Life in General

My cousin, Raizel

My cousin, Raizel.

How to describe someone who was complete goodness and kindness, authentic and real, joyful and grateful – without making it sound cliche?

Her perspective on everything and everyone and everywhere was always through a positive filter. Some people need to work hard to do this; for some people, this is natural.

I think back to my last conversation I had with Raizel, just two weeks ago. Raizel had posted a FB update; she was being admitted to the hospital – for what she hoped would be just a few days – and she was asking friends to say the daily portion of Chitas (the daily selection of the weekly Torah portion, Psalms and the foundational Chassidic text, the Tanya) in merit of her speedy recovery.

I messaged her that I would do it, and stayed up late that night to complete the entire day’s Chitas. When I was done, I let her know that with each word I said, I begged Hashem for her complete recovery.

The next day I got a text response from her – “You’re my hero.”

I quickly wrote back to her “Raizel, you’ve got it all wrong. YOU are MY hero. You manage to continue to be so gracious and positive despite what you’re dealing with, and you treat everyone as a good friend.”

And I keep thinking about the text – because it’s so Raizel. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel good – her natural way of responding to people was so full of gratefulness and genuine love, because that’s really what she felt. No pretenses. No ego.

Raizel inspired so many just by her positive view of life. There was what she said and there was how she said it. Natural and caring, kind and with a full heart.

Over the 18 months that Raizel suffered and fought her illness, she lost more and more control of the things she loved. She wished to bake challah, she wished to spend more time with her kids, she wished to go back to Israel. All these things were out of her control. As her body failed her and the list of what she could control got shorter and shorter – she never let go of one thing that can never be taken away; the kind words that we can shower on others.

Her graciousness never left her.

Even when so sick in the hospital, her response to me was – “You’re my hero.”

She right away made it about me, not about her. She wasn’t trying to shower me with platitudes – she genuinely felt that way because that was who she was.

The sadness, the pain, the tragedy, the empty void she leaves not just for her family but for her endless amount of friends – that won’t ever go away and until Moshiach comes, we can never fix.

But what we can do is adopt Raizel’s way of treating others. Raizel’s way of seeing life. Raizel’s way of having a kind word for everyone. Raizel’s way of treating everyone as her close friend. Raizel’s way of treating people in a way that they felt they matter.

Now during these crazy times, I have been thinking that there are so many things we can’t do. We’ve lost control of how we can celebrate milestones or occasions, we’ve lost control of ways of being able to spend time with the people we love and care about.

But one thing we can never lose control of, one thing that can never be taken away, are the words we use to treat others. The words we use to show people we care.

It takes breaking down the walls of pretense we build around ourselves. It takes vulnerability. But it is the greatest gift we can give to anyone and everyone; the gift of showing people we care.

Raizel did it naturally. But I’m positive that with enough effort, it can become second nature to anyone who tries.

Hashem took Raizel for reasons we will never understand. Why Hashem chose to leave a beautiful family, a father and 8 young children, without their devoted wife/mother, we will never understand. The pain and suffering is beyond comprehension. There’s not enough words in the dictionary to describe how terrible it is.

I know Raizel would still find something positive. And so putting on my “Raizel glasses”, I will work on seeing people the way Raizel did; as a friend. And look for ways to give people the gift that never stops giving, the gift that doesn’t cost a penny yet is priceless, the gift that can never be taken away.

The gift of a kind word.

Life in General

The emotional rollercoaster of Corona Era … and Zoom

Zoom. My life is revolving around Zoom. 7 simultaneous classes.

I’m both the IT guy and principal, while I try to keep an eye on my Waldorf preschool contingency. My husband’s work schedule is still running, so it’s me and the crew during work hours.

And when the Zooms are finally done for the day and the tablets are put to bed in their chargers, I have nightmares about Zoom. About meeting numbers and passwords. About cameras and mics being on when you think they’re off and that moments that don’t belong publicized are being recorded and broadcasted.

“The password is not working, I need you to come!!” calls a desperate voice from upstairs.

“Mommy, I need cotton balls for a craft NOW!” shouts another voice from somewhere else in the house.

“Snack time! What can I have?” yells a smiling second grader, bounding into the kitchen.

“It’s lunchtime!” announces my kindergartener.

My head is spinning. I’m still trying to clean up breakfast and keep the preschoolers busy.

I take a deep breath. I long for the days when I wasn’t principal, the BCE days (Before Corona Era). When my house didn’t double as the school building and my kitchen wasn’t the lunchroom.

It’s ironic; my two oldest were schooled in Shluchim Online School – a full blown virtual classroom. Only in the past few years were we blessed to have a Cheder open to suit our needs, in this corner of Northern California. My oldest already graduated and is (was) away in Yeshiva, (BCE) in 10th grade, and my daughter is graduating her Online School this year. I have been eagerly looking forward to closing up shop on schools on devices and retiring from being principal and IT and everything else that comes with it.

And here I am, back at square one, only more so. I know it’s temporary – that’s what I keep telling myself, and that’s what I must believe – but still so overwhelming! I agree with all the great words of wisdom from anonymous strangers on the internet about how great it is for our kids to have so much time with their parents and how much our BCE life compromised that. But that’s only half the picture. I also agree that kids leaving the house is extremely healthy for everyone. Not because I love my kids any more or less than anyone else; but because how can you miss them if they don’t ever leave?! And missing them is healthy! I’ve read that too!

When all the lunches are done and it seems everyone is back in class, I sneak into the backyard for a moment of quiet. I need some space! For me. Just to breath, nothing fancy. As I slip out the door, I bump into one of my headphone-wearing-tablet-carrying students/children. I choose to assume he was coming back from a class field trip and decide against asking him why he wasn’t in his classroom. Because technically he was holding his classroom, even if he wasn’t in his designated chair and desk. Whatever. I’m too tired to be principal. I just continue outside.

My phone has new alerts.

An urgent prayer request for a friend’s father who is fighting Covid-19. Another prayer request for a young father in critical condition who needs a miracle.

My heart pounds as I say a prayer and collapse into a chair outside. So many people I know, family, friends and relatives, have had Covid-19. And people I know have died.

And here I am complaining that it’s hard to be principal of Zoom meetings!? Especially when my house is big enough to accomodate all 7 classrooms and I even have a backyard – how dare I complain?!

And just like that, my emotions switch from overwhelmed to guilt. Guilt of complaining about such trivial things, when people are fighting for their lives. And then comes the sadness. Too many people have passed away from this disease; people from my east coast hometown. Families I know, who have been changed forever. The sadness is overwhelming. This madness has to stop!

And then I feel the fear. It’s paralyzing.

What is going to be?? When will this end, what awaits us?? Can it get worse? Will it get worse? I pray hard for the coming of Moshiach, when all illness will be gone.

I want my normal life back! I want just a few minutes of quiet everyday. Just a few! I want to go shopping without worrying about everything I see and touch. I don’t want worry to be my constant companion – the  worry about the unknown.

I see a message on my family WhatsApp group; my uncle, who had been on a ventilator for 2 weeks, is breathing on his own and responding; nothing short of miraculous! I feel relief. I feel optimism. People will heal. We will survive this.

I mindlessly open Facebook, for no particular reason; a habit I would love to get rid of.

The headlines…

“Second wave coming; and it’ll be worse!”

“Possible hospital overcrowding! Our health system will collapse!”

“Covid-19 will peak in May!”

Anxiety is back, in full control. I can feel it in every bone in my body.

I need to get my control back here! The roller coaster of emotions is too quick – I need to be the driver of this train before it ends in a wreck.

I continue scrolling.

Drastic decrease in cases in my NY hometown – now that’s good news! Hundreds have recovered from the virus.

I feel my spirits lift; I feel hopeful. This will end. This is not the doomsayers’ long awaited apocalypse. There is none. G-d is still running this world. Hashem is watching us. He’s on top of it. Everything will be good.

The kids are calling me; passwords, WiFi, snack, supplies – I can’t quite make out the words.

And for a moment I focus and appreciate that all my children are under my roof; they’re all home. It’s noisy and hectic and messy and tiring, but they’re all home.

It’s exhausting – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The emotions change on a dime, from overwhelmed to anxious to sad to worry to scared … it’s an endless loop.

And I tell myself it’s ok to be overwhelmed with snacks and meals, even if that seems so petty.

Because nothing is normal now, and I can’t fight the new reality. I can only hope and pray that it all ends as quickly as it came.

Life in General

I just needed eggs…

After a month of not going farther than just a walk around the block, I had to go out to my OB appointment. Truth be told, I was never so excited for a doctor’s visit – I felt like I was getting ready to depart on some exciting and adventurous excursion!

Once out, I opted to stop to pickup eggs. My husband has been the designated shopper for our family for the past few weeks, but since I was going out anyway, it only made sense for me to stop at the store. And if I thought staying home can make you go a little crazy, I was unprepared for how challenging shopping for eggs would be for my sanity.

Relieved to see I still remembered how to drive, I pulled up to Sam’s Club, ready to take on shopping during Corona Era.  After reading too many articles on the issue, I had decided not to take gloves, (it’s not mandatory here), thinking this would keep me more aware of what my hands were touching – which proved to be all too true.

I park and get out, and look at the shopping carts lined up right near me. Ok, what now? I draw a blank; I haven’t shopped in so long I can’t remember what to do next!

I look back in my car at the jumbo Purell dispenser and put the whole thing in my handbag, with the spout sticking out. Now I’m really ready.

But wait – I’m going to need to show my Sam’s card at the entrance. My hands are clean – freshly Purelled – but now the cart and my membership card, how to navigate this? I wipe the handlebar of the cart with Purell and then with my other clean hand, hold my cards between two fingers. With one hand and 3 fingers I push the mammoth cart and take every precaution that my cards should not touch anything. But it is hard to push that cart with one and a half hands! And my pregnant stomach keeps bumping into the cart handlebar, making me wondering if I should just wipe the whole front of my shirt with Purell.

Finally at the door, I see an employee wiping and spraying carts – I had totally forgotten that I could get a cart once in the store! The employee reassures me that all carts are cleaned multiple times a day … and she didn’t even ask for my membership card, which I had so carefully held at a safe distance! With my two non-cart-touching fingers I carefully returned it to my bag and then just for extra caution, did one last Purell rub on the cart handle and started making my way inside.

Now, here’s the thing. I love shopping. I love stores. I love to be unfocused so I can spot things I am not looking for and find good bargains. It’s kind of a thrill. And walking into Sam’s Club, I knew there’d be no thrill. Because I had to focus. 1000% focus. And that takes all the joy out of going into any store.

So, hyper-focused on my hands and my cart, I made my way to the eggs in the back of the store, hoping this trip would not be in vain.

But how to walk down aisles that don’t have 6 ft on each side of you at all times?! I swerve and turn and weave in and out trying to use the safest route, all the while scared that someone will yell at me for passing to close. This turns out to be way more stressful than any type of driving.

And then-the joy! Eggs! I almost weep tears of joy.

One per customer, but at least it’s a 5 dozen case. I didn’t even check the price; at this point, having made it this far, I would pay any price.

Ok, focus, I tell myself.

I reach to open the refrigerator door – and freeze.

The door. I will be touching the door handle. I don’t know who or what else has touched that handle. And if I touch the handle to open it, that same hand will take the eggs – which I will be taking home. So whatever is on that door handle will go onto the eggs and then come home.

Deep breath. Focus. You can do this.

With my right hand, I open the refrigerator door. With my left hand, I slowly pick up the 5 dozen eggs, hoping it will not fall with this unsteady movement… all as my sleeve swipes the side of the glass door.

My sleeve! Forget it; I resolve that I’m just going to throw out this shirt when I get home.

I slide the eggs into the cart with my left hand and close the refrigerator door with my right hand and then go for a round of Purrel from the pump in my bag. Beads of sweat pouring down my face, I know I got this.

But wait, the eggs in the cart – I do not know what has touched the inside of this cart. I only washed the handle of the cart, not the inside!

I’m losing my mind … I can feel it.

I head to the checkout – and here’s where it gets really interesting.

The employees all have gloves. And I get to see right in front of me how useless they are.

I ask the employee about the limit on eggs, she assures me that there’s no limit anymore. I feel a ray of hope for our future!

Seeing my clear exhaustion she offers to ask an employee to bring up another 5 dozen; I wait a few minutes and he returns with it and places it in my cart. My joy knows no bounds – oh the things I can do with all these eggs – although for a family of 11, it’ll last about a week.

And then it dawns on me; the employee who brought me the eggs. He was wearing gloves. He opened the refrigerator door with those gloves – the door I was so careful not to touch with my hand that touched the eggs. And who knows what else those gloves touched!

My head is spinning. I want to go home. I want to go back to quarantine.

I carefully Purell my right hand and take out my debit card and membership card,  and push the cart towards the checkout employee with my left hand, making every effort not to cross contaminate – even though I’m not quite sure what I’m cross contaminating.

And the employee grabs my cart from the other end with two hands – the side that is not the handle and has not been cleaned – scans the eggs, and with the same gloved hands, take my cards – my cards that I have so valiantly worked hard on keeping corona free!! – and then hands them back to me. Too stunned, I slip them into my bag, only realizing a second later that all the germs and what-not that are on the employees gloves are now on my cards and probably crawling around my bag-no, swarming- up and down and all around the contents of my handbag. I can literally see the little red coronas, the ones that haunt me in my sleep and the ones that have taken over every article and meme I see.

I use some Purell again, trying not to ruin the receipt I’m handed (with the same gloved hands!) and make my way to the door, to have another gloved employee take my receipt and scan it – yes, he held it too! Now that’s two glove-fulls of germs on this receipt!!

I can practically see the little guys of contamination having a picnic right there on this slip of paper.

I toss the receipt in the trash, do one more Purell and head to the car. I put the eggs safely in the trunk and collapse into the driver’s seat. I am drained; exhausted both mentally and emotionally. My hands are burning from too much Purell.

If I thought staying home can make someone lose their mind, I’ve realized I’m wrong. Going to the grocery store can definitely make you lose your sanity a lot quicker.

My husband will continue being the designated shopper. I’ll take quarantine any day.

Behavior & Discipline, Motherhood

So, what’s it like with a houseful of boys?

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“You have how many boys?!”

That’s a pretty typical response I get when I mention that I am blessed to be the mother of 8 boys.

“And one girl!” I add.

But still, they look at me as if I’m a creature from outer space.

Never mind the big family; raising a houseful of boys is what makes them gape.

And rightfully so.

Because boys really are from a different planet.

There’s so much I learned on the job. I was never a tomboy or anything remotely close. I dreamed in pink, played with Barbies longer than I’ll admit and never got tired of dressing all my dolls for yet another wedding.

With only one daughter, there’s not much dolls and not much pink. Considering she’s a teenager already, dolls haven’t surfaced in this house for years.

True they say boys need dolls too…but after seeing one decapitated doll too many, I finally stopped buying them. Little People will just have to do; at least you can’t just take off their heads.

Doll houses had a bit of a longer life span, but after one too many caved in after being used as a step stool one time too often, I finally admitted defeat and started to think in boy-language.

With only one girl, there’s also not that much drama. But what’s missing in drama is made up in ACTION. With boys, there is always action. Fast moving, loud, banging, tumbling type of action. It’s like boys live their lives on fast forward; there’s always something to touch, to break or to experiment with.

Mundane household items become sought after treasures. Things that I never thought twice about suddenly have deeper meaning and more purposes.

One of the most sought after items in my kitchen is the broomstick – and not because everyone loves to sweep. It is not uncommon to find the poor head of the broom languishing alone in the corner, missing its handle. I used to have a dustpan with a handle too, I loved the convenience of it and did not miss the kneeling down to scoop everything up! The only problem was that the stick handle kept disappearing … and so I was forced to just go with the one piece small dustpan, and I’m still chasing my broomstick, which doubles as all different types of ammunition.

Believe it or not, I do have a strict no-gun policy. We don’t buy toys that come with guns. The problem is, though, that everything from Clicks to Legos to Lincoln Logs to furniture to empty Amazon boxes all moonlight as guns. Every size color and shape.

“Why? Why must everything be a gun? Why can’t you pretend it’s anything else, anything else in the world?!”

And that’s when they turn them into swords.

And that’s also when I realize I just won’t ever get it. I may not ever be able to understand these boys, no matter how hard I try,  but I do understand the reality; everything will be used as a gun. And no, we do not watch violent action movies. It’s another one of those boy things that I can’t figure out.

Hoverboards meandering through the kitchen and a remote control car slipping between my feet as I’m trying to cook, with a drone somewhere overhead; that’s just the normal.

While some people typically find themselves sitting on a chair or couch to relax, some kids just find themselves sprawled out on the counter.

Why?! Just sit on the couch or a chair, why the counter?!”

While there’s a “no throwing balls indoor” policy in this house, it’s not uncommon for a ball to land in the sink as I wash the dishes.

Some kids walk into a room, some kids enter a room as if they’re sliding into home plate.

And I’m left wondering – “Why can’t you just walk in the boring way?!”

But I’m learning. Every single day, I am learning. This is just how they work. The more I try to change them, the more frustrated I’ll be.

It’s my responsibility to teach them, to guide them, and to nurture them.

But not to change them.

One of our best investments is the outdoor trampoline. Yes, I know, I’ve read all the statistics and reasons why not to get one. But if I went by statistics on every item I own, we’d own nothing. Sometimes common sense has to override everything else. It’s a must-have for a house of boys. Because as I keep discovering, boys have this thing called ENERGY. And it’s a good thing. But it also comes at a cost – amongst the costs is endless pairs of pants. After experimenting with multiple different brands of pants I finally came to terms with the fact that maybe it’s not the pants but it’s the person who wears them…and some boys just tear the knees of their pants by the dozens.

They don’t whine. They don’t bicker.

They move. They fight. They roughhouse.

No one teaches them how to. They just do.

They climb, they explore.

Life is one big amusement park, and they treat is as such.

If it can be climbed, climb it. That might be the handles of the drawers, the counters or the tree outside; there’s no difference.

I look at their bright eyes and try to see the world through their eyes for a moment, to see the opportunities galore.

When I see a staircase – regardless of size, all I see is a set of stairs. All boys see is a banister. And the possibilities are endless.

There’s no greater competition than who can jump down more steps at a time; an activity that is not for the faint of heart to watch and an activity I’m getting better at limiting my commentary on while it’s happening. I’m learning how to silently watch from a distance with the corner of my eye and only intervene when it really is getting dangerous. This is a big accomplishment, especially from the girl who has never even taken the steps two at a time.

I try to see it from their eyes; some times I succeed and sometimes I’m left muttering “Why? Why do you think this is ok?! What are they thinking?!”

I still say the typical mother things; we have a trampoline for a reason; no jumping on the couches. Beds are for sleeping, not for jumping.

All the regular boring mother things. The things that go in one ear and out the other.

And amidst the frustration and struggle to understand them and appreciate their endless energy, I count my blessings every day that this fabulous group of fun-loving mommy-hugging boys love to read. Because when the books come out, there’s this thing called SILENCE. It just pops out from nowhere and suddenly everyone is sprawled somewhere else and blissfully reading. And I blissfully do this thing called breathing.

Then there’s the mud, dirt and sand. There can be acres or beautiful play equipment and grass, but they’ll find that one square inch of mud and play there for hours. And if it’s sand, I know that half the sandbox will be coming home with us in their pockets and shoes. When they do decide to switch to the play structure, they will climb it and hang from it in every possible way, other than what it’s intended for. Climb the perimeter of it…swing from underneath it … go up the slide … I’ll just have to believe them that it’s just so much more fun that way. 

There are moments when you just have to laugh to yourself and marvel at their appreciation for small things. Like when I’m putting some clothes in the washing machine (an often occurrence) and the pile weighs like a ton of rocks… and sure enough, in one of the little boy pants pockets there lies … a ton of rocks. Hand selected from the play yard at school, because apparently the rocks in our back yard just aren’t the same.

My boys have taught me to think out of the box and to love it too. They’ve taught me that muddy hugs and well worn pants are signs of happiness. They’ve taught me to prioritize and appreciate the moment. They’ve taught me what’s really important and when to let go. 

But most of all they’ve taught me that motherhood is not about changing your kids to suit your needs.

It’s about changing yourself to be the mother that your kids need.

And there’s a reason that no one ever said it was easy.

Motherhood

Errands, Toddlers and Blueberries

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Three year olds do not belong in grocery stores. I knew that already.

I weighed out the pros and the cons. I was about to drive past Walmart. I only needed a few items.

I made the quick decision to take my one year old and newly minted three year old in with me for this short errand.

What could possibly go wrong?

I got my baby in the front seat with the strap secured and my three year old in the back of the cart. Mine is not the type who will walk around the store holding onto the cart. To him, life is an exciting party. And walking around in Walmart would be a dream come true – and make that running, not walking. It wouldn’t work. But that part was fine, they were both safely seated. Continue reading “Errands, Toddlers and Blueberries”