Saturday, September 24, 2011

I was going to write email to Grandma E

but then I figured I might as well just put everything I was going to tell her in a blog post instead. Except in a list with numbers, since it's a blog post.

1. Right before I left for the airport to come back home, I found a Priority Mail box on Yehudis's porch, with Grandma E's return address. It was full of cute little girl dresses in sizes 2T and 3T for Marika. We put one of them on her today, a long-sleeved striped T-shirt dress with a crossover (surplice? is that what they call it? top) and little ruffles along the neck and waist. It might possibly be the cutest thing ever, and Marika, in pigtails and little pink sandals, might possibly have been the world's cutest little girl.

She understands so much of what we say now. Mr. Bigfoot kept saying all day how cute the dress was, and at one point when he said it she looked up at him with a big grin and her hands on her skirt. "Dwess!" When I get her dressed, she is there like lightning, and if I don't have her shoes to hand, she dashes off and finds them for me. And then runs to Mr. Bigfoot and shows off how pretty she looks. Seriously. She is barreling out of babyhood at shocking speed, that one.

2. A few weeks ago I got a copy of the Schoolhouse Rock CD. Maybe there's more than one, but this is the "best of" that has such classic hits as Conjunction Junction, Interjections, the Preamble to the Constitution, etc. My personal favorite is "Interjections! Show excitement! Or Emotion! They're generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong." Marika's favorite is "Zero My Hero." Except she pronounces it, "Dzeewoh!"

3. Iyyar's ganenet gave us the filled-out six-page evaluation form for us to take to get him a develomental exam/therapy. She checked almost every box and commented on everything we've seen in him plus some things we haven't. And she made it sound so... dire. I mean, I understand that there is a strong motivation for her to do this, because if she said the reassuring things that I, his mother, want to hear ("He's fine and will surely outgrow all of this,") well, then he wouldn't be getting any help. One of the things I noticed was that she said, "He hasn't made any friends in gan yet, probably because of the language issue." Last year, one of the things Iyyar told me all the time was that he didn't have friends, nobody played with him, the other kids were mean etc. Both the ganenot totally and absolutely denied that this was true. They said he had friends and he played nicely with the other kids, and that all kids said things like this sometime. And then they'd say things like, "He bothers the other children so they don't want to play with him." It never made much sense, except for the overwhelming impression that whatever the problem, it was all him and not the gan.

Last week, Iyyar came home dancing and singing: "I have a friend in gan!" I dropped him off the next day and he pointed out a kid with huge payes. "That's my friend!" All was sunshine and roses. Yesterday, he came home and it was like he had regressed, not quite to last May, but maybe to July sometime. I had to ask him ten times to do anything, kept having to tell him to look at my face, kept repeating his name before he'd pay attention to me and even then didn't make eye contact. I couldn't get out of him what the problem was, until bedtime when we were cuddling in his bed together and he suddenly burst out, "I had a bad day in gan today. Nobody played with me!" Hmmm.

I'm starting to wonder about a lot of things that went on in his gan last year. And tomorrow I'm going to take a copy of the class list to his ganenet and ask which kids would be good to invite over to play during Succos break.

4. Barak's second-grade homework is already way over my head. They get a pasuk in Chumash to look up (a verse of Bible) and a list of ten questions to answer. Right now, they're doing Lech L'cha (Genesis 12). They're supposed to find the pasuk and answer the questions WITHOUT HELP. For Barak, this is not happening; his Hebrew is getting much better but he just doesn't have the vocabulary. I don't either! On Thursday, he broke out his homework and I just couldn't help him. I mean, I could have done it if I'd sat down for an hour with a dictionary and ignored all my other children, but an hour before dinnertime on Thursday it wasn't happening. I sent him up to find Abba in the beis medrash, and he came back ten minutes later saying, "Abba says I should eat dinner now and he'll help me at dinnertime." Okay, except that dinner is currently a pot full of raw vegetables and another pot of water that hasn't yet boiled for pasta. So after dinner the two of them sat down together and did two of the ten questions before he (Abba) had to leave for night seder.

Barak was upset. "I have to do TEN questions Imma! That's my homework!" "Barak, it's OK. Abba's going to call your morah and ask her what to do." So after night seder, Abba called Morah Tzipora and explained the issue: he's only home for an hour at night, Barak can't do it on his own, what do we do? She said, it's ok if he only does a few of them as long as he understands what he's doing. She also said that he needs help in general; he asks for a lot of help in class and is having trouble keeping up. This isn't so surprising; Barak has, after all, only been here a year, and his Hebrew is more on the level of "He took my pencil!" and "Let's play Lego" than it is on the level of "And there was a famine in the land, and Abram descended to Egypt to sojourn there because the famine was severe in the land."

What to do? We talked. We could hire a tutor, but we both don't like that idea; it's good for fathers and sons to learn together. "But the only time I have is night seder." Night seder begins at 8. We looked at each other. "He's never asleep by 8 anyway. He's always reading in bed till 9 at least. He might as well be learning Torah. Is he awake now?" Yes he was, at 9:30 PM.


Barak came bounding out of bed. "How would you feel about going to night seder with Abba to do your Chumash homework?"

"Instead of going to bed? Going to the bais medrash with Abba?"


Solemnly, trying very hard to contain any unseemly excitement: "I would feel very very good about that."

5. There was going to be more to this list, but I just got a phone call with a speech I need to write RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND. So I'm off to accept an honorary degree, and I'll just have to finish this later. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


So I just read back through the last few posts and realized how much I’ve left out in the last few months. A lot. Really a lot. It was a busy summer and almost none of it is reflected in the blog. So here, little and late, is some review:

1. I did ulpan last summer. I started out in bet, moved to aleph because I preferred the teacher, and learned a tremendous amount. It was great for me, and also I think really good for Mr. Bigfoot, who for the first time was spending significant quantities of time on his own every day with all or most of his children. He got a lot more confident about taking care of them, and started feeling that being alone with all four of them was a normal, not an emergency, situation. That really helped when I was out of the country last week, and was also good bonding time—now that we are back to our school schedule, he really doesn’t see much of them at all.

The problem, through, was that when I was working and doing ulpan, I was so exhausted I couldn’t function. I’d come home from ulpan and collapse and sleep for three hours. This was not a huge problem over the summer, when Mr. Bigfoot was around, but doesn’t work now that he’s back to being out of the house all afternoon. So when September rolled around and it was time for me to start ulpan gimel, it was really a dilemma. I wanted to do ulpan. I NEED to do ulpan. But it’s just too much, especially since I now am working 35 (!) hours per week, almost all at night. So I’m not doing it, and not only that but I barely have to leave campus now that I don’t need to shlep Barak anymore. I need to figure out how, exactly, I am going to avoid losing all the Hebrew I learned in the last year, because as things stand I almost certainly will.

2. Before Barak was born, a few weeks into my pregnancy I think, I started getting some itchy spots on my calves. Slowly, week by week, it spread, until I had a horrendously itchy rash over most of my legs. I went to the dermatologist, who told me it was eczema and I should use moisturizer. I did, but it didn’t help at all, and by the last two weeks, it was everywhere but my face, hands, and neck, and I was indescribably miserable—the itchiness was horrendous, there was no way not to scratch, and… yeah. Awful. But a week after Barak was born, it was gone.

A few months ago, the back of one knee got itchy. Then it spread. Then it spread all the way around my calf and then it appeared on the other one. Then it spread all the way up one leg and now it’s starting on one arm. This time it’s not pregnancy-related. So what is it? It’s unbelievably itchy. It’s also really not going away, despite all the Aquaphor I smear on it. It looks exactly like it did last time. Another dermatologist run? Or any other suggestions for things to smear on a Horrible Itchy Rash that Won’t Go Away?

3. Grandma E asked me what I missed, besides the shopping (Target! Trader Joe’s!), about America. I’ve been thinking about it. Obviously it was really nice to see my friends. I ate the things I miss here (TJ’s tomato soup!). I was totally astounded and completely unprepared when it began to rain, in the beginning of September! But I think the only thing I actually missed, that gave me a sense of “ahhhh,” to be there, was being able to talk easily to anyone I met. My Hebrew just isn’t there yet. But it’s funny—a few weeks ago I overheard a couple of Hungarian girls talking on the bus (tourists) and started chatting. And I was really struck by how simple Hebrew is, at least when compared with Hungarian (okay fine ANY language is simple when compared with Hungarian, but…) There’s just so much less to keep track of. Surely I can do this. I just need to work at it some more.

4. Iyyar’s new gan, and his new ganenet, seem very very promising. The second week of school, she pulled Mr. Bigfoot aside and said that she wanted to get him a developmental exam so he could start therapy ASAP. She noted the things we’ve seen—how it’s hard for him to focus, hard to pay attention, how he’s in constant motion. She hasn’t noticed the anxiety, and that’s reassuring, because he really has been so much less anxious lately. I can’t even describe how much better things are with him at home. The faces, the inability to talk to him because he was just on another planet and wouldn’t look at you, the running around in circles yelling at nothing—all gone. He’s still a little spacy, still kind of oblivious—he’ll never notice what I’m in the middle of when he asks for something or starts talking to me, for example, and still sometimes does things that are wildly dangerous without realizing it—but nothing that’s so far off normal for a five-year old. I’m feeling a lot more optimistic.

5. Have I mentioned the Scary Underwear? Can’t remember. Anyway, in case I didn’t:

When Barak was ready for underwear (or when I hahahaha thought he was and bought it for him), he got Sesame Street underwear. Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover etc. He liked this very much. When Iyyar was ready for underwear, he inherited Barak’s underwear, with the addition of some extra Super Grover underwear because he loved Grover. This was fine and great.

I don’t remember when, exactly, I bought Barak his first package of superhero underwear, but it must have been around age four. I don’t remember Iyyar saying much about it, but Avtalyon used to take any underwear he could find and pull it on over his diaper and even over all his clothes—I have some cute pictures of him aged 18 months or so, wearing Grover underwear over his overalls. When we came here he was still in diapers, and I brought superhero underwear (Batman, Spiderman, Justice League etc.) for Barak and Iyyar and the Sesame Street underwear for Avtalyon.

This, clearly, was an error in judgment on my part.

Because right from the beginning, when Avtalyon was out of diapers last December sometime, he resented this. He did not want Sesame Street. He wanted what his big brothers had, namely, “scary underwear.” And he was not taking no for an answer. He’d sneak it out of his brothers’ drawers when they weren’t looking, and they would get enraged. He started waking up at the crack of dawn to raid their underwear drawers before they got up, to snag the Batman underwear before they caught him. They responded to this by—you got it—hiding their underwear on high shelves that he couldn’t reach. One morning we were all woken at about 5 am by the hysterical wails of a distraught Avtalyon, the stealthy one-child Scary Underwear Liberation Front, thwarted: “I HATE Cookie Monster! Cookie Monster’s STUPID!”

I felt bad for him. Mr. Bigfoot, who better than I understands the appeal of Scary Underwear, felt bad too. So I told the other boys, “Just let him. When I go to America next time, I’ll bring back lots and lots of scary underwear. He won’t wear it out before then, and you can all have new underwear. I'll even get Star Wars if they have it.”

I was as good as my word. I bought SIX packages of scary underwear at Target. Star Wars, Captain America, Star Wars in Lego incarnation, whatever they had in the right sizes. And when I came home, I pulled them out of my bag and handed them over.

The look on his face made it all worthwhile. Mr. Bigfoot was pointing out Captain America and how he had bullets bouncing off his shield. The next day, Avtalyon bounced out of bed, naked except for underwear, beaming, and danced over to me to show off his tush. “Look! It’s Captain America! Dere are bullets bouncing off his shield!”

6. Last thing: When I was away, Mr. Bigfoot emailed me, “Remind me when you get back to tell you the cutest thing ever.” I wasn’t here for this, obviously, but I can picture it. Apparently one morning Mr. Bigfoot woke up to find a sad, sad, sad Avtalyon, sitting in the corner of the hall, knees up to his chest, naked except for socks.

“What’s wrong, Avtalyon? Why are you looking so sad?”

“I can’t finda Hulk shirt.”

“Why don’t you just wear a regular undershirt?”

"I needa HULK shirt!”


Lips atremble, face awash in tragedy, “If I had a Hulk shirt, I be a little bit powerful.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Loud and clear

One of Marika's favorite words is "empty," which she pronounces in three syllables: "ah-ba-dee!" She'll pick up a cup off the floor, inspect it, and offer it to me delightedly: "Ah-ba-dee!" Or she'll take her own cup of water, dump the contents on her high chair tray, hold it up and comment cheerily, "Ah-ba-dee!" It's very cute.

This is the necessary information for the Cute Baby Story of last week. As you may already know I went to the States last week for about five days, all by myself, for work. No kids, no baby, just me. It was very strange but ultimately not as bad as I'd feared--I didn't have a nervous breakdown and everyone here managed just fine without me. Starting a week or two before I left, I was trying to get Marika to ease off on the nursing, knowing that I was heading to the States without her for nearly a week and I wanted her to be done nursing before I left. We got down to one nurse a day for about a week, then went two or three days without any. I thought, okay, that's that, but then on Thursday night I went in to check on her and of course she instantly woke up, stood up in her crib and stretched her arms out to me to be picked up. I can never resist this, so I sat down with her in the rocking chair--and she looked at me brightly and started pounding my chest suggestively with her fists.

"You want to nurse?"


"I don't think you're going to get very much."


"Oh okay fine. Just this one last time." So she nursed, although I can't imagine there was really much of anything to be had, and went happily back to sleep.

Next morning, I was sitting in the living room checking Barak's backpack when she came over to me and started climbing into my lap. And grabbed the neck of my t-shirt with both hands, peered down inside pensively, gave me a big grin and informed me, "ah-ba-dee!"


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

For what it's worth

We have a new family upstairs. They are nice. The mother is Israeli, the father is American, and they’ve all been living in America for the last six years so the kids are all American. The mother has been stopping by a lot for help/questions/stuff she needs to borrow, which is fine with me; I’m glad to pass along the favors, since we got plenty of them at the beginning.

Friday night she stopped by after she realized she didn’t have a Shabbos tablecloth. I found an extra for her and we stood there chatting as the kids sat at the table devouring their Friday night chicken soup and banana nut bread. I hadn’t made chicken soup in a couple of months (too hot) and the banana bread was really good if I do say so, so they were all happily blessed out and very quiet.

Suddenly she looked at them and said, “Your kids are so good. How are your kids so good? Why are they so quiet? How do you do that?”

And it turned into a whole long conversation about parenting, because she really truly had no idea how she was supposed to get her kids to behave. “I threaten them but then I don’t know what to do. I put them in time out and then just come out and laugh!” So we talked about it for a while and it got me thinking.

Now, if you have met my children (or, um, babysat for all four of them at once) you will know that my children are anything but perfect. They act up and they test limits and they can be obnoxious and they do all kinds of things they shouldn’t do. But mostly? They are really sweet kids. I mean, I’m their mother, so I’m biased, but I do think this is true. The other day, Barak sat down on the couch with Iyyar and taught him to read the word “and.” Then he read him “Where the Wild Things Are” and every time he got to the word “and,” he’d point at it and say, “What’s that?” and Iyyar would triumphantly crow, “And!”

(Sorry, just had to tell that story. It was so cute.)

Anyway, like I said it got me thinking. About parenting, about how I was parented, about the aspects of the way I was raised that I incorporate and those I avoid like the plague. And also about what I see other people doing sometimes, things that make me want to jump up and scream “don’t! don’t! don’t!”—not that I do.

I should probably mention, if you’re not already aware, that I am permanently afraid that I am really messing my kids over. I don’t think I am, but it’s a subject of constant worry. So maybe I’m completely self-deluded and a terrible parent and you shouldn’t listen to anything I say, but for what it’s worth, this is what I told my neighbor, and these are the things that make me want to jump up and scream “don’t!”

1. Don’t threaten your kid if you’re not going to follow up. “Put that down or you will lose it until tomorrow, that’s one,” followed by “Put that down or you will lose it until tomorrow, that’s two,” has to be followed by, “Okay, I said three and you didn’t put it down, so now it’s gone until tomorrow at X time.” Tears and screaming and whatever, as the object goes away and stays away until tomorrow at X time. If tears and screaming continue, you might extend the object’s time-out. No positive consequences should ever, ever, ever come from whining, screaming, misbehaving, or pitching a fit.

Counting only to two, then saying “I said put that down!” and yanking the object out of child’s hand as you roll your eyes is not helpful to anyone. You don’t teach anything that way, other than that it’s OK to not listen. Use your judgment when you see that the kid is tired or hungry or strung out, but in general, Be Consistent.

2. Don’t say derogatory things about your child in their hearing. Saying that Plony doesn’t listen, doesn’t respect you, thinks rules don’t apply to him, doesn’t play nicely, doesn’t do his homework, isn’t nice to his friends and ergo doesn’t have any, can’t pay attention, thinks he’s so smart and will find out someday… not helpful. Really. If you’re talking to your friend about your kids and your kids are at all within earshot, or even IN THE SAME HOUSE, don’t talk this way. Say, “it’s hard for him to listen and we need to really work on that,” or “I’m worried about how he does X,” or “she needs to work on Y.” Because saying negative things about your child’s character is asking your child to live up to your expectations. And overhearing things like, “They think they don’t need to listen to me,” isn’t going to encourage them to listen. Trust me.

3. You are in charge. Not your kids. If there is a rule it should be a rule. Yes sometimes we make exceptions about cookies after school or artificial coloring or bedtime, but if the rule is that if you hit you spend ten minutes in your room and your kid hits, no matter how much you don’t feel like getting off the couch to wrestle him into his room, you have to do it. If you told him, come here or we’re going home right now, and he doesn’t come, no matter how much you don’t want to go home, you have to do it. Don’t just roll your eyes. Don’t just yell. Cf: Be Consistent. Kids want to know the expectations. If they don’t know what the limits are, the only way for them to find out is to test them. And if the limits change all the time, they have to be testing all the time. That isn’t fun for anyone.

4. Don’t just punish. Debrief. Talk about it afterwards. Nicely. With hugs and kisses and reassurance. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.

5. Last, but first. Don’t be mean. Don’t be mean. Don’t be mean. If you want your kid to speak nicely, speak nicely to your kid. If you want them to say please, you also have to say please. If you tell them they’re bad, they’ll believe it. Be polite to them. Treat them with respect if you expect them to treat other people with respect. Don’t think that they should have to earn your respect but you should get it automatically. If you love each other, you respect each other.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


A month since I last posted? Really?

Sorry about that.

We're all fine here. August was a little crazy; everyone was home, I was attempting to work close to full-time hours, and you know, the stuff? It kept on happening.

Exciting news of the hour: the world's most beautiful middle-aged Mercedes minibus is now opening its doors to Barak twice a day. Yes, folks, you understood correctly: he finally, finally, B"H, has a HASAA!

The extent to which this is revolutionizing my world cannot be underestimated. Seriously. Now, all I have to do is get him to his bus stop, about a 10-15 minute walk from here, by 7:25 AM. Right now I'm still meeting him in the afternoon, but when I'm confident he knows where to get off, he can walk home on his own; there are no streets to cross, except for the driveway right in front of our building, which he's been doing alone all year.

The van is punctual. It has seatbelts. So far, the kids even behave.

It's a miracle. Seriously.

In other news, Iyyar and Avtalyon have started gan, in different rooms (there are only 2) of the same building. So far, so good. Parents' meeting tonight; further bulletins, I am sure, forthcoming.

Marika also (gasp!) started gan today. Thursday was a day for the kids and their mothers; today was the first day they went solo and by all accounts she did great. She was crying when I left but I am told she stopped within a few minutes; when I walked in, she was happily playing, and when she saw me, did not run to me but instead ran to the teacher and pointed at me and jumped up and down! Then she ran to me. And got lots of hugs. She also (kind of) ate her sandwich, although that, for her, usually involves licking the peanut butter and dropping the bread on the floor. She'll figure it out.

She is, somewhat unbelievably, still nursing; I know that Month 22 is not that big of a deal for some of you out there (ahemshanna) but it's certainly a record in this house. Barak went to 18 months and change, the next two boys stopped at 16. Marika is down to one or maybe two ten-minute nurses a day, but seems to have no intention of giving them up. However, she's going to have to, because what she doesn't know, and I am in some degree of denial about, is that in a mere six days (aaaiiiieeeeeee!) I am going to the US, for five days, ALL BY MYSELF. WITH NO CHILDREN AT ALL.


A little bit of me is looking forward to it; mostly I'm terrified. I think I'll have a nervous breakdown on the way to the airport and I'm sure I'll be crying when I see the city lights under the plane turn into ocean. What Mr. Bigfoot reminded me yesterday, and I need to keep reminding myself of this too, is that going on a work trip is not abandoning my kids. It's taking care of my kids. It's what's necessary to have a job that allows me to be with them pretty much all the time. I have a good babysitter, they'll all be in school in the morning, Mr. Bigfoot won't be that far away. They have all been allowed to make two requests, one food and one non-food, from the US: they have requested soy-free hot dogs, Trader Joe's fig bars, bologna, and Rice Chex. And they all want Lego. Like we don't have enough, but fine; I've added it to the already enormous "things to buy at Target" list.

I think that's all the big news for now. No real news on the Mr. Bigfoot job situation; many developments, none of them leading to anything definitive. Further bulletins, as always, as events warrant.