Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

When I was growing up, my parents had a number of remarkable strengths and talents.  One was a seeming encyclopedic knowledge of card games, which they taught and played with us.  Another was a love of unusual food preservation techniques, like drying food (either with the food dryer my father built himself or on the roof of the carport in midsummer, producing genuine sun-dried tomatoes, leftover Thanksgiving turkey jerky, and fruit leather), smoking fish (in the smoker my dad converted from an old refrigerator, in which we smoked fish we’d caught ourselves), and making apple cider in the fall with a cider press my dad built from a kit.  And then there was the spring we went to Florida and discovered my father know how to sail, which meant hours of fun on the Gulf of Mexico in the sailboat we’d borrowed from friends.  A fourth was telling us nonsensical stories.  Here’s a sampling:

Ladies and Jellyspoons, I come before you to stand behind you to tell you of a subject I know nothing about.  Next Thursday, which is Good Friday, there will be a ladies’ meeting for fathers only.  Admission is free; pay at the door.  Take a seat and sit on the floor.

One fine morning in the middle of the night, two dead boys got up to fight.  Back to back , they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other.  A deaf policeman heard the noise and came and shot the two dead boys.

If it takes a chicken and a half a day and a half to lay an egg and a half, how long does it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a dill pickle?

Somehow, I merited to marry a man who is also a sailor, and rather than being a whiz with food drying (my friend Sigal does that), I am the cake decorating enthusiast.  (I won’t go so far as to say maven; one of my efforts at a castle looked like Toad with two melting ice cream cones on his head, dubbed forever after as the Frog and Toad cake.)  But I’m passing on the nonsense to the kids.

Anyone got any others for me to share?


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I hate the phone.  I’m fine talking to people in person, and I love writing emails and letters.  But keep me away from the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I don’t love it in English, and like most people struggling with a language that is not their own, I HATE it in Hebrew.  When the Cap’n worked at home, I had him do most of the phone calls, but now that he’s sitting all day in an office in Jerusalem, I have to call the matnas (community center) about enrolling the kids in swim lessons, the mothers of my kids’ friends about playdates and who’s going to bake the cake for the upcoming class birthday party (usually me), and the health clinic to make medical appointments, all in Hebrew.  Since those phone calls are often the only time I speak Hebrew all day, I suffer from arrested development in the language, and while I sometimes get out my thoughts just fine in fairly fluid Hebrew, if someone calls me out of the blue or wants to discuss something for which I have no context, I freeze up.

That’s what happened yesterday when Peach handed me the phone to give driving directions to the mother of a girl playing with Beans this afternoon.  I hadn’t given anyone directions in a while, and with a sleeping Bill in the crook of my arm, and half asleep myself, I couldn’t even remember the word “intersection” in Hebrew.  I stammered, made long pauses, but finally got out the information.  (She found us just fine a few minutes later.)  When I got off the phone, though, Peach looked up from her homework and said, “Wow, your Hebrew was really bad just now.”

Normally I don’t make much of those comments.  I try to be good-natured about them, laugh them off, and not take it too personally when my children make fun of my admittedly pathetic Hebrew.  But I had just finished correcting Beans on a question she missed on a Hebrew language test (telling her that luchot, despite the feminine plural ending, is an irregular masculine noun), I’d been caught unawares by this phone call, and I have days here and there when I’m feeling more vulnerable than usual.  I began thinking about all the things I gave up to come here: my family (which has already had to do without me every Christmas for the past 16 years since my decision to convert), my friends, my community, my quirky, charming Victorian house on a tree-lined street, my career as an English teacher (teaching it as a second language or to students who aren’t going to school in English is not the same), my shul community, and not least, understanding everything that is going on around me.  The vast majority of the time, I can focus on what is wonderful about living here, but every now and then, I think about what I don’t have anymore, and it gets to me.

Peach stepped on a landmine when she make that disrespectful crack (even more so since she’s working on a contract where she needs to demonstrate kibbud av v’em every day to earn a dinner out with me, one-on-one).  I kept my cool at first, but when I went up to her room to debrief her, I realized that my nerves were more raw than I’d thought and I lost it, listing for her all the things I’ve mentioned that I gave up so she could grow up here, speak the language, and feel at home.  Because while I don’t doubt for a minute that this is my homeland as much as a tenth-generation Yerushalmi‘s, it doesn’t feel like it every minute of every day.

Maybe this is good.  After all, while I sometimes miss the US, I don’t regret coming here, and can’t imagine going back.  But I think it’s also okay sometimes to let myself acknowledge that there are times when I feel like a fish out of water.  For Peach, too, I think it might have been good to hear that while we wanted badly to come here, doing so has not always been a joy ride for the Cap’n and me.  It will never be as easy for us as it will be for the kids.  Despite the fact that the girls, too, are immigrants, their Hebrew is very good, they’re going to school here from a young age, and will have all the formative experiences Israeli kids have that shape who they are, who their friends are, and their lives as Israelis.  As badly as I wanted my conversion (and as agonizing as it was), when I held Beans, my firstborn, in my arms in the hospital, I looked down at her and whispered, “I did it for you.”  Similarly, while the Cap’n and I knew we wanted to come here to live someday, we really let the children decide for us, and chose to come when Beans was beginning kindergarten so they would not be too far behind in first grade.

I’m not going to tell the kids I spent my childhood walking to school everyday through the snow, uphill both ways.  On the other hand, perhaps for them to know what I gave up to be here will make the experience of living here mean more to them, help them understand what it’s like for adult immigrants, and in some way tell them how much we love them in giving them this life.  It’s not like buying them a present and showing them the price tag; I think it’s more like giving them a rare gift and telling them it’s the only one like it.

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I pay little attention to Natalie Portman on the average day.  Her all-out neurotic performance in “Black Swan” left my stomach churning, and I had to put the window down in the car on the way home to battle the nausea.  I guess that means she did a good job.

It was after seeing the movie that I discovered she was pregnant, the father being the choreographer from the film.  I have no strong feelings about this; it’s someone else’s life, and I have no comment on her intended intermarriage (they are reportedly affianced) or premarital parenthood, except to my own children.

However, I recently saw an article in the online Jewish newspaper, the Algemeiner, by an Orthodox rabbi who was reacting to some media turbulence caused by Portman’s thanking of her fiance for giving her “the most important role in her life,” i.e. that of impending motherhood.  My tendency would be to hear that speech with an “Awww, isn’t that sweet?” and move on.  But not surprisingly, there are others who can’t let something like that pass without debating it down to the last letter.

Rabbi Moshe Averick’s piece, entitled “The Natalie Portman ‘Motherhood-gate’ scandal; should we laugh or cry?”, takes to task the author of an article critical of Portman, Sarah Wildman (whose  “A Woman’s Greatest Role?” appears in the online Forward).   A career writer, Wildman shares her struggle to work through her pregnancy, through her labor even, and resume writing post-partum as soon as possible to prove to her sexist twit of a boss that women can do everything men can, AND have babies.  The reactions to Portman’s comment quoted in Wildman’s article descend into the feline, with one writer suggesting her garbage man would also have made a suitable stud for Ms. Portman’s greatest role, and another asking, “But is motherhood really a greater role than being secretary of state or a justice on the Supreme Court? Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?”

Rabbi Averick objects to Waldman’s “wearisome (albeit sincerely written) example of what has become a cliché in feminist literature: agonizing, hand-wringing, and occasional breast-beating regarding the motherhood vs. career conflict.”  Hokey though it sounds to some people, parenthood does take over one’s life, for good and ill, and because women’s biology often forces them to choose (at least temporarily) between motherhood and career, I think the debate about those choices is inevitable and, much of the time, consciousness-raising.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I think far too much attention is paid to the private lives of entertainers and athletes.  Their wealth, fame, and the scrutiny they’re under by the press make their lives anything but normal, and such people should not be held up as examples of anything to anyone, except wealth, fame, and subjection to press scrutiny.  It is also worth noting what Rabbi Averick says, that “While some dramatic presentations may very well contain meaningful messages, films and plays essentially convey distracting and entertaining illusions. Pregnancy, motherhood, and child-rearing are not entertaining illusions. They are as real as it gets.”

I fear what has happened in the wake of Portman’s speech is the same thing that happened when my alma mater (a women’s college) asked alumnae for stories about full-time mothering for a feature in the college’s alumnae magazine.  There, too, a storm broke out between women who had chosen career over family, who had continued to work and put their children in day care, and women who had chosen to shelve their careers in favor of full-time motherhood.  Never mind that those at-home moms had had their experiences and stories ignored by the magazine for decades in favor of features about career, awards, travel, and public service.  At the same time that my college’s magazine tries to stay in step with prestigious co-ed colleges (where mention of family probably makes the editor grumble, “We’re an alumni magazine, not Good Housekeeping!”), it does bother me a little that making a women’s college magazine so much like that of a co-ed’s implies that family life is un-feminist, that women don’t care any more about talking about their families or hearing about others’ families than men do (although it may be true), and that staying home and having children is dull and a shameful squandering of professional opportunities opened up by the women’s movement.  It all comes down to what we choose and how we feel about it.  My mother chose to stay home rather than pursue a career in nursing and never looked back.  Now when she and my father meet a dual-physician couple, these ignorant young women turn to my mother, assume she’s also a physician (not realizing how rare it was to find a woman in medical school back then), and ask her what her specialty is.  (I tell her to say rug-braiding, book-mending, and grandmothering, which really ARE her specialties.)  On the other hand, my mother-in-law continued to practice medicine and hired nannies to take care of the Cap’n and his brother.  (That was the right decision for all concerned, by the way.)  Thanks to the more strident elements in the anti-feminist movement, she is still haunted by her guilt for having worked outside the home all those years.

One of the most telling parts of Wildman’s article is where she asks, “If motherhood is the most important role, have we negated everything else we do? Does a woman who does not become a mother never reach an apex? What if motherhood isn’t happening — because a woman has decided to skip it or because she can’t have children? What then? Is there no important role?”  The answers, of course, are no, no, other things, up to her, and of course there is, dummy.  Done.  If Natalie Portman thinks motherhood is the most important role she’ll ever play, it is, so live with it.  She wasn’t talking about anyone else when she was up making her speech; she was talking about herself.  (I’m sometimes tempted to create an ad campaign aimed at catty chatterers, cranky feminists and other disgruntled people: It’s not always about YOU.)

I’ve been a feminist since I was a child, and will be one until the day I die.  But my feminism is about having choices, about doing as much as we can (though not always at the same time), and about confining our criticism to those who would keep us down, not to women who make different choices, or have more luck or talent or opportunity.  Women, unlike men, have been given (by God, not by men) the biology and the brains to have both children and a career.  Those who choose one or the other, or both, are to be commended, not criticized.  By the end of Wildman’s article, her words and tone seem to be more that of a woman who has already embarked on motherhood saying, “Just wait; she’ll see what it’s really like.”  Why, yes, she will, as mothers always do.  It’s exhausting and exhilarating, difficult and profoundly life-changing.  The best of luck to her.

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Self service

One of the many roles I fill in the Crunch household is that of Tyrant of Order.  (This is in opposition to the Cap’n and the children, who are the Demons of Chaos.)  Everyone dirties their clothes; I wash them.  Everyone leaves their stuff all over the house; I tidy it up (or yell at them to do it if they’re home).  Everyone eats three square a day; I plan, shop, cook, and clean up.  Everyone gets dirty (or even better, lice) and I wash and comb them (’cepting the Cap’n, of course).

A few things around the house have gone from being full serve to self serve.  I can no longer keep up with folding the girls’ laundry, so when it comes out of the dryer or off the drying rack, it goes straight into a basket that I dump in the kids’ room once a week for them to fold.  (This has the added advantage that it gives them something to do for an hour a week, and provides endless opportunity for fights to break out, leaving me the rest of the house to myself.)  The kids pitch in with other chores, like stocking the bathroom vanities with toilet paper, emptying bathroom trash, cleaning the bathroom mirrors, sinks, and counters.  They cut and arrange beautiful crudite platters for weeknight dinners.  And they know they are expected to help with setting and clearing the table (though they always need reminding to do this).

As of today, there is a new item on the self-service roster: they’re going to make their own snacks and lunches for school.  Peach sat at the breakfast table this morning and grumbled about being given a pita-hummus-cucumber sandwich yet AGAIN, and that was the last straw for me.  I remember my mother yelling up the stairs every morning when I was in first grade, asking what I wanted her to make for my lunch.  After a year of listening to me dither, she threw up her hands and turned over that thankless job to me, and for the rest of my school days I made my own lunches.  I think it’s time the Crunch children did the same.  (Banana is only 5½ , but so precocious that when she wants to earn the same allowance as her sisters, she always finds the wherewithal to do the same work.)  Tonight after dinner, the pita, hummus, butter and jam, labaneh, vegetables, fruit, cheese, crackers, and everything else are coming out for the little darlings to assemble their own lunches.  And except for packing Bill his usual box of assorted dainties, I’ll be off the hook.   (The Cap’n has a high-class commissary at work—meat and dairy—and hasn’t made his lunch for work in 4½ years.)

It’s all part of my role as Tyrant of Order to cut down the dirt and clutter in the house—though often at the expense of quiet.  Turning over lunches to the girls will probably go the way of turning over laundry—more fights and yelling, but less hassle and frustration for me.  Ah, well.  All good things come at a price.

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Do less?

A friend of mine just posted to Facebook that many of the blogs she’s been reading with New Year’s resolutions for 2011 have as a goal to “do less.”

I’m as puzzled as she is.  Where her friends have agreed that choosing projects wisely and prioritizing one’s activities should be the real goals, and not just doing fewer things overall, my question when I look at my own life is, “How can I possibly do less?”  My days consist of doing the bare minimum to keep my life, this house, and my family afloat, and very few extras.  Between packing snacks and lunches, laundry, bathing, dressing, shopping, planning,  cooking, homework, reading, doctors’ and dentists’ appointments, driving to afterschool activities, phone calls and meetings with teachers and other professionals about the kids, having kids home sick (which has been frequent of late with flu, two cases of chicken pox, and now a stomach virus), a little editing here and there for parnasa, and occasionally writing for this blog, I really don’t see what can give up.

As my friend’s friends said, it’s all about choices.  I’d love to do less than I’m doing, but if what I’m doing is just the bare minimum, the only way to do less is to have someone else do it for me.  The kids are independent in some ways (Beans does laundry and changes Bill’s diapers, Banana stocks toilet paper in the bathroom cupboards and takes out the bathroom trash, and Peach washes bathroom counters and mirrors and takes out the recycling), but they’re still young.  To pay a nanny so I could go out of the house and work (which sounds extravagant, but with four kids makes more sense than separate afternoon care out of the house for each of them) would still get into serious money, and probably devour every last shekel of my salary.  I could pay a house cleaner, but it’s cheaper to lower my standards and yell at the kids a few times a week to clean up their stuff (and clean up the rest myself), doesn’t require me to race around the house to get it ready for strangers to clean it anyway, and also sends the children the message that we all live here and have to do our share.  We could eat out more, and there are some days when there is just no time to make dinner.  (I can also justify getting a pizza at the local pizza joint once in a while because we’re supporting our neighbors who own it.)  But that too gets spendy if done too often.  We could give up going out altogether, but we already stopped eating out on date nights (can’t remember the last time the two of us went to a restaurant alone) and the Beit Shemesh classical concert series and the occasional movie are some of the few chances I get to go out in the evenings and see and hear new things.  Most of our entertainment consists of popcorn or grapefruit halves in front of “Star Trek,” “Dr. Who,” or one of my British costume things at home.  Give up the work?  Just kidding.  Give up this blog?  I’ve thought about it.  But I really don’t think that would be possible as it’s one of my few outlets for thought and writing.

I often feel trapped in this life.  I spent several summers working in the service industry (McDonald’s, cleaning up after National Guardsmen) and while it’s always something to fall back on, it’s not much of a career.  I love my family, but it was probably better that I didn’t realize in advance how much like the service industry it was going to be (plus a lot of secretarial, chauffeur, and psychological duties thrown in).  I have nothing but admiration for women who work out of the house, either by necessity or choice.  But it was also gratifying to have the Cap’n home for a couple of days when the kids were particularly edgy.  At one point when they were murdering each other in the basement (instead of cleaning it up), he collapsed on the couch next to me, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and said, “Stay-at-home mothers are saints.”  It was all I needed to hear.

My New Year’s resolution for 2011?  Keep doing what I’m doing and try to stay sane.

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When art and life meet

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Banana came home the other day and announced that her rav at mechina (preparatory kindergarten) had told the girls that in the home, the husband makes the decisions and the wife obeys the husband.

I’ll give you a minute.

Okay?  Good.

Once the Cap’n and I had picked our jaws up off the floor, I remembered that Banana’s rav is Sephardi.  (He also tells the girls it’s assur to eat fish with dairy and who knows what all else.)  I don’t mean to impugn Sephardim, but many—especially those who came to Israel from Arabic-speaking countries—have not encountered anything like a women’s movement in their communities.  So after a giggle and a snort, I pointed out to my five-year-old that in the Crunch household, Ima and Abba are partners and work together as a team.  There are things that Abba does better and takes responsibility for, and things that Ima does better and sees to.  But our strength comes from acting as equals, not from having one person in charge and another subservient (though by assuming the traditional stay-at-home mom role and doing most of the chores, it probably looks that way).

A friend of mine once told me that her four-year-old son told her that “Mans [sic] work and mommies stay home.”  My friend had a Ph.D. but had chosen (for the time being) to be at home with her young children, as I did.  It’s galling sometimes to feel like we have to give up our image as educated, intelligent beings in order to provide our children with parental care in their early years.  But perhaps at the same time it affords the opportunity to explain the complexities of feminism and modern life to tell them about our choices, and point out the choices other mothers make to go out and work, or fathers to stay home, or parents to have their children cared for by others while both parents work.

I sometimes think we’re going down a weird road by sending our kids to the frummier schools in Efrat.  But then again, we have plenty of  interesting conversations at home as a result, and our kids don’t take for granted what we do in our house when they know that other people do things differently.  We explain to them in neutral ways why other families do what they do, and why we do what we do.

Given that some Jewish families—both those who do a lot and those who do almost nothing—often don’t discuss why, perhaps in the end my kids are getting a better education after all.

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Bill is turning out to be a charming boy.  At 21 months he is smallish and skinny, but with hazel eyes, a winning smile, and an irresistible giggle, he has also begun cultivating the social graces the Cap’n and I hold so dear.  (Read about ’em here, here, and here.)  When I sneeze, he says, “Ah-too, Mama.”  When he asks for more of something and I prompt him, he says, “Peez, Mama.”  And he regularly says “da-da” (infantese for todah, or “thank you” in Hebrew) when given something, with no prompting.

So for those out there who think teaching children manners can wait until they’re in school, or in the army, or never, I would like to point out that not only can babies be taught manners at an early age, but that even boys are educable.  (That last was the Cap’n’s observation.)

So parents of eligible daughters, begin placing your bids for my boy now.

And enrollment in Auntie Shim’s Etiquette Boot Camp begins this summer.

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I drive to the Yellow Hill near Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion a few times a week, taking the kids to swim lessons or gymnastics.  Our route there frequently passes Arab shepherds herding goats or sheep, speeding Arab taxis ferrying passengers between Hebron and Bethlehem, Arabs on horseback or driving donkey-drawn carts.

Somehow, these sights often inspire commentary from Peach (the only political animal among my children so far).  The other day, while driving with my kids in the car, Peach announced, “I hate Arabs.”

It’s difficult sometimes to temper my young children’s reactions to the things they hear around them.  A family we know lost their son, murdered at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva a few years ago.  The murderer?  An Arab.  The four people killed in a car just south of here in August were killed by an Arab.  The security fence (some sections of which appear as a wall around here) was built to keep out Arab terrorists.  The people who demand that we stop building in our yishuv so they can fritter away more time not making peace with us?  Arabs.

Nevertheless, I don’t like the word “hate.”  It’s very strong, and there is nothing essentially hateful in an Arab.  They are human beings, like we are.  They eat, sleep, learn, work, love and live much as we do.  They are as much God’s creation as we are, and I don’t think it’s right to hate them.

What I do sanction is anger at their leadership, those who would harm us or poison others against us, and suspicion of them in general.  While there may be some who don’t deny the right of Jews to live in their ancestral homeland, this study done by the Israel Project indicates that most Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank would like to see Israel disappear and be replaced by a Palestinian state.  This isn’t shocking to me, or even surprising.  I don’t blame them, because honestly, I feel the same about them.  I was honest with Peach when I told her that if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and this land would be magically empty of Arabs, I would breathe a sigh of relief, much of my low-grade but ever-present anxiety would melt away, and I would feel utterly joyous.  I don’t want them dead, or harmed in any way.  I want them safely, comfortably settled with dignity—somewhere else.

This, I would point out, is more than can be said for most Arabs.  Violence against Jews is common currency in Arab society and shedding Jewish blood scores major brownie points.  (Consider the fact that this Arab man, released from prison and accused by others in his community of being a collaborator, sought to restore his own reputation by stabbing a Jewish woman.)  In addition, while I’m honest about the facts of what happens in Israel with Peach, I try to discourage her from hating even those who wish us dead and  I certainly don’t teach her hateful, nasty, biologically absurd ideas about our enemies being descended from pigs and monkeys the way Arabs teach their children about Jews.

Perhaps because I deliberately keep my views about Arabs complex and murky, I can tell that Beans is sometimes confused.  She has at least one Arab man working at her school, and she speaks of him as a friendly person.  She is also eager to learn to speak Arabic.  When I asked her why, she wasn’t sure, only that she seemed to think that it makes sense living where we live to understand each other.  Yet at the same time, knowing what some Arabs have done (such as tried to blow up our little supermarket in Efrat years ago), she feels nervous around Arabs she doesn’t know.  When I take her to the Rami Levi supermarket at the Gush Etzion Junction where Jews and Arabs work and shop alongside one another, she often asks softly if a group of Arab men entering the store in front of us are Arabs.  The answer is usually yes, but I also point out to her that the security guard has a metal detector wand which he waves around every Arab man’s waistline, front and back, to prevent anyone with an explosive belt from entering the building.  I don’t know if that makes her feel better (or me, for that matter), but I try to show her that while Arabs are allowed to shop in Jewish-owned stores, given the past behavior of some Arabs THEY are the ones who get the wand treatment, and I (a woman with fair hair and skin, young children in tow, and only a small pack around my waist outside my shirt) do not.

There are times when I think that playing the game by Arab rules is appropriate.  Meeting violence with harsh reprisals (targeted killings, air strikes in response to missiles fired at Israel, life imprisonment with no chance of parole or exchange for those with blood on their hands) is the very least Israel can do to maintain its self-respect when dealing with people who see mercy as weakness, justice as laughable, restraint as capitulation, and targeting civilians as legitimate.  But when it comes to hatred, glorification of murder and suicide, and dehumanization, I think Israel is wise not to join them.  Our God commands us to love life and do all we can to preserve it—theirs as well as ours.  This is an area where I think Israel really gets it right.

Does it make life any easier, or my lessons to my children any clearer?  Definitely not.  But life is rarely that easy.  It’s part of the epiphany I had the other day where I realized that there is nothing more fulfilling than being Jewish, and at the same time nothing as burdensome.

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While the Cap’n put the girls to bed tonight, Bill subjected me to one of our countless games of parental Marco Polo.


“Yes, B.”



“Yes, B.”



“Yes, B.”



“Yes, B.”



“Yes, B.”






“Yes, B.”




“Knee,” pointing to own knee that got slightly skinned yesterday.

“Yes, you scraped your knee.  Is it feeling better?”





“Yes, B?”


“Yes, B?”


“Yes, B?”


“Yes, B?”

“Mama.” “Yes, B?” “Mama.” “Yes, B?” “MamaYes, B?MamaYesB?MamaYesB!!!!!!!”


Gritted teeth.  “Yes, B?”


“Yes, B.”

If I wanted to save some money, I could take this kid out of day care and have him home with me ALL DAY LONG.  Then again, perhaps that 1000 shekels a month is well spent after all.

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Back to work

Nine years ago I made the complicated, difficult decision to leave my cushy teaching job in order to stay home with my newborn (first) child.  There were so many factors that figured into that decision: economics (it was cheaper than working and having all my salary—and then some—go to childcare), my desire to be with my baby (breastfeeding, witnessing her milestones, attachment-style parenting), and the very simply-put observation a friend made to me, that I could go out every day and teach other people’s children while paying someone else to teach my child, or I could stay home and teach my own child.

The decision was not an easy one.  First-time parenting was nerve-wracking, worrisome, exhausting, and it took months for my feminist ego to get used to being supported by my husband while being at home.  I knew in my heart that I was making a valuable contribution to the family, both financially and parentally, but it was still difficult.  Through that long first winter, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I would pray for Beans to wet her cloth diaper to give me something to do to kill five minutes.

I’ve been home for many years now.  At various times, I have taken on things that resembled work such as tutoring high school kids in English, and editing a book or divrei Torah for Web publication.  But primarily, I have been at home with my children (and busy enough not to wish for extra diaper changes).  And with each successive child, I have been able to let go a little more of my own responsibilities, leaving them for an entire day with my husband to attend a funeral in Maine, putting Banana in daycare to attend ulpan, and Bill in same to preserve my sanity and enable me to do errands and home improvement projects (like ripping up carpet or painting a rusting iron fence) during the morning.  The children have all adjusted to whatever I threw their way, and I’ve enjoyed the many different phases motherhood has gone through.

And now I’m embarking on yet another new phase.  The Cap’n recently started a new job with an Israeli company.  By Israeli standards, he’s making a pretty decent salary.  By American standards, he’s panhandling at the Kenmore T stop.  This means that in order to “clear the housekeeping” I need to look for some work.  After considering a few possibilities, I’ve settled on returning to English teaching.  Israel’s education system is, if possible, worse than the American one, and the salaries are even lower.  The only thing that pays less and has as little prestige is—you guessed it—stay-at-home motherhood.  But it’s what I love, it’s what I trained to do (and am still paying off) and it’s the best option to allow me to be at home with my kids in the afternoons and over the summer.  I’ll probably have to cover my hair to teach or substitute.  (Blah.)  I’ll probably need more coursework to get my certification in Israel.  (Double blah.)  But it will provide steady work, a steady trickle of income, and I think I’ll be a much better teacher now, nine years and four kids later than I was before—mellower, more aware of students’ different learning styles and difficulties, and take myself less seriously.

All I need now is a hat that says LIONTAMER on it…

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My presence in the blogosphere has been pretty sparse lately.  Some of it is due to the near-blackout I’ve had since Bezeq (the phone company and our internet provider) “upgraded” the service in my area.  It’s also been because I have been weighing my options returning to the world of work.  But more than anything it’s been due to the fact that for the last few weeks, I’ve had at least one child at home, and beginning this week, all of them for the rest of the summer.

This hasn’t scared me as much as it might have in the past.  With getting older has come an increased ability to do things for themselves.  It has also made them more helpful around the house, so that any complaints of boredom are met with a possible list of tasks around the house in my service.  During the school year, the girls have school or gan every day but Shabbat.  This, plus whatever after-school activities they have going on, give them very little time to pull out their many craft supplies and spend a chunk of time producing something.  We have little time to read to one another, or to sit and watch videos on YouTube and talk about them.  This summer has given us plenty of time around the table while sucking on ice pops, talking about friendships, birthday plans, school uniforms (a new requirement for Beans), and the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann by the Mossad.  The girls have made some headway making sukkah decorations to replace those destroyed by a rainstorm last year.  They continue to practice what they learned in gymnastics on their new mats.  Banana has learned the alphabet.  They’re all teaching Bill to talk.  Beans and Peach are learning to sew and have each completed a couple of cute projects.  I gave Banana her first couple of swimming lessons.  I have finished reading them the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, read Roald Dahl’s Boy, James and the Giant Peach, and Danny, the Champion of the World, recently completed Alice In Wonderland, and am now in the middle of Through the Looking Glass.

My summers growing up almost never included any camp attendance.  (The one exception was a two-week girl scout day camp experience when I was 11.)  I loved waking up at leisure, puttering around, reading, sewing, playing with friends, running through the sprinklers, and going to bed while the sun had not yet set.  (I didn’t like the dark.)  I helped my mother grow a vegetable garden, and would go pick a lettuce as she was making dinner at night, and make a salad of it and the tender little carrots I would pull out of the ground.  There were raspberries and grapes growing in our yard, and we children would occasionally be impressed into blueberry or blackberry picking service, being turned loose in the blistering heat with coffee cans hanging from our necks with twine.  (Okay, those weren’t my best summer memories, since my mother would make pies from the berries and my piece always seemed to be the one with an earwig or a wasp in it.)  Oregon was a wonderland for me in every season, and summers were sunny and dry with only the occasional day or stretch of days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our house was comfortable in every kind of weather, and our yard shady, grassy, full of flowers, an apple tree, and a filbert (hazelnut) bush, with a swing hanging from a bough of the large maple (which I would as soon climb as swing from).

I try not to be a parent who over-schedules her children’s time.  They are free to choose whom they play with, and are encouraged to make their own phone calls to arrange dates.  But their schooldays by nature are filled with lessons, homework, and the few chugim (activities) that they themselves choose and I encourage.  Beans and Peach attend gymnastics classes twice a week, which have done wonders for building their strength, coordination, and flexibility.  Banana has had a great introduction to tae kwon do through a kiddie class, and wishes to continue.  Aside from those, I am resolved this year only to add swimming lessons to their schedule to enable us to skip camps altogether next summer and get a membership at a kibbutz pool a short drive away instead.  With the kids ages 5, 7 and 9 (turning 6, 8 and 10 next summer) I will only have to watch 2-year-old Bill closely at the pool.  Packing a picnic and towels, we can while away the hours with friends who also have a membership there, playing, swimming, and spending time outdoors—exactly what summers are for.

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Summer is here, which means birthdays in the Crunch household: Banana’s at the start of Tammuz, Beans’s, Peach’s, and the Cap’n’s in Av.  Of course, summer birthdays often mean cramming classroom birthday parties into the last few weeks of school or gan.  Beans and Banana had theirs with cake, musical chairs, and brachot (birthday wishes) from their peers.  Peach has chosen a party at home in lieu of a school party, so I am preparing for 7 friends to descend for a party tomorrow morning at Beit Crunch.  But Hashem has bestowed upon me the blessing of a bat mitzvah girl in the neighborhood who hires herself out as a party planner and executrix, so all I have to do is provide the food, and she’ll provide the fun.

Then, of course, there are the gifts.  Back at the New Year, the Cap’n’s North American company ran out of cash, turning a posse of incredibly highly-skilled hi-tech workers out into the streets.  The Cap’n has since found a job at a reputable company in Jerusalem, where the benefits are not to be beat, but where the salary… well, let’s just say the Crunches are not big spenders, but we are nonetheless discovering for ourselves how it is that Israelis survive high prices, steep tariffs, and low salaries: by going into debt.  (So in between planning birthdays, running the house, ripping up smelly, dusty old carpet we inherited when we bought the house two years ago, assisting the Cap’n to buy a car that fits the whole family, making Shabbos every week, and shlepping Beans to get her ears pierced, I’m supposed to be looking for work.  La!)  So my solution this year?  Each girl gets a party (at school, gan, or home), a gift (not large, but something the child will enjoy), and an experience.  Banana had her party at gan, I bought her our favorite book (that I read her at gan at least once a week), and she and her siblings were taken to a kids’ fun place at a nearby kibbutz.  Beans had her party at school, I’m outfitting the sewing box my mother gave me for Christmas when I was 12, which is still in excellent condition, and although getting her ears pierced was actually the pay-off for a behavior contract we had, I think that is going to suffice for an experience.  (She’s so over the moon about it that I may not have to get her anything else until she enlists in the army.)  And Peach wants her party at home; I haven’t thought of a gift yet for her (fingers drumming); and perhaps a family trip to the beach in our new/used Mitsubishi Grandis will do for an experience.

The sad part, of course, is that by the time the Cap’n’s birthday rolls around near the end of Av, I am so wiped out from the hurricane of girls’ birthdays, I don’t know what to do for him.  For the past four years, we have been packing for SOMETHING (aliyah, moving, or trips to the US), and the Cap’n’s birthday has been swept aside by the flurry of boxes, suitcases, carry-ons, travel-size shampoos, and the like.  (Last year we had the inestimable joy of being with close friends in Boston, with the traditional JP Lick’s ice cream cake, but that is far from the norm.)  By his birthday, I am usually sick of the taste of cake, and one more chorus of “Happy Birthday” or “Hayom Yom Huledet” will send me over the edge.  And while he is a wizard at choosing gifts, he is the hardest person I know to buy something for.  So what shall I do this year?  Try my hand at a homemade ice cream cake?  The family-size gelato cakes at the divine Sorrento gelato stop in Beit Shemesh are a whopping 85 shekels, and I already have an ice cream maker.  A party?  We haven’t yet made friends close enough to consider what we used to call “the Usual Suspects” with whom we always did birthdays, but we’re getting there slowly.  An experience?  We could both use an overnight getaway somewhere (the Dead Sea, perhaps) with good food, massages, and no sound of giggling or fighting at 6 AM, and there are plenty of competent sitters around.  How to pay for it, though, short of selling Bill for scientific experimentation, is a mystery.

But hey–there’s always Gaza.  Aussie Dave has a write-up of Gaza’s Aldeira Hotel.  For $185 (the price of a mediocre room at the Sheraton Tara over the Mass. Pike in Newton) you can get this bedroom,

this bathroom,

and this fine dining experience.

Hey honey!  Where’s my burka?

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Soon after Bill was born, I blogged about co-sleeping with him (as I had my other children).  He’s been a fantastic mattress buddy: quiet, cuddly but not clingy, and rolls away after nursing to allow me the space to get comfortable and go back to sleep.  (The girls all insisted I hold them all night.  VERY high maintenance.)

But in recent weeks, I have noticed a change.  First of all, he’s bigger than he was as a newborn.  (He’s now 18 months old.)  He still nags me to nurse several times a night, and doesn’t take kindly to refusals.  And he’s taken up the habit of rotating himself in the bed so that he’s perpendicular to the Cap’n and me, forcing both of us to the edges of our mattresses.  In addition to these issues, summer is here with an unusually high mosquito population, and Bill has been eaten alive on several nights.

The girls were this age (or younger) when we transitioned them into their own beds.  The fact that we live in a house with stairs now means it’s a bit more complicated than putting baby in a bed down the hall and escorting him back if he tries to sneak – or storm – back into the room.  So Bill is in a portable crib (with a fitted mosquito net) in an alcove off our room.  This keeps him out of traffic areas in our bedroom, and out of sightlines of us.

We’ve had a few pretty sleepless nights (erev Shabbat he howled for three and a half hours straight), but every night it gets better, and he’s slowly coming to accept that this nylon-and-mesh hoosegow is his new bed.  And I am finally able to put away the bedrail, stretch out, and – theoretically – sleep through the night (though I think motherhood has ruined that for me forever).

There’s something bittersweet about going through all the familiar phases with Bill: swapping up the infant carseat for a convertible one, retiring the baby backpack, and now moving him out of the bed.  Bitter because we don’t anticipate doing this again in the future, and it’s gone by so fast.  But sweet because every piece of my body, my personal space, and my life I get back is a little bit of sweetness that was temporarily suspended, and is now returning.

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Our lot

Since the Cap’n and I married and began our family, I have watched as friends have debated, deliberated, and ultimately decided when their family is finished.  Sometimes years would go by, and the couple would decide “just one more.”  Or that they were  maxed out, emotionally and financially, at the size they were.  Or that they wouldn’t do anything to prevent another child, but they also wouldn’t go to great lengths to have another.

It is a great luxury for a couple to be able to decide for itself when it’s “done” having children.  Whether that is after one child, or three, or seven, or ten, to have those choices is a blessing not bestowed on just anyone.  While I’m content with my family, I know that if I ever were not, all I would need to do would be to think of those who have had a harder time than we have:

  • Couples who tried unsuccessfully to have children and in the end adopted (although some were lucky and managed to adopt siblings)
  • Couples without children for whom belonging to a frum Jewish community was too painful without a family, who drifted away
  • A couple who finally gave up fertility treatments, found an expectant mother, supported her throughout her pregnancy, requested a signed affidavit that she had not used drugs, and in the end, the child was seriously mentally ill
  • And of course, the families torn apart by terrorism, whether it be a family whose son was murdered in the massacre at Mercaz HaRav, or the family in which the (pregnant) mother and four daughters were shot and killed on the road, leaving the father to wake up the following morning with no family at all.

One of my favorite stories is the Jewish folktale, “It Could Always Be Worse,” about a family who felt cramped in their small house and sought advice from their rabbi.  One by one, he has them move their livestock (a cow, chickens, a goat) into the  house with them until they go mad.  Then, he advises them to turn their animals out again and lo and behold, the house feels suddenly spacious.  This is a humorous story about how our feelings of satisfaction can depend on how we view our circumstances.

Some say Hashem gives us only what we can cope with for challenges.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that humans are capable of overcoming great sadness and suffering, and that comfort and support is to be found in the others around us, both in the form of their love and understanding, and in the knowledge that we do not grieve alone–that there is always someone else who has had a similar (or, God forbid, worse) experience.

May we only know blessings and happiness.

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My old-new life

For the first time in weeks, I am able to sit down to my computer without Bill crawling over, pulling himself up on my chair, and hitting the sticky “ENTER” key in the lower right of the keyboard, setting the computer off into repetitive hysterics, and requiring a credit card to un-stick it.

The last few weeks have been hectic, with my in-laws visiting, the kids home for Purim, Bill sick with a double ear infection, three performances of Dames of the Dance (in which I’m performing this year), and the last days of the Cap’n’s job search.

Baruch Hashem, the in-laws left after a pleasant stay, the kids are back in school, Bill is on antibiotics, tonight is the last performance of Dames, and the Cap’n has accepted a comfortable—if not thrilling—job.  Salary is good (though by American standards it’s very low), benefits considerable, transportation from our yishuv provided by the company (so the Cap’n can nap instead of drive himself to and from work).  He has a few travel requirements during the course of the year, but nothing that should make life too difficult.

In the meantime, my life has undergone a dramatic change also.  Where the Cap’n and I have shared daytime parenting duties pretty equally for the last three and a half years (since our aliyah, when he became an independent contractor and worked nights), I am now back in the saddle as the daytime parent.  Last time I did this was in Newton, Mass., where I was ferrying children in my Toyota Sienna (the Taj Mahal, I called it) mornings and afternoons to their toddler program, nursery school, gymnastics, and various appointments.  The kids were 4, 2, and under a year, and my ability to think straight was heavily taxed.  I fought depression constantly, caring for three young children, doing the shopping (to get fresh, kosher, affordable food required me to shop at 7 different stores), and running the house.  I had a cleaning team who came every other week and saved me from drowning in chores on top of everything else I was doing, but I still felt like I was in over my head.  The days would drag, and I would sometimes wonder when it is that an at-home parent begins to feel human again.

This time around, I am relieved to see that things feel different.  There is another child now, but having the others older, more self-sufficient, and more independent makes a huge difference.  They can help with Bill, amusing him and pushing him in his stroller while I do laundry, make dinner, or help one of them with homework.  I am still shlepping around, shopping, taking kids to gymnastics, and picking up from playdates.  But it takes 5 minutes to get somewhere by car in our yishuv, not 20 minutes.  (The 20 minutes is if we walk, which the weather here allows us to do most of the time.)  Bill is in daycare a few mornings a week which allows me to tackle the clutter in the house, cook dinner well in advance without worrying about stepping on toys or small fingers, and do laundry.  The house is quiet at last, and I’m much more productive with everyone out of it, including the Cap’n whose company I enjoy, but whose contribution to the household disorder is, shall we say, not inconsiderable.

The downside is that the Cap’n will no longer be a part of the children’s days to the extent that he was before.  Banana once asked if a friend could come over to play.  When the Cap’n got off the phone with the child’s mother and reported that she had too much to do that afternoon to bring Banana’s friend to play, Banana asked the Cap’n, “Well, ask if her Abba can!”  The bright side is that the children have been delightfully spoiled having their father around for these important early years.  While I’m sad for them that those days are over, most children never get them at all.

So I’m once again in charge of the house and the children.  While it’s not very prestigious, and certainly doesn’t pay real money, it’s something I’m competent at, and the working conditions this time around are definitely better.

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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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Table manners

I decided early on that one of my jobs as a pedantic parent is to teach my children table manners.  The Cap’n and I figure this goes hand-in-hand with our philosophy that kids will live up or down to parents’ expectations, and that it is never too early to establish the foundations of good manners.  When our kids were still early talkers, we taught them the formula, “May I please…” and now have merely to remind them—in their occasional lapses into “I want…”—that “That is a ‘may’ question.”

As far as the Crunch family is concerned, table manners for young children consist of the following:

1) Sitting at the table for a reasonable duration of the meal.  During the week, this means the 40 minutes or so of dinner, which consists of eating and hearing a short summary of everyone’s day.  On Shabbat it means kiddush, motzi, and whatever of the appetizer course appeals.  They are then excused to play until the “real food” is served.

2) Putting their napkins in their laps, using a fork or spoon for their food, keeping elbows off the table, and chewing with their mouths closed.

3) Asking others politely to pass them things.

4) Not interrupting conversations, but saying “Excuse me” and waiting until the conversation is ended (or paused) to be acknowledged.

For many families, table manners are something parents just don’t have the koach (strength) to enforce.  True, correcting the same children on the same poor habits can be a bit like banging one’s head against the proverbial brick wall.  But consider the consequences of giving up: Rearing up a child who as an adult holds a fork like a shovel, belches loudly at the table, announces, “I’m done” the second the food is gone from his plate, lifts his cereal bowl to scrape the last few cornflakes directly into his mouth, and eats salad with his hands.  That might not bother some people, and people with manners like that have been known to get married, but I aim a little higher for the Crunch children.  They understand from the categories on their chore charts (for which they receive daily stickers and an allowance commensurate with their week’s performance on Friday afternoons) that good table manners are as much expected of them as cleaning their rooms, setting the table, folding their laundry, and doing their homework.

In general, I enjoy eating with my children much more when they use good table manners.  They’re neater eaters, dinnertime is more quiet and orderly, and I sometimes get to entertain the illusion that I’m eating with other human beings rather than barely-tame baboons.  They occasionally take their knowledge of table etiquette too far, though, and have loudly corrected their visiting grandparents’ table manners (which was kind of cute) as well as those of friends who hosted us for a Shabbat meal (considerably more horrifying).  The trick here, it seems, is to teach them manners as we would teach house rules: Adhere to what we observe, but don’t try to force it on others.

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Litter rant

From the time I first set foot in Israel in 1996, I have been mesmerized by the beauty and history of this place.

At the same time, however, I’ve been appalled at how people have chosen to maintain it.  Coming to Israel is like going back in time in many ways, and unfortunately one of those ways is reflected in the amount of trash dumped everywhere and anywhere.  (Remember the Keep Britain Tidy movement?  And the fake Indian crying on American television to get Yanks to stop throwing their garbage out of the windows of moving cars?  Where’s Israel’s weeping King David?  Or Keep Israel Tidy?)

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I came up with a little photo essay.

Bill and I set out one morning last week to make a round of playgrounds, ironically one of the worst places to play or sit and converse with one’s adult peers.  Here’s an overview of the playground.  Pretty nice, no?

This is a particularly sought-after playground because of its zipline (something we never had at playgrounds in the US).  Kids play ball here, swing, climb the structure.  But what is that green stuff on the gravel in the foreground, at the base of the sandbox?  Clover?  Grass?  *Gulp* Weeds?  No, it’s…

Broken glass!  (With some weeds mixed in.)  The popularity of Crocs, which look like great gardening shoes but are very poor shoes for running and climbing, means that kids often kick them off on the swings, or shed them in an attempt to play barefoot.  Fortunately, Efrat’s Emergency Medical Center is located down the road for stitching up tender little feet that get sliced and diced by all the broken glass here.

Parks and playgrounds are supposed to be fun for everyone, and families often choose to bring their dogs with them.  Unfortunately, they don’t always remember to take all their dogs’ belongings with them when they leave…

Bill and I left that park and tooled on down the road to another playground.  On the way, we passed by Efrat’s shopping center, which contains several eateries, among them Burgers Bar.  Of course, one doesn’t actually have to see the Burgers Bar to know it’s in the vicinity; one has only to look in the rosemary shrubs lining the sidewalk for sufficient evidence:

If you look closely, you can see that this scrupulously kosher person also enjoyed a parve dessert after his or her dinner: a lollipop!  B’teiavon.

Efrat is not all litter, I assure you.  This time of year one can spot some hardy roses, blooming rosemary, and I saw the first blooming almond trees yesterday.  (I haven’t yet gotten pictures of them.)

Even the empty lots in Efrat have a loveliness to them.  While overgrown and rocky, one can often spy cyclamen growing out from between the stones.  In the winter (i.e. now) the grass and weeds are green, and wildflowers bloom.  Here’s an empty lot next to another playground:

And on closer inspection, we see the seamier side of this stony, grassy lot:

Trash, trash, and more trash…

When the Cap’n and I were on our program nearly 14 years ago, any tiyul we took was capped off at the end by our being asked to scurry around and pick up the hundred or so water bottles that had been scattered around whatever natural or man-made wonder we’d just visited.  Tourist, immigrant, Sabra–there appears to be no difference between them when it comes to littering.  Some places are much worse than others, but in a yishuv with the amount of civic pride that Efrat boasts, there is no excuse for the littering and vandalism which mar the streets, playgrounds, and open spaces here.

For nearly 2000 years, the Jews languished in exile, praying to return to our land.  For all that time, we were subject to the laws (or lawlessness) that held sway wherever we were.  We lived an existence fraught with denial: to own land, to join professional guilds, to attend universities.  Anything we had could be (and sometimes was) taken from us at any time.

But here we are at last, in our own land, where everything is of, by, and about the Jews.  It’s ours again.  Some would argue that because it’s ours, we have the right to foul it up if we want to.  But I don’t think that’s what people really want.

Like so many things, it’s a question of education.  If parents and teachers were to instill in children’s minds the values of cleanliness, of safety, of beauty, Israel might look different.  Parents should be aware that just because they live in a yishuv packed with religious Jews, many of them immigrants from the West, does not mean that their children will automatically absorb those values; they have to be taught explicitly.

I personally don’t fancy the idea of passing a filthy, garbage-strewn country on to the next generation.  It’s for kids like Bill…

…that we need to teach our children good habits and civic pride.  On our way home from our photo tour, we passed by a parked car with the following sticker in the rear window:

So do we.

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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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