I’m not sure I did this on purpose, in fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.  But, as it happens sometimes, I managed to create a tradition that my kids adore and look forward to every year.  It’s the Passover Posters.

Having converted to Judaism, I brought a lot of non-Jews to the Seder table, so to speak.  Marc loves a big traditional seder, but his extended family does not.  Since I wanted to keep celebrating with the extended family, and still honor his desire to celebrate the holiday the way he wanted – I devised the Irish Seder several years ago.  I think this is our fifth annual one, and I call it the Irish Seder because, well, I’m Irish.  So as to keep the expectations low – I had never made charoset (which is now my favorite Passover food) or a brisket, I qualified it.  It’s not a Jewish seder, it’s an Irish one.

Each year, it’s gotten a little bigger, as we’ve invited more and more friends, more and more of my side of the family.  It’s now one of the bigger parties we throw (and that’s saying a lot, given that we seem to throw a lot of parties).  Last year, I suggested that the kids make decorations to hang on the wall, explaining the ten plagues, the four questions, etc.  And this year – the kids are so excited about it.  Jessie is working on her third or fourth poster, and Sam is gleefully doing his first.  Last year, he couldn’t be bothered, but this year, he’s all into it.

Jessie’s posters are thoughtful and well designed.  Her posters are all Exodus themed, whereas Sam’s are more just generally Jewish.  For some reason, he’s all about Hanukkah, so his poster has latkes and menorahs, and oddly enough, he wanted to put on a Baby Jesus for his best friend Glennys.  He’s got some lice and blood and a couple of frogs thrown on there too.

They LOVE making these posters.  It’s completely absorbing to them, they’ve already devoted hours to them.  And Passover is still more than a week away.

I mean, I’m glad they know about brushing their teeth, and that cupcakes aren’t healthy and that chewing with your mouth open is bad idea.  But there are other things – little things that make life more fun – that I’m really glad I’ve been able to instill in my kids.

1 – To find a serious joy in seeing forsythia each spring.  It’s one of the earliest blossoming bushes, it’s all over the place, and my kids scream out “I SEE FORSYTHIA!” every two minutes when we’re in the car.  There’s so much cause for celebration.  
2 – To be grateful for natural blessings – one of the things I love about Judaism is the emphasis on being grateful every day, for everything.  We say blessings all the time over the first bloom, over rainbows, etc.  The kids look for opportunities to thank God for all that we have.
3 – When someone littler than you likes you and wants to be with you – you should do it.  The older ones don’t always have a ton of patience with my toddler, but they do try hard to make her feel welcome and loved all the time.  Even when she wants them to sit and watch Little Einsteins.  For the eighth time today.
4 – You don’t have to like it – but you do have to do it.  Because let’s face it, we all have to do things we don’t want to do.  For example, I have to fold about four loads of laundry.  One thing that I keep stressing to them is that they don’t have to like it, but we all have to do things we don’t want to do.  And a smile on your face can make it a lot more pleasant for everyone, including yourself.
5 – When it’s shaping up to be a rough morning, putting on your favorite outfit is a good idea.  You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve been able to salvage a craptastic morning full of tears with a suggestion that we change into their favorite shirt.  
6 – That their hugs have healing potential.  At the very least, it’s an easy way to transmit love to another person. When I’m having a rough morning (and the favorite shirt isn’t working), Sam is always quick to wrap his little arms around me and tell me that I’m getting “Sammy Snuggles” to make everything better.
7 – Its just good policy to bring a book everywhere.  My kids all love books, they don’t always love to read as much as I’d like them too – but they are good at bringing books everywhere they go.
8 – Singing, loudly and often, is a quick way to make everything better.  I’m a terrible singer, but I still sing pretty constantly.  And so do they.  Nobody can be unhappy while warbling along to Lori Berkner.
9 – When you lose something (as I so often do), it’s entirely possible that fairies have taken it for their own amusement.  Jars of peanut butter, keys, sunglasses, Julie’s favorite pair of leggings.  All of these have been taken at one time or another and then reappeared by magic later on.  I don’t question it, don’t stress out too much over it, and have taught the kids to do the same thing.  Things show up if you wait long enough.

I’m not an overly materialistic person.  I don’t have expensive furnishings around the house.  All of my furniture is second hand or hand me down.  I even stopped buying books after my oldest daughter was born and I realized that I feed my book addiction for free at the library.  But I do have a hard core inability to say no when people try to give me stuff, and I have three children who are incredible pack rats.  Although calling Julie a packrat at this point does seem unfair.  So just the two children who are hoarders.

And my place is LITTLE.  Living room/dining room/kitchen and three bedrooms.  So it’s not ridiculously little, but it feels that way because it’s crowded and cluttered and all the time messy.  Because there’s no storage or playroom.  I clean it constantly, so it’s not dirty, the floors are done, laundry washed, dishes done, etc – but there are always toys and books and dishes cluttered all over the place.

I’m in the middle of putting away groceries, rearranging Jessie’s room, rearranging the dining room and  wondering if I should rearrange the living room.  I’m feeling VERY overwhelmed and choosing to blog instead of finishing one of these projects.  Which is self-defeating, I know that, but still… here we are.

I’m wondering what to do with the clutter.  The kids are gone during the day – should I just gradually get rid of their stuff when they aren’t looking?  I don’t know they’d notice, they’re not really into stuff either – they just hate getting rid of it.  For example, I’ve got one of those big plastic toy buckets, I bet I could get rid of the whole thing and they’d never notice.  And books – I think I went a little overboard on books.  I’m a reader, I love to read.  But while I’m much better about not getting books for me and just going to the library, I’ve obviously just switched to now getting books for KIDS and having them all over the place.  I get away with it because they’re all hand me down books – people love to pass on their books, and I never say no.  I can’t get rid of books, right?  I mean, that would be ridiculous.  What kind of mother gets rid of books???  But there’s a nagging voice inside me that says that there’s about thirty times more books than my kids actually want to read – perhaps cutting down would be a good move?

Okay, maybe I’m a hoarder too.  Because the thought of getting rid of books makes me itchy.  But there’s too much STUFF here.

I was on the phone last night with my cousin Becky, and Julianna was in the living room with a new toy.  The older two kids were in there with her, insisting on playing with her, and they weren’t doing it the way Julie thought they should and she let loose with this screech.  Becky was horrified (because to most people, it sounded like someone just ripped off her arm) and I explained that no, that was just Julie’s preferred method of communication these days.  She’s relatively mild mannered, but don’t cross her.  Because she’ll kill you.  Becky asked what happened to my peaceful, happy, relaxed baby girl, and I sighed and explained that the other two had ruined her.

And I was kidding.  Only a little bit.  Because the fact is that Julianna is the youngest of five (or three, depending on the day) and if she hadn’t developed the skill to stand up for herself, she’d be completely mowed down by them.  Each one of her older siblings love and adore her, and want very much for her to do what they’d like her to do.  Whether it’s to perform in the dance they are choreographing, or sing the song that they’re trying to teach her, or spin around in a circle to impress their friends… realizing that Julianna is a person in her own right, deserving of respect and dignity and honor is a major step for the kids.  For a long  time, she’s been their plaything – she was so obviously delighted in her older siblings, and still knocks herself out to please them.  But she’s also becoming a much stronger willed character these days.

She’s adamant about most things, picks out her own clothes, objects strenuously to a bath, and is still insisting on wearing her batman hat just about everywhere.

When did camisoles become appropriate daytime wear for nine year olds?  Is it just me?  Jessie has several adorable tops someone had given her as hand-me-downs- but they’re camisoles.  Built in little girl bra, spaghetti straps with adjustable bra strap in the back.  And she wants desperately to wear them like shirts, and everyone else seems to think they’re perfectly acceptable as a top.

I didn’t (and don’t) put my girls in bikinis.   I never really thought about it as a policy, I just always seems to gravitate to one piece suits.  And I’m frustrated that I even have to think about this – why should I be debating whether or not an outfit is too provocative?  I don’t debate this for my son, it just never comes up.  But with Jessie, she’s so tall and thin…  skirts fit her in the waist long after they’ve become too short for her to wear.

Is it just me?  I don’t know if I’m just being weirdly prudish about girls clothes, I never really got into the whole “modesty” argument.  There’s a movement in orthodox Judaism that involves covering everything from the collarbone or elbows to the knees, I think.  I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with showing your body.  So why does this make me so uncomfortable?

Some things are no brainers, I’m not going to buy either of the girls clothes with words on the butt, they’re not getting padded bikinis or shirts with trashy sayings across the front.  But that just struck me as common sense – I think they look trashy.  But these camisoles/tank tops are throwing me for a loop – because they’re pretty and everyone else wears them, but when I see them, I think that she’s wearing underwear.

There is just no reason why they need to wear what I always considered lingerie for summer shirt.  Tank tops are fine, bra strap backs are not.   Am I too strict?  Too controlling?   I wish I knew.  But for now, I’m just grateful that we were able to find a top she loved to wear instead this morning…

I feel… overwhelmed and exhausted.  Sam is still sick, hollering out every few minutes “I’m so… ill” and hasn’t eaten in two days.  Julie and Jessie are eating popsicles (I’m sure the sugar high will help with bedtime) and Marc just left to go back to work.  It feels like everyone in my life is dealing with huge, life altering problems and I’m sure I’m just picking up on everyone else’s stress.  Which is a crappy habit of mine, that never actually results in anything good.  Because not only are their problems more important than my reaction to them, when I get stressed and overwhelmed, I’m not as helpful when it comes to dealing with the problems.

In other news (this is an attempt to cheer myself up), Sam is getting better.  His fever isn’t as high, and even though he isn’t eating, he did get up and play for a while today and he’s doing a good job of staying hydrated.  And according to Marc, there’s scientific evidence (as opposed to my own anecdotal evidence) that loading kids up with sugar actually makes them tired because eventually they’ll crash.  And it is almost bedtime.  Mrs. Ring, Jessie’s teacher, told them all to be in bed by eight.  They could read or watch television, but she wanted them all in bed, lying down by eight and asleep by nine thirty.  And since Jess lives to please her teacher, she’s already planning on going to bed.

Got the call from the nurse today (and note to other moms who might move or get new cell phones – the secretary doesn’t necessarily update the nurse’s records with new numbers) and my poor boy sick.  Sick, sick, sick.  He was fine this morning, a little quiet, and said he wasn’t that hungry.  To be fair, now that I’m thinking of  it, he did say he didn’t feel good.  But he says that literally every morning, so I’ve just started to consider it his way of saying good morning.

Anyway – he’s home sick on my couch, pale as can be, with huge eyes and the sweetest little face.  Why do they seem so much younger when they’re sick?    We’ve been snuggling all afternoon.  Sam’s an affectionate kid, all three of mine are.  But as they get older, they’re less likely to crawl up onto my lap.  So as much as I hate seeing  him sick, I love that he wants nothing more than to lay down next to me.

In other news – Jessie is taking her first MCAS tests this week.  She’s nervous about it – in large part because the school is making her that way.   She’s terrified of being late on that day, and already geared up to freak out over the results.  Jessie never met an emotion she didn’t like, and after clearly getting the message the MCAS are a big deal, she’s fully prepared to panic.  I just keep reassuring her that she tests really well – because she DOES.  According the last set of standardized tests, she was reading at an eighth grade level and doing math that was well beyond her grade.  So I don’t worry too much about it, and try hard to keep her from worrying too much as well.

Julianna is STILL wearing the batman hat.  Pretty much all the time.  If she forgets, I don’t remind her, and today, she spent a good part of the day hatless.  But they she discovered it on the floor in the bedroom, and is now traisping around the living room in a tank top, frilly skirt, and a red and black wooly skullcap.   She’s becoming increasingly opinionated about her clothes.  The warmer weather means that her wardrobe just doubled, because I pulled out all the summer stuff – and suddenly she’s got choices.   Lots of choices.  And God help me if I attempt to dress her in an outfit that doesn’t suit her standards.  She’ll just sob, like her heart is broken.  And it’s not worth breaking her heart over clothes, so I let her pick out her own stuff for the most part.  So if you see me, wandering around with a batman hatted, mismatched little cherub, don’t judge me too harshly…

I’m pretty secure in my parenting abilities.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, babysitting for a good twenty five years, being an overly involved aunt for about fifteen, and a mother to my own children for nine years.  But there are times, like today, when I’m pretty convinced that I’m flat out awful at taking care of children, instilling manners and values and self control, and I’m just humiliated, mortified and feeling very much like I’d benefit from having a full time nanny to care for these kids. 

Sam had a birthday party today.  At three fifteen, which is right after school, and he didn’t want to go.  Unfortunately, I had already RSVP’d, bought a gift, and arranged to drive Jordyn to the party as well.  So not going wasn’t an option.  And Jessie came out of school in a wretched mood, she was angry and frustrated about not being allowed to sit in the front seat. 

So the deck was somewhat stacked against me.  But I drove down to Pump It Up, about a half hour away, with the kids fighting and arguing over snacks and Sam happily insisting that he wasn’t going to any party.  I pulled up in front of the building, and there were two other moms, getting their happy, contented children out of the car.  And my oldest two took the cue to go completely insane, screaming at each other.  I opened the van to get Jordyn out and unbuckle Julianna to take her inside to drop Jordyn off with me – and the screams… oh the screams.  I slammed the door quickly.  I started explaining to one of the other moms (one of the ones with happy, smiling, contented children) that I was going to drop off Jordyn, and her mother would be there soon to pick her up, and then I heard this ungodly screech emanating from my vehicle – because my two children had lost their minds screaming insanely at each other. 

It was just … mortifying.  I felt like the worst mother in the world, embarassed and horrified that my kids were behaving so badly.  I could NOT stop them from screaming at each other, short of taking them out of the car and duct taping their mouths shut (and dammit, I didn’t have any duct tape handy).

It wasn’t a fun ride home.  For any of us.  Because by the time I got back to the car, I was literally almost in tears, I was so embarassed.  Every other kid was thrilled to go to the party, delighted to see their friends, I couldn’t get my five year old out of the car.  And worse, my nine year old was a screeching disaster.

I’m tired tonight.  Tired and discouraged and desperately in need of a little break.  Bedtime is coming up soon, thank goodness. 

I converted to Judaism about three years ago. I think. It was before my youngest daughter was born, and she’ll be two in April. So about three years ago. My spiritual background is somewhat challenging to explain, because I’ve explored a lot of different spiritual paths. I was born into a nominally Catholic family. We attended CCD, and church, but I never really felt at home there. Catholicism is about faith, and I questioned. A lot. And by the time I was a teenager, I had really lost a lot of my faith. I was exploring New Age religions, and for a while, was very attracted to Wicca. But it had a lot of rules, and I was honestly never exactly sure how to cast a circle or call down the moon. It was at that point that I met my husband.

Marc was the first Jewish person I’d ever met. I knew literally nothing about the faith. Other than it was different from mine, whatever mine was. And Marc and I were one of those couples that from the moment we met, it was just a foregone conclusion that we were going to be together. It wasn’t that coming from a different spiritual path was going to stop us, it was something that we had to work out together. Because there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I loved this man, and that he loved me and we were going to raise a family together.

So we worked on it. We discussed and debated and agonized over it. We explored the different Jewish denominations, and have, at one time or another over considered joining a reform temple, a chabad synagogue and finally ended up at the conservative one that my husband grew up at. We’ve looked at religion and belief systems over and over again, and what we concluded was that we, as a family, were going to be Jewish. My husband was obviously always Jewish, and at least according to a liberal reform temple, so were my children, because he was. But I wasn’t sure that I would be.

Organized religion was intimidating to me. Still is, in a lot of ways. But the theology behind Judiasm is so beautiful and so true for me, that once I got past my initial resistance to joining any group, I found that it was a perfect fit. It was very easy for me to convert to Jewish beliefs, to worship according to Jewish tradition. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s almost easier for me than it is for my husband sometimes. I have no history with it, I chose this lifestyle and making it a priority is a no brainer. Converting to Jewish culture is a bit harder. The food is different, the holidays are different, the customs are different. It doesn’t come as naturally. Keeping kosher is something I still struggle with, and I’m not even close to doing it the way I suppose I should.

But Shabbat is my favorite. It just is. It was the first thing that made me want to be Jewish, and still my favorite way to really celebrate my Judaism. No computer, no television. We’ll drive, but only to something that we are all doing together as a family. My husband and older children all attend services (my toddler and I usually stay home) and then the afternoon is filled with some sort of activity that we all share in. Sometimes it’s just hanging out at home, playing board games and building worlds out of barbies and army guys. Sometimes it’s a trip to the beach, or a museam, or over to a friend’s house for the afternoon.

My real favorite though is the night before. Friday night. I’m working at getting everyone to sit down together every night for dinner, but am not always successful. Friday night, though, I can always guarantee it. I make a big dinner, make homemade bread, sometimes it’s challah. Today I’m making just a standard white bread – off of the barefoot kitchen witch website, to show that I haven’t forgotten my roots :-). We light candles, saying the blessings in Hebrew and in English. My husband kisses me and we tell each other how much we love each other. We bless the children, one at a time, and pray for their peace and happiness. We thank God for the food in front of us, for bringing us to this day. And then we eat.

It’s a lovely little island in time, a whole night and day devoted to being grateful for all that we have. It’s the cornerstone of my family, it’s the highlight of our week.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. Hope your Friday/Saturday is as lovely as mine is.

I’m relatively laid back about my parenting. I like to encourage my children to make their own choices when they can. I let them pick out their own clothes when they want to (although more often than not, they’re just as happy to have me do it). And for the most part, this works out really well. But both my younger two children have an affection for hats – and both are stubborn and insist on wearing the hat all the time. My son took a sun hat that I had bought for his older sister and wore it non-stop for three seasons. It was a little bucket hat, striped in bright rainbow colors and he flat out adored it. He wore it everywhere. And it was a little odd looking, but he was really happy about it, and I just let him go with it. I mean, it was a sun hat, it served a purpose. And he gave it up pretty willingly when it got cold and he needed a warmer winter hat. Now that he’s five, he’ll wear a hat if he has to, but is pretty much past the obsessive “I have to have my hat on all the time” phase.

My Julianna, though, I’m having a slightly harder time giving her free reign to choose her own headgear. And she’s way more passionate about her hat that her brother ever was. At first, she just loved one of my older daughter’s hand me down winter hats. It was pale pink and cute, and she wore it pretty constantly whenever we went out. Then she saw her older brother’s batman hats, and instantly dropped the pretty pink girly hat for a rough and tumble batman chapeau. She’s got a black and grey striped one, with the batman logo that she’ll wear in a pinch, if she can’t find the one she loves. But her absolute favorite is a black hat, with red flames along the edge and a red batman logo in the front.

She’s sleeping in it right now. The other day, we went to a party at our synagogue, and she spent the entire time running around wearing leggings, a cute t-shirt, the red and black batman hat and striped mittens. I can usually get her to take off the mittens, but the hat is pretty much on her head all the time. It’s not just for outdoor wear, it’s an integral part of any outfit, including pajamas. She wears it for nap and even to bed at night.

She’s a hat girl, and I wouldn’t change it. I love that she’s opinionated and passionate about her likes and dislikes. I’m just hoping that she’s open to a summer hat or she’s going to have a long, hot summer season.