Last lap?

October 3rd, 2010

For me, one of the clearest “punishments” for choosing to live outside of the land of Israel is the three-day yom tov.  Here in the diaspora, September has been a string of holidays chained together by a few work/shop/cooking days.  My guess is that with the holidays coming at the same time as back-to-school and the non-chag days being on Fridays, it didn’t feel that much different in Israel, but no doubt my readers will clarify this for me. (I hope.)

I went into Shabbat morning telling at least a couple of community members that I felt like I was running the “last lap in a very long marathon.”  A month of cleaning, shopping, cooking, serving, cleaning, serving, cleaning, serving…. laundry…. lather, rinse, repeat. The last day had finally arrived.

I was glad that I made it to shul to hear the Rabbi speak, because he really turned the whole day around for me. I am sure he chose his topic the same way he always does; by listening to whatever has been going on inside my head the past few days. I keep asking him to stop eavesdropping on my thoughts when he chooses his sermon topics, but it doesn’t appear to have stopped the habit.

The Rabbi spoke about parashat Bereishit, yes, but he spoke about how in this parsha, in the beginning, is the clearest, starkest way that man can emulate G-d. We rest on the seventh day because G-d did. Period. Wanna be like G-d? Keep Shabbat.

He went on to remind us that yes, it is keeping the Shabbat, but moreso it is being “in the Shabbat” that makes us like G-d. That when we truly dwell in the mindframe and Shechina*-consciousness of Shabbat, then we are emulating G0dliness in the purest form.

He reminded me in that one moment that it wasn’t the “last lap” of anything. The holidays ended the day before. It wasn’t the Shemini Atzeret moment, the Sukkot moment, the Simchat Torah moment, or even a last moment of any of them. It was “mamash the holy Shabbos.” The only thing that made the day the “last lap” was that it was one more day to dwell in G-d’s presence and to stay close before going back to months of normalcy… a normalcy that includes less time and focus on accessing that closesness to Hashem.

I went home determined to be in Shabbat, and to savor the holiness rather than watch the clock for my return to…. everything else. It really changed my Shabbat, and I enjoyed it so thoroughly. I even had a house full of unexpected “stoppers by” and relaxed and enjoyed it. (Despite having nothing left in the house to serve them.)

I felt the sadness as Shabbat left us that I am told people holier than I feel every week. I suddenly remembered a dear friend (and tzadika), DE, telling me one year of the depressing let-down she feels every year at the end of Sukkot. I was very surprised; the only feeling I had ever  registered was relief. At the time I  couldn’t relate to her feeling at all because I didn’t have that kind of relationship with G-d.

I think I was able to connect to Hashem in Tishrei this year more than ever before. My grand theory on this is that since my children are getting a little older I was able to sleep more hours this year than ever since getting married.  I feel very strongly about the relationships between sleep &  religion, sleep & happiness and  sleep & health … but that is a blog post for another time.

But whatever it was, the davening, the sleeping, choosing to have fewer guests (!) or just the wake-up call from our wise Rabbi, I felt like this last day wasn’t a drag, and wasn’t a last lap…. it was a gift.

*The majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to “dwell” among humankind, traditionally referred to as the aspect of Hashem that comes down into the Holy Temple and/or comes closer to the Jewish People on Shabbat.

This i s day four of our annual family vacation. After feeling like I have been running up a steep hill for the first three days, I am finally hitting my stride, reaching that  “aahhh, I am on vacation” feeling.

Believe me, it won’t last for the duration. It will come and go like the tides of the bay on Cape Cod that I am gazing at as I write from an adirondack chair on our rental front lawn. I am close enough to the ocean to see the fishing pole of my neighbor out on his boat, but close enough to the house to enjoy the benefits of the wi fi, and check on lunch for the expected onslaught of hungry children.

My parents live on Cape Cod year-round, and we make one extended and difficult trek up for a glorious couple of weeks every summer. Not only do we enjoy a vacation I cannot afford, but they are here to help, visit with, and spoil us. Over the years, they have learned progressively to find a balance between family time and enough space for themselves to truly enjoy the disruption that comes with the arrival of our large family. (Translation: they don’t want us around every minute. It stresses them out beyond belief.)

The packing to get my family satisfactorily situated in a rental home for two weeks is a tremendous undertaking. Unfortunately, it is also one of the areas in which I do not seem to successfully delegate. This year I packed the majority of our suitcases before Shabbat and drove on Sunday morning. This definitely improved things.

My husband and I drove up separately. This meant I only had to travel with three kids in the car, (an amazing experience I don’t remember ever having,) but it also meant driving five and a half hours straight by myself.

When we arrived it was too early to move into the rental. I needed to pacify and settle the kids, unpack a limited number of things, and try my best to prepare for the second wave once DH arrived. I wanted to collapse, but of course the baby my two year old woke up at five am disoriented and confused.

I moved everything into the rental house the next morning with two HUGE vanful trips (one trip with items I had packed, one with items that were at my parents’ house).  I unpacked and assigned bedrooms,  fed kids and bought supplies. Then I kashered part of the house, assessed what else I needed from my mother’s kosher kitchen, found switches and towels, then did more moving and shopping.

All of this was done with tremendous sleep deprivation and constant – CONSTANT – complaining from my kids. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on that my kids were bickering, fighting and whining the entire time. They are on a beach vacation! There are televisions in the rooms (!). There is an ocean view out of lots of windows, and Saba and Safta give kids ice cream unlike their mean parents. I was the one doing almost all of the work.  What could there possibly be to complain about?

Of course I knew in the back of my head that their moods are always dependent on mine. This is the principle of motherhood which blind-sighted me the most, and with which I have the most trouble.  It is hard enough for me to remain positive instead of cranky without the added pressure that my tone is the one that sets it for the rest of the house. I hate that. I wish someone else could have that job, and infuse me with a positivity that gets me out of my funk, instead of the other way around all of the time.

So, today, I stopped chugging. I stopped packing, loading, unpacking, rushing, huffing and puffing. I watched a movie with DH last night that I had really wanted to see, which included a good cry and laugh. I sat out in an adirondack chair, enjoying the view and starting this post. (It will have taken me the whole day in spurts by the time I am done.)  I will enjoy the beach and the visit of a friend.

Magically, miraculously, the complaining, whining and bickering has stopped, at least for now. The “aaaahhh” is a collective one.

My blessed pre-teen said today “is a perfect example of pure happiness.”

In the midst of the chugging, I really couldn’t remember why I do this to myself every year. In the same way that I forget the pain of the getting here AND the going home from year to year, apparently I forget the bliss of an entire family going “aaaahhhh”…..


June 8th, 2010

I have really been struggling with blogging lately. I just cannot seem to find the time to write, and the ideas and pieces I want to complete are accumulating just like the clutter in the house.  In my very first post I expressed my concern with this problem. Perhaps this is why there are so few blogs by women with large families. Duh!

What I am realizing however, is that it isn’t really a lack of hours in the day. I am awake, I am at the computer, and yet the pieces are not written. It isn’t writers bloc. It’s exhaustion. I am staying awake, relishing my quiet hours, too tired to go to bed, and too tired to do anything of substance.  I spend a great deal of time awake but not functionally so, and it is truly a waste.

If I can just get myself to the point of fewer hours awake but more hours of “quality, functioning Ima” awake, I think I can finally post the posts that I want to.  As well as finally tackle the laundry, the checks, the piles, the mess of cards in the corner, the thank you notes, the……….

I’m going to bed.

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.

Purim – #3

March 2nd, 2010

The kids really enjoyed Purim. The costumes went really well. My 4 yo decided that poofy dresses like Queen Esthers wear hamper one’s lifestyle. So she changed into a ballerina outfit for most of Purim. You can do a lot more bouncing off of walls and everything else in ballet clothes…

Unlike years past, we kept Purim pretty simple. Familiar, close to home, and simple. The kids volunteered (which means I volunteered them) to deliver a large number of mishloach manot on behalf of our shul. My husband took them. He didn’t enjoy it very much. Delivering anything with 7 kids isn’t ideal. But the kids thought it was fun.

I, on the other hand, had a pretty rotten Purim.

I have had time to think about what was wrong. First of all, my number one rule of life as a parent played a major part.


I got up early with the kids the day before Purim. Wisely, although not necessarily willingly, everyone in my household took a late nap. Except me. The next morning (Purim morning) I got up early with the kids again. Therein lies 90% of what went wrong with my Purim. I should have insisted on being the non-tired one, and slept in. Hindsight is so great.

The other factor in my less-than-ideal Purim was also my own doing.

A few weeks ago I intiated a conversation with my family at the Shabbat table.  I told them that every year I make a big seudah, a big production for the whole neighborhood, because I really like it. (That’s not the only reason, but that’s a story for another day.) This year, I told them, I wanted to hear what they wanted to do for Purim.

…. So they got what they said they wanted; simple plans, simple food. Socializing, but elsewhere and in doses.

When I felt at the end of the day that I had taken care of everyone else while no one had taken care of me, I was exactly right.

It was just that I had forgotten that the person who was in charge of taking care of me is the same one who spending all of Purim taking care of them.

Maybe, just maybe next year will be the year I get the balance right. I know it will be the year I go into Purim with enough sleep.

Ima2seven as a happy happy clown on Purim

Me, the happy Purim clown.

Clutter — Mess — Melt down

December 28th, 2009

I am starting to begin the process of losing it. I cannot find two important keys in my house.  The keys, for me, were the proverbial straw on the camel’s back this evening.

I usually don’t make it all the way to losing it. I try to stop somewhere before rock bottom. I don’t like what the downward spiral does to me or my behavior, so I usually see it as a wake up call to change something. Or some things. And there are some things that definitely have to change.

In the earliest part of my marriage I had to adjust to living with someone who was less interested in order and neatness than I am. I wish the consequences of the chaos were all trivial, and issues of toothpaste covers. But they weren’t. We worked through it a lot, and we have both adjusted over the past eleven years… but most of  that adjustment has been organizing everything on my own and making DH stick to it, and/or taking his stuff and finding places to hide it where I won’t have to look at it.

We have been in our current house for six years this week. Wow. Six years. There was a time when I didn’t know if we would ever be able to buy a house. And there was a time when I didn’t think we would be able to fill it. Hah! The amount of places we have managed to stick clutter would be downright impressive if it weren’t so painful to live with.

I do the very best I can to stay on top of seven kids, but I am far, far outnumbered. There is too little sleep, too little time, too little help, too little supervision, did I mention too little time? and way, way too much stuff to keep it all in order the way I would like.

It is no longer just a matter of the toys not being put away properly. Someday, SOMEDAY I WILL find all of the Othello pieces and put them back in the board.

Now it is a matter of filing 2009 as we go, not sometime before April 15th in 2010.  It is knowing where my keys are. It is the feeling that I know where important stuff is, and that it is in the places it should be, so that I don’t have to get so stressed about the placement of the unimportant things. I have a drawer with crafts, markers, scissors and glue in the eat-in part of my kitchen.  It isn’t very orderly, but it is quite useful for now. I am okay with that.

I have a pile of cassettes on a bookshelf that is full of books… I don’t think it looks very good, but I can live with it being in the “someday” category for now.

I have done FLY lady – who I like and am not knocking – and ask anyone who is around me in my house. I am picking up while I do just about absolutely everything else.

Perhaps the tipping point as of late is because we have been in the same place for so long now that the accumulation has gotten really bad.

Perhaps it is because my children have all taken a big leap forward this year, and I know intuitively that the time for my picking up after them constantly really has to come to and end. And the only person I can blame for allowing everyone to get used to that is me.

I am determined to find a place for everything this year, or throw it out. Then I am going to actually expect my children to start putting things in those said places, and my husband too. I might even have to start expecting it more of myself. I am going to have to NOT achieve neatness by doing it for them quickly and efficiently, but by having the patience to make them get in the habit of doing it themselves. I will have to hope that the 20 month old, at the height of the “destructive” phase of life, thank G-d, starts to copy them in this behavior as much as he does all others.

I know intellectually that this ‘training’ will require more energy in the short term, but greater returns with less work in the long run. It just feels like a lot of energy in the short term.

New Year, new changes. We are no longer in a new house. We are no longer a house full of toddlers. Time for a new set of rules, a new way of doing things…..

… it sounds good now while they are all asleep and I am able to sit down…. but I would rather be determined, than having a melt-down.