Woven Baskets?

August 23rd, 2010

Whew! If you look at my recent posts, you certainly get a sense of just how all over the place my life has been lately.

My friend, poetess, and fellow blogger, Havaya, quotes the Talmud in Bava Kama 92a on this week’s parsha (Ki Tavo) to make a fascinating point:

The Kohanim, she explains, would return the gold and silver trays of the wealthy bringing their first fruits to the Holy Temple, but would keep the woven baskets of the poor. This seems so counterintuitive!

Her explanation for the discrepancy is beautiful. I hope that you read it.

This reminds me of the time in our lives when my husband and I had to work hard to save money. It might have been romantic and cute to be broke had we been young 20-somethings in love. We weren’t. The causes were not our own, and were sad and frustrating.  We researched, turned it into a mission, and with the help of Hashem and our family we did what we needed to do to get to a better financial place.

Having said that, the thing that made me feel poor was not what we were living without. I had what I needed. I always have what Hashem knows I need, even if it isn’t always apparent to me.

I felt poor when I couldn’t give tzedakah. When I had to say no. I had to keep everything within a budget, we lived in a community where lots of people asked for charity, and a lot of the time we just couldn’t give.

Growing up, my father tried to say yes to every Jewish charity that asked him. ( This, of course, has a Tribble-like effect on the number of Jewish charities that will ask.)  He couldn’t give a lot to most, and he had to give less to each as a result, but he successfully instilled in his children the power of tzedakah.*  As my husband and I struggled at the time, it was very hard for me to say no.

Captain Kirk with Tribbles

Capt. Kirk with tribbles on Star Trek

I cannot begin to understand how the people of Israel blessed to live in the time of the Holy Temple felt about their first fruit offerings. But I would like to think that one of the reasons that the woven baskets were kept is so the poor people who had fewer opportunities to fulfill the mitzvah of giving could feel the value of their contribution.

Yashar Koach to Chaya for a beautiful piece and pause for thought about something more important than smartphones.

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Happy Father’s Day

June 20th, 2010

Today was father’s day in the US, and I was blessed to spend it this year with my Dad and my husband. This was actually stressful for me, because they are different in a lot of ways, so trying to make sure they are both happy and relaxed at the same time can sometimes be a challenge.

In their honor, I have decided that I would like to post my top ten things I appreciate about them as fathers:

My Dad:

1. Always behaves appropriately.

2. Has a generosity that seems to know no bounds, especially with his family, but with the world as well.

3. Believes on being on time, and shows it.

4. Has spent his life demonstrating that having class and having money aren’t always connected, and that the former is far more important.

5. Has opinions, but has allowed his children to make their own decisions, their own way.

6. Really works at being a role model to my children.

7.  Blesses me at the Shabbos table, even though he didn’t when we were growing up, and usually cries a little when he does it.

8. Has always made other people feel welcome and feel like they matter. This inspired many of my friends growing up to call him “Dad”.

9. Has always instilled in us a belief that family, including extended family, matters.

10.  Still pouts when I go home.

My husband:

1. Has changed over 8,000 poopy diapers in his lifetime (so far), and doesn’t usually let me do so when he is around.

2. Works a full day and then races into a bathing suit (in the summer) and back out of the house to get his kids an hour of swimming in at the pool.

3. He makes up songs, in his second language, for whatever small lesson the kids need to master.

4. Can be incredibly firm with rules, and yet incredibly, incredibly goofy.

5.  Bathes the kids for the first couple of years by climbing into the tub in his bathing suit, so they should get a chance to swim, get used to the water — and I should get a little break.

6. Has committed to all vomit clean-up, and has followed through.

7. Lets the children do brave, hard, scary things.

8.  Has worn all of his kids for the better part of their first 1-2 years of their lives. This has included working on a laptop standing up so the baby can be worn.

9. Has stayed committed, emotionally, financially, and with his time, to his son who doesn’t live in our house. Despite the obstacles, and there are many, he steadfastly gives him as much as he can.

10. Speaks to his children in Hebrew, despite growing up in NYC, so they will master the language. He has given up on stories, jokes, shared cultural references, and sometimes even suffers through bad grammar in English in order to give them this gift.

Happy Father’s Day to you both. I love and appreciate you.

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February 10th, 2010

We had an interesting experience in our family this week, which turned into a learning experience for many of us, mostly me, of course.

My twins were very upset over what they perceived to be a gross injustice.  It seems that while most of their class believed that they were invited to stay at an event for a certain amount of time (past their bedtime), two out of a very small class had parents that for whatever reason had a different understanding, and allowed their children to stay later.

My children would never have been allowed to stay any later than they did, invitation or no; we take bedtimes pretty seriously around here.

There was lots of drama and even angry tears, exacerbated by staying out late, of course. The umbrage had two sources: 1. The idea that there were two different sets of rules for kids in the class “isn’t fair”, and 2. The other children, they complained bitterly, will come to school and brag.

I decided to address the two issues separately. First of all, sometimes parents make exceptions for their kids. I can’t tell my children why other people do what they do or why. But I never spend a lot of time on the “it’s not fair” complaint. In a house of seven children what does come out fair? Not much.  I remind them for the billionth time that Hashem wants us to appreciate what we have, that we are given what is best for us, not for someone else. And in this case? For them to feel that it isn’t fair that someone else got invited to stay out later than I would ever let them seems a bit theoretical. So life isn’t fair, kid. Done.

When my kids complained about the bragging, (which was still just being anticipated by tired, angry kids) something resonated with me. I really understood their anxiety.

I remember kids bragging in school, don’t you? I remember how much it bothered me. I remember feeling jealous and angry. I also remember my parents telling me that the kids who brag do so because they don’t have x or y and need to make themselves feel better. I remember thinking that once again my parents just didn’t get it, and that they couldn’t possibly see how much better that other kid’s life was than mine. Clearly if they heard what I did, and saw what I did, they would be jealous of that bragging kid too.

The mother cub in me opened my big (consistently big) mouth and let these two parents know that the other kids in the class were upset. I thought they might be able to give some anti-bragging pep-talks to their children.  Not really my place, and I don’t think I made my point well. Regardless, it didn’t seem to help much later.

Before school, we had a talk about the ever-so-feared bragging. This always of course starts with the reminder that we can’t control what other people do, only how we handle it. Not something my 8 year olds ever seem to want to hear. Apparently, I am supposed to knock sense into everyone else’s children,  or at least instruct their parents on proper child-rearing.

Some kids aren’t actually bragging. Sometimes, I explain, kids are genuinely happy about something they got or did, and they want to share the news with their friends. Their goal isn’t to make anyone jealous, and part of being a good friend is being able to be happy for someone else you care about when they receive or experience something good.

“Yeah Ima, we know. We aren’t talking about that. Kids do brag, they are mean and show off. ”

Sometimes that is true. The children who do that don’t feel superior to you. If they did, they wouldn’t have to brag, I say. They feel like they have to show that they are as good as you, as lucky as you… and they do that through bragging.

And what did my son say? “Ima, you just don’t get it! You don’t know how it feels…..” And that was when I got to explain to my kids that I know exactly how it feels. I realized in their surprised eyes that I don’t tell my children often enough that it was hard for me to be a kid too!

What was interesting was when I demonstrated to them that there are times that they may make other kids jealous of them without bragging, and for that other child, bragging may make them feel better.

For the child that sees you playing so nicely with your brothers – but he doesn’t have any brothers. Or the child who barely sees his father – and sees Abba choosing to spend so much time with you. Or the child who wishes her parents would observe more Judaism, and sees the traditions in your home.  (Or maybe the opposite?) Or the child who struggles so much in school and watches you do so well with so little effort.  Those kids will never come to you and tell you straight-out how lucky they think you are…. but they might say things to make themselves feel better that are hurtful to you.

And I know it stinks, because I do remember…. but you can choose to not let it bother you. If you knew how much that child hurt inside for some of the things you take for granted, then you wouldn’t feel jealous. You would feel happy for him or her that they also have something that they know you wish you could have.

The next thing that happened really surprised me: one of the twins looked at me as said “I know what you are saying is true, and it makes sense, it just doesn’t feel like it.”

So his head got it — isn’t that most of the challenge?

…………………………………. I had to wait until school was over to find out what happened:

“So, no one bragged, right?” (I was still holding out for my mama bear talk the night before having had some impact).

“No, Ima you are wrong! There was a LOT of bragging. And one of the kids kept saying what a GREAT time they had after we left!”

“So, nu? How did you handle it? ”

“It really didn’t bother us so much. ”

“Did our talk help”

“Yeah, it did. I told (this child) I was happy for them.”

That’s when it hit me. I could have spared them the big talk and told them that if you tell a braggart that you are happy for them, there really isn’t anywhere to go with the bragging, is there? I could have just given them a strategy.

But I think the conversation was an important one, hence this blog post. And it meant more to me than them. Because until this incident I really hadn’t remembered how much the bragging had bothered me. And I hadn’t remembered what my parents said, or that they were right, in the end (again!). I hadn’t looked back at my own painful memories of other kids’ behavior looking through the prism of adult comprehension of broken families and financial struggles and all of the many other issues that children hide away while at school.

I hope they remain better able to withstand bragging. As third graders, I would venture to say that they are far from out of the woods on this issue. I also hope that I become more sensitive to bragging without meaning to. To being tzanua, modest,  in my blessings.

And I have to remember to tell my children much more often that sometimes I found being a kid  really tough too…….

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