Post-Purim post…

March 12th, 2012


 

I didn’t blog about Purim this year. Those of you who have read my earlier posts know that it is not my favorite holiday.

But this year is different; we are in the midst of a move. A big one. To Eretz Yisroel. I am excited about it, and looking forward to every aspect, every challenge, every hill we have to climb. (ND’ers, get it? Hill?)

That doesn’t make it easy.

Catching up on doctor’s visits has meant a slew of diagnoses and challenging follow-up for the next few months.

The children have started to manifest all of the anxiety and mixed emotion expected with any move. At the end of the day, I am taking their stuff and moving it around and putting it in boxes…. Painters have come, cleaning off their decade of marks – and permanently removing their art from the walls.

Some of their possessions were even on the front lawn for a yard sale. The tension is coming out in all sorts of interesting ways. Fever for one, hostility for another, worry for all… and migraines for me.

I gained tremendous chizuk from Trip’n Up’s recent post about grief and her interactions with her son. Her piece was a stark reminder that my children are going through a grief process and how important it is for me to manage it as such.  I know that as the Ima I set the tone. That my positive attitude is needed to carry us all. I know this deep down, and have seen it in action so many times. That doesn’t always make it easy.

 

Bombs raining down on our brothers and sisters over there hasn’t made it easier, either.

So Purim for me this year felt like a backdrop of  noise, partying and chaos while I quietly tried to embrace safek – doubt -and to breathe through the pain of limbo knowing this is all for the good, part of a divine plan and that Hashem will always be there, behind it all.

In Adar we celebrate the triumph over Amalek, which is related to safek, and lack of faith. Only Amalek could doubt Hashem’s hand when the Jews left Egypt and it was clear to the world who took them out. I am trying, for my children and for myself, to model an ability to live within this stage of limbo. I try so hard to empathize with the sadness that the children feel despite knowing so much better than they do just how excited we all should be.

The irony is that they do not yet comprehend that they are moving to a new home where everyone must master living with safek. Where the conversations about doing so are clearly and deeper and certainly more frequent, but the emunah that goes with it will be B”H  all around them.

I hope they can have emunah in me as I keep reassuring them that it all will be good in the end.

Be Kind

September 1st, 2011

I wrote yesterday that my family is trying a new “experiment”. While some (maybe me) are trying to blog each day of Elul, we are trying to work on one mitzvah as a family each day leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Today I let my children choose the mitzvah we would focus on.

Today was the first day back to school.

My kids decided that we should be friendly and welcoming to anyone new, students and parents at school… but then my 8 year old piped up to say that really we should just work on being kind to everyone today, since everyone is starting a new school year. I found myself being even more friendly to the new parents and the returning students than I usually am. I also found this suprisingly exhausting.  I think I might have waited until day 2 or 3 of school, and chosen to focus more exclusively on my own children had it not been a declared goal.

At the end of the school day amid the complaints, whines, demands requests for different school supplies and excited descriptions, my kids actually reported to me on their own sense of accomplishment of their decided-upon goal. We will see if this exercise is met with the same enthusiasm when we must work on something that can be a lot less fun.

They were focused on this “project” of the day, their assignments and teachers and all of the necessary first-day-at-school issues at hand. While they were, I noticed with shock, amazement and a large dollop of wistfulness that I now have a house full of kids – a majority in middle and high school – and no longer a house full of preschoolers. I don’t really know when that happened but it feels like it happened all in the last 24 hours somehow.

By the time I woke up, breakfast had been eaten, clothes had been chosen and put on, snacks had been packed and some of them were ready to leave, choosing to walk to school. I have worked so hard to get to this point. I have spent many a morning muttering under my breath as I climbed into a van to buckle numerous car seats while my own pregnant belly got in the way. So I don’t know why it should be making me sad!

Thank goodness my three year old is still a little needy and can’t yet reach the seatbelt.

Post-Pesach Wrap-up

April 28th, 2011

I remember last year at the end of Pesach A Mother in Israel asking on Facebook about the amount of leftovers in our fridges. I remember this  because I can’t forget feeling horrified by own my answer.  This year I had a lot of successes, including a lot less food leftover. I am not patting myself on the back, or at least not trying to. I am FINALLY getting up a Pesach learning curve, learning from my twelve-years-married mistakes.  The learning began by emailing myself notes at the end of the holiday the last couple of years. One of the first things I learned (the hard way) is that by next Pesach I won’t remember all of the things that at the end of this one I am sure I will.

I invited fewer people for Seders this year. I really didn’t want to, but my kids are at this particular stage where they needed the seders to be about them and their (long and many) questions and divrei Torah as much as possible.  (Amusingly predictable, they complained at one point at the lack of company.)  This allowed me to have the energy to invite more people for Shabbat and the final days, and to end Pesach less ‘burnt out’ than in years past.

I didn’t try a lot of new recipes. I didn’t make a lot of courses. I made lots, and lots (and lots) of mashed potatoes. I barely ate them. The kids were happy, no one complained about the repetition, and I wasn’t stuck with the remains of a fancy dish they didn’t like.

I didn’t buy mixes, pre-made food, or a lot of “substitute” stuff. We lived without Pesach mayo, mustard, pasta and cereal for one whole week, believe it or not.

I did try one thing new: I made delicious stuffed mushrooms with sauteed onions and celery, mushroom tips, spinach, pine nuts and matzo meal. I will wait until next Pesach to post the full recipe, but I will definitely be making these again. I didn’t even try to get my kids to enjoy them. We just gobbled them all up on our own.

I pushed myself to teach a shiur close to Pesach on “Coming to the Seder Elevated and not Exhausted.” I felt really stupidly ambitious for choosing such a topic – after the fact. As with every shiur I give, I learn more than anyone from it, and it pushed me to try and live up to that ideal a lot more this year. It also forced me to learn as much Torah beforehand on the topic as I could to prepare! This helped me plan ahead and strategize.  Not menu plan or strategize my shopping lists, but to think about the ways I wanted to maintain Shalom Bayit in the extremely stressful lead up to the holiday.

Rebbetzin Heller‘s practical tips through shiurim at Naaleh.com were a big help in this respect. I hope you check out her classes, especially if you are currently raising kids. After listening to her advice, I tried something new a couple of weeks before Pesach, and had each child make their own list of all of the responsibilities they felt they could commit to in preparation. This included a number of “Yechiel hours”, referring to the time the would put in watching my youngest. I explained (as R. Heller advised) that if everyone completed their own devised lists, they would get a family reward at the end.  Which they did. The family reward actually bought me a lot of prep time during chol hamoed as the novelty of it kept them busy.*  But the most effective aspect was their own recognition of their abilities and my ability to remind them that when I recruited them to help I was merely asking for something that was “on their list”.

It’s important to get it right at Pesach. Of course in order to fulfill the mitzvot of the holiday, but also because Pesach is the beginning of our journey to redemption, not its completion. Since I am once again pushing myself to teach, I am cognizant of our entrance immediately into the Omer and our need to keep climbing upward.

It feels a little like a treadmill, spiritually and physically (with a lot of laundry and dish washing and sweeping and lugging garbage….) .  I am NOT looking forward to cooking tomorrow!

But I left this Pesach feeling much better in years past. Less in this case is more, and that less has given me much more stamina for the rest of the climb.

A little dab of SAHM…

February 25th, 2011

Everything in balance, right?

I spent a decade as a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). I did it for ideological reasons, believing it was the best choice for my family for that time. NOT because it is my nature. I hate going the park.* I don’t like pushing swings. I detest housework, and the satisfaction I get from a gleaming, dust-free house is in no way increased by doing it myself.

As many of my readers know (“many” might mean three of you), I have transitioned over the last couple of years from SAHM to part-time WAHM mom to full time WAH and out-of-the-home mom. And I love it. I find the balancing act a constant challenge. I never have enough time. There are a lot of things I still haven’t gotten right, and I am always backed up on laundry.

At the same time, I love what I do. I am finding tremendous satisfaction and fulfillment from my work, and I believe my children benefit a great deal from my happiness. When I had 5 kids ages under the age of 6 (!), being home was the right move. Now I am enjoying the transition to this new phase of a house of “big kids”.  ( I hope I feel as happy about phasing into a house full of teenagers. But that is for another time.)

Yet there are of course times that I miss doing with my youngest two what I did with my older guys. It is inevitable. I have heard it said many times that the fate of a working mom is to feel guilty while at work over everything she isn’t doing with her family, and to feel guilty while with her family about all of the work she isn’t getting done at the office. I am trying to avoid this cliche.

Last Monday was President’s Day, which is “Family Fun Day” at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ.  My husband had arranged for three tickets to “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. It was a puppet show of actually three Eric Carle stories put on by  the very talented Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia. It was beautiful,  a “shush free” performance, and very, very slow. It is just the kind of thing that would have driven me completely nuts back in my SAHM days.  Crowded manuevering, packing food ahead, and trying to navigate the bathroom.  It all used to make me grumble and groan.

Now? This was time off. This was time to savor my little guys while they are still somewhat little. The soon-t0-be three year old sat on my lap oohing, aahing and exclaiming “airplane” when the little cloud turned into one. My five year old, who can read and write and is starting to shed the little girl inside, nestled into my arm. It was an hour of bliss. It was worth the parking, the potty visits, the wrestling with jackets, and arranging it so everyone  could see.

I am not sure that I will ever find that perfect balance. If I will ever get each plate spinning in the air at the right speed at the right time. If I can ever know what to trade off for what.

But I do know that a little dab of SAHM goes a long, long way right now.

*Added note: I couldn’t find a single picture, with an extensive google search, of a woman at the playground or park with her kids, bored out of her mind. The moms in the photos were all ecstatically happy. Every single one. So, either it is just me, or we clearly don’t want to get caught.

Great deal I have to pass along.

February 20th, 2011

Syma S107 R/C Helicopter with Built-in Gyroscope Remote - Yellow

My husband caught this one thanks to instapundit: A remote controlled mini helicopter for $30 instead of $130! http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004A8ZRB0.  It is a 78% savings.

I am guessing these things get damaged pretty quickly. They have an offer for replacement pack of blades off the bat, which has to tell us something. At the same time we had a lower quality version of this a while back and it really was endless hours of fun for my boys.

My recommendation: snap one up now, and hide it. Then, two weeks or so before Pesach when you have to clean and your children are driving you crazy, break out the new present. Make it a reward for finally dumping those discussing crumbs from their backpacks or for vacuuming out the cars. Then pat yourself on the back for not having to spend the money on cleaning help while you entertain the kids.

The Philadelphia Zoo

June 22nd, 2010

I wrote several weeks ago about playing hooky with kids and spending the day at the Philadelphia Zoo.

As we plan to head back today on a school-is-out celebratory trip with  friends, I wanted to write about the Zoo itself.

We LOVE this zoo. I do not know if it is just because it is a zoo, or because of familiarity with this one, or because of particular things about the Philadelphia Zoo. We have been to this one many times, and I don’t remember taking my kids to many others.

We have been to the Zooquarium in Cape Cod, but I found it disappointing.

My stepson loved the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo as a child, but alas, those memories were not made with me.

My generous parents have gifted us a zoo membership for a number of the past few years. This includes zoo rides, such as ponies, a carousel, and a hot air balloon ride. While the rides aren’t my favorite part, they make it much easier to take a mixed-age crowd such as mine. Needless to say, with a brood our size, the parking, one visit and one set of rides by six kids paid for the membership. (The rides are expensive otherwise, at $6 per ride kid for some of them. )

The pony ride.

The designated parking lots that are free if you are members make getting there much easier. The park is amenable to bringing your own food, which makes it an easier trip than most for anyone keeping kosher.

There are a nice combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits positioned in such a way that we can enjoy the zoo in the winter, when it rains, and even on a ninety degree day, such as today threatens to be. While I love to explore and see new things, the zoo is just one very typical example of how my children crave familiarity. The fact that the zoo has been seen so many times seems to make it comfortable to them, and give them a sense of mastery, not boredom.

On our last trip I wanted to make the trip more interesting for the kids, and easier on me. I went to their web site looking for some on-line activities for the kids to do when we got there. I couldn’t find any! The web site has a great section for educators, but the material there is mostly designed for in-classroom lessons in preparation for a field trip.

I did find these great scavenger hunts at other web sites:

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Visit/PlanYourVisit/ActivitySheets/Scavenger_Hunt_Home_Habitat.pdf
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Visit/PlanYourVisit/ActivitySheets/Scavenger_Hunt_Creature_Features.pdf
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art33516.asp
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Visit/PlanYourVisit/ActivitySheets/ZooBingo2009.pdf

The kids really enjoyed them, and had more focus. I have since been in touch with the Philly Zoo about this, and I was amazed that they returned my call. However, that follow up has not yet resulted in a change to the web site or any Philly Zoo scavenger hunts being emailed to me although I was told they would be.  I hold out hope.

I used to want to take the kids on a lot of different adventures. I have learned to take them where they know, where they want to go, and where I already know how to easily find a bathroom.

I find most museums to be more expensive, and hard to suit to a wide variety if ages. I would love to hear your recommendations for other trips/spots.

I also welcome any suggestions on more strategies for trying something new at the zoo.

This summer the zoo is having a family “Rock and Roar” concert series, and we are planning on going back to see Yosi and The Superdads on August 17th. Is a cute, fun band that the kids just love. (Thanks for the intro, Cindy.)

I would love to see you there. Just look for the Ima with seven kids.

Health Nuts

June 15th, 2010

My husband and I try to keep our house as healthy as possible. This is true in terms of my stellar housecleaning (not!) as well as the food that is allowed in the house.  We don’t buy chips or cookies for the kids. We reserve dessert for Shabbat and simchas. No sugar cereals. This includes “healthy” cereals, like Life, that actually have a lot of grams of sugar. Absolutely no candy, and no juice.

Many people address these choices with a great deal of scorn. We are “mean parents”, we are creating hoarders with food issues,  and of course our children will take twice as much junk as other kids whenever we aren’t around, didn’t you know?

First of all, let me just say that my kids do have juice and dessert when they are in other places, and yes, they sometimes sneak stuff (and think that we actually don’t know), and that a few times every summer we simply have to go get ice cream because it is just too hot and Ima feels like it. So there are exceptions.  They also still come out waaaaaaay ahead in terms of junk consumption, despite the sneaking. And not only do they not have food issues, they are learning the AMAZING skill of taking “just one”, and they recently declared that when allowed a “normal” sized piece of birthday cake that it was just too much icing and they couldn’t eat it.

I find it terribly amusing just how opinionated other people are about this particular issue. Most of the time when parents really feel the need to probe this issue with me, they eventually tell me it is because they are not really happy with the amount of sugar and junk their own kids eat, but they just don’t feel there is any way they could buck the system.  They want to believe no one can do it, therefore our existence is problematic. I get that.

Bucking “the system” isn’t always a lot of fun. I don’t know that I would stand up to the irrational and ridiculous social pressure to load my kids’ bodies with sugar if my husband and I were not such a united front on the matter. He couldn’t care less what anyone thinks, pretty much all of the time, so this doesn’t seem to be an issue for him at all. He is even happy to be the bad cop, saying no more consistently and without any defensiveness than I could ever manage.

The “why” we do this is on the one hand simple and obvious – it’s healthy – and on the other hand a lengthy explanation.

I tell my children that our body is like the front lawn of our neshama, our soul.  Now why would anyone want to fill their front lawn with garbage and junk? I also explain that we have a mitzvah to guide all of our actions by serving Hashem, and that sugar slows us down, makes us more prone to illness, and makes less room in our bodies for the food and drink that do help us serve Hashem. Which, by the way is true.

I don’t tell them that without developing a taste for all things oily, salty and sweet early on, that they are learning how to actually taste food, try a wider range of things, not become “picky eaters” and to have a ground work of healthy habits that I hope will prevent the weight struggles and food issues from which I suffer.

I do tell them that the restrictions are out of our love for them, their bodies, and our love for Hashem. We want to show we appreciate the wonderful, nourishing foods that He created, and that we don’t take our miraculous bodies for granted.

One of the hardest parts of this decision? Trying to explain to my children why other G-d fearing, well-meaning, caring good parents are happy to “litter all over the front lawn” and give their kids a green light to eat whatever they choose!  I of course explain that their are different approaches, etc., but in the mind of a four year if we restrict their junk consumption because we love them, then what does that say about those other parents? What does it say about the teachers in school who tell them to go ahead and eat the candy – Ima and Abba aren’t looking.

Confronting this battle within my kids’ school is another article in and of itself.  I am proud to say that on a local level, progress has been made….. very small amounts of progress over a very long amount of time. We aren’t the only ones:  Soveya is an organization trying to change the thinking about food in yeshivas and the frum world in general, “one pound at a time”.

So. how did I get started on this topic today? Homeshuling’s  Amy Meltzer posted an article about juice for kids.

I never really thought cutting out juice was necessary. I only gave pure juice (as opposed to cocktail or sugar drinks) to the kids, and I diluted it, but juice is healthy, right? And then five years ago, just when I thought the pediatrician would tell me that our food policies were too strict even for him, he said “don’t ever kids your kids juice.”

What?

He explained that kids crave fruit sugar, and that fruit is GREAT for kids. They will get the sweetness they crave, but that the fruit itself has important fiber and vitamins that they won’t get if they have the juice. He also explained that kids who drink juice drink a LOT less water than kids who don’t. This is true from my experience. So, armed with the powerful phrase “The Dr. said”, I stopped giving the kids juice, cold -turkey, years ago.

Now I buy a LOT of fruit. People gawk in the store and give me looks that clearly show they are sure I work at the zoo. One day I am going to print up a shirt for myself that says:

T-shirt graphic

[ I hope you like my first drawing. You can see why I don't make them. I am no Allie Brosh, nor do I aspire to be. But I really do want a T-shirt that says that, if anyone is thinking ahead to my birthday. ]

…Getting back to my point, I do buy a lot of fruit, but I am spared the endless dilution of juice and the lugging of large jugs. (I lug large bags of fruit instead.)

The juice article that was posted:  http://www.inhabitots.com/2010/06/11/85-of-kids-drinks-snacks-could-contain-high-levels-of-lead/ explains that many, many brands of juice for kids may actually be toxic.  Kudos to Dr. Shah for sparing us. Do you think maybe this will hold back the ridicule from the scornful throngs?

On a last note, food policies are like religious observance; anyone to the right of one is “extreme” and anyone to the left is “too liberal”. So we are by no means considered hard-core in healthy eating circles. After all, we still have white flour, white sugar and even – gasp! – hydrogenated oils – in our home. Everyone has to find the balance that works for them. What we do works for us. I never try to suggest it would work for everyone. I am amazed when the same people who campaign on my children’s behalf for lollipops and other forms of food dye ask me with astonishment how I get my kids to eat nicely, or how I get them to sit still.   If you tell me I am doing great with the cutting down sugar but am far from feeding them healthily, you may be right.

…. But at least it turns out I am sparing them lots of lead in juice. Who knew?

Playing Hooky

May 30th, 2010

I had a glorious day this week playing hooky with all of my kids.

We own a game that is no longer produced (by Mattell) called Chatter Matters.* It is a very hokey family game designed to get the family “talking”. One has to answer questions about how well they know other family members, about their own childhood memories, etc. Part of the shtick of the game is that each player gets to choose their “prize” from a list at the beginning of the game that they will get if they should happen to be the winner. The list includes things like “the dessert of your choice alone with the family member of your choice” & “movie night at the house one night, and you pick the movie.”

This game became very popular in my house over the long Pesach break, and led to many very sweet family conversations and moments. It also led to one child winning a trip to the zoo on a school day.

So, this past week I took off of work, pulled all the kids out of school (except dss), and too off for a day at the Philadephia Zoo.

I was quite excited at the prospect that on a school day it would be deserted and we would have full run of the place. Imagine my suprise when I pulled up and not only the two closest parking lots were FULL, but there were 90 buses lined up on the street parked as well. (An employee told me that was the actual number the next day.)

We managed to avoid the throngs of school children for the most part. This was one of the many aspects that made it easier to have gone to a place I already was very familiar with.  We enjoyed the zoo tremendously, and we love the Philly Zoo in general. So much so, that I have decided that I am going to write a separate post altogether about the zoo itself.

I wanted to make separate, and I hope not too obvious points.

The Zoo itself was part of the reason that I was able to take six kids on an adventure by myself, and part of the reason we all managed to have fun. However, the kids were really in a great mood simply because I had taken them on a school day. I dropped my work and we just had a one-day mini vacation where it was all about them. The impact was tremendous. Maybe other people get to do this more often than we do, but with so many kids it isn’t easy, and I know in Israel Sundays aren’t time off and here they seem to get swallowed up by simchas and the insane birthday party circuit alarmingly quickly.  They felt loved,  and they actually said so.

I also told them that many people would consider it simply crazy to take six kids ages ten and under on an outing for the day without another adult. That it was in their hands; they could prove it can be done by listening and cooperating. That it would probably encourage me to be brave and try it again. Or, they could show me that it really is crazy, and I just won’t try it anymore.  Somehow, by some miracle, they seemed to get that. I am consistently re-amazed at the efficacy of a good in-car, pre-event pep talk. By the end of five hours at the zoo with 90 degree weather there was admittedly some melt-down commencing, not entirely on the part of the children, but everyone, including ima2seven, managed to keep it together.

I did call poor husband who had to go to work instead of coming out to play hooky and ask him to have some dinner for us when we walked in.

The last comment I want to add is that (of course) they learned a ton. And (of course) not just about animals. I have a tough time believing they would have learned more had they been in school. And even if they did, I wouldn’t have been right there, eating up every minute of it.

*The link to this game from Amazon sells the game. I think it is worth it. For a better description you can visit this other link, where they are selling the same game for $110.95.

full bookshelfMy house is full of books. Overflowing, in fact. Kids’ books, adult books, baby books, Jewish books, science books, magazines. They are literally bursting out of every shelf on every floor of the house. Most of them were hand-me-downs, or gifts from my generous parents.  Some are yard sale and “freecycling” finds.  I don’t pay retail for books. Retail for books? But there are libraries out there!

Every month my children come home from school with a Scholastic Book Club Order Form. Not only are they told they have a deadline to bring it back, and that there are cheapo toys offered with 1/3 of the offerings, but they are also informed that the school gets books from the company if we order…. all of which is, of course, reflected in the price of the books. Five kids with order forms every month. And I resist. I do. I recommend that my children take a good look at the bookshelf in their room and select 20 books to discard. This usually solves the problem. Sometimes, I give them a “maybe” when the pleas are strong, and then they forget about it. One of those “maybes” led last week to this from one of my 9 yos:

Dearest Ima,

I really love you and I am so grateful and you get me so much stuff I want, so much things!

You once said I could have one book from the book order. I am pretty sure this is the last book order. I really really want one book. Please can I have it?

I’ll be happy with anything you say about it,

Now please tell me that you would be able to say no?!?

I love Pesach

March 16th, 2010

Pesach is my favorite holiday, with perhaps the exception of Shabbat. It is also the time of year I miss Israel most, but that is for another post.

Funnily, I think Purim is consistently my least favorite. But I love Pesach. As with most things, I don’t think it is for any one specific reason. I love that spring is coming. I love sending the kids outside. I love to cook. I love the children’s enthusiasm for the seder. I probably wouldn’t like the preparations as much if I had to use china and then clean it, or if I had to bake a lot of Pesach desserts. I don’t bake during Pesach. No one likes the way most of it tastes, and I have never gotten my family hooked on the good stuff, so they don’t really know what they are missing.

….I also love Pesach cleaning.

Every year I am reminded, along with everyone else, that “Pesach cleaning doesn’t mean you have to do Spring cleaning”. But I love spring cleaning. I am sure this is because I hire myself help to do it with.

I love the fact that for the spring cleaning part I only have to get through as much as I get through. I love the lack of clutter, the putting things in a place. Giving things away we no longer use. A fresher smelling, feeling house.

My office usually gets crammed with chametz/non pesach stuff I can’t fit anywhere else and locked up for the week of Pesach. Sold. As a result, it is the least cleaned room in the house. This year I did that first, and I just love the feeling. I actually want to go in my office again. I am perfectly aware that we aren’t eating in there, and that the beads on the floor aren’t crumbs. Still, the cobwebs and dust are gone, the lost checkbook found, and I can move on to cleaning actual chametz with a better feeling.

Check back next week as Pesach gets closer; most likely more of the last minute stress will be getting to me and my back won’t feel quite as good.

In the meantime, the sun is shining after two days of floods and storms and doom and gloom and all the stray lego lost in 10 rooms is slowly making its way home.

I love Pesach.