1.  Sam is really, really specific about certain things.  Being late for school makes him nuts.  Having more than two things to eat in his lunch box really bothers him.  These are two things that don’t phase his sister at all, she’d happily stroll into school late every day, and likes to have a zillion things in her lunch box so she can pick and choose what she’d like.   But kids are different, and I would never have predicted that my easy going relaxed boy would be the one who’s actually scary specific about these things.

2.  Third grade is the year they actually start reading books on their own.  Not the year they learn to read independently (much to my chagrin – that’s kindergarten), but it’s the year they actually start WANTING to read independently.  Looking back, Jessie’s best friend Glennys, (a solid year older), started really reading last year, and I really worried that Jessie wasn’t a reader (which is a whole other issue – it’s like a professional football player realizing his son doesn’t like to throw the ball around – I was crushed when she didn’t like to read at home).  But this year, about mid-way thru, she just started reading all the time.  I’m thrilled.

3a.  Preschool really, really does matter.  I didn’t think it did.  I thought it was necessary for socialization, and since Sam had his friends over all the time, I figured we’d be good.  We weren’t.  He never learned to separate from me, and spent most of the first months at kindergarten trying to adjust to not being with me.  Between that, and not having that additional year of academic instruction, he really struggled in kindergarten.

3b.  It’s a not necessarily a bad idea to hold off a year to start kindergarten.  Especially if you’ve got a son (because anecdotal as well as scientific evidence shows that they mature slower than girls, especially in terms of academic readiness), and he’s a summer baby.  I really, really wish I had known that last year.

4.  Playdates matter.  I never really did them before, they just seemed silly.  My kids had friends – they weren’t necessarily the same kids they went to school with, but it’s not like they weren’t out playing with kids all the time.  But what I was missing was that when they socialize outside of school with their school friends – it makes school a lot more fun for them.  

5.  Girl Scouts Rock.  Seriously.  It’s a freaking great after school activity for girls.  Cheap, super fun, and meeting every other week means that it fit in perfectly with her schedule.   I’m so glad I signed Jessie up for it this year, she loved it, and I only wish I had started her with it in kindergarten.

6.  Having just one baby at home is delicious.  Julianna misses her G and her Boy so much during the day, but I love the one on one time with her.  We have our own routines and rituals and she’s such an easy, easy, happy girl.

That being said – I can’t WAIT for the end of school this year.  I love summer vacation 🙂

Sammy got teased yesterday. From what I can put together based on his account and the one from his Jordyn (who was over yesterday afternoon), he had tripped in gym class and cried because he was hurt, and two of the boys in his class called him a baby. The full story didn’t come out until late last night, when he crawled up into my lap and burst into tears about what a horrible day he’d had. He was sitting on my lap, sobbing about these two kids calling him names and I’m doing my best to stifle the urge to go hunt them down. Because they are only five or six, and I don’t want to go beat up a bunch of little kids, but was so hurt for him. Poor Sammy was so sad and embarrassed and I was at a loss as to how to handle it. 

I told him that sometimes kids could be mean, and was thinking in my head that this was such a teachable moment. And here it was, I had the chance to come up with the magic pep talk that would not only make him feel better, but also somehow impart the wisdom that would help him to never do that to another kid. I was floundering – because really, when your baby is crying because his feelings are hurt, he doesn’t want to rise above it, and he doesn’t want to hear about those boys must really feel bad about themselves to need to make him feel badly. And all I wanted to do was go find those kids who were mean to my boy and hurt them back, and that’s not really wise (or possible).

So I look helplessly over at Marc – because he’s a boy, or was, and maybe he’s got some wisdom to impart as well. And he looked at our son, and said “Sam, it’s no big deal – the next time someone calls you a baby, you just call them a bum bum sucker.” It was so ridiculous and crude and so shocking to him, and such a different response from my whole “rise about it” pep talk. Sam immediately started laughing hysterically at the prospect of teasing the boys back. With one sentence, my husband was able to magically transform Sam from a sobbing victim into a strong, confident boy who couldn’t be bullied. He gave him back his power.  Being called a baby wasn’t such a big deal, not when he had such a cool insult in his back pocket to pull out if necessary.  He won’t feel bad about himself next time, he won’t feel like he’s being teased and made fun of, he’ll be able to respond and feel confident and secure. Of course, I’m not looking forward to the conversation with his teacher… but given the choice between having a kid who sticks up for himself, or one who internalizes the insults and feels awful, I’d rather have the awkward conversation with the teacher. 

I may be better at getting them to bed, and I’m better at getting them out the door on time, and snuggling when they’re sick and a whole host of other things – but when it comes to dealing with bullies and teasing on the playground – my husband is the best. 

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

My synagogue is having a late night discussion panel for the holiday of Shavuot on Saturday night.  Traditionally, this is a holiday that’s always had a lot of meaning for Marc and I (http://www.musingsofawritermom.blogspot.com/2010/03/ive-got-it-i-figured-out-her-name.html), because it’s when the Book of Ruth is read.  Ruth is one of the more famous converts to Judaism, and that’s the topic of the discussion.  So I’ve got the following questions to guide me in my talk, and figured I’d brainstorm here on the blog.

1.  Did you grow up involved in religious tradition?

The short answer is yes – although my religious tradition was much more spiritual then religious.  We were nominally Catholic, and I grew up in a small town where virtually everyone went to the same church.  We were far from devout Catholics, my mother used joke that we were C&E; Catholics, and that the only time we all went to church was for Christmas and Easter.  What I did grow up with was a strong sense that there was a God, and that I was cherished and beloved.  That my responsibility was to study and learn and question, and whatever path I took would be the right one.  This led me from Catholicism to Wicca and then to a free form Church of Melissa, where I knew what I believed and was perfectly content with my spirituality.

2.  How were you first introduced to Judaism?

Marc was my first introduction to it.  I hadn’t ever known anyone who was Jewish before.  We met in February, and the first time I met his parents was on Passover.  

3.  What were some of your major influences in Judaism?

The first influence, obviously, is my husband Marc.  The decision to convert wasn’t one that I came to lightly, and it wasn’t one that I came to quickly.  But from the beginning, I was committed to raising our children as Jews, if for no other reason than because their father was Jewish.  Half their family was Jewish.  When I was pregnant with Jessica, I spent a lot of time debating and discussing and reading.  Marc and I would talk for literally hours about spirituality and religion and it’s role in our lives, and the role it was going to have in our childrens’ lives. Marc is profoundly connected to his heritage, and very, very proud of his Judaism.  I really struggled with balancing that with my own beliefs, which were just as strong, if not as clearly defined.  Some of the books that made me see that I was actually a lot closer to Jewish theology than I thought I was – To Life by Harold Kushner, Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin, Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.

4.  What drew you to Judaism?

What drew me to Judaism, really, was the picture of the family that I wanted to create with my husband.  I wanted my children to be a recognized and valued part of their community.  The concept of repairing the world, the notion that we had a particular responsibility to make the world a better place really resonated with me, the concept of sanctification – of making the deliberate choice to think about keeping kosher, even if we don’t always succeed, to be grateful for the daily miracles that surround us.  These are values that I believed in, these are things I knew to be true for me, these are the things I wanted my children to know.

5.  Can you describe the process you went thru to become Jewish?

I didn’t formally convert to Judaism until the summer before I had my youngest child.  June of 2009.  But I had been working my way towards it ever since Marc and I met.  It was critical to me that I understand Judaism – if this was the belief system I was going to raise my children with, I needed to know that it was true for me.  So I read everything I could get my hands on.  The more I read, the more I realized that it wasn’t enough to want to raise the kids as Jewish, because I wasn’t Jewish, they weren’t Jewish.   Meanwhile, they were growing up knowing that they were Jewish.  Jessie, in particular, was profoundly spiritual.  Like a lot of children, she loved talking about God, and really, really enjoyed learning as much as she could about Judaism.  After Sam was born, we had a bris, in preparation for his conversion, and  I talked with the rabbi at Temple Sinai, we met with the rabbi at the Yeshiva and the Chabad in Westboro.  In the end, we decided to join the BI and we met with Rabbi Pitkowski to discuss the process of converting both our two older kids and myself.  We met once a month for about eight months, and then I went to the mikvah with Jess and Sam.

6.  What are some of the challenges and joys of converting?

Ahh – this is the big question.  There are a lot of challenges to converting.  I found it so easy to convert to the Jewish religion – the Jewish culture is another thing for me.  Jewish theology just makes sense for me, it’s incredibly easy for me to feel comfortable with Jewish values and beliefs.  Jewish culture is still at times confusing to me, I don’t understand keeping strict kosher at home and not caring if you have hamburger on your pizza in a restaurant.  A huge challenge is trying to negotiate peace with my family – my family still really struggles with understand why I needed to convert, why I want to raise my children differently from the way that I was raised and the way that they are raising their own children.  Making sure that my children don’t feel conflicted, trying to have them be fully a part of my extended family.  Because Judaism is such a huge part of our lives, trying to make sure that my kids don’t lose that connection to the part of their family that is decidedly NOT Jewish is a struggle.  Another challenge, that honestly took me by surprise, is raising children differently from the way I was.

But the joys – there’s so much joy in this.  There’s joy in Sam putting on his yamulke that I crocheted for him, and Julie sitting still and waiting for Marc to bless her during Shabbat.  There’s joy in Jessie singing in Hebrew, and reciting the four questions in front of a huge crowd at Passover.  There’s joy in teaching my children about mitzvahs, and performing them with them.  There’s joy in watching my children question and learn and grow in a tradition that values education and gratitude.  There’s joy in raising a family with my husband, a family that based, in large part, on a shared faith and traditions.

7.  What is your Hebrew name and why did you choose it?

My Hebrew Name is Chana, and I chose it because she was the mother of Samuel.

Raising children is sort of like a job that’s never actually done.  It’s rare that you can see tangible results, similar to doing laundry or vacuuming or dishes.  By the time I get it done, it’s ready to be done again.  But that’s another post… Milestones, once your baby reaches toddlerhood, are not as pronounced.  Not as obvious.  But this morning, Jessica Mary hit a major milestone, and it was as exciting for me as her first steps.

First – kudos to Samilicious Boy.   Who didn’t do anything awesome this morning, but was his usual, charming self.  Got up, ate breakfast, chatted pleasantly, got dressed and bopped off to school happily enough.

But Jessie – she achieved something this morning that I’ve been waiting and waiting for.  We’ve been working, both of us, on adapting to the fact that she’s not a little kid anymore.  I don’t have to nag her to finish eating or to do her homework or to put on her pajamas and fall asleep.  She asked that I tell her once, and then she’ll do it and get it done.  So I’m trying.  Really hard.  It’s a major adaptation – I’m used to a lot of involved parenting, because I’ve had a baby/toddler for nine and a half years now, and they get easily distracted and forget what they’re doing.  They require frequent reminders, like you have to eat the breakfast I put in front of you, and please don’t forget you have to finish that math sheet.  You need to get your hair brushed and where are your shoes again?  But Jessie is nine.  Almost ten.  And she’d like to take on more control of her life, and I have to learn to step back.  So I’m trying.

Case in point, bedtime.  We discussed, and determined that as long as she was able to show me that she could handle it, by remaining pleasant and getting herself dressed and ready in the morning on time, I’d let her decide for herself when to fall asleep.  Two days into it, and it’s been going well, but this morning, she was groggy and tired.  I had asked her to get up, and she failed to do so.  The third time I went in to get her up, she snapped at me and I caught myself just before I snapped back and calmly pointed out that if she wanted the control over her schedule, she had to prove to me that she could handle it.  And SHE APOLOGIZED.   It was awesome.  She very sincerely apologized and was sweet and pleasant and got her little self dressed and we got to school on time.  My little girl is growing up – and I’m so proud.

I have two children in school, and there is a part of me that envies you. You have the time with my children that I don’t. You see them in ways that I can’t, you see them without me. In many ways, you see a side of them that I’ll never see, the person they are when I’m not there. 

With my oldest daughter, she’s nine. She’s big. She’s a tween, and dealing with division and multiplication tables, discovering how much fun it is to read, and losing herself in books for the first time. She’s trying to navigate the murky social waters of the third grade, and sometimes that’s terrifying for me. I rely so much on you, on your ability to protect and guide her, to teach her not only that 9×7=63, but also that it’s okay for her to not always fit in, and that she’s perfectly okay being exactly who she is. I tell her that all the time, but coming from you, it means something different. You’ve taught her how to be comfortable in her own skin. She’s blossomed this year, I’ve seen her grow so much. She’s happy about going to school, excited about what she’s learning. Thank you, for that and so much more.

My boy, my little baby boy. When he started kindergarten this year, you had to pry him off of my leg, and hold him back from chasing after me. At least three times this year, he managed to break free, and you had to literally chase him out the door to catch him. You taught me, as much as you taught him, that it was okay for him to go to school. That he needed that push, that he would be safe and secure. You gave him time to feel comfortable, and never pushed him for more than he could give. And because of that, he’s sitting on the rug, he’s playing, he’s happy at school. You have given me artwork for my walls, and boy who’s newly confident. He knows now that he’s safe without me, that there’s a whole world out there waiting for him. Thank you, for that and so much more.

Mrs. Ring and Mrs. Gravel and the entire staff at Flagg Street School – thank you. For all that you, for all that I know that you do, and for all that I don’t. Thank you for the times when you went way above and beyond for my children, for the way you made them feel special and smart and loved. My kids love school, and you have taught them so much. I’m grateful. 

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

I’m possessive about my kids. And I was raised by a single mother, so my default on how to parent is to do it all myself. With each child, I’ve gotten progressively better about sharing. With Jessica, I was just so in love with her, so in love with being her mother that I wanted to do it all.  By the time Sam came along, I was better at sharing. But he was such a clingy boy, I ended up doing most of it by myself with him, but was so grateful for my husband because he was able to take over a lot of the parenting duties with my older child.  But with Julianna – she’s had such a strong bond with her daddy from the very beginning.

Which is not to say that he hasn’t been an awesome daddy to my other two kids. He used to play “fight on the bed” with Jessie when she was barely two. One of my favorite memories is of her, all clean from her bath, curly brown hair and little princess nightgown on, and he’d whack her with the pillow, and I was horrified, but she’d pop up laughing hysterically and begging for it again.  She’d run across the bed with her “war face,” and tackle him and they’d collapse onto the bed together. He was the champion puma hunter (she was obsessed with pumas in her closet, and would frequently refuse to go to bed unless Daddy had checked to make sure it was safe). And my son was in love with him from the start. Not in love, more that he worshipped his daddy. He seemed to intuit from a very early age that he was a boy and so was his dad, and to this day, loves nothing more than doing stereotypically “male” things like mixed martial arts or putting stuff together or cooking on the grill.  It was amazing to me, that Sam just knew that his daddy was who he needed to emulate and did everything he could be just like him.

But my Julie – she adored her daddy from the very beginning. One of the unforeseen blessings of unemployment was that he was home for her infancy, and was able to form such a tight bond. He was the one who put her sleep for the longest time, he’d rock her and rub her back and sing to her. Once she moved on to solid food, the majority of her meals were eaten out of his bowl or off his plate, and it’s still one of her favorite activities, to sit on the floor and share a bowl of cereal with her “Yaya.” I’m not sure why, but that was the name she came up with for him, and although she can say “Daddy,” he’s still Yaya. She misses him during the day, is mad at him for leaving for work each morning and rushes to the door to meet him when he comes home each night. I put the older two to bed early each night, and Julianna will stay up with her Yaya, they get a snack, watch Looney Tunes together.

This morning, I dropped the older two off at school, and as usual, Julie was in the backseat. She resents that they leave her each morning and was complaining loudly about needing her “G” and “My Boy” (which is what she calls the older two). But then she cheered up and said “I need my Yaya RIGHT NOW.”

She’s a daddy’s girl, in the absolute most beautiful sense of the word. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how critical dads are, and about how incredibly blessed and fortunate my children are. Because they have such an awesome dad. He flat out adores them and is never happier than when he’s surrounded by all of them.

I’m grateful today, for Yaya, for the man who hunts pumas and teaches my toddlers about “war faces” and chases them around the house. I’m grateful for the man who taught my son to kill a bug, and my toddler to love hot sauce. Sometimes in life, you get lucky just by chance – and I’m forever grateful that this is the man that fathered my children.
read to be read at yeahwrite.me

I think the picture on the front of the Time Magazine this week was deliberately chosen to be provocative and controversial. That being said – while I tend to shy away from being controversial for the sake of controversy – I was that woman two years ago. I’m about a year away from being that woman again. Samilicious Boy nursed until he was closer to four than three.  Julianna is two and still actively nursing. And it’s baffling to me that this is an issue for anyone. 

I never planned on nursing past a year. Initially, my prime motivation was to avoid having to pay for formula, that stuff is expensive! But I learned that nursing is about so much more than just feeding a baby. It’s about safety and nurturing and comfort and knowing that you are exactly and utterly what your child needs at that very moment. Jessie nursed until she was about eight months and then just lost interest. I expected that my son would do the same, but from the beginning, he was much more needy. He needed to be held, needed to nurse. He had colic and reflux, and nursing was what made it better. Even with 24/7 nursing on demand, he was still on daily meds for the reflux and there was a phenominal amount of crying, on both our parts. It seemed ridiculous to cut him off from what was, for him, such a source of comfort at twelve months. I made the decision to nurse as long as he needed too. Thank goodness, I had supportive friends, both of whom had babies around the same time and they were both in it for the long haul. I also had the amazing support of my husband, who was as committed to doing what was best for our children as I was. 

There’s also considerable medical evidence to support extended nursing. The AMA recommends nursing for a minimum of a year and then as long after as the mother/child desire. The WHO recommends nursing for at least two years. My pediatrician was very supportive as well. Because when you think about it – how many toddlers do you know who are still on a bottle? Or still using a pacifier? I know a lot, because even if they aren’t nursing, there’s a fundamental need to suck that comforts kids. My oldest may have self weaned before she was a year, but she was falling asleep with her “fier” until she was four and half or so.

Toddler nursing just isn’t that big of a deal. More and more women I know are doing it, because it makes sense. I love that nursing is still a part of my relationship with my toddler. I love that when she was puking, I didn’t worry about dehydration at all. I love that my son didn’t get sick at all until after he stopped nursing. He’ll be six in a few months, and has never been on an antibiotic. My baby hasn’t ever been to the doctor for anything other than a well baby visit. 

Extended nursing, extreme parenting, toddler nursing – it’s all the same thing, and honestly, it’s really not worth the drama that gets attached to it. It’s not sexual, and nobody I know ever planned on nursing for years. But you do, sometimes, because it’s what your child needs. 

In the end, we all make parenting decisions based on what we think is most important, on what’s the best fit for us, for our kids, for our families. Some families homeschool, some do public school, and some unschool. And that’s fine. Some mothers are more comfortable transitioning to formula earlier, some mothers like to nurse until the need is outgrown. And that’s fine too. Some families co-sleep, some kids cry it out. I make the decisions for myself, and my family, based on what we want and need, and not necessarily what’s socially acceptable at that particular time. And really, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? 

Not really – I think my all time favorite is those first few weeks home with a new baby.  And there’s a LOT to be said for nine year olds and five year olds – Jessie and Sam are both growing up so much and each age is fascinating in it’s own right.  But the age that Julianna is at right now is kind of awesome.   She’s genuinely delighted by most things.  For example, today we went shopping.  And as per usual, we were chatting thru the store, talking about what we needed.  I had been looking for peanut butter and found it, and she hollered “YAY MAMA!” like I had just achieved this major goal.  It was awesome.  Her enthusiasm and general happiness is totally infectious.  It’s very hard to maintain a bad mood around this girl..

Okay, I love baby wearing. I do. I wore Julianna all the time when she was tiny, but now that’s she’s a toddler, it’s VERY rare that she’ll sit in a carriage, let alone sit in a sling or a backpack. So I got out of the habit of bringing the carrier with me, and when I got the brilliant brainstorm on Sunday afternoon to take the kids to the Purgatory Chasm, I didn’t even think of it.   And that was a major mistake.

We googled the directions and headed off. It was just my three kids and Marc and I – but we’re definitely going back and bringing the older girls with us.  Sam was talking about how much he wanted to bring Glennys and Sarah back – he really loved it.  In the end, it was a really great experience, for a whole bunch of reasons. The older two LOVED it. Sam is a nature boy, he’s always happiest surrounded by trees and sunshine, and Jessie was the official photographer, posing the kids and taking pictures of rocks and trees. We split duties, with Marc watching the older two and me walking along with Julianna. Julie is at that awesome age, where everything, everything is fascinating and worthy of saving. I’m talking rocks, sticks, old leaves. She couldn’t take more than a step or two without being distracted by some lovely little thing and we’d have to pause, examine and pick it up to save. She’d gravely hand me her treasure and toddle on, and I’d discreetly drop it when she wasn’t looking. 

We followed the yellow path for the most part, and somewhere along the line, we migrated over to the blue path. When we started, it was a lovely little hike on a rocky path thru the woods. Challenging for Julie to navigate, but not insurmountable. But eventually, we ended up in the actual Chasm part of Purgatory Chasm – and it was then that I realized that we had made a pretty major error in taking along a toddler with no carrier. Because you really do need to climb – and having two free arms is a necessity. 

It was completely an exercise in teamwork. Not just for Marc and I, but also for the older two kids. Because they forged on ahead, working together and climbing their way thru. Marc and I went slowly, one going first, passing the baby along to the one in front and then switching places, passing her along… it was honestly a bit scary and I kept thinking to myself that I was mostly crazy to have undertaken this endeavor. But we made it out, and while I’m not attempting it again for a couple of years with the toddler, I’m sending Marc back definitely. The older two kids LOVED it and can’t wait to go back. 

My kids don’t like summer camp. To be fair, they don’t like school either, but I make them go to that. But I can’t bring myself to do it in the summer. I like summer just the way it is. Three glorious months when I don’t have to worry about lunch boxes and which day is gym and did you remember your sneakers. I don’t have to pick out clothes for them, I don’t have to rush, rush, rush to get out the door. It’s a long relaxing period of time, filled with day trips to the beach, visits to family members we don’t see that often, and long, lazy days of just…. being. Picking dandelions and learning to ride a bike and roller skate. Climbing Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Wachusett. Strawberry picking, hiking, swimming. 

My kids don’t particularly like a lot of structure. They like to wing it. They like to hang out at home, or to visit friends. They both begged to be able to stay home this summer, and I’m counting down the weeks to summer. 

They won’t be this age again. My oldest is nine, we’re flirting ever closer to the years where she’d rather hang with her friends than me. My son is still at the gorgeous age where he adores me, and is happiest when he’s at my side. And Julianna – my little love bug is two, is there anything cuter than a two year old who worships her older siblings? I need to take advantage of this time, I want to relish every single minute of their childhood. 

So we’re not doing camp this summer. We’re going to go swimming in the ocean, we’re going to visit the White Mountains, and explore the woods around our house. We’re going to make nature journals, and take up bird watching. My oldest is planning on writing a book, my son is planning on trying to tame one of the squirrels outside. We’re going to blow bubbles and take the bus (just for the fun of it). We’re going to make weekly treks to the library, and we’re going to visit and explore and sleep late and stay up even later. We’re going to soak up every last bit of this summer, and I can’t wait.