begging me to pick her up. My answer was “we are not even going to talk about it until visiting day.” Clearly in her mind this meant that she had every right to come home on visiting day.
So, with a sense of dread (which I have already blogged about), I packed up eight people into a seven seater van (don’t report me, some of them were really small) for a 2.5 hour drive up into the mountains.
I gave all passengers a sturdy pep talk on the way up. Everyone in that car was to encourage daughter/sister to STAY at camp. The only talk of home was to be of how boring it is. I went armed with GPS, food for the day, food for daughter, gifts, extra blanket, new books…you get the point.
Ten miles before we arrive at camp… the car dies. Rather the transmission dies, but I was not aware at the time that this was the case. Daughter is at camp no doubt crying that everyone else’s parents are there, and we have abandoned her. Our passengers below the age of fourteen, which comprise the majority, climb out of the car and begin to whine.
DH flagged down the first frummy*-filled car he spied, and of course they were on their way to the same visiting day. Miraculously, they had room for (and were willing to take) four of us. Only four to go.
At least an hour, and many failed phone calls later, (we were in the mountains) the next four arrived. I was now talking dear daughter out of coming home, managing six children and a mother’s helper with only the help of the mother’s helper, trying to calmly figure out a way to get everyone home, and avoid collective heat stroke — all at the same time.
My brother arrived from Hoboken, NJ, which is almost as far. He had arranged for a car, but he had to get it back by a certain time. He got to give his dear niece a hug.. and then run out to try and help DH (darling husband) with the car.
Brother and DH had their own bout with frustration as I wandered about camp, hugging daughter and calling around for solutions on my dying cell phone, all at the same time. Overpriced snowcones seem to mollify the children. While daughter wept quietly about being forced to remain suffering in the clutches of a place that structures her time for her, (imagine!)many other of my offspring went on at great length about how unfair it is that she got to stay there and they did not.
By the time Brother and DH finally made it back to the camp, it was just about time for my brother to turn around and leave. I think he got maybe an hour with his niece, and he spent the whole day in the car (which did not make it back by the arranged time, resulting in a fee.)
At almost the same moment I miraculously found an angel of a man/principal/Rabbi who lived very far from us, but happened to be driving 20 minutes south of our house … and leaving momentarily. So DH dropped everything and gave one of what must have been two hugs to his dear daughter, and hastily arranged our two youngest in the back of Angel Man’s car.
We have friends who spend the summer as a family at another camp in the same mountains. They have two cars at camp, and incredibly were willing to allow us to drive one of them home. I have known for a long time that they are tzadikim, (righteous people), but I am perpetually humbled by the amount that they do for us personally. They drove the car to us, so that the other five of us could get home.
So, we went to back to the bunk to pack up the things I had to take home. This, of course, was the point at which reality finally hit my daughter, who returned to crying and pleading.
We eventually got her to say goodbye to us. I actually bribed my daughter to stay at the camp that cost a fortune to send her to. She did agree to it though. I am such a sucker.
We eventually got our things packed up in the car, and our friends back to their camp, ready to hit the road and finally head home. On route 17 on visiting day.
Ask any parent who has ever sent their child to a frum sleepaway camp in New York about route 17 on visiting day. All of the Orthodox Jewish camps are apparently on this one piece of this one road. And they all have visiting day on the same day. It is truly historic. The people who live in bungalow colonies there know that one simply does not go out in the car on visiting day.
I don’t think I have ever been around that many Jews in one place at one time, except at the kotel on a yom tov.
The 2.5 hour drive took 5.5 hours. That is only because I got off of route 17 for a while and snuck through the local roads. Everyone in the car was hot, tired, and hungry. Then the car’s air conditioning stopped working. Of course I was only grateful; the car was a gift, a/c or not.
We did get home. Finally. My van is still in the mountains, and I expect to be without a car for at least ten days. It will cost us thousands to fix, right as our next tuition bill comes in,( now for six children) to be in yeshiva.
I am really not making this more dramatic than it was. I got home and tried to decompress for a few minutes before crashing into bed… on my computer.
It died too. The laptop’s fan has stopped working so it overheats frequently and easily and the computer just shuts itself off. At least I won’t have to retrieve it from the mountains before it can be repaired.
One of my sons, the same tzaddik who wrote me the scholastic book letter, turned to me during the parking-lot-like part of the trip and said “at least we are having some quality time together, Ima.”
I would like to think that there is some great cosmic reason behind the sudden and intense heaping of rotten luck and frustration. I know that Hashem knows what he is doing. He certainly could have found some easier ways for us to spend “quality time” together. I spent a lot of time in the car asking Hashem to let this be kapara (atonement) for the month of Elul (which just started) and make my teshuva for Rosh Hashana easier.
I spent the next day exhausted, cranky, sluggish, with mounds and mounds of work to get done. In addition, of course, to tending to the broken car in the mountains and its retrieval, plus the scheduling of repair for the broken computer.
However, I am much luckier than I was one year ago. Now, as I sit during horrible, terrible agonizing days like this year’s Visiting Day, at least I continually think; ”Now this is going to make for a great blog post.”
*frummy=Orthodox/religious. Meant affectionately; some of my best friends are frummies.
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I read that NYC’s “Gazillion Bubble Show” was coming to NJ’s State Theater in New Brunswick for a special “Family Fun Day” for President’s Day. The theater had a whole day of activities and shows planned, some reasonably priced and some free.
I have taken a true hiatus from day trips with my kids. The whining in the car, the whining when we leave, the inability to please so many people with any one activity, the money… the list of reasons goes on. Child #7 was definitely the tipping point. But I have been feeling ready to jump back in. I thought that everyone except for dear stepson, who is a teenager, would enjoy. I thought it was a real find to grab a group rate price of $10 when NYC tix go for $40-60. With that performance combined with the other free activities, it made for an unusually reasonable day, not too far away, and I have been thinking that maybe my kids are (or is it I who is?) ready.
True to my usual way of doing things, I had to turn it into a production. I wanted to get the group rate. A group is 10 people, and we were seven, so I didn’t think it would take much. Once I found out, however, that the tix were selling out really fast and I was already making plans, why not include some more? I also arranged to order kosher food from the town next door and have it delivered to the theater between shows! Of course food for six adults, two babies, two toddlers and eight kids isn’t really very simple, is it?
The day was NOT a complete success. Almost no one liked the bubble show. It was too young for the kids old enough to sit still, and too long for the kids young enough to appreciate it. It is also really hard to see bubbles and appreciate them from far away. Duh. As you can imagine on a holiday day, with a bunch of activities that were free or inexpensive, it was CROWDED. I expected that. Doesn’t make it any more fun to deal with, though.
The day was also NOT a complete failure. This is some of what I learned:
- Pep talks – good ones – before going anywhere really do make a big difference.
- Kids making a mess and eating in the car on the way to somewhere that is a long experience is worth it and a good idea.
- If I am going to take my kids somewhere without another adult in my party, but with friends, then I need to speak with my friends ahead of time about the eventuality that they will end up helping me in one way or another. My friends were 100% okay with this - this time. But I didn’t talk about it ahead of time, and I should have. I was lucky they were so cool, but I forget so easily how it just inevitably ends up that I have to be in at least two places at once.
- Labeled bracelets, especially for the younger ones, with my number on them. My wise friend brought some and had extras. Thank G-d we didn’t need them, but they are great for peace of mind.
- I will never buy nosebleed tickets to a performance with little ones again. It was just too much of an issue. They felt they could be noisy because they were so far from the performance, and they didn’t engage well. Not worth it. No matter what. This had never occurred to me before, and I am glad I will know better for next time. I hope at least one person reads this and gets to learn this before doing it.
- Always bring a notebook so kids can “journal” or take notes. In the case of one child, that turned the whole day around. This is often really successful.
- Kids – my kids, anyway – bond when they have a family outing, whether it is an outing they enjoy or not. The experience bonds them; even if it is sometimes against me!
- Bring something (small) to read, do, or daven from. Even if I am sure I will never have a chance to use it.
- Nothing, but nothing, pleases everyone of all ages as well as the zoo.
- My boys have outgrown outings that aren’t sports, active or “guy stuff”. They just aren’t interested. Next time I will let them go sledding into a creek with their Abba like the last time, and take the girls somewhere with me quiet and sedentary…. maybe only one of my girls.
The ten year old gave the day a 6.5 – that’s pretty good. She is very visual, and liked the bubbles better than the rest. My four year-old told me that the best parts of the day were hugging Elmo, and my reading her bedtime story. I think that just about sums it up. The next time I am thinking of taking them on a day trip, alone, I am going to reread this post.
Especially the part about the bedtime story.
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Today is day 3 of the kids being home for winter break. DH and I planned a day at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Needless to say, such an outing, even with only six of the seven kids, is a production. Lots of planning…..
DH broke his toe last night (I can’t even begin to explain.) So either we had to cancel, or I had to take five of them on my own. That wasn’t going to happen. Especially after yesterday’s near melt-down.
One rule of thumb I learned (the hard way) a long time ago is that I don’t discuss big plans like these with the kids much ahead of time. This way when they don’t work out there is little whining and disappointment.
Another, is that kids like small, easy and familiar outings as much if not more than a big production of a trip that requires travel, planning, and is usually exhausting.
Today was a case in point. Instead of our big day at the museum, we counted out the money in their banks, did lots of fun math to total the amounts, and trotted off to the local bank to open FIVE student bank accounts. This including explaining to my four y.o. at least ten times that she would still have her money, just at the big bank not in her piggy bank. Luckily someone came in to use their safety deposit box. She sort of interpreted what I told her to mean that she was going to have her $18 stored in one of those… and I let her leave believing it.
The people at the local PNC branch deserve a lot of credit for their patience.
We then went to a friend’s to watch an American Girl movie on DVD…. for some reason the fact that it took place during the Great Depression was enough to get the boys to watch it. Everyone loved the movie. My eight year old son got a lot of pleasure out of the fact that Ima cried at the end, for some reason.
The last exciting outing of the day was a trip to Target to use the gift cards the children received for Chanukah. That was my idea, the gift cards. I must remember to post a blog about what a terrible idea that was.
They were thrilled. A full and fun day. So, so, so much easier than a 90-minute each way trek into NYC to the Museum of Natural History on a day with record freezing winds…… and, for the record, I spent absolutely nothing.
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I am starting to begin the process of losing it. I cannot find two important keys in my house. The keys, for me, were the proverbial straw on the camel’s back this evening.
I usually don’t make it all the way to losing it. I try to stop somewhere before rock bottom. I don’t like what the downward spiral does to me or my behavior, so I usually see it as a wake up call to change something. Or some things. And there are some things that definitely have to change.
In the earliest part of my marriage I had to adjust to living with someone who was less interested in order and neatness than I am. I wish the consequences of the chaos were all trivial, and issues of toothpaste covers. But they weren’t. We worked through it a lot, and we have both adjusted over the past eleven years… but most of that adjustment has been organizing everything on my own and making DH stick to it, and/or taking his stuff and finding places to hide it where I won’t have to look at it.
We have been in our current house for six years this week. Wow. Six years. There was a time when I didn’t know if we would ever be able to buy a house. And there was a time when I didn’t think we would be able to fill it. Hah! The amount of places we have managed to stick clutter would be downright impressive if it weren’t so painful to live with.
I do the very best I can to stay on top of seven kids, but I am far, far outnumbered. There is too little sleep, too little time, too little help, too little supervision, did I mention too little time? and way, way too much stuff to keep it all in order the way I would like.
It is no longer just a matter of the toys not being put away properly. Someday, SOMEDAY I WILL find all of the Othello pieces and put them back in the board.
Now it is a matter of filing 2009 as we go, not sometime before April 15th in 2010. It is knowing where my keys are. It is the feeling that I know where important stuff is, and that it is in the places it should be, so that I don’t have to get so stressed about the placement of the unimportant things. I have a drawer with crafts, markers, scissors and glue in the eat-in part of my kitchen. It isn’t very orderly, but it is quite useful for now. I am okay with that.
I have a pile of cassettes on a bookshelf that is full of books… I don’t think it looks very good, but I can live with it being in the “someday” category for now.
I have done FLY lady – who I like and am not knocking – and ask anyone who is around me in my house. I am picking up while I do just about absolutely everything else.
Perhaps the tipping point as of late is because we have been in the same place for so long now that the accumulation has gotten really bad.
Perhaps it is because my children have all taken a big leap forward this year, and I know intuitively that the time for my picking up after them constantly really has to come to and end. And the only person I can blame for allowing everyone to get used to that is me.
I am determined to find a place for everything this year, or throw it out. Then I am going to actually expect my children to start putting things in those said places, and my husband too. I might even have to start expecting it more of myself. I am going to have to NOT achieve neatness by doing it for them quickly and efficiently, but by having the patience to make them get in the habit of doing it themselves. I will have to hope that the 20 month old, at the height of the “destructive” phase of life, thank G-d, starts to copy them in this behavior as much as he does all others.
I know intellectually that this ‘training’ will require more energy in the short term, but greater returns with less work in the long run. It just feels like a lot of energy in the short term.
New Year, new changes. We are no longer in a new house. We are no longer a house full of toddlers. Time for a new set of rules, a new way of doing things…..
… it sounds good now while they are all asleep and I am able to sit down…. but I would rather be determined, than having a melt-down.
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