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

Image result for kitchen mess comic

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?

When Children Fight: book review

When Children Fight, by Miriam Levi, was a very timely read for me this week. Sibling fights have been the perennial challenge in our house for a couple of years now; we have two girls, currently 7.5 and soon to be 6 who, as a friend of mine very aptly puts it, “will fight over dead air space”.

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“Do you imagine that nobody else’s kids fight the way yours do? “Hearing shrieks and screams, I stormed into the playroom ready to screech, ‘What’s going on here?!’ But stopped myself, remembering the lessons from Miriam’s workshop. Lo and behold – the next thing I heard was – silence!”

Don’t get me wrong, most days I really appreciate having two girls close together in age. It really simplifies things when doing school, crafts, or any special activities – most of the time they can do anything together (of course with expected age-appropriate differences). They also always have a playmate, which is especially important because in the area we currently live, there really aren’t very many girls close to their age, and as you know, not all children of the same age hit it off together.

The problem is, sometimes my two daughters don’t hit it off together either. There are few things more frustrating than a sudden episode of loud whining, screeching, name-calling, hitting, taunting, etc, especially when a baby or toddler is having a nap, or you are trying to get dinner done – and especially when, after digging in, you realize this fight is about some scrap of a chewed-on pencil, or because someone looked at someone not quite the right way.

First I’m ashamed of my children acting this way. Then I’m ashamed of myself for yelling.

Since we homeschool, sibling antagonism is exacerbated. Yes, pretty much all families with more than one child deal with sibling rivalry, not just the homeschooling ones, but because we are together so much more, problems can’t be brushed aside or misted over by lengthy breaks from each other. They must be dealt with, promptly and effectively.

So yes, you can imagine the title of Miriam’s book spoke right to me when I grabbed it from the library. I whizzed through it in two days – it’s a compact, practical, straightforward, easy-to-read Judaism-based guide to dealing with those draining and exhausting sibling fights. Miriam doesn’t dig deep into complicated psychological theories: she gives slice-of-life examples of unhealthy sibling dynamics and their solutions.

I think the most important thing I gleaned from When Children Fight is that I don’t need to interfere in every single fight, every single time. I can’t prevent all fighting; it will always be there at some level, and not every dispute will be settled in a 100% fair, harmonious way. That’s life. Try to let your children solve the problem themselves, Miriam says. I tried that, drawing a red line at hitting and offensive name-calling. I withdrew from trying to personally solve every dispute of “but I had it first” and “she will never let me use it”, and let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised by how creative my daughters can be at resolving their conflicts when they know they are on their own.

One thing I do have to say, though, is that this book is like a home first-aid medical kit: it contains some band-aids and iodine, but not things needed to treat more serious injuries. That is to say, it deals with a generally normal, well-functioning Jewish family where sibling dynamics are a little jarring. It doesn’t go into more complicated real-life issues such as severe, persistent disobedience, behavioral problems, ADD, or issues that spring when a family deals with trauma due to divorce, illness, or loss of a loved one.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed When Children Fight and no doubt will return to it for reference in the future.

* Illustration image: oliviamainville.com