Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I read something on Real Simple.com that freaked me out. I wasn't looking at the site, but it was a link from CNN so I clicked. I don't read that magazine. I don't because it makes me feel seriously deficient, kind of like the Container Store (how on earth can we be that perfect). But it made me realize that the little tricks that I've come up with, the short cuts, make it possible for me to be the kind of Jew I want and still pretend to get things done in my life.
So please, dear reader, read on for my solutions for managing your time. Jewishly. Or Jewish time. For Shabbat, too. Whatever.
- Use tea lights for Shabbat candles. No mess to clean up. Fulfill your mitzvah the no muss no fuss way.
- Although it is not good for the environment, cook your Shabbat dinner in a tin pan. Oh wait, you can recycle it. Who wants to spend erev Shabbat cleaning up when you can be doing other things?
- Be a dork and set out clothes for the next day in advance. I know, I know, but it does work. Definitely choose Shabbat clothes in advance. When you're done choosing for you, do it for your kids. Definitely do it for your spouse.
- Don't ever bake your own challah. Come on, seriously. Haven't you ever had Zomicks/Bagel City/etc., etc.? Store bought can still be good.
- Respect your body and get enough sleep. And don't eat junk food. OK, at least not all the time.
- See #4, and stop making fancy desserts. Serve more fruit. Everyone needs more fruit. Then have sorbet. And a storebought cookie won't kill anyone either. (Sorry, ImaShalom)
- Make your own Shabbat box. Not the kiddie kind, but the one filled with the magazines, special snacks, etc. that you can break open on Shabbat and really enjoy. That way when you do get 5 minutes to yourself the good magazine (Star?) will be right where you want it.
- Stop needing to be the balabusta and get yourself invited over (by anyone) for a Shabbat meal. Or any meal. Don't be picky. Or eat lunch at the kiddush at shul. Or go to the potluck. You might make a new friend or two and you won't have to cook.
- Buy a lot of gifts in advance so you'll always have something to take with you. Kids' gifts, fun things for adults, small stuff. Keep it in a big plastic bin in a closet with some nice bags (OK, from the Container Store) and take them with you when you go to someone's house for Shabbat (see #8). Or anytime.
- Make a meal for a family with a new baby or a family sitting shiva. And at the same time make the same meal for your family. And then there is the less mitzvah-dik version: cook a LOT in advance and freeze it. Quiches, lasagne, meat sauce for pasta, soups, meatloaf, chili, whatever. Who cares? Just make it in big batches and freeze. Yes, it is OK to have something you defrost for Shabbat.
I'm stopping at 10 because I don't have enough time to write more!!
Today I discovered another mommy blog – outside the (toy) box – that focuses specifically on these kinds of issues. I especially love that she offers a resource section of anti-sexist/anti-consumerist children’s books. I had been feeling kind of sad as I considered "Free to Be You and Me"’s movement toward middle age and the apparent dearth of new projects of this sort, and was despairing at the daunting task of counteracting the strong tide of gender stereotypes that still pulls at us (and my little developing people!) all the time. It’s always nice to know there are allies in this struggle. It’s sometimes hard to remember when even your feminist friends buy your twins little matching pink and blue outfits…
Also thanks to "outside the (toy) box," I discovered this great piece about the ways that gender restricts both girls and boys:
For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy who is tired of appearing strong when he is vulnerable. For every boy who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything, there is a girl tired of people not trusting her intelligence. For every girl tired of being called over-sensitive, there is a boy who fears to be gentle, to weep. For every boy for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity, there is a girl called unfeminine when she competes. For every girl who throws out her EZ Bake oven, there is a boy who wishes to find one. For every boy struggling not to let advertising dictate his desires, there is a girl facing the ad industry’s attacks on her self esteem. For every girl who takes a step toward her liberation, there is a boy who finds his way to freedom a little easier.
You can buy or download this poster (with gender-subverting coloring book drawings on the flip side) at Crimethinc. I’m going to hang it in my office, right next to my poster of Emma Goldman, a role model in the project of gender-flouting.
As hard as these gender issues can be in this first-toys stage (and especially at this gift-giving season), I’m anticipating how much more complicated they will be when it comes to certain ritual expectations of the kids. For example, will we require both of them to wear a kippah at the times when Abba does and Ima (sometimes) does? How could we not, I think, and then remember what I just wrote above – that I don’t consistently wear a kippah, and for reasons I can’t rationally justify (e.g. vanity, comfort). I wonder: how can we be honest with our kids about our own inconsistencies and ambivalences, without instilling in them the assumptions we’re trying so hard to overcome ourselves? When it comes to toys – I’m clear where I stand, and the hard work is counteracting the force of culture. When it comes to religious practice, these issues – despite my unyielding commitment to egalitarianism – are somehow murkier.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
He encountered a pink and purple set over Thanksgiving and he really took to it--had tea parties with his Abba, fed his Panda, etc.
He also had a great time pushing around a toy stroller. Personally, I was really excited about this because I had just bought him a boy doll and had dreams of him pushing around his doll in his stroller and becoming a nurturing, empathic adult because of it.
Hurray for defying gender expectations!! Hurray for us! Hurray for him!
Off I went to Toys R Us to get him the toy stroller. To do so I had to enter a scary, scary section of the store--devoted the idea that cooking and cleaning and caring for baby are the sole aspirations of little girls. And the flip side: that little boys have no need to learn about these important parts of adult life.
Ever single thing in that section was pinky pink and purply purple. Toys had names like Little Mom and box after box showed little girls being Just Like Mom. If I was a little boy I wouldn't have set foot in this section--it was so clearly FOR GIRLS ONLY.
So how are little boys even supposed to explore and develop these parts of their identity? Why are toy strollers only made for girls? Can't our definition of masculinity for our sons include cooking and cleaning and taking care of baby? Where is my gender neutral tea set??
The good news is that it's not the toys--or even their colors--that really matter to our children. It's the world that they see around them. And Abba is a fantastic role model for egalitarian gender roles, embracing his household responsibilities without sacrificing a drop of masculinity.
After my son has put aside his trucks and dolls and tea sets and become a man himself, I hope that pushing a stroller and changing a diaper will be as natural to him as hitting a hammer and driving a vroom vroom truck. Maybe more so.
Monday, November 26, 2007
My parents are also the epitome of youthful energy, and their visit this weekend is making me nervous. They’re here to be tourists and to see their granddaughter. I’m to be their social director and guide, since they won’t take a bus or metro by themselves.
It’s not that I want to be pampered (Okay, that’s a lie. It would be GREAT to be pampered. But that’s not going to happen. And that’s fine). These are the people who, when I was six, told me to “stop acting like a child,” after all.
They came to see me last summer in my first trimester of pregnancy, and in the three days they were here we visited 1.Mt. Vernon 2. all the monuments on the National Mall 3. the Arlington Cemetery, 4. the Holocaust museum 5. the National Gallery 6. Dumbarton Oak Gardens and 7. Georgetown, and more I just can’t remember right now. Oh, yeah, there was Shabbat in there somewhere, too.
Happy as school children on summer vacation, they’d wake me each morning at 6:30, ready for adventure.
My mother and I walked 4-6 miles every day the week before I gave birth. I was proud of my athleticism; I really pushed myself to do a 15-minute mile. The second day my mother woke me at 6 am to ask if I thought we’d take another 4 mile “stroll,” because she wanted to know how much she should work out before our next outing.
My mother worked plenty at home when we were small, and she probably deserves to vacation the rest of her life: there were the kids (us), the vegetable garden, the cooking. She ground our peanut butter and made her own flour. We raised our own animals for meat; she sewed our clothes. You could eat off her floors (unlike mine which my daughter, unfortunately, eats off anyway).
Isn’t she amazing?
But she’s done now.
She's so done my mother will probably wear my winter clothes while she’s here, so she won’t have to pack hers. (she weighs 103 lbs, as she’ll mention repeatedly in the course of the weekend, as in “I just don’t understand: I eat and eat and eat all day and I still weigh just 103 pounds”).
Umm…Thank G-d they’re healthy?
My baby is going to have a terrific time! We can't wait.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
But I have my moments of grand adventure. I went para sailing. I hiked up a rain forest and swam in a waterfall…when I was 6 months pregnant. I even wore white shoes after Labor Day. Just that once, though.
But what I am about to do. What I am EXCITED to do. What I have been waiting months to do-could shock some mommies to the core. Could frighten you beyond reason. Could make you think things about me that I certainly wish you wouldn’t.
I am LEAVING my daughter.
Well not for long- a week. And not with like social services, but with her Baubie and Zadie.
You see, my husband and I are going on a cruise. A little vacation-just him, me, 4,000 passengers and the Southern Caribbean. And it seems so innocuous, to actually WANT to go some place special with just your husband. The man you married. Fell in love with. Spent every moment of your life wishing you were with…until you had a child. Then that love is there and growing and all, but often you wish you got to spend more time with the bed. You have fights over who gets to change the next poopy diaper. You know he is slightly fibbing when he tells you he thinks you are sexy and you know you haven’t showered in a week or bothered to put on lipstick, let alone deodorant.
Why not spend some good quality time with the Mister, right?
But let me tell you, to some people-it’s poison.
Surprising as it may seem, there is a trend of not actually wanting to spend alone time with the man you married. I’ve been asked, “How can you think of doing anything enjoyable WITHOUT your child?” I’ve heard, “I can’t imagine leaving my child with anybody but me.” I know people who won’t even let their child stay with a babysitter for a few hours so they can go out on a Saturday night. But rarely do I hear, “You go girl!” (unless it’s in relation to how I managed to do 100 sit ups while finger painting at the same time).
I am all about doing special things as a family. You NEED to, it’s so very important. Building a bond with your child as a parent, is fantastic and necessary. But I think that maintaining a relationship that created the child is just as important as maintaining the child.
I also don’t think it has to be a fancy cruise-it’s just my birthday and my husband knows how to pick gifts. I think time alone together is time alone together. And if it’s a movie or sushi or anything that doesn’t involve diapers or boogers or cleaning gum out of the dog’s hair it has to be good. Making that time, that moment, will teach your child things about relationships that she can’t learn everyday and that, unfortunately, not all children are privileged enough to have the opportunity to learn.
We are going to go and have a romantic, stunning, relaxing time. Our daughter is lucky enough to have grandparents we trust. That she loves. That she wants to be with. That she is close to. She is also lucky to have a Mommy and Daddy who are deeply in love with each other. That still cherish and love and respect alone time. I’m going to miss her like crazy. I’m going to buy her way too many souvenirs. I’m going to think about how great it’s going to be to have her with us in our big family trip next June. But I’m not going to feel guilty. My husband and I will be too busy swimming with giant sea turtles to have time for that.
For the first 2 months of school, he barely interacted with other kids, preferring to be off by himself or in a teacher's lap. Just recently, he is starting to come out of his shell.
Yesterday, I watched him hang back in class, obviously too cool to participate in the group menorah or the tamborine dance to "Oh Suzanna." And then M walked in - his first friend at school - though truthfully, she seems more like a girlfriend.
I watched, amazed, as he smiled coyly and batted his eyes when she entered the room. She promptly went over to him and pinched his cheeks. They pushed each other and ran away giggling. Moments later, he was lying on her lap! I couldn't believe it!
But that's not all. Five other 3-year old babes came over and lay down on top of them! The teacher noticed my expression and said, "Isn't it funny? He's such a ladies man."
Indeed. I felt a glimpse of what it might be like to catch my future teenager making out with his girlfriend. It was particularly incredible to me just how innate the skill of flirting must be. My son is three years old - but he clearly has game. He certainly did not get this from me.
I admit to feeling a little relieved when, as he was leaving class, he annouced that he wanted his blankie. He may show signs of being a future heartbreaker, but for now, he's still a baby.
Worse, I’m from Houston, where the kosher meat sections take up 4 aisles in grocery stores. What a waste.
Sure I love hanging with the extended family of about 75 on Thanksgiving. Love football. Love arguing with my uncles about politics and oil. But as far as food goes, it’s like listening to couples talk about sex after being stood up at your own wedding.
A typical Thanksgiving meal by us includes: turkey and dressing (with meat in the dressing), chicken, brisket, venison sausage (homemade), It includes meat-based gravy for the mashed potatoes, brisket chips in the green beans.
I was so, so happy when my uncle married a French woman. That felicitous union added salad Nicoise to the Thanksgiving menu.
Vegetarianism is considered a psychosomatic illness in my family--no one would encourage it by making vegetarian alternatives. On the other hand, it's been a carte blanche for me to indulge in small acts of rebellion--of course she's styding literature instead of accounting, what do you expect from a vegetarian?
This year, I’m not flying to my family in Texas, since the only plane ticket under a zillion dollars returns to Baltimore or changes in Orlando, and I’m NOT doing that by myself with a very squirmy infant and luggage. She’s 10 months—she wouldn’t remember anyway. Next year I'll rejoin the carnivores I so love.
Tomorrow I’m hanging with a girl friend, cooking up unimaginable delights (that do NOT include fake turkey--possibly the vilest concoction ever evented), then watching football, like any other American.
Y’all enjoy yours, too.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
So instead I'll share with you, dear reader...
Things I'm Thankful For...
My son. He is wonderful and amazing and wild and makes me laugh--and think--every day.
My husband. He's interesting and beautiful and hands down the best Abba I've ever seen.
My best friend. She's been my doula, my psychotherapist, my cheerleader and much much more.
My mother. She's a mirror for me in ways sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, but always illuminating.
My father. He's fought through countless cancers and emerged a strong and active Saba for my son to know and love.
My sister. With five amazing children of her own she's my Mommy-mentor, answering countless questions big and small.
My brother. Having him back on the East coast after almost twenty years has been a revelation.
My health. Good physical and mental health are a blessing that I too often take for granted.
My two-bedroom apartment. It gives us space to be together as a family and space to be individuals.
My job. It allows me to work from home and flex my time, giving me a fighting chance at a work-life balance.
My city. It's filled with interesting people and wonderful opportunities.
Okay, your turn. What are YOU thankful for?
Monday, November 19, 2007
- A girl needs Orthodoxy like a fish needs a bicycle...
- Can you love your pediatrician if he doesn't love you back?
- Do crying kids make cashiers work faster?
- If an educated person can't handle the health care system...
So, I make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. This is a sad, sad moment for me, kind of.
The first time I wanted to make cranberry sauce, I called up my mom and asked her for her recipe. Growing up in my house, we often had turkey for Shabbat dinner, and there was always whole berry cranberry sauce, home-made, to accompany it. My grandpa, z''l (may his memory be a blessing), used to insist that the two go side by side and would really rib my mom (his daughter in law) if it wasn't on the table. So I called my mom, and asked for the recipe...and she said....
It's on the side of the bag. Just follow the directions. (and click here...if you need a shortcut like me)
This year, I have a huge project to finish, 2 evaluations of multiple pages to write, and a ton of workshops to plan. I have a 3 year old whose father is away at a conference and parents descending momentarily from out of town. Thank God I am not cooking for this meal. And I am not cooking for ANY meal. We'll be eating out of the freezer.
I wonder if my son will lose out because I am not a baker. There won't ever be home-made cookies or muffins to share with friends or take for lunch. I don't make gefilte fish from scratch (there's a great movie about this) but I do make great home-made chicken soup. I won't bake. No cakes, nothing. Not my thing. I cook a lovely Shabbat meal. I like fresh herbs and weird vegetables from the garden. But there's not a chance I will become a baker.
Our collective image of the Jewish mother is a real balabusta who "keeps house" by baking tasty morsels, like challah, and making chicken soup...and all of the ingredients for a proper Shabbat. Although I feel as though I am channeling Eishet Chayil, she keeps her house clean and her laundry is always done, and her children praise her.
Tonight, my house is a mess, my parents are coming tomorrow, and Thanksgiving dinner is at my in-laws. There is not a chance that I would change this and I hope it happens every year. My image of the perfect Jewish mother is not that woman who kills herself for everyone else and whose own life is left wanting. And here I am writing yet another blog post that is a reminder to me and to you, readers, that it is OK to take short cuts on the little things in life. The big things, no, but who cares if the whole berry cranberry sauce is some fancy recipe or off the Ocean Spray bag??
Last, there's not a chance that I will post on Thursday, but I will likely have some juicy tidbits following the "yom tov." So Happy Thanksgiving to all.
And in case you're wondering, we make parve pumpkin pie here...my husband is an awesome pie maker (again, not for me) and he uses the recipe on the side of the can too, substituting 1/2 the soy milk for the regular milk. Note use of pre-made pie crust and 10 minutes preparation time!!!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
For the first time since the baby was born he said, “How do you do this by yourself every day?” Of course, he was only referring to putting shoes on the baby, because you can’t really do sock, sock, shoe, shoe; you have to do sock, shoe, sock, shoe. She's a little Houdini when you're trying to dress her.
It may not sound like much, but coming from a man who told me I wasn’t breastfeeding correctly when baby was 11 weeks old because it was different than how I’d done it at 4 weeks—and nagged me for two weeks to double check with a doctor, though baby was gaining 24 ounces a week, until I notsonicely asked him to stop—it was wonderful.
This Shabbat he 1. took care of baby while I went to services both Friday evening and Saturday morning.
2. arranged the furniture and set the table for lunch while I was at services.
3. sent a gift card the week before to cover the cost of the Shabbat meals.
4. washed the lunch dishes.
5. changed baby almost every time she needed it (he only tried the “it’s your turn” on me once).
6. volunteered to babysit while I went out motzi Shabbat! It was the third time I’d been out sans baby since she was born.
7. stayed Sunday morning long enough for me to go to the farmer’s market alone.
Yes, babydaddy does dress baby funny—he put the cover-alls on BACKWARDS, and also the diaper (???????). He put on a sweater vest UNDER the cover-alls. But who cares.
Baby was loved and cuddled and fed and clothed by her abba; she was warm and happy. And it was good good good for both of them to have some alone time together without me. And it was good for me to have some alone time alone.
I complimented him over and over.
Wouldn’t it be great if this were the new status quo?
oh oh oh! last week the staged reading of a book-length poem I'd translated from the Czech was filmed by Czech television!
Good times indeed.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
We see Grandma H pretty much weekly. She is my husband's paternal grandma, and lives near us, just around the corner from my in-laws. We eat dinner with her once a week: usually I can avoid it half the time--work often interferes as I work in the evenings, but my husband and son go. Every time it is the same. She doesn't know where she is, but she remembers our names. She is in failing health, and cries every time she leaves us because she is afraid she won't see us again...not that she'll die necessarily, but that we will forget her like she sometimes forgets us.
It's a tough relationship. When she was younger, she was quite amazing (she still is, I know). A college graduate who married a chicken farmer, she worked and worked until they sold the farm. She then returned to her passion, French (her college major), and became a French teacher in a local high school. About 5 years ago, she had trouble remembering where she was every once in a while, and my inlaws moved her to close by their home, and with full time care, so that she could be comfortable and safe.
Grandma H takes tremendous delight in my son. She has one game that she plays with him: Let Me Eat Your Food. She says, "mmmmm. That looks delicious. Can I have a taste?" When he was younger, he would just look at her, perplexed, with his brow furrowed. He didn't understand why she would ask this when she had a plate of food in front of her. Now, at almost 3, he says, "Grandma, you have food. You don't want mine. Eat yours." He has figured out that she has her quirks, and has learned that it is a silly game, but he doesn't really want to play. Ever.
Some day, Grandma H, and the other grandmas, will all die. In fact, we will all die eventually. I hope that my son has some enduring memories of his great grandmas...even the silly dinnertime games. I had only one great grandparent who lived into my lifetime, my great grandfather Max. He died when I was in 4th grade, and I remember it very clearly. I loved him very much and found him fascinating, with his unusual hats, always with a pipe, and just very, very different from little me. I want this generation of family matriarchs to live, to live healthy lives, long enough for my son to create some very real and lasting memories of them to share with his great grandchildren. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by these four extraordinary women and to have their example very much present as I raise my son.
In our living room, we have a picture of Grandma H and her brother sitting on their on their front stoop--she is probably 6 and he is probably about 10. I have pictures, in fact, of all of my grandparents and even my great grandparents, all over my home, because seeing them fosters the sense that they are very much present in our lives. It is so important to me that my son knows where he came from and who loves him. And to always be surrounded by memory.
Hence, dinner with Grandma H. I might suffer through it, but every time I remember what she can't. Memories are made in each of our interactions. Let's hope it lasts until she's at least 120.
Usually I have to trick my daughter into opening her mouth when I want to sneak anything but applesauce and cheerios into her. I don’t hold her jaws closed until she swallows or anything. I just offer her a taste. She needs to keep tasting food—at least that’s what I read somewhere—and then someday she’ll magically like it.
Often she gags as if I were trying to poison her. She’ll make an excellent Shakespearean actress one day.
Now here she was voluntarily opening her mouth, placing the broccoli in, chewing (gumming) it and swallowing. When she saw me looking she grinned triumphantly and waved at us all. Naturally, I didn’t even feign shame.
The next day I made my girl broccoli, carrots, and mushy pasta, sat her in her chair, and handed them excitedly over. She gladly mashed them up and then examined her hand as if she’d just killed a mosquito and was looking at the blood.
I placed her on the ground and put the vegetables in a bowl. She picked up the bowl and dumped them out. I arranged them on a placemat on the floor. She lifted the placemat and shook them off. I placed them directly on the hardwood floor, and she ate one or two.
Placing her food directly on the floor doesn’t work all the time. Some days she just ignores it and goes for a dried leaf near the doorway or bit of paper under my desk.
Food tastes better if you must hunt for it, apparently. My mother has suggested I hide food so that she can “find” it, but I worry that I’ll forget where I put it. I mean, I do have a job, too, so, let’s face it, the housework suffers a bit.
Since she seems to vomit a lot after I’ve had cow milk—in cheese or even milk chocolate, I don’t want to give her yoghurt—which is one of the foods other mothers have suggested. Besides, why should I feed her another animal’s milk when I’ve got far more than enough for one child? I just worry that she should be eating more solids more regularly by now.
My daughter is a charming breastfeeder. She blows on my tummy after I finish nursing her the way I blow on her tummy after I change her diaper. When I’m not paying enough attention to her, she stops and grins up at me, until I laugh.
But solid foods!
I can just see it now, her first day of school. Snack time comes and she drops to the floor, takes apart her sandwich and spreads the filling across the floor.
Her teacher will ask: were you raised in a barn?
And she’ll say: What do you mean? This is how we eat at home.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
To be fair, it’s a pretty contained phenomenon. I wouldn’t create a cursing masterpiece in the middle of the grocery store for a woman who cut me in line, stepped on my toe, had 19 items in the 12 items or less line, made the teller check the price on each and every item (including a kumquat and an odd variety of melon) and then made her REcheck her out because she forgot to give her coupons. All 18 of them.
I am a lady after all.
No. I would save the fantastic explosion of evil for my husband when I would tell him the story later that day. I think he enjoyed it. Loved me a little more for my ability to so fully express myself.
But clearly this form of expression needed to cease when we decided to reproduce. Mommies aren’t supposed to be R rated. I needed to adjust my way of speaking and thinking. And let me tell you, it was a big adjustment. If I didn’t have something to yelp out in moments of anger, stress, comedy, romance, guilt…oh dear Lord I had a problem….well what would I say?
The best thing I found was to watch movies on basic cable that were CLEARLY not meant to be viewed on anything but paid movie channels. You haven’t lived until you watch Bruce Willis scream out- bloodied, tattered and torn -“Yippee-ki-yay Mother Lover!”
I might not have gotten the most useful information out of it but at least I was in the right mind set. And when my daughter came along I totally did it. I eliminated all the naughty words from my vocabulary and set a good example. And then there was yesterday.
Wonderful, amazing, made-me-so-happy-my-toes-curled yesterday.
I took my daughter out of her crib and began to carry her down the stairs. Halfway down she cried out, “Oh dear! Oh no! Shoot shoot sugar shoot! I left my blankie in the crib!” Apparently she DOES listen to what I say. And thank goodness I gave her some sugar shoots to lean on.
It’s a wonderful thing not only because my little lady remained a little lady, but because this was one of those rare times that I was able to see what I do actually makes a difference. So much of the example that Mommies and Daddies set can’t be seen until your child is older. When you forget all the work you did for them when they were little. The midot you instill upon them- the love, the generosity, the kindness-you don’t know what they will retain. It’s this great big mystery. But not this. This was great. This was awesome. I’m freakin’ thrilled.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Every morning my husband puts on tefillin and davens with my kids. My daughter loves to chew on the leather and my son holds the empty boxes and opens his own siddur. It is a wonderful way to start the morning.
Why do I leave myself out of it day after day?
Mornings are tough for me. I am always tired and a little out of it. And I am always rushing. I romanticize the idea of rising with the son, drinking a cup of coffee, playing with my kids, and having time to really daven. And each morning, it doesn't happen.
As I think about how to get myself out of this rut, I wonder, should I daven in the privacy of my bedroom while my husband is downstairs playing with the kids, or should I make a point to daven downstairs, so that they can see me - thus sending the message that davening is important to Mommy, too?
And here I get to the heart of the issue.
Lately, I find that my spirituality is utterly connected to my children and their education. Everything is about helping get a certain religious experience - singing zmirot, preparations for shabbat, giving tsedakah, etc. I am constantly "modeling."
Something is telling me that I could use a break from all that modeling and that davening by myself might be the just what I need right now.
Now if I only I could get started!
By me alone.
Don't get me wrong--Abba was totally willing to help. But deep down I knew that every time we planned and anticipated something together--our wedding, the imminent birth of our son--I made a list, checked off my items as soon as possible, and then hovered hovered hovered and panicked panicked panicked until Abba got around to doing his tasks.
Needless to say, this was never ever fun for me, and I can't imagine it made me particularly adorable, either. And it was definitely not good for our relationship.
This time, without even thinking about it, I just did it all myself. I made lists and ticked ticked ticked. I asked Abba questions and got his opinions but ultimately I was the one who made it all happen.
Boy was it stressful. Then again, program planning is always stressful for me--in an adrelin pumping, stomach knotting kind of a way. But I like the process on some level, and I love the result--bringing an event from concept to fruition.
But what about Abba?
As it turns out, working separately but together we achieved the perfect partnership. The night before and the day of the party Abba kicked into gear, helping to shop and shlep and set up and serve. Because of him I was able to stop working and actually enjoy the party. And when it was all over I collapsed into a chair and let him clean up, guilt free.
Maybe it would be better if I could focus on self-improvement--i.e. get over myself and stop trying to control every detail. But self-knowledge--accepting who I am and flowing with it instead of against it--is a huge stride for this Ima.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The first birthday is such a funny thing, because while it feels so momentous to the parents, the kids themselves have no idea what’s going on. My babies took the celebrating in stride and mashed some cupcake all over their faces in good traditional first birthday form, but of course they have no idea what a birthday is. All my concern with making this birthday fun for them and planning nearly three days of special celebratory activities, I realized afterwards, wasn’t really for them, but actually for me.
And why shouldn’t it be? One of the nicest moments in this birthday extravaganza was when a friend said to me, really, we should be celebrating YOU – you did this. You carried the babies, gave birth to them, nursed them for a year, gave up sleep, and generally devoted yourself to making sure they survived and thrived through this first year of life. What an accomplishment.
I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms before, but I appreciated the sentiment. So I’ll take this moment to revel in my motherly achievements and share the pride with all my fellows Imas out there. And of course, even as I take great satisfaction and primary responsibility for bringing my family through this year, I feel absolutely blessed to have been given this opportunity. There has never been a more fitting moment to say Shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu la-z’man ha-zeh.
Surprisingly enough, the trip was pretty relaxing (despite going through security with 2 children, 2 car seats, a stroller, a lap top, baby food, and assorted other fun things)!
We encountered one hitch - it was expected, but we are still unsure of how to deal with it --
Yalda is "scared" of one of the relatives. He is older, and sometimes uses a wheelchair. He is somewhat grumpy, and he looks like he's been through the wringer (which he has been).
We want Yalda to interact with him- its very important to us, but she runs into our arms whenever he enters the room. Sometimes she cries from looking at him.
Interestingly enough, though he is not usually good at controlling himself -- he often yells when he is in pain, we could tell that he was trying very hard this weekend to control the yelling. In fact, he had no outbursts in front of Yalda- and for that I am incredibly grateful.
We tried a number of different things to try to get Yalda to interact with him- extra kisses and hugs, including him in a tea party, showing him her artwork, all to no avail. She refused to be in pictures with him, even if she was in one of our laps. OY! We want pictures for the future- but certainly not ones in which Yalda is leaning as far away from this relative as she can. And we didn't want to force her closer - because he seems to know that she is frightened of him.
We feel truly blessed that this relative is still in our lives, and we want Yalda to get to know him while she can. How do you teach a child to be comfortable in a situation that clearly is uncomfortable? How do you convince a 2 1/2 year old that the man in the chair really isn't that bad?
Taking it one step further, how do you instill the values that just because someone looks different- whether because of a disability, or age, or demeanor, that they are still people that we should welcome into our lives?
Thursday, November 08, 2007
But oy, that parent teacher conference....
We were the first to have our 15 minute slot. He's such a sweet boy, they said, all nodding their heads. He's so gentle, so kind. He loves to make "shabbat kugel" when he plays in the kitchen in the loft. He sometimes speaks so softly that it's hard to hear him. He loves to play, he is friendly, and is getting used to how the classroom works. On and on about what a nice boy. When he saw a little classmate with bandaids on her arms (we call them vanity bandages), he went to her and stroked them and asked if she was OK.
You know, they said, he doesn't really play with the other kids. Hmmm, we respond. Hmmm. What the heck are we supposed to say? I tell them he plays nicely with his friends, but I admit freely that he doesn't have a lot of playdates with us because my husband and I both work and are in school. He plays with a lot of different kids not very frequently...but does play. Maybe its still parallel play? Is he a loner? My mind goes bonkers with the questions.
Then they say, he doesn't really answer questions, he gives irrelevant answers. Hmmmmmmm, we respond. The hmmms are getting longer. What does that mean, we ask. They don't have great examples, most are drawn from circle time, when sometimes he sits backwards and has to be asked to turn around.
He goes to school 9 hours a week. He started in September. There are 15 kids in the class. How well do they know him? Are they right? Are they wrong? Does it matter?
He's not even 3 yet. At home, he answers nearly everything, except the questions that he finds annoying or just wants to ignore (he's pretty stubborn). He can recite Madeline nearly word for word. He is articulate (for a 3 year old) and says please and thank you without prompting. He shakes hands and wishes people a Shabbat shalom at shul. In music class, he hands out instruments without being asked to kids and adults who don't have. We have fabulous conversations in which he is on the ball 100% but he has the attention span of a 3 year old. Oh wait....he is an (almost) 3 year old. Right...
And I am now hypersensitive that my son has "issues."
I clearly need to take a step back. This is the first step in the bursting of my bubble, and I acknowledge freely that it is OK. I think it's tough to confront the notion that ANY child could be anything less than perfect....especially mine. But then I look at myself in the mirror, and jeez, I am faaaaaaaaaaar from perfect. And what is perfection anyway? There really isn't such a thing, or better, it is what I define for myself as just perfectly out of reach.
The worst thing I can do for my son is to expect perfection. The worst thing I can do for myself is the same. It is fine that he doesn't yet play well with others--and all of it can be learned. Taking it one day at a time is the best way to do it and I'll just have to ignore their advice and see if it is the same in a few months when we meet again. It is never too late, and we should never stop trying to reach higher, but most of all, let's be realistic.
The next school day after the conference I took my son to school. I wanted to say something but luckily the cat got my tongue and I didn't say a thing. Better that way. Let's see how it turns out...
When my parents came to see me last June we visited the Vietnam memorial. My father’s old injury hurt so badly he had to stop every block. He refused to take a taxi, though, and insisted on walking the mile and a half to my apartment. I think he was relieved to feel that pain.
Of the 5 young men from my parents’ high school that went to Vietnam that year my father was drafted, three died in action and the remaining two took their own lives once they returned home. One had boarded the bus to boot camp with my father. The other was a relative of my mother.
My parents tell me my birth, as well as the births of people like me, are the good that has come out of this tragedy. Still, you can imagine how conflicted I feel.
I once caught my father tearfully aiming a rifle at a family pet that had been fatally injured and was in terrible pain. Imagining this sweet, tender, good man in that war makes me panic. If the price of my birth was sending men like him, who cry over a dying kitten, to kill and be killed for no good reason, it wasn’t worth it. Even though I’m obviously glad I was born.
I feel very conflicted about Veterans Day. Not about veterans. We can’t thank them enough for their sacrifices.
But I’m sorry about the way we make veterans. I wish we as a nation were more judicious about the conflicts in which we choose to engage.
I’m sorry about how we treat veterans. It feels weird to me to give them a parade one day out of the year, and then shortchange them the rest of the time.
The NYT today reports there are already 400 homeless veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. But we’ve been hearing for a while about inadequacy of disability benefits and health care facilities.
Considering how much I owe Vietnam Veterans, I’m sorry about how little I know about what happens to veterans when they return.
So far, two boys—I use this word because they were not yet 21 when they were deployed—from my high school have died in Iraq. The same school as my parents attended.
I know it seems ungrateful to our veterans to criticize war, but it also doesn’t seem respectful of the lives of future veterans to endanger them needlessly.
Every veterans' day I am in awe of how selfless, brave and wonderful our war veterans are. But I have to admit that, if I could, I'd also thank whoever injured my father in high school—today is his birthday, and I’m so glad he’s still here.
When my daughter got her first shot at 1-month, I expected her to howl. To my utter shock, she just sat there. She didn't make a peep! Yesterday, my daughter recieved her 9-month shots - three in the toe. She let out a small "wah" of recognition and then moved on.
My kids are night and day. And it became apparent from very first week of my daughter's life. My son is sensitive, passionate, deeply emotional. My daughter is a Buddha baby.
I don't want to pigeon-hole either of them so early in life! But sometimes I just can't help it. It is just so obvious how different their temperments are.
My son was deeply concerned the first time we gave my daughter a bath. He was going through a phase of hating the bath and assumed she would hate it, too. He wimpered for her and insisted that she was "all done." We put her in the bath - and she promptly fell asleep!
I find the whole thing quite bizarre - and strangely comforting. I take comfort knowing how much of their personality is out of my control. I hope to do my best to nurture and respond to their respective temperments - and that is all I can do. It is out of my hands.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
We got her a potty as soon as Babycenter sent us an e-mail telling us of her growing knowledge of her body and its functions. So what that she could barely walk and didn’t know her toe from her taint, if the grand and holy Babycenter told us it was time, it was time.
Now we aren’t complete morons, we didn’t want to pressure her or freak her out. We let the potty sit on the floor by the bigger more imposing toilet. We wanted her to get to know the thing that would rule a major part of her life before she committed to it forever. So she would look at it. Touch it. Put her bear in it. Rubber duck. Various puzzle pieces. Never her tushy though. If we even suggested she sit upon it she would have a hoo and a woo.
But we let her come with us when we went potty. Told her how one day she could go potty like Mommy and Daddy. She watched. Fascinated. Captivated by what we were doing on the gigantic shiny seat. But overall I believe she mostly laughed at us. You see, my daughter is a genius and she knows that the whole diaper thing- she poops we wipe, no sitting on suspicious gas station white rings of pestilence after an ill timed Big Gulp-was really the way to go. Life was good. Why would she mess that up?
So this is how life remained. She enjoyed her diapers. The potty enjoyed becoming an extra chair in the bathroom. Important for any entertaining we planned on doing in there.
There was a breaking point a few weeks ago though. As she watched me fold laundry she fell deeply in love with my monkey undies. Cute, yellow, with an adorable monkey on the crotch-what’s not to love? I told her when she starts to go on the potty she too could have a pair of yellow monkey undies. Well she was quite pleased with this plan. Like a switch she started to pee on command when we put her on the potty-not the little one we bought when she was a fetus, with a ring of bathroom dust around its rim. The Big Girl Potty. She’s a queen and wouldn’t settle for a substitute throne.
She now knows what it means to pee and poop. She tells us when she is about to go. And sometimes we can make it in time. She is still miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiles away from even being close to potty trained. They don’t even make pull ups that fit her cute little tushy yet. But I do enjoy that she is beginning to understand one more thing in her life. Yes it’s sad that she is growing up-but I’m one of those weird Mommies that likes to look forward to her grown up future as opposed to wallow in her baby past. Heck there’s a lot of fun in the very near future. Pottying six times before we go to the mall, stopping at every gas station on the way to the mall, looking for every bathroom once we are at the mall. Woo hoo! But hey, we gotta go to the mall. We need to find a cute pair of yellow monkey undies in a 2T.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
But there is one thing that seems to be right with him right now. I'm even afraid to say it out loud- B"H he nurses like a champ.
Believe me it didn't come easy.
Yalda wouldn't nurse. She couldn't latch, my anatomy wasn't ideal, the lactation consultants at the hospital gave me terrible advice, and I was pressured into giving her formula very early on.
In truth, almost 2 1/2 years later, I'm still BITTER about the whole thing. I ended up pumping milk for her for FOUR months, and only stopped when she reached the point of having more formula than breast milk. The whole thing was miserable. but I learned a lot from the situation- and I swore that I would apply what I learned to my next breast feeding attempt.
And boy did I apply it.
- I started wearing contraptions to elongate my nipples before Yeled was even born
- when Yeled was born, I pumped before and after every.single.time he nursed -- in essence, I made my body think I was having twins
- I had the nurses bring Yeled back from the nursery at set times every night (I hadn't done that with Yalda- I had just given the instruction to bring her if she woke up - which either she never did, or they fed her bottles in the nursery)
- I checked in at the lactation center very early- I didn't wait for a problem to hit its peak, I went the second I suspected any problem at all
- I recently went through a bout of clogged milk ducts- about one a week for six weeks. That sucked (for lack of a better term), and so did Yeled- as often as humanly possible. Along with lots of other "cures" - including antibiotics, we seem to have gotten through that very difficult time (during which I considered weaning).
The point is - we did it! And we're still going! (with the addition of solids- of course)
We're at 7 plus months, and, by the grace of G-d, and lots of work on my part, Yeled is still nursing. It seems, we've done better than almost 90% of moms and babies . I am proud. I am proud of me. I am proud of him. I am proud of us.
Now I love the breastfeeding center where this class was held--my initial experiences there made all the difference in our "nursing relationship"--but I left this class feeling annoyed and a little bit guilty.
Despite the drama of this post, I did not, in fact, wean. We now nurse twice a day--morning and night--and plan to continue to nurse for at least the next six months, somewhat to the dismay of Abba, who is convinced that the fact that he was weaned at 9 months made him the strong independent man that he is today.
I'm proud of the fact that Ive made it this far, and happy for the benefits I've been able to offer my baby. I'm also proud of the fact that, with some prodding, I've been helping him transition from babyhood to childhood by introducing three meals and two nutritious snacks into his daily routine.
So I walk in, expecting to find a room full of women who are heeding the APA's recommendation to nurse until 12 months. But instead, these women who are just now beginning to think about weaning are nursing their two year old children FIVE OR SIX times a day.
What more, the lactation consultant--a woman I trust and respect--then went on to say that children need--NEED--breast milk until at least 2 years. And that--from an immunological and nutritional perspective--cow milk just doesn't cut it.
Okay, to be fair, she said this to assuage the fears of those of us who were afraid that they were continuing to nurse for our own selfish reasons. But still, I'm dumfounded. To find out that more than most is not enough? Or just barely enough?
I guess that's what happens when become part of a "hard core" minority. You find out that what made you a hard-core extremist in one group is just the price of entry in another.
As much as support groups can be great, I think I'll forgo the peer support this time. I'll just go back to being a solitary extended breast feeder, proud of my accomplishments and happy with a happy medium.
Friday, November 02, 2007
I’m not actively trying to date. But if I were to suddenly meet my bashert on his white steed with a five-point saddle seat for my daughter, I wouldn’t be too busy washing my hair.
I know it’s tough and confusing out there for single men who’ve suddenly realized their careers are going fine and it’s time for marriage. It’s baffling for divorced men who never thought they’d have to be “out there” again. Here’s a little piece of free advice to make things slightly less confusing:
A good pick-up line for a woman who is paid to grade student essays about poetry is NOT: “Maybe we can get together and you can explain some poetry to me sometime.”
Yes, I know some may say it’s a show of interest in my work.
But if asking me to explain “poetry” is an expression of interest, maybe my approach is all wrong. I should sidle up to a mortgage broker and say, “Hey handsome, how’s about you come over and tell me how I should finance my first home.”
Or an interior designer, “Hi there, big boy. I’ve got some upholstery with your name all over it. Can you give me a free makeover? I’m really interested in how you express yourself through color.”
I suggested the Poetry Center in Bethesda to the interested party. They have great classes in poetry and fiction, too.
Turns out he’s not really interested in poetry. He just wanted to hear me explain it.
Oh, in that case, let’s just ask a stay-at-home mom, after she’s done cooking, cleaning, entertaining, bathing and putting the child to bed to make him a big stir fry. No, he doesn’t like vegetables and won’t eat it, but he just wants to see how well you cook. Because mothers aren’t appreciated enough, and it’s showing interest in their work to ask them to work for you. Right?
Yes, many aspects of unpaid or poorly paid work are rewards in themselves—your baby’s giggles and babbling, clapping and pulling up, your clean, shiny floor, your fabulous Shabbat table, the kid who suddenly learned to read and went from a D- student to a B+ student.
Maybe you hate poetry; many people do. That's why jobs in the field are so few and not as handsomely rewarded as other jobs that require equal training. It's not a deal breaker. Insincerity is.
My Mom says I'm too picky. But I’m fine these days just reading or dancing with my daughter in the evenings: Reggae, salsa, waltzes. Whatever we’re in the mood for. She’s a charming conversationalist and has great rhythm.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
But right now, while I should be writing a paper-paying bills-coding research-planning a workshop, I am cleaning the apartment. For the cleaning lady. Yes, I am cleaning for the cleaning lady. I have reached a whole new low.
Except that I do this every time we have ever had a professional clean our home. I do it for a few reasons:
- I am lazy and want to do the easy stuff so that they'll do the big stuff
- I know where all the little stuff goes and I don't want it in the wrong place
- My mother did it too.
- and....I don't want them to think I'm a slob
At least I can be honest about the baggage that comes with this.
But the whole notion that I could be paying someone to clean my home and still worry about how they're judging me is of great concern. Shouldn't I let it go? I know that I should, but it still feels very much like I'm inviting someone into my house to do something that we both know I should be doing myself.
When I was first married, my husband and I lived in a great (exposed brick) apartment that was the perfect size for two people. On Shabbat morning, he would go to shul and I would clean. I know that violates every prohibition against work, but for me, it was truly a sacred time away from the craziness of the rest of the week in which I could do something that was renewing and "cleansing." I felt refreshed and ready to face the new week ahead after a Shabbat morning cleaning. For me, it was elevated to tefillah, prayer, and I felt that cleanliness was next to godliness right there in apartment #3I.
Today, I don't have a moment extra to clean or get organized so I feel like my life is always messy. Tonight and tomorrow I'll feel guilty about the extra money I'm spending to pay someone to do something I should be doing myself. Tomorrow, I'll welcome in an Israeli owned cleaning service to make my home ready for guests and Shabbat, so that I can take a Shabbat "off" and relax with my son and husband, and our friends from out of town. Tonight, I'll obsess over cleaning up every last toy and scrap of paper so they can wash the floors.
Back to the sorting of the recycling....