Posts Tagged ‘children’

Part of my kids’ celebration of Pesach involves watching a few short videos.  Here are their favorites:

Pharaoh’s reaction to the Exodus

The Village People meet the Bread of Affliction

And a poke at anti-Semites

Enjoy the videos and the holiday.


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Kids in shul

Purim’s coming, and it will be one of the few times per year that I actually set foot in shul.

I used to attend shul all the time.  In fact, before the Cap’n and I were married, we used to walk a mile and a half and got to shul half an hour early to attend the rabbi’s pre-Shacharit shiur every Shabbat morning.  Marriage gave us a little less incentive to get up so early for shul, and children made it nearly impossible.  Even if we were to have gotten up, gotten ourselves and the kids dressed, the kids breakfasted, snacks packed, stroller loaded, and the .9 mile walked to shul, the three-hour service with the stern, disapproving looks from some of the older congregants would have driven us away.

This last thing is something that has irritated me for years about shul-going.  When I first began to attend shul in Israel, I was frequently annoyed by the sound (and sometimes the body-slam) of children running and playing in and just outside the shul.  Their parents seemed oblivious of them, only stopping praying to attend to whatever need the child had burst in to convey, and then going back to their davening.  I was put off by their lack of courtesy to other daveners, but kept my mouth shut.  During the many services I sat through with the sound of kid-play in my ears, I realized that the tone the parents (and by extension, the uncomplaining congregants) were setting for the kids was one in which they felt welcome and accepted for what they were—children.  I also learned to tune out the noise and focus on the words in front of me, relegating the laughter and shrieks to a dull background roar.

I haven’t forgotten those lessons, and now that I’m the one with the kids (who usually whisper rather than shriek), I appreciate even more when fellow congregants withhold their scorn and indignation.  Today’s boisterous kids are tomorrow’s docile shul-goers.  (And the doted-upon grandchildren of the scowling sestogenarians.)  This is why the Cap’n and I don’t let it bother us when every fall someone on the shul committee puts out a reminder to the parents of young children to keep them out of shul, please.  I deal with this by choosing a seat in the shul’s plywood extension that goes up just before Rosh Hashana, right near the door.  That way, when I go hear shofar, the kids can come in and stand with me, and when it’s over we can all leave without disturbing the others.  And the Cap’n deals with it by ignoring it completely, putting Bill in his backpack carrier and wearing him to services, with one or more of the Crunch girls standing beside him.  (That said, the Cap’n does remove Bill when his chanting gets louder than the shatz’s.)

A friend of mine took her toddler with her to services last fall (at a different shul) and sat next to one of the shul’s senior members.  She apologized for bringing the child, saying she really wanted to hear some of the High Holiday davening, and acknowledged that the senior member in the past had not approved of bringing young children to shul.  The senior member (now a grandmother) smiled and said, “I made a mistake.”

Amen to that.

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Send in the clowns

I have discovered lots of cool things about living in Israel.  While people here are notorious for being rude, small shop owners have sold me stuff on credit (“Just pay me next time you come in”), or even loaned me their own personal knitting needles for a project.  I have never once been catcalled by a construction worker here.  (In the US, I don’t think I passed a single construction site without someone rating my appearance.)  And I just discovered that clowns, which I never found funny, but always thought bizarre and pitiful looking, have been transformed into valuable members of medical teams in hospitals.  Check out this video:

The US has also worked at integrating specially trained clowns into its medical programs.  I’m impressed by what this video shows: how the clowns interact with patients from newborns to tweens, their level of training, and their acceptance–nay, the demand for them–by hospital staff.  For the medical field to take the leap to seeing medical treatment through a very young patient’s eyes, and to work to make the experience of hospitalization and treatment more comfortable for that population, is commendable.

I often despair that life is not a progression from barbarism toward greater civilization.  And then I see videos like this, and hope is restored.

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Nude beach Barbie

Our neighbor, a heavy smoker, very kindly passed on her grown daughter’s Barbies to the Crunch girls.  For an after-gan activity, Banana and I gave them all (plus their clothes) a bath, combed their hair, and laid them out on towels to dry.  The Cap’n, coming upon this, thought it looked like a soon-to-be-classic Barbie scene: the nude beach.

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Relatively healthy

One of the things I have found remarkable about our lives in Israel since making aliyah three and a half years ago has been how relatively healthy our children are.  True, like most new immigrants, we were all dreadfully sick in our first year here.  The Cap’n missed three solid weeks of ulpan while the girls each took a turn with a week-long fever, which would begin on Shabbat afternoon and taper off the following Shabbat morning, to be followed by the next girl’s fever spiking and settling in.  That, plus our own colds, were not fun.

And this is not to say that the Cap’n and I are so healthy all the time either.  We have had our share of colds, but even worse than the occasional virus are the allergies here, especially in Efrat where it seems something is blooming or otherwise reproducing at any given time, and the regular doses of Loratidine we take are more for making us less miserable than for making us actually feel well.

But the children have been in the pink almost every winter.  Banana missed a couple of days with a fever this year, and Peach pretended to be sick last month (which we humored for a day, then sent her packing back to school).  But in general, they go to school feeling fine every day.

Oy—the memories I have of the flu, the chicken pox, the rotten colds that made me miserable for days and weeks on end!  Living in Hingham (Mass.) where my bedroom was an icebox, in Denver where we burrowed tunnels under the snow in the front yard, and in Portland (Ore.) where the rain could keep us indoors for days on end were what I grew up with, and the viruses I caught which kept me miserable cannot be counted.

It’s a particular joy, and one I hopefully anticipated before making aliyah, to see my children healthy (yes, they eat well, including their vegetables) and able to play outside nearly every day of the year.  Even if the wind is blowing or the weather is cold, the ground is usually dry and the sun is usually out.  I suppose if one really wants to live in paradise, one could move to Hawaii which has essentially one season—warm.  But I couldn’t give up seasons altogether, and now the almond trees are flowering, the tulips and narcissus are up and blooming, the cyclamen and anemones are dotting the rocks and grass on the hillsides among the ancient terraces here in the Gush, and we still get a rainy day here and there to keep it all green.  It’s all good.

Except for those allergies…

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Going back in time (sort of)

Peach has been devouring (through my English reading skills) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series.  These were some of my favorites as a child, and it’s been wonderful to pass them on to the next generation.

My mother was musing about what their appeal could be to a little Orthodox Jewish girl living in Israel, and it got me thinking.  Peach is a particularly inquisitive child, and while I think the lengthy explanations of how things were made and done back them (i.e. how sap was drained from maples for syrup-making, how to construct a sled, how a horse-powered thresher works) would be boring, her attention never seems to flag.  Occasionally, I point out differences to her between how they live and how we do, such as what they eat (i.e. on the Oklahoma prairie they subsisted on meat, and almost no vegetables for a year), but most of the time, she is just rapt, hearing about a family that had three little girls (like hers), that moved long distances to new places, got to know new people, and had adventures.  Not exactly like Peach’s, but worth hearing about nonetheless.

And I’m appreciating hearing the stories again, since with the Cap’n between jobs just now, the Crunch family is on an austerity plan.  No more restaurant food, no more movies or unnecessary purchases.  We’re making much more of our own fun, and I’m spending more time in the kitchen.  Tonight was homemade pizza night with homemade sauce and crust.  We’ll be having chicken tenders for Shabbat, homemade instead of from the Burgers Bar.  And when my in-laws come to visit in February and bring our new ice cream maker, we’ll be having homemade ice cream instead of either the wretched stuff from the grocery store or the Ben & Jerry’s that costs us our firstborn.  The girls know that after-dinner entertainment for the Ingalls family was when their father took out his fiddle and played and sang.  No computer, no TV, and nowhere near the stock of toys, puzzles, dolls, and craft supplies they have in their very own playroom.

I used to love to imagine how my family would fare as settlers on the prairie.  My father is quite handy, my mother a hardy laborer who makes a mean homemade bread.  I thought we’d probably do pretty well.  There would be plenty of hard work, but I figured we could handle it.  I thought, if my dad could make a smoker (for meat and fish) out of an old refrigerator, what couldn’t we accomplish?

Once in a while, I’ve found myself having to rough it and getting a tiny taste of that life.  When I was traveling around Asia or Europe, I could only take what I could carry, and sometimes found myself strewing things along the way that I couldn’t carry or didn’t need anymore.  When I was in Asia, most bathrooms were a hole in the floor instead of the fancy porcelain commodes we have in the West.  When I stayed in England for a few months, I had to wash all my laundry by hand.  (The pub I worked at didn’t pay enough for me to go to the laundromat around the corner.)  When we made aliyah, the Cap’n and I had to do dishes by hand for two years, since we waited until we had a place of our own to buy a dishwasher.  And now that we’re cutting back on our expenditures, I’m making much more of our food than I used to.  It’s nothing like living in a house we built ourselves, sleeping on a bed of straw on a frame made by the Cap’n, and subsisting on game we catch ourselves.  (Thank God for that.)  But it’s a little reminder that most people in the world don’t have what we have, or live like we do.

No harm in that.

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I was nursing Bill, closing my eyes, and trying to snag a cat nap the other day when I heard Beans yell, “Ima!”

“What?” I said.

“This is boring.”  She was up in her room.  “Folding laundry is BORING!”

“Yes, honey, it is.  Now keep folding.”

My own frustration with folding laundry came to a head about three weeks ago when I realized that I simply couldn’t keep up with the volume generated by six people.  (Bill has the advantage of being small, but some days he can go through four outfits, so he’s no break at all in the end.)   I need to spend my few hours a week when Bill goes out of the house to baby-gan doing things I can’t do when he’s home (like sleep, and post to my blog).  Since I can technically put him on the floor with some toys and fold laundry, I can’t waste the time doing that when he’s out from underfoot.  On the other hand, he can’t entertain himself on the floor while I fold laundry for an hour.  That’s too much.

Then I considered the ages of my children and their capabilities.  I considered the fact that they have relatively few responsibilities around the house other than taking care of their personal belongings.  And I considered the time I would save if they were inconvenienced once or twice a week for 15-20 minutes folding their own laundry, versus my spending some of the best years of my life folding it for them.  And the idea was born.

So now I tear through the mountain of laundry on the guest bed like a dervish.  One pile for “square” things (sheets, towels, tablecloths, napkins).  One pile for the Cap’n, Bill, and me.  And one basket I fill with anything belonging to the girls.  Beans and Peach are responsible for their own laundry folding.  I showed them how to fold pants, shirts, and ball socks.  They know what’s theirs and where everything goes.  They have the time.  And I compensate either Peach or Beans for folding Banana’s clothing with a treat or a sticker for “extra chores” on their chore charts (which helps their daily average and helps them earn their maximum at the end of the week).

I am not an indulgent mother.  I am sometimes not a particularly nice mother.  But I hope when my kids leave the house, they’ll be capable of doing their own laundry, cooking a meal, and making a bed from the mattress up.

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Cut-out cookies

We’re invited out to lunch this Shabbat.  Usually when we’re guests in someone’s house, I bake a cake and, since our invitations out are relatively rare, I try to make it special.  (My rainbow cake was one such attempt at “special.”)

Because the family we’re eating with has 10 regular members (plus such irregulars as significant others and friends brought home from the army), we’ll be at least 16 at the meal.  My richest cake would be a stretch to feed 16, and half the time kids don’t like my cakes, so I opted this week for cut-0ut cookies.  Plus, Wednesday is 4-year-old Banana’s longest day–she’s home for lunch and has no chugim in the afternoon.  If she doesn’t have a play date that day, she nags all afternoon to watch videos, and since the answer is usually “no,” it behooves me to have an alternative activity lined up for her.

The photo below is a sample of our finished products.  This hostess gift/dessert is a huge potchkee, making the dough, baking it in batches, and fussing with the icing and sprinkles.  In theory, having young kids around to “help” should make it easier, but it rarely does.  They want to be close up where they can see the contents in the mixer, making them (and their step-stools) underfoot.  They nag constantly for a taste of the dough.  (Peach was nagging before I’d even finished creaming the margarine and sugar.  Yeccchhh.)  They cut three cookies out from a lump of dough that lies a foot square on the counter.  And when it comes to decorating, they take 20 minutes to decorate two cookies, then say they’re done.

But once I’m finished scolding, wheedling, and outright bribing them to help me finish the job, the final product is hard to beat.  Every time I make these, I say “Never again.”  Until the next time.

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Smart baby

Bill has had a fussy week.  Restless sleeping, kvetchy and needy when awake, and diminished appetite.  (Teething, it turns out.)  The Cap’n was working yesterday afternoon, so after taking a short nap with the baby, I gave him a snack (which he threw on the floor after one or two bites) and then (remembering last resorts of years past) brought him to the computer and put on Baby Mozart.

A graduate school friend gave us our first Baby Einstein video after Beans was born, the original with toys, nursery rhymes, and foreign languages.  Over the course of a few years, we acquired most of them, including the post-Disney-sellout ones.  The music, mechanical toys (which we never bought for the kids), and puppetry were acceptable viewing for our kids, though they never watched more than a couple per week.

Then in October, a friend emailed me with a link to a New York Times article detailing how Disney is recalling the Baby Einstein videos.  It seems many parents who bought them were actually hoodwinked into thinking the videos would make their children smarter and were disappointed and angry when their children’s IQs didn’t actually go up as a result of watching them.  Poor things.

We on the other hand, were under no such illusions.  We bought them strictly for sedation purposes, to shove into the DVD player when the kids were cranky, fighting, or driving us insane.  A nurse I met when Beans was new called Baby Mozart “the shower video,” since it would keep a newborn amused and quiet for about 20 minutes, the length of time a frazzled parent would need to take in the bathroom in order to emerge clean and sane (for at least another few hours).

The whole industry of “make your baby smarter” is a snake oil industry.  Nothing a kid can watch on the idiot box is going to make him or her smarter.  Young kids get smarter by doing things with their hands, exploring the world, touching, tasting, and making a mess.  They can’t do any of those things when they’re watching someone else do it on TV.  Just as research showed that kids’ aim (in throwing? shooting AK-47s? Couldn’t find a link—sorry) wasn’t found to be any better after playing video games, no kid is going to become smarter by watching other people play with toys.  (Perhaps the Baby Einstein people got smarter making the videos; they certainly got richer.)

My mother-in-law gave me a book last year edited by Harold Bloom entitled Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages.  At the time, I asked her if it was because she thought the kids needed it, or because she thought the kids were already smart and this book was up to their standards.  (With such a title, one cannot be sure.)  She assured me that it was very much the latter, though the title still bothers me.  It suggests that the stories and poems within, which are part and parcel of Western culture, are meant only for children who are extremely bright, as though children who are of average or below-average intelligence cannot benefit from them—or worse, that only through hearing these stories can children become extremely intelligent.  Neither possibility fails to insult me.  (I studied with a protégée of Harold Bloom’s in graduate school, and respect them both.  I certainly hope he had nothing to do with choosing such a pretentious title for the book.)

I may not have purchased our family’s copies of the Baby Einstein DVDs in the time frame specified to receive a full refund, but I’m not worried.  About halfway through the video, Bill squirmed until I put him down, then crawled off to play.  I guess he’s smart enough not to need them after all.

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Last week, Peach (our 6-year-old) was running around outside and getting warm in her Shabbat dress.  This particular dress has a sleeveless cotton knit bodice with a taffeta skirt, layered with a three-quarter-sleeved cardigan in matching fabric.  (Very perky.)  When Peach was too warm, she took off the cardigan and returned to play, only to have two of her playmates shriek “Eeeewwww!” at her.

The same thing happened to Beans last Shabbat.  (With one of the same “Eeeewwww”-ers who had shrieked at Peach.)

Now, my children are normally proportioned, nicely built, and not unpleasant to look at.  A flash of lower back from a shirt hiking up, or the sight of a pair of six-year-old upper arms should hardly floor one with shock and horror.  These are children, after all, and not adults with scars, hair, and bra straps dangling down shoulders.

So what’s with the dramatic reaction of my daughters’ playmates?  They go to different schools (one which has a reputation for being “frummer” than the other, though both very respectable schools) and are from different families (one of which is frum-from-birth, the other with a ba’al teshuvah and a convert for parents).  All I can guess is that the kids have been improperly informed about why modesty is a Jewish value.  They have either been told, or have concluded on their own, that the human body is ugly, disgusting, and should never see the light of day, and that’s why we cover it up.

They have clearly not yet been educated about the art world’s adoration of the human body, and the fact that married people, or people of the same sex, are allowed to disrobe in front of one another.  Women are allowed to sing and dance for an audience of women (in sleeveless leotards, yet), because these uses of the body—considered by rabbis to be immodest (don’t get me started here)—are not considered immodest before other women.

This is why I showed Peach a coffee table book I have of Renoir’s paintings, many of which are of women bathing (i.e. nude).  It’s why I told her about Michelangelo’s statue of David (and why Jews snicker, since Michelangelo painted him as a non-Jew, not having had a brit milah).  It’s why I told both my daughters that, rather than being covered because it’s ugly, the body is covered in Judaism because it’s beautiful, and we like to preserve that beauty for occasions when it’s considered appropriate to uncover it.

This is one of the things that bugs me—not only about Judaism, but about people in general.  I agree that modesty is a good thing, and I don’t enjoy the sight of people dressed in too-short skirts, in jeans torn at the seat, or with too much of their torso exposed.  (This goes for both men and women.)  But extremes at both ends often become unhealthily obsessed with their bodies: people who are hyper-focused on covering their bodies feel ashamed of them and lose sight of why they’re doing it, while people who expose too much of themselves focus too much attention on their bodies, dieting, removing hair, painting, tattooing, etc.  The former are often uncultured because they’re afraid of art; the latter walk around afraid not to look like art themselves.

I do wish these frum parents would teach their children that it’s out of respect for the human body—not disgust—that we cover it up.  (It wouldn’t hurt to add that their children are hardly the frum police, either, but that’s probably asking too much of children.)

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With three daughters, I’m keenly aware of the heavy marketing aimed at young girls by Disney and whatever products they slap the sluts princesses’ faces on.  (Dolls, nightgowns, notebooks, games, toothbrushes, even toothpaste for heavens sake!)

Those tarts princesses sell more merchandise than I can guess at.  But where, may I ask, are the Disney fathers?  Granted, they’re all probably pear-shaped, gouty, pock-marked, and shamefully weak.  But it’s just plain sexist to have the young nymphets get all the attention, especially when all they do is scrub floors, get yelled at and left out of parties, go to sleep for 100 years, get run off the castle grounds, or given away to the crone next door for a handful of salad greens.  What about all those fairy tale dads?

Well let’s see.  There’s Rapunzel’s dad who is so worried about her pregnant mom and her gestational food cravings that he barters away his unborn child to give his wife just one more salad.  While he has no right to make the executive decision to give up their child, he does acknowledge the rights of the living over those of the unborn.  (How very modern of him.)

And then there’s the miller, father to the nameless waif whose purported ability to spin straw into gold gets her into trouble in “Rumplestiltskin.”  Millers were notorious drunkards, and meeting the greedy young king on the road (whose personal philosophy seemed to be, “You can never be too rich or have too much gold”) is too much temptation for him.  Since he’s a souse and a loser, no doubt he believes he can give his daughter a better start in life if he recommends her in some way to the king.  The fact that humans had never managed to turn anything but gold into gold doesn’t matter.  Leave getting out of that mess to the girl.  She’s managed this far, and with a father like me.  Hiccup!

But most dads are just clueless.  Or spineless.  There are the fathers of Snow White and Cinderella.  Both marry gold-digging hags the second time around (“trophy wives,” perhaps?), and are too absorbed in their own affairs to pay much attention to what happens to their first wives’ daughters.  Child-rearing being women’s work and all, they retire to their counting-houses, or wherever neglectful fathers usually retire to in order to let their new wives work their wicked wills on their defenseless daughters.  The fact that Snow White’s father may well have partaken in a meal of liver and lungs believed by the queen to be Snow White’s doesn’t bode well for her being missed around the palace.  But hey—she gets taken in and duly enslaved by a pack of neglectful dwarves, so all’s well that ends well, right?

And Hänsel and Gretel’s father is even worse.  He marries a scheming cow just like the others, but instead of spending all his time in the potting shed, he’s lying in bed next to her as she plans the children’s deaths, and ends up agreeing to her plans!  Thankfully, of course, she dies of a black heart within the month, his children return home to him laden with gold and jewels (and only a few cavities to show for their harrowing experience), and all is forgiven.

No, I think we’re giving dads short shrift in the toy industry.  I think in addition to the $10 whores princesses, these fairy tale fathers should be merchandised too.  If they’re plump, trim ’em down.  If they’re pocked, smooth out their skin.  If they’re too old and gray, give them Botox and Grecian formula.  But put aside your bias toward sexpots females and add these men to the fairy tale toy pantheon.  Girls will love playing with them.  And burying them alive.  And burning them.  And throwing them down ravines.

It’s all good, clean fun.

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A magical mystery tour

Yesterday the Cap’n and I teamed up with friends and took our collective brood on a magical mystery tour.  Stops included a Dead Sea factory tour, a picnic at Ein Bokek (on the Dead Sea itself), a trip to Arad’s outskirts to see the view of the desert and to visit the cemetery, culminating in a cup of tea and a soufganiyah (doughnut) in Arad’s mercaz (pedestrian market/commercial/hangout center).

We began the day by tooling down Route 60 past Kiryat Arba, Pnei Hever, Susiya, and Tel Arad, then turned east on the Arad-Beer Sheva highway.  We made our first stop in Arad’s industrial area at a factory which processes Dead Sea minerals for the booming Dead Sea cosmetics industry.  Our guide showed us the various salts they work with, described their chemical make up, and showed us how they are harvested in the divided pools of the business end of the Dead Sea.  We were all treated to various muds, scrubs, and creams to test on our hands, and looking at my angrily dermatitic right hand, our guide promised to mix together a therapeutic cocktail for it which he promised should clear it up in short order.

With lunchtime upon us, we descended to the Dead Sea, and planted ourselves and our picnic on a beach near the hotels, spas, and treif Burger King.  (The great advantage to getting out of places like Efrat and Beit Shemesh and going to a place like the Dead Sea is that people are not as obsessed with modest dress.  The disadvantage is that not all the food’s kosher.)  We enjoyed our sandwiches, chips, vegetables, and assortment of homemade baked goods which my foodie friend and I analyzed in delightful detail.  The kids got their feet thoroughly salty and watched with amusement the bloated adults floating out in the water, whose size only augmented the ballust provided by the salt content of the water.  The temperature was in the mild 70s, perfect considering the day had begun chill and blustery.

The sky was nearly the same dun color as the desert sand as we drove back up to Arad to take in the view at The Point (the easternmost tip of the city).  The Crunch family scrambled onto the bizarre sculpture placed there for a photo-op, and the Cap’n and I mused at how many dozens of walks we and other friends took from the WUJS program out to The Point of an afternoon, an erev Shabbat, or a Shabbat afternoon.  The Cap’n brought me there in July 1997 to propose, and we visited it last on our honeymoon in 2001.  One of our friends watched our girls scampering down the gravel path and said, “To what ends these proposals lead, eh?”

After a brief stop at the Arad cemetery for our friend to say tehillim over her grandparents’ graves, we returned to the center of Arad and headed for the bakery the Cap’n and I remember from our WUJS days.  They had sufganiyot in the window, both jelly and ribat chalav (dulce de leche), and once every man, woman, and child had the doughnut of his or her choice, we sprawled at the tables for a few minutes of rest and reflection before journeying home.  The doughnuts were as we remembered–plump, not too sweet, and not at all greasy.  Heavenly.  When I mentioned to the young men who worked there how the sufganiyot were just as good as they were 13 years ago, they looked at me like I had two heads.  (I realized then that they were probably in gan 13 years ago.)

The Cap’n and I decided that this Chanukah would be less about gifts and more about doing things together as a family.  We’ve taken short trips and walks, spent time outdoors, eaten food from our favorite restaurants, done crafts, baked, and made gift-giving a minimal part of the holiday.  (Our friends from yesterday’s tiyul have the custom of gifts on the first and last nights, a very reasonable one in my opinion.)  While many of the school vacations have the Cap’n and me scrambling for ways to keep the kids busy (including finding camps for them to attend to get them out of the house), this vacation has been mellow and fun.  There has been no Pesach to kasher for, no dozens of meals to prepare as during the High Holidays, just lots of good stuff in the freezer left over from a huge kiddush I threw a couple of weeks ago, and great stuff to make and do together.

That proposal 12 years ago has led to some pretty good things, I would say, and this week’s vacation–especially yesterday’s tiyul–has been one of them.

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The Giving Tree

First of all, if you have not read this book, you can read the text here.

This book by Shel Silverstein is a favorite of many adults who remember it fondly as children and, I suppose, of people who are children now.

Not us.  The Cap’n and I have many things in common, and one is a SERIOUS uneasiness with this book.  Well, make that a strong dislike.  When we were discussing it the other day, we wondered if people are supposed to like it.  Are we supposed to view the tree as a metaphor for motherhood or fatherhood, whose sole purpose is to make a child happy, even to the extent of donating limbs for the purpose?  Is it a cry for help by an environmentalist who sees the boy as the representative of a rampantly consumerist society?  Or is it just a portrayal of a really unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship?

I have no answers to those questions, and at this point in my career, as parent rather than text-consuming child, those questions are irrelevant.  What I concern myself with now is what my kids think of those books.  I have no problem reading that kind of stuff to them, just as I don’t mind if they play with Barbies.  But I never read them a book or give them toys to play with that don’t involve a conversation of some sort.  If they play with Barbies, I discuss Barbie’s dimensions with them, her high-glam makeup and hair, and the difference between what Barbie looks like, and a resident of Planet Earth.

Similarly, if we still had a copy of The Giving Tree (which we don’t; we donated our English and Hebrew copies to a good cause some years back), I would ask my children what they think of the boy and the tree, what sort of relationship they had, and whether my kids think that is healthy.  I wouldn’t expect the same answer from them as I would give, since their relationship with me and the Cap’n is not dissimilar to that of the boy and the tree.  But we might discuss why the tree is happy when it’s fast disappearing, and why the boy keeps coming back to the tree instead of getting a job.  (I suppose if the tree had a basement, he’d still be living in it.)

What are the thoughts of discerning readers, parents, and consumers of children’s books out there?  Am I missing something?  What makes this such a great book in the eyes of some?  And what, if anything, freaks you out about it?

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I am always getting questions from my kids about what they did as babies and toddlers.  Their memory of what they did seems to kick in at around 3 or 4 years old, so for them what happened before is the stuff of legend and hearsay.

With this in mind, when Beans was born I not only kept an up-to-date photo album for her, I did as my mother did for me and purchased a baby book with places to record firsts, store locks of hair, and note details of the first couple of years.  But something my mother did for me in addition was to sit down at the typewriter on several occasions and type up notes about some of the things I was doing and saying in my first year or two.  Growing up, I relished taking that book off the shelf and looking at the copy of my birth announcement, my hospital anklet, and the onionskin sheets tucked into the pages of the book.

Beans, being the first child, got a small novel written about her (in the neighborhood of 50 pages or so).  Peach, as the second, has about 25 pages, Banana about 5, and I haven’t written a word about Bill yet.  (But I will.)  There is something satisfying about collecting all that information for the kids to read about themselves later, as though when I print them out and tuck them into their baby books, I am finishing a chapter I helped write about their lives.  This, plus the fact that no matter what happens to me, they’ll know they were early walkers, late teethers, and as sweet and hilariously funny as can be.

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I hate growth charts

The Cap’n took Bill for his regular well-child visit last week to Tipat Chalav, the children’s clinic where they do weight checks, observe the child’s development, and offer dietary advice.

Back in the US, I used to find these regular well-child visits to the pediatrician’s office pleasant.  Our children were usually healthy, thank God, and doing okay developmentally.  They have always been small (around the 25th percentile) though, and around the nine-month mark they all begin to dip down on the growth charts (usually down to the 3rd percentile). We would usually leave the office with words of praise and encouragement from our children’s pediatrician, who knew our children well and knew to expect these dips as one child after another passed through her office.

Why the dips?  The Crunch children are all breastfed long-term–Beans and Banana for over 2 years, Peach for 15 months, and Bill ongoing.  Growth charts are based on the growth patterns of children who, by and large, are formula-fed.  These children, in addition to lacking the Crunch family’s genetically small frames, tend to beef up faster than breastfed children.  And while healthcare professionals should understand the limited value of growth charts in evaluating breastfed children, they tend nonetheless to use the charts as a measure of where ALL children should be.  (Do they also register the same alarm at finding not all adults of exactly the same average height and weight?  I thought not.)

Nurses and doctors over the years have told us that it’s fine for our children to be small; they just get concerned when the kids dip down in their trajectory, suggesting that their growth has slowed.  And yet there is nothing to suggest that there is anything wrong with our kids.  They aren’t sick.  They haven’t stopped growing.  They’ve just stopped blowing up at the astonishing rate they once did.  And are they not still getting what the public health world claims is Nature’s Perfect Food?  If it REALLY is Nature’s Perfect Food, aren’t the kids getting what they need in the way of sufficient fluids, fats, and balanced nutrition?  Or did Hashem cock this one up, and it’s up to humans (and Better Life Through Chemistry) to fill in the gaps with things like formula, vitamin and iron supplements, and appetite stimulants?

Like a number of mothers I know, I have dropped out of taking my kids to Tipat Chalav.  I am still supportive of immunizations, and there is nowhere else to get them.  But I am truly sick of being badgered every time I have a 9-month-old about how my healthy, typically developing child isn’t measuring up to an arbitrary instrument based on statistics from Norwegian immigrants in Kansas City.  (This last observation is from a friend who trained as a pediatrician.)  So for the foreseeable future, it’s up to the Cap’n (who has smiling, nodding, and totally ignoring nagging females down to a fine art) to take the kids.

N.B. We were warned soon after making aliyah to take what Tipat Chalav nurses say with a very large grain of salt.  Our family doctor in Beit Shemesh went to so far as to encourage us to contact her anytime Tipat Chalav said anything that alarmed or concerned us.  We don’t panic when they harass us about putting Bill on his tummy more, or about giving him more solids and less breastmilk.  But it’s still hard for a mother not to get teary or ticked off at a stranger making free to be so bossy and judgmental.

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Shiva and redemption

I’ve been to a number of shiva houses since “getting religion.”  While a few have been grueling—families mourning mothers of young children, a 4-month-old baby—most are for adults who have lost parents.  The mourners in these houses are sometimes surprised, even shocked, by their parent’s sudden death, but in most cases, the mourners are resigned, philosophical, accepting of their loss.  By the time we see them at the shiva, they have dealt with the death and made it through the funeral, and are settled down for a week of praying, sitting and talking to visiting friends, family, and community members about their loved one.

The Cap’n and I recently paid a shiva call to a neighbor of ours in Efrat who lost her mother.  She was sitting shiva with siblings, her father, and aunts and uncles in her parents’ house in Geula, an old neighborhood in Jerusalem’s New City, north of the shuk.  We made our way through tiny streets, many too narrow for car traffic, lined with old buildings (some of them crumbling), and the sound of schoolchildren shrieking at play in the grounds of a school.  When we finally reached the shiva house, we stepped into a courtyard filled with flowers, fruit trees, herb bushes, and mourners and callers seated on chairs.  Visiting a large family of mourners often means bypassing clusters of callers gathered around listening to bereaved family members you don’t know, and it was a minute or two before we found the woman we had come to see.  We sat in the sun on a bright autumn morning, the last morning crispness being warmed out of the air, and the walls of the courtyard hemming in the quiet, shutting out the bustle of life’s daily routine.

Our neighbor told us how her mother had never been healthy, but how it had been a stroke that had taken her suddenly.  She told us how her children were coping with their loss, who had attended the funeral (the older ones) and who had chosen not to attend (the younger ones).  She told us how her grandfather had bought the original house (built ca. 1905), a high-ceilinged stone edifice, and how as the family grew they had built the other smaller house and extra room around the courtyard, Mediterranean-style.  She told us how the home was really the family compound, and how every week after Shabbat went out, her extended family would gather for a meal together in the large building, spreading out a table for the 50 grandchildren, and how each child had a job at the meal (bring pita and hummus, clean-up duty, etc.).

Leaving the house, I felt something I occasionally experience after paying a shiva call: I felt uplifted.  Of course I felt sad for the family that had just lost its matriarch, someone who had meant a great deal to her family.  But I also felt like I had received a wonderful lesson in Jewish life.  Our conversation with our neighbor had been a combination of condolence call, Jewish and family history lesson, and lesson in what is important.  The neighborhood, which is a crowded haredi enclave now, was once an area of more moderately religious Jews.  There had once been trees and orchards there.  Where there are busy streets and dilapidated buildings, children had once played.  Despite all the changes to the neighborhood, our neighbor’s extended family had continued to use the family compound as a regular meeting place, where the children grew up with their cousins, saw their aunts and uncles regularly, and built a close relationship with their grandparents.  It was clear that change and loss would occur throughout life, but that the family’s closeness and regular contact with one another were a mainstay of their lives.

That Cap’n and I don’t have those things ourselves.  We made aliyah, leaving our immediate and extended families in the U.S.  I email my mother regularly, and we Skype on the computer occasionally to get a glimpse of each other.  But what our neighbor’s family had, we have never had.  My family always lived spread out all over the country, and now we’re spread out over the world.  But my hope is for the next generation of our family—our children and b”h our grandchildren—to build something like our neighbor’s family had in Geula (aptly translated as “redemption”).

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I exchanged pleasantries with a friend on Shabbat.  He told me that he and his wife were to spend that evening with a friend who had recently returned from a trip to Poland.  Since most Jews don’t visit Poland just to sample the borsht and visit the church where Chopin’s heart rests (his body lies in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris), I asked if their friend had made a Tragical History Tour, a well-beaten path of ghetto remains, cemeteries, and crematoria.  He had.

This leads me to consider one of the knottier issues of bringing up children in Israel.

We are a tiny country.  We can’t visit our neighboring countries on vacation.  It’s difficult enough to travel to friendly countries, given the issues of kashrut and Shabbat.  Our kids traverse nearly every square meter of this country on foot through family and school trips to the North, the Negev, and everything in between.  But when they leave the country, it’s usually to see grandparents and relatives in whatever quiet part of the world we come from, and by the time they graduate from high school, they’ve only seen the outside world maybe half a dozen times (if their families don’t have the means to spend every summer on Long Island).

During a typical senior year (at least in the religious schools in Israel; I’m less aware of what happens in secular schools), kids are offered the chance to participate in school-sponsored trips to Poland.  The itinerary of these trips generally covers Warsaw (ghetto remnants, Mila 18, the main shul and cemetery), Lublin (including the old yeshiva and Majdanek), and Krakow (again, ghetto remnants, Ram”a shul, main shul, and Aushwitz-Birkenau).  Side trips can include Wiszkow (where a large monument was erected to the destroyed community and includes a cemetery with a special walk allowing Kohanim to perambulate around the edges), Treblinka, and any of a number of tiny villages with memorials or vestiges of Jewish life (e.g. Ger, Sandomiersz, Gura Kalwarya, Kielce).  When the Cap’n and I joined a group from the program we’d done here in Israel, we found ourselves meeting up with the same girls’ school group every day or two as we all trudged our way through this dolorous chapter in Jewish history.

Parents in Israel are faced with a difficult decision as this trip looms.  Do we send our kids on it, and let them see with their own eyes the hatred that the rest of the world feels for Jews, and the outer limits of the violence the world has been capable of visiting on the Jews?  Do we allow our kids to confront the shock, horror, and raw emotion that such sights cause?  Do we send our kids, who are still so young and immature, on a trip to visit Death rather than take them skiing at a nice kosher resort in the Swiss Alps?

Or do we decide to send them, preparing them in advance by discussing anti-Semitism and other events in Jewish history that were motivated by similar hatred (though not on the industrial scale of the Shoah)?  We were once at the house of some friends, enjoying a Yom HaAtzma’ut barbeque, when the subject of the ma’apilim (illegal immigrants to British Mandatory Palestine, most of them refugees from the ovens of Europe) came up.  One of our hosts’ daughters asked, “But didn’t the world care about the Jews?  Didn’t they want to see them settled safely?”  Through Herculean effort, I didn’t gasp and splutter at her naiveté.  Clearly she hadn’t yet been on her school’s Tragical History Tour.

When the time comes, the Cap’n and I are agreed that our children should go.  It’s a fact that seeing those sights gives kids (and adults, as we discovered) a feeling of overwhelming anger—so much anger sometimes that we have no place to put it all.  But in time, the anger becomes more focused and gives us purpose.  The Cap’n said that especially since most Israeli kids go into the army when they get back, it is essential for them to know what they’re fighting against.

The world has changed so little.  A French diplomat can call Israel a “shitty little country” and know that he will not be reprimanded, nor even disagreed with.  A Swedish newspaper can print a blood libel against Israel and the world will not cry “foul.”  The president of Iran can turn up annually at the UN and make speeches calling for the murder of six MORE million Jews (i.e. the destruction of the entire Jewish State), and end his speech with people still in the room.  Violence and vandalism against Jews and Jewish property increase steadily around the world.

Hatred of Jews may never result in anything that looks just like the Shoah again, but it’s clear that that hatred hasn’t disappeared, nor the will to act on it lost.  If our children want to live as Jews in the world (and especially in Israel), they need to understand this.

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Rainbow cake

Last week, in honor of Parshat Noach, I baked a rainbow cake.  My friend Heather (you remember the one with the corrupting influence?) introduced me to the idea from this blog.  She made the cake when we visited them last summer for a birthday celebration for her daughter and Peach (who were born three days apart six years ago).  Once the batter was made and dyed, here is how she layered it in the baking tins:

Rainbow cake batter

And here is the big moment when she cut the first slice:

Rainbow cake slice

I did the minor decorating job on Heather’s cake, piping some white flower-shaped tufts of “cloud” with the icing and the scalloped border.  The main difference between Heather’s cake and mine is that hers was entirely store-bought and mine was entirely homemade.  What I discovered is that a compromise is good for this cake.  I recommend the finest store-bought ingredients for the cake (Heather used the whitest mix she could find, and Wilton gel food colors), and a good homemade buttercream frosting for the outer decoration.  Cake mixes have a denser batter and hold the dye better; my homemade batter was too slushy and the result was more of a tie-dyed cake than a rainbow one.  And store-bought frosting (in the cardboard can) is too soft to hold any kind of shape when spread or piped on a cake. Here are a couple of shots of my recent decorating job.  (Sorry the sloppy, tie-dyed effect couldn’t be displayed; it was cut on Shabbat.)

Jen's Rainbow Cake top view

Jen's Rainbow Cake side view

The cake as a whole is almost sickeningly sweet, and barely looks like food.  But if you want to make friends and establish influence with members of the child set, this is the way to go.

For those who are looking for a good buttercream frosting recipe, here is the one I use, based on the recipe I was given at the Wilton basic cake decorating course:

150 g margarine or salted butter, fresh out of the refrigerator

2 tablespoons water (or milk or whipping cream)

1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, orange, rum, etc.)

1 tablespoon meringue powder (Wilton makes this, and it can be purchased online or in a craft store like A.C. Moore or Michael’s)

560 g powdered (confectioner’s) sugar (1¼ lbs) (do NOT use superfine sugar; the frosting needs the cornstarch to give it consistency and bind)

Pulse margarine in food processor.  Add liquids and meringue powder and pulse together until blended.  Add sugar about 100 g (or 1 cup) at a time, pulsing in between to combine.  I recommend using a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the food processor bowl and pulsing a little more to be sure to incorporate all of the frosting.

This method makes frosting with a stiff consistency, suitable for making roses.  For medium consistency (other flowers) add an additional 1-2 teaspoons water or milk and blend thoroughly.  For spreading (also vines, leaves, and lettering), add an additional 2-3 teaspoons water or milk and blend thoroughly.

If I know I’m only making frosting to spread on a cake, I simply reduce the amount of powdered sugar I add to the food processor.  Test frosting with a spreading knife between additions, adding the last 200 g of powdered sugar gradually.

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Bicycle holiday

Six-year-old Peach has had her heart set on a bicycle for weeks now.  Beans (8 years old) has had one for a couple of years, and learned to ride a tw0-wheel bike last summer.  Even 4-year-old Banana recently acquired a bike.  But so far no one has had Peach’s size in stock.  So the Cap’n and I went to Beit Shemesh today to hit the shuk, shop at the American foods market, and check out the stock at Bike Ben (where we bought Beans’s bike).

We are aware that secular Jewish kids love Yom Kippur, and that the streets of Tel Aviv–and even the Ayalon Freeway–are crowded with kids whizzing around on bicycles.  Some people figure that kids under the age of bar or bat mitzvah can do as they please since they don’t have to fast.  Other parents are a little annoyed at the lack of regard for one of the holiest days of the year.  And I’m not sure how ambulance drivers feel, but the Cap’n read that ambulances drive much slower on Yom Kippur for fear of hitting a kid on a bike.

Despite knowing all these things, coming from Efrat which is nearly all religious, we somehow didn’t expect that the stock at Bike Ben would be almost nil.  The guy there was apologetic that they didn’t have a 16″ bike for Peach, but after shrugging his shoulders, he said resignedly, “It’s the day after The Bicycle Holiday [Chag HaOfanayim].”

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These last few weeks have been packed and difficult.  Returning from the U.S., unpacking, finding things missing, the start of cold season, school starting, parent meetings, signing the kids up for activities, helping friends settle in Efrat, the high holidays coming and, in the last week or two, several upsetting illnesses and deaths.

The latest is the death of an acquaintance’s three-month old baby.  The baby was ill from the time of his birth, and spent his early weeks (possibly his entire life) in the hospital.  The community through which I know the father is a supportive one, and groups of its members were carpooling to Tel Aviv to donate blood (or blood products) to help the baby survive.  This week I learned that the struggle is over, and the young couple is now sitting shiva for their first child.

I know there was a time when infant mortality was high, and such incidents were not unusual.  But I don’t think for a minute that that made them any easier.  The hope that parents pour into each and every pregnancy and new baby, the expectation of seeing that baby grow to adulthood, and the love that it is impossible not to lavish on them (not to mention the hormones hard-wired in a mother that make her a little cuckoo when it comes to her children) cannot be helped.

So as I paced my room last night at 1 AM with a tired but stuffy-nosed Bill (who complained any time I tried to lie down with him), exhausted and ready to collapse, feeling the beginnings of a headache and wondering when I was ever going to get to sleep (not at all, as it turned out), I knew exactly how lucky I was.

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