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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Babymanners

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.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“What?”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“WHAT?”

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

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

“Yep.”

“Good.”

Pause.

“Mama.”

“Yes, B?”

“Mama.”

“Yes, B?”

“Mama.”

“Yes, B?”

“Mama.”

“Yes, B?”

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

“Mama.”

Gritted teeth.  “Yes, B?”

“Knee.”

“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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