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Aug 19 2014

My Kids Are Pretty Much Average

By at 12:01 pm


A few weeks ago, I was at a 3-year-old’s birthday party, and I put my 6-month-old son down next to another baby. The other child effortlessly rolled across the blanket, while my son, a few weeks younger, mortified his mama by crying, in place, on his tummy. Oh no, I wondered, is my child not going to be a gifted athlete? Maybe he won’t be as flexible as his brother? Are these early signs of some kind of processing delay? I panicked. Will he be popular, or an outcast among fast-moving little boys? And the terror took hold.

Have you had that fear about your child? The fear that bubbles up when you notice they are not particularly good at singing, drawing or academics? You retaliate by frantically signing them up for soccer, karate, and music classes. You become certain that if you keep trying to find it, the prodigy in your child will emerge. You talk to other parents, trying to gain reassurance that all children are special at something. The other parents may even soothe your anxiety by pointing out how smart your child is because he knows 50 more words than the average kid his age. You placate your own worries by repeating that old idea that everybody has a special talent they excel at. Surely your child will find theirs at some point.

At the birthday party, my friends pointed out the benefits of a kid who doesn’t move: fewer worries about baby-proofing the house and those lurking dangers at the park. They referenced other children we knew who didn’t move until after a year (oh gosh!) but who were doing just fine on the playground now. Many also pointed out that while he may not be able to move, my son was so gorgeous and smart.

Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 9 2013

11 Back to School Tips to Ease Your Kids’ Anxiety

By at 11:57 am

back to schoolHave you ever really thought about all that goes on during your child’s day in school? Each time they switch classes, it can literally feel like stepping into another country. Each teacher has different rules, expectations and customs.

Do you raise your hand to go to the bathroom, or just go? Are you penalized for handing in an assignment late? Can you call out an answer, or do you need to raise your hand? Can you eat in class? Imagine how much more overwhelming this can be for students with executive functioning and organizational issues. Here are a few strategies that parents and teachers can implement to help ease back-to-school anxiety and navigate the academic jungle.

1. Before the start of the school year, visit the school and walk around, find the restrooms and other important places. Also let your child check out the playground and play. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 28 2013

Jewish Day School: My Kids Will Be Fine, But What About Me?

By at 2:00 pm

yarmulke with jewish starLater this week, both of my children will begin a new school year at a local Jewish Day School.

At the moment, we are in the whirlwind of the preschool year excitement–picking out new backpacks and shoes, finding out class assignments, and registering for after-school clubs. These are all activities that I recall with fondness from my childhood (who else remembers how exciting it was to get that new Cabbage Patch Kids plastic lunchbox and matching thermos–do they even make those anymore?). Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 24 2012

Back to School: They Know I’m a Blogger

By at 11:01 am

hello my name is bloggerI took my son to his first day of “school” today. Actually, it was half of a half-day, more of a parent-teacher meet n’ greet and let-the-kids-touch-everything to get everyone familiar sort of deal. I didn’t feel worried at all about sending Aiven to school because he adapts well to new situations and I know he needs to spend time around other kids. Besides, my husband and I work from home and I fear our son is getting sick of us.

About a week ago, we started getting inundated with emails from his school: class schedules, after-school programs, PTO meetings, holiday calendars, orientations, donation requests… I’m surprised there wasn’t a parent-teacher conference in there. Or maybe there was. I just had to tune it all out to stay sane (also known as denial). People: the kid’s not even 2! Is this normal or overkill? I have no idea because I am new to this whole school thing. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 5 2011

Sending My Kids to Jewish Preschool

By at 11:01 am

Four short years ago my entry into the back-to-school game began. I was sending my oldest to preschool, and I was excited for him, while enjoying this great milestone for both of us. Two and a half weeks ago my youngest, A. (2.5) had her 1st day of preschool just like her two older brothers. I spent all day walking around the school saying, “this is my last first day of preschool ever.”

Let me back up just a little. Although my husband R. was raised as a Reform Jew, he proclaimed to me from the day I met him that he is agnostic. Religion just isn’t anything he wants to be a part of. He did say that he had no problem with his children identifying themselves as Jewish and practicing Judaism, it just wasn’t imperative to his life. I wanted my kids to feel and identify themselves as Jewish. Given his feelings, and respecting his point of view, I took it upon myself to expose my kids to Judaism.

When it came time to look for a preschool for J., I immediately began looking at Jewish preschools. I went to the Jewish Community Center (JCC) for preschool, and I went to Yeshiva for 6 more years after that. I wasn’t intending to send my kids to Yeshiva, but I loved the idea of a Jewish preschool. My husband, however, not so much…

When it came time to find a preschool, he suddenly felt hesitant in putting our child (and future children) into a religious school of any kind. I would not let it go, though. I wanted my little man to learn Shabbat songs and have a Hanukkah performance. After we toured one amazing Jewish preschool, R. was still not swayed. I was even more determined. Once he saw our local JCC and their facilities, he thought we had found the right place for our child(ren). Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 4 2011

Back to (Home)school

By at 2:13 pm

My older son, Miles, will be 6 this month. He is technically “in kindergarten” although we are not part of any structured academic school, curriculum, or “plan.” Like a few million other parents in the United States, we choose to homeschool our children. Miles nor his 3 year old brother, Fred, have ever been to preschool or daycare and we love homeschooling so far. We are part of a large, colorful, secular homeschooling community here in Los Angeles that offers classes for free, classes for fees, and a variety of social and field-trip activities that keep us rarely at “home” as we homeschool.

(There is also a terrific Jewish homeschooling community in Los Angeles that I teach higher level science classes for. They offer opportunities for religious families to satisfy both secular academic and religious academic goals in a homeschooling setting which is amazing!)

Our homeschool community holds its classes and weekly get togethers along the same academic calendar that conventional schools do, with spring break, winter break, and summer breaks falling at the expected times. During the summer, our field trips generally involve beaches, water parks, and other such outdoor activities. As a homeschooling family that tends to favor the unschooling approach to education (encouraging child-directed selections of learning and not generally subscribing to one particular academic philosophy and/or curriculum), our whole year kind of feels like summer in a good way, since we love the laid-back approach we can take to life by homeschooling.

Here’s what we did over the summer which we will continue with more regularity now that the school year is upon us:

1) Piano, Geography, and Hebrew (reading and writing) – I teach these to Miles.

2) Basic math, telling time – my husband teaches these.

3) Miles acquired a penpal this summer who lives in Florida and we have been learning about letter-writing: form, content, how to address envelopes, select the appropriate number of Star Wars LEGO stickers for envelopes, and the like.

4) Use every possible day as a potential to see how the world works, how society functions, and how people interact. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 22 2011

Schoolhouse Rock

By at 3:29 pm

Now we officially have a kid in school. She has a backpack and a notebook and a pencil case. She has a dress code. (She also has “her Didi,” the doll that she’s been surgically attached to since she was born–the sole blond-haired, blue-eyed doll among the massive geniza of dolls, stuffed animals, Wild Things, and other assorted non-Aryan companions that she could have chosen–which she brings to school with her every day, stuffed inside her shirt like she’s pregnant, a sort of reverse security blanket.)

But: She’s in school. And our lives will never be the same.

I mean, I’m happy for her. I’m happy. It’s good that she gets to spend more time around kids her age than she does around me and her mother, who listen to music that she suddenly Does Not Like (“What’s wrong with Rage Against the Machine?” I demand. “I want UNCLE MOISHY,” she protests) and teach her how to say such dramatically un-kidlike things as “Excuse me, what did you say?” when she didn’t understand what was just said (so cute! Such a great party trick!). All these things and more make her a stellar human being. But, admittedly, they ain’t gonna help in the preschool cycle of schmoozing and swapping lunches.

So, it’s good that she’s exposed to this. She’s happy, and I’m happy. But it also means that we don’t control her path of thoughts: How long until “Excuse me, what did you say” turns into “what the $#!%?” We need to be prepared. Last year when she started playgroup, the bathroom-alert “I have to pishy” turned into “I need to make.” To make? Who made my daughter ashamed of her natural bodily functions? Was she going to start calling her vagina down there? And what new mannerisms and phenomena would she be exposed to at this new, strange, dark hole of a kindergarten? There are three teachers. Their names are Morah Chaya, Morah Mushkie, and Morah Mussie. Aliens. I mean, they’re probably the nicest people ever, but their names still remind me of space aliens. And they’re with my daughter more than I am.

So here is what I do to compensate: I take her and pick her up when I can. I ask her every day about what she does there (which I realize {a} can turn quickly into grilling and {b} is exactly what my parents always did to me, to which I responded, every day for 12 consecutive years, “nothing”).

And I value the time we have together even more. When she comes home, showing us art projects, explaining in elaborate detail this game they play every day called (as far as I can tell) Squishy Squishy Applesauce, which does not appear to have any rules and which nobody actually wins but involves a big red circle and sitting in a row, I listen, riveted and spellbound. I thought I’d have to fake interest in her kinder stories, but there’s no need–everything is so damn loaded, from the snacks they get to her choice of activity partners (mostly it’s Mayanie, whose mom I’m developing a movie with, but I try not to pressure her). Okay, watching too much Doctor Who and cop dramas and reality TV, we become conditioned to think that only a certain kind of drama is really dramatic–shootouts, million-dollar corporate mergers, affairs. But hearing these life-and-death stories from the front lines of nursery school, I remember what real drama is. It’s when there’s one strawberry left and three kids ahead of you, and you really, really hope they all choose the other kind of snack. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 8 2011

First Day of School & I’m a Nervous Wreck

By at 10:18 am

“You’ve got to calm down,” my husband said as we put the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink. “You’re making me nuts.”

It was the first day of school yesterday – the first day of second grade and first grade for my two older boys, and the first day of a new school for all of us. When my husband and I got married last year, we moved to a new home in our town…but, as it turned out, another school district.

But my husband wasn’t talking to the boys, who were busy exhibiting unusually calm behavior, putting on their new raincoats and adjusting the straps on their brand-new Batman backpacks.

No, my husband was talking to me. And rightly so — a casual observer could smell the nutty nervousness on me from a block away.

If we’re being honest here, I’d been nervous the whole week before. Of course, having no power until last Thursday, a now-8-week old baby in the house and having a “boil water” alert didn’t do anything for any of us in the relaxation department. But I’ll admit it – I felt like I was the one going to a new school, and I was scared.

My nervousness was an utter mystery to my husband. After all, he repeatedly pointed out, I actually wasn’t the one going to a new school – the boys were. He also noted that first and second grade have long passed me by. And moreover, the boys were clearly excited about their new school. Sure, they had a touch of nervousness, but really no more nervousness than any kid has before the first day of school, new or not. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 7 2011

Mama Can’t Wait for the First Day of Preschool

By at 11:42 am

If your friendship circles are anything like mine, your Facebook feed is probably filled with status updates about little ones starting preschool, bigger ones heading off to kindergarten, and the biggest ones of all holding back their tears and trying not to imagine their babies going off to college one day. I can’t keep track of how many pictures I’ve seen of back-to-school haircuts, new clothes, and Dora backpacks. One of my friends even went so far as to tape family pictures on the inside of her son’s lunch box; it was such a simple yet sweet thing to do, and I was totally impressed.

Such a thing would have never occurred to me.

I totally understand where these parents are coming from; my older daughter is starting preschool on Friday, and my little one will head back to daycare next Monday. I too have had those weepy parental feelings, that overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a moment that hasn’t even passed. Just not about my little girl’s first day at preschool. I know, you’re probably thinking that it will hit me when we head out of the house that morning, or perhaps when we walk into her new school, or perhaps when I leave with the baby.

I don’t think so.

I know from experience. Twice. The first time was when I left my then 3-month-old at daycare for the first time, and the second time was with my second daughter, also then 3 months old. Both times were just for an hour, a trial run before the real first day. Based on my friends’ reports and the numerous anxiety-ridden posts on my local Mommy list-serv, I was waiting for the worry and the guilt and sadness to set in; I was expecting to spend my free hour going through a box of Kleenex while clicking through the hundreds of baby pictures we had stored on the computer. But as I walked out of our daycare, leaving my happy, calm daughters behind me, I felt… relief. I went to the gym. I watched crap TV while I was on the elliptical. I got myself a cup of coffee, and just sat. Quietly. It was AWESOME. And I was thrilled to see my girls at the end of the hour.

Yes, my babies are growing up, and yes, I have those moments when I’m just not ready for it to happen. (I still struggle to let my big girl walk down the stairs alone. I know, we all have our meshugas, right?) But my girls heading off to school (or daycare or whatever) doesn’t trigger the tears for me. The truth is, I’m not SAHM material (although I am endlessly impressed by my friends who are) and I need a break from them. In addition, I loved school as a child, and my girls do, too. They’re happy at their second homes. I trust their caregivers and teachers, I like their friends, and I know they’ll be safe. And I’ll be sane.

So, Friday’s coming, and my little girl will be going off to school. I’ll pack her a lunch the night before (UGH), and we’ll probably pick out a special outfit for the big day. I might even take a few pictures that morning, and they’ll most likely end up on Facebook. But don’t kid yourself—after 11 days with no childcare and a vacation that was cut short by a feverish and vomiting toddler, I won’t be the one crying at drop-off.

Aug 24 2011

Packing Lunch: In Search of Authentic Culinary Heritage

By at 12:49 pm

Palak paneer/Shutterstock

Yesterday we asked about packing lunch for your kids. Here’s one mother’s struggle.

An Indian family I know gives there 11-month-old baby Indian food—lentils, palak paneer—every day for lunch. It’s what we had every day for lunch, they say, and it’s chock full of antioxidants and other healthy things for the baby.

Now, I’m a Jew of Eastern European descent, and I love that culinary heritage. When Shabbat rolls around I’m a sucker for a baked chicken and a succulent kugel. I’ll knock an old man to the ground to snag the last piece of pickled herring at kiddush. As a kid I savored a nice bowl of borscht at the dinner table from time to time. But when it comes to passing on my foodways to my children, I wonder if I’m falling short.

Our Shabbats are steeped in tradition, but our weekdays are a mishmash of Italian-Indian-Mexican-Asian-middle American whoosy-whatsy. From PB&J sandwiches to stir fry to pizza to taco night, we’re a virtual Ellis Island of culinary traditions. Everywhere they’ve lived, Jews have taken on the food stylings of the people around them—in America’s vast melting pot/salad bowl, this translates into massive food schizophrenia.

What if I wanted to offer the little ones some authentic Eastern European cuisine in their daily lunches? What would this look like? Obviously not even the old world Eastern European Jews had rich foods every day—these were Sabbath luxuries! So…Sunday potatoes, Monday potatoes, Tuesday potatoes? Or would I rather my 5-year-old become known as the stinky herring kid?

Black bread and vodka?

This is where I honestly hit a wall. I sometimes think that the answer is to leave my Polish/Russian roots behind…to dig deeper into my husband’s Hungarian and Romanian heritage, Sephardic traditions or modern Israeli cuisine. After all, those are all authentically part of the Jewish tradition.

But not my Jewish tradition.

In the end, I find some solace in the humble bagel. Authentically Eastern European, it’s our contribution to the melting pot, and occasionally takes the place of actual Jewish religious experience. (A good shmear can be transcendent.) Our children eat bagels before they even have teeth.

But beyond the bagel, what Eastern Europe Jewish foods deserve a daily appearance in my children’s lunchboxes? Are there any? Or should I just get back to work kosher-izing the latest ethnic fad cuisine? Perhaps that will be my true culinary legacy. Palak paneer, anyone?


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