Monthly Archives: April 2013

Dd16’s seminary interview

This morning dd16 and I left the house together (with Yirmiyahu) early so we could catch the 6 am bus to Jerusalem.

The cause for our trip together was an interview for a seminary (located in Europe) that she is considering for the coming year.  I didn’t come along for lack of things to do at home, but because I was told that I also needed to be there.  I was wondering if they wanted to check me out to see what kind of mother the girl had?  But I was wrong, and the entire interview was so interesting that I have to share with you about it.

The interview began with dd being asked what she had heard about the school.  She was then asked if she had heard that they don’t like taking Israeli girls, and why she thinks that is?  The interviewer then said that although dd isn’t the typical Israeli applicant, they have to classify her somewhere so they’re considering her Israeli, and as such it was important for her to understand the concerns regarding accepting Israeli girls.  You’ll understand that when I heard all of the below that I wasn’t happy that they were considering her an Israeli applicant, particularly as the typical concerns are very much not an issue for her, because it framed her in a certain way before we even began.

Charedi girls from Israel generally are coming from the strongest religious backgrounds of all of their applicants, with very detailed guidelines that they’ve grown up with regarding all aspects of their behavior.  Schools are known for their takanons – school rules – they generally cover every aspect of their dress and activity.  As she said, if any girl does anything outside of this framework, it will take two hours – she then amended and said, maybe 24 hours – until everyone knows about it and it will affect all aspects of her future negatively.  So girls understand that they have to be very cautious about how they dress, speak, with whom they interact, etc.

This has a number of ramifications.  One is that girls won’t ask questions about philosophical questions regarding Judaism, because to ask would mean they would be labeled negatively.  The main issue that she discussed at length with us is something else.  Since they’ve had so much of their lives mandated by school and community rules, they have gone through life doing what is expected because that’s what they have to do.  They haven’t developed an internal desire to make good choices because they want to.  So why is this so problematic?

Once they leave the typical educational framework in Israel in which so much about their lives is mandated, they don’t handle freedom well.  At this seminary, they are very particular about the modesty standards of dress, though their general approach is to let girls grow spiritually at their own rate.  Students are accepted from a wide variety of backgrounds, and some girls come from communities with significantly more relaxed standards than others.  The main concern of the administration is that the students are growing spiritually, and they’ve found the Israeli girls tend to move down religiously.  The Israeli girls think that because others are doing something, it’s okay for them, despite the fact that other girls are making certain choices – in dress, for example – not as an act of rebellion, but because they’ve never learned any differently.

The students are given a lot of trust and freedom with their time; no one asks them where they’re going during free time or comments on how long they were gone.  It’s assumed that they have the maturity to manage their time appropriately and well.  This becomes a problem when they accept students who have never had this kind of freedom, who can become heady and even reckless in their choices.   She gave a number of examples and descriptions of the issues they’ve encountered, to explain why they are reluctant to accept Israeli girls.  This is why she wants mothers to be there for the interview – she wants them to understand the serious concerns for these girls, and the mothers need to be actively involved in the discussion about if/how their daughters will handle the more open and accepting environment.

Why did I find this so fascinating?  Because I agreed with every single thing she said from a philosophical and practical perspective.  For a very long time I’ve talked about the dangers of being overly restrictive when raising children (not only religiously, but academically), that there’s a very real concern that their intrinsic motivation and desire for growth is being erased.  They become more worried about externals than internals, because that’s what they see so much focus on.  This has been a big factor behind the school choices we’ve made for our children – we’ve avoided schools with extreme and detailed rules regarding every aspect of behavior during school and outside of school hours, not because we are unable to conform, but because we feel it’s damaging to have that degree of micromanagement of individuals and families.

I asked the interviewer what happens to these girls if they stay in Israel for seminary.  She said they do fine, because they continue to be in a controlled environment.  I pointed out that they may not be doing so fine internally, that they may be going through the motions of living a religious life without a lot of commitment or enthusiasm.  She agreed, and said there are definitely issues in raising children in this way.

Dd also found the entire discussion very interesting, and afterward told me that the examples that were given were very accurate of the kind of attitudes and comments that she hears on a daily basis among classmates.  Assuming she’s accepted, we don’t know if she will attend this school or not, but if she doesn’t, it won’t be because she can’t handle the responsibility of freedom or because of a struggle to make good choices when others aren’t telling her what to do.  She’s grown up with a high level of personal responsibility and has had many opportunities to exercise that.

By the way, dd’s homeschool past came up in conversation when she was asked where she attended school prior to moving to Israel.  At the end of the interview, I was told that we’ve done a great job with her and homeschooling was obviously a big part of the wonderful person she is.  It was a nice surprise to hear someone so positive about homeschooling!  I did have to correct her, though, and told her that who dd is, is because of her efforts, not mine.


Homemade bean sorting game for preschoolers

I’ve been recently been feeling inspired by Montessori type activities for young children.  In the past, I thought they were so easily integrated into daily life that it seemed artificial to do activities like this.  However, now I recognize that there’s space in our daily schedule to provide ds3 with activities like these.

I have several games/activities that I’m planning to make, but this was the first.  I took three different kind of beans, twenty of each type, and put them all in a small lidded container with a little scoop from formula.  Then I gave it to ds3 together with a mancala board, and let him sort each of the different kind of beans into different sections using the scoop.  The scoop adds another layer of challenge to using one’s hands.

note scoop in one hand, lidded storage container on left

note scoop in one hand, lidded storage container on left

This game is so, so simple but it’s amazing how long he spent playing with this!  When he finished sorting them all, he put them back in the lidded container, shook it up, and did it again several times.  I was able to clean the entire kitchen while listening to ds10 read a book out loud in Hebrew (the typical multitasking homeschooling mother!) while he stayed occupied with this.

Not only did he play with it in the morning, but he took it out later in the day as well.  Then ds5 came home from school and wanted to play at the same time, so I made a second identical set, and set the two of them down together at opposite ends of the mancala board to play simultaneously.  Even ds7 sat down for a game.

I used what I had on hand, which is why there were only three kinds of beans.  I’m planning to get two or three more kinds of beans, then add twenty of each of those to the mixture.  If I hadn’t had a mancala board, I would have used something like an ice cube tray, a sectioned tray, or given him three small containers to sort into. This activity is great for fine motor skills as well as sorting and organizing.


Easy bedtime routine

For years, I would read books out loud to my kids every night.  As they got older, we read chapter books and increasingly more sophisticated material.  It got challenging to balance this with the younger kids, so eventually what I did was to have two reading sessions – the first one geared toward the younger crowd, then they’d be put to bed, then the longer session for the older kids.  This was something that I loved, but this started to falter about five years ago.

In recent times, dh has been the bedtime reader for the littles, though he often tells stories of his own creations, which they love even more.  This is something that works great for us all – he’s busy at work all day and enjoys connecting with the kids before bed, and after a long day with the kids, I’m ready for some quiet time.

But now dh is in the US so this schedule obviously needs to be altered!  When he first left I was still pretty sick and not up for reading.  What I did instead was invite everyone to get comfortable in my room, and then we listened to a recorded book together (a digital version checked out online via my US library system). This was great because we were able to have the shared experience of a book, and my physical limitations weren’t a concern.

This worked out so well that I decided to continue even after I was feeling better.  Our new routine is dinner, get into pajamas, brush teeth, everyone does their evening chore, and then join me in my room for a story.  If they get there soon enough, then we have story hour; this is the ideal.  If we’re running late, then we cut down accordingly.

A nice side benefit of this is that the littles (hmm, since ds7 had a birthday recently I’ve been wondering if I can continue calling them this…) fall asleep while listening.

easy bedtime


The only problem with that is that they are all left sleeping in my room!  But I found a solution for that, too.  I told ds14 that his evening chore can be to carry them up to their beds.  It beats doing the dishes. :)


Finally found a formula that isn’t an allergic trigger!

While I was in the US, I took Yirmiyahu for alternative allergy testing, and we got some interesting results.

Very strong allergies: cows milk (including organic and raw), goats milk (including organic and raw), sugar, all nuts, and corn.

I had figured out most of the list through my experimental trials of different things except the sugar and corn.  Corn didn’t seem to be immediately relevant, until I looked at the two surprises that showed up as not allergens that I expected to be problematic: soy and gluten.

The results that soy was not an allergen for Yirmiyahu shocked me, since he reacted so much worse to soy than dairy formula.  It was for that reason that after trying the many possibilities that we decided to keep Yirmiyahu on dairy formula – it was the least problematic.   So how could he not be allergic to soy if he was reacting so badly to soy formulas?

The answer is, soy formulas are much higher in corn syrup than dairy formulas, so the allergen he was having a problem with in the soy formula was actually the corn, not the soy!

We muscle tested Yirmiyahu on every single formula available in Target the night before we left the US to see what he could best tolerate (a soy toddler version tested best but wasn’t suitable based on his age), and then I bought all they had left.  However, we didn’t end up using much of this before his hospitalization.

At the hospital, they asked about allergies and they then put him on a lactose free, soy free formula.  I had been wanting to get this for him for ages but was told that I needed a referral from a pediatric allergist to be allowed to buy it.  There was a seven week waiting period to see the allergist, and the long awaited appointment coincided with the day that we returned from our US trip.  But finally, finally, after so many months of trying to get a formula that won’t make Yirmiyahu sick, we received a prescription for this formula from the hospital.

The wheezing that has been an integral part of his breathing ever since he started formula has dramatically been cut down!  It might even be totally gone but we’ll need a little more time to be sure of that.

Before Pesach dh went to the pharmacy to buy some of this formula, but they didn’t have any.  The only formula available was in the city of Akko (Acre) or in an Arab village a fifteen minute drive away.  Dh asked a friend with a car to give him a lift to the village, so this is this is where they were a few hours before the Pesach seder.

The formula is quite expensive and I don’t know why they make it so hard to buy it; I wish we could have gotten this sooner for him.  I believe that after the first 620 shekels a month (for a reference point, regular formula is 200 shekels a month), that the rest (about another fourth) is subsidized by health insurance, but we have to clarify that.  The main thing is that Yirmiyahu is finally getting something that his body can digest properly!


Dh gone for a four month trip

My husband left last night for a four month trip to the US to be with dd18.

I don’t feel very cheerful about this so I’d rather just not mention it, but it’s a very very very huge deal for our family so I can’t not say anything.  I’m sad about that for many reasons – like my husband is my very best friend in the entire world and is an integral part of my life- and I could hardly say goodbye to him because I was so choked up.

On the other hand, we’re both grateful that we’re able to find a way for one of us to be there for dd18.  When I was telling someone in the States I was worried about the impact of me being gone for months from my family (since at that point the plan was for me to go), she gave me a really positive perspective.  She said, you’re showing your children how far you’ll go to be there for their sister when she needs you, and that will give them a confidence in knowing that no matter what you’ll always be there for them, too.   This was really good to help me shift from worrying about the possible impact of the trauma or things our children would miss with one parent being away for so long.

So this is what we’re focusing on; we don’t say that dh went to the US but that he went to be with dd18.

I really want to think that somehow we’ll be able to go there after a couple of months and we can all spend the summer together, but that’s not currently part of our reality.  A friend today said to me that we’ve gotten clear direction about who needs to be where, and when, and that as time goes on it’s likely to become obvious about the next step.  I know she’s right.  It’s just that I like to plan ahead and be organized, to minimize stress and problems by being proactive.  But in this past month, there hasn’t been one tiny thing I’ve been able to plan for, to feel like I have any control over.

I get tired of feeling so darned powerless.  Really, I do.  I also get tired of feeling humbled.  And I’m tired of not having so many things that I want.  Sorry to disillusion anyone who may have thought the gentle beatific smile of acceptance never leaves my lips and my halo stays in place when I sleep.  :)  I would be doing a disservice to you all if you were to think that I’m always able to calmly and easily put everything unpleasant to the side, without any feelings of resentment or negativity.  I’m not.

And I don’t think you have to, or even that you should.  I try to be honest with myself about how I’m feeling, since you can’t get to a good place emotionally by pretending to yourself that everything is fine.  Sometimes I can find perspective easily and maintain it even when it’s hard but generally this is something I consistently actively work on.  Sometimes I need to sit with my unhappiness and allow myself to be unhappy without telling myself all the reasons I should be happy or shaming myself for not having a better attitude.

And it may not be impressive or inspiring, but it’s real and so it has to be just as okay as all the warm and fuzzy stuff.