Writings on Motherhood, Judaism, and Happily-Ever-Afters

Kosher for Passover

Last night, Passover ended.  We kept kosher for Passover, mostly.  Marc made it all the way thru the week, as per usual.  Jessie made it all the way thru as well, with the notable exception of Easter.  As she explained it, she likes to keep kosher for Passover, except for Easter at Grammy’s house.  Sam did pretty well until the last day, as did Julie – when they both started crying because they wanted pancakes and noodles.

I don’t keep kosher for Passover.  I don’t want to.  Not just because I don’t want to eat matzoh and not eat noodles, but for me, deprivation isn’t inherently a spiritual thing.  I just feel… mad when I try to keep kosher for Passover, like I’m being forced into a behavior that has no meaning for me.  So this year, I decided to not agonize over it, not to worry and panic about it.  I just simply would observe Passover the way it felt right for me, and do my best to support my kids and husband to do the same.

One of the most attractive things about Judaism is the idea that it’s a relationship between the individual and the Divine. I’m well aware that not all Jews perceive that relationship the way that I do, and there are a lot of the 613 mitzvahs that don’t make any logical sense – and there’s meaning behind that as well.  Many of the mitzvahs are easy to understand, like visiting the sick, honoring the elderly, lovingkindness.  Some of them are mitzvahs make no logical sense, like not wearing linen and wool at the same time. For me, the avoidance of wheat products is one of those. There is also the element, for me, of needing Judaism to be an addition to my life.  I want Judaism to be a blessing, and not something that represents loss.  It’s a personal thing, and has a lot to do with my relationship with my own family.  I didn’t want to lose that connection by converting to Judaism, and in my head, giving up bread and observing Passover in a strict, traditional way brings up a lot of baggage that has a lot more to do with that and not just Passover.

I know that there are people who find it enormously meaningful to observe the holiday of Passover in the traditional way, but I’m not one of them.  I celebrate Passover by adding matzoh into my diet.  By attending or hosting Seders and by supporting my husband and kids in observing it however they personally feel it should be observed.  For Marc, it’s absolute – he abstains from all that he’s supposed to and is perfectly content with it.  Jessie  observes it fairly strictly as well.  Sam is, thus far, less interested in observing it strictly, and Julie flat out hates it.  She kept insisting that we had already DONE Passover and why couldn’t she have pizza?

I ate a LOT of matzohbrie – and I gave myself a free pass to take my little self out whenever I wanted.  We kept a kosher-for-Passover house, and every meal I served was right in line with Passover rules.  I had lots of appropriate snacks for the kids, and didn’t eat anything that wasn’t kosher for Passover in front of them.

And tonight, I’ve got bread rising in the oven, and a big pot of noodles and sauce for dinner.

 

Sammy can ride!

Teaching Miss Jessie to ride a bike was no easy feat (see this post from April, 2009).  We never really accomplished it -she just hated it.  Whereas my Sammy has loved his bike forever.  But, (crappy parent confession coming) – we never really pushed bike riding.  There were a couple of contributing factors.  They are Jessica and Julie, and Marc working a zillion hours last summer.  And the hill.  Always – the hill.

We did pretty well at getting him started, and then just sort of… stopped.  But this spring, I’m focused.  I’m driven.  The child will ride.  If there was ever a child who should be on wheels, it’s my Sam.

Last weekend, I dug the bike out of the back storage closet, and got Julie her little bike with the attached training wheels.  Then I found Jessie a scooter, so that she’d be able to come with us, and love it, and not feel as though she had to be on a bike.  I had to take it to get the tires filled, and then I tried, half heartedly, to teach him to ride in the driveway next door (because we live a horrible hill, and our drive way is also a hill, I’m reduced to borrowing the neighbor’s driveway).

We didn’t get too far, it was bumpy and hard for Julie to navigate her bike.  So she kept crying for me, and I couldn’t focus on the Boy.  But today, after Easter (which was also lovely), I went to the Technical High School.  Marc had to work today, so it was just me and the kids.  I started off at Green Hill Park, but it was posted that you aren’t supposed to bike there.  And the High School was right there, with a lovely big FLAT parking lot.

AND HE DID IT.  It took about a half hour, and my feet hurt now because I was doing it in dress flats.  Turns out you really have to RUN when you’re teaching a kid to ride a bike (which I didn’t know, because Jessie never went fast enough for me to have to run along with her).  He still needs a little help getting started and he tends to keep going until he crashes which isn’t a good long-term strategy – but he can ride, by himself, for a long time.  Major thanks to Jessica who stepped up, again and again, to keep Julianna happy and occupied, and it helped that she could ride her own bike while Jessie was bopping along on the scooter.

I cried, just a little, the first time he really took off by himself.  He was so proud – and he kept trying, over and over again, and didn’t give up until he got it.

He’s awesome – and I’m ridiculously happy for him.

 

Passover and Kansas City

I’ve been lost in thought a lot, over the past day or so, thinking about the shooting in Kansas City and what it meant for me. For a woman who struggles with Jewish identity, and what it means for my children. For a woman who brings her baby to the Worcester JCC twice a week.

I grew up in a small Catholic town a little bit east of here. It’s not true that there were no Jews in my hometown, but it was true that I didn’t really know any. I didn’t know what anti-semitism was, not really. It wasn’t real to me. And when I converted to Judaism, the beit din (the rabbinical court) asked me why I would want to convert to Judaism, a religion and a people who had such a history of persecution. My answer then was that I was certain that someone who was bent on the destruction of the Jewish people wouldn’t think twice about killing me, I was the wife of a Jewish man, my children were all growing up Jewish. Converted or not, I was always going to be aligned with the Jewish people, in part because of the people I love, and now, because of the life that I was living. I said that, not knowing that it was true. Because it is. I am Jewish, and if I had undergone a conversion or not, I would still have been singled out for death by that man in Kansas City.

But as a convert, I know better than most that a Jew isn’t any different from a non-Jew. Not on the the most basic, human level. The three people who died in Kansas City weren’t, in the end, Jews. That doesn’t make their deaths any less terrifying, any less tragic or any less horrific. It also doesn’t make it any better. It was a grandfather and a grandson, and an older woman. The grandfather/grandson combo hurts me the most I think. I keep thinking about that poor mother, that poor daughter. To lose a son and a parent, at the same time, and to such irrational hatred and violence.

I’ve been busy, cooking and Seder-ing (is that a verb? It should be) and throwing myself into Passover. And while I’m doing all of that, I’m achingly aware of the example I’m setting for my daughters and my son. They’ll remember this – they’ll remember the matzoh brie and the chicken soup. They’ll remember that we take the first two day of Passover off from school and work, and they’ll remember that we spend time together, with family and friends, celebrating that we are free. Celebrating that we are not slaves in Egypt. I wish that my next thought wasn’t that they should also be aware that we are still the focus of hatred and violence, and that if that had happened in Worcester instead of Kansas City, we would know the victims. We could have been the victims.

I can’t get that out of my head. And I don’t know how to tell my children, because I don’t want it in theirs. But the reality is that this could have happened here. That could have been me. That could have been my father in law, and my son.

Today is the first day of Passover, a holiday that’s usually one of my favorites. As much as I might hate matzoh, I love the Seders, and I love how involved my kids are. We Seder it up in my family.(See? I really want it to be a verb.) We went to one last night, we’re going to one tonight. Tomorrow night, we’re running a Seder for a Church over by West Boylston, and Saturday night, we’ll host a full Seder and have a giant Open House for whoever wants to come. I can’t stop thinking about what an enormous act of courage it is, to have a Seder. To attend one. To proclaim our Jewish identity, and to celebrate that we are alive and free.

Tonight, when we celebrate our Seder, I’ll be thinking of the lives lost. Not just in Kansas City, but also all over the world. All of the people who were killed because they had the audacity to be Jewish. All the people who suffered and sacrificed and struggled so that we could sit here today. I’ll remember tikkun olam, the phrase in Hebrew that means to repair or heal the world. I’ll wonder if it’s possible, and I’ll remember the Talmudic wisdom that states that is it not my job to complete the task, but it not permissible to ignore it either. I’ll look at my three children, my daughter who’s about to become a Jewish adult, my son who wants so badly to be just like his dad, and my baby girl. My baby girl, the one I take to the JCC for preschool. I’ll hold my breath for a minute and pray that we never have to have that conversation, where I explain that some people really, really hate Jews. I know we will, but I’ll pray anyway. Because that’s the only way I know how to do this.

Mt. Saint Laundry

I used to love folding laundry.  Seriously.  It was my favorite household chore (outside of vacuuming).  The reason I liked it so much (laundry and vacuuming) is that it was one of the few chores where you can actually see the results.  Take a dirty, smelly laundry basket, whirl it thru the washer and dryer, fold them, and you’ve got neat stacks of clean clothes.  It’s delightful.

Unlike dishes, or cooking, or picking up the my little ponies (or army guys, or barbies, or legos – whatever the toy of the moment is…).  That’s an unending task, and as soon as it’s finished (and sometimes before…) it’s time to start again.

I loved laundry as a single girl, and I loved it as a married, pregnant mom.  I loved it with one little baby, her tiny clothes were adorable, and even though the frequency stepped up quite a bit – I was still a happy laundry girl.  I started to stumble a little at putting them away, I was still great at DOING the laundry, and even folding it.  But putting it away was taking longer and longer.  Folding took longer and longer.

Then I had Sam, and I was still charging along.  Happy, happy laundry girl.  I didn’t really lose control until after Julie was born.  Truth be told, it was when I was pregnant with her.  I was sick with all my babies, but with Julie, I added overwhelming ITCHINESS.  My whole body itched, incessantly.   Between the nausea, the braxton hicks contractions (another fun Julie addition) and the incredible itchy skin – everything got a lot harder.

Which is when Mt. St. Laundry was born.  I still wash the clothes – it’s not that I have piles and piles of dirty laundry all over the house.   I wash a load a day, and sometimes two.  (Sometimes none, but mostly, I do a load a day).  Wash, dry, pile in the basket in front of the washer.  I gave up folding socks somewhere along the lines too – I just keep them all in the basket.  And when the volcano erupts (which is to say that it gets so big that it topples over – or when a kid or husband gets so frustrated with the lack of clean clothes in the dressers and goes digging), I fold.  Reluctantly, and with grim determination.

Today was a good day, because I folded.  There are no clothes waiting to be folded, only eight piles of clothes to be put away (I was so pleased with myself, I paused to blog before putting away).  The only hitch is that the deal I make with myself, when the laundry mountain gets too overwhelming is that I’m not allowed to wash anymore until I fold and put them all away.  Which means I’ve got at least two loads scattered between all the bedrooms, and by this time tomorrow, I’ll be well on my way to building another Mt. Saint Laundry.

But at least vacuuming is still fun.

Quiet Mornings

There is something blissful about quiet, peaceful mornings, when it’s just me and a cup of coffee, and the whole house sleeping around me.

Marc is asleep in our bed, and both girls are in their room (!!!).   Sam, for reasons that amuse me, is sound asleep on the couch.  Last night, we moved all the beds around.  At the last minute, Julianna panicked at the thought of getting rid of her toddler bed, and started sobbing about needing her “bouncy bed.”  We compromised by moving it back into my room.  Which isn’t ideal, but I rationalize it away.  It gives her a space to go that’s hers when her big sister refuses to let her in (and let’s be honest, that’s going to happen).  It also gives me a space to put her to sleep, if Jessie is up really late doing homework some night (and that’s probably going to happen as well).  But Julie fell asleep in her own bed last night and slept like an angel all night.

While I was busy moving beds hither and yon, and dealing with a sobbing three year old and an angst-ridden eleven year old (who was completely stressing about a test she’s afraid she messed up on Friday), Sam was very busy in his room.  He set up a lego battlefield, and took a steak knife and sawed a cardboard box into some sort of shelter.  He’s very big for sawing, my boy is, and if there’s a cardboard box in the vicinity, more than likely, he’ll find it and transform it into something.  Sometimes it’s a spaceship or a fortress for little warring creatures in his game that he’s making up.  Sometimes it’s just for spare parts, he’ll saw out a sword or dagger shape and then cover it with all my tin foil.  He was so happy about his efforts that he needed to sleep on the couch.  As he explained it, he didn’t want anything to “mess up the game.”  How his sleeping body would affect the cardboard, legos and assorted figures on the carpet was beyond me, but he was pretty definite about it.   And because he’s Sam, he just likes sleeping pretty much wherever.  In fact, I had to talk him out of sleeping on the bare hardwood floor, because that was his first thought.  Just to crash on the floor between the dining room and the living room, head pillowed on his arm.  Not one for creature comforts, there is much I don’t understand about my boy…

Continuing our Passover Cleaning Project today.  It’s unfortunate, because right now, we’re just MOVING everything.  I”m making a massive trip to Savers later on, donating a giant bag of clothes and coats and toys that we’ve outgrown.  I’m moving baby dolls and stuffed animals into the girls’ room, and rearranging Sam’s room to make space for blocks and building materials (clearly, he needs more of these to build better fortresses).  This’ll free up valuable space in the play area, which I’m hoping to transform more into a writing office of sorts.

Big Girl Bed – Officially

I’m putting my three year old into her official big-girl bed this weekend.

Julianna is my third baby, and we co-slept with her from the start. I co-slept with my oldest, but she started off every night in her own crib, and eventually just started sleeping thru the night in her own space. But my son had colic and reflux, and quite honestly lost his little mind when I laid him down in his crib. The third morning that I woke up after having fallen asleep in the rocking chair, I gave up and just kept him in our bed. And it worked perfectly – I love co-sleeping. He transitioned to sleeping on his own easily and is still my easiest kid to get to sleep. He falls asleep easily, anywhere, and sleeps like a rock until it’s time to wake up. Correlation isn’t necessarily the same causation, and I know that, but on some level, I completely credit co-sleeping with his ease of falling asleep and staying there.

So when Julianna was born, I didn’t even bother setting up a crib. She slept with us, and I’ve loved it. She transitioned to a toddler bed when she was, you know, a toddler. At first I set it up in our bedroom, and then moved it into her big sister’s room. And that’s been working well, it took up relatively little space in her big sister’s domain. Jessie’s had her own room for ten years, so sharing it was a big step.

So we took it slowly. Small steps, at first. A toddler bed, in the corner. Gradually, we started referring to the room as the “girls” room instead of just Jessie’s room.

We’ve got bunk beds in Jessica’s bedroom (see, sometimes I still call it “Jessie’s room”), but the top bunk has been mainly a storage spot for stuffed animals, extra blankets, and an available bed for when a friend or stepdaughter sleeps over. Jessie discovered that she liked sleeping up there. It’s a spot where she can go, and nobody else (i.e. eager baby sisters) can climb up and disturb her.

As part of our “wouldn’t it be fun to completely rip apart the whole house in the name of getting ready for Passover” spring cleaning frenzy, we’re going to move all the baby dolls and stuffed animals into the girls’ room (I’m getting better at it). We’re going to move out the toddler bed, and set up the bottom bunk as Julianna’s big girl bed.

Moving slowly was great for the girls, because it gave them time to get used to the idea of sharing a room. But it also gave me time to get used to it as well.

Giant Step Back to Happy

That’s my goal for today – and to start me off on the right track, I took a few minutes to admire the sunset this morning.   Marc had to work this morning at six, so I dropped him off.  It’s not too bad, Marc wakes me up a few minutes before five thirty, and I roll out of bed, grope around until I locate the travel mug of coffee he’s made, and stagger to the car.  By the time we get to Shrewsbury, I’m mostly awake.   Which is handy, as I’m on Rte. 9 and it’s helpful to be awake when you’re on the highway.  Then there was this gorgeous sunrise, the whole sky was lit up in streaks of pink and red.  So, so pretty.

(not my actual sunrise, as I can’t figure out how to download camera to new computer, but a close approximation)

Aimee was here with the kids, and everyone slept until after I got back.  I made some lovely cinnamon rolls and everyone is dressed and ready to go twenty minutes ahead of time.  Feeling extra competent and in control today.  I’ll be cleaning most of the day today, I’m slowly working my thru the Passover cleaning, and getting rid of stuff and organizing other stuff.  None of it makes my house look any cleaner, but I feel as though I’m accomplishing something.

This is going to be a really good weekend, I can tell.  Marc gets out of work today at two thirty, and then his parents are coming over for dinner.  We’re going to the family service at the synagogue for the kids, and Marc’s headed to the gym, and then home to prep dinner.  The in-laws are coming over for Shabbat dinner, and then tomorrow is the Shabbat in Shul for April.   I’m unsure about how the interfaith discussion group is going to go, but am hoping for the best.  I just want to feel like I still really like the synagogue when it’s done, and I’m scared I won’t.

But this is the path that might lead to potentially dimming my ridiculous happiness, so I’m taking a giant step back to the happy.   Today’s going to be a brilliant day, and the start of a lovely weekend.

 

Samuel Earl – at seven and three quarters

My Sammy Boy – at seven and three quarters years old, he is growing so fast that I can’t keep up.  Literally.  He somehow manage to poke holes in all of his jeans, and wear out sneakers faster than I think is reasonable.

I remember when I was pregnant with Sam, but not as vividly as I remember Jessie’s pregnancy and Julie’s.  The plight of the middle child, I guess. I do remember, vividly, when I found out that I was pregnant, and when I announced to my family that year.  He was what I was thankful for, because he was due in the middle of July, and it was the perfect excuse to get me out of the annual camping trip.

And then when he did arrive – I wasn’t ready.  He was over a week early, for starters, and Jessie was close to a week late.  My water broke in the elevator at the hospital, after a routine appointment.  His delivery was baffling to me, Jessie had been a c-section.  I had no idea what I was doing, and I’m still positive that I had nothing to do it.   I went from four centimeters to ten in a half hour, and he was born after twenty minutes of “pushing.”  Although I was just pretending to push, because everyone kept yelling at me, and I didn’t know how to do it.  I think Sam forced his way into the world.  Which is ironic, because his reaction to it wasn’t favorable.

Sam is my child most resistant to change.  Whatever it is, he’d rather it stay that way.  New house, new car, new school.  He’s not interested.  On a gut level, Sam’s pretty sure that the world isn’t entirely safe, and he’d rather stick to what he knows.  Being Sam’s mother has had a bigger impact on who I am as a person than almost anything else.  Because it wasn’t until I had him that I learned how to really stand up for what I knew was right.  To do what he needed, even when it wasn’t what everyone else thought was right.  Everything from nursing him well into toddlerhood, to standing against the rest of the world, when they perceive anxiety and fear as defiance that needed to be quelled or a child that simply needed more discipline.  Being Sam’s mom makes me a stronger, tougher person – because he needed me to be.

But there’s the other side of Sam, the more dominant side.  I never perceived him as particularly anxious until he started school, because when he’s in his comfort zone, he’s the most easy-going relaxed kind of kid.  Gets along with everyone, is ridiculously eager to please and content with his life.  He loves being outside, loves being inside.  He plays video games and loves to be read to.

He’s an animal lover, and the tragedy of his life, thus far, is that we haven’t lived in a place where he can have a puppy.  But he loves nature and trees and birds.  He worships his dad, bugs the hell out of his older sister, and is Julianna’s hero.   He’s smart and capable, trustworthy and funny.

He’s passionately interested in all sorts of stereotypically “boy” things.  If it’s got a weapon of some sort, or involves a ball, he’d like to be doing it.  But he’s equally into cooking, drawing and loves, loves, loves all things dog-related.  As the only boy with four sisters, he’s as comfortable playing with the girls as he is with boys.  In fact, I picked him up at school the other day, and a little girl walked by, grinned at him, and growled “COHEN” at him.

At seven and three quarters, he’s not really a little kid anymore.  He’s got homework and after school activities, and relationships that are completely independent of me.   I see the man he’ll be, not all the time, but occasionally, you can see a glimmer.  He’s so much like his dad, all intensity and stability.  Sam is simply someone you can absolutely count on, and he’s always happiest when he’s in a position to help or assist.  He’s tender and sensitive, and the sweetest little kid I’ve ever known.  And while he’s growing up, so big and bold, he’s still and always will be my buddy and my Boy.

It’s allergies. I swear.

I’ve got a stupid, stupid cold.  I hate being sick, and don’t have time to get sick.  Not until maybe on Wednesday, but even then, it’s not ideal.  Tomorrow, I have to get Jessie and Sam to school, Julie to preschool, doctor’s appt at 10, pick up Jules at 11:30, run Marc home so he can eat quick, drop him at work at one thirty, back to get the kids at school.  Then we’re going to drop off a check at a charity and tour the facility (it’s a local non-profit for helping children with cancer and their families).  Then I drop Jessie at dance, walk with Yvonne, and then pick up from dance at five thirty.  Back home for dinner, baths, homework, and then cram the kids into bed.  Fortunately Aimee is here for a few days, so I can leave them here while I go and pick up Marc at work.  Wednesday, I think I’m good – I can be sick until the afternoon, when I have to do drop-off/pick up at school because Marc’s busy.  Thursday, I could be sick all morning, but then Marc is working in the afternoon.  Friday is a good day to be sick, excepting the fact that I have to be up at five to drive Marc to work for six, and then dump the kids at school.   But then I’m good until around two-ish and school pick up, Marc pick up, family service at the synagogue, and then Shabbat dinner.

Nope – I can’t be sick.  this has to be allergies.  Because I’ve only got a few hours, scattered here and there, when I can actually be sick until possibly Sunday afternoon.  And the only reason I think Sunday is free is because I’m too mind bogglingly exhausted to get up and check the calendar.

Allergies are better, they aren’t contagious, and it’s not accompanied by the mind boggling exhaustion.  I really don’t have time for mind boggling exhaustion.

What’s the likelihood that a three year old could do her own bath?

Passover Prep

Passover is just a few weeks away, and we’re starting to get ready. We celebrate both Passover and Easter in our family, although Easter is celebrated as a secular holiday, and more of a nice compliment to the Passover celebration. While the December Dilemma Debacle is something we struggle with every winter, the Spring version of it is considerably less tense. Passover is SUCH a huge holiday for us, and Easter has gradually become something that we celebrate mainly at my mother’s house.

(although the Easter Egg hunt at my mother’s is always a highlight)

The week before Passover is jam packed with activities. Monday is the day that my seven year old and the rest of his first grade class will be performing in the annual play. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we’ll have Seders, the kids have school on Thursday (we’ll pull them out for the holiday celebrations) and then Friday is another day off, and the start of April vacation. Saturday we’ll have one final seder, and then Sunday is Easter.

I’m already a little tired.

The first two nights are family Seders. The word Seder means order, and we go through the hagdahah (which is the Passover Seder service) and eat. A lot. The third Seder is actually not a Jewish one. Every year, my husband leads the Seder for an Episcopalian church in Worcester. Their former pastor was our neighbor, and we’ve been doing it for the past few years. It’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday.

Passover is the holiday where Jewish people eat matzoh. Lots and lots of matzoh (matzoh is a flat, crunchy bread that looks like a giant saltine cracker. With no salt). My husband (and usually at least a couple of my kids) like to keep strict kosher for Passover, which is to say that they forego all products including wheat and/or leavening. This includes cheerios, which is a pretty major staple in this house. But there are some foods that I only make during these eight days, like matzoh brie (which is scrambled eggs with matzoh in it, and while it sounds odd, it’s unbelievably good), and matzoh pizza, chocolate covered matzoh and we eat a whole lot of fruits and veggies.

Another huge part of the preparation for Passover is the cleaning – oh, the cleaning. It’s actually a great opportunity to get everyone involved in spring cleaning. This year, I’m thinking a lot about springtime and starting fresh. Cleaning out the old and making room for the new. Not just clothes that we’ve outgrown and toys we don’t play with anymore – but really thinking about what we want to keep, material possessions and habits we want to let go of.

And mostly – Passover is a celebration. Of freedom, not just of the Jews escaping slavery in Egypt, but also of freedom from the shackles of winter coats, bulky boots, and the frantic search for mittens every morning. Passover is confirmation that spring is here again, and I couldn’t be happier.

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: