Monthly Archives: October 2015

The healing power of siblings

Thank you to you all for your prayers for Yirmiyahu!

The surgery went very well.  It was a major surgery and it’s correspondingly a difficult recovery.

WIN_20151025_152059I expected general discomfort and irritability but had no idea the kind of pain he’d be experiencing.  It’s very hard to see such a non-complaining and cheerful child screaming and writhing in agony.  I keep requesting more pain medication but it only seems to take the edge off. Fortunately these attacks only come every two or three hours but each one is very intense   The surgeon said it’s a result of inner pressure on the surgical area and catheter simultaneously.

But it’s all part of the healing process and we need to go through this to get to the other side.

On to the more obviously positive – sibling therapy!

The kids are taking turns coming to visit Yirmiyahu; so far everyone has been here except ds16 and ds13.  Ds16 will be coming in the morning and ds13 is going to wait until Yirmiyahu gets home to spend time with him.

Beginning of the day when they arrived - could hardly open his eyes

Yirmi could hardly open his eyes when they arrived

There are several medical clowns who come in the mornings – the boys enjoyed them even though Yirmi was too out of it to be engaged by them. That is, until one of them overheard Yirmi gently blowing on the harmonica the kids coaxed him to play. She came in with her harmonica and played with him.  No smile, though.

Yirmi playing harmonica with hospital clown

Yirmi playing harmonica with Shorty

Then his siblings spent time playing with him – that’s when he started feeling better.

Sitting up to be with his siblings

Sitting up to be with dd20, ds6, ds8, ds9

After playing with him and making funny faces together, what seemed very far away until then happened – a real smile!

Yirmi laughing with dd20

Yirmi smiling with dd20

He loved being with them but eventually he needed to rest.

Naptime with dd15

Naptime with dd15

Enjoying a bubble pipe with dd19

Enjoying his bubble pipe with dd19

Finishing off the day snuggled next to ds22

Falling asleep at the end of the day snuggled next to ds22

The nurses later commented to me, “It was good for him to have them here.”  It really was.  They could see the obvious difference in him.  Everything was better.  Well, except when they left and he had to say goodbye – that was really sad.

Dd20 came back after work to spend the night with Yirmi. She knew I was exhausted from being with him around the clock and wanted to make things easier for me.  She also wanted to spend more time with Yirmi!   She slept in his bed and took care of him all night long whenever he cried.  He was so happy to have her sleeping with him; being pressed against someone he loves when he sleeps gives him a feeling of security and right now he really needs it.  And then in the morning she thanked me for letting her do it!

I’ve felt so grateful during this hospital stay watching the family we’ve built and nurtured over the last 23 years come together in such a wholehearted way to support Yirmiyahu.

There’s nothing as healing as the power of love!


Our three year old is having serious surgery today – prayers requested

When Yirmiyahu was born, it was discovered that he had vesicoureteral reflux that has led to kidney damage.  Sometimes this improves on its own but after three years, it remains at the most severe level.

All the doctors have agreed that he needs to have this surgery and I’m grateful to be able to live in a time and place in which this can be performed.  But it’s a very serious surgery and of course I’m concerned.

My husband has been feeling anxious about this, but I was feeling quite relaxed about it until a few days ago, when I sitting with the kids doing a puzzle and spontaneously started singing a song that starts like this: If I had to live my life without you near me, the days would all be empty, the nights would seem so long.  This was one of two songs that I sang many times with Yirmiyahu when he was in the pediatric intensive care, after almost dying when he was 9 months old.  I haven’t sung it since then.

The song was something that just came into my mind, and I recognized my subconscious was pushing something to the foreground that I’ve been pretending isn’t there.  This surgery was triggering some feelings from that past experience, which was an incredibly challenging time for me.

I was glad to have this awareness because you can’t deal with something you don’t know is there, and this has been an opportunity for me to strengthen my trust and belief in a positive outcome as well as in my ability to let the past be the past.

I’m really optimistic about the surgery and am so grateful we can have this done, so he can be as healthy on the inside as he looks on the outside.


Last night – he fell asleep at the table while listening to music

If you’d add your prayers to ours for a complete and smooth recovery for Yirmiyahu ben Avivah Michaelah, I’d be so appreciative!


When intrinsic motivation is missing in college students

This week I was sharing with dd19 some of my thinking about the development of intrinsic motivation, and why giving young children regular opportunities to choose their own activities and pursue their interests is a critical factor in developing internal motivation.

While discussing this, she asked me about a dilemma that her college is having.

(At the end of last year, dd19 was asked by her college administration to serve as a workshop safety instructor for this school year.  This is a paid position that will also look good on her resume; it was offered to her because she has excelled in her studies as well as being capable and responsible.  This is how she gets to hear about the administrative dilemmas faced by the school.)

The dilemma is that a significant number of students don’t do the coursework or homework.  They come unprepared and their approach to addressing their own lack of responsibility is limited to complaining to the teachers that they have such busy schedules and how can the teachers expect them to get the work done?

The administration is now discussing how to handle this.  What they’re planning is that all students who haven’t done the necessary work will be expected to come to make-up sessions that they’re going to have to pay for.  Dd19 asked me if based on the principles I shared with her, do I think that this effort is going to work?

“No,” I told her, “it’s not going to work.”  They’ll pay the extra cost with lots of grumbling but they still aren’t going to take their classes seriously and will continue to complain about how unfair it is.  What they need is to have a personal  commitment to getting a good education, and this step isn’t going to motivate them to be engaged in their learning.  This isn’t a judgment on these students.  They’ve grown up with a focus on the outcome rather than the process (get the good grade/diploma rather than get an education), and they’re just continuing in the way they’ve been trained.

Dd wanted to know, what would help students take responsibility for their own learning?  The most obvious thing is that they  be allowed to continue doing what they’re doing and experience the natural and logical consequences.  What would those consequences be?  They won’t get good grades, won’t be able to graduate, won’t be hired, are hired but don’t have the skills to perform well.  At any point along the way they can reassess and decide to apply themselves if they want to get different results.

Dd said the college has a policy that doesn’t allow for students to be failed.  I thought this was unusual but a day later read this article and sadly this has become very common.  As kids become less resilient and unable to handle stress, institutions have lowered their standards and expectations so students won’t be distressed.  (What makes kids resilient?  Why can’t they handle stress?  Important issues to address to understand what’s really happening but this isn’t part of the debate – it’s all about school policy. )

The college has tied its own hands and has no power.  They’re going to be left resorting to giving speeches about the importance of working hard that most students won’t pay any attention to.

At some point, there will be consequences for these students.  They aren’t developing their character base and they aren’t developing their knowledge base, and this will affect who they become and how they perform in all aspects of life – not just on the job.


Is an only child better off not being homeschooled?

A reader asks:

>>I’m wondering — what is your opinion on homeschooling just one child? My youngest daughter wants to go to school next year, and that would leave only my son at home, who will be seven next year. On the one hand, I love how homeschooling allows him to grow at his own pace, make his own discoveries, and explore the world around him. I’m worried that putting him in school would stifle his love of learning. On the other hand, would it really work to keep just one child home, especially given that he’s my only boy? He’s just getting into playing with other boys — he used to just follow his sisters around — and I’m wondering if being around other boys would be of greater benefit to him than homeschooling. Or if I should continue homeschooling, and sign him up for as many classes as possible, and then do freelance work while he’s in class so we can actually pay for them…

What’s your opinion? Thanks!<<

Plenty of people homeschool only one child and it can work beautifully. It comes with its own advantages and disadvantages (as does everything!) but many children have thrived in this framework.  Others haven’t.  And sometimes the child thrives but the parents doesn’t, since having just one child home is parent intensive.

There are times that I doubt my homeschooling choices and periodically wonder if my kids would be better off in school.  At those times I need to recalibrate and think again about what I’m doing and why.  Sometimes I just need to consciously reconnect to my deepest values.

Sometimes, there’s an imbalance that I need to address. Am I actively living the values I espouse?  Am I too busy with home management (or something else) and not spending enough time being fully present?  Do I need to focus more time on one area, invest more in relationships, find a new way to help a child approach a skill set?  Basically, what do I need to do to be in balance again?

Perhaps you would find it helpful to take some quiet time to reclarify for yourself what your educational and parenting goals are.  If you have trusted mentors with experience homeschooling, now is a good time for some heart to heart conversations where you can honestly share your fears and conflicted feelings.  It sounds like you’re wrestling with a set of conflicting values, that of your own conscience and that of the general society around you, and that doesn’t lend itself to peace of mind!

It sounds like your big concern about homeschooling is socialization. A general principle is that the more of himself a child has before being put in a situation that can easily lead to peer dependency, the more he can maintain his sense of self when around others.  Until a child has a clear sense of himself as his own person, he’s limited in how he will benefit from the social opportunities of school.

Instead of giving you a direct response to your question, I’ll reflect your question back to you: Why and how would time with other seven year old boys be more valuable than taking an individualized approach to his educational and emotional needs along with lots of nurturing time with you?

Will these young boys model good character for him?  Will they make him kinder, more helpful, more responsible?  Will they help him overcome his rash inclinations, enhance his emotional maturation, encourage his individuality, sustain his self-esteem?  Will they value who he is and care for him unconditionally?

Play time with other kids is fun, and fun is good!  There may be benefits to you or your son for him being in school at this time.  It’s important to be able to honestly assess what is right for your family.

Get clear with yourself about what gains you expect him to have if he’s in school.  Recognize what are needs and what are wants so that the two aren’t confused when making decisions about what will best support his development and help you reach the goals you have for your family.


Those homeschooled kids who can’t deal with life because they’re so protected – yeah, them.

It’s a funny thing.  Out of the many, many people who have asked my advice about parenting, no one has ever told me that their kids get along so peacefully that there’s never any conflict to navigate.  Sibling relationships can be some of the most complex and multi-faceted there are, with much more potential for explosiveness than with friends.  After all, you can choose your friends but you don’t choose your siblings.

And yet this week I once again fielded a common misconception:  how will homeschooled kids be able to cope with life?  Because, the questioners continued, they won’t know how to deal with difficulties if they aren’t in school.  School is clearly what prepares kids to deal with life’s challenges, right?

It seems to me there’s a kind of selective amnesia that every person who asks this question experiences, as they momentarily forget what their own home life is like.  I’m grateful to have a pretty peaceful home life, and I can tell you that every single day I’m actively guiding various children in how to respond in a better and more effective way to situations that come up.  (Understand this careful phrasing to mean that there are regularly choices being made that aren’t synonymous with quiet and gentle :) ).

It’s fair to assume that in every home with more than one family member in it, there are going to be some interpersonal issues to work through on a daily basis.   There are frustrations and irritations, things that don’t go your way and people and events you don’t have control over.   Are the people asking about homeschoolers’ capacity to cope truly presuming that homeschooling parents and children have a unique DNA and experience a blissful life unmarred by the difficulties that any other child in the world has to face?

There are plenty of opportunities to be challenged and grow even in the most loving of homes.  I firmly believe that it’s the lessons we learn at home about how to get along with one another that are the hardest to learn and at the same time, prepare us better for life and future relationships than any other social opportunities.

When my kids reached the pre-teen and teen ages and complained about their siblings, I would occasionally tell them that this will prepare them for future roommates and spouses better than anything else could.  Since then, several of our older children have told me that I was right about this.  It’s always nice to hear your kids say you were right all along!  :)

I’m a person who has done a lot of research on a lot of things, but I’ve never come across a way to avoid life’s rough patches.  If anyone had that recipe, they could sell it and make millions.  It’s simply not possible to avoid difficulties, regardless of where you’re educated.   Life will be turbulent for us all at times.

Going through difficulties isn’t the same as growing through difficulties.

The question shouldn’t be if kids at home are so protected that they won’t face challenges – this argument is a straw man. The stronger a child’s autonomous self and inner emotional core is, the better prepared he’ll be to face challenges.  A better question for those sincerely concerned about a child’s ability to successfully face adversity should be, what builds a strong emotional core in a child, and is that development more supported in an institution or in a family?


Our latest home renovation project – a pergola!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis summer I had a vision of building a pergola for our very sunny front porch.  But I was too busy to get this project off the ground so it didn’t go beyond talking.

When we talked about plans for the upcoming Sukkos holiday, the kids asked me if we were going to build a pergola.  I told them I wasn’t going to take charge of this project, and if it was going to get done, someone else was going to have to take it on and see it through from beginning to end.  In the past this has been ds22, but he wouldn’t be home in time to get it done.

Lumber delivery

Lumber delivery

The kids agreed that they wanted to have a pergola, and ds16 volunteered to take responsibility for getting it done on time.  It would be a tight deadline to meet since our conversation took place the night of Sept. 20, and it had to be done by Sept. 25.

Ds16 got information about the structure, what size boards to use, where to buy it,borrowed tools, ordered the lumber, and arranged the lumber delivery (it arrived the day after Yom Kippur, Sept. 24).

(Disclaimer at my childrens’ request: they’re dressed in work clothes and don’t walk around publicly like this.)



Once it arrived, he got all of his siblings at home involved in staining all the lumber with him.



I had been gone that day at the hospital for the pre-op appointment with ds3 and when I came home late in the afternoon the Werner crew (ds6, ds8, dd14, dd19 and of course ds16) hard at work!

Ds6 proud the wood is all stained!

Ds6 proud the wood is all stained!

If you’re wondering what my part was – he asked for my feedback about my preference for the width of the boards and what color stain I wanted, and I also wrote the check for him to pay with at the hardware store. :)

Ds22 and ds16 putting up the first ledger board!

Ds22 and ds16 putting up the first  board

Ds22 got home a couple of hours later and that evening and the next morning he and ds16 worked nonstop to build the pergola.  They were amazing.  Within 24 hours of the unstained lumber being delivered, the pergola was finished!  They both had very dark suntans after all those hours in the blazing suns but they said it was worth it.

In progress....

In progress….

Almost done!

Almost done!

Can you believe we were so busy admiring the final result that we didn’t take a picture once it was done and the porch was cleaned up?

But it’s beautiful.  And now for Sukkos it’s a beautiful frame for our sukka -we have so much room, more spacious and convenient than any sukka we’ve ever had.  We had 17 people for the first day of yom tov with plenty of room; we could easily have had double that.

Sukkos 2015

Sukkos 2015 – partial view

This was an empowering and gratifying project for ds16.  He’s very competent but in the past has been the younger brother following his older brother’s lead on projects. This time the roles were reversed.  He gave the instructions and while everyone worked hard together, he’s the one who made this project happen.  You can hire someone to build a pergola for you, but being able to do it yourself builds a person’s sense of competence and ability in a way that watching someone to do the job could never match.