Not all on our own

Image result for exhausted mom
Image: exhausted mom
Reading this excellent post made me think about many things. In essence I agree; Me Time is often over-emphasized, over-rated and, worst of all, over-indulged, as in the notion that you are allowed to do almost anything that will make you “happy” or more comfortable.

However, it is true that motherhood can be draining. It is a joy, it is the greatest project of my life, but it is also hard, hard work 24/7. I will even venture to say that so far, things haven’t even really become easier as the children grow. The challenges are simply different. Sure, I get more sleep now than I did when I had newborns, and my day is more orderly, but frankly, breastfeeding and changing diapers was more… straightforward than handling some of the behavioral problems and educational choices we are facing now.

Before we reminisce about how our great-grandmothers did it all on their own and didn’t ask for any help or time off, I would like to step in and say I don’t believe it was the case at all. Childcare wasn’t the exclusive task of the mother. Our great-grandmothers lived in a much more supportive community, and often close to family who could offer some help. A woman of that time could, perhaps, see her mother on a daily basis; or perhaps she lived near her sister, who had children of the same age, and each of them could take a turn watching the little ones. Or if there was no family nearby, neighbors would often step into its place. I’m not saying it always happened, but it was common.

When my two eldest children were toddlers, I had basically two choices: either I stay home with them all day, every day, no breaks (my husband worked long hours) – or I put them in daycare and I’m away from them all day, every day. But I didn’t want or need to be away from my children all day; I only needed an occasional break to refresh me and provide some variety. So I always had them at home with me, for better or worse.

In the past, it was common to let young children play outside and explore on their own – such young children that today it would be considered criminal neglect. The outdoors were safer, and there was almost always some responsible adult outside at every hour of the day.

My great-grandmother used to have a maid. Not a live-in maid, but someone who came on a regular basis and helped around the house. You will say, “it may be so, but she didn’t have a washing machine.” That is true – however, according to my Grandma, the children wore the same clothes all week and only got clean ones for Shabbat. You can imagine how those clothes looked at the end of the week (there were five boys in that family!). Can you imagine not giving your child fresh clothes to wear every day, perhaps more than once a day? If my daughters get a little stain or spill on their clothes – and it happens often, as you can imagine – they start to wail and beg for a change, and sometimes I have to put my foot down, especially if it happens an hour before bath-time.

So what is my point? Feeling tired and drained is bad enough. Feeling guilty because you are tired and drained and you don’t think you are supposed to feel this way is far, far worse. It is perfectly normal to want to feel refreshed and rejuvenated by doing something different. This doesn’t always have to involve spending time away from your family – I have learned to say yes to my husband’s offers of little escapades in the middle of the week, even if there are dishes piled up in the sink.

I have learned to put my feet up in the middle of the day for a short while, and to lock the bedroom door and say, “Mommy is resting”. Usually this means only a few minutes of lying down, with or without a book, but sometimes I manage to steal a cat nap.

I have also learned to enjoy my children more, and to participate in their fun activities rather than frantically say, “oh, good, they are occupied. Now let’s proceed to the next thing on the to-do list.”

I know there are moms out there who are struggling; who live far away from any family, and in places where it is uncommon to rely on friends or neighbors. Who spend all day, every day with their children and are so exhausted that a day in the office may seem like heaven sometimes. What I would like to say that it is normal to feel tired. It is normal to want help. And if you live in the way many live these days – a relatively isolated nuclear family – your best and only source of help will probably be your husband.

Before you feel guilty (“he has been working all day!”), remember that a break can mean not only putting your feet up, but also simply doing something different from what you did all day. I used to be all of a “no, no, let me, I’ll do everything” person. But then I realized that after my husband comes home, or on weekends – after he has had time to eat and rest, and do some of his own stuff, of course – he is perfectly happy to take charge of some childcare and household tasks, and doesn’t see that as a burden. There is a novelty in that to him, because it’s a change from what he has been doing all day and all week.

Would you go into the kitchen late in the evening and start cooking? I wouldn’t, because by late evening I have seen enough of the kitchen for the day. But my husband is often inspired to cook or bake after he has come home from work, or on Fridays. For him, it’s recreation, not a chore. Also, often I’ll have tired, squabbling kids in the evening, but the moment there’s a knock on the door, they run swift as the wind to open and are so good and happy when they are around their father. Why? Because we all benefit from a change. The children, too.

I realize there are also single mothers (and often not by choice) out there. My heart truly goes out to them and I hope they, too, find the right healing balance for themselves and their children.
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There was a child once

 

There was a child once, and this child is not gone. She is still there, deep within me. I may look all grown up, but I’m not, at least not always.

I’m still the baby yearning for the peace and security of her mother’s arms.
I’m still the toddler curiously peeking at the world around her, ready to discover something new and exciting at any moment.
I’m still the little girl climbing trees, looking for a special secret hiding place all her own.
I’m still the teenager with an acute impression of beauty, love of fascinating stories, and a desire to express herself in poetry and art.

The child is still there, and it is my task to love the child, to take her by the hand and let her walk with me in the grown-up world. Life is more fun and interesting this way.

There was a child once, and the child found much excitement in life, but she was also lonely. She had no siblings and few friends. That’s sad.

My children are different. They are happy and secure, and they have many people to love. This makes me happy, but there’s more. There is me, too. Still a little girl with a dark fringe that falls into her eyes. Still one who is content to sit for hours and watch ants crawling, to experiment with colors and words.

Love your children. Love the child within you, too. Don’t lose touch with what is so precious in you, in me, in each one of us.

Stay-at-home mothers, social pressure and feelings of inferiority

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and I only hope I have enough eloquence to express myself properly.

In the first neighborhood where my husband and I lived as a young couple with children, it was lonely during the day. Most women worked, except those who stayed home with the really tiny babies. Most children were in daycare by 6 months of age. When people heard that Shira, then less than 3 years old, wasn’t going to attend any type of daycare or preschool that year, they were shocked. No, more than shocked – scandalized. Certain that I’m depriving my child of a very important developmental step. “You’ll have to work very, very hard with her at home to be as good as a daycare,” one Mom told me. I didn’t work hard. I just enjoyed life and we did fine.

I felt very much alone. In all the time we lived there, I didn’t meet one person who shared my views about education and family life. Still, I was convicted that what we’re doing is the right choice for our family. This gave me strength, though at times I reverted to what I now call “the no choice tactic” – telling people “I’m staying home to watch over my children because daycare would be too expensive”; “I’m not getting a job because there aren’t any good jobs available locally, and I don’t drive”. Call me weak, but sometimes it was just easier to do that instead of arguing with people.

Then we moved to our next neighborhood, where I instantly felt at home. Most women were homemakers. Most children were home at least until they were three years old. There was a homeschooling family with girls the same age as mine, and we immediately hit it off. We hosted sleepovers. We hung out in the mornings, watching over the kids. Until I was there I didn’t even realize how good it feels to fit in, to be – if not like everyone else – not a freak either.

Seasons passed, and due to a combination of various circumstances we were forced to move again, to the place where we live now. Socially, I now find myself in the same place as in our first neighborhood, with one further disadvantage: my children are now older, which makes my desire for us to stay together and learn as a family stand out even more. Also, I keenly feel the loss of that environment in our old home which was so supportive of our educational choices.

I see the women all around me. They are all such good women, mothers, friends. They all love their children, take care of them and teach them, just the way I do. They all nurture their homes, cook nutritious meals, and bake delicious treats, just the way I do. Only they do it part-time rather than full-time. They also work hard outside the home – as a personal sacrifice rather than a career achievement, I must add. Many of the men here struggle to provide for their families, and so their wives step in and work extra. Several are nurses working night shift, sacrificing their sleep so they can later be with their children during the day. The families all manage on a very tight budget, even with both parents working.

I am, truly, full of respect for these women. Seeing them sometimes makes me feel spoiled, indulged. Not that I sit twiddling my thumbs at home; I have three children and am a freelance writer and editor. I get no help with household chores or child care. I thrift shop and have become a really economical cook. Still, I sometimes wonder what it is about me that makes it nearly impossible to even let a baby out of my sight, let alone go to work for part of each day. Is something wrong with me?

But I guess that what makes me ache most is the feeling of mental isolation. I would so love to develop close, trusting relationships with at least some of my neighbors. I feel that what we have in common – the love for our G-d, our families, our children, our homes – is far bigger than our differences. Unfortunately our neighbors feel differently. I sense people are wary around us. Like it’s not enough to have a lot in common; like you have to be exactly the same to be friends. And I think that’s a real pity.

I guess the key here is that nobody should feel threatened by the different choices others make. I don’t pass judgment on the Mom whose young children are in daycare from 8 to 4, and then in various afternoon classes from 4 to 6 (though I might think this lifestyle is quite hectic). Similarly she shouldn’t pass judgment on me (though she might privately think our lives are boring). We can disagree on some issues, but we can agree on many others. And we can be friends. At least that’s what I believe.

Working in our pajamas

There are some days when, if it weren’t for the necessity to go out and feed the chickens, I’d probably remain in my fuzzy pajamas all day long. As the critters do need to be fed, and as someone might pass by and wonder at seeing me in pink pajamas and fluffy socks at midday, I get dressed, put on my muck boots, and trudge out with a box of feed in hand. Moral: if you want to have more motivation for self-discipline, keep animals. If nothing else, it will make you get dressed properly in the morning.

For most families, structure is something integral to every day. They get up, fly through the routine of dressing and breakfast, and everyone goes off their own separate ways for the days. For those who both work and learn from home, the situation is very different. We are pretty much in each other’s hair every day and all day long, and that is by necessity a mess-generator (both physically and mentally). Structure is important; it doesn’t have to stick to conventional routines or hours, but it must be there.

One of my favorite homeschooling resources, The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, has a chapter on schedules called Structure, or Can We Wear Our Pajamas to School? Here’s a quote:

“Often families who start out with a fairly rigid structure find themselves becoming more relaxed and flexible as they grow more comfortable with homeschooling, whereas those who began with an informal and casual style may discover the need for more structure.”

We’ve been in both these places. Some years ago, a homeschooling friend told me that in her family, and in all homeschooling families she knows, later hours and more flexible meal times for kids are the norm. I bristled. Not with us! Dinner at 6, bath at 6:30, story time at 7:00, bedtime and blissful silence by 7:30. And you know what, for a long while I adhered to these principles religiously. But I paid dearly for it. Stress, tension, and constant chafing with my kids became the norm. On the other hand, I wouldn’t adopt my husband’s suggestion of just letting them run about until they drop off from sheer exhaustion. These days I’m more flexible, but I do know, and so do my kids, that once we’re on the track of dinner-baths-reading time, it leads to bedtime and that’s that.

Another great quote from The Homeschooling Handbook:

“Figuring out which part of which ideas will work for you is not easy. Often the ideas you find most attractive and expect will best fit your family don’t work for you at all. Or they work for a year or two and then suddenly seem ridiculous. Just remember that your kids are growing and changing and the relationships among you all are changing as well. It’s unrealistic to expect homeschooling to remain the same in the midst of those changes.”

Of kitchen sinks and gratitude

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Illustration photo: Huffington Post

Last Friday I awoke to the sounds of gushing water from the kitchen. It actually sounded like a small, gurgling stream. Bleary-eyed, I rolled off the bed and went to see what’s the deal; I discovered a small lake spreading out from under the kitchen sink.

Of course, I did what any rational woman would do in such a situation – I ran to shake my husband awake, panting, “Quick! Quick! There’s an emergency! We’re all drowning!”. My husband opened one eye, stepped into the kitchen, took a look at the whole thing and closed off the pipeline leading to the sink. While I was mopping up this miniature Lake Windermere, he remarked, “Well, at least the kitchen floor will be clean.”

He explained to me that there’s something wrong with the kitchen pipeline (you don’t say?!). Did it rust through? Got nibbled on by mice? Punctured by evil aliens? I didn’t care; I just wanted the use of my kitchen sink back. It didn’t help that Friday is the busiest day in Orthodox Jewish households, growing progressively crazier as the clock ticks toward afternoon and the lighting of Shabbat candles.

In case you are wondering, washing dishes in the bathroom sink is not very convenient.

I’m sure my husband, who is a real handyman, will put this right eventually, but this kitchen sink incident got me thinking of all the other things we normally take for granted – our comforts and conveniences, the abundance of food and clothes, our spacious, well-heated homes, our civil rights and freedoms, our families, health, and very life. So let us stop for a moment to appreciate it all. Celebrate the kitchen sink!

This week we marked our son Israel’s second birthday. I am so happy and grateful to be the mother of this little boy. With my older girls, I was very young and newly married and it was Mommy Boot Camp all the way for the most part. But once Tehilla, our second daughter, was out of her toddler years and I realized I might never have another baby again, I shed many tears. When Israel was born all felt like a gift; it still does. For the past two years, I am grateful to say I have been able to appreciate so many things about his infancy and toddlerhood – just relax, enjoy and let go. We all sit on the floor a lot, playing with Lego, blocks or toy trains, and I no longer have that itch telling me I have to get going and move on to do something more important.

I guess this post is just a record of thanksgiving. For children, families, life, and comfortable homes with modern conveniences. I thank God for what I have, really I do.

Just please, fix that kitchen sink.

When everyone is sick

About a week and a half ago, I woke in the middle of the night because Israel vomited all over me (what a way to wake up, huh?). At first I thought (hoped) it was only a fluke, but when he continued being sick in the morning, and my two other children picked up after him, I realized we’re in trouble. Then, as my husband and I I began feeling sick ourselves, I had this sinking uh-oh feeling, because few things are more exhausting than caring for a bunch of sick children when you are not on your best form yourself. I vividly remember the night when I had to get up every hour to take care of another vomiting kid, and then found it difficult to fall asleep again because I felt so queasy. On the up side, it was an opportunity to finish reading a book I’ve been hacking at for ages.

Luckily, it didn’t last long – a couple of days at most – but these were a very intense couple of days which left us totally drained and with a mountain-high pile of stinky clothes and bedding to wash. Oh, and should I mention that exactly at that time, the water pump leading to our area broke down? The stinky pile had to wait, while it got stinkier and stinkier and, eventually, some sheets developed horrible mold and had to be thrown out.

What a time. I also wrote a post about this on Mother Earth News:

“If you also have to deal with a houseful of sick little ones, this can be particularly challenging, especially if your kids, like ours, are used to running in and out of doors at all times and find it frustrating to sit or lie down still and quiet. It helps to provide some quiet amusement in the form of books, coloring books, sketching pads, and other quiet, non-messy crafts. Let your children curl up with you in bed for some reading together, or allow them to spread a board game or puzzle on the floor while you are relaxing on the couch. Movies can have their place, too, of course, but in general I find that prolonged staring into a screen contributes to fatigue and doesn’t promote the overall sense of well-being.”

The Diaper Debate

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A long time ago, when I was pregnant for the first time and we had many lofty ideas about our own capabilities, my husband and I talked about cloth diapers. We pretty much decided we are going to use them, for the sake of frugality, sustainability and baby’s skin health. It just seemed the right choice all around, until one day, when I was getting pretty big, we had the following conversation.

DH: “But where would we wash the diapers?”

Me: “What do you mean, where? We put them in the washing machine.”

DH: (wrinkling his nose): “What, you’ll put poopy diapers in the same machine that we use to wash our clothes?”

Me: “Not in the same cycle. We’ll wash them separately, you know.” 

DH: “I still think that’s gross. Think of all the bacteria that will be left over.”

Me: “Well, what do you suggest?”

DH: “My Mom always washed our diapers by hand.”

Do I have to tell you? We’ve been using disposables ever since. And at times I’ve been feeling guilty about it, too, especially when I haul out a big garbage bag full of almost nothing but diapers and think about it adding to some tremendous landfill.

It wasn’t just the gross factor that put us off; we’ve had plenty of poop in our washing machine anyway over the years, what with newborn blow-outs and all. There were periods when changing a poopy diaper equaled changing a whole baby outfit, every time. We’re still all alive and well.

It was also that conveniently made cloth diapers are a pretty hefty initial investment, one we hesitated to make, and I’m not up to sewing my own. And, of course, there’s the convenience; at times, I’ve been so overwhelmed by laundry (especially not having a drier, on long rainy weeks in winter) that voluntarily adding more seemed an effort of will beyond my capability.

As a compromise, I have tried doing early potty-training, with babies running around bare-bottomed around the house on many a summer day. The little tushies got a pleasant breeze, we saved some money on diapers, and I felt better about the ecological aspect of it all.

In the place where we live now, we have frequent electricity and water shortages, up to the point that everybody living in the neighborhood often gets requests to save on electricity and water as much as possible by trying to minimize the usage of air conditioners, ovens and, of course, washing machines. An extra load of diapers every day or two just doesn’t seem feasible in such conditions.  I actually believe that in Israel, where water is a precious commodity, bio-degradable diapers may be more eco-friendly than cloth.

There had to be, however, a compromise: green and convenient; eco-friendly but disposable. So lately I’ve started looking into the option of switching to bio-degradable disposable diapers, such as these. I’d love to hear from any of you who care to share your experience. Cloth? Bio-degradable? Plain ol’ Pampers?