Monthly Archives: November 2013

School-wide gemara test at ds14’s yeshiva

A couple of days ago ds14 participated in a school-wide gemara test. I didn’t initially realize how significant this was, since he has so many tests and I assumed it was just one more. But when he mentioned this test several times and commented that he’s been studying a lot for it, I realized it wasn’t a standard test and asked for more details.  That’s when I learned that once a year, the entire high school participates in this gemara competition.

There are two parts to the test. The first is a written test of 30 difficult questions; all the high school students do the same test and everyone who scores above an 80% advances to the next level.  There was so much tension about this test – ds called us as soon as he came out of the testing to tell us he was finished and thought he did well.  He said everyone who walked out of the room was practically bouncing from the relief of having finished.

Then in the early afternoon, all the tests had been graded and the results of who would be proceeding to the finals was announced to the entire student body, with lots of cheering for each person after their name was announced. Of the ninth grade, ds14 and his study partner were the only ones who scored high enough for the next level of testing. He was excited (though nervous) and it sounded like everyone else was, too! I thought it sounded like a lot of pressure but most of the pressure was the first level – it’s kind of like you proved yourself just by being able to advance, regardless of how well you do at that level.

The next part of the testing was that evening. The way it worked was that verbal questions were asked of each student; when someone missed a question he was out of the competition. They started with questions that were of medium difficulty, and during the first round five of the ten contestants were eliminated.  They continued with questions of increasing difficulty but no one was getting any answers wrong. Finally, they announced that they hadn’t anticipated that everyone would do so well, and didn’t have enough questions to keep going at that pace. So, they continued, they would ask questions and the first one to raise his hand would be given the chance to answer first (instead of going in order and asking each student a different question).  The first one to give the right answer would be the winner.

They asked the first question, and two students raised their hands – ds and an older student. The older student didn’t answer correctly, so it went to ds14. Ds gave his answer, explaining the answer thoroughly.  But he couldn’t remember the Hebrew term to sum up this concept (a hazard of being a non-native Hebrew speaker). Another student saw ds was stuck for the word and provided it. The room broke out into cheers when it was announced that his answer was correct, but ds thought he wasn’t going to get full credit for his answer and that as a result he hadn’t won.

The round continued, and ds raised his hands for the next couple of questions but wasn’t called on. Since the rules were that the first person to raise his hand got the chance to answer first, he asked them why they weren’t letting him answer. They told him, “Because you already won first place so we’re continuing the questioning to determine the second and third prize winners!” He had no idea! Everyone had realized except for him.  He told me later he was sorry he didn’t realize all the cheering was for him. :)

The contest was a really big deal – it’s only happened once before that a ninth grader won this competition and it’s an honor for a student of any age to win – and everyone was very excited for him. His classmates were extra pleased since the entire class of whoever won was to be treated to a barbeque. He received a full set of Talmud as a prize, which is now gracing our bookshelf at home.

Of course we’re also very proud of him! He studied hard and applied himself, and though there’s always the luck factor in this kind of competition (eg who raises his hand faster), he knew the material well. When he called to tell me that morning that he was going to be in the finals, I had a feeling he was going to win. It’s not that I expected it – to me the effort he put into studying was the most important part, not his performance during the testing – I just had a feeling about it.  Right after I got off the phone with him that morning, a clear picture flashed through my mind of him winning and bringing home the Shas (Talmud).

I’ll share about his background in gemara studies for those who may be wondering.  He was homeschooled through sixth grade and since we philosophically believe it’s better to hold off on gemara studies until boys are cognitively more developed, our boys start studying Talmud at a later age than the norm (most boys in school begin in fourth or fifth grade).  He entered school for the first time when he was in seventh grade, so that was his first official exposure to gemara.  For the first year he wasn’t getting much since he was learning Hebrew and didn’t understand most of what was said.  When he was in eighth grade his Hebrew comprehension was much better so that was when he was more engaged by his gemara studies.  Now he’s in ninth grade, as I mentioned earlier.

This was interesting and validating for me for two reasons: 1) according to mainstream belief, he should be at a disadvantage with his schooled peers; 2) Israelis are often said to be at a much higher level than Americans when it comes to Torah study, with the assumption that Americans will find it difficult to catch up, much less hold their own.  I’m grateful that neither of these have proven true for ds!


A day more special than Thanksgivukkah

Today is a special day.  Not because it’s the first time since 1888 and the last time until 79,811 that Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanukah coincide.

Nope.  Today is special because it’s my oldest daughter’s 19th birthday.  Every nineteen years, the Gregorian and lunar calendars coincide, so this is the first year since she’s born that her birth dates are on the same day.


When T. was born nineteen years ago, I had no idea of the special soul that had just been sent to me.  She has taught me so much, things that hopefully have made me a better mother and a better person.    She has deepened my understanding of what courage and love really are, shown me what it means to love someone else and what it means to love yourself.  She has many incredible qualities and I have no doubt she will continue to use them to bring light into the lives of many people.

Nineteen years ago it was the first day of Chanukah, and a special light came into this world.  I had no idea of the amazing soul that I had just become a mother to.  But now I know.

T 19

**Happy birthday to you, T., my incredible, amazing daughter.  I love you so much and couldn’t be prouder of you.  **


The courage to say hard things

Quite some time ago, someone was talking to me about one of her children and said something oblique that led me to understand her daughter had been molested.  It wasn’t my place to inquire and I don’t know the specifics but my impression was it was an early level by someone who was grooming her.  I wasn’t sure from the way the mother was speaking if she realized the significance of what she was saying.  In a later conversation I came to feel that although the mother knew what had happened, she wasn’t understanding how central this was to the issues her daughter was having.   As a result, she wasn’t taking steps to protect her daughter from a situation that was developing because of the lack of this awareness.

This put me in an uncomfortable situation because it’s not fun to bring to someone’s awareness something so sensitive, especially when your opinion isn’t being directly asked for – she was asking for my feedback on something that she didn’t think was related.  I knew she valued my opinion but still…to call it a touchy topic is a big understatement.   But when there’s a child at risk, you can’t just stand by the side and say, ‘tsk, tsk’ later on when something happens.  I told her it seems there is a potential perpetrator in her daughter’s life  and that her daughter was at a very high risk of being sexually abused unless steps are taken to protect her.   Thankfully she was receptive.

I’m bringing this up because I was thinking about why so often good people see something wrong and stand by and do nothing – including me.  We don’t like being uncomfortable so usually we ignore things we see rather than take action, or blame the victim because they made us uncomfortable and it’s easier to blame them than to exert ourselves to actually do something to help.

I was concerned about a different situation and for months thought about how to approach the mother without making her defensive.  I told myself that she probably wouldn’t listen to me, that she didn’t have the resources to change the situation, that she was well-intended, that I was imagining things, that the situation wasn’t really as bad as I thought, there were other people closer to them who would say something, the school would get involved.  Basically, I made excuses to avoid doing anything that would make me and her parents uncomfortable.

Even though I told myself this, I knew I was making excuses and making the parents’ emotions more important than the child’s.  I was afraid this would be unpleasant for the mother to hear and I didn’t want to be the messenger.  I saw a child who was being impacted by a situation and I wasn’t doing anything to help because I was more worried about what her mother would think of me than about what her child needed, and this lack of personal integrity weighed on me so heavily it was like a physical weight.

I tried to think of ways to help from outside the situation  but everything required me to speak to the mother and come up with solutions together with her.  Finally I asked the mother if we could meet.  I really don’t think conversations like this should be had in any way except in person, it’s just too delicate.  She couldn’t.  I asked if we could speak by phone.  She wanted to know about what.  In an email I very briefly shared my concerns.  She emailed back and said the situation is being taken care of and to never mention this to her again.

Sometimes you can help and sometimes you can’t.  But I don’t want to let an unpleasant response keep me from having the courage to step up the next time I have the ability to help.  Usually being brave requires facing things that we don’t want to face.  Sometimes being brave is being willing to hear hard things.  As unpleasant as facing our fears is, it’s still much easier than living with the results of not listening to our conscience.


Shabbos away with just dh and I

My husband and I went away for Shabbos – just the two of us!  This is the first time since before ds7 was born that we’ve gone away without any kids and it was wonderful!

We asked the older kids to come home for Shabbos to stand in for us, so ds20, dd17 and ds14 all were here. They had a really nice bonding Shabbos.  The little kids were all happy and the older kids were happy and dh and I were happy so it worked for everyone!  I did miss being able to be be here when they were all home since it doesn’t happen that often, and ds20 and dd17 were gone before we got home but fortunately this coming week is Shabbos Chanukah so we’ll get to enjoy having almost everyone here then.

When we got to the home of our hostess, she offered us a healthy treat and then asked if we wanted something to eat.  I had something, and she asked me if I wanted some homemade sauerkraut on the side:, “I made it myself, it’s fermented and that means that..”  Having written about this years ago, I knew what this meant!  I commented that I’ve never been at someone’s home and been offered fermented vegetables, and asked her how she learned about it.  She said someone in her community taught her about it, and you know what the funny thing was?  That person learned about it a long time ago on my blog!

We had an amazing Shabbos with so many wonderful people to spend time with.  We didn’t have much time for just the two of us or for resting once we got to our destination but our goal wasn’t to have a getaway but to enjoy spending time with friends and it was so enjoyable!  Have you ever thought about how amazing it is, the amount of nice people there are in this world?  We still had hours to spend alone while we were in transit – a benefit of having a loooong bus ride in each direction!


The new committee representative in my building – me!

Here in Israel, apartments in buildings are individually owned.  As such, those living in the building appoint one of the those living in the building to be responsible for tending to the upkeep and repairs, and everyone pays a monthly sum towards the communal expenses.

In my building, the person doing this job was burnt out.  She called a meeting and told everyone someone better take over but no one was able to (this was four days before Yirmiyahu was born).  There was a big leak somewhere in the building and repeated attempts to find a solution didn’t work.  And this woman has a way of communicating with a lot of excessive emotion so you have a tendency to want to distance yourself from the hyperbole.  So everyone was wary of getting involved and no one wanted to take the responsibility on themselves; a big part of that is there’s a culture of blaming and lack of participation so you won’t get any appreciation for your efforts and are likely to be attacked for trying to help.

A few months after having a meeting and no one volunteering to take over, she decided to stop doing whatever she was doing to force someone else to step in.  Prior to this decision I told her that I would be willing to take over but she insisted it was too much for me because I have a big family.  She often told me how no one cares and she’s sick of it, and each time I reminded her that I was willing to take over.  Each time she said no.

Finally at the end of July we had a meeting and everyone agreed that I should take over (they said there had to be three people, though, so I volunteered someone who wasn’t there and convinced someone else to put her name down so e could proceed but she’s there as a token person and doesn’t need to do anything).  I had a lot of apprehensions about this because of the emotional climate in the building – no trust, very little cooperation, and each person looking out for himself.  I’m not native to the culture of this country and I felt worried about trying to work within a framework like this, but chose to believe that change was possible, had a positive attitude towards everyone, and got busy trying to find solutions.

At that time, the person who was previously in charge dragged her feet about transferring the necessary files to me and made things as difficult as she could, despite supposedly being desperate for months for someone to step in.  Instead of thanking me for taking over, when I once again asked for the files she yelled at me that I should have volunteered sooner, and when I reminded her I had told her repeatedly for eight months that I was willing and she was the one who kept turning me down, she told me that I didn’t come to her house to get the files from her months before and that showed I didn’t really mean it (right, the same files that she was withholding when I was officially in charge).  But when I had knocked on her door to try to talk to her about taking over in those months, she had gone on and one about how horrible everyone in the building was and she’s not dealing with it and she won’t talk about it, that I have to talk to her husband.  When a week later I knocked at their door to speak to her husband, she said he has nothing to do with it.  You can kind of see how this goes, right?  

Fast forward to tonight.  We had a meeting at my house so I could notify everyone about the many workmen that have come to check out the problem, fix leaks, give quotes for other work.  This was a very difficult meeting.  I’ve led and participated in meetings before but nothing like this.  At the beginning I requested that each person be given a chance to be heard without interrupting but this lasted about four seconds.  They just don’t communicate like that.  Raised voices and talking over other people seems to be the norm. 

Two strong voices were raised in dissent seemingly against everything I said – for example, when I showed the report of where the leaks in the building were and said that we had them repaired and checked afterward to be sure there were no continuing problems, one insisted there’s a leak right in the entrance to the building and it doesn’t matter how many professionals came to check it out and said there’s no problem there (and all gave the same opinion), these two men know better than the workmen and they know better than me what the workmen told me (though of course they weren’t present for any of those conversations).  They complained that the quotes we got for different work that needs to be done are all outrageous and they could get someone better.  Etc.  I hardly said one sentence in two hours that I was able to complete before being interrupted.

Another man came in about thirty minutes into the meeting and though we were all discussing one point, stood to one side at the end and started telling me that the tiles I bought to repair the entrance don’t match and aren’t suitable because they’re meant to be used in bathrooms – and he never saw them since they’re locked in a storage room that only I and the other person doing this with me have keys for it!  I told him I didn’t want to have a personal discussion about this with him while everyone was in the middle of discussing a different point and I was going to bring up this point next so that everyone could discuss it at once.   He yelled that I’m disrespecting him and I think I can put him down and he’s not going to pay anything towards the joint repairs in the building and then stormed out.  Yeah, that kind of meeting.

Before the meeting, I took some time to clear my mind and focus on my goal – I’m here to serve the people of this building and to try to rebuild trust and a sense of cooperation.  I can’t do that by insisting on my agenda.  I really tried to listen to and reflect the concerns that were being expressed, which wasn’t easy because of the communication style of those involved.  Without this clarity about my goal, I think I would have given up very soon.  My husband was there for about five or ten minutes and afterward he told me how well I did, that it was so horrific (yes, that was his exact word choice) that he couldn’t stay any longer than that.

After two hours of this, we finally hammered out an agreement of how to proceed from this point on.  It wasn’t what I would have chosen, but I’m satisfied with the outcome.  I think I better understand the personalities involved and why they seem to oppose everything, and have some insights into how to work with them so that they don’t keep opposing me on everything (except the one who stormed out, who will probably tomorrow yell at me that he doesn’t agree with what everyone else agreed and who do I think I am).

I’ve done a lot in the last few months in this position and I’ve sometimes felt I’m doing it with my hands tied behind my back. I keep reminding myself I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.  And I think that out of all the people in this building, I have the best chance of making a shift in the social climate, because I’m relatively new and not stuck in all the negative history that they all get involved in rehashing at every meeting.  Also, I really believe that the people in this building are good and want things to be good, they just don’t know how to work together.

Though it hasn’t been easy, there are points of light.  I’ve had a chance to get to know all my neighbors, as I’ve gone around to every apartment and spoken to each of them at length and I’ve enjoyed that.  A couple of months ago, one of them told me (who everyone assumes is a very negative person), “It’s so nice to finally have someone in charge who has nice things to say about other people; we’re so sick and tired of the negativity and hearing how bad everyone is.”  Last week, a different woman said to me, “The day you moved into this building was a blessing for everyone here.”

These are comments I have to focus on, because there are times when I feel no matter what I do, someone isn’t happy – like tonight when someone complained that I’ve been having the building cleaned on a regular basis and that I haven’t abided by the decision at the last meeting not to get a cleaner until the broken tiles in the entrance are repaired.  (The building hadn’t been cleaned for seven months until I took care of it, and part of the fighting at this meeting is that I took care of the leaks and now want to have the tiling repaired as everyone said was a priority at the last meeting and this man wants to leave them unrepaired – and no cleaning done – until the summer.  Even though he said he appreciates that the building is clean.  Confusing, hmm?)  His wife has complained the building is dirty because I don’t have it cleaned often enough.  You see what I mean about not getting much appreciation?

So…it’s a learning experience.  And a cultural experience.  :)


Is cleaning help a necessity?

 >>So… 5 kids, oldest is almost 7 and youngest is 4 months. Trying very hard to homeschool.  My resources are extremely limited, from finances to actual help from other people, included family. I spoke to a friend last Thursday who called me out of the blue to see how I was doing. She asked if I had cleaning help, I told her no, (I’ve had cleaning help on and off since my 3rd was 6 months old, depending on finances). Friday she sent me cleaning help as a gift for having my baby. I was so grateful that I was in tears when they came. I was sick most of last week and I know it’s from over-exertion and stress. I was so extremely thankful for the cleaning help, it’s truly what i needed to enter shabbos with a clear mind. This friend, also while doing something very generous for me, also made me feel quite guilty for not having cleaning help and the consequences it will have on my kids for not getting help(like having this stressed out mommy who is always trying to clean and do everything else, expecting the kids to help beyond what they’re capable of). I told her it’s not my thing to live so above my means and I can’t justify paying for it when I have debts and trying to budget for necessities (we do the best we can). She then told me that cleaning help is a necessity, that it should be up there with food and a home.

I know there is no right or wrong way, but choosing a way that works best for us. And I’m not asking you if I should or shouldn’t spend the money on cleaning help, that decision is up to me and my husband. But I was hoping you could give me some guidance.<<

I can relate to the many demands you’re feeling: a number of young children who are home all day, the responsibility of homeschooling, a husband who is away for work a lot and consequently not very available to help out and no extra money to ease the situation.  This is exactly my situation for a long time.  

As anyone who’s been reading for long enough knows, I think it’s really important that kids learn to help out.  The house isn’t just the mother’s responsibility; everyone lives in it and everyone should be contributing something.  That means teaching your kids to help out, and this itself is a job.  My dd15 took over running the house while Yirmiyahu was in the NICU, and she told me then that when she was younger and I told her she needed to help with chores not because it was easier for me but because it was important for her she didn’t believe me at all.  Then she tried to get the younger kids to help out, experienced firsthand spending a long time getting a younger child to do a job that would literally take her two minutes, and suddenly understood what I told her all those years before.  In the short term it takes a lot of time and energy to teach your kids to help.  It’s mostly in the long run that you see the payoff.

Having said that, even if your kids are helpful, we have to be realistic about how much to ask of them.  With your kids the ages they are, you’re at the very beginning of the path of teaching them; they aren’t able to help significantly and you’re going to have a lot of mess.  That means we have to have a reasonable expectation of what our home is going to look like.  Dr. Sarah Chana Radcliffe once wrote (quoting by memory so this isn’t exact), “There are very few women who can balance ‘clean and shiny’ with ‘scream and whiny’!” and I agree with this.  I like a really clean home.  But I know that I can’t have that level of clean without being a lot more demanding of my family and myself.  I can’t have my kids home all day and be a reasonably pleasant mother and also keep everything looking as if no one lives here.  It’s just not going to happen unless I decide that a clean house is a top priority – which it isn’t.  My kids and husband are my top priority.

It’s a problem – our culture paints pictures of what a home should look like that are simply not realistic for the vast majority of people, and then we stress out and feel inadequate because we can’t meet that picture.  It’s like pictures of models that have been airbrushed and then women compare themselves to them- even the models don’t look like their pictures so why should anyone be trying to meet a standard that doesn’t exist in real life?  Similarly, it’s unlikely that most people homeschooling five kids under the age of 7 have a sparkling house without cleaning help.  Actually, when I spoke to a good friend about this several years ago, she provided a reality check and said told me she doesn’t know anyone who isn’t homeschooling who has that ‘magazine’ clean without cleaning help!

An older friend who is no longer alive and was herself the mother of ten children once said to me, “Avivah, a factory that is in operation is going to be a mess.  When a factory is clean, it’s not in business.”  I took my kids to the Herrs’ potato chip factory a couple of times and though it seems so much is automated that a mess can’t happen, we saw a couple of large spills of chips in different sections of the factory – even factories with all their machinery and automation and paid workers can’t make it look sterile and perfect all the time.  Her point was that our homes are in use and constant messes are just par for the course, and this is not only tolerable but something beautiful – our kids are living here!  We’re doing things with them!  They feel safe enough to make messes!

One time I hosted a women’s event at my home and several women were commenting, “Your house is so spotless, it’s so quiet, how did you get your kids to sleep?”  I laughed and told them, of course it’s neat, it’s the end of the day and I knew people were coming so we cleaned up and got everyone to bed earlier than usual!  I assured them that two hours before that it looked quite different!  Isn’t it strange how we know what we have to do to make our house look good and that sometimes we scramble to pull it off, but assume when we go to someone else’s house that she did it effortlessly and it always looks like that?

People are very different in their needs and how they deal with not having things the way they want them to be.  I never had cleaning help and worked on having realistic expectations of myself and my kids, in addition to having systems in place to make things run as smoothly as possible (ie meal plans, chore charts, daily schedules).  I have a good friend who is in a financially tight situation who said she considers cleaning help critical and is sorry she didn’t get this help years ago.  For myself I have a really  hard time putting cleaning help up there as a necessity along with food and a place to live but for some people that’s what they need.  I have a strong value for staying out of debt and living within my means and it would be really hard for me to say, “I don’t have the money for this but I’m doing it anyway.”  If it was enough of a value for me I’d have found a way, just as my friend did.

So to sum up – I agree with your friend that being tense and expecting too much of your kids isn’t healthy.  Getting cleaning help is one way to address that.  But it’s not the only way.  Another is to let go of the tension and expectations.  Streamline what really needs to be done for the house to look reasonable – 80% of the cleanliness of your home will come from 20% of your efforts, so identify what the 20% effort you need to make is and focus on that.  For me it means clearing surfaces (this includes dishes) and and the floor – the little cluttery things build up and make everything look messy, so I try to keep that at bay.  An example of this approach for me is that I sweep several times a day to keep the floor clear but I only mop once a week (I spot clean if there’s a messy spill) – the extra level of shine is nice for Shabbos but doesn’t dramatically affect the look of the house on a daily basis.

Take the same approach to determining how to spend your effort homeschooling – you can easily get overwhelmed by all the subjects you think you need to cover, projects or trips you need to do – but 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your efforts.  This is why I put my energies toward teaching the basics – the three Rs – and teaching my kids to become independent learners.  When you have extra time, then you can start doing the things that take 80 percent of your energy and only give you 20% of your results.

Let go of unrealistic expectations and do what you need to do to show yourself the love and care you deserve.  This may be getting cleaning help, it may be repaying debt…only you can know what’s right for you.  And remember – it does get easier as the kids get older!


Reflections on turning 40

A few months ago I was feeling discouraged thinking about my upcoming birthday, thinking how little I’ve done with my life.  No fame, no fortune, nothing impressive in any area of life.  Any accomplishments I had felt puny and unremarkable.  

When I was 20 and thought about being busy raising kids for years to come, I’d tell  myself that one day I’d be forty and my kids would be older and then it would be my chance.  Now here I was about to turn forty, still busy raising kids and seemingly not any closer to whatever it meant to have my chance.  I started thinking about how I wasn’t ever going to be any more than I was right then.  I wanted something concrete that showed I was here, that my life mattered in this world, but when I looked at my life all I could see was who I wasn’t and things I hadn’t accomplished.

Then an interesting thing happened.  I stopped thinking about it – fortunately I don’t usually get stuck in negativity for long – and the next time I was thinking about turning 40, things were different.  Not much different on the outside.  But very different on the inside.  Life had settled down and I felt content; this was a particularly notable shift after we started homeschooling again at the start of the school year.  I’m still not rich and famous, still not doing impressive things.  But living in harmony with my values has made a big difference in me being able to disregard those outside voices that were dancing around in my head.

I’m grateful for my life and my family, and I know that even without the things that people in the outside world use to measure value – a value system that I was stressing about not measuring up to – my life has been a success because I’ve lived it in the way that was meaningful to me.  I’ve been an imperfect wife, mother, daughter and friend, but my family and friends love me in spite of that…and I wouldn’t trade the privilege of living this life for anyone else’s.


Sharing your compliments in writing

Recently our rabbi and rebbetzin came from the US for a visit, and there was a get together on Saturday evening for former members of their shul to connect with them.  I really, really, really wanted to be there.  But there’s no way to get there from the northern part of the country via public transportation in time, so we (once again – they’ve done this every year) had to pass.  Yes, I felt disappointed and even deprived of something important to me.

But!  My oldest three kids who are in the country all independently decided they wanted to go.  Ds14 spent Shabbos with dd17 so they’d be able to go together, and ds20 met them after Shabbos was over.  I was so happy when I was sent a picture of the three of them with our rabbi.

Then the following day I got a lovely email from someone we haven’t seen since she and her family made aliyah six years ago.  She wrote:

“Your children are AMAZING ambassadors for Mishpachat Werner.
I like them all — EACH — so much. I chatted briefly but substantively with each of them, and remembered why “Werner” means the same thing as “excellent midot.”
I had the pleasure of spending quality time with (one of them). What a remarkable young man! He has the ability to converse candidly and openly with “old wrinklies,” without coming off in any way as if he doing us a favor. He is truly interested in other people, and able to engage completely with whomever he is speaking. If he had any complaints about walking “miles and miles” to his accommodations, he surely doesn’t share them his hosts or us. And THEY also passed on that they were grateful I sent them such a lovely neshama.
Whatever I say isn’t enough. You should just be validated in the knowledge that (we) — who raised good boys — are impressed by the remarkable young people you raised.
Please tell them, when you think it appropriate: “Yalla! The Jewish nation needs leaders like you — so keep working toward your tafkid in Klal Yisrael, for the sake of Hashem’s holy project.” I am certain they have a very important role in leading our people — whatever that looks like for each of them.”

I’ve been told many nice things about my kids over the years.  They’re genuinely wonderful human beings and I am very blessed to be their mother.  But as nice as those things I’ve been told have been, I remember very few of the specifics of the majority of the comments as time has gone by.  And so I was especially appreciative not just of the comments but that this lovely woman took the time to put them into writing, giving me an opportunity to look back on them in the future and be reminded of exactly what she said.
That same Shabbos that these kids were in Jerusalem so they could attend the Saturday night gathering, we hosted three seminary girls.  One of them was one of my older girls first friends in the city in which we lived at the time – we met her when she was seven.  It was so beautiful to see the  young lady she’s grown up to be.  I was planning to call her mother to share these thoughts with her, and then got the above email.  Since I appreciated something in writing so much, I decided to write to her instead. It takes about one minute to tell someone verbally something nice and hopefully they’ll remember it but the conversation moves on and you don’t dwell on it.  But you can read and reread a written message as much as you want.

So the moral of the story is, if you have something nice to tell someone, tell them!  And if you can share your special compliments in a way that they can save them to savor for another time, it’s an additional gift.


Recognize and value your needs – stop thinking everyone else matters more!

Today I got a call from a young mother, and as soon as I heard her voice, I realized she was working hard to keep herself together.  I was in the middle of cooking for Shabbos so I asked my kids to keep an eye on the things on the stove and in the oven and told them I’d need some time and privacy to speak to her.  Then we started to talk.

She started to cry within a few seconds.  It all spilled out – she’s due to give birth in two days, her doula just cancelled on her which means she’ll have to go to the hospital on her own to give birth since her husband will need to stay home with their two year old.  Her oven isn’t working and the repair man wasn’t going to be arriving until later in the day, leaving her without time to cook for Shabbos.  And her city is having some problem with the water quality so everyone needs to boil all their water or buy it; her husband doesn’t want to spend the money on bottled water so she needed to boil a large quantity of water to last for all of Shabbos.  She’s very pregnant and very stressed and very overwhelmed.

The first thing I said was that the most important thing is to preserve her physical and emotional strength so she can go into labor feeling good.  That means simplify everything as much as possible.   I gave her some practical suggestions of how to cook a simple one pot meal so the oven not working wouldn’t be an issue and so she wouldn’t spend so much effort cooking a variety of dishes she didn’t have energy to prepare.  She was like, really, you can do that?  Really.

Next, the doula.  We talked about options for this; she has a backup doula and can meet her at the hospital.  (She lives in a different city and wouldn’t be able to come to her home on Shabbos to support her in early labor.)  She said her friends had offered to watch their toddler when she went into labor so her husband go with her, but she thought it would be too hard for her child and it would be best if her husband stayed with their little boy.  There’s a lot we moms give up for our kids and often it’s  necessary, but as much as I value doing what we can to give our kids a feeling of security, this wasn’t the right time for that to be the issue of overriding importance.   A laboring mother’s needs take priority.

But of course it’s important for her son to be in a safe and loving environment where he’ll feel good.  We discussed which people in her life her son felt most comfortable with, and she decided on one friend who has a child the same age he’s very friendly and said she’d call as soon as we finished talking to make those arrangements.  

Next – the water situation.  We women put so many demands on ourselves and surprise, surprise, everyone around us assumes that’s okay and they make demands as well.  The problem is even people who care can’t read our insides to realize when we’re overstretching to do all that we’re already doing.  Husbands, especially young husbands like hers, don’t understand what’s involved in being pregnant and taking care of a young child and doing all she was responsible for.  We’ve got to tell them and to do that we have to recognize our needs and feel they’re valuable.  I’m sure he had no idea that his request that she boil the water would cause his wife so much stress.  I suggested she ask for his help – let him know that it’s too much for her (without drama and accusation) and ask him to please take care of it.  Maybe once he has to do it himself he’ll understand the work involved and decide it’s worth spending the money.  Or maybe he’ll boil it all himself.  Either way it will get done.

In all of these cases, the real issue was that she was giving priority to what others wanted and needed from her more than she was recognizing and validating her needs.  Don’t we all do this sometimes?  Or maybe more than sometimes?!

What I offered her was recognition that her needs were legitimate and important, and then helped her find practical solutions to address them.  Inside our own heads we can lose perspective and sometimes things are obvious to someone outside of the situation.  Once we get clarity on what we really need, it’s a lot easier to find solutions that work.


The truth about being strong – it’s not always how it seems

This week marks a month since I was hit by a car…’s been a very intense month.

The first week was physically difficult but that has gotten much better.  Ds4 and I went to the osteopath a couple of weeks ago.  She examined him and found the muscles on one side of his body were knotted throughout the entire side – she had me feel it and even my inexperienced hands could tell what she was talking about.  She said she never sees this in a child other than when there has been an accident of some sort or when there is scoliosis and then it’s only with kids who are much older than him.  She worked on him and told me not to worry, that he won’t have any lasting damage from the accident.  He’s doing great – though when we cross the street he often tells me when we get to the other side that the car waiting at the crosswalk right then almost hit us; that’s his feeling and there’s obviously still anxiety about crossing streets but this is getting less.

Then she worked on me and asked me if I was having headaches and dizziness and if that was something new since the accident.  I told her I was and it was (though I hadn’t paid much attention to it until she asked), and she said from the state of my neck it was impossible that I wouldn’t be.  She had initially said since my body went through so much trauma that she wasn’t going to do any physical manipulations because they are a sort of trauma as well but when it came to my neck, she wasn’t able to release the muscles without manipulating.  She warned me I might have a healing response afterward and she was right; for at least 24 hours I had a horrible non-stop headache.  But thankfully I  haven’t had any headaches and the dizziness has been minimal since then.

However, I’ve started having breathing difficulties that are atypical for me, and I’ve been really tired.  Really, really tired.  Like at 11 in the morning I have to take a nap.  Also not typical for me.  This began the day after the accident.  The regular doctor said there’s no connection but I’m positive there is and here’s in short what I think happened.  The adrenal glands are what handles stress in the body and when they’re weak or stressed, your immune system drops (when this becomes a chronic situation, it’s adrenal fatigue).  My adrenals were needing significant support before the accident and I believe that this level of physical and emotional stress pushed my adrenals beyond their ability to cope, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  Asthma and chronic fatigue syndrome are both direct results of later stage adrenal fatigue.

Fortunately, I began treating my adrenals the week before the accident and and  am continuing to work on this.  Maybe I’ll talk more about the boatload of vitamins I’m taking daily as part of my healing protocol another time.  Healing the adrenals is a long, long process and this sudden worsening of my adrenal symptoms is something that will take much longer to spring back from than the physical injuries alone.  But it’s good to understand what’s happening and I’m optimistic that my adrenals can heal and I’ll get back to myself.

Emotionally it’s been a difficult month.  It was as if my feeling of isolation regarding lack of support through all the difficulties we’ve gone through in the last two years was triggered by this accident and started flooding out at once.  Good thing I was taking so many emotion balancing vitamins!  This hasn’t been a fun process to say the least but it’s a learning process.

Today I was told by an alternative physician who has supported many people through difficult situations through the years, that she’s never seen someone go through so many troubles who remained as calm and positive as I have, and she thinks I’m the bravest person she ever met.  I recently read something by a pediatrician with many years of practice and she wrote that out of all the traumas she’s seen parents go through, the absolute worst suffering she’s ever seen is one of the situations we’ve gone through.

I have a knee jerk reaction to reject statements like these.  I don’t see my life like this; things have felt hard and sometimes overwhelmingly hard, but even at the worst moments it never seemed worse than what many other people go through.  By the time you’re a parent at my stage of life, just about all of us have experienced really serious challenges of some sort and when I hear what others have gone through, I’m so grateful my challenges are what they are and not worse.  I’m fortunate that so many people have confided in me about their difficulties so I don’t have to theorize about this.   I’m not a complainer – or at least I try not to be – and I tend to downplay what life has been like except to say there have been difficulties.  I have so much to be grateful for – my amazing husband and children are at the top of the list – and I don’t want to focus on what hasn’t been good.  But since the accident, part of my healing process is to allow myself to say that yes, we’ve gone through really hard stuff, one hard thing on top of another and another, all piled on top of each other; each one of those things being situations that people seriously struggle with when it’s only one thing.  When I stand back and look at it through someone else’s eyes I do kind of wonder how we’ve managed.

I have a resistance to being told how strong I am.  I know this is always intended in a positive way but sometimes I have a sense it’s almost like implying that things are easy for me to get through because I have amazing coping skills.  No, it’s not easy for me.  I earned whatever coping skills I have through being forced to develop them.  I’m grateful – beyond grateful – that I and my family have gotten through so many tough things without falling apart.  Sometimes I feel conscious of being an emotionally strong person.  But with equal honesty I can admit that often I feel weak and scared and powerless.  In spite of that weakness or maybe because of it, God has been very good to me and He somehow gives me what I need to keep going so I can keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So when this physician today continued and said I seem to have a lot of inner quiet and faith, she touched on the real answer.  I don’t have so much inner calm and I don’t have so much faith, but whatever faith I have enables me to seem as if I have inner calm. :)  Obviously I need these constant reminders about Who is really in charge and to let go and trust Him to take care of me or I wouldn’t be getting them; I just have to remember that on a daily basis when things aren’t in crisis mode and then I’ll be in good shape!