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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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Gobsmacked

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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