Monthly Archives: December 2014

Why I’m teaching sign language to ds2

Years ago I read about the benefits of teaching babies sign language, in time to teach dd14 a couple of basic signs when she was about a year old.  I didn’t really know many signs and my motivation to teach my infants wasn’t strong enough to push me to extend myself to learn more.

Enter the birth of my youngest, now 2.5.  I knew that with a diagnosis  of Trisomy 21, he was likely to experience communication difficulties.  I decided to assist him in expressing himself rather than waiting for speech.  At 14 months, when I began introducing early reading I also began introducing signs.

Neurodevelopmental therapists oppose teaching sign language to a child with T21, believing that the frustration to want to express oneself encourages a better degree of clarity in speech later on.  I trust their many years of experience but I’m not willing to withhold a way for my child to communicate now for the sake of later gains.  Every person wants and needs to be able to communicate with others, and deserves to be given the tools to succeed.  Especially children for whom it’s more of a struggle than others.

There are plenty of benefits to using sign language for all young children.  Young children understand so much more than they’re able to express, and giving them ways to let you know what they want is very helpful to you both.  Sign language encourages language comprehension, fine motor skills and is cognitively stimulating.

It’s not hard to learn basic signs.  I’ve learned a number of signs from the Signing Times website; when I needed others, I looked them up at Signing Savvy.  The Signing Savvy site has a much wider vocabulary of words but the video quality can’t compare to that of Signing Times.  They’re both great free resources.

Yirmiyahu is limited to the signs he learns by what signs I learn.  Recently a while went by and I kept telling myself I  needed to look up more words and not getting to it.  So I began considering buying signing dvds for him to watch.  When I looked into this, I learned that Signing Times has a digital subscription option – with a free monthly trial that gives unlimited access to the programs they have available.  So I signed up!

So far we’re enjoying this a lot.  There are several series that include Baby Signing Times and Signing Times.  Each series has a number of programs that are grouped according to topic and taught together with songs.  The program host has an engaging and fun way of presenting the signs and is extremely clear.  Our boys ages 5, 7 and 8 are enjoying watching with Yirmiyahu and me, which is really nice.   They’re learning the signs and that’s helpful so that they aren’t dependent on  me to translate what Yirmiyahu is ‘saying’.  And they can also help me translate when I’m not remembering what sign Yirmiyahu is using!  (Yirmi has a better memory than I do!:))

When the host introduces a sign, on the opposite side of the screen is a picture of what she’s demonstrating along with the word written out.  This reinforces Yirmiyahu’s reading program, which has many of the same words.

Another thing I really appreciate is that the children in the programs are diverse and reflective of children in the real world.  They include a number of children with Down syndrome and other disabilities; children with disabilities are usually shut away from others and having them portrayed as naturally as any other kid is extremely important.

Watching these programs has made it easier and more fun to learn signs.  I don’t know yet if I’ll sign up for a subscription when my trial runs out but I’m certainly enjoying the access that we have now!

Avivah

How to help kids negotiate a win-win instead of fighting

Before I was even out of bed this morning, I heard my ds7 and ds8 arguing and it was escalating very fast.  I picked my head up from my pillow, called them into my room and then asked them what was going on.

My boys love playing with duplo type blocks.  I thought when I bought three sets of 250 pieces each to supplement the two starter sets we got, it would be the end of frustrations between them about not having enough pieces.  But clearly, 1000 blocks isn’t enough because now they build bigger and better things and there’s not enough for two boys to build equally awesome structures at the same time.

Ds7 informed me that ds8 got to build something yesterday, it’s his turn now and ds8 won’t let him take apart the rocket ship he made then.  Ds8 insisted he wanted to add on the remaining unused blocks to his rocket ship before ds7 has a turn and takes it apart.  Two boys who both wanted the same thing very much and were ready to attack each other over it.

I told them, ‘We’re going to find a solution that’s win-win.”  Before I went further, ds8 said disgustedly, “Fine, let him have them.”  I continued, “No, we’re going to find something that everyone feels good about.  If you let him have them right now, that’s called lose-win – you’re letting yourself lose so the other person wins, but it’s really lose-lose for everyone if you don’t both feel good about this.  We’re not going anywhere until we find something that both of you will be happy with.”

They were pretty close to blows and neither of them wanted to have a conversation, so obviously I needed to facilitate.  And this was the first time I officially introduced the concept of win-win.  There was some back and forth until it came down to this.  Ds8 said again he really wanted to add on to what he already build and ds7 can have his turn as soon as he’s done.  ‘Okay,’ I said, but how will you feel if as soon as you finish building, he starts to take it apart all your hard work?  He needs to take your project apart to have something to play with.’  (Because they like to enjoy their efforts, I made a rule that they’re allowed to leave it assembled for up to 24 hours.)

Ds8 said he doesn’t mind if it gets taken apart immediately, as long as he can finish his project.  Ds7 complained that ds8 was going to take too long and he didn’t want to wait half an hour.  I said to ds7: ‘Ds8 said you can take apart what he makes as soon as he finishes.  But you seem to be very impatient for your turn.  It’s not going to be fun for ds8 to build if he’s feeling pressured by you, and it’s not going to be fun for you to be waiting with nothing to do. Is there something you can do that you would enjoy in the meantime?  Is there any game or puzzle you can play with at the table that would be fun for you?’

My question reminded him that when we cleaned the playroom together yesterday, he noticed a puzzle he likes a lot but had forgotten about; he now said he’ll do the 200 piece Winnie the Pooh puzzle while he waits.

I reiterated to them both what terms they agreed on, and asked them if they both felt good about the decision.  Yes, they said.

Off they went to play.  Ds7 got engaged in his puzzle and ended up spending two hours putting it together, giving ds8 plenty of time to finish his project.  When ds8 finished his rocket ship, he decided to take out the small Lego blocks that he doesn’t play with often and make an intricate building project with that.  They went on to play together afterward for quite some time.

This afternoon two groups of boys were arguing at the park and I had a lengthy discussion with them to find a workable compromise.  The older sister of two boys involved watched me and commented afterward that her brothers are young and don’t understand what they’re doing.  I told her of course they don’t, that’s the job of adults to teach them.  Without adults helping kids develop healthy negotiation skills, inevitably the strong dominate the weak.

It’s not easy to step in to a situation like this and help your child find solutions.  And it’s much, much harder to help kids who have no experience with this way of thinking find solutions.  Children need to be guided in practicing these skills, again and again and again, and only then are they likely to come to positive resolutions on their own.

Avivah

School-wide gemara testing for ds15

Chanuka was here, Chanuka is over…  We made loads of doughnuts (150 for a community Chanuka party – dd14 was busy for hours!), lit many menorahs, spent lots of time together –  all the kids were home and you know I love that so no need to say anything more….:)  It was lovely.

The oldest three kids are back in Jerusalem, ds15 is back at yeshiva.  His yeshiva recently held the yearly mivchan pumbei, the intensive gemara testing throughout the entire yeshiva.  After completing a rigorous written testing, the top three students in each grade went on to compete with verbal questions.  Ds was one of those chosen from his class, which is a big deal.  When I spoke to him before the final competition, I sensed he was feeling some pressure and reminded him that none of us are putting any pressure on him to win.  (He won last year, which was a huge honor and one that only once before had been won by a ninth grader.)

I told him that what matters to me is that he’s investing in his learning, doing his best and growing as a person, and he doesn’t need to win a contest for me to prove that he’s an amazing person.  He told me he didn’t feel any pressure from our family, but it was coming from the rest of his yeshiva – everyone expected him to win again.  I gave him some suggestions for how to release tension that  might come up for him before or during the final competition.

When I got a call the night the competition was over, I saw on caller id it was from ds but he didn’t say anything when I answered.  I said his name a few times, and when he finally spoke, he said in a choked voice, “Mommy, I won the mivchan pumbei again.”  I got choked up, too.  He continued, “It’s the first time anyone won it twice.”

If you want my tips on how to raise kids who are high achievers, I don’t know what to tell you.  This wasn’t something I tried to make happen.  I don’t push my kids; if they do their best and are good people, that’s what matters to me.  All of our older kids have developed a strong sense of internal motivation, which is amazing to see.

It’s interesting because my homeschooling style is quite relaxed.  But based on my understanding of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, it seems logical that kids will succeed when equipped with basic skills and a strong desire to do something that matters to them.

Avivah

The magic of floor restoration

See my cute little boy below?  This is a picture I would have never sent to anyone.

Yirmiyahu, 28 months

Yirmiyahu, 28 months

Why?

Because of the stained flooring.

When we first bought this apartment, I noticed that around the perimeter of the main area the edges of the flooring was grungy looking.  After scrubbing repeatedly with an assortment of scrubbers and chemicals, it was clear that the problem wasn’t built-in dirt, but that chemicals inappropriate to the floor had been used for cleaning that ate away the top layer and allowed stains to set in.

You know how they say when you live with something all the time, you get used to it and stop seeing it?  Not me.  I’m a very visual person, and I’ve never gotten used to this.  The entrance (pictured above) is the very worst; fortunately that’s a small area and the other areas were much less damaged but there was still a light gray stain extending about an inch from the wall all around the room that gave an unclean impression.

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about retiling the floors, but that’s expensive if you hire someone to do it.  All my older kids who can do this kind of work are out of the house and I didn’t have the time to personally take on a project of this scope.

Finally about six weeks ago, I decided I’d do the retiling myself.  I visited the tile store several times, measured the rooms, and my final step before placing my tile order was to get a quote to shorten my front door to accommodate the change in floor height.  When the guy came to give me a quote, he was surprised to see my flooring – he said the tiles are very nice and it didn’t make sense to retile with ceramic tiles when I have higher quality flooring already in place.  I told him that I don’t want to see the dirty-looking tiles anymore.

He informed me that there are professionals who deal with these issues.   I was delighted to hear that!  While I didn’t mind doing the tiling, I knew that it would be a massive project to take on while needing to live in the space being retiled.  I called a couple of floor professionals in for quotes, and a few days later – on erev Chanukah – a crew came to restore my floor.

For just a thousand shekels, my floor now looks like new!  Paying someone to do this job saved me three thousand shekels in tiling materials and countless hours of work.

Note the edges along the side of the room look the same as the middle of the room!

Note the edges along the side of the room look the same as the middle of the room!

It’s amazing to me that for $250 dollars I could so easily take care of this longstanding issue within a few hours.  It’s so nice to look around and now the floor looks clean when it’s clean!

Avivah

Questions about Karmiel – update

>>Hi Avivah, we plan on making aliyah in the next few months and very much considering Karmiel as a place to settle. I noticed that your initial post describing Karmiel and the area (pros and cons) was over 2 years ago. Any way you can give a short update on how things have changed (improved, worsened, prices, …) in the past few years?<<

Surprisingly little has changed about Karmiel since I wrote that post!  Here is a brief summary of some main points and some additional details.

Physical – Karmiel is a beautiful, green, clean city.  (The major caveat to that is that there are many dog owners who don’t consider it important to clean up after their pets and also don’t mind letting their dogs use the sidewalk for their needs.)  There are many beautiful parks that are all well-maintained; the  municipality does a wonderful job of keeping the city clean and all physical aspects in good condition (roads, parks, landscaping, etc).   After visiting just about any other city in the country, I really appreciate coming home to the pleasant and peaceful atmosphere here.

Housing prices – I’ve been contacted by several people who live in the center of the country who have wanted information about buying here.  They pictured Karmiel as a place that was dirt cheap and were surprised at what the prices actually were.  For a reference point, for not much more than the prices here, you can buy or rent an apartment in the city of Beitar, which is very close to Jerusalem.  Prices are definitely cheaper than Jerusalem or other major cities in the center of the country and you can get great value for your money but you’re still looking at selling prices here of about a million shekels for a three bedroom garden apartment.  (Neighborhoods vary and there are less and more expensive neighborhoods than this but this is fair for the neighborhoods that everyone who has contacted me has been interested in.)  Rent for that size apartment runs about 3000 – 3500 shekels a month.

Transportation – there are frequent buses locally running to each neighborhood; buses are new, clean and usually not crowded.  There is a very affordable daily pass that allows for unlimited travel as well as a monthly pass.  There are daily buses to most cities in the country.

Plans are well underway for the train to connect to Karmiel and progress is visible every time I leave the city.  This will make it faster and easier to connect with the center of the country, which is anticipated to raise real estate prices.  Plans are also in the works for the main toll road to connect to Karmiel; again, making it more faster and easier to access the center of the country.  I don’t remember when it’s supposed to be done – I think the train should be here in a couple of years but I might be wrong about that.  Once that happens, housing prices are expected to jump.

Shopping – Many people living in Israel that I’ve met haven’t hear of Karmiel and assume it’s a little rural village.  I’m often asked about where I shop.  This isn’t really an issue in a city of over 55,000 people  – I don’t have to import food from other cities, which is what people have said they pictured.  There are shopping centers in each neighborhood in addition to an industrial zone and mega mall that people come to from all over.  There is enough of a charedi population that the kosher supervision that is accepted by a more stringent crowd is readily available though not to the degree you would find in a charedi city, obviously.

Most of my comments from this point on will be regarding the specifics of the charedi community, which is what most people who have contacted me want to know about.  Of course there are other groups and communities and I’m in no way intending to exclude anyone, but can only write about my personal experience.

Schools – All girls attend the Amichai girls school, which is growing quickly.  They have a good bit of experience with new immigrants and students are provided with tutoring assistance a couple of times a week to help them acclimate.

For boys, the two choices are Amichai and the cheder.   I’ve written about both of them in detail in the past so will only add a couple of comments to update about something that was a concern in the past.

There was a period about a year after we got here when the local charedi cheder seemed to suddenly become very selective about who would be admitted.  I believe this was due to a fear that there was going to be an influx of Anglo families who would challenge their standards and they wanted to move preemptively to clarify for whom their school would best be suited.  They relaxed their position on this, presumably when they realized there wasn’t going to be an onslaught of families arriving.

>>We’re planning on coming from a central Orthodox environment and wanting to move to Karmiel to be in that similar type of central Orthodox of America (I guess called Charedi in Israel or Karmiel). Our children will be entering either the HS or Post HS stage. Any recommendations on what to look for regarding hashgafa of the type of category we fit into?<<

Without knowing more I can’t make specific recommendations for a particular family so I’ll share basic details about the local schools.  I wouldn’t call central Orthodox the same as charedi but I’m not sure of the personal definition you’re using so perhaps they’re similar.

Girls’ high school – The local girls high school, Neve Chava, is an open and accepting Bais Yaakov- type school.  Their rules are very reasonable and not as exacting and detailed as the rules of most Bais Yaakovs.  This is probably because it began as a school that wasn’t geared to the charedi community, and though each year the number of incoming charedi ninth graders is higher, there is still a mix of girls from different backgrounds who attend.  They offer a bagrut (matriculation) certificate, which is unusual for charedi girls’ schools.

When my two oldest girls attended, there were two other English speaking girls in the high school.  Four English speaking girls in the high school at one time was the most saturated this school has ever been.  Currently, there are two English speaking girls but since they made aliyah five years ago, they aren’t new olim and don’t require any special assistance, so the experience the administration has had with olim has been limited to a very small number of girls.  I don’t expect there will be more teen girls to attend this school as new immigrants.  If they do, they will meet an administration who overall has a positive impression of new immigrants but along with that comes expectations that are probably a bit unrealistic.

Boys’ high schools:  There is a local charedi ashkenazi yeshiva ketana for boys in Karmiel called Keren Ora, and another charedi sephardi yeshiva (don’t remember the name).  Both are typical yeshiva ketanas.  There are no new/recently new immigrants that I know of who attend.  I would be wary of recommending these as an option to someone coming straight from the US.

A new high school opened this year that is geared toward a more chardal/dati leumi crowd that seems like a nice concept  I was involved in the discussion a year earlier about this school when it was in the planning stage, but then the plans were put on the shelf and when the school was formed a year later, the boys attending are a different crowd than what they were originally talking about.  They may have changed other aspects of what was being planned so I can’t speak about this with any degree of accuracy other than to say that good people were originally involved in planning the school.  (Since we didn’t have any suitable local high school choices for ds15, we sent him to a school near the center of the country where he dorms.  I had hoped that when this school opened it would be a viable option for our other boys but sadly, it’s not.)

There is also a small high school at the hesder yeshiva located in the Dromit neighborhood.

Post high school – My oldest three kids all are in the Jerusalem area because there’s not much here post-high school.  Some girls in the area attend seminary in Haifa or Rechasim and commute daily while living at home; others live away from home and study in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak.  These areas are filled with yeshivas, seminaries and degree programs for the charedi student.  There really is very, very, very little available locally for people in this age group.

>>Hi, I am a mother of 3 small children. Recently divorced and I plan to return to Karmiel with my kids. I am worried i will not cope on my own but I consider planning a trip to Israel alone and settle things before moving, like finding school, nursery school .  Is iris a good area to live with kids? Are schools easy to enroll? Is finding babysitters a common practice on this city?<<

Honestly I feel hesitant to recommend Karmiel in your situation but since you write that you’re returning to Karmiel, I assume that means you lived here in the past, probably speak Hebrew and have some social contacts in place already.  So my concern might not be relevant for you.

My hesitation is that I think Karmiel is best for people who are very independent and don’t want or need the support of an active community though the people here are wonderful.

However, the Anglo community that is connected to the larger charedi community is, to quote someone who lived here for several years and left recently, a pre-community.   English speakers are scattered throughout the different areas and since they aren’t concentrated in one specific area, they don’t all daven at one shul, shop at the same stores, or take their kids to the same parks  – in short, the logistics make it a challenge to build a sense of community.

In your situation, it might be more helpful for you to be in a place where you can count on the help of others if you need it.  This isn’t a reflection on the people here, who as I said are very warm and caring people, but on the lack of significant numbers and social cohesion.  For Anglos coming to a new country without family support, already knowing you’ll be needing help, the lack of a strong communal social net can be difficult.

If I were moving to Karmiel right now, I’d consider looking into the Rabin neighborhood, which has a centralized shul with a communal focus.  I was talking to a real estate agent about if this might now be a good option for English speaking families moving here, but her concern was that if someone doesn’t speak Hebrew, it might not be the right fit for them.   It’s more expensive than the Dromit neighborhood where most of the English speaking families live, there’s only one bus line that goes to that area so many people say you need a car (though many people do fine without a car), the schools are mostly located in the Dromit so it’s more of a shlep for the kids – but I would encourage families to check into this as an option because of the more communal feel in that area.  As much as I love where I live, I can still see that Rabin has some advantages that could make it easier to socially acclimate.

School registration – this is ideally taken care of in advance but I don’t know of anyone who had difficulty registering their kids when they got here, even if it was right before the school year began or even after school had begun.  Something that is very nice here is that for the most part, kids are readily accepted to schools and there isn’t the exclusionary approach that is common in so many other places.

If a particular neighborhood is good for you depends on where your children are in school.  It’s helpful to live in easy walking distance from classmates unless you don’t mind taking your kids to playdates at the homes of their friends.

The number of English speaking families in Karmiel are growing slowly.  In the three years that I’ve been here, five of the first nine families to make aliyah directly to Karmiel have left (we’re the sixth family that moved here – two of those who left came before us, three came after us).

Why are people leaving?  It can be challenging to find work in the north, for Israelis as well as for Anglos though obviously those who don’t have fluency in Hebrew or work experience in this country will have a harder time.  Educationally, some people have needed options that aren’t available locally.

To sum up, Karmiel is a pleasant place to live with a nice quality of life, and if you find work, friends and suitable schools for your children and don’t need a strong sense of community, you’re likely to be happy here.

Avivah

Dealing with bullying neighbors

Last night I was walking home from a lovely dinner with my mom (her birthday treat to me) when I encountered one of my neighbors.  He’s usually quite taciturn but he walked directly toward me with his dogs, making it impossible for me to easily sidestep him as his two dogs went to each side of me.  He angrily told me that he heard I had changed a lock in the building a couple of hours before (I’m the building representative – vaad bayit – and take care of repairs and maintenance for the apartment building – it’s a volunteer position, no perks :)) and that it was illegal to lock that room.

I told him while I had no desire nor plans to lock the door, if the door would be locked at any point it would only be with the legal guidance of the office for building committees.  He responded, “Don’t you dare lock that door; if you do a day won’t go by before I’ll break the lock.”  He accusingly told me he knows why I’m doing this.  I asked him why and he said I’m in cahoots with another neighbor.  I asked him why I would be in cahoots with anyone and what that has to do with getting a new lock put in.  He changed the topic and began yelling at me about other things.  It was so irrational.

I changed the lock because there was no key for it and the building representative is supposed to have a key.  Why should someone care so much about changing a lock on a door that is going to stay unlocked when it has absolutely no effect on their lives?

Maybe you care when it’s the door to the water meter room and you use the water meter as a way to harass your neighbors by turning off their water repeatedly.  Maybe they assumed their actions were a factor in the new lock and felt angry that there was any potential for them to be restrained in bothering others.

Early this morning morning, his wife wrote a nasty note about me and posted it in the building entrance about how I’m using my position to further the interests of my religious friends (yes, because I changed the lock) and I shouldn’t be allowed to continue in this position any longer.  Another neighbor saw it and took it down.  The woman who wrote it saw him remove it, followed him upstairs while yelling and carrying the garbage can from the entryway, threw the garbage on him in front of my door.

By 8:30 am the police had arrived and I spent an hour talking to them together with the other neighbor.  It was initially frustrating because the officer was unwilling to listen to the full situation due to false presumptions but eventually I think he understood we’re dealing with someone irrational.

The police said they’ll talk to the screaming neighbor, which I doubt will do anything because you can’t use legal means to mandate good character.  The other family (whose husband had the garbage thrown at him) has filed for a restraining order and put their home up for sale.  They’re really nice people and I hope they sell their home quickly and find a place to live with other nice people; they don’t deserve to be treated like this.

The unpleasant couple has made being the building representative here extremely difficult – I get yelled at and gossiped about for everything I do and what I don’t do.  They refuse to pay the monthly fees and at the same time, complain about how the building is cleaned, who cleans it, get angry about repairs I’ve made to the building that were agreed on by all the tenants – really anything and everything…it’s a difficult situation.

When I took my kids to the park in the afternoon there was another note taped up in the building railing against me.  (This time she dropped accusations about helping religious friends and wrote that I’m acting for my own personal interests.)  I took it down, went to the park, then decided to make a copy and put the original back up.  But by the time I returned to my home ten minutes later, there was already another note up, this time a pithy version: “Mrs. Avivah is unworthy of being the building representative.”  I left it there.  It shows more about her than me.

Actually, I’m happy to pass the job on to someone more ‘worthy’.  But there’s no one else who is willing to take on this job because no one wants to deal with the difficult people here; the building had no maintenance/cleaning/electricity paid for eight months until I took over, and had years of neglected repairs that no one could agree to take care of because of constant arguing about every detail.  It’s been grueling but I’ve been able to take care of some important things.

It’s nice to think that if you are pleasant and respectful of others, they’ll respond in kind but it’s not always true.  I’ve spent almost 3.5 years being very careful to keep a positive relationship with this woman and her husband despite the many challenges they have presented me with.

We’ve all spent years making choices based on our paradigm of the world and our coping skills.  When someone is abusive or unbalanced, their years have been spent making unhealthy choices; they’ve literally grooved-in patterns to their brains and are no longer wired for responding differently.  Just like anyone else who has a pattern that they want to break, it would take a huge amount of awareness and conscious effort for them to respond differently than they have been for their entire lives.

So where does this all leave me?  I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to respond to these provocations because in the heat of the moment when I’m being insulted or attacked I’m not likely to be able to summon up my higher self.  I’ve decided to ignore the notes and anything she says about me.  I felt very threatened when her husband was so hostile last night but I’ve had time to work down those feelings and am trying to keep these people and their actions in perspective.

I’m actively working on courage, not letting myself feel defensive and scared in response to their bullying.  I have to stay very conscious so I hold my ground and don’t slip into backing down.  I’m not good at shrugging off attacks; I’m sensitive to criticism and take insults personally but this is something I have a chance to practice doing differently now.

Avivah

High school interview for dd14

At the beginning of last year, I decieded to homeschool dd14 despite her opposition.  I wrote about why I did that then, and despite her original unwillingness, it’s been a very positive experience.

My goal in homeschooling her was to give her a chance to reclaim herself after two very draining years in the Israeli school system.  Making aliyah can be really rough on a person’s self-identity and self-image and the older a child is when they move here, the harder this is.  I hoped she would recover the love of learning that is inherent to everyone though often supressed, to become motivated and self-directed in her learning, to realize that if there’s something she wants to learn, she has the ability to learn it.  I wanted her to discover and recognize strengths and abilities that were dormant and unexplored when in school.

It’s been a very gratifying period as she has blossomed in all of these areas and more.  At the beginning of this year, I told her that I was turning all control over her academics to her – whatever she wants to do is fine with me; if she needs help with something she can ask me and I’ll do what I can to support her.  And that’s what she’s done, with plenty of time left to explore her interests.

My main regret about homeschooling her is that living where I do with the constraints that I have, homeschooling isn’t the expansive experience for her that I’d like it to be.  I’ve always enjoyed feeling connected and having my kids connected in different ways outside of our family to the larger community but that has been very challenged where I am and there’s very little I can do to change this.

Last year we talked about if she’d be interested in going to high school when the time came and at that point she was adamantly against it. This year, however, she’s expressed an interest in attending.  Knowing that high schools are likely to be uncomfortable with a girl from a homeschool background (it’s a much less common here than in the US)  I’ve been grateful for my relationship with the administration of the local high school where my older two daughters attended.  They were very impressed with our girls (one teacher/principal told me that in all her years of teaching teen girls she rarely saw girls like them and it was clear to her that it was a result of homeschooling) and this gave me reassurance that she would be accepted without reservations.

An Israeli friend has been encouraging me to look into a high school in a different city where her daughter commutes daily.  I decided against that school but then someone else recommended a different school that she thought would be good for dd14.  After hearing about it, it did sound like it could be a good fit.  My main concern was that the as soon as they heard she was homeschooled, she would be refused an entrance interview.

I called the principal and had a nice chat with her and then we began scheduling an interview for dd14.  She told me to bring in her report cards for last year when we came for the interview and at this point, I explained that dd is homeschooled.  This is when how you present yourself and what you do makes a very big difference, but I knew that regardless of how I came across, I’m dealing with a conservative school system and school policies can be very rigid.

I told her a bit about homeschooling and dd.  She told me the school has a high academic level and wanted to know if dd could academically keep up.  I assured her that dd is a bright and motivated learner, and the principal agreed to meet her.  I was relieved to have gotten past this potential obstacle.

Dd and I went together to the interview and the principal clearly thought well of her so now it’s on to the next part of the acceptance process – the entrance exams.  The exams will be sometime after Chanukah for all the incoming ninth graders, and acceptance will be based on the results of the testing.

As I told dd, I did my part to get her an interview, now it’s her job to do well on the entrance exam!

I asked what the areas the tests would be covering and the principal told us it will be English, math, Jewish knowledge (need to recognize brief biblical quotes and be able to say who said it to whom and in what context) and Hebrew grammar.  The principal said she was confident that dd would do well on math and English which are the most heavily weighted portions of the test, and they’ll take into account that she’s not a native Hebrew speaker when grading the other two portions.  Dd14’s Hebrew isn’t fluent yet and I appreciated that the principal accepted this as reasonable for someone her age moving to Israel when she did, rather than being judgmental about it.

Dd14 asked me to begin learning Hebrew grammar systematically with her today, so I pulled out a text that dd18 used when she started school here and we worked through the first lesson and plan to continue learning this together.  Ds15 (tenth grade) gave her his math text from last year if she wants to use that to prepare for the exam.  Her math skills are strong so this is to be sure she’s familiar with the Hebrew math vocabulary.

She was a bit nervous about the Jewish knowledge portion- I asked the principal for a sample of the quotes and due to their brevity they were quite difficult – despite being able to translate them all I only recognized two out of ten.  But I told dd not to worry about it, to keep learning chumash on the schedule she’s on.  I want her to feel prepared for the test but at the same time, I have a longer term view on chumash than an entrance test; she’s acquiring solid textual skills in addition to knowledge of content and this is what’s most important.

High school will be a big change for dd but this is part of what homeschooling is about; raising your kids to know what they want and helping them acquire the skills they need to be successful doing it.

Avivah

When small comments make a big difference

This week my kids were feeding crumbs to the fish in a pond when someone familiar walked by.

I met this woman last year at a park and when I noticed her young daughter has cerebral palsy, felt comfortable asking questions that I would have hesitated about asking before Yirmiyahu was born.  There’s something about having a child with a disability diagnosis that makes it possible to have personal conversations without others feeling you’re prying.

The mother told me her little girl was born dead, with the cord wrapped tightly around her neck.  The doctors succeeded in resuscitating her but not before suffering brain damage that caused cerebral palsy.  She has been under constant pressure from many people in her social circle to institutionalize her daughter or put her in foster care so she can ‘start fresh’.  ‘What do you need to saddled with the burden of raising this child?’ they said.  ‘Have a normal child and let someone else raise this one.’

Should parents have a commitment to their unborn child to love him as he is when he is born, or is parental love conditional on a child meeting certain criteria from his first moments of life?

Thanks to her mother’s determination and love, this three year old girl has made advancements that the doctors told her would never be possible.  Her physical disability is still quite apparent, though.  Back in the spring, her mother shared with me that she was grappling with a decision about where to send her daughter to preschool.  The only choice presented to her was in a different city, with facilities that were squashed and dismal. She was concerned about every aspect of this school, including the 45 minute ride there her daughter would have to make unaccompanied by her mother via the school van.

I suggested to her that she consider looking locally, but she was told there was nothing suitable.  I shared my belief that it was important for her to find a place where she and her daughter both felt comfortable, to pursue the highest level of integration for her daughter that she could find.

When I met her this week, I asked about what school choice they made.  Her eyes lit up as she told me that her daughter loves her preschool.  She found a school for children with special needs in the same city she lives, in fact very close to her neighborhood.  It services children whose disabilities aren’t very noticeable and her daughter has made huge strides in all areas.  I was delighted to hear how her daughter is thriving as a result of this choice.

Then she told me, “It’s all thanks to you.”  I couldn’t even guess what she was talking about.  She reminded me that I encouraged her not to settle for what was being presented to them as the only option, that her daughter deserved a place where she would be feel secure and valued.  She told me I was the only one who ever said anything like this to her, who validated her and her daughter and this is what encouraged her to keep looking until she found a school that really met her daughter’s needs.

Who would think a couple of short conversations could make such a big difference?

Avivah

Sharing the wedding of a dear friend’s daughter

I had a wonderful time at the wedding of my close friend’s daughter in Jerusalem last night!   She lives in the US and we’ve only seen each other once in the last fifteen years (not including last night), and it was very special to be able to share this event with her in person.  It was a beautiful, beautiful evening, very poignant and emotional for me after knowing the mother for almost thirty years and the bride since she was an infant.

I was expecting that I’d hardly know anyone outside of the family members of the bride, but I was very pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the case! First, I had the pleasure of meeting a blog reader and her mother-in-law.  Then while I was speaking with them, I saw a friend for whom I made sheva brachos about 21 years ago, accompanied by her three teenage daughters (she still remembers spending Shabbos at our home when she was in early pregnancy with her oldest, now 20).  I saw her briefly at a get together arranged when I visited Israel in Feb. 2011 (before making aliyah was on the agenda), and before that it had been at least nine years since we saw one another.

Then while talking to her, someone suddenly exclaimed, “Avivah!” and I turned to see someone excitedly approaching me who I couldn’t immediately identify.  You know when you’re not expecting to see someone you haven’t seen for a long time so you need a minute to place them?  A moment later I realized she was a neighbor and friend who I last saw 15 years ago – she then moved to Brazil and I hadn’t had any contact with her since then.  She had no idea I was in Israel, and I had no idea she was in Israel – it was a very wonderful mutual surprise!  We spent quite a bit of time catching up.

Then when walking to the chuppa, I glanced at someone who simultaneously glanced at me, and we both said, “You look familiar!”  Turns out she was Yirmiyahu’s physical therapist at Shalva for the few times he went, over a year and a half ago.  What a lovely woman.  When the meal began, I happened to sit next to someone who recognized me from the homeschooling talk I gave in Telzstone in June.

It turned out to be a very social evening that I thoroughly enjoyed, but all of these interactions were really the cherry on top of being able to be there when my dear friend’s oldest daughter got married.  I stayed in Jerusalem overnight and the next day we (me and the mother of the bride) were able to spend several hours chatting, which was amazing.  A good friend is an incredible gift and I am very blessed.

And I’m also happy to be off of all those buses….I’m becoming an increasingly disgruntled and weary traveler.  :)  I need at least a month of no long distance bus travel before I can mentally think about making that trip again.  Ugh.  I seriously feel like spending a day in bed.  I won’t belabor how difficult this trip was for me, but truly  every second of the traveling was worth it to share this life event with my friend!

Avivah