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Aug 22

Back To School

This year, I’ll have a sixth grader, a second grader, and a last year before kindergarten preschooler.   I’ll have three kids, at three different schools, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit scared about what that’ll mean.  The drop off doesn’t throw me, that’s easy.  I drop Sam off just after eight at the school, Jessie can either take the bus from there (there’s a stop across the street from her elementary school) or I can bring her to school when I get back.  Julie gets dropped off last (and she’s only there twice a week).  It’s the pick up that panics me – I’m also picking up Sam’s two best friends (one of them at a different school), and between that and the drop off at various afterschool activities – I fear my afternoons are going to be a mad dash across Worcester and back.  And then again in reverse.

But – such is life with busy, happy kids, right?

(last year on the first day of school)

I stress over stuff like this – worrying about how we’ll pull it all off.  I’m probably a little extra aware of it now, because I watch Jessica do the same thing.   Last night, the poor kid was so stressed out because we haven’t bought her locker stuff or a band uniform and she still has to find two examples of fractions, decimals, and percentages.  I hate watching her work herself up – and then I remember that she’s been watching me do it all her life.

So – I’ll stop.  Breathe.  Remember that my kids are watching my every move, and my actions matter so much more than my words.  I can tell her a thousand times to stop worrying over things, and not stress out about things that she can’t change or control – but the more I freak out over how the schedule is going to work and how am I going to manage to keep it all together… the more my daughter learns to doubt herself and her capabilities.  Or worse, just learns that living in a constant state of elevated anxiety and tension is normal.

So here’s to calm.  And peace.  And confidence that I can pull all of this off.  There will be times when I’ll be late to one activity or another, and there will be days when the whole schedule will be shot to hell because of weather or puking kids or unforeseen circumstances that I can’t predict.  And that’ll be okay.  More than okay – this is the start of a really cool time in our life – Jessie is starting middle school!  Sam is seriously ensconced in elementary school – no longer a newbie, afraid of what’s coming next.  Julianna is actually asking when preschool starts, because she WANTS TO GO.

 

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Aug 21

Ready for Fall

Confession time – it’s been a rough summer.

I don’t like saying that, because I tend towards the belief that perspective matters, and while I can’t necessarily change the reality, I can change the way I look at it.  BUT – it’s kind of a relief to just admit that it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses around here, and I’m looking forward to the total shake-up that comes when all the kids go back to school, the focus shifts from summer to the New Year and the fall.

In so many ways – this was a great summer.  We had a bunch of little mini-breaks and day trips, managed to go bike riding and blueberry picking and star gazing.  We hit Edaville Railroad and Great Wolf Lodge.  We went camping once.  There were many, many lemonade stands.  We made it to the drive in, at least Marc and the kids did.  We rearranged bedrooms, and went for long walks, went swimming.  A lot.  The kids all grew up in little ways and in big ones.  There were milestones reached, cookies baked, books read and movies watched.

But… I’m still ready for summer to be over.  It’s also been a season with a lot of bickering, Jessie and Sam and Julie spent virtually all of their time together – which is wonderful in a lot of ways, but also led to a lot of conflict.  They are three different kids, at different ages and stages.  At times, they all chafed at the restrictions posed by one of the other.  We fought, at times, with both parties insisting on the same thing – the other one wants total control over all the toys, and can’t believe that they have to share or compromise.  Or, my personal favorite, when we’d get into a battle insisting that the other person was always mad at us.  There’s no way for anyone to win that brawl.

Marc is in a transition between jobs, when he isn’t working, he’s studying.   Which means that he’s super busy and totally stressed.  If he has any spare time, it’s going to be spent reading to Julie or playing with Sam or helping Jessie with the dreaded math homework.  It’s not going to be doing the dishes or taking out the trash.  And it seems stupid and petty to complain about the housework, so I won’t (okay, maybe just a little) – but wow, I really hate the constant, unending amount of housecleaning that having five people rocking around the house all day creates.

Ugh.  I’m just ready for the season shift.  We’ve got backpacks assembled, school clothes bought and summer reading/math assignments done (mostly, anyway).  School starts for the older two next Wednesday, and for Julie the following Tuesday. I’m looking forward to apple picking and chicken soup bubbling.  For round challah for the New Year, and leaves changing.  Breaking out the blue jeans and new socks (I have to buy new socks for everyone every fall because someone steals all of them over the summer, I have long given up trying to figure that one out…)

Bring on the fall, people.  We’re ready.

One of my favorite pics of a cooler weather Julianna

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Aug 20

Blog Focus

I’m in a bit of a writing mid-life crisis – and just as I was pondering and over-analyzing and debating on my goals and plans for the blog, I read my bloggy friend Georgia’s latest blog post.  I love Georgia’s blog, and if you aren’t reading it yet, you really should.   It looks like she got the original post from ohsimplethoughts.com – which also looks like a pretty cool blog.   It’s a series of questions to refocus your blog, remember why you’re blogging and what you want out of it…

Blog Questions for focus

QUESTION # 1: WHAT IS YOUR BLOG ABOUT? 
 
My blog is about me.  At the heart of it, it’s my story.  The story of my marriage, my daughters, and my son.  It’s the story about me, as a wife, a mother, and a woman.  It’s about my culture and my faith, my traditions, my spirituality and my struggle and triumphs.   I’m a married mom, and at times, I’m baffled by how I managed to pull that off.  I’m married to my best friend, raising three children that are so much more than I ever dreamed of.  I have my happily-ever-after, and I’m enormously grateful.  I’m also exhausted, frustrated that none of them ever think to bring a dish back to the kitchen, and worried that I’m somehow messing the whole parenting thing up.
QUESTION # 2: WHAT IS YOUR BLOG NOT ABOUT?
 
This is almost easier to answer – my blog is not about providing a service to anyone.  It’s not a DIY or a crafty sort of blog.  I don’t do giveaways or provide helpful tips on how to parent or how to cook.  You won’t find any interesting recipes on my blog, because I get all of mine off of google.  And mostly because I really don’t like cooking, and do it only because it’s too expensive to eat out all the time.   I write about religion a little, but mostly within the confines of my own experiences.  I decorate mainly with hand-me-down furniture and paintings that my kids bring home from school.  I’m a crappy photographer, so you won’t find many pinterest-able images here.
QUESTION # 3: WHY DO YOU BLOG? 
 
I started blogging because I was a writer with a toddler who kept stealing my notebooks for coloring.  Putting it on-line was a no-brainer, it was a way to make sure I didn’t lose my journal.  At the heart of it, that’s what it is.  I journal – I’ve done it since I was a kid. Writing is how I process my life.  It’s how I figure out what I’m thinking and what I want.    I blog for my kids, so they can look back on their childhood and have a record of how I felt about it.  I blog for myself – I really like reading my old blog posts.  Remembering those events, the day I dropped three year old Jessie off at camp, and then went back and took her home with me because she looked so sad, the look on Sammy’s face when he saw the new vacuum cleaner when he was two, the way that Julianna would snuggle into me before she fell asleep.  I’m going to want a record of that.
QUESTION # 4: WHAT DREAMS OR GOALS DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUR BLOG?
 
Ah – this is where I’m stuck.  Because dreams and goals, I’ve got lots of – I’m just not sure where the blog fits.  I almost feel like in order to “succeed” as a blogger, I’d have to change it.   But I don’t want to change so much of it that I don’t want to write it – or worse, don’t want to reread it twenty years from now.   I’ve got my book, which is always there, in the back of my mind, begging me to find time to finish it.  I’ve got a fledgling free-lance career, with editors that are lovely and encouraging.  The blog could be a great platform for both of those things, but focusing on “growing” the blog almost feels like I need to not focus on the writing but spend more time appealing to a wider audience, and not necessarily writing the way that I have been for so long.  I’d love to have a zillion readers and a huge following of readers desperate for my next article or book, but I’m not always certain on the path that I should follow to get there.
QUESTION # 5: HOW WILL YOU ORGANIZE YOUR BLOG?
 
I don’t have an answer for this yet.  I have thoughts – but no answers.  I think ideally, I’d like to blog four or five times a week, but rarely get there.  I think I’m going to incorporate some book reviews (mainly because I found this cool site that will send me free books for me to review).  I think I’m going to try and carve out an hour a day for writing.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s a lot of focused time for me.  This isn’t my full-time job, it isn’t even my part time job.  When I’m not parenting, I’m cleaning.  And when I’m not doing that, I’m volunteering in six different places and always a little bit behind in that as well.  Writing for my blog has always been a priority, but one that flexes to fit in around my life.  I’m not sure how much of that I’m willing to change.  I don’t want my kids to remember their childhood as me at the computer all the time (so much better they remember me as constantly yelling at them to bring the dishes to the kitchen and please shut off the bathroom light….).

 

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Aug 19

Three Musketeers

I’m in the middle of a blog post – sort of a manifesto, call to arms, mission statement sort of post on my other computer.  I’m also in the middle of rearranging Jessie’s bedroom and doing laundry and contemplating baking cookies – but that’s another story.  But I’m going to hold off on all of that for a minute and talk a bit about what’s going on on my front porch.

Right now, I’m going to post about these three kids.  I started babysitting in the most half-hearted of ways.  Sam was such a fussy baby that I didn’t think I could find anyone to watch him, and of course, my heart was absolutely lost at the thought of leaving my baby boy.  In an attempt to make up some of the money we’d lose by having me home full time instead of working part time after he was born – I posted an ad on craigslist.

Joy and Sara called me that week.  And a relationship started that I never anticipated.  Not only because these two women became two of my closest friends, but also because Sam got to grow up with built in best friends.  Sam, Harrison and Jordyn have done everything together.  I babysat them until they went off to school, and even now, when they’re all eight and running around doing a million different activities, sometimes I still manage to have days when they come over here, and immediately slip back into being best friends.

They have a million different games and traditions, and Julie is everyone’s baby sister.  They’ve spent the entire afternoon playing together, with figurines and army guys and legos and are, at this very moment, outside on my porch, with most of my blankets and little kid chairs lugged out there.

They’re best friends, and I’m so grateful.  Not just for my own sake, because Sara and Arlen and Skip and Joy are wonderful friends for us – but also because these two kids, Harrison and Jordyn, are some of the best parts of Sam’s childhood.

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Aug 12

Stargazing

When I was a kid, my grandparents lived across the street from the golf course.  On clear nights, my grandfather would walk us across the street and through the woods with flashlights and we’d lay on the grass and watch the stars.  He’d bring his telescope and it was the closest thing to magic that I had ever seen.  There are so many memories of my grandfather that make me a little teary, but the ones at the golf course are some of my favorites.

 

I grew up in a small town, far away from any city lights.  My kids are growing up in the heart of Worcester, and  have a very different experience with the night sky.  There is no convenient golf course, and when we go outside, you can see some stars.  Really bright ones, but the night sky of my childhood is not the sky of theirs.   That makes me sad.  I know that the world has changed, and that the night sky is changing all over the world.  Recently I read this book, and it assuaged my guilt, somewhat, over moving my kids to a city where they can’t really see the stars.  Turns out it’s not entirely  my fault, it’s harder all over the place to really SEE the night sky the way we could thirty years ago.

All that being said – we went stargazing last night.  Fortunately, even though we are living in the city, Worcester is surrounded by a whole lot of towns that are nowhere near as brightly lit.  Our problem was really much more about the supermoon than any city lights.   It was simply so big and so incredibly bright, it dominated the whole sky.  We drove about ten minutes out, to a quiet little road with no street lights.  The city lights were mostly blocked by Airport Hill.  We got the kids ready for bed, teeth brushed and brought pillows and blankets and laid out and watched the sky.

It was the same magic last night that I felt thirty years ago with my grandfather.  My kids were so hushed and in awe, we saw shooting stars streaking across the night sky, and Sam made up his own constellations.  Jessie snuggled up next to me, and Julie discovered (again) how much she loved standing on top of the car and jumping into Marc’s arms.

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Aug 11

My Interview at Tiny Blue Lines

Chaunie is one of my favorite writers, and her book Tiny Blue Lines  is one of those books that inspires you.  I had my own very unplanned pregnancy, and it changed my whole world.  I love this book, and her blog not just because we both shared the experience of having our entire lives turned upside down because of a couple of tiny blue lines on a pregnancy test.  I love this book and blog because Chaunie is a writer and a mom, and she made it work.  Having kids didn’t derail her dreams of being a successful author, and her ability to write her own story in a way that could inspire others to do the same made me really start to think about my own story.  She had searched for a book to help her when she needed it as a young mom, and when she couldn’t find it, she went ahead and wrote it.  My own experiences as a mom trying to figure out how or why I should convert to Judaism, and what that would mean for my kids, for my own mom and for myself pushed me in the same direction.  I couldn’t find what I was looking for, in the bookstores or on-line.  My blog (and someday, please God, I’ll finish the book) came out of a desire to share my journey and what I learned so that it would be easier for someone else.

I’m psyched to be featured on Chaunie’s blog today, and please go on over to her blog to read the interview in full.

http://tinybluelines.com/lines-melissa-cohen/

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Aug 09

Why My House is a Disaster

I could clean.  I mean, I could.  I know that.  I did.  Just today, I’ve done two loads of laundry, made three beds, four loads of dishes.  I woke up this morning and did laundry before coffee was ready, even.

But you’d never believe me if you could see my house right now.  My dining room (which was actually cleaned off, completely, earlier today, I swear) is now covered in jewelry boxes, Dora dollhouses, and Polly Pocket shoebox-sized cottages.  I’ve got a bunch of mardy gras necklaces under the table, and a Target bag full of clothes to be returned again.  On the upside, it turns out that Jessie (previously known as She-Who-Does-Not-Grow) actually did grow, and now all the pants I bought her are too short.  My desk has a play phone under it, and more necklaces.  The wall separating the dining room and living room are lined with overnight bags from my stepdaughters, and shoes.  Real shoes, play shoes, flip flops and sandals.

Good moms have sticky floors, messy kitchens,

(pretty sure that according to this, my kids must be out of their minds with joy)

The dining room has two girls, playing dollhouses.  These two have been playing dollhouses for the past ten years.  I’m pretty sure if you swing by my house in another ten years, they’ll be home from college, and will promptly set up all the houses and boxes and figurines and go to town.  Because that’s what they do.

The living room has one teenager in the rocking chair, alternately texting and watching Shrek 2 with the little ones.  Julie is half naked, because that’s how she rolls, and she and Sam are sitting on the floor (a floor riddled with books and bags and plastic vacuum cleaners and wooden food), sharing some popcorn.

I’m a person who dislikes clutter.   I’m always envious when I see living rooms that are spartan and clean.  Houses where everything is in it’s spot, and it’s spot is never the middle of the carpet.  But that’s not my life.  My life has five kids, and usually a lot more (today, I had one of my cousin’s daughters over for a while, and Sam had an all day play date with his best friend).  The house is just going to be a disaster, and the best I can do is minimal upkeep.   I declutter every few months, and it makes no discernible difference.  The clutter magically reproduces itself to replace what’s been removed.

And while I’m not always very good at this, I’m trying to be okay with it.  I try not to automatically apologize for the mess when someone stops by.  I try to not be grumpy and miserable when I look at the mess all over the table I just cleaned.  I try to have a little perspective – I’ve got three perfectly happy, healthy children, who are creative and imaginative.  I’ve got stepdaughters who love coming over, and fit into my family perfectly because they belong here.  I’ve got family and friends who come visit, and their kids are always happy to be here, because my house is a happy, FUN place to be.  Even if you do trip more often than not coming into the living room.  And there’s constantly at least one outfit of Julie’s on the floor because she changes her clothes several times a day, and she’s not so great with the whole concept of a dirty clothes basket.

There will come a day when my house will be clean, and I will be grateful.  I might be lonely, I might be wistful and longingly looking back on days like today, when Marc rushed out the door to work after spending the afternoon with us at the pool. When my stepdaughters and Jessie had spent the day at the mall and came home, smiling and happy about being together, when Julie was happily half naked, with two french braids (because she’s figured out that if it’s braided, it doesn’t get massive knots) and Sammy is grubby and tired after a full day of wrestling his best friend.  I will miss this – but I will luxuriate in my spartan living room, where I can put down a book and know it’ll still be there when I come back.

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Aug 09

Blueberry Picking

We’re an apple picking family.  I’ve gone apple picking every year since my first nephew was born – and that’s close to twenty years ago (!!!!).  I’ve wandered around the apple orchard with my babies in slings and carriers, and nursed at least two of them in the hayride over to the orchard.  I love apple picking.  Love every little bit of it, the kids bombing around the orchard, picking apples and playing leapfrog.  We always gather up a big group of people, and there’s kettle corn and apple cider donuts and tiny goats to feed.  It’s a perfect fall activity, and the best way to get ready for Rosh Hashana.

We had never really done blueberry picking.  There’s a whole world of berry picking out there, and we’ve been missing out.

We had a big day trip planned to Concord MA yesterday.  I stopped at the synagogue for a meeting or two yesterday morning, and ran into our new rabbi and her family.  When I heard that they were blueberry picking, and would love company – we rescheduled our day trip in favor of berries and trip to Dairy Queen afterwards.

This farm (Derrick Farm in Oakham) was perfect – it had little chairs set up in front of each bush, plastic coffee containers for little kids to fill with blueberries and bushes that were absolutely loaded full of berries.  Big, fat, gorgeous blueberries.   It was so much fun!  The kids picked away (sadly unable to follow directions to stick with their assigned bushes – they’re too used to apple picking and couldn’t stop themselves from wandering around from bush to bush).  I picked very few, but sat and chatted and ate.  A lot.  Turns out I really like blueberries.

Jessie came home and immediately started googling recipes.  We found a really good blueberry cake recipe and baked it for Shabbat dessert last night.  We gave a bunch of berries to Marc’s mom (Julie was especially proud to present them to her, firmly convinced that she had picked all of them herself) and I’m sure that we’re going to eat the remaining ones today.

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Aug 04

My Breastfeeding Story, Part 1

I think it’s World Breastfeeding Week.  I could be wrong, but there do seem to be a lot of stories out there about nursing.  I have nursed all of my children, and had very different experiences each time.  This is the first story.

I was late to the party, so to speak, with mothering.  And by the time I got there (Jessica was born a week before my twenty-ninth birthday), I had a lot of preconceived notions about what I’d do as a parent.  A lot of those got thrown right out the window (she was a pacifier girl from the beginning, and I swore I wouldn’t do that) but nursing was one thing that went exactly the way I wanted it to.  She had been born via emergency c-section, after twelve hours and four minutes of labor (because a contraction woke me up at 6:28 a.m.).  By the time I recovered enough to be able to hold her, I was so head over heels in love with her.  More than love – I NEEDED her, in a way that I hadn’t ever needed anyone before.  I didn’t feel right unless I was holding her at first.  Nursing felt so natural, of course it was how I was going to feed her.  I wanted to be with her all the time, and nursing on demand meant that I got to have her with me.

By the time I went back to work, at fourteen weeks (got two weeks extra for the c-section), nursing was well established.  So well established that she stopped taking the bottles after the first few days and would simply go on a hunger strike until I came back to nurse her.  I’d nurse her in the mornings, come back at lunch and nurse her again, and then she’d sleep until I got there to pick her up.  I was never more grateful than when my boss laid me off when she was three months old.

I don’t remember any struggles with Jessie and nursing.  I had thrush, but it was easily treated, and not much of an issue at all.  She used to fuss before sleeping (and by fuss, I mean scream hysterically and refuse to nurse), I’d have to trick her with the pacifier to calm her down enough to get her to latch on.  Of all of my babies, Jessie was the least interested in nursing.  She was much more into the pacifier as a self-soothing tool.  She nursed, but she did it because that’s where the food was – and that’s very different from how her brother approached it.

We started solids at four or five months, and she… just loved it.   She gradually tapered off nursing, a little bit at a time, until she got to eight and a half months.  Then she was done.  Just done.  If I had known then what I know now, I might have tried harder to get her back to the breast, but at the time, it felt like it was just the natural progression.  She was done.  I had to respect that.  We switched to formula for a few months and then I transitioned to regular milk.  Her weaning process was entirely Jessie-led, and so incredibly easy.  I was never uncomfortable, she tapered off so gradually and slowly that my body just adjusted.

Jessie is still my most difficult sleeper (she still fights sleep like it’s the enemy) and oddly enough, is still my only child who will happily skip a meal if she doesn’t like the presentation.  She used her pacifier until she was four or so, and gave it up reluctantly (which should have been a clue as to what weaning future children would be like…).  But nursing her was so blissful, and I’ll never forget what those first few weeks were like.  Because I was recovering from surgery, and had no other babies to chase, I was able to literally just sit and rock her all day long.  She’d nurse and drift off to sleep and I’d rock and read and then we’d repeat the whole cycle.  It was fabulous.

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Aug 03

What Mothering Looks Like with an 11 year old

We went to Great Wolf Lodge on Friday with the kids.  And I have literally never before seen Sam as happy as he was on Friday night.  It was adorable, because he was just so excited to be there.  Sam’s a water park kind of kid.  He loves swimming, loves waterslides, is happy to play in the little kid section with Julianna and even happier to line up to do the big scary waterslides as well.  There was an arcade, two queen size beds next to each other so that he could jump from one to the other – it was very nearly heaven for my eight year old.

Julianna was a little less enthused.  She likes the water.  Kind of.  She does NOT like getting splashed or having water sprayed at her (which is kind of the whole point of the water park for her age).   But she was relatively happy, as long as one of us was right there with her.  Marc let her dump water directly onto his head, so he definitely scored as the more fun parent to supervise her.

My Jessica… she liked a lot of things at the hotel.  The wave pool was a big hit, and she’s always been a fan of the lazy river ride (where you just drift along on a floaty).  She’s a relatively competent swimmer, but she’s not particularly adventurous.  Bike riding is too scary for her, she’s the last one to want to do anything physical.  She doesn’t wrestle with Marc, she doesn’t climb trees, she hates any game that involves throwing a ball her way.  She’s me, essentially.  And I was afraid of waterslides for the longest time.

It was Sam that got me past my fear of waterslides.  I didn’t want him to be afraid, and when he asked me to take him, I did.  It’s not that I wouldn’t have taken Jessie, but she never asked.  I offered, I think, but she’s always been afraid.  So Sam’s been a waterslide boy for years, but Jessie always refused.

But yesterday – she did it.  I pushed her, and I was really conflicted about it – should you push a child to do what she’s terrified of?  What if she chickens out at the last minute and then feels terrible about disappointing me?  I don’t want her to feel bad about who she is, and if she’s someone who honestly hates the idea of doing stuff like that – maybe I should just let it go.   But I really thought she’d love it, and I pushed.  I asked her several times, and then I finally said that I really wanted her to do it, at least once.  If she hated it, I wouldn’t ever ask her to do it again.  I told her that there was nobody in the whole world who was more on her side than her dad and I, and I would never ask her to do something she couldn’t do – and that she shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity for something awesome just because she was too scared to try.

She was so brave, because I knew she was terrified.  But she did it anyway – and it ended up being her favorite part of the park.

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