Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Building Blocks of Behavior

Yesterday, I was at the doctor with Zeli. We waited for quite a long time, and he was definitely getting restless. He started building with the blocks that they had in the waiting room (yes, I envisioned that they were filled with the germs of thousands of other sick kids…but what is a mom to do...) and he was having a great time. Now, building with blocks also meant crashing with blocks, and he was continually asking me to look, watching the blocks fall to the ground and starting to put them up again.

I started to worry that maybe he was making too much noise and I looked around at the other parents and kids in the room. None of the other children were making a peep – not a peep! And I quickly saw why – they were all playing on their parents’ phones.

I was going to tell Zeli that he needed to be quieter and sit down next to me, but then I realized that we were in a pediatric waiting room. And that kids are supposed to make noise and play and …well…be kids. 

And just because all of the other parents were choosing to get their kids to tune out with electronic devices didn’t mean that I had to do so as well. This is not to say that electronic devices can’t do wonders to keep kids interested, but it is to say that it’s also OK not to offer a child such a device, and that it’s OK for kids to be kids. And to make some noise. And to show some energy.

As I watched Zeli play, in contrast to all of the other kids, I was taken back 12 years to the first play group that Matan attended. I signed him up for some group at a community center (where there was also a basketball court). And while all of the other children sat in a circle and did exactly what the teacher asked of them, Matan ran from the room to watch the basketball game. Then he zipped back into the play room to play with some sparkling thing; and then he zipped out to check out the water fountain; and then he zipped back get the picture. I spent the entire hour horrified, watching my child be the only one out – the only one that wasn’t following the rules.

Matan coined the term as my first rambunctious handfull

I called my father-in-law, the pediatrician, after that day and asked him if there was something wrong with Matan (yes, he was my first). And my father-in-law laughed. “What’s wrong with all of the other kids who just sat there and followed the rules!?” he wanted to know.

And I’ve loved that answer ever since. We aren’t all cookie cutter replicas of each other, and our kids don’t always want to be quiet. Now obviously there is a time and place for everything, and no one appreciates a screaming kid who is throwing pretzel packs at other passengers on the plane (yep, true story); but making a bit of noise while building blocks at the doctor’s office rather than zoning out on a phone? That one is AOK in my book.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

En Route to Our Dreams....

Fifteen years ago, a beloved cousin died in a car accident on the way to his dreams. He and his wife worked their entire lives as teachers and school administrators. And they had a dream that they talked about often. The dream was to leave Chicago in retirement and to head to sunny Las Vegas. They purchased a house, they saved and they planned. And on the road in Colorado, with a car filled with their belongings, he died.

A few nights ago, I attended a funeral for another loving, funny man who faced a similar fate. His son, our friend, made Aliyah the same week we did, almost 10 years ago. Then our friend's brother came on Aliyah with his family and settled in our area. And then, after finishing rewarding careers in New York, their parents packed their bags and arrived in Israel just a few short months ago. They lived here in Neve Daniel with some of their children and grandchildren while they got settled, found an apartment in Jerusalem and managed the red tape of Aliyah. And then, just as their bookcases arrived and their apartment was settled, he had a heart attack, and left their dream behind.

How do we cope with these stories? How do we move on? What, really, can we learn from them that won't leave us feeling angry and helpless? I've spent a few days wrestling with these questions.

Death is rarely welcome. It's rarely well timed or desired. But what can we learn from, and how can we find some meaning in, these tragedies?

Certainly, these situations make me want to be a better person. They make me want to remember that each moment is precious and to try not to take life for granted. But sometimes, this line of reasoning leaves me feeling guilty because real life does get in the way, all the time, and it's so very hard to enjoy each moment.

And while these men were cut down much, much too early, there is certainly much to admire about the paths they were on. 

We will all go eventually, taken in a split second, at some point. But where will we be and what will we be doing? My cousin could have planned and planned but never actually fulfilled his dream. Yes, it is desperately sad that he died while en route to his future - but at least he was en route. He was on the way, fulfilling his dream and making his own destiny. Similarly, the dear father and grandfather who we mourned this week had finally fulfilled a dream. He was here - on the other side. He had accomplished a major life goal and had started to put his future into place.

In what ways do we walk towards our futures each day? Are we where we want to be? On the path we want to be on? Working, at least with little steps, towards the future we in vision for ourselves and the dreams we desire?

These are the questions I'm left with when I live through stories of these sorts and hear so many others. May these beloved men be remembered as the examples they were about working towards dreams and taking actions to create the futures. And may we all find ways to be on the right paths each day and to move closer towards our dreams for whatever amount of time we are given to reach them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Team Leader Mom

There are certain things that people don’t tell you before you make Aliyah. Like that someday you are going to be tapped to be “team mom” and to entertain a house full of Hebrew speaking second graders for an afternoon.

Boy I would have enjoyed that warning before it occurred.

Last year, Eliav’s teacher sent home a note saying that she wanted the boys to break into teams and to work on a project at someone’s house. She wanted to do so because she saw the boys being partial to certain friends and she figured that it would be a good idea to force them to work with others. And I breathed a large sigh of relief when I saw that Eliav was going to some other mom’s house to do the project. 

Crisis averted.

But then, lo and behold, this week we received the same notice, and this year Eliav had was tapped as a team leader.

Which made me a team leader mom.

Oh dear…the idea is that Eliav will have three friends come to our house for the afternoon. And I’ll be in charge of talking to them about the Parsha (Torah portion they are working on) and then creating a project with them based on this Parsha. problem. If it were in English!

So, I wrote back To Eliav's teacher in my best Hebrew that the idea was just lovely but that surely she knows that my Hebrew is awful and that I couldn’t possibly be put in charge of such a project.

The reply the next day? She and Eliav had a talk and they came up with some tools so that Eliav can get the work done at our house without my input. Translation – you’re stuck with it team mom. Deal with it.


So, yesterday was the big day and I geared up for an adventurous afternoon. I told Eliav that I wouldn’t be serving a full meat lunch like some of these boys might expect. Israeli families actually sit down to a meat meal when the kids get home from school. I haven’t yet figured out what that means for the evening. Anyone want to chime in on that one?

But in our house? 4:00 means pretzels and juice. Or something of this sort.

So, I agreed to go all out and make grilled cheese sandwiches. And then I told Eliav that they would be on their own with the project. It’s not that I can’t speak Hebrew, by the way. I pay the bills, talk to all repair people, buy my groceries and function in every adult venue as needed. I actually have no self- consciousness whatsoever about speaking and making mistakes with adults. WITH KIDS however…now that’s a different story.

I see Eliav roll his eyes when I conjugate my verbs incorrectly in front of his friends and I hear those little giggles when I just don’t get it right. I want to say “Hey! I have a Master’s Degree! I’m really very smart!” But when it comes to talking in front of little people – it’s just a nonstarter.

Yesterday, I got the sandwiches ready and was waiting at the door for the kids when they arrived.

And lo and behold, they were all English speakers! SCORE! Do you think that maybe Teacher Sarah took pity on me and put only English speakers in my group?

I was so giggly and relieved that the kids definitely wondered what was wrong with me. No matter. It was time to get to business..with Eliav AND team leader mom in charge.

And so the entire day was turned around. I fed the kids, talked to them about the Parsha and helped them figure out what they wanted to draw, guided them in making the drawing, sent them out to play basketball and then even got them to do all of their homework together.

And here was the final product:

It's a scene from the Torah when one person throws a rock at another, and then there is a discussion of the penalty.

(I wanted to take pictures of the kids in all their cuteness working so nicely together. But I know it's not my place to put other peoples' kids on the internet. So you'll just have to imagine how cute and cooperative they were.)

Whew! Immigrant crisis averted…this time!

Maybe I'll be more comfortable leading the way in Hebrew by the time Yakir brings home a group...or maybe I'll just hope that the teacher takes pity on me again.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Time Is Not All Measured in Equal Amounts

Today I had an epic fail in the parenting department, and it was a good reminder about priorities. Yehuda has been working for weeks on a science project with a friend and today he needed to bring in the large display board. He asked me if I would drive him to school so it wouldn’t get messed up on the bus.

This isn't actually his project (who had time to photograph it when I was in a tizzy?) but it's a similar topic

And I knew that, of course, the answer was “yes”. But I wanted it to be “no” for so many reasons. “Come on,” I tried to reason with him. “Can’t you just sit at the front of the bus? The very back of the bus? Can’t you put it on your side like this or put it like this?”

And on and on I went, realizing how ridiculous I sounded and that I should just take the poor boy to school. So I agreed to take him, and then once I was taking him I might as well just take his siblings who go to school with him as well. And there went getting to work on time, which means not coming home on time, which means that something will have to give. And that “something” comes from a long list of must-do activities like buying milk and bread for tomorrow, squeezing in a short exercise, breathing, starting dinner, folding laundry, straightening up the house or some other little item.

And then little mister three year old didn’t want to get out of bed (my bed, that is). So I had to wake him and run around the house after him, begging him to please get dressed so that we could just…get….out…of…the…house…..already.

And once that was done and I was up the hill with the kids, the nursery school wasn’t open in time so I left Amichai to watch Yakir for a few minutes while I drove Zeli to his school. And when I returned to retrieve Amichai (assuming Yakir had already been deposited in school) Yakir didn’t want to go to school. Because who wants to go to school when your big brother is playing basketball outside with you? Dear lord. So that turned into a ten minute pick him up and carry him inside and figure out some creative way to get him to stop crying when he usually goes into school without even waving.

I used my incredible artistic talent and drew him something like this. It worked! And I was off.....

And now I was even later to work….and even more annoyed.

And it was finally time to gather the boys up and bring them to Efrat to their school and now I was really frazzled. And the kids could see it.

But, as I started driving them, I realized that Yehuda hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t taking him to school because he was in trouble, or I had to speak with a teacher, or he had forgotten his lunch or anything else that could have been construed as some fault. I was taking the poor kid to school because he had worked really hard on a science project and wanted to make sure it didn’t get ruined.

Geez, Romi. Get over yourself. And so I tried to snap out of it and give him praise for a job well done, but I’d already shown my frustration. And it was out there.

And I spent the day feeling bad that I was frustrated this morning with a kid who just wanted an unsquished science project for the science fair.

And really, do those 15, or maybe 30, extra minutes at work make or break my day? But the messages I convey to the kids, and the 15 extra minutes that I can give to them actually DO make or break their day.

But when the rat race is on and the list of to-do items is piling up and it’s only 7:15 on Monday morning, it’s so very hard to remember what is important, and what just isn’t.

And I’ve now added to that day feeling badly that I gave Yehuda the impression that I was annoyed with his needs, and feeling badly that I didn’t show more appreciation for the work that he did.

And those feelings are far worse than any to-do list, no matter how long or how detailed it might be.

So I will certainly be at that science fair on Wednesday, even if it’s smack in the middle of my work day.

And I will hopefully, hopefully remember next time that the morning (or evening) stress gets to me that no amount of stress feels as bad as making the kids feel bad.

And that time is not all measured in equal amounts.

Lesson learned on the hectic road of motherhood.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Batman His Footie Pajamas

At least 15 years ago, I found one of my favorite articles of clothing. It’s a zip-up pair of footie pajamas.  No – not for the kids or the babies – but for me. Now, I know these have become all the rage now, but they weren’t 15 years ago. And I had a pair. They get quite hot and I don’t wear them all that often, but during the recent snow storm in Israel, I don’t believe I was seen without them.

Eyeing me with envy, four of my boys kept asking where I got them…and could I maybe, possibly find some for them. And so my idea was hatched. One day, as we sat inside huddling together after playing in the snow, I started my search for big boy footie pajamas. They have them all over the internet, but they are quite expensive. I managed to secure pairs for the four middle guys. Matan was proving more difficult. He’s tall enough now that he needs an adult size, but most of the companies that sell these prized items do so for no less than $50. And then I stumbled upon the prize. I found Batman footie pajamas that came with the cape, the mask...the whole nine yards.

Josh and I giggled our way through the purchase, knowing that Matan would absolutely love these. And this is one of the things that I love about Matan. While he’s 13 already, and getting ready for high school, he appears to have absolutely no self-consciousness and quite a playful sense of humor. When we bought the pajamas I said to Josh, “Do you think he’ll let us take a picture of him or will he hide these?” And Josh said, “Are you kidding? He’s going to be prancing around in them!”

And Josh was right. We gave them to all of the boys last night and they all ran downstairs to take their baths so that they could get into their new pajamas. Matan came home when everyone else was already snuggled into their pajamas. He glanced at his set, and ran downstairs to shower, hours before he normally would. And then he reappeared, with his mask on, his cape flying behind him and his stance proudly showing that he was Batman.

He loved them. And he proceeded to have us take pictures so that he could post them on Facebook. The only surprising turn of events was that Yakir started screaming at Matan to take off the pajamas. Apparently he owns the right to all superhero pajama sets, and he was horrified to see his brother wearing something that most certainly must have been his.

It took a while to calm him, but he finally settled back down with the promise that he could wear his superman pajamas the next day.

I know my boys are growing up and that Matan will soon (maybe?) turn away from these types of activities. But it certainly still brings me great pleasure to see them so excited about the little things in life…and enjoying the pure thrill of a cozy pair of footie pajamas on a cold winter night. Batman and all.

I tried to get the whole gang together for a picture, but have you ever tried to coordinate six sons and their pajamas? So here are a few of them...we'll get the bigger picture at some point!