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.

Bedtime issues

April 15th, 2010

The worst bedtime issues in my house are not those of any of the children. They are entirely my own.

I like control. I like feeling in control, I like being in control. And being a parent, I have found, is one long road of giving up all control. It starts when your body doesn’t feel like your own anymore, and your eating, sleeping and peeing are all controlled by the little being growing inside of you. It ends, well, I doubt it ever ends.

After I  have helped with homework, fed them, bathed them, read to them, cajoled them, brushed teeth, had the heart-to-heart conversations that always seem to need to happen only 5 minutes AFTER they are supposed to be asleep, cleaned up from the homework, dinner, baths, cajoling and everything else, I sit down… and it is quiet. It is bliss.

It is my time. I get to decide what I am going to do (or not). I can eat what I want, and I can work using my full concentration and whatever brain cells still have energy to function. I can even blog about still being awake.

What my husband wants is another story. He has waited for the kids to get homework done, dinner, baths… I think you have seen the list.  So he has waited a long time to talk to me, spend time with me, or just to go to sleep at the same time. He also wants a wife that is well rested and has gotten enough sleep to do it all again the next day without needing him to take over.

But I don’t want to go to bed at a time that is convenient for someone else. And I don’t want to go to sleep just to do the right thing and get enough sleep, any more than the kids do who need the aforementioned cajoling. (As I write this it sounds like such a rebellious, childish sentiment.)

I want to control this precious time, and use it as I see fit. I would like to think that if I had more control over other aspects of my life than bedtime wouldn’t become a “power struggle” for me. However, I accepted a very long time ago (or at least I thought I had) that I don’t really have any control over anything. It is an illusion. Hashem controls it all, and I have to do the best I can in each situation I am given.  I also thought that raising a non-custodial stepchild who also happens to be a teenager had stripped me of any remaining control issues. Clearly not.

Staying up as long as I want, enjoying the peace and quiet, using my time only mildly wisely and eating things I won’t let the rest of my family have is the closest I am going to come to a “room of one’s own”  for now. And it feels  self-indulgent and “selfish”… blissfully so.

Cast Off….

April 13th, 2010
Toddler's cast sawed in two

The two halves of the removed cast

My two year old broke his leg a little less than a month ago. It was traumatic (mostly for me) and painful (for both of us) and I didn’t blog about it at the time because I was not really interested in explaining how it happened. I am still not. (Sorry.)

In fact, not satisfying people’s curiosity about the circumstances was something completely new for me, and I was rather proud of myself! I have never been one of those people that could just leave people hanging without the story they so want to hear. This time I had good reasons, which I explained were why he “just fell”, and moved on.  Some people really didn’t like that. But it was liberating for me, and yet one more sign that this is really the year I have gotten older.

When the little guy got his cast he was so cautious, and just sat and whimpered until we came over to carry him from place to place. After a couple of days he was scooching on his tush. Then crawling with the cast. By the beginning of week three he was climbing on and off the furniture, dancing, running, jumping – even on beds – and moving so fast and so well that I couldn’t get a diaper on him.

Today he sauntered into the orthopedic surgeon’s office with such cast-finesse that the experienced surgeon was shocked.

They decided they had to take it off to get the x-ray they wanted in order to check his progress. Off it came. I sat with the baby in my lap, cradling him in my arms. He immediately recognized “Luke” (who was just amazing, by the way) and started screaming. This was the horrible man who had put him in the thing! Now, this same person was coming towards him with a small electric circular saw. Can you imagine the scene?

Of course the little guy couldn’t understand the freedom he was getting. He couldn’t understand the kindness being done to him. He was just scared and upset.

The x-ray showed a miraculously and completely healed leg bone, and they left the cast off. As he sat there with a completely healthy leg, he refused to step on it or use it in any way, never mind walk. Of course he has to readjust, and I wouldn’t push him. He will get back to being a crazy monkey, eventually, just like he did with the cast on.

By this evening he hesitantly stood and limped along using both legs, declaring “yay feet!”.

But I had a real revelation today about our human nature as I sat holding my terrified little baby getting freed from his bondage.

There are so many times that we cling for dear life to whatever it is that has most recently become familiar. Even if it is itchy and “weighs us down”, it is what we know. And since it is what we know that is how we want to move, run, dance – even if life could be lighter, easier, faster and smoother, we resist the adjustment process itself. We are just like Hashem’s scared little 2 year old, having no idea that this scary circular saw coming at us is really truly “l’tova“, for the good.

I am happy this moment came during the counting of the Omer. This is our personal and national ascent in spiritual heights to become the person we need to be in order to personally receive the Torah on Shavuot. I know that at least for me, this will definitely have to involve casting off some shackles of my own, and learning to walk again.

Yay feet!”

The VERY sick Sick day.

March 12th, 2010

If my life had a theme it would be the old Yiddish expression “man plans, G-d laughs”.  When I wrote my last blog post I was quite sure at an early hour how the day would go.  I had been there before, and confidently typed out my plans for the day….

… I hadn’t counted on catching the stomach bug my 4 yo had just finished dealing with. Soon after publishing my blog post and immediately after eating a small meal, I knew that the day wouldn’t go as planned.

By late afternoon I had summoned my husband to work from home. By early evening… you don’t want any details of what went on early evening.

I lost all of that day and the next day, too. Turns out the recovery from such stomach bugs can be worse than the bug itself, as your muscles all try to recover from working backwards.

I cancelled my dss’s time to be with us that day in an effort to spare him similar agony. I almost never, ever cancel his time with us. I don’t like the message it sends. Luckily, at 15, he voluntarily opted to come the next day instead. Readers, please remind me of that when I am not having a great stepmom day.

I am now two days behind in both work and Shabbat preparations, and needless to say my Pesach prep will have to happen next week.  That is what I get for so confidently declaring how my day would go.

While I was sick, I thought to myself that this was actually worse than labor. At least with labor while my insides are turning inside out I know there is something wonderful coming out of it.

The following day, while I lay there feeling like my guts had been run over a few times, losing patience with my recovery time, I became flooded with gratitude for my problems. My husband was able to work from home. My illness wasn’t going to be a long term one, didn’t require a hospital stay, or lots of chesed from my community (little bits, for which I am also grateful.)

There are a number of people in my community going through some tough stuff health-wise right now, and the day I fell ill I had also read this heartbreaking article about a woman trying to have a baby.

It occurred to me that when their children whine that they “want their Ima back” after one day of being sick, those Imas can’t really give them what they want and need, and how difficult and sad that must be.

I thought about this because most of my children came to me while I lay in bed, one by one, and told me that they “really, really, really didn’t want me to be sick.”Because my incapacitation was causing them to suffer. While I appreciate being valued and needed as the Ima in the family, I am looking forward to their maturing to the point where they can realize that Imas need compassion and sympathy too.

Of course then I realized that while I give my children compassion and sympathy, I really didn’t when the little one was actually sick!

The night the 4yo was up sick I lay in bed incredibly grateful that my husband was taking care of it all. Next time, now that I have lived through it I think I will drag my tired self up to make sure I give some soothing words and some hugs in the middle of the night.

I will still let my husband clean it all up.

Purim prep – post #1

February 20th, 2010

I attempted to make hamentashen with 6 children last night.

Dear stepson is 15 and interested in lots of things; baking with 6 little kids not being one of them.

My 22 month old wasn’t really baking, more like “interfering”, but he definitely felt part of the process, and wore an apron sewn by Safta just like everybody else. My ten year old patiently showed him how to “pinch pinch” and then had the restraint to let him try while she sat on her hands, so to speak. There are many times a day that I am struck at how much better a mom she will be than I am. Thank G-d.

We used Homeshuling’s  “Best Hamenstaschen Ever” recipe, which is my new favorite. If it isn’t the best ever, it is the best I have ever used.

Interestingly (at least to me) her daughter and mine both came up with the “mini hamentashen” version… I would argue there is a direct connection to Polly Pockets. Hmmmm………………..

mini hamentash

So my lesson-learned-the hard-way of the day:

We made two batches. With the first, everyone took turns doing everything. We went in turns measuring and pouring the ingredients, and then took turns rolling the dough, cutting circles, filling, pinching, etc. Sounds great, right?

That was not really a lot of fun. No one was happy with their lot, and they all spent a lot of time “critiquing” their fellow chefs. While trying to manage them all at once, the baby somehow managed to spill popcorn kernels all over the floor.

There was a time in my life that would have phased me, too.

Second batch: I made the dough, told them to deal with that; they had to let me do that part. I then rolled 5 approximately even balls of dough, and let them each choose one to make into hamentashen from start to finish, one at a time, in ascending age order.

I believe that such plans aren’t necessary when you are baking with two. But baking with six (five, really), well, it made a huge difference.  Everyone had their chance, without interference, to do it “their way”. They each had the same number of hamentashen come out of their “batch” (6) and peace and order (relative of course) was restored.

In my own defense, batch number two probably wouldn’t have gone as smoothly as it did without the “tutorial” of batch number one that we did together. Still, next year we will bake together — separately.

5 kids in aprons sewn by Savta

5 of the 6 all in aprons sewn by their Safta.

I LOVE THIS BOOK

February 4th, 2010

We just received “The Shabbat Box” by Lesley Simpson from the PJ Library program. If you aren’t signed up for the program, you should be.  The program is only available through certain Jewish Federations, but it allows you to enroll your child 0-8 years old to receive a Jewish book (or CD) once a month.  We have been exposed to a lot of wonderful material that my family – and community – is enjoying.

One of these days we will campaign the Princeton-Mercer Bucks Federation to get their act together and join the program. It is really a terrible shame.

Back to “The Shabbat Box”. It is wonderful. I LOVE THIS BOOK. I love the concept. I love the story, and I really love the fact that the content and pictures truly are accessible and relevant to any Jew regardless of their background or affiliation.

For the most amazing follow up to the book I could imagine, please look at this Homeshuling blog post. I truly hope to be half as talented and forthright about implementing the concept… maybe when it gets warm outside.

I also hope our local school and hebrew school will create and use a Shabbat box as well.

This is just the kind of children’s book I really hope to write one day.

Hope you are able to find the book and buy it or borrow it.

1. Peel a clementine/tangerine. If you start it, they can peel off the rest. It gives you more time, and they are sooo happy, with a yummy reward for a job well done.

2. Putting the silverware from the dishwasher basket into the drawer. So it won’t be sorted properly. You can always do that later.  Just take out sharp knives first.

3. Turn off the lights in their room at bedtime. Very empowering.

4. Put their own shoes on the right shelf, in the right drawer, or in the right closet.

5.  Push the stoller… okay maybe only for fives steps, but still.

6. Get out of the car, once mobile. They like the extra time it takes once you have taken them out of the car seat to climbing out of the car — sometimes it is a lot of extra time.

7. Putting the groceries into the back of the cart. (Bet you already knew this one.)

8. Play with push pins. No; it isn’t too dangerous. Tlhey can put them into the top (or side) of a cardboard box, especially if you do it first and make holes. Great for their dexterity, and keeps them busy and out of trouble for a number of minutes.    Works best when they are in a high chair, so you don’ t have to worry about push pins everywhere.  They also get that the ends are sharp, and avoid them. This is also a great lesson. Not for every kid, I admit.

9. Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar. I use this instead of honey and syrup on food. Much less sugar. They love to do it themselves.  A one year old can sprinkle it on unsweetened apple sauce without any help.

10. I was waiting to post this until I came up with a tenth. But I think it would be more fun if you sent me your suggestions….

Cinnamon and Sugar

December 20th, 2009

I try to cut down on the amount of sugar and sweets my family eats. I don’t cut out sugar entirely, and I am not a big fan of substitutes. I don’t let them eat candy at all, but that is for another post.

The cinnamon and sugar in the store is not only expensive, but almost entirely sugar. The recipe in my cookbook (The Joy of Cooking) is a high sugar-to-cinnamon ratio as well.

So when my children were only toddlers I got in the habit of mixing my own cinnamon and sugar, keeping the sugar to a minimum. I hoped they would get used to it tasting that way. They have. The nice thing about limiting their sugar intake is that it doesn’t take much for them to taste – and enjoy  - the sweetness.

I used to think I was quite clever because I recycled baby food jars. I took an awl and poked holes in the top. I filled it with cinnamon and sugar – about a tablespoon of sugar and a bunch of cinnamon (isn’t that scientific?), and screwed the top back on. It was only this year that I realized that I could simply use an extra set of salt and pepper shakers just as easily.

We now have a beautiful set with just cinnamon and sugar in them. I buy plain oatmeal, and the children can add their own cinnamon and sugar. This saves money as well. They can make the oatmeal sweeter, but too much and the cinnamon will overpower it, so I don’t have to worry about how much sugar they are adding. Same with waffles; I don’t own syrup.

The children like the feeling of portion control as well, and it is yet one more thing I don’t have to do for them.

If your children are older and really used to the taste of the sweet oatmeal packets, or other food with lots of added sugar this may be a hard sell, but if they are two or three or younger it is really worth the try, even if the older siblings won’t go for it. (Which they will, I bet.)

Rice cakes with cream cheese and sprinkling the c & s is a favorite too.

Wicked Tasty Harvest has this inspiring and very informative post on composting.

http://www.wickedtastyharvest.com/wicked_tasty_harvest/2009/12/all-the-trimmings.html

I have committed myself to trying it this year.

I teach my children that the Torah doesn’t want us to waste, and does want us to “repair” the world. Surely composting fits in with these ideas.

I hope you read it, and that you join my commitment!

Snow day… so much to say.

December 20th, 2009

Last night was the first real snowfall of the year. Although there was no school to cancel, it still feels like the first real snow day.

There are so many things unique and important I have learned the hard way about making a snow day successful – at least what I consider successful.

First of all, I try to always offer the snow plow guys that come some coffee or pancakes (see below). I don’t know for sure that they plow a little more for me, but I am pretty sure they do, and I think it models great hakarat hatov for the kids.

I took out the snow gear Thanksgiving weekend when I had a few hours to really work. Sorting what fits, getting out 7 (!) pairs of boots, gloves, etc. The pool gear bins in the coat closet became the hat bin and the glove bin. The odd gloves didn’t get thrown away, but are in a separate bag. That way when one is lost, and a child is desperate, out comes a mismatched glove to save the day.

Three years ago I went on-line and bought a wholesale package of kids’ waterproof gloves. There were 50 pair in the pack, all the same, with a variety of detail colors. Kind of like this listing: http://www.rhinomart.com/asst-water-prove-ski-glove-wholesale-item-249-4560/.   I realize that 50 pairs may seem extreme, but I wound up paying a lot less (like half) per pair. I have a lot of kids who not only wear a lot of gloves but LOSE a lot of gloves. I have now had 3 years in a row with enough gloves, as we have slowly used them up. We have had enough when kids soak theirs and want a second (or third pair.) We have enough for stray kids that end up at our house and need extra gloves. And no getting upset when someone comes home without the ones they left with.

It was a great investment. Most of my kids are outgrowing them as we speak, and I will probably get a case of the next size up.  The smartest will be to make do until February or March and buy them for next year, when they are really, really cheap.

Snow pants; they fit more sizes then the labels say, so I always keep them around despite the sizes listed until the winter comes and we can try them on. My size 8/10 boys are wearing size 6/7 snow pants. Again. I will buy at the end of the winter when they are on clearance for next year.  Or wait until I get hand me downs, as I am often blessed to get.

My kids have come to know that I will make a bigger, homemade and hearty breakfast on a snow day. I have learned that if they go out with a filling warm breakfast in their tummy they will stay out longer. And complain less. Our favorite is healthy whole wheat, no sugar, no oil pancakes. Sounds awful I know. They are delicious. I use apple sauce; it is a modified version of a recipe on the Mott’s apple sauce jar.  I will post the recipe today as well if I am given enough time. I use a lot of blueberries (frozen; I stock up when they are on sale,) and I give the kids cinnamon and sugar. I have to remember to write a separate cinnamon & sugar post, too.

Next; when kids come in from the snow, they are STARVING. I have learned to use this to my advantage. Although I will make hot cocoa, I usually have some fresh steamed veggies waiting on the table when they first get in. Or worse – leftovers! Once they devour whatever happens to be in front of them, I move on to what they may actually want to eat. Amazing.

Movies. Almost always a staple on snow day – but it really has to be its own post as well. So much to say….

Drying wet stuff; I try to have two of everything. I have hooks in the front hall, and I take the usually messy mix and get it out of there so the wet stuff can go there right away. Same for the shoe rack, which happens to be over a heating vent. It means the coats and hats are a big mess until the whole thing is over. The house is always a mess for snow day anyway. I have come to accept it is part of the fun.

I don’t like to go out and play in the snow. I love the excuse to not leave the house. I don’t like the cold. I have lived in CT, Boston, and Montreal (!), and I have had my fill of the cold and the snow. Unless there happen to be skis on my feet.

So one of my favorite things about having so many children is that they have lots of people to play with out in the snow and I don’t have to be one of them.

When I was starting this journey with my children, I used to be stunned at just how long a snow day seems to last. Today has been very long already; it is 11 am, and my children have gotten up, made and devoured a messy breakfast. Gone out in the snow, come back in, made snow slush, built a fort, and started two messy craft projects.

Expecting the day to stretch out and be amazingly long has been really helpful.  I have come to just watch them and really, really enjoy the snow days. Enjoy them enjoying them. Enjoy the slower pace. Enjoy the mess. Allowing the peace of the snow to make it a peaceful – fun, messy, chaotic, long and tiring – but peaceful day.