It Could Always Be Worse

January 27th, 2011

Our family owns this wonderful PJ Library book “It Could Always be Worse”, and old Yiddish folktale retold here by Margot Zemach.

I believe that most Yiddish folk tales are charming and fun, but this one hit particularly close to home this week.

I assume most of you have probably heard the story; a man goes to his shtetl’s Rabbi for help with  his cramped house/family/life, and the Rabbi tells him to move the cow into his shack…etc.


I have one son in particular who has an extreme love of animals. Let’s call him Dr. Dolittle for now. A dead squirrel on the road leaves him devastated. He is of course a vegetarian, and he once asked a zookeeper with full earnestness what would be required for us to take one of the giraffes home with us. As you can imagine, the appeals for a pet are therefore emotional and frequent.

This is the same child who made a successfully angelic  and manipulative appeal for a scholastic book order, so you can imagine how it pulls on my heartstrings.  Despite all of that, we aren’t getting a pet. It just isn’t going to happen. One day feeling quite worn down, I actually took Dr. Dolittle to the pet store so we could slowly rule out with good reasons why every animal there is inappropriate. Anything with a lot of poop to clean up is out of the question.( Seven children is enough poop. I say so.)  Fish would die quickly and then he would cry. Birds living in cages goes against all of his animal sensitivities, etc. I actually considered a snake.  As we went over to their cases he saw the terrarium filled with the cute (?) little mice right as he asked me what the snake eats. Dr. Dolittle burst into tears and that was the end of any and all snake conversations, thank G-d.

So I walk around with pet-depriving guilt, knowing that this child would have several pets if he had parents that had chosen to have a smaller family. This guilt must be why I had such an open mind when our dear friends told us they were leaving for five days to Disney and asked if we by any chance would want to take their dog in to live with us for the week.

I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give my son a taste of having his own pet, let him enjoy having an animal for the week.  And of course, see how much work it is and realize on his own that I was right all along, thereby ending the pet discussions,  at least for a few years. I  asked my husband to make the decision along with a family vote, and it seemed like a decent idea to him too.

One month later, in came Dog.

Not an picture of actual Dog, just a similar one. Dog is even cuter.

Dog is very cute and sweet.  A cute, sweet dog that is used to its own house and environment, its own people and rules.

The week began with the marking of territory – all over the house. I looked up the top two behaviors for dogs feeling separation anxiety, and it turns out they are urination and violence.  We  clearly had a healthy, normal dog feeling lots of anxiety on our hands. Love and patience was required, right?

I also realized for the first time this week why I never really used baby gates much (my kids learned to climb stairs at really young ages.) We chose to gate off the upstairs, containing the chaos and eliminating whines from children wanting the dog in their beds. When you have seven children and the laundry is in the basement, you spend a lot of time up and down stairs. With the gate up, I felt like an olympic hurdler.  I don’t know how you pet owners do it. You must give up and let the dog go in the bedrooms pretty darn quick.

Then came the snowstorm. That is, the first one. Walking a dog at 11:00 at night in the freezing cold so that my kids can enjoy having a pet temporarily is one thing. Doing it in fresh snow is another.

At this point I began to realize that when I had a dog many – MANY – years ago, I think I actually managed to never walk that dog once.  I have a newfound appreciation for the dog’s co-owner  and for getting away with that! The dog went to Canada after only a few months, and I never saw her again. I am sure she never  missed me for an instant. She is still there, now an extremely old dog, having been raised and cared for by the woman who truly loves and appreciates the dog.

Between Dog acting like, well, a dog outside of its own environment, and the snow we started becoming very aware of the insanity of the whole idea to begin with. This wasn’t an instance where I had convinced my husband of a crazy scheme or vice versa (as if that ever happens…) This had made sense to both me and my husband, for some reason.

And then the virus arrived. A nasty virus/flu that slowly got to every single family member. (Stepson was spared, having not been around that weekend. He is sadly but wisely staying away until quarantine ends.)

I was able to  nurse the kids and the husband and manage the dog… for about half a day. When even Dr. Dolittle  got too sick to walk the dog, then I knew we were really in trouble.

My husband dragged himself out of bed late in the evening on day three to try and finally eat something. I had run up and down the stairs all day – perfecting my olympic hurdling – dealing with whines of “Ima” and all sorts of lovely fluids – including the dog’s – to the point of complete exhaustion. I plopped down on the opposite couch, unable to move. Dog  jumped up onto my husband and with lots of “gusto” tried to get my husband’s dinner.  When that didn’t work, we received a lot of understandable, but extremely unpleasant, barking. That was it. We cried uncle.

Dog is now at a Pet Grooming Service where he has been in the past, awaiting his family’s’ return. We just didn’t make it.


So this morning when the second snowstorm in one week arrived, along with our third snow day in ten days, and I spent the day trying to keep my job(s), tend to a houseful of sick children and a sick husband and contend with the inevitable cancellation of the cleaning lady due to snow, my suddenly expansive house felt magically manageable.

Perhaps the next time you are feeling overwhelmed by your life you should take the advice of the old Rabbi in the shtetl from that story, and offer to move your neighbor’s dog into your house.

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.

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.

The Not-Sick Sick Day

March 10th, 2010

4 yo complained consistently yesterday of a stomach ache. There really wasn’t much to be done other than sympathize, as she didn’t have any other symptoms.

Last night at about 1:30 in the morning she was up with my husband (that’s why I married him) expelling whatever was bothering her through all manner of bodily fluids. I don’t think you need any more details.

Whatever was in there making her feel rotten has now been cleaned off of several surfaces in my house, so she is feeling great. But of course school policy mandates that she stay home until she is vomit-free for 24 hours.

It’s a reasonable enough policy, but it does creates moments like today, which I call the “not-sick sick day”. She feels fine and dandy, but my day now has to be about entertaining her and giving her structure and substance.

Please don’t get me wrong, a 4 yo doesn’t need to be in school at all in my opinion. There have been many times when I have been the all-day source of programming for a 4 yo all year round. It is just that she is accustomed to school and I have work and Pesach-prep obligations as well as important plans I had expected to accomplish today. I wish I could declare a not-sick sick day for myself too, and simply see it as a vacation opportunity with only two kids home.  I don’t have that luxury.

What will happen in the end, at least based on past experience, is that she will get half of that fun, happy, home-with-Ima experience she wants and deserves, and I will get half of my work and prep done. (Okay, half is probably optimistic.)

She probably isn’t too sick for the grocery store, which means shopping with two kids. That is seriously one of my most hated experiences EVER. Mind you, it is better than what my husband was doing at 1:30 in the morning.

I will probably spend most of the day preparing an activity for as much independence as possible, then scrambling to work while she is focused, until clean up and set up of the next thing. In those spurts I will try to work “adjacent” to her vacation, rather than really participating. Not as fun for either one of us, but today, well, that’s the best I can do.


December 21st, 2009

So I had the nerve to go and get a cold. With a cough, that has flattened me for some reason. Probably because of the snow day yesterday. Fun, but took all of my energy.

I have read that it is just “known” that when husbands get sick the world stops, but when women do the world must go on. I am skeptical, to say the least. How do I know this isn’t just our letting them off the hook? I think men can plead ignorance to get away with not working as hard. “If I never learn how to do it, then I won’t be expected to,” right?

Is it really biological? Really? Or is it just crafty laziness? Do we let them get away with not doing as much as we do because we believe they can’t? And can they? There are stay at home dads, so certainly they must figure it out.  I mean I certainly don’t feel that I was given a gift by Hashem in folding laundry, settling a dispute between to kids, supervising the Hebrew reading homework and answering a phone call all at the same time.

I have been told by many – MANY – that my husband is a rare gem in the amount he helps with the kids.  He is such a great Abba, and he loves to play with them and to facilitate their playing with each other… but is that the same thing as being a really helpful spouse? Sometimes, I suppose.

There are a lot of things that have to happen other than their play. I really don’t buy that it is a woman’s make-up to make sure homework is done before too much fun is had. I think it is just a habit we develop after too many nights of “I can’t go to bed now, I have to do my homework.”

So does it mean I coddle? Do I do it all too well too often? The times I have been away or slacked because of illness haven’t seemed to fix the problem. Everything can always wait until Ima feels better.

I was sick today, and DH did a load of laundry. (Which is about 1/20th of the week’s.) I still had to make dinner, clean the dishes, and make sure homework got done – after some of them were supposed to  be in bed.

So which is it? Unrealistic expectations? Male hardwiring?

I have a feeling I am going to have grown kids who don’t need me when I am sick before I am going to get a really  good answer to my question.