When my children were younger I felt like I was always playing catch-up, scrambling up the learning curve to meet their needs. Somewhere past toddlerhood I guess I started to feel competent. Surprise, surprise, each of the children followed a similar developmental pattern. Lots of things were predictable. The “terrible twos” weren’t really so terrible. It was nice.
The trouble is that while I started to gain confidence, let down my guard, and even blog about the joys of “phase II” parenting…. the older ones kept growing up, bringing with them a whole new set of complex needs and struggles – ones I didn’t get any proper training to handle.
I remember that almost two years ago I was on the phone with our Rav, second guessing (again) our family size decisions. He cautioned me that I was about to hit a “whole new level of intensity and needs” as my children entered their second decade. As is so often true with advice, I couldn’t fully relate until it happened.
I know that “big kids, big problems” is a cliche, but I don’t know that this is always true. First, big kids let you sleep at night. Second, older children can often articulate what is going on. It’s a pleasure to receive more feedback than crying vs. not crying and I blunder through.
When I try to wrap my head around the fact that I am already dealing with boy-girl issues, I just can’t. They are just too young! Everyone around me also seems to react that they are “so young”. Then I remind myself of Jimmy M. in the 5th grade. Although oblivious to me and any of my thoughts and feelings, Jimmy caused a blowup with my father about the injustice of only being allowed to date Jewish boys.
It actually didn’t upset me too much that I was expected to date only Jews. It upset me that I was sent to public school in preppy-town, USA, with practically no Jewish population and then told I could only date Jewish boys. Perhaps this was a clever strategy on my father’s part, a means of putting off the inevitable.
But I doubt it. With hindsight, he probably made decisions about moving there when he was still in Phase I of parenting himself, and Phase II snuck up on him sooner than he had suspected as well. I suppose he couldn’t wrap his head around having boy-girl issues when I was in 5th grade any more than I can wrap my head around it now. I bet he had his first crush around that age himself. He probably only remembered that as he stood there post-blowup thinking I was too young.
The thing is, we never really get to stop scrambling up the learning curve trying to meet their needs, do we? I am not sure that we would want to. If I ever master meeting their needs, won’t that mean that their lives have stagnated? If they continue to grow and develop, this will mean an endless series of of new challenges, just like mine. Won’t that be a good thing?
I hope they will continue to grow, and I know that it means that I will have to as well. I also hope that they will continue to need me; seek my advice, solicit my support in the hard times, and welcome my applause in the good. My mother dropped her own life this last month and again last week to help me pack for our anticipated move. A significant evolution from fifth grade romance boundaries, it’s just a different, not lesser, call for help after all of these years.
And I know that they are glad I still call.
… I think all of this is what Hashem (God) wants me to understand of his relationship with me. He wants more than anything for us to continue to have challenges – always new, always harder – that are signs of our ongoing growth and development. Having to cry out to Hashem for help is a sign of both continued relationship and ongoing progress, just as in my relationships as both child and parent. He really doesn’t want me to be “there yet” and to stop growing… and he really wouldn’t want me not to call.
The key difference is that Hashem doesn’t have to run up the learning curve. He, as the ultimate parent, has already arrived. As for me? I am not there yet, and since I hope for my children to keep being challenged and therefore challenging me, I am pretty sure I never will be.
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I am on my way to a five day vacation with three women I know from elementary and middle school. We come from very diverse backgrounds and have chosen very different paths in life. Our lives and get together could probably qualify for some mid-life chick flick.
The vacation is a reunion for all of us. But what other functions this excursion has for each of us is as different as the rest of our lives.
I have a year of overwhelming commitments. I wanted to go back to work full time despite the challenge of juggling that with so many children to care for. I got what I wanted, but the price has been little time for reflection, contemplation – blogging – and going forward with my customary “strategy building” intentionality. I like to run my household by reflecting on how things are going, assessing what I would like to see continue / change, and modifying my own strategy and attitude. By committing my every waking minute, I have left myself no room for this part of my being – this crucial aspect of mothering. It is exhausting, and I can see that my family is paying the price.
I know this trip away from my family is as good for them as it is for me beyond the cliché platitude. Yes, of course a rested and relaxed Ima is a better one. But like any corporate retreat, the simple QUIET of my first hour on the airplane has given me more chance for reflection than the last six months of chaos.
I know it will be incredible to catch up with old friends, and hear how the story of their lives have been unfolding. But I also can’t wait to just catch up with myself.
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I must stop working/typing/writing, and go to sleep. It seems however, that I have to choose between remaining a lapsed blogger or losing some sleep. At least until I can clear a few things off of my plate. (I am working on it.)
As you might have read, I recently had a chance to meet a “rock star” – one whose music I really enjoy. (I think I have said that once or twice.) What I am passionate about however isn’t the rock star …. but music. I don’t always get to spend the time involved with music that I would like, and when I do it is always restorative.
I have been working on a project “on the back burner” for years now that combines my love for children with my love for Judaism and my love for music. Truly three of my passions. I hope to be able to share more of this project with you… but in a later post.
I won tickets to a Mama Doni concert this coming Sunday (!), and I am really looking forward to it. Not only will I get to enjoy some real “ima time” with the little ones, but I also plan to meet Mama herself and speak to her briefly about this project. More to follow on the contest, the tickets, the concert and the encounter.
I am also working on another project “on the back burner” which involves my other passion – zionism. I am truly excited to see that this may also be moving forward, however slowly.
I consider myself very blessed to work in a career that touches on all of these loves. But my “back burner” projects are my own. They may take longer to see the light of day, but they are being nurtured by my heart and soul.
I have spent the better part of the last decade being responsible for small children and primarily occupied with
diapers crisis management and household maintenance. It feels good – and right – to now be refocusing some of my energies on my passions. Doing so is good for me, I know, but I believe it is also good for my family. I see that my involvement in these passions engages my family in them as well. Children, zionism, music and Judaism are all wonderful things for us to be involved in together.
What are your passions, and what are you doing to involve yourself in them?
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Rosh Hashanah was only a few days ago, and yet I find myself not at all sure just where to begin blogging. So much has gone on, and it has been so long since I collected my thoughts here.
I was determined to remain calm at holiday time this year. With unexpected guests, a steady pile-up of details, the kids’ intense first week of school, kids having off from school on the day I needed to prepare, two new jobs and that other minor detail of my SOUL BEING UNDER FINAL INSPECTION, consistent calm was a large enough goal to be the only one. I am happy to say that in the days leading up to and the days of Rosh Hashanah I did manage to remain calm…. I lost it a little once, only once, (with my husband) and promptly sentenced myself to some time in bed, which led to a half-hour long nap and a return to myself.
Early in the morning erev Rosh Hashanah I had gotten a last minute announcement from my DSS that he was coming for the holiday. I knew that three days of yom tov (and sibling time) in a row would be no small feat for a teenager who generally lives a completely secular life, primarily as an only child. It wasn’t easy for me to adjust to the change with basically no notice. At the same time, it made the whole holiday feel more real, more complete. I had my whole family home, and it filled my heart. That just doesn’t happen as much as I would like anymore.
I missed Shofar blowing entirely the first day of Rosh Hashanah because the first night one child got sick and spent the better part of the night vomiting. We stayed home together the next day. I stayed calm. I wound up with tons of leftovers because some of our guests understandably didn’t feel like taking chances. ( Said child was on the trampoline and asking for food all at the same time by three in the afternoon, but I had to stay home with him that morning nonetheless.)There is a tzadik in our community who blew the shofar 100 blasts for a second time in one day, before eating his meal or taking his nap, so that I and his mother-in-law could fulfill the mitzvah. Other guests came hours earlier than my husband got home, trying to be very patient while lunch hour got much closer to dinner hour.
I had to miss (part of ) shofar blowing on the second day of Rosh Hashanah because a GANG of teenagers were on their way to my house without any adult supervision or permission! I took it as a backward compliment that any teen would be crazy enough to think that we are that “cool”… we aren’t. Part of me really wanted to resent my removal from davening…. but I remained calm.
Over the course of those three days, some of my possessions were damaged. My children got into it with each other, and younger children got hurt by older children. Albeit accidentally, there was a lack of care and restraint. After so much “together time” some of us forgot to “use our words”. And I remained calm.
I think that I have made a consistent mistake in the past to confuse excitement with seriousness. If there is no build-up, tension, excitement and drama then there is no serious “largeness” to the holiday.
The learning I was able to squeeze in during Elul this year kept returning to the idea of our effort being the point, not the output, or other people’s expectations. I heard repeatedly that accepting that this might not be my year to win medals in High Holiday davening, but that sometimes having small children means showing devotion to G-d by refraining from davening and focusing on the needs of others.
I guess it was my time to hear this message, to learn this lesson.
I davened when I could, set up and cleaned up a lot of meals (gave away as much honey cake as I could so it wouldn’t stay in my house) and tried to prioritize remaining a calm presence in my home as a means of showing my service to G-d and my way of crowning him King.
I don’t know if it improved the holiday for any of my kids. Three days of yom tov, long hours at shul, too much dessert and too little sleep seemed to be a lot for everyone to handle, Ima’s mood notwithstanding.
I know the change made for a better holiday for me. The serenity I cultivated translated into a great sense of emunah, faith. There was no lack of noise and chaos throughout the days, but the lack of anxiety and stress or a “having to” feeling made my holiday more meaningful.
This is only the beginning in a long month of three-day holidays. I hope I can keep the calmness up. Only a few days out, I sit amongst piles of work, mess, laundry, leftovers and dirty dishes… and pray I am really up for the challenge!
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I had a parenting moment this morning that still fills me with consternation. We have one child who loves animals. I mean REALLY loves animals. He wants to run a zoo (the Jerusalem one, of course), he won’t eat any meat, and will cry upon encountering any animal death from road kill to survival of the fittest, live or on video.
I have encouraged his love of animals, and I have indulged his choice to be a vegetarian. I believe strongly in encouraging his passions and beliefs, and I am glad that he has such a respect for and love of Hashem’s creation.
This morning there was an ant in our kitchen. Our current houseguest, I don’t mean the ant) a 12 year old young lady, asked me to kill it. Which I would have done happily, had I been wearing shoes. : )
At being alerted to said ant, animal-loving9 yo and his twin proceeded to try and catch it. They used a morning cereal bowl at which point their 10 yo sister declared that she would never eat breakfast out of the purple bowl ever again as long as she lives. I wonder to myself if she knows that her uncle and I used it as a water dish for his dog a few weeks back… but I digress.
They were entirely unsuccessful at the trapping of said ant. At which point DH walks into the room, unaware of all that has transpired, and simply steps on the ant so we can get back to our morning.
9 yo animal lover stomped up the stairs in complete outrage and despair. He cried in his room until I told him that if he didn’t come down for school he would miss his ride and have to walk. So he agreed to go with the ant-murderer to school, but only after much yelling about the horrors of his homicidal and cruel parents.
I told him: “It is an ant. It isn’t a creature with a large brain that understands what is going on and is feeling lots of pain. It is an ant. Get over it, and go to school.”
Well then. What a sensitive Ima, right? I mean, it isn’t like there are another five kids about to be late to school, and a career in the balance needing to be tended to that matters as much as the boy’s love for the ant, right?
Outraged 9 yo went to the car, as did most of the rest of the troops. And that is when I got it. 9 yo’s twin turned to me and said:
“I thought you said that when someone is upset it is important not to make them feel worse, Ima. Isn’t that what you just did?”
Um, yeah. Isn’t that what I just did? I actually told 9 yo twin that there are times when in the process of educating and raising our children, parents have to have different rules than their kids. Which is true. And is also a total cop-out, and I can’t believe I said to him the equivalent of “do as I say not as I do.”
At the same time, at what point is it my job to stop being sensitive to one’s feelings and teach him to get over the death of one ant and get back to a rational level of reaction to the bumps of life and go to school already!?!?!?!?
I wish I knew the answer, because they have forgotten all about it, and I am left feeling like I gave a super bad response.
Gee, I wonder where they get their overreacting from?
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“You have seven kids? Wow! That’s a lot… I only see six. ….Oh? He’s your stepson… so he lives with you? …………….No? Oh, so you have six kids of your own………..”
“You have seven kids?! What’s the age range? …………………Oh, so one is your stepson. So you really have six kids, then.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard comments like these, or countless variations on them. Almost all of them are conversation with well meaning, kind, good people. I am certain that if they knew how hurtful and upsetting these comments are, they wouldn’t dream of saying such things.
I am an “Ima” to seven children. The first, my stepson, who I love and who yes, does not live with me, chose the name of this blog. So, yes, I am an “Ima” to seven children. My relationship with my stepson is different than my relationship with the other six of my children. My relationship with each of my children is different. I have one child who has another parent, another house, another way of doing things. It is different. Not less, not more. Different.
I could write a long post about the credentials that give me the “right” to say that I have seven children, although I did, yes, give birth to six, and I do, yes, have six children living in my house. I could regale you with tales of cleaning up vomit, wiping tushies, midnight peepee accidents, holding hands during scary stuff, scheduling and logistical gymnastics, school meetings, laundry, flexibility on every tiny detail of life, etc. I could talk about tailoring meals, trying to build character, discipline and learning from as well as teaching to this child. I could, in short, tell you the story of 11 years of parenting.
I could tell you that I would jump in front of a bus to save seven children without a moment’s thought. I could tell you that stepparenting can take more time, more energy, more patience than parenting a biological child living in your home.
I could also write about how adopted children are “counted” by strangers as our children. Children who go to boarding school are “counted”. Neither womb dwelling nor number of days living in one’s house each year constitute parenting.
There are women with children who have addiction problems (G-d forbid) that they are not in touch with, or barely see. There are women who don’t even have a speaking relationship with their children. And I seriously doubt that someone they just met would suggest to them that they need to edit or clarify the number of children they “actually” have.
But I don’t think any of that really gets to the point. The bottom line is that when I say I have seven children, I have seven children…..because if you could shrink yourself and get teeny tiny and crawl inside of my heart, you would find special little spaces that have grown in it. Spaces that weren’t there before, spaces that have caused me growth and pain and joy and limitless capacity for love.
And there are seven of those spaces.
The next time you meet a mom and she tells you the number of children she has, and she mentions that one/some of them are stepchildren, I hope you don’t qualify her numbers for her. I hope you don’t ask if they live with her. I hope you smile.
I really cannot presume to know how much this does or does not bother all other stepmoms. I also cannot, however, believe that it is just me.
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I am suffering from allergies.
I don’t suffer from allergies, but I have learned that if you live in the Garden State long enough, sooner or later you, too, will become an allergy sufferer. It is one of the many, many reasons that living in NJ is not my favorite thing in the world. Mostly because I belong in Israel (don’t we all?). But I digress…..
Because of the dry allergy cough, I have also lost the use of my voice. Not competely; it just hurts to use it.
One might say that losing the ability to yell at your family is a blessing. You have to find proper and healthy ways to communicate. It really isn’t, believe it or not, the loss of the yelling that is making me crazy. It’s the rest of it.
Taking the voice from a mother is like taking the scalpel from a surgeon. How can we do what we do? I don’t know sign language very well, and even if I did, my kids don’t. And we don’t live in one room or on one floor. And they don’t stay put or come to where I am to speak to me.
Furthermore, apparently having the big ones read bedtime stories to the little ones isn’t good enough. And the child who only agrees to be diapered with the “itsy bitsy spider” song sung to him (performed with Music Together sound effects of course) isn’t going to accomodate and get changed without.
This post is sounding a lot more like one long complaint than I meant it to. Laryngitis is truly not the worst of problems. It certainly curtails lashon hara.
However, motions, and speaking quietly so that they will all quiet down to listen can only take me so far.
I parent with food, I parent with hugs, I parent with gestures, with carpool, with laundry. But most — a HUGE most — of my parenting is done with those two, very precious, very sore vocal chords.
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My role as a stepmother isn’t a subject that I have blogged about much. My stepson is 16, and I remember being pretty embarrassed by just about everything my parents said and did when I was sixteen. I especially hated it when they talked about me to their friends.
The truth is that to be a non-custodial stepparent who is religious is lonely. There are almost no forums, communities, books or resources. Much of what applies in the non-Jewish world doesn’t translate, and most of the books I have seen address being a custodial stepparent. When I wanted some help navigating the road I am on, I looked in every place on line and in the library that I could think of. Nothing.
It is as if the publishers out there make the same mistake as a lot of other people that I don’t have to parent much, or work hard, or focus energy on my stepson because he doesn’t live with me.
Of course the opposite is true! There are many times where more patience, energy, work, skill, communication…. in short parenting, is required because he doesn’t live with me. And of course I don’t love him less than my other children. I do love him differently, but I love each of them differently. Each relationship is unique.
The difference isn’t in my unconditional love – it is that my unconditional love for him is one way. His loving me conditionally is a result of lots of different factors. I could say that it is “normal” for a stepchild, but I don’t think one can generalize in this case. There are stepchildren who freely adore their stepparent. Hold on to them as a buouy of sanity in their lives. There are stepchildren who simply don’t love their stepparents at all. And everything in between. But the love, conditional as it may be, is just that, LOVE. And sometimes I am amazed that he lets himself love me, given loyalty issues and other factors in his life.
At another time I would like to describe all of the ways that I think the one-way unconditional love makes me a better parent for my whole family. It has made me a better person. Loving, and giving with no illusions of control is freeing. It is a challenge, but it is freeing, and strength-building.
I cannot sum up the complex relationship filled with challenges and love that I have with my stepson in one blog post. In fact, it is a book’s worth of stuff that I will try to write someday. (Maybe when he is old enough to not be mortified by such a thing.)
Most of the parenting issues we have now are 99% about being sixteen and 1% about being a step-relationship. Which is great! But I never know when it is one or the other, and I am often insecure and don’t have enough confidence in that ratio. I keep learning the lesson over and over again.
Tonight there was pushing away, and pushing away, and pushing away: ” I don’t want to commit to following up with that. I can’t come that day. I don’t want to talk about it. Nothing new is in my life, I mean it. I don’t know when I will have them. Yeah yeah, okay, etc.”
…. and then “Yeah, I would prefer it if you packed me a lunch for school tomorrow, if it is okay.”
And in one instant, I feel needed, I feel loved. : )
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This is a posting by the very talented “A Mother in Israel”, titled; “Tips on Staying Home and Staying Sane”. I could paraphrase, but I hope you read it. It is the best advice distilled. Not only do I concur, but I really wish I had had access to such a list when I was starting out with my oldest.
Yasher Koach, Hannah Katsman.
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