Friday, December 28, 2012

Raising a son

It's very different from raising a daughter.  Not in some ways, but in others - it's a completely different experience.  I'm not talking just about pointing the peepee down when changing diapers (a lesson I sincerely wish someone had mentioned before I went thru a week of leaking diapers - postpartum, with no sleep, it took a ridiculously long time for me to clue in).  I'm not even talking about learning all of the names of farm equipment and construction vehicles, or understanding why fire engines and trash trucks are so fascinating.

I'm talking about the deeper things.  I'm talking about masculinity.  And that's a subject I know very little about.  I was raised by a single mother, in a very female dominated family.   I was a very feminine kid.  I preferred dresses and hair bows to jeans and a tshirt.  I'd always rather stay inside and read than go outside and run around.  I've never voluntarily touched a frog.  I've never accidentally touched a frog, now that I'm thinking about it.  I don't like scary rides, I don't like scary movies.  I'm frilly and girly, I like boppy music and sunshine and lollipops.  And my two daughters, thus far, are feminine little girls.  Jessie more so than Julie, but Julie's two, and with an older brother as her most immediate influence.  Jessie wouldn't touch a frog for money, would dress in lace and hair bows every day, and would never voluntarily go outside to perform manual labor.

Then there's Sam.  And he's.... a boy.  I mean, a boy in a way that is completely different from my girls.  From myself.  Today, he got up, announced he needed to do some shoveling, put on snow gear, and headed out.  He brought up my recycling bins onto the porch, and spent the next hour outside, diligently shoveling my front lawn.  Because the fact that there was no snow on the sidewalks or front steps wasn't going to stop him.  He was shoveling.  I don't get that.  I love it.  But on a core level, I can't understand heading out into the frigid freezing cold because you need to shovel.  When in fact, you don't need to shovel.  For one thing, he's six.  And for another, Marc had already shoveled yesterday.  But it was so icy and dangerous, I wouldn't let him go out yesterday.

He's got a whole different perspective.  He's a boy - and different on a level that I'm still struggling to understand.  He wants to be a man.  He wants to be a good man.  And thank God, he's got such an incredible example to follow.  Marc is as masculine as I am feminine.  Marc likes wrestling and army shows and is perplexed by emotional complexity.  He can't talk for hours about how he feels.  Coming off of December - despite my hours of agonizing and discussing how he feels about Christmas - every time it came up in conversation, he'd screw it up.  He'd say something that would make me nuts - but when it came to action - he was right there.  He gave my kids the best Christmas, did all the shopping, all the prep work, and bent over backwards to make it awesome because he loves me and he knew it was important to me.  Because doing something, that's so much easier for him.  Sam is so similar to him.  So incredibly similar to him, he wants to be just like his daddy.  And it's not just about being like his daddy, he is fundamentally like him already.

Don't get me wrong - Sam has part of me in there too.  I recognize his shyness, because I'm the same way.  And my son loves a lot of traditional feminine things like cooking and cleaning and snuggles and is such a tender, sweet boy.  But he's a boy, not a girl, and sometimes it just really strikes me that I don't understand him the way I do the girls.  Adore him with every fiber of my being, absolutely.  But I'm so, so glad that Sam has Marc.  I'm as grateful that my girls have a daddy that loves them and supports them and teaches them every day what a good man should do.  But with Sam - Marc is modeling what he'll grow up to be - and Sam watches and absorbs all of it.  As an adult, I'm sure that you'll see my influence on him as well, he'll make my challah recipe, and I hope that he'll decorate a Christmas tree.  I'm sure he'll dance around the kitchen when he cooks like I do, and I hope that he'll love to read like I do.  I'm sure that he'll do lots of things the way that I do - but mostly, I hope that he's the kind of man his father is.  I also sincerely hope that he never really moves that far away, so when Marc is too old to shovel my walkways - he'll come and do it for me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Vacation

We survived another year.   And in the end, we did really well.  Only one serious fight, and we resolved it that night.  We'll probably always have at least one battle every year, but we work thru it.  In the end, I'm always going to want Marc to embrace Christmas the way I embrace Judaism.  And in the end, he always comes thru in awesome ways, I just ... I don't know.  I fight with him over not feeling the way that I want him to - and since I do truly believe that actions speak louder than words, I need to remember that he does, in the end, work hard to make sure our kids have great Christmases.  He's far better than I am at maintaining the Santa myth, oddly enough.  I don't lie when asked outright, whereas he spun this tale about licensing - how the mall Santas have to be licensed in order to wear the costume, because he and Sam had already had a long discussion about trademarking things earlier in the month.

But either way - another year over.  It was a really, really nice Christmas.  Very peaceful and relaxed, and just lovely.  Christmas Eve with chinese food and friends was perfect, especially because this year, in addition to Joy and Skip and their kids and Becky and Aimee and Abby, we also got my sister and niece to go.  And Christmas morning was delightful, the kids were thrilled with their gifts, we got them each a couple of nice things and a ton of chocolate (Marc appears to believe that giving the kids a good Christmas involves a lot of candy).  Then we headed down to my mother's house for the day.

The nice thing about going to my mother's house is that my kids really, really like her.  And my stepdad.  He's such a great grandpa to them, and at one point, Julie climbed up and sat next to him, and my heart just melted.  I was missing my grandfather a lot that day, and seeing my daughter loving her grandfather was so sweet.   Reassuring.  My brother and sister and their kids were bopping around that day too, and I just had the nicest day.

Now we're in the throes of Christmas vacation, and we've got our bestest friend Glennys down for the week.  I'm so grateful for her - not only because she's Jessie's best friend, so utterly and absolutely.   These two just click in a way that I've never seen Jessie click with another kid.  Plus Sam and Julie absolutely adore her.  I'm spending all day going from mess to mess - but they're having so much fun it's hard to mind.  My two girls just took baths (Jessie did it only to get Julie in the tub - Julie still views bathtime as torture), and immediately upon getting out Julie announced that she needed her hat.  Everyone's tired and I'm planning on early dinner and early bedtime tonight, Marc's taking the older kids (that's everyone except Julianna) to the hockey game tomorrow night.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What Christmas Means to Me

I'm Jewish, and pretty happy about it.  But, yeah, I still celebrate Christmas.  I don't celebrate it as the birth of Christ, but it's still a tremendously meaningful and important holiday for me.  I wouldn't say it's my favorite holiday of the year - there's too much other stress going on for that.  December is decidedly a challenging month for us here, between the number of Jewish people who write articles that I can't stop myself from reading that assure me that a tree has no place in a Jewish home, and worrying about whether or not people are judging me for putting up the tree anyway and celebrating a holiday that has never been particularly Christian to me, but is most definitely not Jewish.   Plus, it's honestly a hard month for my husband, who grew up not only not celebrating Christmas, but not celebrating it is almost a part of his Jewish identity - so it's never easy.

But celebrate it we do, enthusiastically.  I've got stocking hung by the chimney with care, and a tree that's lopsided, with way too many lights on it, and ornaments that are well loved and not particularly coordinated.  I've got pictures of all of my babies with Santa Claus, and tinsel and candy canes EVERYWHERE.  So why do I celebrate?  Why do I insist on participating in holiday that everyone keeps telling me is all about rampant consumerism and materialism?  If I strip away the Christian connotations to it, what exactly is Christmas all about?  And why exactly do I insist every year that we celebrate it?

I celebrate it because it's wrapped up in some of my favorite memories from my childhood.  Caroling with my cousins, singing songs to my sister at night before we fell asleep.  Every Christmas Eve, my little sister would beg to sleep in my bed with me, and I'd tell her stories about Santa and swear that I could see Rudolph's nose in the sky.  Baking Christmas cookies with my baby cousins, and taking my nieces and nephews out at night to look for the prettiest Christmas lights.  My mother has this one song - Mary's Boy Child, and it's this odd sort of Jamaican Christmas carol, and every time it comes on the radio, she'd turn it up as loud as it could go and rock out.  My mother doesn't rock out as a rule, and watching her chair boogie in the car while we drove anywhere in December was (and is) kind of awesome.

I celebrate it because I love the anticipation of Christmas Day.  I love that my kids talk about Santa Claus (despite the fact that both the older ones know it's just a myth).  When I was a kid, I loved that sense, all month long, that we were building up to this one day when magically, just because, we'd wake up and find that someone had brought us presents, just because.  It's not about the gifts, exactly.  Looking back, I don't remember any specific Christmas gift that I ever got that made a huge impression.  What I remember is the magic, the excitement and the joy of it all.  I want that for my kids.

I celebrate it because I'm my mother's daughter.  And I'm raising her grandchildren.  Having a child convert to a different religion isn't easy, and my mother supported me and stood beside me every step of the way.  I've never doubted her love or commitment, and I can't imagine how disappointed she'd be if I didn't give my kids the same opportunity to love Christmas as she gave me.  I won't do that to her.  I won't do that to her grandchildren.  It's not that she wants them to not be Jewish - she just wants to know that they're still a part of her family, celebrating her favorite holidays and traditions.  Like sleeping over at Grammy's house on the night before Thanksgiving, and trekking up to Maine every year to camp at Hermit Island - celebrating Christmas, for my mother, is about spending time with her kids, and her grandchildren.  Passing along those traditions.  I'm not willing to tell them that it's not their holiday just because they're Jewish.  Yes, they're Jewish, but they're also a part of my family too and they get to do our fun stuff as well. 

I celebrate it because I believe in peace on earth and goodwill towards men.  And having a day to celebrate that is lovely to me.  I celebrate it because I feel a little closer to everyone else on earth during this time of year - it seems to me that it's the one time when we all try a little harder to be nicer, a little harder to appreciate the blessings we have.   We don't always succeed, and we aren't all on the same page, but I sincerely think that the world is an amazing and beautiful and blessed place.  On Christmas, I think we all feel that way.

It's not about the shopping or the wrapping or the stress.  And for me, it's not about celebrating the birth of the Messiah.  It's about joy and peace - it's closer to a celebration that we're coming into the light.  It's no accident that the Solstice is on the twenty-first - we are literally getting a little more light, just a bit, every day.  I think that's worth celebrating.  I think having a day to stop and just celebrate the magic, celebrate the beauty of family and friends, to eat candy canes and drink eggnog, to watch your kids open presents and be absolutely delighted is awesome.  Christmas isn't perfect, and it's nowhere near as simple and as easy as it used to be for me, but it's still an integral part of my year.  And my life.  I don't want to miss it.  Being Jewish has added so much to my life, so much meaning and resonance, it's given my kids a framework to build a spiritual life upon.  It's given me Shabbat dinner, and Passover Seders and a community that I love.  But I still love Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Being a mean mommy works

I'm strict about some things with my kids.  There's not a lot that I'm really hard core on, I'm lackadaisical about bedtimes, devil may care about wearing coats in the winter (I rarely wear them, I see no need to shove a crying kid into one for the sake of keeping them warm, I'll carry one along, but not force it on them).  I don't force kids to eat, I let them have soda at parties, and I've been known to give them ice cream for breakfast.

But I do care about some things.  A lot.   One of the biggies is respect.  Respect for us as parents, for other adults, and for themselves as well as their siblings.  Another hot button for me is being responsible for your moods.  I have extremely empathetic children.  I don't know that all kids aren't like this - but I know for sure and for certain, that in my house, moods are contagious.  If one of my kids is grumpy and miserable, it's not going to be long before we all are.  Jessica and I, specifically, have always had a tendency to bounce off of each other's mood.  Temper tantrums, not the toddler ones, but the ones when she was five, six, and seven were absolute and utter hell.  Because I'd wade right in there with her and get just as angry and as frustrated.  One of the things that I've had to learn, as a parent, is how to let her have her own feelings and emotions and not feel like I have to feel them along with her.  One thing I've had to teach her, as a parent, is that she's got every right to feel whatever she's feeling, but she doesn't have the right to make everyone else unhappy because of it.

We had a party on Sunday for my  niece, at a little kids' gym place.  You know the type - with mats everywhere and big soft balls, bouncy things for bouncing on, etc.  And Jessica was mortified by her father.  She's at an age where she's starting to get mortified whenever he does anything other than sit quietly in the corner, God forbid, he sing in public or worse, do anything overt to draw attention to himself.  Like jumping on a bouncy thing.  Most of the dads were playing with their kids, so it's not like it was a big deal, but Jessie was just so embarrassed.  She stormed away from everyone, sat in the corner and glared at everyone.  People kept trying to talk to her, and she wasn't having any part of it.  Finally I went over and sat down next to her.  I explained that I understood, but that she was making the party difficult, and drawing more attention to herself than she wanted.  And that the behavior needed to stop, she wasn't allowed to ruin her cousin's party, and to get up and go have fun.  AND SHE DID.  It worked.

A similiar thing happened this morning.  Most mornings are a harried hot mess, with me rushing around to get the kids dressed, fed, lunches packed, coats found, healing stone stuffed full of love, and kids out the door.   Sam trudges out of bed, snuggles with his daddy and I deliver a bowl of cereal and his clothes.  Jessie staggers out, usually stops by for a hug and then curls on the couch and I bring her a breakfast bar.  This morning, she stormed out of bed, glaring at everyone and snapped at me when I tried to say good morning.  I gave it a few minutes, and then tried again.  The third time she yelled at me, and I looked at her, and told her that it wasn't okay to be nasty to me, she could either change her attitude or eat her breakfast in her bedroom.  AND IT WORKED.  She was quiet for a few minutes, and the apologized, told me that she was just really tired, and could I help her pick out some clothes.

It was awesome.  And I was so incredibly proud of her, because she's really, really growing up so fast.  And learning that she's got control over her emotions, that she doesn't have to let herself sink into anger, misery and frustration, that she can take a deep breath, put a smile on her face, and things really do get better is such a huge milestone for her.  She wouldn't have been able to do that a year ago.  And she's still not at a point where she can stop herself on her own - but she is at the point where I can tell her that she needs to get her emotions under control, and with a firm reminder that we're responsible for our own moods, she's able to pull it together.  I've always struggled with this - she's always struggled with it.  Me with allowing her the space to feel what she feels without jumping in along side her, and she's always had such a hard time getting control over the emotions.  Whatever it is, she does it 1000%.  So if she's happy, she's kind of ecstatic.  And if she's grumpy - God help us all.  But she's getting to the point where she can stop herself before she reaches the point of no return.  She can turn it around now, and I'm so proud of her.

I really am ridiculously thrilled by this child.  Each one of my kids has a special place in my heart, and I'm pretty convinced that each one is my favorite child.  But Jessie - she's my first.  She's the one I've known the longest, I've been thru the most with her.  I'm so proud of the baby she was, the toddler she was, the little girl she was, the big girl that she was, the tweener she is, and the teenager and woman that she'll be.  She's just awesome, and I'm awed by the fact that being her mother is just as incredible now as it was when I first looked into her big, big eyes.

I've had to learn the hard way that, sometimes,  being "mean" is what works. Feeling her feelings, and trying to force her to stop by getting as emotional as she was - that didn't work at all.  Because I was, and am, so close to her, because her emotions are so available for everyone, especially me, to see and feel right along with her, I had a really hard time being able to stop and say "No - this behavior is unacceptable.  It's okay that you feel this way, it's not okay that you are taking it out on everyone."  But by doing that, by being firm, setting up the expectation that there is a standard of behavior that we will live up to, by doing that, I'm able to give her the framework to get a grip on the emotions.  When I was in the trenches with her, feeling frustrated and angry and miserable along with her because I wanted so much for her to be able to stop, she couldn't do it.  By achieving a little distance, by not allowing myself to get swept up in the emotional storm, and by being what I always thought of as mean, I'm able to show her how to better navigate thru the world.

Friday, December 14, 2012


According to the National Center for Education Statistic (which is the link that I got when I googled), there are 93,295 public schools in the United States.  I'm clinging to that number today.  Because when I look at that, and I think that this horrific accident happened in one out of 93,295 schools, I can remind myself that this is rare.  And it's an unspeakable tragedy.  And most importantly, schools are safe.

I don't like sharing my kids.  I'd rather keep them home with me all the time.  I send them to school because I know that they are safe and loved and cared for.  Because they have to live, they have to have friends and experiences outside of my living room.  My kids have exceptional teachers.  Teachers that have surpassed every expectation I've ever had with their dedication, devotion, concern, and effort that they put into making sure that my kids thrive.  Flagg Street School is, as I'm sure so many schools are, a place of nurturing and security.  I know this.  But today, I don't feel like anywhere is safe.

They don't know about this.  I've kept the television off.  I did all my crying before they came home, and other than squeezing them both until they giggled and begged me to let go before they choked, they didn't notice anything different.  I know that I'll have to tell them.  I know that they'll hear about it.  I just don't know how to yet.

And until I can manage to talk about it, without thinking about how I gave them both a kiss and one last hug and shipped them off to school like so many other parents, until I can stop putting myself into those parents' places.  Until I can stop imagining what it would be like, to know that the last hug really was the last hug - I'm not going to tell them about it.

I'm sure that there are many people who will talk about gun control, and stronger security measures.  But I think that misses the point.  The point, if I may be so bold, is that horrible, unimaginable tragedies happen.  They just do.  Life can change in an instant, and you never know what tomorrow might bring.  I don't want my kids barricaded in a school with metal detectors and afraid of everyone.  That's not the solution.  But for me, the point is that life is fragile and so, so precious.  We forget that.  We have to, I guess, in order to live.

So, for me, the point is just a reminder... there, but for the grace of God, go I.  And I'll honor those lives lost today by remembering, as much as I can, how fortunate we are.  To live in this time, in this place.  To have beautiful, healthy children.  To be able to squeeze them until they giggle and to cherish them as much as I can.  And I'll do my best to forget how fragile and scary it is, because the world is an amazing place, filled with wonderful people and incredible experiences - and in order for me to allow my children out into it, I'm going to have to forget how incredibly fragile life is.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Midnight Zombie Attacks

Marc's job entails a lot of late nights.  It's got a lot of flexibility, in that he's able to do pick up and drop off from school and various afterschool activities, and get to the gym occasionally.  But it also means that most nights, he's not here for bedtime.

I'm not great at bedtime.  On the list of parenting tasks, it's probably got to count as a fail on my part.  I don't put my kids to bed, kiss them goodnight and have them fall asleep on their own.  I snuggle them to sleep.  Jessie, not as much, she's at the point where sometimes she'll happily bop off to bed on her own, but mostly, she likes to fall asleep in my bed and then I haul her up and walk her into her own room.  They can, and do, sleep in their own beds, but they like to fall asleep all snuggled up and fun.  If I had just one, I could do it in their own beds and then go back to my own.   But, as I've got three, I just keep doing it this way and hope that the day doesn't come when I've got a sixteen year old, a thirteen year old and a ten year old all in my bed.   Or maybe I do hope that day'll come - I'm a little foggy this morning due to lack of sleep.

So last night... it's all flowing well.  We went out for dinner as the special thing that night (this year, we aren't doing a gift every night because that's 24 gifts right off the bat, before we factor in stepdaughters and Christmas) but committed to doing SOMETHING special each night, in addition to lighting the candles).  By the time we got home, it was eight thirty, and Jessie still had homework.  So I explained long division to her.  Again.  Sam got himself ready for bed, we lit all the menorahs, and I took Samilicious in to fall asleep in my bed.  Jessie finished a card she was making for one of her friends at school and wandered in a little later.  Julianna had napped from 3-6 (which I was okay with, because at that point, I thought Marc would be home earlier and he could spend some time with her), so I knew that she'd be up for a while.

Sam fell asleep easily enough, he's far and away my best sleeper.  Once he was officially out cold, I hauled him up and tossed him into his bed.   His queen bed, because I can't throw him up into the loft bed.  Which is an important detail for later.  Julie ended up crawling into bed and falling asleep a little earlier than I had anticipated.  I fell asleep before Marc came home, with Jessie still in the bed next to me.

Marc apparently decided that he was too tired to be moving children hither and yon, and since Jessie was in my bed, and Sam was in the big bed in his room, his options were to climb up into the loft bed (which is an image that amuses me) or to just crash in Jessie's room.  Which would have been FINE, except that Julianna woke up around two thirty.  She never wakes up for any length of time, she just fusses a minute, latches on for a bit, and then drifts back to sleep.  But it was enough to wake Miss Jess, who got up and toddled her little self into her own bed.

Which is when all hell broke loose.  Jessie had no idea her Daddy was in her bed, and just climbed in.  When she realized that there was SOMETHING in her bed, she started screaming like she was being attacked.  Which in turn freaked Marc out, who had been in a sound sleep, until he suddenly was actually being attacked by an extremely loud and freaked out nine year old.  So he also started screaming in terror.  Which was funny, now, in retrospect, but last night, I was just irritated.  Because I knew instantly what had happened and that it wasn't going to end well.  Lo and behold, Jessie came tearing back into my bed, launched herself on top of me and Julie, still sobbing and screaming.  Which woke Julie, who had been mostly still dozing, so she was wide awake.  Three minutes later, barely enough time to shove Jessie over to the side and get her to mostly stop crying, in wandered my boy.  "Why is everyone screaming??"  I just shushed him and told him to snuggle back up.  "Everyone back to sleep, shhhhh"  I kept repeating, until, eventually, everyone did.  Except for me.   Because when everyone's in bed with me, I can't sleep.  I'm trapped, unable to roll over or move or adjust a pillow without waking someone.

So tonight, even if it kills me, I'm staying awake long enough to shove everyone into their own beds.

Monday, December 10, 2012


We're Jewish, although still culturally interfaith. What that means is that we are Jewish with some bonus traditions that I dragged along with me into the family. Really, the only main holiday that we celebrate (other than the Jewish holidays, and other American holidays, like Thanksgiving, Halloween, July 4th, etc) is Christmas. Although that's also like saying we celebrate absolutely everything, with the possible exception of Kwanzaa and the Chinese New Year. We don't make a big deal about Easter here in the house, but the annual egg hunt at my mother's is a favorite tradition.

So right now, we're in the middle of Hanukkah. As a family that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, I find that we're in an odd place. Because we are most definitely Jewish, active and happy members of the synagogue in Worcester, we do Shabbat dinner every week, and have kids CDs in Hebrew on auto repeat in the car. But we also love candy canes, my kids are amused and delighted at the prospect of Santa Claus and we're getting a tree later on this week. 

But this weekend was the beginning of the week long celebration of Hanukkah. It's a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, commemorating the triumph of a small band of Jewish soldiers to reclaim the Temple. Once the Temple was cleaned up, they discovered that there was only enough oil to last one night, but, as they say, "a great miracle happened there," and the oil lasted the eight days it took to make more. We light menorahs every night (Julie keeps calling them Torahs) and every night, we try to do something special. Some nights it's presents, some nights it's a dinner at the synagogue, or we go out and look at holiday lights with hot cocoa. 

Saturday night, we had the first night, and we lit all nine of the menorahs we had at that point (we've since added another, bringing the total up to ten). Each child got a book for their present. Yesterday was non-stop Hanukkah, with a family party in the morning, a menorah lighting at Newton Square in the afternoon, and then a big dinner with my stepdaughters and more presents. This afternoon, Jessie has a play that she's performing in at religious school and then we've got dinner at the synagogue. Tomorrow night, we're actually getting our tree, and then Wednesday night, we'll do another menorah lighting at religious school, Thursday night is the Boy Scouts pot luck (we're bringing latkes) and Friday night is Shabbat. 

Things are crazy this year, and I'm not sure why. Last year, I remember thinking that Hanukkah was so peaceful compared to the frantic rush of Christmas, but this year it seems the exact opposite. I don't know if it's just that Hanukkah came so early this year, so I wasn't entirely mentally ready for the holidays, or if it's a function of kids getting older. More activities, more explanations about religion and why we celebrate what, more kids running around and bugging each other. Last year, Julie wasn't really walking, and she certainly wasn't claiming all gifts that come into the house as her own, the way she is this year. Last year, Sam was still five, and had no activities outside of school. Last year, Jessie was a lot younger, in many ways, and not as articulate about trying to figure out why different people follow different religions. I feel like this has been a year with a lot more squabbling, a lot more running around and a lot more spiritual questioning. All of which is lovely - don't get me wrong. I love having three (and sometimes five) kids, and squabbling is a part of that. I love having a busy, active life, with lots of friends and huge families to celebrate with. And I LOVE that my kids ask questions, I love that we discuss and debate and ponder these deep spiritual topics in the car and at night before bed. 

But I also am tired. And looking forward to my week between Hanukkah and Christmas. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Words We Won't Get Back

Julie is still at that age where she's learning to talk.  New words every day (today, we learned lavendar, she was delighted).  But she still struggles with pronunciation, and it made me think of the number of words that I have repeated so often that I no longer remember the actual word it's come from.  Either that, or the mispronunciation has become a perfectly viable word in and of itself.  Here's a list of them...

"fier" - pacifier.  Jessie used a fier for years.  And it's still what I call it when I hand one to my two year old niece.  Despite the fact that I only used them for my oldest child (and she's almost ten).

"potty" - toilet.  Actually, this doubles as both a noun meaning the entire room, and a verb, as in "going potty."  I worry that I'll be fifty and still using this...

"Boy and G"  My son Samuel Earl and daughter Jessica Mary  both have beautiful, well considered and well loved names.  And we refer to them eighty to ninety percent of the time as Boy and G.  Because that's what Julie calls them.  Sam called Jessie "Dessi" and that didn't last.  But for some reason, Boy and G seem to have staying power.

"punge" - sponge.  This one was tough to decipher.   But Julie is a girl who loves to clean (with any luck, this'll last beyond toddlerhood), and frequently demands a "punge wid bubbles" to scrub down the table.

"Wabbo!" - Bravo.  I have now taken to hollering Wabbo when any kid does anything fabulous.  Bring home an awesome spelling test?  Wabbo!  Remember to put your dirty dishes into the dishwasher?  Wabbo!

"Pat Pat" - the Disney show, Little Einsteins.  It's Julie's favorite show, and I think it's only because it was one of her first words.  We use it all the time, usually the older kids, "Please God no - don't make us watch ANOTHER Pat Pat!"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I love a Tuesday

Having a delightful sort of day today - the sun is (not) shining and the everyone was cheerful and friendly this morning.  Which is rare, honestly, so I'm taking it as a sign that today is going to be freaking AWESOME.  

Today is my free day, devoted to cleaning, baking and probably some reading.  Tomorrow, I've got a Mommy and Me planning meeting, Thursday, we're getting the tree, Friday is Shabbat and pizza party for first graders, and then Saturday starts Hanukkah.  There's a concert at Emmanuel that we may or may not go to, and then Sunday, it's Marc's family party in the morning.  Which reminds me that I have to bake cookies for that.  Next weekend, Abby's birthday is on Sunday morning.  And I've got another Hanukkah party that night.  

Will not be getting a $30 Elf on a Shelf.  Am researching other alternatives, and trying to come up with a positive spin.  In our family - we do fairies on a shelf.  Does that sound reasonable?  Or puppies on a shelf - we've got a lot of stuffed puppies.  Or even... Shoo Butt (Sam's stuffed lizard) on a Shelf.  There are lots of viable alternatives.  I just need to explain to Marc that from now until Christmas, every night, he has to make the coffee and find a new place to put the damn elf.  Or Shoo Butt.  Actually, now that I'm thinking about it - I really should hide three different things, right?  Because you know they'll battle over who's going to find it first.  This is a complex little tradition, but Sam's really into it. 

Another thing he's really into is the daily chocolate.  My mother bought the kids advent calendars, and I think it's brilliant.  I use them as bribes - if they get dressed quickly enough, they can all open their days and get a tiny square of chocolate.  I may look into celebrating Advent all year round.  Julie, yesterday, slept late and missed it in the morning, and then midday, went and found it, and opened just one day to get her daily allotment.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

My annual December Dilemma Post

This is my tenth Christmas/Hanukkah season with Marc, and I find that as it approaches, it's the first one that I'm relaxed and happy about in a long time.  We celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and I'm perfectly content about it, for the first time in years.  We also do Easter/Passover, but somehow, that's never really been an issue.  Passover is a much more significant event -  Easter is reduced to nothing more than a fun party at Grammy's house.

But in years past, I've really agonized over what we do in December.  Marc and I were always guaranteed at least one killer battle, whereupon we would argue and debate and theorize for hours over whether or not he was celebrating Christmas with the "right" frame of mind (I never thought he was, he - correctly, I now realize - is in entitled to be angst ridden in his own way, as long as we are unified as a family).  Because that's always what it was for me, a way of asserting my own impact on the kids.  A way to say to them that yes, we're Jewish, but that's not all that we are, and you don't have to lose out on my traditions because of it.   It was an identity thing for me.  I wanted desperately for Judaism to be an addition to my life, to their life.  Not to have it represent loss.

Because we are Jewish - and I love that.  I feel at home with Judaic spirituality, it makes utter and complete sense to me.  I love Shabbat, I love the holidays and the everyday holiness.  I love the blessings over tiny events, and the sense of appreciation and gratitude.  I love the community.  I really love the community.  I love that my kids are so welcomed and adored and comfortable at the synagogue.

But I also love my own traditions.  My own memories of beautiful Christmas trees and hot cocoa and candy canes and I think my kids deserve that.  I don't pretend that ALL kids deserve it, if you don't celebrate Christmas because you feel it's a Christian holiday and as a non-Christian, it's not your day, that's cool.  But for me, Christmas was never particularly a Christian holiday.  If there was any religious significance to it, it was always more Pagan, with the tree and the candles and the light in the darkness kind of thing.  Which translates nicely (for me, at least) with Hanukkah.  I think my kids get to celebrate Christmas because they're my kids.  Because they are my mother's grandchildren.  And it's as much a part of who they are as Hanukkah candles, latkes and dreidels.  

Because in the end, my kids will make up their own minds about religion and spirituality and what traditions they want to continue and what they'll let slide.  I chose to raise them within a religious community that is their's by inheritance, half their family is Jewish- and took the extra steps to convert them so that nobody would question their Jewish identity.  I converted myself, due in no small part to my conviction that if my family was Jewish, then I was as well.   But celebrating Christmas may well be what makes it possible for me to embrace raising my children in a culture that still feels alien to me, to teach them songs in a language that makes no sense to me, and to learn to make challah and make sure I've got Shabbat candles for Friday.  

And in the end, my kids' Jewish identity is going to rely a lot more on the challah recipe that I'm perfecting, the years of religious education I make them go to, the Shabbat dinner every Friday night, and the fact that we simply are Jewish.  The conflict was just between Marc and I, and I suppose, the greater culture at large, that insists that being Jewish means NOT celebrating Christmas, and insisting that you can't participate in Christmas unless you believe that Jesus is the Son of God.   My kids know they're Jewish, and they know what that means.  They don't agonize over it, their Jewish identity is as obvious to them and as undeniable as the fact that they've all got brown eyes.  It's not up for debate, it simply is.  They also know that they celebrate Christmas because it's my tradition, that it's a holiday like Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.  Not a religious one, but one that we celebrate enthusiastically.

Bring on the candy canes, and this week, I'll unpack the endless number of menorahs and the Christmas lights.  I couldn't be happier.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Project Make Sam Like People Commences

I know - it's a crappy name for a project, but I'm still working on it.

At our last school conference, his teacher raved about how well he's doing in school this year.  Smart, fun, interacting with everyone, totally socially acclimated.  But there was a pause, and I asked the question that had been weighing on my mind - will he be able to go to first grade next year, or is his comfort level completely dependent on having you as his teacher?  In other words, I know he's awesome, I know he's bright and funny and sweet and all around a great kid.  But I also know that he's really afraid in new settings, and that if she's not there, his beloved teacher that he's had for two years now - he might regress completely.  And his teacher reluctantly agreed that it was a possibility.

So she suggested babysitters.  Playdates.  Leave him often with other adults, put him in new settings without Marc or I there and expand his confidence.

I blame myself.  Of course.   I know that I sheltered him a lot, I kept him with me when he really wanted to be, I didn't force him to go to preschool, I didn't force him to go to soccer camp.  I've cancelled playdates wily nily when he started sobbing at the prospect of going.

So I'm leaving him at my  mother's house more and more.  He's over at Joy's house for a playdate today, and has big plans on going over to Nicky's house tomorrow.   He's ready for this - he's eager to go and be a six year old boy, with friends and legos and ninjas and running and all kinds of BOY stuff.

And I think this is why, even though I blame myself, I also give myself credit.  Sam is who he is.  And he's not a kid who was ready to trust anyone, really.  For a very long time.  He was a kid who was really scared, and didn't feel safe out in the world alone.  As much as I wished it might have been different - I wish that only for his sake.  Because it was HARD to be him.   But he had a blast at my mom's house last weekend, and his eyes lit up when I asked if he wanted to go play at Harrison's house today.  And he's been counting down the days to his playdate with Nicky.  He's ready now.  I don't think he could have been pushed or forced into this - he had to be ready on his own.   Like potty training, or learning to read, or sleeping thru the night.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gratitude List

Thanksgiving is my mother's favorite holiday. But not mine. I like the prep work, but the actual holiday has never really appealed to me. None of the beauty of Christmas, or the quiet peace of Hanukkah. None of the candy and spring time excess of Easter, or the spiritual meaning attached to Passover. It's okay. But not my favorite.

Sam was sick this year on Thanksgiving. We have a tradition in our family, girls and boys night is the night before. I always take my girls and sleep over at my mother's house on Wednesday night. We stay up late, prepping stuff for the next day, and talking and gossiping. Marc takes Sam and they go out for Chinese together and then stay up late watching what I call "inappropriate tv." We get up super early, and spend the morning eating and cooking and talking and Marc and Sam come down to my mother's house and we all have the holiday together. 

But this year, Sam woke up and threw up all morning long, so he and Marc stayed home, and the girls and I had dinner with my parents and come home after. And because it isn't Thanksgiving unless we're all together, we're having a redo today. The turkey is in the oven, the kids are coloring placemats for everyone (we've got some friends joining us) and I've got Christmas carols on in the kitchen. And I'm glad, because it gives me a golden opportunity to think about one comprehensive list of what I'm grateful for today. So - in no particular order - here's a few of the many blessings I have to be grateful for this year...

- My husband. Marc and I will celebrate our eleven year anniversary in February, and I'm still so in love with him. He's my best friend, my partner, and the one person who's always, always on my side. He's brilliant and kind and funny and endlessly, endlessly devoted to our family. But more than that, he's just as goofy in love with me as I am with him, and that's such a wonderful gift.

- My Jessica Mary. She'll be ten in a few months, and my baby girl is growing up so much faster than I think she should. She was, and is, everything I always wanted in a daughter. All my hopes and dreams of being a mother paled in comparison to the reality, and she's the reason for that. It's better and more magical, more infuriating and harder than I ever dreamed. She's simply awesome, and I'm blessed to be her mother.

- My Samuel Earl. My boy child, my sweetest little love, and my right arm. He's the one who changed me, who stretched me and taught me and made me the mother I am today. He's my heart, in a very real sense, and I'm forever in awe of him. He's smart and sweet and so tender and vulnerable at times. Stubborn and determined and this little bundle of emotion and sweetness. Worships his dad, but adores me, and I'm blessed to have him for my son.

- My Julianna Ruth. My angel girl, my love bug. She's just so funny and happy. She's in love with the world, and delighted to be a part of it. She makes motherhood easy, and has from the very beginning. I was laughing as she was born, and it's still the way I think of her. She just makes you smile. She's cheerful and easy to please, unless you cross her, in which case, she'll kill you. Or at least try hard to. She's such a gift, such a perfect blessing.

- My stepdaughters, Lilli and Sarah. Being a stepmother isn't an easily defined role, and it's one that is different for each stepmother. But I think I've got it easier than most, because these girls are just a delight to me. And one thing that easy to define is the relationship between them and my three, and that is one of siblings. These two girls are their big sisters, best friends, mortal enemies and lifelong companions. My kids are blessed to have them in their life. And let's face it, my husband makes pretty great kids - and his oldest two are great examples. Smart, funny, kind. I'm proud to have them in my family.

- Worcester isn't my hometown. In fact, after living here for nine years, I still get lost more often than not, and think longingly of my little hometown of Maynard. But Worcester has a lot going for it, not the least of which is great schools, fabulous library, wonderful neighborhoods, Congregation Beth Israel, Charlotte Klein's dance studio, Troop 54 Boy Scouts and the Girl Scout troops. My kids live in a peaceful, pretty world, filled with dedicated adults and really good friends. I'm grateful for that.

My turkey smells wonderful, and there are potatoes and squash waiting in the kitchen for me to peel and prep. My kids are happy, my husband is enjoying his first day off in long time (because Thursday doesn't count, as he spent most of the day cleaning vomit). I've got a pile of new books to read, friends coming over this afternoon. I think I might do a Thanksgiving re-do every year. It might even turn into one of my favorite holidays too. 

Friday, November 23, 2012


I've got my faults, believe me.  I'm stubborn, I hold a grudge, I whine a lot.  I'm not always brimming over with patience, and I hate making my kids unhappy.  But I'm not really into... stuff.  I don't care about clothes, I have little to no jewelry that I care about (I like my wedding ring, but even that, I don't actually wear it all that often), I borrow all my books from the library and can't remember the last time I actually enjoyed a shopping experience.

Which is why I'm perplexed that I've given birth to hoarders.

Jessie was first, obviously.  And I noticed the tendency early - she collects stuff.  Odd stuff.  Stuff that doesn't look all that appealing to me, for example, rocks off the side of the road.  Little dustcatchers that have no particular significance to anything in her life - like a plaster nurse figurine she picked up at my stepfather's father's house after he passed away.  She got a dozen tiny little things, porcelain tea sets that make me crazy because I feel like they're just aching to shatter all over the place.  Stuffed animals, oh Lord have mercy - the stuffed animals.  Every-freaking-where.

But Sam... my Sam is a sentimental hot mess.  And today, I broke his piggy bank.  It was glass (why, oh, why do people give him glass stuff???) and up on a high shelf.  I was putting something on the shelf, and the pig fell down and shattered.  Of course.  And the poor little guy... it broke his heart.  We had already had a rough morning, after my mother sent home boxes of fruit snacks (but I can't blame her, I brought them into the house, I know it was my fault).  Fruit snacks are like crack to him - he simply can't stop himself from eating all them.  One after another.  And they're utter crap for his teeth, and really, there's no good reason for any six year old to sit and inhale sixteen little packets of fruit snacks.  

So he cried, and sobbed and then Jessie hurt his feelings by calling him a jerk.  So he came into his bedroom, where I was misguidedly trying to put away all his clean laundry.  I got him thru it, patted his back and consoled him - and distracted him by having him help make the bed.  Once his bed was pretty and made, he got out a little stack of books to read - and was so content - and then BOOM, the piggy bank broke.

It's almost bad enough to make me whip out a package of fruit snacks to make him feel better.  But I was tough, and he soldiered thru, but sobbed like someone had died.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting dressed

I'm relatively laid back about most of mothering. There are some things I'm pretty adamant on, I don't let them watch certain television shows (SpongeBob, I'm talking about you), I insist on teeth brushing and that you at least wave the brush in the general direction of your hair. But I don't insist on ponytails every day for the girls, and I pretty much let them pick out what they want to wear. Which is why you'll see my toddler constantly wearing her straw sun hat. In November. 

It's easy to fall into stereotypes about girls and boys sometimes, especially when I'm just coming off of a long, involved debate over what to wear with my oldest daughter, and I just tossed some clothes at my son and he put them on happily. But the truth is that it's more age oriented for him. When he was a toddler, he had a rainbow sun hat her wore everywhere, and frequently would insist on double underwear or double shirts. But now, he's my easiest kid, as long as it's comfy, he doesn't much care what it looks like. My daughters have always been super picky about clothes. And I'll never forget when, at four, my precious angel girl looked at me and said coldly "Just because you like jeans and ponytails, Mama, doesn't mean that I do." 

So today, Jessie went to school in a pair of jeans and sneakers (she wore them because she's got a field trip involving a lot of outside walking today - she wears sneakers only reluctantly on gym days and flat out hates jeans) and two shirts layered. The shirt dilemma was a battle this morning, turtlenecks didn't look right and wouldn't fold down on her neck, and she doesn't have anything to wear (in her eyes, I think she's got far too many outfits). She was near tears trying to get dressed, and I was doing my best to bite my tongue and point out the sixteen different perfectly viable tops she could have chosen. Sam didn't blink at the clothes I threw his way, other than to be thrilled that they were warm from the dryer. And my Julianna got up late and staggered out the bedroom in her cute little footie jammies from last night. With her outfit from yesterday put on top of it, because she was so distraught at taking it off before bed. It was just easier to convince her to put on warm jammies underneath and then put back on her leggings and pink tshirt for bed. And of course, the hat. Because no outfit, even purple fleece jammies with red and pink leggings and tshirt over it, is complete without the straw hat. With the fuchsia flower.

Pick your battles - that's my theory. So if you see my daughter, know that a lot of thought and effort went into her outfit, on her part, and know that my son is probably not wearing matching socks. And yeah, I know that the straw hat isn't that warm, and that it's getting a little bedraggled from constant wear, but it's better than the batman skull hat all summer, so I'm not complaining :-)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The new routine

Marc's job has killer hours these days.  There's flexibility, which is much needed, as we're still down to just his car and we have three kids who need to be toted hither and yon, but there's also a LOT of late nights.  We still managed to eek out a little time together, mornings, sometimes.  And sometimes mid-afternoon, he can hang for a bit, but he's not here, mostly, at night.  I miss my husband, and my kids miss their dad.  But we're adjusting to the new normal, which is most nights, just the four of us rocking around the house.  I make dinner a lot earlier, and usually manage to get everything cleaned up before bed.  Julie has, for the most part, given up her nap, so she's generally down for the night around seven thirty or so, Sam conks out around eight or eight fifteen, and I try to get Jessie to sleep for nine.

Things are good these days.  Jessie seems to have finally adjusted to the world of fourth grade.  It was a rough, really rough, beginning.  With lots of tears and frustration on everyone's part, but she brought home a stellar report card today.  All As and Bs, with the exception of a high C for math.  But she got As for math effort and conduct, so I'm still beaming.  Hebrew School has gotten a lot better for her as well.  I don't know that it got better, because it was never bad, but she seems to have gotten used to it, and is now happy about going again.

Sam adjusted to school pretty quickly after the first week or so, but Hebrew school was a much tougher battle to fight.  But he's going now, and sitting thru class without me there, and I couldn't be prouder.  He's probably never going to be a kid who thrives on extra curricular activities, his default favorite place is always going to be at home, but he's getting more and more used to it.  It broadens his world, exposes him to a brighter and bigger environment, so even though it's super hard to force him to do STUFF, I have to keep trying.  Slowly, and patiently, but keep trying.

Julie is growing ever bigger, and ever more verbal.  She's learning so much every day, counting and singing and using the potty and not napping really at all anymore.  Massively opinionated, she's an odd combination of both the older kids, with a dash of just Julie thrown in.  She's dramatic and emotional like her sister, prone to screaming when things don't go her way, but staggeringly easy to please most of the time like her brother.  She's still my hat girl, only she's moved away from the Batman skull cap to a straw sunhat with a giant fuchsia flower on it. She calls it her cowgirl hat, and occasionally will toss it up in the air and holler "Yee Haw!"  Wears it everywhere.  Literally.  Every-freaking-where.  Library, shopping, the synagogue.  She takes it off reluctantly to sleep and usually dons it before she comes out of the bedroom in the morning.  She's got chronic hat head.

As for me, I'm thinking.  I'm thinking and wondering and hoping.  As the kids get older, I'm starting to feel... something.   Free-er, more available for stuff.  More available for me.  So much of the past ten years (I'm really aware of the fact that Jessie's next birthday in February will mark a full decade of parenting for me) have been devoted to intense, hands on mothering.  Now that Julie is two and a half, potty trained and not napping, I'm starting to wonder what I'll do with myself.  I'm sort of putting myself out of a job, in a sense.  Not that I'm not still their mother, but for a very long time, there wasn't really time for me to do much else.  Not and still mother the way I wanted to.  I had stumbled into an admin career pre-kids, and was pretty good at it, but I don't really anticipate going back to a regular 9-5 job.  I don't want Julie in full time care, and I don't want Sam and Jessie in full time after school care.  So I'm thinking about work from home, and I'm thinking about writing.  Still just at the thinking stage, but wondering about what I could do, articles?  Columns?  A book?  I don't know, and mostly, it's all just dreams now.  But it's out there, on the horizon...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lessons I've Learned

In no particular order - here's a list of some of what I've figured out after what I just realized is almost a decade of parenting.  Some of these lessons I have to relearn over and over again..

- Pacifiers work.  Really, really well - but around a year old, it's better to limit it to just before bed, in the car, and after a temper tantrum.

- Potty training is just messy.  There's going to be naked toddlers, urine everywhere and a lot of mopping and carpet/upholstery cleaning in your future.

- I read somewhere that you shouldn't count how many times you nurse your child, or how many times you kiss them.  Do it as needed.

- Pay attention to a child's diet over a week, not over a day.

- As much as you can, encourage your child to play ALONE.  Or with other kids.  But don't appoint yourself the cruise director, in charge of their entertainment.  

- Put your kids first.   Because nobody else is going to consider their best interests in making plans or decisions, and they deserve that.  It doesn't always have to be the deciding factor, but always consider them before making decisions.

- It might take a village, but more than that, it takes dedicated, devoted and thoughtful parents.  Pay attention to their world, and make intelligent determinations about the childhood you want them to have.

- Don't be afraid to admit when you've screwed up.  Nobody, NOBODY, knows what they're doing.  We're all winging it, and we all make mistakes.  Own it and fix it when you do.

- Don't be afraid to have your child hate you.  Because they will.  And that's okay.  It's temporary, and they'll thank you for it.  Really.   Kids like structure and rules and knowing what comes next.  They also like knowing that they can count on you to make the rules.

- Always reassure your kids that you are on their side, that you want for them to succeed and be happy -and that you love them more than they'll ever know.   As obvious as it seems - they still need to hear it.  Over and over again.

- You can make a meal more popular by naming it - we eat Jessie's favorite shepherd's pie, and Sammy Boy's tacos a lot.

- Let your kids see you and your husband fight, not often, but show them that it's okay to get mad, to talk it out, and then to compromise and make up.  And make sure they see you loving each other more than they see you mad at each other.

- Pay attention, but not so much attention that you know, all the time, exactly what they're doing.  If the kids are playing happily in their bedroom, stay away.  

- Go ahead and just accept that your house is going to be just a little bit of a disaster.  For years.  Stay on top of laundry, dishes and the floors, and just accept the clutter and mess.  Towers will get built and not put away, army guys and princesses will battle it out and you'll learn to hate Polly Pockets and tiny little lego guys with a passion.

- Periodically, throw away (or donate) a bagful of toys.  They won't notice, and it'll feel great.

- Every now and again, you have to leave them.  You have to walk out the door so that they know you'll always come back.  You have to let them form attachments and bonds with other people, even when they hate every single second of it.  It's a very fine line, balancing out meeting their needs and their wants, and even harder when they are completely opposite.  But learning that they are okay without you there is so critical.

- Be strong when everyone else tells you that you're wrong.  If you know, absolutely, that this (whatever this is) is the right path for your child, know that you know your child better than anyone else.  Everyone else can have an opinion, but not everyone else has the knowledge base that you do about your child.  Consider the advice, but don't be afraid to disregard it if it flies in the face of what you know is right.

- Remember to hug each one, individually, every day.  Believe me, you can overlook this accidentally if you aren't paying attention, especially as they get older.  Take a minute, each day, and really connect on a one on one basis with each child.

- Every now and again, go ahead and have ice cream for dinner.

- Make traditions.  Just go ahead and make them up - because really, that's all a tradition is.  The traditional ones are great, Shabbat dinner, or Passover Seders, and Rosh Hashana apple picking, but special hookey days from school on their birthdays - or watching The Looney Tunes Show or Scooby Doo all snuggled up together, or the night every year that you put on jammies and drive them around looking at Christmas lights until they fall asleep.  Those are the traditions that they'll pass down to their kids.

- Remind them that they are stuck with each other.  That we are a family, and there's a connection there that's unbreakable.  They don't have to like each other all the time, but they do have to know that when the chips are down, their siblings are going to be there.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sammy's circumcision

Jewish men, as a rule, are circumcised by a mohel.  It's a special position, generally filled by urologists or other doctors, and they not only perform the operation but also conduct the service.  When Sam was born, Marc was adamant that he be circumcised.  Everyone has their own baggage, and I'm far from exempt from that.  I grew up without a dad, I was dead certain that I wanted my children to have an active, involved and dedicated father.  I didn't want them to have just one parent, so it was vital to me to respect Marc as a parent.  Sam was his son as much as he was mine, and it was that absolute for him.  Sam would be circumcised.  So I agreed.

The boys in my family had all be circumcised, so I wasn't unfamiliar with the idea (although it was always done in the hospital).  That being said, it's one thing to blithely agree to something and then realize how incredibly hard it's going to be.  Like daycare - of course, my kids would go to day care and I'd work full time, right up until I actually HAD a child and the thought of leaving them for eight to nine hours a day was devastating.  It was the same situation with the circumcision.  Yeah, sure, we can do that, right up until I've got this tiny little boy - AND YOU WANT TO CUT OFF HIS LITTLE PENIS?!?!  And if I was struggling with the concept, explaining it to my non-Jewish family was even harder.  The whole idea of having a party where we'd cut off the tip of his penis and then have bagels was beyond their comprehension.

But cut it off we did.  I reminded myself over and over again that this was Marc's child as much as mine.  That I had to respect Marc's traditions and his right to make decisions for our child if I truly wanted him to be an equal parent with me.  

First let me back up.  Sam was a challenging baby.  To this day, six years later, I know of no other child who was as miserable as my Sammy was for the first several months.  Colic and reflux were a part of it, but part of it was just who Sam was, he doesn't like change - and the whole concept of starting his life here just made him furious.  He cried all the livelong day, unless he was nursing.   Or in the swing - he loved his swing.  But mostly he cried and nursed.  I actually kept track one day, and had nursed him thirty separate times between six o'clock in the morning and two o'clock in the afternoon.  He only slept when I held him, and only stopped crying when he nursed.  He flipped out if anyone other than me tried to hold him, screamed unmercifully if people looked at him for too long, and being the center of attention made him nuts.  

So I was a wreck on the day he was going to be circumcised.  To put it mildly.  I was an experienced mom, he was my second baby, and I'd had literally decades of childcare behind me - but I was worn out, sleep deprived and out of mind with confusion and frustration and this overwhelming love for this boy child.  Voluntarily hurting him (and that's the only way I could see this) was so hard.  So incredibly hard. My mother, sister, stepfather and cousin had all come early to our house.   We lived in a second floor apartment, and it was literally the hottest day of the summer so far that year.   We had no air conditioner, and the apartment was wall to wall people.  I couldn't stop crying.  Sam couldn't stop crying (because the mohel didn't want me to nurse for the two hours before the ceremony).  I remember one of Marc's aunts walking around holding him, and trying to convince him to use the pacifier.  

My mother took me into Jessie's bedroom, and all of Marc's female relatives assured me that I shouldn't be there, the mothers never watch.  But I couldn't NOT be there.  This was my child.  This was my baby, and if I was going to allow this to happen to him, I couldn't let him do it without me there to support him.  So I sat in the room just off of the dining room, where everyone had gathered.  My father in law held Sam, and my poor confused stepfather gave him little bits of a sweet wine and it was over super fast.  They handed him back to me immediately, and he stopped crying the instant I touched him.  He nursed gratefully and went immediately back to sleep.  

The man who performed the circumcision passed away the other day, and I'm mourning him today.  Not that I knew him well, I had never met him before and only saw him a few times since then.  But he was there, on one of the most challenging and painful and ultimately rewarding days of my life.  You know how sometimes you bond to your baby the first time you meet them, and sometimes it takes a bit? I loved Sam from the beginning, but on the day that he was circumcised, I knew absolutely and without question that I was his mother and he was my son, and that when he hurt, I felt it more than I could have imagined.  It was the beginnings of a relationship that, to this day, continues to shock and amaze me, to teach me and stretch me and astound me.  Rest in Peace, Stuart Jaffee, and thank you for your part in my son's life.

That being said - when we found out that Julianna was a girl, the first thing I thought in the ultrasound room was thank God we don't have to have her circumcised.

Taking your child to vote

Why wouldn't you? I read an article yesterday on about a mom who was stunned and happy that her five year old wanted to come and vote with her. She wrote four or five paragraphs on it, how she's not sure that she's ready to talk to him about issues, and she and her husband are always careful to not talk about politics in front of him. I was baffled... I've been hauling my kids into the voting booth since they were born. On more than one occasion, I've taken other people's kids into the voting booth with me. Because why wouldn't you? 

I've always discussed politics with my kids. Age appropriate, and I'm not a hugely confrontational person anyway - so I tend to present at least a nominally balanced viewpoint, but I make it clear which way I vote, why I vote that way, and what the opposing arguments are. I also really encourage them to make up their own minds - to have opinions. They might not be able to vote, but they are certainly capable of deciding where they stand on certain issues. 

So we're all voting together this afternoon. I asked if the kids wanted to this morning, and Sam enthusiastically yelled "YES." Jessie said yes as well, although qualified it as saying that she didn't really have much choice in the matter, because we had to take her with us. I told her that technically, we could vote while she was at school and not take her, but that yeah, even if she didn't want to go, we'd make her. Because you vote. In our family - we vote. I don't care how she votes, I just care that she does. 

Is it indoctrination? Maybe. But I think we all indoctrinate our children to one extent or another. And I'm careful about how I do it. Especially as it relates to religion and politics. I don't get to make their decisions, I don't get to decide how or when they worship or vote when they are adults, but I do get to teach them that it matters. That spirituality and political viewpoints are important, and worthy of thoughtful consideration. In the end, that's why I make them go to religious school, and that's why I drag them into voting booths. I think it's my job as their parent to show them these things, to expose them to a spiritual path that will encourage them to think and learn and make up their own mind, and to know that every November, their little butts belong in a voting booth - because they matter. In the end, it's not about indoctrination, it's about empowerment. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The blog post I wasn't going to write

I haven't blogged in a bit, mainly because this post (which I obviously really needed to write, for myself) is kind of angry and kind of hostile - and I wasn't sure I wanted to go there on a public forum.  That being said, I find that, after writing it, I feel a LOT better about everything.  Back to cheery parenting posts tomorrow.  Maybe even later on this afternoon.

It's more than just politics.  It's also about religious evolution and emotional evolution and the way life changes and you grow.  When I was eighteen, I was a volunteer on Bill Clinton's campaign, a card carrying member of the National Abortion Rights Activist League and a self described witch.  When I was twenty eight, I miscarried twins.  That, more than anything, changed my mind on abortion.  I had three children between the time I was twenty nine and thirty six.  And they were Jewish kids.  Did I convert to Judaism because of the kids?  Maybe.  Did I change my mind on abortion because of the kids?  Absolutely.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that maybe those pro-life people weren't wrong.  They knew that the pregnancy that resulted in miscarriages at ten and eleven weeks was more than just a vague collection of cells. Maybe those pro-life people might have a point.  After losing my babies, I couldn't accept that abortion was just another choice.  Those were babies.  They were my babies.  When they died, it was a loss that I continue to grieve.  If I had chosen to end that pregnancy, how could I pretend that it wasn't ending a life?  Abortion isn't nothing.  Should it be safe and legal?  Probably - because inevitably, people are going to get pregnant and not be able to carry the baby to term.  But should it be considered just another choice?  Is it nothing?  I don't think so.  I don't have all the answers.  But I do know that it's a lot more complicated than I had thought.  I know that because I'm a woman.  I know that because I've had those pregnancies.  I resent the hell out of being told that I need to deny what I know as a woman because I'm a woman, i.e. I need to vote Democrat to preserve abortion rights.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that organized religion was more than just suppression of independent thought, that it was about a community and a people and a way to explain the universe.  Somewhere along the line, I started really liking having religion in my life.  I liked having religion in my kids' lives.  Not just having God, but having religion.  Rules, tradition, guidelines that were shared by a community.  Being a witch seemed... insufficient to me.   I wanted Shabbat dinner.  I wanted Passover Seders and a religious tradition that would teach them that they have a unique and personal relationship with the Divine, and also that they have responsibilities to make the world a better place because of it.  This means that Saturdays - I'm going to be unavailable.  It's Shabbat for me.  I don't ask you to go to synagogue with me, but please understand that this is important to me.  It's important for my kids.

Somewhere along that line, I started voting Republican.   It might have happened when I met Marc - because prior to that, everyone I knew just voted Democratic without thinking.  Everyone who was good and right was obviously a liberal.  But Marc wasn't evil, he was the smartest man I'd ever met.  If he saw some good in opposing viewpoints, then perhaps it was worth a look.   I don't ask you to vote the same way that I do.  I just ask that you stop demanding that only good and rational people vote your way.

And somewhere along the line, I realized that the world isn't black and white.  It's not good versus evil most of the time, it's just people doing the best they can with the circumstances we have.  And people don't always rise to the occasion, sometimes terrible things happen, and people aren't strong enough to handle it.  You don't always get back what you put out, and you can't always make things better by willing it to be so.  Life is hard, sometimes.  Life is complicated, most of the time.   But if you can find people you love, people who respect your choices and welcome your input, if you can find a spiritual home where you feel valued and satisfied, then you're doing okay.  I don't think anyone has to agree with me, and I don't think that if you are a witch or Christian or pro-choice or a lifelong Democrat, I don't think I need to convince you to see it my way.  I accept that everyone is different.  I love that everyone is different. I think that these things are too personal, too private to try and convince others to feel the same way.

I just know that I've made my choices.  They aren't always the choices I'd have thought that I'd be making, but they are the choices that have led me to here.  The lessons I've learned, they might not be your lessons.  But that doesn't make them any less valid.

Here's hoping for a quick resolution to the election and an end to the negative ads and misery on facebook and everywhere else on-line.   And thank goodness for tonight, our pre-election taco party, and for a fun night tomorrow night watching the returns come in.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


I've got major writer's block (aka everyone I know is in a bad mood and I think I've absorbed all of it, because although there's nothing for me to be cranky about, I am) so am reposting an old blog post.  I was going to look back a year, but last November was, arguably, one of the worst months of my life, so I went back two years.  Everything I wrote is still true - only more so.

That's really why I blog.  I do it because about twenty years ago, my mother found a journal that her mom had wrote in about her kids and was so incredibly moved by it.  Knowing how her mother felt about she and her siblings when they were kids was amazing for her, and I remember thinking that when I had kids, that's what I was going to do.  Only I wasn't going to do one little journal - I was going to write and write and write.  Plus I like writing.  A lot.  It's my therapy, my way of making sense of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.  And even though I've had some problems with this blog, I'm not going to stop.  I flat out love this blog, I love looking back three years ago and seeing where I was, and how I was thinking about things.  I love that other people read it, I've found connections and relationships and major support (hello, JoEllen :-) when I needed it.  But at the heart of it, I blog for me, for my kids and for Marc.  

Jessica Mary - you are my angel girl, my first little love.  You were my baby - and I wanted to have a little girl just like you for the longest time.  You are brilliant and kind, funny and sweet.  Maternal and loving and emotional and dramatic, and so beautiful it still takes my breath away.  We have an intense relationship, there's nobody who can make me crazier than you, nobody who can bring me to tears faster.  I love you more than you'll ever know - and I'm so proud of you.

Samuel Earl - you are my baby boy, my love bug boy and the child I never planned on.  Not that you weren't a planned pregnancy, I just never thought I'd have a boy.  And from the very beginning - you just swept me away with your love and devotion.  I can't imagine how I ever started a morning without my Sammy-love.  You're stubborn, loving, sweeter than honey and everything that I never knew I needed so desperately in my life.  I love you more than you'll ever know - and I'm so proud of you.

Julianna Ruth - you have been such a joy, right from the very instant you were conceived.  I knew, right away with you - I started throwing up immediately.  My pregnancy with you was torturous, and you have been such an amazing addition to my life, I'd even consider doing it again.  You are all sunshine and happiness, big beautiful eyes and a smile that lights up the room.  I can't remember my life before you were in my arms - and thank God for you everyday.  I love you more than you'll ever know - and I'm so proud of you.  

And Marc - I wouldn't have any of this without you.  Not my brilliant girl, my lovebug boy, or my sunshiney baby.  I wouldn't have this beautiful home, this loving family -I wouldn't be the woman I am today without you by my side.  I don't know what I did in a past life to deserve you - to be loved as passionately, as sweetly - you know me inside and out and have never, ever made me feel anything other than completely cherished.  I love you more than you'll ever know - and I'm so proud of you and the family we've built together.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I love these kids...

My Jessie - all drama and intensity, but with this utterly odd little dash of goofball mixed in.  Samilicious Boy, my angel boy cuddle bug, who's world is complete only when he gets his chapter of Harry Potter every night, wakes up first thing in the morning for a snuggle.  And my Julie - my little Julie, curles and smiles and utter ruthlessness when she's crossed.  I love the three of them together and each one individually.  I love the dynamic of all three, and each individual relationship - the Jessie/Julie big and little sister, how Julie looks up to her sister, and how Jessie mothers Julie.  The Sam and Jessie dynamic, when they're mortal enemies and best friends, over and over again, constantly cycling thru, and Julianna and Sam, they're buddies and playmates in the sweetest of ways.

I love these three kids.  I know, intellectually, that they are no more special and wonderous than any other group of three kids - but secretly, I don't believe that for a minute.  They're mine, and Marc's, and combination of the three is magical in ways I could not have anticipated.  I can see my husband in Jessie's intensity, in Sam's sweetness and in Julie's odd compulsion to line things up in a row.  I can see myself in the dramatic tendencies in Jessie, in Sam's shyness and in Julie's conviction that her way is the best and only way.

Feeling extra blessed this morning...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not prepared

"A boy at school today told me that I wasn't going to go to heaven because I don't believe in Jesus."  We were lying down last night, just before she drifted off to sleep, when my nine year old rolled over and told me that.  I was... stumped.   I had no idea how to respond.  I grew up Catholic, in a completely homogeneous environment.   That wasn't a schoolyard taunt that I had ever heard before.  I didn't have any childhood experience to look back on, any quick responses that she could fire off to respond.  So I paused, perhaps for too long, and then realized what she was saying.  I reassured her that it wasn't true.  God doesn't care what you believe, he cares that you are a good person.   But then I was stuck.

Because I didn't know what to say to her.  We're Jewish, we don't believe that Jesus is the son of God. Should I tell her that the kid is just wrong, that nobody has a monopoly on deciding what happens after you die.  Do I tell her that he's a jerk for saying that, when he's just echoing what he's being taught?  That's a tenet of that faith, I believe.  You kind of have to believe in it in order to get to heaven.  So, in his mind, he's not wrong, he's perhaps legitimately concerned that my girl is doomed to never get into heaven because she's Jewish.  How do I explain in such a way to make her understand, and not make her feel victimized and angry?  Because that was Marc's first reaction.   His suggestion of what she could have said would not have gone over well at school, and I don't think Jessie would actually kick the kid and swear at him, which was what he was recommending.  Sam suggested that she call him an evil, gutless rat (but I think he just liked saying "evil gutless rat") - which had the advantage of being not being classic obscenities but still... not quite the response I was going for.

In the end, I told her that if it came up again, she could just quietly respond that he was entitled to his own religious beliefs and so was she.  And to please respect her beliefs and not say things like that to her.    I think, in some ways, she's more prepared to handle religious differences than other kids her age, precisely because of her background.  While having a mother who didn't grow up as Jewish may mean that I don't call her by Yiddish endearments, don't ever voluntarily feed her lox and cream cheese on her bagels, and stumble over the songs at the Tot Shabbat services, it also means that she has a really clear idea that different people believe different things, and that's perfectly okay.  She knows that her Grammy and Aunties and cousins on my side are just as good, just as likely to get into heaven, as she is.  There are no bonus points for being Jewish or Christian or not belonging to any particular religion.  Simply that different people believe different things, follow different traditions, and that's okay.  She doesn't have to believe in Jesus, and believing in Jesus doesn't make the little boy on the playground inherently different or better or worse than her.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My house is a mess

I woke up this morning late.  Actually, I woke up early, but refused to get out of bed.  By the time I wandered out of my bedroom, my entire living room had been turned into a giant barbie house.  With blocks and trucks and blankets and assorted other figurines.  The entire living room.  As I glance in there, one couch has a blanket, huge stuffed cupcake pillow and a unicorn pillow pet.  The chair next to it has "big fat Dora" as she's known around here, and the stuffed baby sister bear.  The other couch has three pillows, a blanket, and a bunch of plastic food on it.  And the tables and floor are littered with giant cardboard boxes and there are hats and figurines and baby dolls all over the floor.  The dining room is borderline better, but the dining room table was apparently being used as a bunker, because there are toy guns and swords and a plastic hatchet underneath it and on the benches.  The kitchen is clean, kind of - because I had loaded the dishwasher last night, but there are remnants from the kids getting breakfast this morning scattered all over the place.  The bedrooms are just... disasters.  Sam's isn't as bad (because the bunker was in the dining room) and could probably be straightened out quickly enough, but the girls room is beyond words.  In order to find clothes, Jessie still believes firmly that the best and most efficient way to do it is to take all of her clothes out of her dresser, throw them up the air, and wear whatever falls closest to her.  At least I'm assuming that's what she does, because there's no other logical explanation.

I keep reminding myself that it won't always be like this.  That one day, all of the children will be grown up, and the house will be clean and pretty and lovely.  I'll have scented candles that don't get used for kitchen games, and pretty vases filled with little glass rocks and gorgeous flowers.  I'll have furniture that hasn't been peed on and spilled on and taken apart and jumped on for years.  I'll have bookcases filled with my books, and all of my ponytail elastics won't be in the barbie bin, as they are right now.  One day, I'll wake up, wander out of my bedroom, pour myself some coffee and sit in my pretty living room, pick up my book that's right where I left it the night before and think back on this.  I think I might miss it.  But not positive.  I might just be incredibly grateful that it was wonderful and great, having five healthy, gorgeous, creative children growing up in my house.  And be glad that I can walk without tripping over an army guy, or a doctor kit.  I think I'll pour myself another cup of coffee, on that mythical day far into the future, and just smile.   Because it is great and wonderful - and it's not going to last forever.  Someday, my house will be clean.   And I will never stop appreciating it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I had to go to the registry today to update my voter registration and get a copy of my title for the dead van so that we can get rid of it.  Marc and I both went, as we were both on the inactive voter list.  We had to wait for over an hour, and Julianna was mostly awesome.  She ate her goldfish and sipped her water and when those activities lost their appeal, she sat on the floor and went thru my wallet.

I was sitting there, half reading my book (the new Anna Quindlin memoir) and half watching to make sure that she didn't lose my license and other assorted cards in the wallet when it occurred to me that Marc would never have just handed over his wallet for her pleasure.  Just would not happen.  But it bothered me not at all, in fact, I was pleased that I had such a cheap, easy, accessible way to keep her occupied and quiet.

I'm not sure if it's a difference between a mom and a dad, or a difference between men and women, or a difference between us, in specific.  I sense it's more of a difference between he and I.  For as much as we are alike, there are major and distinct differences in us.  Somehow the differences work, mostly.  And if they don't, the things we have in common are enough to smooth it over.   But the differences between us are huge when you think about it.

He's much more organized and single minded than I am.  I'm more laid back about things and better at keeping vague track of a lot more information.  He never loses his keys and his peanut butter, but I know pretty much all the little details of the house and the kids' lives.

I'm always going to give my wallet to a toddler and he'd never dream of it.   Because it's just not that critical to me, if the price of keeping her content and happy is a confused and mixed up wallet, well, that's not all that much of a price.  Especially given that it's all jumbled up from the last time she did it.  It makes him nuts when his license is behind his health insurance card, or when his socks are to the left of his underwear instead of the right in his dresser.  It wouldn't occur to me to mind.  I consider myself lucky to get socks and underwear into the dresser at all.

He's better at stories than I am.  Every night now, he reads a chapter of Harry Potter to Sammy and tells Julie a Princess Julianna story.  Sam will reluctantly let me read to him if Marc really can't do it, but Marc reigns supreme for Julie, in the story telling realm.   I'm better at setting limits, and at taking emotional control of a situation, assuming command of a tantrumming toddler (or rabid six year old, or dramatic nine year old).

He's steady, emotionally, where I'm a lot more... mercurial, shall we say?  I've got a lot more highs and lows, Marc just exists at this steady content level.  I'm much more likely to get frustrated or impatient or irritable, or wander around singing and dancing or giggling to myself.  I'm a lot more in touch with my emotions as well - I can tell you exactly how I'm feeling.  Marc has trouble articulating it.  He can spend hours explaining in exhaustive detail about constitutional law or some abstract scientific principal that proves... something I can't remember - but ask him to explain, in detail, his thoughts and feelings regarding an emotional issue?  He's baffled.  It's like asking me to know where north is - I don't know.  I can, with a little time, orient myself eventually, but only if it's daylight and I can remember that the sun rises in the east and then figure it out from there - but Marc knows instantly.   Exactly where he is, geographically, and where he's going.  I spent at least 80% of my time when I'm driving at least a tiny bit lost, he's always aware of where he is.

So why do we click as well as we do?  Part of it is the bigger issues - we're both strongly connected to our families, we both want the family we're building together to succeed in ways that our own might not have.  We both have a strong spiritual inclination, and tend to put emphasis on the same things.  We're both aware that the two of us together is bigger than either of us, apart.  I just read (in the aforementioned book) that the biggest indicator of why a couple stays together is their own determination to NOT get a divorce.  I'd say that we're the opposite, or rather it's the combination of his absolute commitment (he's already done one divorce and won't do it again) and my exceptionally high standards (I see so many miserable unhappy marriages, or worse, resigned unhappy marriages and can't understand why anyone would accept that as status quo.  I was raised by a single parent, that's my default way of seeing adulthood - nobody is more surprised than me that I'm actually in this really great marriage) - that's what works for us.  We have to stay together (for him) and we have to be happy (for me).   Not that I'm not committed and not that he doesn't also want a happy marriage, but I think we put the emphasis on different things, and the combination is what works.

One thing is for certain - there's nobody I'd rather sit at the registry for over an hour with than him.  There's nobody I'd rather raise children with, nobody I'd rather wake up to every morning than him.  He's the best and most consistent part of my life, he's the person who's always on my side, no matter what.  He's my partner, in the truest and best sense of the world, and I'm always, always aware of how lucky I am.