Who is looking for perfection?

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Today, just after the holiest and most awe-inspiring days of the new year, I was so happy to discover this… it’s something I wrote way back, when I was a new mom, and it rings just as true today.

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God is not looking for perfection, and though I always knew this, in my mind, I think that it only began to sink into my heart not so long ago. It cost me a great many tears until I reached this realization, but the reward was infinitely wonderful, because it gives a sense of security and confidence each one of us, as His precious child, deserves.

He is not, and cannot be, looking for perfection, because He did not make me perfect. He left room for improvement, and He delights in, and appreciates the efforts I undertake to improve.

Yes, there is the standard (vast and challenging) set of commandments each practicing Jew sees him or herself committed to. But other than that, He watches and appreciates me according to my own abilities and limitations – not those of other people.

For example, even though I am dedicated to – and know my place is in – my home, with my family, caring for my children, even though I have never been happy and content anywhere the way I am in my home throughout each day, the practical truth is that I’m challenged when it comes to everyday domestic tasks. And I mean, really challenged, which is why, when I say “if I can do it, anyone can”, I mean it most sincerely. I think the reason for this is a combination of natural clumsiness and forgetfulness (I’m prone to knocking things over, and I’d be lost without my notes and lists), and not being required to lend a hand around the house when I was a child, which could have formed helpful lifelong habits (but which undoubtedly would have been frustrating for whoever tried to engage me in helping).

So, if someone stops by one day and examines my house with a critical eye, perhaps some lingering undusted spots may be noticed, and some lack of order. But God doesn’t see this. He knows what my house had been like before, and knows the effort I put in to achieve a certain measure of tidiness. He knows the long hours I spend working in my home every day, long after the baby goes to sleep, scrubbing floors, ironing and working in my kitchen. He knows I do it all with a happy heart, thinking about how to make life more comfortable and orderly for my family. And he appreciates it, even though I might be forever and always lagging behind someone else’s standards.

He doesn’t want or expect us to be perfect. He wants our dedication, our faithfulness to the important tasks handed to us, our willingness to improve, our best efforts, our cheerfulness, our joy in being with Him, our appreciation of the blessings that adorn our lives. And He wants, appreciates and loves us, just the way we are, with our weaknesses, our misconceptions and our failings.

He sees us through eyes of compassion and love, which is how we are to be with our own children: to value and cherish them for what they are, never compare them with others, but celebrate their achievements as they make progress at their own pace. Who knows how many children’s souls have been terribly wounded, not by lack of care or provision, but by constant remarks about some other child, who speaks three languages and plays the violin. Thankfully, God is beyond human failings. Yes, He will never fail us.

We should know that each and every little thing is rewarded, even when it is seemingly noticed and appreciated by no one. He sees, He knows, and that is why pleasing people or measuring up to other people’s standards is not supposed to be our primary goal. He looks at our heart, and may we ever and always be strengthened and comforted by this knowledge.

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The Great Replacement

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“No matter how hard you try,” a well-meaning person told me some time ago, with the air of delivering an eye-opening statement, “you will never be able to replace a kindergarten teacher for your children.”

I was rather short-tempered, but I wanted to be kind. I also knew that a long explanation would be futile, and would lead to yet another argument. What I said was simply, “it is the kindergarten teacher who will never be able to replace a mother.”

But going back to the original statement… two things are implied here:

1. Small children need preschool/kindergarten, and the preschool/kindergarten program is without doubt the absolute ministry-of-education-regulated best.

2. If you teach/keep your children at home, you must be trying to imitate the preschool/kindergarten/school setting, with yourself acting as the teacher.

Even people who are prepared – very cautiously – to admit that maybe learning at home isn’t a very crazy idea, are most reassured by the sight of children with workbooks, working with timetables and being graded for their work. Because of course, without daily drills and grading, there is no learning… right?

Once, a mother confided in me that she is going to put her 18-months-old child (her only child, so far) in daycare, even though she doesn’t work outside the home, because several family members insist that the boy needs more “stimulation” and “socialization”; since she looked so obviously dejected when she spoke of it, and since I was certain she knows my opinion already, I allowed myself to gently say that as far as I can see, a 6-hour-long daily period in a daycare center would be overstimulating, tiring, and overall pointless for her son.When we are talking of a baby who can’t even speak properly yet, all the needed “socialization” is covered by a daily walk to the playground where he can see and interact with other people.

Since women entered the work force en masse, the question of what to do with the young children became highly relevant in almost every family. A home can be left alone, but not a child – and so day care centers, preschools and kindergartens became a widespread solution. This is now so normal that a mother who is raising her children at home is allegedly “replacing” a preschool teacher. Let us not forget it is the other way around.

The period of having small children at home is very intense, physically and emotionally demanding; it is also finite. It may a few years if you have just one child, or a couple of decades if you have many, but either way it will come to an end some day. Some day, I will not have anyone barging into my room shouting, “Peepee!” – nor will I need to interrupt an adult conversation in order to say, “please get your finger out of your nose”. Life will be calmer, perhaps, and more rational – and a little duller as well.

So let us, mothers, savor this time with our children, and know that we are exactly where we are needed at the moment, and that no one – no one – can replace us.

The photo above is from our old home, taken when our two eldest were little. We lived in an isolated little corner with a beautiful view and raised goats, chickens and a dog. The demands of such a lifestyle were many, but there was much joy in the journey, and the memories are sweet.

The gift of today

As time passes, it is clearer and clearer to me that the most important work we have to do upon this earth is in loving, and showing love to, and caring for the people around us, starting from the people closest to us.

I am very privileged in this sense, at this season of my life. I have many people to love. I have little children at home, who need me many hours out of each day, and therefore I have no lack of opportunity to give love and care in a thousand practical ways. I also get to stay home and do all those things myself. My children never had a diaper changed by anybody else but me and their dad, except perhaps occasionally a grandma.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of perfect person. I have low tolerance for whining. I snap if a child shows open disobedience. I have all these hobbies and projects and things I like to do on my own, and like every mother of young children, I sometimes desperately wish for a good long restful stretch of quiet time.

But then I look back at the time when Shira was a baby and motherhood was new and overwhelming and I cried because I felt as though I’d never sleep again. Now she’s a 9-year-old who reads, writes, learns, works on her own projects, has her own friends and folds her own socks. She can do the dishes, wash the floor, and fry eggs. I have no idea how this happened, but facts are staring me in the face. It’s bittersweet, really. Seasons chase seasons, and as much as I’d want to stop time, even for a day, I can’t.

All I can do is enjoy. Enjoy the little downy head that is resting on my chest. Enjoy the playdough art and creative spelling. Enjoy the child who is small enough to sit on my lap, because someday soon he won’t be. Enjoy the full house, because one day these little birds will fly out to make their own nest.

Live, love and enjoy the gift. The gift of today.

Nursing on demand and parental authority

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There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called “child-centered” lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child’s choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and… nursing on demand.

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. “In the past,” she writes, “new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it.”

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way “spoils” the baby or harms the mother’s authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding – which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother’s health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever.

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. “Our mothers breastfed on schedule,” she said, “and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children.” True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least.

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule – and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way – wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk “just ran out” after 1 month, after which she had to give her children’s cow’s milk (as formula wasn’t readily available), and  many years later told me how she “was one of those women who just couldn’t produce enough”.

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, “what if I’m spoiling the baby? What about my ‘authority’ as a parent?”

Imagine the following situation. It’s nearly evening, and I’m busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Dinner will be ready in an hour,” I say. “But I’m still hungry,” she insists. “Alright, then,” I say, “if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple.” She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household “child-centered”? No. Does it make me less of an authority figure as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, “wait for dinner!”? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading this blog for a while know I’m very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I’m not speaking about things like sweets and cakes, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of cheese before bedtime.

So what is the difference when we’re talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snack. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed – which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, nurse when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being.

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby’s whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed – regardless of how wet or dirty they are – five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper!

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your baby will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, she will open the fridge and make herself a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents’ job to do so.

Hadassah

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Just a little update on how we are doing…

After lots of thinking, and staring at the baby’s precious face, asking, “how shall we name you, little one?” we’ve chosen the name Hadassah. She is one of the calmest, most peaceful babies I have ever seen. She can be just quietly settled in my arms for a long time, looking at me, and all around, with a beautiful and intelligent stare.

Life around here is settling into what I call the happy newborn mess stage. Everything is going in many directions, and days and nights are almost equally chaotic, but this is a happy time.

I look forward to writing more here (and elsewhere) soon.

My Little One (the last few days before birth)

For those of you who may be wondering – yes, I’m still hanging in there! There’s about a week and a half to go until my due date, and I’m hovering between frustrated thoughts (“I just want this to be over!”) and panic flutters (“Thanks goodness it wasn’t The Real Thing yet…”). Either way, the only way is forward!

I’m trying to take advantage of these last days to refresh my relaxation techniques and do, see and think of calming and beautiful things – and also to enjoy this final stage of us as a family of five, before our status quo changes; while we can all still fit into our little car, rather than juggle traveling in batches; while I can still ‘baby’ my son, Israel, who will soon be a big brother.

I wanted to share the following poem, which I wrote to Israel when he was just under 18 months old. I have so enjoyed, and am enjoying, every moment with him, from changing those first little diapers to now teaching him his first letters (at his request!), drawing with him, and roaming outside (as much as my watermelon-like belly will allow):

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Rest next to me, my little one.
There will be time to get up and go on;
But for now, just sleep next to me,
My little one.
Play with me, my little one.
There will be time for serious things,
But for now, let’s play together,
My little one.
Walk with me, my little one.
A time will come and you will run far,
But for now, just walk with me,
My little one.
Let’s tell a story, my little one.
There will be time to face the world.
But for now, let it all be magic,
My little one.
Give me your hand, my little one.
A time will come when you’ll have to let go,
But for now, let’s hold hands,
My little one.
***
Painting: Picking Daisies by Hermann Seeger, 1905

Birth choices and their price

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I’m now entering my last month of pregnancy, and while I’ve done this three times already, about the only things I can be pretty sure of are – labor is going to hurt, and I’ll have a baby in the end. Otherwise, it’s still plunging deep into the vast ocean of the unknown, every single time. You have no way to predict how it’s going to go.

I’m terrified of giving birth. It’s physically rigorous, it’s traumatic, and it reduces me to a semi-conscious, barely articulate being that has very little in common with my usual rational self. Also, no matter how many times I do it, I will never be able to comprehend how on earth a baby can be squeezed out of there. When I think that I’ve done it and was up and about a mere couple of hours later, it’s  a miracle.

I won’t lie, I’ve been considering an epidural – or even an elective C-section – to help with pain and the extreme anxiety I experience each time, and to avoid finding myself in that unpredictable out-of-control place. But my fear of needles and surgical procedures is even greater than of giving birth, and it doesn’t seem this fear is so very irrational.

What makes me even more suspicious is that the medical staff always, without fail, portrays epidurals as something 99.9999% safe and effective, with only a minuscule portion of side effects. The anecdotal evidence of countless birth stories (because, remember, I live in a society where everyone has a lot of babies all the time) paints a different picture. It’s true that serious complications from epidurals are rare, but I have heard a fair share of stories of inadequate pain relief (with limited capability to move and deal with the pain in different ways), headaches and backaches that have lasted any time from a few days to a few weeks, prolonged and ill-controlled pushing, and prolonged recovery. A friend actually told me how she opted for an epidural, and there wasn’t time to get one – they had just inserted the needle, but didn’t even give her the drip yet when the baby was born – and the placement of the needle itself had hurt the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to back pains that have lasted for 10 years (!).

Fact: the placement of the epidural is a delicate procedure performed by humans. Humans are not infallible. Things can go wrong, and it’s silly to ignore this.

Did these women go to their health care provider and complain of the ill effects? Many did, certainly. The overwhelming majority of them received the same response: “You can’t really prove this was because of the epidural.”

You know what this sounds like? Like sweeping evidence under the rug.

The truth, I believe, is that the medical establishment does not really want to look at how widespread the side effects are, because it would necessitate gearing the whole system anew. Epidurals are extremely staff-friendly. Once a laboring mother gets one, and is hooked to monitors, etc, she can basically be left alone for hours in a quiet, undemanding state, because she is relatively pain-free and comfortable. A system that provides alternative means of pain relief on a more widespread basis would have to be more active, caring, and focused on the mother. It would mean more attention from midwives, more listening to the patient’s wishes, and more accommodations in the way of turning each L&D ward into a mini-natural birth center.

Fact: while a controlled hospital environment, intermittent fetal monitoring, the presence of doctors nearby, and the availability of NICU potentially increase the safety of childbirth for mother and baby, epidurals do not. Not even doctors claim that epidurals make a birth safer, or provide better outcomes. It’s 100% about pain management and comfort.

Plus, while in Israel women don’t pay for epidurals or C-sections, it doesn’t mean that this stuff comes free. Someone funds it, and that someone is the government (which, of course, is in its turn funded by our taxes). I’ve birthed, so far, with nobody present but a midwife to catch the baby, and no fancier equipment than a birthing ball and a shower with a jet of hot water. Midwives, showers and birthing balls are a lot less expensive than anaesthesiologists, surgeons and I.V. drips, and every hospital receives a fat check for each medicated and/or surgical birth. Less women who opt for epidurals means less money for hospitals and less employment for anaesthesiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think epidurals should be available to every woman who requests them, without question. Labor is a hugely individual thing, and what is manageable for some is impossible agony for others. If a woman is actually going through hell, or has gone through hell in a past birth, she might well decide that the risk of longer recovery or a few weeks of migraines are worth it. Some women would probably never have more than one child if it weren’t for the possibility of medical pain relief. I think it’s despicable and unethical that in some countries, natural birth is viewed not as the mother’s choice, but as a way to save money for the government.

I’d say that if the birthing mother wants something – an epidural, a massage, whale music, candles, a doula, her mom, a yoga instructor – everyone around her should do everything to support her choice and give her what she needs, or even thinks she needs, because the psychological factor plays a huge role. It has to be the woman’s choice. But it must be an informed choice.