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Jun 7 2011

Quitting My Job, Leaving New York & Taking Our Kid Across Europe… Before We Die

By at 11:14 am

I think that when you become a parent you discover an entire new set of fears.  It can include, but is not limited to: germs, food additives, antibiotics, vaccines…<insert fear-of-the-month here>.  My husband and I, well, we are afraid of dying.  Not the fear of slowly wasting away in a nursing home, but of dying young, soon, perhaps tomorrow.  Alex’s mother died without warning when he was seven years old and my father died when I was four.  This shared experience bonded us together from the night we met.

I often wonder how this will affect the way we raise our son.  I suppose it will take time to see how our neuroses manifest themselves.  I can recognize two ways so far.

The first way is none too detrimental, I think.  It’s just that I take pictures.  Hundreds of them.  I update my Picasa albums and YouTube channel obsessively, and I pounce on every online deal for canvas prints, photography sessions, and photo albums.  I have spent countless hours working on these photo albums.  At first my husband couldn’t understand why they were so important to me.  I asked him if he wouldn’t pay any amount of money to have something like this of his mother.  If something should happen to either of us, Aiven could put a story together from the pictures, videos, albums, and blog postings.  Alex and I would do anything to have the story of our deceased parents, so now I find myself documenting everything about our own lives.

The second way our fear of death manifests itself is that Alex and I try to live for today more than worrying about the future.  Thus, we take more risks than our peers and more than our families are comfortable with.  We strive to keep our eyes open to the extraordinary moments, opportunities, and memories unfolding before us.

Alex and I decided a few months ago to leave New York City.  We love it here but it is too expensive; we did not want to both work crazy hours just to pay the rent and childcare.  At the moment, we are both unemployed, lacking health insurance (COBRA wanted $2500 a month–hiss!), and packing up our things to go into storage.  Most people would be scrambling to find jobs.  Instead, we are about to embark on a journey for 82 days to Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and Spain.  We figured that before we reboot the daily grind, we should take an extended vacation.  Unplug.  See the stars.  Most importantly, bond with Aiven, as a couple, and as a family.

After this adventure we are relocating to Austin, Texas.  My husband may have a job when he arrives there, or he may not.  We don’t even have a place to live.  To top it all off, I cashed in my 401K.  It wasn’t a significant sum, but it will pay for the summer.  I could have waited until I was 65 to use it, but who says I am going to be around then?  I would rather spend the money now.  The most important consideration for us was that we may not have this opportunity again for many, many years…if ever.

Some might accuse us of being irresponsible, unstable, or gambling with our child’s future.  We call it not living with regrets.  I just hope that we do not live to regret it.

May 25 2011

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

By at 9:08 am

The Torah commands us to “fear your mother and your father.”  When I came across this verse, I had to laugh. I don’t think it’s even entered my son’s head to fear us. And yet, it’s the foundation of all morality according to the Torah and the rabbinic tradition. If you don’t learn to fear and respect your parents, you don’t learn to fear and respect God. Or so they say.

But how to command respect? Turns out that it’s not won through amazing negotiation skills. Or kindness and understanding in the face of total preschooler meltdown. Nope, it’s all about the fear factor.

We don’t hit. My husband and I have long been in agreement about not using corporal punishment with our children. It’s not that I think that spanking is horrible, per se, I just find that the moments that I really WANT to hit my child are precisely the moments that I should not. Hitting a child out of anger is not about discipline—it’s about losing control. And I fear that once I gave myself permission to solve problems this way, it would be far too easy to lash out when the going got tough.

And yet it’s REALLY hard to keep a child in line without the element of fear. “Spare the rod, spoil the child?” Hell yeah. There’s only so many “natural consequences” you can come up with—on the spot, no less–for some of the crazy things that four-year-olds do.

We recently discussed this with close friends of ours and learned that their approach was surprisingly old-school. Like, wash your mouth out with soap for bad language old-school. And it made me realize that perhaps my belief that upper-middle-class parents “don’t do that” was completely delusional. I’d like to think that everyone’s as soft as we are—that we’re all stuck in this post-modern parenting trap together. But that might just be wishful thinking.

All of this talk of fear and respect has finally emboldened me to start demanding a little more from our 4-year-old. For now we’re focusing on the use of time out. Once reserved for clocking other children on the head type infractions, it’s now being used for things that were never time-out worthy before, like raising your voice at a parent. Things that are not about hurting someone, or breaking something, but simply a matter of respect.

More than anything, we want our son to be a mentsch, a good person. And we see so much good in him. But we also see so much 4-year-old boy selfishness and disobedience.  So it’s our job to show him how to love others, respect authority–human and divine–and be a positive force in the world. Rod or no rod, it’s messy work.

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