Archive | April 2011

Let’s hear it for an unscheduled summer

My kids are not doing anything special this summer.  Jessica has attended JCC summer camp for the past two years, and the year before that, she went to gymnastics camp.  And this is the first year that Sam would be going anywhere (we started with Jessie the summer before kindergarten).  But we’ve decided that this year – we’re going to give them a real summer.  Sleeping in, eating breakfast outside, playing all day at whatever their little hearts’ desire.  Making forts, catching fireflies, exploring the world around us.  I want for them a glorious summer, filled with day trips to Boston and out to the western part of the state.  Three months when I don’t have to get them up and dressed and out the door.  Life is short – let’s enjoy this summer.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to June :-)

Reform versus Conservative Judaism

Could also be subtitled – The On-Going Saga of a Spiritually Diverse Family.

I still tend to think of us as interfaith, because even after converting to Judaism, Marc and I are often coming at spirituality from such a different place.  Our “faiths” are so different that even though they are nominally the same, we consistently have to debate and discuss before we come to some sort of consensus (or just decide to give up for a while, which is sort of what happens mostly).

Judaism (and this is from my perspective only) seems to be broken into three basic movements.  There’s Orthodox, which involves separate seating, women covering their hair, a really enthusiastic and open embrace of the religion and a total and utter commitment to following the Torah.  Then there’s Reform, which is more liberal, doesn’t consider Biblical law to be binding and more intellectual (at least I think so) – there’s a greater acceptance of those who aren’t Jewish, much more accepting of interfaith relationships.  And there’s Conservative – which is right in the middle.   Jewish laws are binding, but can change and adapt.   Interfaith marriages are not at all what you’d want, but if you did it anyway, they’ll still talk to you and stuff :-)

Marc would prefer Orthodox, mostly.  He’s not into the separation of men and women, and is definitely a huge believer in religious equality between the sexes, but he’s much more into a really open and joyous embrace of Judaism.  He loves the intellectual rigor, the debate between the rabbis in the Talmud over how to best follow the laws set forth.  He believes in following the laws of the Torah, as much as he can.

I’m not sure where I fit in.  I converted in a Conservative synagogue, and still think that’s a good compromise for us.  And the synagogue is lovely – the people are warm and friendly, and my daughter loves it there.  But secretly, I think I’m pining for Reform.  I don’t think I have to keep kosher for Passover, and more importantly, I resent having to.  So I didn’t.  I’m not good at following rules – and I think that’s the heart of my trouble.  I like knowing what the rules are – and I like deciding for myself whether or not they make sense for me.  Which sounds vaguely anarchist – I know that.  

I went to a meeting at the local Reform synagogue and felt so at home there.  The synagogue I belong to now is wonderful, but it’s wonderful because I converted.  I belong because I followed the rules.  I wonder if that’s part of what’s throwing me off – the idea that I only fit in there if I pretend to be something I’m not – I love the choice I made to convert, but also love a lot of the traditions I grew up with.  I’m very far from a devout Jew.  I put up a tree, my kids believe in the Easter bunny.  I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with bacon.   I don’t like following rules, I don’t like doing anything because someone else said I have to.  This is why I don’t know that I’m good at this Jewish thing.

There’s so much I really, really love about Judaism.  I love the connection to the Divine, I love the thought that I don’t need a priest or a rabbi to communicate with God.  I love the way there is a blessing for every little thing – the sense that we should be so grateful for all that we have.  I love the responsibility of it – that, as a Jewish woman, I’m obligated to do what I can to make the world a better place.  I don’t have to fix it all the way, but I can’t ever stop trying.  I love that we’re commanded to enjoy life, to have sex, to eat good food, drink good wine, love our spouses and our children.  I love the Shabbat dinners, the kiss my husband gives me after we light the candles, the looks on my children’s faces when we bless them.  I love a whole lot about it – and don’t regret, for a minute, converting.

But I do wonder… I think, bottom line (and this is why I love blogging and writing, because sometimes the only way I can make sense of something is to write it all out), that I’m a crappy Conservative Jew, and an absolutely phenomenal Reform Jew.

I feel so much better now that I figured it out.  A conservative synagogue makes sense for our family, for a whole host of reasons.  Our kids love it there, and by converting there, I know that their status as Jews won’t be up for debate by anyone (other than the Orthodox, but that’s a whole other story).  And what I want most is for them to have a strong spiritual base, a religious community to feel a part of, and they have that.  I have that too – I don’t necessarily need to advertise that I’m secretly eating granola bars during Passover, or that I surround my car with a white light to keep me safe when I drive thru a snowstorm.

Passover, motherhood, and holy moly exhaustion….

We hosted both nights of Passover here at the house this year.  We’ve never done it before, I think we might have done one of the High Holidays before, but we’ve always lived in such small spaces that having Marc’s entire extended family over wasn’t such a hot idea.  But we’ve got a gorgeous big dining room, and we were able to comfortably fit upwards of twenty people each night.

Couple of things I learned -
1 – Marc’s family is really, really helpful.  Which I knew before, but really, when Julianna was miserable and sick last night, and I couldn’t do anything other than just pace and sway with her, everyone really stepped up, serving matzoh ball soup and putting out plate of food.
2 – Jessie is hugely into celebrating holidays.  She made two posters, colored pictures of the ten plagues and sang, in Hebrew, the Four Questions.  It’s just vaguely confusing to me – because she’s so incredibly enthusiastic about her Judaism, and I’m still struggling with finding my identity with it.
3 – Cleaning up after Passover is almost as tiring as getting ready for it.  Or maybe it’s a combination of all three, the getting ready for the Seders, the hosting of them, and then the cleaning up.  Add in a very miserable and sick Julianna and not a lot of sleep the past two nights, and I’m bleary eyed and sleepy today.

On Friday night, we’re having another party – this one is called the “Irish Seder.”  Because I’m, well, Irish.  As is my cousin and aunt and one of my closest friends, Annie, and we’re the ones who do all the work for it.  But it’s my favorite holiday – because it’s all my closest friends, and it’s a party for the adults.  Passover is such a kid-oriented sort of holiday, it’s specifically designed to involve children, but for this party, I feed them and then send them off to play so I can hang out and talk with my friends.

In other news… went to see the movie Hop today with the two older ones.  Sam had never been to the movies before and they were both really good.   The movie is terrible though, with the exception of one dancing little chicken, it was a total waste of time.

I was putting Julianna down for a nap this morning.  She’s a co-sleeping baby, so putting her down for a nap involves laying her down on my bed and nursing her while I watch something on television.  She hates it when I read while nursing, spends the entire time batting at my book.  Anyway… so I’m laying there, happily watching 16 and Pregnant, and in bops Sam.  He crawls up on the bed and snuggles down next to me.  Julianna was thankfully asleep, and after a few minutes, in pops Jessica Mary.  And the three of us sat in my bedroom, watching a program that clearly isn’t all that interesting to a four and eight year old.  They didn’t complain, but were very content and happy just hanging out with me.  Big house, rooms full of toys, daddy and television in the other room waiting for them, but they both just chilled out with me and a sleeping baby. It struck me that I really am incredibly blessed, because my kids, in general, just want to be wherever I happen to be.

I didn’t date a lot in my teens or twenties – and spend most of my twenties involved in a series of relationships that were going nowhere.  I didn’t meet Marc until I was twenty eight, and spent a lot of my early adulthood really wondering if I’d ever meet a guy I could love, a man I could build a family with.  The upside to waiting so long is that I’m so incredibly grateful for the blessings now – I walked out of the movie this afternoon with a gorgeous girl and a beautiful boy on either side of me, drove home to a husband who loves me and a baby girl who smiled and reached out for me the second I walked in the room.  It really, truly, doesn’t get any luckier than me.

Keeping kosher

My daughter Jessica is (again) prompting me to think hard about where I am, religiously.  Or spiritually – if I can be a little bit nitpicking.  Because, to me, religion has always been sort of rigid and dogmatic and not really something I can relate to.  Spirituality – that’s something I can really think about and form a serious opinion on.

Jessie Bug Noodle wants to start keeping kosher.  Because Marc is always, unilaterally, in favor of increasing our level of Jewish observance, I’m the one who’s really agonizing over this.  Do I want to keep kosher?

Keeping kosher, the way I see it (freely admitting that I’m very far from Jewish expert on these things), can mean a couple of different things.  One way to keep kosher is to follow the Talmudic rules (which are legion – it can get VERY complicated).  It’s not just a matter of not eating milk and meat together – it’s about using separate dishes and utensils, it’s about scrutinizing labels and following the letter of the law.  It’s not just no bacon or pork chops, it’s about maybe no broccoli because it might have microscopic bugs that are too tiny to see, and bugs aren’t kosher.

The biblical kosher way to eat is simply not to cook a kid in the mother’s milk.  To understand that in order to eat meat at all, an animal had to die to provide you with the meat, and to further compound the insult by cooking the meat in the milk that was meant to sustain his life is morally wrong.  Okay – that sounds right to me.  I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m not unaware that an animal’s life had to be extinguished in order to provide me with this chicken breast.  I’ve been pretty good about not mixing beef with milk.

I love milk, on a side note.  Just really do.  I grew up drinking it at every meal, and it’s still my favorite beverage, by far.  So adjusting to this – I essentially just stopped eating red meat.  But I do mix chicken and dairy, or turkey and dairy.

For me, keeping kosher is more about elevating the act of eating to a higher level.  It’s about really thinking about what you’re eating, being grateful for it.  Keeping kosher is more about sitting down to eat, taking a moment to be grateful for the food and the animal that provided it.  Not that I always do it, I’m a fan of reading and eating, or grabbing a handful of cereal and munching it while I’m cleaning.  But I understand the theory behind making the act of eating holy, and try to do it as often as I can.

Jessica wants to step it up – and I want to honor that.  Jessie is a child with a strong desire for religion, and for spirituality.  I got turned off to organized religion as a young kid – my CCD teacher sent home notes to my mother requesting that she speak to me about asking too many questions in class.  I learned early that religion is one size fits all, and if it doesn’t fit you, they’ll try to cram you in anyway.  But for my daughter – religion is very different.  On purpose – I very deliberately made this choice, to raise her in the Jewish tradition – where she’ll be encouraged to ask questions, she’ll be encouraged to be who she is.   I love the lessons she’s learning about life when she’s at Hebrew School.  I actively encourage her in her religion – I make Shabbat dinner, I bless her and light candles with her.

But now she’s started scanning labels, looking for the mark that says that it’s kosher.   Right now, it’s still a game with her, “look, Mama, I found it!” and I praise her copiously for her attention to detail.  Sam is even getting in on it, asking occasionally if a meal is kosher or not.

I’m easing my way into keeping kosher – trying to balance out my instinctive desire to rebel against religious dogma and my need to honor and encourage my daughter in her own religious expression.

When you give them swords – should you really be shocked when they use them?

Another post in my on-going struggle to understand my son.  I’m a girly-girl.  I don’t like bugs, I don’t like violence.  I have a soft spot for baby dolls, I like playing dress up.  I don’t understand, at a core level, my son’s fascination with super heros, all things military, guns and weapons and bugs and dirt.  I adore him, he’s my Samilicious boy, and thank God every day that I had the extreme wisdom and good luck to pick a father for him who’s awesome at all things boy.   If nothing else, having a son has impressed upon me the absolute and utter importance of having a strong good man there to help raise him.  Daughters need their dads too – don’t get me wrong (as a daughter who grew up without a dad…) – but boys need them on a whole different level.

But I’m still horrified when he whacks the neighborhood kid over the head with his light saber.  Tears and hysteria all over the place, the neighbor hollering that Sam hit him on the head, Sam screaming back that he was lying, and both boys crying like their hearts were broken.  We broke them up for a while, my neighbor took her tearful boy back home, and I lugged my devastated boy into the house.

Fortunately, the kid’s mom was great about it (and confessed that she was pretty sure that her son had done more than his fair share of hurting Sam during the battle) and brought him back over to play again later on in the afternoon.  I was afraid that she was going to overreact and not let him come back to play (and freely admit that there was a part of me that wanted to do that – Sam’s NEVER done anything like that before and I wondered who had really done the hitting).  But in the end, she brought him back, and was totally cool about it.  We mutually agreed that they were kids, and sometimes kids play too rough, and that only by doing could they learn what was okay and what wasn’t.  Now that they’ve both been hit with a light saber, I bet they hold back and don’t swing them at each other anymore.  Or maybe I’m just hoping – I’m pretty sure it’s not the last time I’ll be cleaning Sam up after a battle….

She’ll be a year at the end of the month….

I actually said it out loud yesterday to the cashier at Staples.  Then I stopped and got a little choked up.  How is it possible that my tiny little love bug is almost a year old?  I’m going to be an emotional wreck on 4/29, I can already see it…

Had a delightful sort of weekend…. Friday night, we went to a khabbalat shabbat service at the synagogue.  I’m not great at synagogue functions – mainly because with small children, it’s hard for me to do much more than just take care of them.  Sam really doesn’t enjoy social events, so the first forty five minutes or so are spent with me trying to stop him from running out of the place screaming.  Jessie is very at home at the Beth Israel, and just sort relaxes into the scene.  Julianna is a nice combination of the two… I ended up leaving the two little ones with Marc and joining Jessie at the actual service.  Marc was talking to another dad with his kids, and everyone else had gone into the library for a service.  I peeked in and Jessica Mary had taken herself in there to sit and participate.  At eight years old.

She really inspires me to take a more active interest in spirituality.  Sometimes, it gets lost in the daily activities, I’m so busy doing all the stuff that goes along with having a husband and three small children, but she’s so spiritually oriented that I have to stop sometimes and just focus on that, so that I can really foster that side of her.  She loves the service, loves the whole idea of Judaism.  I’m looking forward to Passover a little extra this year, just because of her.  

Speaking of Passover – I’m hosting not one, not two, but three separate Seders this year.  Plus a combined birthday party for Lilli and Julianna, and a special birthday party just for Jules.  Busy April… and somewhere in there, I have to start really planning my wedding/vow renewal, figure out summer plans for Miss Jess, get Sam registered for kindergarten and plant the veggies that I’ve got growing in the dining room.  Mom got me some little plant things, and we bought a BUNCH of seeds (they were on sale for twenty cents, so we got a LOT).  Unfortunately, I didn’t really keep track of what I was planting, so now I’ve got a bunch of stuff coming up in these little flats of dirt – and I don’t know if they’re corn or watermelons or carrots or shasta daisies.  I think this add a little dash of the unexpected to the garden that I haven’t planted yet.

Just a friday….

I’m awfully tired today – I’ve been fighting a sinus infection with sudafed, and it keeps me up at night.  Julianna likes to stay up right along with me, and we were up at least once an hour from two o’clock on.  She’s sound asleep on Marc’s shoulder now, and I’m jealous…

Snow here today – and I’m bitter that stupid Worcester schools didn’t close.  I’d let Jess stay home, honestly, because Glennys is here (we were certain that school would be closed), but Marc’s not on board, so off she goes.  Samilicious boy is in heaven though, because this means that he gets his girl all to himself all day.

Maternal confessions

1 – I really don’t like nursing Julianna.  Not all the time.  I’m grateful that we can, and proud that we made it thru the struggles from the first couple of months, and I love that it’s such a simple, natural way to tell her I love her and comfort her – but it still hurts, she’s not great at latching on all the time, and I’m kind of worn out from almost five years of almost non-stop nursing.

2 – I let my kids eat crappy cereal.  I can blame Marc for it, because he does the grocery shopping, but really, I don’t care enough about it to object.  My mother never fed us anything other than corn flakes or cheerios, honeycombs if we were super lucky – but my cherubs dine on corn pops, captain crunch and whatever other little treat they talk Marc into…

3  – I let them unroll the toilet paper.  It’s a short stage, relatively.  But all three of my kids have really enjoyed crawling their little butts into the bathroom and gleefully unrolling the toilet paper.  For my first two, I was home with them and Marc was working, so it was not really an issue.   Poor Julianna though, Marc is home and baffled by this – can’t, for the life of him, figure out why I’d indulge her in this behavior….