Life in General

Dear head counselors and staff,

“YOU IN THE BLUE CAP, GET OUT OF THE SHUL RIGHT NOW!” bellows the head counselor; pointing at the boy in the blue cap who dared whisper to his friend 5 minutes into camp.

What goes through the mind of a head counselor as he publicly humiliates the child with the blue cap, I’ll never know. Is it to make an example out of him?  To assert his authority? 

What I do know is – this age-old method has got to stop.

Did he choose the right kid – is this indeed the camp troublemaker, or did the head counselor actually just give this boy a title that he will now live up to?

This is a typical scene that every boy who has gone to camp is familiar with; but that doesn’t make it acceptable.

Shaming. Humiliating.

Two ingredients that create a defiant and daring camper. 

Dear head counselors, counselors and all staff members,

As you get ready for an amazing summer, devoting every waking hour – and there are many since you don’t sleep much –  to kids of all ages and types, pause and realize this mission you are being entrusted with. 

We are dishing out thousands and thousands of dollars and entrusting you with our precious children. We are so grateful to each of you who agree to undertake this tremendous task of giving our children the best summer possible.

That kid in the blue cap that ends up being used as a korban;

He is someone’s precious child. There’s a mother and father out there trusting you to take care of their treasure. To build and not break. To influence and not destroy. To inspire and not shame. To empower and not put down.

Long after you leave camp and have caught up on sleep, this child will either be soothing their scars or flying on clouds of inspiration.

Camp is invaluable; there’s endless tales of campers recounting the life changing experiences that overnight camp has brought into their lives.

But let’s talk about another group of kids. Who came to camp for a fresh start and repeatedly get shamed and yelled at. Publicly humiliated. Sent out repeatedly.

And surprisingly enough, the more they are screamed at, the more they act out.

Wouldn’t you if you were trying to save face?

And instead of realizing that the staff themselves have created this monster, they blame the camper for his behavior. Of course responsibility and accountability are integral for each camper; but the staff need to be the adults in the room.

In a conversation with a counselor of a particular camper who was causing a lot of havoc, the father of the child spoke to the counselor about some different strategies to reach the child, and then suggested that the counselor call a particular respected mentor who has experience dealing with challenging campers.

The response from the counselor: ”I can’t be bothered.”

This is a true story.

And so to the dedicated staff, head counselors and counselors, I want to share with you; to be in your position is signing up to “be bothered.”

It’s part of the package.

Children are often delightful and enthusiastic, but can often be, well, bothersome.

And it’s up to you; how will you be treating each camper? No, not the easy campers who look in their Siddur all davening, who don’t talk after lights out and always show up on time, getting more and more points, prizes and Rebbe pictures.

What about the other 80%? 

Screaming, shaming, embarrassing and humiliating doesn’t fly anymore.

A good measuring stick to keep in mind is that if you can’t say it with love, don’t say it.

I’ll leave the particular discipline systems to the professionals; but when you look at that kid in the blue cap who dared to talk/smirk/make faces/whistle/put his feet up and you are ready to attack him, pause and remember that he is someone’s child. He is someone’s most valuable possession. And he wants to have a fantastic summer just like you do.

Proceed with caution; not everything can be easily undone.

Wishing every one a happy and successful summer!

Signed,

A mother of multiple kids who are heading to camp for a great summer!

Life in General

Good Advice…or is it?

“Wow, I’m the best mother ever! I’ve really got it all figured out!”

Said no mother, ever.

That’s just how it works; part of the gift of motherhood is the gift of doubt, guilt and second guessing.

And that’s where good advice comes in. The remedy for all this is good advice.

But not all advice is good, even if it has good intentions.

My personal two least favorite and least productive pieces of advice are these goodies;

“The days are long, but the years are short; before you blink they’ll be grown up, hold onto these times!”

“Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems!”

I don’t know if they’re meant as cliches or advice, but I do know what they actually are; when delivered, it’s just another form of the big bad G – GUILT – albeit with fancy wrapping paper.

Continue reading “Good Advice…or is it?”
Life in General

Six Sanity Tips for Pesach

The countdown is on, Pesach is coming.

When you read that sentence, did it make your heart start palpitating and you started breaking out in a cold sweat?

Or did you feel a thrill of excitement and burst of adrenaline for this incredible, all encompassing Jewish holiday that wraps you up in a world of its own; where regular life ceases to exist and family and meals become front and center of your life.

Yeah, that really is possible – or you can at least get closer to the latter reaction.

Pesach is a lot. It really is. There’s so much to do and so much to buy and so much to prepare.

Now, as I’m preparing to make Pesach in my own home for the 14th year, I’d like to share my top Six Sanity Tips for Pesach, in the hope that they offer some help in some way to some Pesach-makers.

#1- It starts at the roots, it’s the foundation. It’s the most important and fundamental rule that will make all the difference in everything I do: I must love pesach. 

Yes, love it.

If the feeling isn’t natural, I repeat “I love Pesach” over and over again until it becomes a part of me. I repeat it again and again. And then again. Starting the day after Purim, I think it while I work, while I walk, while I drive and just about any other time of day or night.

And it really happens. Try it and see for yourself; you will convince yourself. You will love Pesach. 

Especially considering the fact that it comes back every year, rain or shine, it’s integral to have a healthy relationship with it. 

You must love it. 

And to make sure you really love it, buy something new for yourself every year or do something special for yourself; it doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be something that gives you a positive association with the workload. (Think a new book, chocolate stash, manicure, purse, shoes, costume jewelry or whatever makes you happy and fits your budget.)

#2: As much as it’s important for me to love Pesach, my kids need to love it too; and really, that’s all dependent on what they hear me saying – which goes back to #1. If I become a ranting and raving chometz guard, we will all hate Pesach together. 

Do things that give the kids positive associations with the preparing; be creative with suppers and meals for the days before Pesach – as in, forget the rules and do what works. Can you imagine, nothing says best mother better than allowing cereal and milk for supper!! For three days straight! Double points if it’s Shabbos cereal! It’s just a few nights; everyone will be ok. Their emotional and mental  health is top priority over here. Buy some new games or books that are special just for Pesach.

Whatever it is that works, it has to be in line with making the kids love Pesach and not leaving them wishing it went away and so they can get their normal mother back. 

#3  I believe that my cleaning help is just as certified and qualified to do the Pesach cleaning as I am.

If you don’t have regular help, hire a company, group, someone, anyone. Your sanity costs a lot more money than the cleaning help; and it is alot harder to fix or replace your sanity if you lose or damage any of it. . 

Remember that the mitzvah is to get rid of edible chometz you can see. Food doesn’t fly and crumbs don’t jump. Just clean. And save spring cleaning for a calm day in July. 

#4 Pesach is not the time for me to patchke and fuss with new recipes; I save that for during the year when there’s actual ingredients to use, instead of attempting to use (lousy)  makeshift replacements and substitutes. The first year I made Pesach I made 5 different types of sweet potato/potato combos. Rolled, layered, scooped – you name it. They all had fancy names and they all tasted the same. All the work for nothing.

Unless fussing with elegant and delicate foods is something that gives you joy and it’s really your thing, just make the food you like and the food your family will eat. No one needs to know what your menu is.

#5 Look for shortcuts. My best shortcut is that I don’t empty a single cabinet or drawer or pantry in my kitchen. I have two self-standing plastic storage cabinets from Costco that are in the garage all year long storing all the pesach stuff and then the cabinets get moved into the house and it continues to house all the pesach stuff. My chometz cabinets get spring cleaned on random days in the year when it’s not Yom Tov season and it’s not spring. True, it’s additional clutter to have two cabinets brought into the kitchen; but pick your poison. Go for the one that will give you less work.

#6 Lists. Paper, Google docs, excel or whatever works. But make those lists and plan ahead. 

You can shop around for people’s ideas – but most importantly;  make them your own. 

There are so many different ways to do it; cooking everything before Pesach, kashering after Purim, kashering the day before or kashering on Erev Yom tov. There’s no wrong way. Find the right way that’s right for YOU. Do things because they work for you, not because they work for your friend or sister or mother or grandmother. 

Make Pesach yours. Make it your own.

And I can gaurantee you, you will love Pesach. 

You may come to the Seder tired, but there’s a difference between tired and resembling something that the cat dragged in or tired but full of pride and joy and a sense of accomplishment; that you made it without destroying anyone or anything in the process.

And then you can actually be present at the Seder; you will enjoy the time with your family and your food, and actually feel the depth of this holiday celebrating our freedom. You deserve it.

Life in General

High School?!

My daughter is in high school.

My daughter left to high school.

My only daughter left home and is now in high school.

I am in high school 

I mean, my daughter is in high school.

Yes, I’m having a hard time!

What’s so hard about it?

She left.

She’s in high school.

And that sometimes makes me confused and I think I’m in high school, because I wasn’t in high school that long ago. Because the 90s was only 10 years ago, right?

And to me my daughter is little and she belongs home. If I still remember high school how can she be old enough to go to high school? There’s so much that just doesn’t add up!

Was she ready to leave and go to high school? Yes! Yes yes yes. She was as ready as ever. 

The question is, was I ready.

And as being a mother teaches you, life doesn’t wait until you’re ready.

I am not ready. 

My son left out of state to High School (mesivta) two years ago. So it’s not my first time doing this. Sure, I fell apart then too. 

So then why does it make my insides crumble as if I never did this before?!

Something is different when it’s a daughter. And something is even more different when it’s my only daughter. I love my boys to pieces, but boys are boys and girls are girls.

I know this is best for her. I know the school is a good fit for her. I know her great personality and easy going disposition will do her well while living in a dorm with twenty + girls and in dealing with the pressures of high school too.

But still my mind races.

Because I want my kids in my nest.

I want to know what’s going on every morning and every afternoon and every evening and every night. And what she ate for each meal and snack. And where her seat in each class is. And who the teachers are. And which notebook she uses for which class. And if her uniform is comfortable. And if her blanket is warm enough. And if her mattress is ok. And and and …

And I must accept it that she’s spreading her wings and jumping to the next stage… where I must watch from a distance, guide from afar and allow her to discover things for herself. 

I have so much advice! I remember so much from my years and want to share it. How to study, when to study, how to make a schedule, what subjects are good and on and on.

I had my chance. This one is all hers.

I’m not ready. I’ll never be.

My daughter left home to high school, but what I’m not sure she realized is that deep in her suitcase, there’s a piece of my heart that went along too.

And the hardest part of all is remembering that this is her high school experience, not mine.

Life in General

Pandemic – the board game comes to life (hopefully)

“What’s a pandemic?”

No, the year is not March 2020.

It’s actually March 2018 and one of our guests has introduced the board game Pandemic to my kids. And they are hooked.

All I can see is a game with a gazillion little pieces in all different colors; a game with way more pieces than any game that is allowed into my house, actually.

But they play. All together. So nicely! I try to follow what’s going on, but the rules are way too complicated for my sleep deprived mommy brain.

And it’s deep in middle of one of these intense games that one of them ask me, “What’s a pandemic? And how is it different than an epidemic?”

The 2018 uneducated me isn’t totally sure.

So I google it, and explain the difference.

And then comes another nonchalant question, one that I will never forget.

“Could it happen these days?”

Without thinking, I answer, “Of course not!”

Then I pause and think.

“Well, anything is possible. Anything could happen. But with all the science and medical advancements, it’s probably not very likely.”

And my 2018 naive family continues with the game.

Trying to pretend that I know what’s going on on the board, I ask, “So who is winning?”

My 10 year old looks up at me. “There’s no winner. We either all win or we all lose.”

I like this game! All I hear is – there’s no fights! No sore losers! Because they either all win or all lose.

I often recommend this game to my friends who also have large families, because I love that it’s a teamwork game. It’s not the most competitive, quickest or luckiest that wins, rather it forces them to work together.

I like this Pandemic game, pretty brilliant, even though I don’t think I’ll ever figure out the rules. I’m more of a Rummikub person.

It’s July 2020.

2020 me is sitting at the dining room table watching my kids deeply involved in the Pandemic board game. They ask me to play. I still don’t know the rules and so I just follow their directions.

But one thing I do know.

The 2020 me knows exactly what a Pandemic is. And 2020 me knows that it sure is possible to happen even these days. And I think back to the 2018 conversation with my kids.

I remember those words, explained to me by my 10 year old.

“We either all win or all lose.”

There’s only one team. There’s no competition. Only teamwork. That’s the only way to win. Otherwise, we are all equally losers.

The kids get it! So why can’t the adults figure it out?