I’ve decided to put Julianna back into diapers.  She started out really strong with the potty training, totally self directed, but then randomly went on potty strike.  Refusing to sit on the potty, but more than happy to wear her new undies and have accidents.  I tried to power thru it, hoping that eventually she’d get the hint that sitting on the potty was preferable to having soggy undies, but when she peed on my bed for the second day in a row, and immediately followed up by pooping on the floor – I had to throw in the towel.  We’ll try again in a few weeks.

Sam starts boy scouts tomorrow.  There’s a hike thru Purgatory Chasm, and he’s already telling me that he doesn’t want to go.  But Marc is going – he’s going to be the troop leader, and his dad is going as well, and I’m sure that in the end, he’ll have fun.  As luck would have it, his camp got cancelled yesterday due to thunderstorms, and since we had already made plans for today, he doesn’t have to go back.  Which is handy, as I don’t think I could get him to participate anyway.  He’s just not into “activities.”  I’m hopeful that scouting will be a change, because he’ll have Marc right there with him, and it’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time.

Jessica Mary is having a delightful summer, all things considered.  This is the first summer she’s really discovered books – and is constantly in the middle of four or five different ones.  She’s still squabbling with her brother pretty much non-stop – and it’s so hard sometimes, because he really doesn’t understand why he bothers her so much.  Yesterday afternoon, I had another come to Jesus talk with them, about how they have to stop fighting all the time, and that they are brother and sister – they’re supposed to have each other’s back.  This is your ally.  He spent the rest of the afternoon waiting on her hand and foot, delivering love notes, iced tea and mashing potatoes for her snack.  He loves her so much, and I really hope this antipathy she has towards him lessens at least a little bit.

Not to say that Sam’s totally innocent – because he’s not.  He’s more than willing to bug the hell out of Julie for fun.  Marc says he’s just toughening her up – and Julie does really seem to like rough play, certainly a lot more than Jessie did at that age.   But there are times when I have to intervene, just because she’s still little and he thinks of her as a lot more capable and tough than she really is.

It’s always easier to parent someone else’s child.  And it’s always easier to know exactly what you’d do, if you were the parent.  Of course, you aren’t the parent, and thus, not always aware of the extenuating circumstances.  Not always aware of what’s been tried in the past, what hasn’t worked in the past.  And today, I’m just putting it out there – maybe instead of jumping to conclusions and criticizing other parents, we should all just take a deep breath, step back, and acknowledge that we’re all just doing the best we can.

My six year old son has extreme separation anxiety.  He becomes incredibly anxious and fearful when he’s going to be separated from me, and to some extent, from his father.  He’s been that way from the moment he was born, and there’s little I can do to prevent it.  The reason I know this is because he’s not my only child.  I have three of them, one is mildly shy and reserved, one is outgoing and friendly, and one is terrified in new situations and takes a good long time to warm up.  That’s how they were when I got them.  I am absolutely certain that so much of personality is there from the very beginning.

Jessie started dance class at two years old.   She’d been home with me full time, but was delighted to dance off with the other little girls, and has been in “activities” from a very early age.  She started summer camp when she was four.  While she certainly didn’t like going to kindergarten, she was content while she was there.  Shy, sure, but participating and comfortable.

Julianna believes that everyone in the world is her friend.  Literally.  If she sees another child, she happily announces that she’s her friend and will immediately go to play.  She can be a bit shy at times, a bit reserved, but overall, she’s enormously outgoing compared to her older brother.  She’s thrilled to betsy to see her grandparents, absolutely loves going off for the day with her Auntie Becky and Aimee.

Sam simply is who he is.  He’s pretty sure that the world isn’t entirely safe, and sometimes he’s nervous and scared when he’s forced to interact too much with too many people.

This week, he wanted to go soccer camp.  It’s Monday thru Thursday, from 9-12.  He was certain he wanted to do it, and his best friend Harrison signed up as well.  Monday, he chickened out right before we left, and only went once I promised to go up to the field and hang there.  After a half hour or so of clinging to me and saying he didn’t want to do it, eventually, he jointed the group and had a great time.  Tuesday was even better, he joined in right away and was great.

But there were a couple of issues, Harrison had had some problems with other kids taking his ball and he got upset, and Sam was very concerned last night about how to handle that.  Then I told him that I wasn’t going to sit there for the full three hours, it’s too much time for me to be trying to entertain the two other girls, and Jessie needed to get dropped off somewhere mid-morning.  I’m sure those two things played into the fact that he lost his little mind about going to camp today.  He just didn’t want to go.  And there was no talking him out of it.

It’s hard for me.  I mean, it’s obviously hard for him as well, but as a parent, you want your child to thrive.  You want him to be bold and adventurous and excited about playing with his friends, and it’s hard to watch him be terrified and worried and anxious.  It’s even harder to admit that there’s not a damn thing you can do to change it.  So I was already at a disadvantage, after forty five minutes of trying to get him to participate in camp, and finally giving up.  Which is why, when the mom in the minivan next to me looked at me and asked if I knew that I was doing the wrong thing by letting him go home, I was initially just dumbfounded.  Really?  Really?  She honestly thought to herself that the best way to help, when no help was asked for, was to tell me that I’m doing it wrong???  I just stared at her for a minute, and then asked if she really thought she was being helpful.  Because really – what was the motivation there?  Take a mom who’s clearly, visibly upset, and patiently tell me that I’m doing it wrong.  She pointed out that I was only reinforcing bad behavior, and that what I should do was just leave him there.  I started to answer her, to tell her that this was something that we were working on, and it’s one thing to leave him at school, with staff that’s specifically trained in dealing with small children, but there wasn’t a chance in hell that I’d leave my hysterically sobbing six year old in the care of five coaches – who were already handling sixty other four, five and six year olds.  That leaving him there would require at least one coach, probably two, to hold him back from chasing me out of the parking lot – and that it wasn’t worth ruining everyone else’s camp experience to further traumatize him in the name of giving him a great summer experience.

So I walked away.  I just walked away.  She was still talking, but I was past the point of trying to justify my parenting to her.  Because in the end, I did what was right for my son in that situation.  It might not have been what was right for her son, but you know what?  I don’t get to parent her child.  I don’t give her advice on how to handle her most challenging parenting problems.  Because that’s not how I roll.  I don’t give unsolicited advice, and if I did, I’d never start off with “you know you’re doing that wrong.”  I really, really wish that she had paused and thought before informing me that I was a crappy parent.  I really, really wish that she had smiled at me, told me that it’d get better, that we all have days when our kids are miserable and unhappy – because we do.  I know enough other moms, I’ve dealt with enough other kids to know that my son is far from unique.  He may be a bit more extreme, in this one area.  But he’s a great kid – and you know what?  I’m a great mom.  Shame on her for insinuating otherwise.

A conversation with the Cohens: Part Two

by Jen Niles, MassMoms Moderator

 Melissa and Marc Cohen are familiar names on MassMoms.com. Melissa is a regular MassMoms blogger, and Marc recently wrote an article with tips on how to be a great dad. We recently talked to both of them about their life together as parents. This article is the first of two parts. This is the second half of the interview.

In what areas do you differ, when it comes to parenting?
(Melissa) I think we are mostly on the same page.  In theory, I think we both have veto power; if one of us feels strongly enough, the other one will cave, when there is a difference.  I’m not a fan of kids playing with guns and violent play.  Marc is (although he could explain why he’s in favor of it better), and because Marc is as much their parent as I am, I conceded and my son literally has a weapon bucket in his room to hold all his swords and plastic guns.  I don’t know that Marc would have gone with extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping if I hadn’t felt strongly that it was the right path for us.  I think sometimes I’m stricter about respect issues, Marc is more of a pushover at times.  Marc gives them way more freedom re: eating sugary treats, bedtime, etc.

(Marc)  I have always been more in favor of rough play than my wife.  I have a wonderful game called “fight on the bed” that I started playing with my nine-year-old daughter Jessica when she was only two – sort of a combination pillow fight, wrestling match, kung-fu movie re-enactment, and bodybuilder posing contest.  My wife would never have dreamed up something like that, but my daughter loved it.  Now all of my children love to play, and having a fun roughhouse game like that  has made a serious difference in the quality of my parenting and our family’s bonding.  But where she has really taken a step back is with my son.  Melissa loves him dearly, and they are as close as any mother and son I have ever met, but sometimes he confuses the HELL out of my wife.  She would NEVER have predicted that someday she would have a child with his very own “weapon bucket.”  We have been known to play together by grabbing toy shotguns, pretending the house is infested with zombies, and going room-to-room “clearing” the house, yelling “watch my six” to each other while we destroy an army of imaginary monsters.  And he takes such obvious delight that she takes a step back and just lets us go.  And I think she has come to understand the truth in the old cliche “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Someday, my son is going to be a big, strong man.  And what I teach him about how to use that strength is going to determine whether he’s going to be a bully, or the guy who tells the bully “if you hit her again, I’m going to kick your ass until my foot hits the roof of your mouth.”

How do you deal with those instances?
(Melissa)  If you don’t like the way I do it, do it yourself.  That’s our marriage motto, and it works in almost every instance.  If you say it with respect and love, it’s the perfect way to resolve the conflict.  Marc would have the kids sleep in their own beds, and is more than content with putting them in the their room and letting them cry themselves to sleep.  I’m not, but that means that I have to take leadership of that.  So I nurse my babies to sleep, and snuggle and cuddle my kids until they drift off.  Not that Marc’s uninvolved, because he isn’t, but it’s my choice because I didn’t like the way he wanted to do it.   We also have a strong mutual respect for each other, and I think defer to each other and back each other up.  I want Marc to be a success as a dad, and he wants for me to be a success as a mom.  Whatever we can do to further that goal, to be the best parents we can to these children, we do.  Because the goal, overwhelmingly, is for us to succeed as a family, and if that means compromising, then we compromise.

(Marc) The “if you don’t like the way I do it, then do it yourself” plan really works wonders in all areas of married life, including child rearing.  I highly recommend it.  Another good point is recognizing expertise.  Look at your partner.  There are some things you are better at than they are, and some where they are better than you.  Be realistic.  And if they know what they are talking about, concede.

You are both active in your community. Have you always been like that, or did that happen when you became parents?
(Melissa)  For me, it was more parenting based.   I’m not a “joiner” and tend to be somewhat reserved and introverted in a lot of settings.  But when you have kids, you want to be a part of their world, especially the parts of their world that you can’t control.  That means, for me, joining the PTA, getting to know everyone in their world, their friends, their friends’ parents, and inevitably, being active in the community.  Left to my own devices, I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as active without kids.

(Marc) Completely marriage-and-parenting based. When we met, I was living in a house I shared with my cousin and two friends. We were like the bad stereotype of a frat-house. We had an extra fridge in the basement just to keep kegs in, played tackle football indoors, and had dance parties with live music at 2:00 a.m. Never mind being community involved, it is because of the life changes and acceptance of responsibility that go along with getting married and having children that I shave.

What do you do for fun, as individuals? I’m talking about hobbies and things that are sort of “yours” outside the role of parent.
(Melissa)  As an individual, I don’t do a lot that doesn’t relate back to family time.   It’s not always going to be like this, but the facts are that I have three young children, two stepdaughters as well, and my youngest is still nursing.  I don’t have a lot of “free” time when I’m not being Mama.  I love to read, and really enjoy writing as well.  But those are activities that translate well to being a SAHM, I pack a book before I pack a diaper in my diaper bag, and I’ve been blogging for years.  When Marc’s not working or working out – honestly, I want to spend time WITH him, not leave him with the kids and go off on my own.  That means that I don’t get a lot of me time.  I’ll have time for that later, the kids won’t always be this small.

(Marc)  I really don’t do much for fun as an individual.  We all make choices, and I choose to prioritize family.  The only thing I really do for me is exercise.  And even that is something I do as much (#1) for my health, because I’m getting older and my family depends upon me, and (#2) to set a good example for the kids, especially when sometimes they want to join in with me. And lets be real about it.  I love hard physical training.  If I inherited a lot of money tomorrow, I would train full-time to compete in the over-40 division of whatever sports I could, at as high a level as my talent and effort would take me.  What I can actually muster the time for is an hour on the rowing machine or cross-country-skiing machine three times a week (in a good week).

What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?
(Melissa)  We just like being together.  I know it sounds corny, but we do.   Watching television or going to the EcoTarium, or to the beach.  Long drives to visit family.  We read together, Harry Potter with Jessie or the Hardy Boys with Sam.  The kids and I like to bake, Marc likes to play computer games with the little ones.   My favorite days are when we don’t DO anything in particular, but get up and have coffee together while the kids eat cereal and then we spend the whole day with all five kids, roaming around the house, playing outside, or in their bedrooms, or taking over the living room and building with blocks.  The kids break into little groups that are constantly shifting and changing.  Big family dinners, where everyone is shouting and yelling to be heard over everyone else.

(Marc) I really like just spending time and doing things together.  Sometimes its a big event, like a trip to New Hampshire for a long weekend to visit friends, go to Mount Washington, and go to Storyland.  Sometimes its a middle event, like a cookout party or a trip to the EcoTarium or the beach.  And sometimes its a small thing, like hanging out around the house on a warm Sunday afternoon, going outside to play catch and draw with sidewalk chalk, and maybe walk down to the bottom of the street to get Pizza.

Recently I read an article that said one aspect of being loving is being of service and value to others. Do you think about this and, if so, do you try to instill that thinking in your kids?
Melissa)  There’s a tenet of Judaism that has always really resonated with me.  It’s called tikkun olam or “repairing the world.”  I believe that we have a responsibility to make the world better.  How that translates is up to each one of us, but it’s one of the reasons why Judaism really spoke to me

(Marc)  My feelings on this are fairly complex.  I think it is extremely important to help other people.  Implied in Cain’s question to God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is the answer “Yes. Yes, you are.”  But the world is a messy place.  Very often it is difficult to see what is really helpful, what is counterproductive, and what is just for show.  That’s why I emphasize that the best way to help the world is to help directly, in your own community, those who you know best: the member of your church or synagogue who is out of a job, your elderly neighbor who has difficulty visiting her husband in the nursing home, or your friend who can’t find child care so they can go to work.  I know that I have been through rough times, as almost everyone has, and the help I received from others has been invaluable in ways I can never repay.  The best I can do is pay it forward whenever I come across someone in need of help that I can provide, and teach my children to do the same.

Some parents are authoritarian, telling kids what is right and what to do. The kids must obey unquestioningly. However, some are trying to take a more democratic approach. It’s hard, if you were not raised this way. Do you have any thoughts on this?
(Melissa)  I was raised as the oldest child of four in a single parent household.  My mother was definitely not authoritarian with me.  One thing that was so wonderful about my childhood was the level of respect and trust that my mother and I shared.  I always felt valued and like I was as much an equal partner as she was.  If anything, I think I tend to lean the other way – because with that trust and respect comes a lot of responsibility.  I love my mother, but I try to not give as much responsibility to my kids as she gave to me.  There are decisions that my kids don’t get to make, they are children and we are the parents.  That means that they have to do things they don’t want to do, like go to school and choke down vegetables and take baths.  And I’m okay with that.  The time will come when they get to decide everything about their lives, but it won’t be when they are still so young. My job, our job, is to teach them HOW to make the decisions.  I don’t want to overprotect them, but I also want to be clear that we are the parents, and they are the children.  It’s not a democracy in our house, it’s a benevolent dictatorship.

(Marc)  It’s wrong to put so much responsibility for decision-making on children when they are not developmentally ready for it.  You have to love them and cherish them and put their needs at the top of your priority list.  But what they need is often not what they want.  As a parent, you have the responsibility to make the most important decisions.

What kind of values are openly taught in school? What kind of values do you think are taught by the school through its actions, as opposed to what is spoken? Do those two things always agree?
(Melissa)  For me, I’m not looking for school, public school, to teach specific values.  Primarily, I want my kids to learn the academics and also some self-sufficiency in a safe environment.  I want them to learn how to get along with others.  What my kids have learned is that they are valued and safe, that their teachers care about them, and want for them to succeed.  I love their elementary school, and it’s been a completely positive environment for them.  I’d homeschool in a heartbeat if that wasn’t the situation.  I wonder every year if I should do it, and thus far, I’ve always been happy with our decision to send them to public school.

(Marc) I don’t think the public schools are the proper venue to teach “values.”  Its not fair to ask the school to do it!  Its hard enough to make sure each child can read and write.  There are only so many hours in the school day.  We live in an increasingly globalized and competitive world.  The only “values” I want the school to emphasize are to show up on time and work hard.

I’d like to end the interview on a light note; do you and the family have any special plans for the summer?
(Melissa)  Storyland at the end of the summer, I think.  Lots of day trips to the beach, the older two are taking swimming lessons down the street at our local public pool.

(Marc) I just started a new job at the start of 2012, so I don’t have any vacation time yet.  My special plan is to work hard during the week, and do my best to leave work behind on the weekends so that I can mentally relax and make the most of that time with my family.

This is the text of an interview that we did for the local MassMoms paper.

A conversation with the Cohens: Part One

by Jen Niles, MassMoms Moderator

 Melissa and Marc Cohen are familiar names on MassMoms.com. Melissa is a regular MassMoms blogger, and Marc recently wrote an article with tips on how to be a great dad. We recently talked to both of them about their life together as parents. This article is the first of two parts. The second half of the interview will appear on Thursday. 

Tell us about yourselves. Where and when did you meet?
(Melissa)  I’m a 38-year-old, happily married mom of three. Or five, depending on how you do the math.  My husband has two daughters from his first marriage. My oldest daughter is Jessica, she’s nine years old.  My son Samuel will be six next week, and our youngest is Julianna and she turned two in the spring.  Marc and I met ten years ago, online.  It was a free week trial at matchmaker.com, and all of the girls I worked with were doing it. Marc emailed me just before the membership expired with the sweetest little note, saying he hoped he’d get a chance to meet me before the membership expired that night.  We met for dinner a few days later (on Valentine’s Day) and really–that was it.  I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but it was certainly magic, and we’ve been together ever since.

(Marc) I’m 43, happily married, father of five.  And the story of our first meeting is the most improbable thing you have ever heard.  Melissa had a membership on matchmaker.com, and was planning on just letting it run out.  Meanwhile, I was searching through different women’s profiles, and just by chance decided to look for the first time at profiles that did not include a picture.  And there she was.

Now, you have to understand – when you sign up, they ask you a LOT of questions.  I thought long and hard, and wrote complete and detailed answers.  So there would be a question like “What makes you happy?” and I would write five paragraphs about the nature of happiness, and the various ways a person can balance the trade offs between long and short term happiness, and other important goals like fulfillment of responsibility.  Then I started perusing other people’s profiles, and saw that most people’s answer to that question would be something like “I like the beach.”

So when I found Melissa’s profile, I remember reading her response to one about a “perfect date.”  She wrote a beautifully imagined description of a scene, like a snapshot, of a young couple out for a ride along a country lane, with the sun reflecting off their sunglasses, the wind blowing through their hair, and her “only responsibility to hold onto my cup of coffee and hold up my end of the conversation.”

I knew I had found a person of my own ilk, so I sent off an email in the hopes she would check her inbox one last time in the remaining 90 minutes before her account ran out.  She did.  We had our first date two days later, on Valentines Day.  Two days after that, we had more-or-less moved in with each other.

Did you grow up in this area?
(Melissa)  I grew up in Maynard, which is about forty five minutes away from Worcester.  So in theory, yes, we grew up in the same area, but Maynard is so vastly different from Worcester, it seems like it’s a lot farther than it actually is.  Maynard is small and homogeneous.  Everyone I knew had a parent who worked at the Mill, everyone went to St. Bridget’s for CCD, and everyone knew not only my parents, but all of my aunts and my grandparents.  Worcester feels enormous, I get lost at least once a week, and I still don’t feel like it’s home to me.

(Marc) I am VERY local.  I grew up in Worcester.  I went to Tatnuck Elementary, Chandler Junior High (now Chandler Magnet), and The Bancroft School for high school.  I went away to Tufts University in Medford (really not that far) for college, but even then came back to Worcester every weekend to visit my girlfriend, a Clark University student.  My parents were both born and raised in Worcester as well.  My parents, six aunts an uncles, and four first cousins (plus their spouses and kids) still live in the city.  So when I visit my aunts, uncles, and cousins who live in Holden, or Grafton, it feels strange to me that they would move so far away.

You are a mixed-faith family. Can you tell us that story?
(Melissa) I wouldn’t say we’re a mixed faith family, we’re a mixed culture family.  Because actually, we’re all Jewish, I formally converted (along with my two oldest children) about three years ago.  Marc grew up Jewish, I grew up nominally Catholic, but dabbled in Wicca, paganism, and finally cobbled together my own belief system that was very similar to Jewish theology.  Judiasm is not just a religion, but also a culture and an ethnicity.  While you can convert to the religion, and it was absolutely the right decision for me, you cannot convert to an ethnicity and culturally, it’s still sometimes a struggle.  I knew that we would raise the kids Jewish, they were Jewish.  Marc was Jewish, the way that I was Irish, Scottish and English, so the kids would inherit those from both of us.

Initially, I wasn’t going to convert.  I had my own very defined spiritual beliefs, and was perfectly content not belonging to any structured belief system.  Honestly, organized religion makes me vaguely uncomfortable, so I had no intention of converting.  BUT – I had Jessie and then Sam.  Jessie is a very spiritually oriented child, and I wanted her to have that structure.  One of the things that really appealed to me about Judaism is the emphasis on learning and thinking.  I wanted her to have that.  I wanted her to be a part of a community that would embrace her questioning, that would give her a context for thinking about spirituality and theology.  And when Sam was born, it was critical for Marc that he have a bris.  Both of these things coincided – and I recognized that because I wasn’t Jewish, according to Jewish law, they weren’t either.  But Jessie was already self-identifying as Jewish.  And really, by that point, I had done so much research and so much reading into the religion, I knew that my beliefs were a near perfect match.

So we’re all Jewish here, but culturally, we still struggle at times.  December is challenging for us, some years we have the tree, some years we don’t.  Passover is hard too – Marc keeps kosher for Passover, I don’t.  And this year, the older two kids really wanted to do it, so we did, and I really struggled with it.  Bottom line – spirituality is very important to both of us, and our kids have either inherited that tendency or picked up on it  from observation.  So religion is a huge part of our lives, but culturally, we still have to work at melding my own upbringing (with half of my family self identifying as witches) and Marc’s – and making sure that the kids are proud of and embrace both sides of their heritage.

(Marc)  This is a hard topic for me to discuss.  I grew up in the United States.  I watched all the Christmas Specials as a kid.  I went to my childhood friends’ Christmas parties.  I had Christian girlfriends, and was invited to celebrate in their families’ homes.  I love to drive around and look at the Christmas lights on people’s houses.  I even paid my own money to dress up as Santa Claus my senior year of high school, and bought chocolate to hand out the day before the start of Christmas vacation.  So, I have a lot of fond memories.

My great-grandfather Samuel Korenblum was born in The Pale of Settlement, an enormous ghetto that covered parts of what are today Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and the Ukraine.  He lived until I was 18 years old, and I had the tremendous good fortune of getting to really know and love him in a way most people never have the opportunity to do with their great-grandparents.  We were VERY close.  And he told me about what it was like to grow up there, before he was able to flee to the United States.  Christmas and Easter were times of terror, violence, rape, and murder.  People would start preparing weeks in advance for the annual attacks, building bunkers and hiding places, and stockpiling food and weapons.  Law enforcement officers, instead of protecting the innocent, would participate in and even lead the attacks. Catholic priests would kidnap Jewish children, forcibly baptize them, and then place them to be adopted and raised by Catholic families.  Their parents would never see them again.  Women, if captured, were gang raped.  Men, beaten and murdered.

And so, when I see a Christmas tree, there is a part of me that thinks “Oh! Isn’t that pretty!”  And there is another part of me that puts Christmas trees in the same category an African American person would put a 30-foot burning cross.

And I’m sure you can see where this could be a problem at holiday time.

Melissa converted to Judaism.  She studied it very deeply, and thought very long and hard about it.  She loves celebrating the Sabbath on Friday nights.  She is involved in the synagogue.  She even learned how to make matzo-ball soup (the best!).  But her grandparents and great-grandparents were all wonderful people who never murdered or were murdered by anybody.  Her ancestors for generations all lived in the US, a country where, thank God, the rights of religious minorities are protected.  She has none of the mixed and negative feelings I have.  So when her mother brings a Christmas tree over to our house, trying to be nice, she does concern herself with whether it’s appropriate, and whether it sends a mixed message to the kids. But she most decidedly does not have to suppress the urge to shout “Get that thing out of my house!”

I bet it’s similar to how a Native American might feel about the Columbus Day Parade.

It’s something we struggle with every year.

Are you both active in your synagogue?
(Melissa)  Marc is more so, certainly.  I’ve had a toddler at home for the last nine years, essentially, and toddlers and long synagogue services don’t mix well.  I’m involved in the early childhood committee at our synagogue, but I’m more active in their public school.  Marc is much more of an active member, both because he’s able to go because I’m home with the little one, and because he really enjoys being in that atmosphere.

(Marc) We belong to Beth Israel Synagogue in Worcester, and I do my best to be as involved as I can be.  I am on the Membership Committee, and at some point in the next couple of weeks I am going to take over as Chairperson of the Hesed (loving kindness) Committee that coordinates volunteers to visit the sick, deliver meals to old people, help unemployed people do job-search, etc.  I also represent the synagogue every year on the planning committee for the community-wide Lag B’Omer celebration.  And of course I try to go to services on Saturday mornings.  The Hebrew School meets Saturday mornings (as well as Monday and Wednesday afternoon), and I think it is important for the kids to see that it is not just for them –  I go as well.  So I always tell them “Daddy will be in shul (a Yiddish term for synagogue) when you are finished with Hebrew School, so look for me.”  And then after services and Hebrew School we usually stick around to enjoy kiddush (literal translation: sanctification.  It is a small Sabbath meal that is “sanctified” because bread and wine are served, and the bread and wine are blessed before being served).  Its a great opportunity to socialize with and get to know the parents of the other kids.

In this country we have a lot of different “parenting philosophies,” like authoritarian,  attachment parenting or consensual living. Are you able to articulate what philosophy guides your parenting? Has it changed over the years?
(Melissa)   I’m both an attachment and free-range parent.  While not a strict adherent to either philosophy, I agree with most of the tenets.  We co-sleep, I breastfeed until toddlerhood.   My kids lived in their sling, and I rarely go anywhere without the youngest one (whichever one that happened to be).  I think kids, especially babies, naturally want to be close with their mother, and am very comfortable with that set up.  But I also think that as they get older, they should be able to explore and decide and take risks and be confident.  I really encourage independent play, I let them make as many decisions as I can and really stress responsibility as well as freedom.   I want confident, secure kids who know that they are capable of anything they put their minds to.  

I’m relatively laid back about most things, I’m lackadaisical about processed foods, I don’t mind neon colored yogurt, and my kids all love McDonalds, but I’m strict about talking back; respect is really important to me. Also, not giving them too much responsibility. There are decisions that they don’t get to make yet, like whether or not they do their homework or brush their teeth.

(Marc)  I don’t know that I have ever had anything like an actual parenting “philosophy.” At least not a purposeful one.  But if I had to describe what I actually do, I think you could describe it as pragmatic and authoritative.  Pragmatic because I’m willing to try anything, try to not be dogmatically attached to something if its not working, and learn from my mistakes.  And authoritative as opposed to authoritarian, because its not about simply obeying me, as much as recognizing that I am a lot older, more experienced, and more knowledgeable, and so I usually know what’s good for you better than you do.  That being said, sometimes I wish I were more authoritarian.  In frequent small ways, I wish sometimes that the kids would just do what I tell them immediately and without thinking about it, like when I yell “Close the door, close the door, close the door,” over and over again while watching mosquitoes fly into the house.  I guess that’s another point – perfection doesn’t exist.  Everything is a series of trade-offs.  Is mindlessly obedient zombie robots really what I want for children?  No?  Then I guess I have to put up with mosquitoes in the house.

What do you teach your kids about faith, since you have two faiths in your family with very different beliefs and traditions? Do you insist they believe anything, or are they free to accept or reject any and all of what each religion teaches?
(Melissa)  I don’t think we get to insist they believe anything.  Even if we could, I don’t think either of us would. If I insist on anything it’s going to be that they have the right and the responsibility to decide for themselves.  Do I want them to be Jewish when they grow up?  They are Jewish, their level of observance is up to them.  I want them to be happy.  I want them to be sincere in their beliefs, I want them to be passionate about the world and their place in it.  I want my kids to believe in a divine and benevolent God.  I want them to know that they are loved and blessed and extremely lucky.  And because of that, they have a responsibility to make the world a better place.  Whether that means being a world leader or just a really great person.  I want them to be grateful, to be kind, and to be smart.

(Marc)  Melissa comes from a different religious background than I do, but in a lot of very important ways she has really embraced her Judaism.  For example we have became more consciously Sabbath observant over time, and she has driven a lot of that.  My children are thoughtful, inquisitive, and spiritual. I enjoy creating an environment where they can exercise all of those traits.  And my Jewish identity is very important to me, so I also really enjoy passing on the millennia-old traditions of the Jewish people to them as they were passed to me.

As far as an obligation to accept or reject what Judaism teaches, one of Judaism’s core teachings is the ability of everyone to use their God-given intellect to examine for themselves.  The Talmud (the 3000-year accumulation of the analyses and debates of history’s most famous and brilliant rabbis) is full of majority and minority opinions on the moral and religious aspect of every facet of human life, from marriage and divorce, to ethical business practices, to formal religious practice.  To be considered a good Jew, you must study, analyze, and deeply consider, informed by the accumulated wisdom of thousands who have come before you.  The most anti-Jewish thing they could do is blindly accept something, without research, thought, and consideration, and that is what I discourage.

What are the top three qualities you want to see in your kids by the time they are ready to leave home?
(Melissa)  I’m tempted to just say ibid.  Grateful, kind and smart.  And by grateful, I mean that I want them to not take their lives for granted, they have so many blessings in their lives.  They are healthy, born to two parents who love them and love each other.  They have a roof over their heads, food on their table and toys in their rooms.  I want them to be aware of that, and to not take it for granted.  By kind, I mean that I want them to always be thinking of how to make it better, whatever it is.  I want them to go that extra step to make it easier for someone else.  And by smart, I mean that I want them to read and think and make informed decisions in their lives.

(Marc)  I think the Boy Scouts have it dead on:  Physically Strong, Mentally Awake, and Morally Straight. 

Jessie was my first, and I diligently tried to potty train her before her younger brother was born.  The first day was great, and she got progressively worse until I gave up after a week.  I had two kids in diapers for a few months, and then one day, Jessie put on underwear and didn’t look back.  She never used the little potty, she just started climbing up on the regular toilet and went from there.

Samilicious Boy, in classic Samilicious style, potty trained on his own too.  I had Harrison and Jordyn full time back then, and both of them were ready.  Within a week or two, they were both reliably dry at my house, but Sam flat out refused to have anything to do with it.  Eventually, he started going on his own as well, and my memory of it is that he potty trained even faster than Jessie did.  Granted, he didn’t wear any clothes for a few weeks (we refer to that time as Naked February), but he was so easy to potty train once he was ready.

The thing is, both of them were three.  Three and a half, easily.  Julie isn’t even two and a quarter yet, so when she started using the potty, I was not at all prepared.  And the fact that she actually continued using it – I was really not even a little bit ready for it.  In fact, were it not for the fact that I’ve been dragging my feet on this issue, I’m sure she’d be farther along this road.   But last night, I came to the reluctant realization that my baby girl was well on her way to learning to be full time without diapers.  We’ve been using them just at night, and she’s been in her little undies all day, including naps.  I’m not saying accident free, especially in the late afternoon, early evening, but dry for vast majority of time.

Why drag my feet?  Why am I not delighted at this major milestone?   Because.  She’s my little one.  And she’s been VERY specific about diaper changes, ever since she was about eight months old.  I change her diapers, nobody else.  I’m a mom, I don’t LOVE diaper changes, but after three kids, they aren’t an issue either.  And it was something that’s quintessentially BABY.  You know what I mean?   But she’s ready, and it’s my job to encourage and support her.  I can’t keep her in diapers because I’m not ready.

So we’re potty training, and it’s going relatively well.  Well enough that I’m switching over to pull ups at night and keeping her in underwear during the day.

And my baby is growing up.   Possibly, probably my last baby.

I read this book last night.  Literally last night (I read it in one sitting) – because it was that good.  I thought it was absolutely fascinating, reading it not just as a mother of three and stepmother of two, but also as the oldest of four and stepsister of two.  My sibling situation mostly just makes me sad – with two brothers, a sister and two stepsisters, the only one I talk to with any regularity is my youngest sister.  So on the one hand, I thought it was fascinating to learn about the effects of favoritism (perceived or otherwise) and being the oldest child of a single parent and the impact it’s had on others in that situation.  But on another level, it was just fascinating to read about it as a parent.

There was information about birth order, which is a topic that I love learning about.   Especially because not only am I a stereotypical oldest child, but because my kids are not stereotypical at all.  Jessie, in particular, seems to blend both the oldest and the middle child characteristics – which, being both my oldest and Marc’s third, is exactly what she should be.  Sam is not really a typical middle child, but I think being the only boy, not only of my three, but also being the only boy of Marc’s five, has had a major impact on that.  He’s got a lot more of the oldest child characteristics.  And Julie – she seems to blend the middle/youngest child tendencies.  She’s the easiest of all of my kids (although that might be age related, she has been a breeze from the very beginning), but she’s also got that goofy, entertainer quality.  She’s very used to performing on command for them.

Another chapter I really loved was the one on favoritism.  I really don’t think I have a favorite.  Or rather, I’m pretty sure that I do have favorites, but it changes all the time, and at any one point, I can make a compelling reason as to why each one would be my favorite.

Jessie is my oldest, and in many ways, the most like me.  She’s all drama and emotion and I understand her on a fundamental level.  There’s an enormous bond between us, and even when she’s pushing all of my buttons, she’s still my heart.  She’s a part of me.

Sam is my boy and the one that reminds me the most of Marc.  He’s my cuddle bug, and the one who’s relationship with me is probably the purest and most sincere.  He loves his dad, but I’ve never, not for a moment, ever doubted that I’m his absolute favorite person in the world.

Julianna is my gift.  She’s my easy baby, the one that looks the most like me and the one that consistently surprises me with how content and peaceful she is.  She’s funny and sweet and pouty and adorable, all rolled into one.

So each one is my favorite, for different reasons and at different times.

I’m not good today.  I’ve got a migraine to end all migraines and am broke and lonely and tired.  None of which is optimal for me when I’m trying to stay upbeat and raise children and not sink into a well of depression and moroseness.  Is moroseness a word?  Must be, because spellcheck has yet to correct me.  Oddly enough, spellcheck does tell me that spellcheck isn’t spelled correctly either.

All in all, not having a good day, and with a steamy hot week stretching out in front of me, it’s hard to work up the enthusiasm for much right now.  I do have a couple of bright spots – one being Julianna Ruth, who’s bopping around with her hair being held back with a wicked cute little headband topped with a huge purple flower.  I bought it  months ago, and she refused to wear it until today.  But she looks so stinking cute with her little curls held back off her face, I smile every time I see her. And Jessie is baking some corn bread, because that’s her new thing, baking.  Sam is scurrying around with blankets and pillows.  I don’t know what he’s doing, perhaps building a fort, or maybe, dream of all dreams, actually putting everything back where it belongs.  

In other news – we’re at the halfway point and Sam is already begging me to homeschool him in the fall.  I don’t want to homeschool, I don’t think it’s a good idea for him.  He needs practice being out in the world, and relaxing and having fun.  We went to a party yesterday – and for the first two to three hours, he was an unhappy boy.  Just… not happy.  Not miserable, not making things hard for anyone, but after several hours, he just came out of his shell, and started to play and have fun and relax and talk to people, and he was so much happier.  I had so many people tell me how sweet he was, and what a good boy, how friendly and chatty and content he was – but he needed HOURS to get to that point.  I really think he just needs practice and exposure to people.  If he didn’t get happy, if he didn’t legitimately enjoy himself once he relaxed, I wouldn’t feel this way – but because he does, because he becomes a leader, organizing games and playing and just … being SAM, I really feel confident that he needs school.  He needs that interaction.  He doesn’t like it, but he’s happier with it.

Ugh.  I hate feeling like this.  I hate being miserable and sad and unhappy.  Nobody does, I know, but my normal state is NOT this.  I’m usually cheerful.  I’m usually the-glass-is-half-full kind of girl, and this feeling of just heaviness and misery is not my desired state.

Send me some sunshine – mental sunshine – we’ve got enough of the actual stuff, thank you.  But I need some cheerful dust badly.

She’s a healthy girl, above average for height, and below average for weight, but since she’s always been that way, it’s not a concern now.  She’s just tall and thin and that’s that.  She’s now on daily allergy meds, a nasal spray at night and claritin during the day and got an rx for both of them.  She’s also nowhere near puberty – it can start as early as nine, but Dr. Slota said that it’ll be several years before she gets there.  Her heart condition (in that the blood goes thru the chambers of her heart counterclockwise instead of clockwise) common and benign, but Dr. Slota said just to keep an eye on her and if she starts fainting, we’d want to bring her back in for testing.  

I’m lonely and sad with everyone in Maine and would like you all to return as soon as possible.   In other news – Julianna is happily potty training, we’re nowhere near done, but she’s having more hits than misses, so we’ll get there.   I gave Samilicious a hair cut last night and he no longer looks like Wolfman, and I think we can all agree on that being a good thing.  

Am actually fairly worn out at the moment, after surviving a forty five minute screaming fit of Jessie.  It wasn’t screaming, so much as it was just sobbing.  When she and Sam fight, as they often do, she’s snippy and mean and to be fair, he’s all together too quick to haul off and whack her.  In this case, she was snapping at him for asking too many questions and he came sobbing in, saying that she was being mean to him.  As she was, being mean, I yelled at her, and she then went off.  One thing led to another, adding in a stubbed toe in the middle of the mess, and she just cried off and on forever.  She’s so overtired, and in the end, I told her she needed to either stop crying or just go outside.  She went outside, came back in sobbing and finally, she was at the point where she’d actually listen to me and calm down.  I laid her down on my bed, held her in my arms and just told her to stop talking.  Just breathe – in and out, in and out, until she could calm herself down.    And thank goodness for TLC and recorded episodes of Cupcake Wars, because she’s laying down right now, still vaguely hyperventilating, but calm.  

This girl is no joke when she’s overtired.  She was up at five thirty this morning and I sincerely wish she’d go to sleep for a nap this afternoon.  I may not make it otherwise.

Julianna is my baby.  I don’t know for sure or for certain if she’s last baby or not, but she’s my baby NOW and I’m not ready for her to grow up.  I’ll also freely concede that I’m massively a touch hormonal at the moment.  That being said – I’m not even a little bit prepared for her to suddenly morph into a little kid.  She’s a baby, dammit.  Perhaps, a toddler.  But an all the way grown up little kid, nope.  Sorry.  She’s just barely two years old.

And she’s peeing in the potty.  And pooping in the potty.  And hopping in the bathtub like it’s fun, letting me put her hair in pretties and wearing sundresses – and I’m lost.  Where is my baby?  Where is the baby I had to coax into a stand up bath in the sink and chase down the hall with a hairbrush to get her hair done?  Where is the little baby who refused to wear any kind of dress, or anything other than the leggings and shirts she’d been wearing all winter long?  When did she get so big?

Why is she suddenly all rational and happy about her piggy tails and picking out dresses and wearing underwear?  I feel like she suddenly hit all these milestones in a week and a half and I’m NOT READY.   Jessie was easily three and a half before potty training, and Sam was closer to four.  But this girl is so much earlier, and so hell bent on doing it, I can’t keep up.  I’m doing all the right things, I got her the potty and the underwear and I encourage and praise, but inside, I’m looking back and wondering where my baby went.

I know I’ll be happy about this soon – because truly, she’s awesome and amazing and so much fun to watch. She’s counting to twelve, and singing all the time.  She’s growing up and it’s beautiful.  Just as beautiful and stunning as it was to watch her older sister do it, and her big brother.

But today – combined with my beautiful Jessie, who’s reading People Magazine and actually enjoying and and my Samilicious Boy, who solemnly told me last night “You know, Mama, next I’ll be seven,” – today, the fact that my little baby Julianna Ruth is becoming my big girl Julianna Ruth – to quote Julie’s favorite book “is too much” for poor Mama.  

I’m indulging in tears and chocolate today.

Julie hated baths.  When I say that she hated baths, I mean that she cried like I was ripping her appendages off while I tried to wash her.  When she wasn’t screaming in agony, she was just sobbing because she could not understand why I hated her so much as to force her to get naked and wet a few times a week.  It was heartbreaking and awful – and I responded by bathing her as rarely as I could get away with it.  She got a lot of sponge baths.  When I did have to scrub her up in a tub, it was standing up in the sink and miserable and awful for both of us.

But then, wonder of all wonders, the pool down the street opened up.  And with it, came the realization that water play was fun.  It wasn’t torment, it was actually kind of…dare I say it?  NICE to get all wet and play with water.  And today, for the first time, I put her in the big girl tub and she played.  Tipped her head back to get her hair washed, so I didn’t feel like I was waterboarding her while I washed the soap out.  Actually, voluntarily put soap on her body and is now silky smooth and sweet smelling.

She actually cried when it was time to get out.