Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I AM a good mother, DAMMIT!

Laundry, dishes, groceries, they can wait.  I am tired and frustrated.  And I want to scream, “I AM a good mother!” But if I need to scream it, I probably don’t believe it.  Not in this moment anyhow. 

I’ve been listening to my voice.  Not my words.  Those I can control to some degree with careful caution.  No, it’s my tone.  No matter how much my words are saying “I love you,” my tone is saying “You’re an idiot.”  I know it is.  It is a tone so familiar it hurts.  I’ve heard it in my father’s voice.  I’ve heard it in my husband’s voice.  I even heard it in my sister’s voices.  It was the tone of my exasperated teachers, and other ‘authorities’ in my life.  And while I don’t believe any of those people truly thought me an idiot, I felt it in their tones.

And yes, I’m over sensitive to that sort of thing because I’m the youngest daughter of three. I always felt that I was too short, too young looking (I know, good at 35, traumatic at age 15), my chest was too small, I was too na├»ve, too inexperienced, too immature.  I could go on and on.  I have spent too much of my life seeking validation to make up for all of it.  But I really thought that, knowing how it felt to be belittled, I would never use that tone with my kids.  And here I am.  Tone and all.

Every night I tell myself, ‘tomorrow you’ll do better.’  Today is tomorrow.  I am doing it again.  And yet there are so many ‘buts.’  But he knows better!  But he’s trying to piss me off!  But he’s just being difficult.  Again!  It’s him.  Him.  HIM!

But it’s me, me, me.  I feel insecure.  I will be homeschooling all my children and I have no experience or qualifications.  Right now we are doing a bit of an ‘unschooling’ thing.  It’s summer, I’m still learning how to be a single mom all week long, we’re still settling into country life… Then suddenly I’ll start to feel inadequate and try to do something that I can claim outwardly is educational, so that I can feel better.

For instance, my son, like most kids nowadays, has an affinity towards technology.  The more time he can spend on the computer the better, according to him.  So I decide to take his love of computers and his love of learning anything new and combine them.  “Let’s do something fun.  Let’s a TV show!  Since you love telling me all about what you learn on Wild Kratts and other PBS shows, let’s make it so you can tell everyone.  We’ll pick a subject of your choice and learn all about it.  Then we’ll videotape you and make our own show.  What should we call it?” Excited, he answers, “Shavtiel’s Amazing Everything!”

So awesome, no? We go to the library and pick out all the books we can find on lizards, his chosen first episode subject.  We go home and start right away learning about lizards.  But his interest fades as soon as I suggest he writes down the points that interest him.  Or even just jot down new words he learns as we read.  He does not enjoy writing.  His fine motor skills are a bit behind his cognitive skills and he feels frustrated by the lapse. 

I don’t push.  It won’t be fun if the whole thing is bullied by me.  He has to want to do it.  It’s been two weeks since we started and he’s pretty much totally dropped the whole idea. 

Today we took out a book on CD from the library.  A kid’s novel.  I decided he was done with screen time for a while, so he is listening instead.  But I know the difference between passive listening and active listening.  While the CD’s on I give him a piece of paper with some colored pencils and ask him to draw any of the images from the story.  Whatever he hears that interests him.  Or, he could a write a neat sounding word, or just draw the colors he imagines while he hears the story.

Did I mention he was diagnosed with ODD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder?  Well, my suggestion was stomped on with a vengeance.  He was furious.  How could I impose such an imposition on him?! Nay, how dare I?! 


When I was a kid, I would’ve loved that sort of activity.  All the freedom with just enough boundary to be safe.  A project.  An assignment.  A chance for me to express myself.  When the kids break out the water colors I can’t help but sit down and paint with them.  I am no artist, but I love the chance to play creatively. 
But in his mind I am the cruel taskmaster, enslaving him with torturous work. 

Okay, not really.  I think we just fight about so much else, that anytime I provide him the opportunity, he takes it.  I show the slightest bit of interest and he knows there’s a fight somewhere in there.  And I take the bait too.  Because I do have insecurities.  And I do have an invested interest in the outcome.  I am setting myself up. 

BUT IT WAS SUCH AN EASY, NICE IDEA! I want to shout.  I can’t let go.  And yet… We don’t have the foundation of a trusting, loving relationship.  It’s not that my ideas aren’t creative and fun.  It’s that our relationship doesn’t hold a safe enough space to allow relaxation and pure trust.  I think we are always ready to be hurt by each other.  Me, by his opposition and defiance against anything that comes from me.  And him, by my constant disapproving, consequential tone.  Yes, you’ve done it again.  You’ve disappointed me. 

Until we find our feet in these slippery waters.  Until we can stand strong on our foundation of love and trust, pushing through any kind of curriculum is pointless.  You can have the best, most brilliant teacher in the world.  But if she doesn’t have the trust and love of her students, they are not going to learn what she has to offer.

So I will try to let go of the idea that it is a lack in me that creates this wall in our schooling.  And instead I will focus on building the ‘school.’ A house of love. 

One thing I still need to work out: Why do I take his disobedience so personally? He is a six year old boy.  He came into this world with things to work out.  So why do I see his problems as my inadequacy?  If I can let go of that, perhaps I can offer something that has been lacking this whole time.  Empathy.
           1.  This small break in the day
2.     2.  A dear friend is on her way to visit me right now!
3.    3.   The Amish store down the road
4.    4.   Amazing, friendly, helpful, awesome neighbors

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Spiders and Mulberries

Hello again,
If y'all don't mind, I'm probably going to throw some potential book excepts your way.  Please, if you have any criticisms, share! Positive or negative. I've never tried to do anything like this before and I'll need all the help I can get.  Thanks!

One thing that doesn’t get too much play in romanticized versions of country life is the sheer volume of spiders.  Arachnids.  Eight legged demon creatures from my worst nightmares.  Hanging out on my front porch, like hey, wanna catch a fly?  No I do not, you evil demon creatures from hell!  Go back to where the devil spawned you from!  Have you guessed that I’m arachnophobic?  

There was a time when I was truly afraid of anything that even resembled a spider.  It could be as small as a seed with six legs and two suspicious antennae, and I would reel in horror.  But I have gotten better.  I let myself get closer to the small ones.  I even let some of them live.  And the bigger ones, well, you’ve heard of high ropes courses?  People with a fear of heights can go into the woods where they have these lovely rope bridges connecting trees and a crowd of supporters beneath calling up with words of courage and support.  “You’re doing it!” “You’re so brave!” “Almost there!” Being here was having my own arachnophobic intensive workshop that never ends.  Except, I have no team calling to me with words of encouragement.  I could really use one of those!  
No, I think it’s more like this: moving out to the country by myself is like going to a one woman AA convention and being my own sponsor.  AA standing for Arachnapobics Anonymous of course.  Lots of coffee, and no good substitute to stand in for my real desire… A spider free life.

 “Mom,” my son shouts.  “Come quick! There’s a spider on the wall.” “Oh honey, it’s just a little bug looking for food.  Let it be.”  Then I turn a corner and find a large, black, eight legged, hairy monster with a spotted butt the size my big toe, owning that wall like he was paying the mortgage.  “Honey, grab me my shoe.  Better yet, grab me the frying pan!” Oh G-d, let that thing die quickly and not fall on the carpet and run towards me! I actually played the scenario in my head of what I would do if I found it on one of my children.  Shamefully, I fear I would casually say, “Gee look, there’s a spider on your shoulder.” And then quickly walk out of the room and hope that in their flailing they manage to get rid of it.  Maybe, in a moment of adrenaline infused heroics I could lift a car to save my baby's life.  But for the life of me I cannot imagine flicking a spider off my children with my bare hands. 

More recently the big butted black beauties have moved on and been replaced with a new kind of monster.  The gardner spider.  Sounds so quaint.  The Gardner Spider, lives next door to Caterpillar and every day at high noon they gather behind the potting shed for tea with Ladybug.  Oh no.  Not this guy.  He is huge.  He is bigger than my thumb.  His legs are long and black and pointy.  His body is thick, yellow patterned and shiny.  It looks as though poisonous venom should be dripping off his fangs.  No joke, this spider scares the shit out of me.  We have two living in the bushes next to our front porch. 

I have learned to tolerate spiders under two conditions.  1. I know where they are.  2. I know they are not moving.  A spider sitting in the middle of its web is not leaving that spot anytime soon.  A spider on my wall can be anywhere in thirty seconds.  I do not like that.  So the spiders in my bushes are allowed to live.  Every morning I wake up they are there.  When I go to sleep, they are still there.  Fine. 

However, my husband and darling son have recently told me that there are many more of these gardner spiders, not sipping tea behind the shed, but living amongst our tall grasses.  I vowed that from now on I will no longer leave the path.  Ever.  Except that today those two discovered a mulberry tree in our yard that I just had to see.  I’m a sucker for edible nature.  So through the grass we trekked and I stared down every blade of grass, lest it be hiding one of these monsters just waiting for the chance to jump on my leg.
I made it to the tree totally safe.  But on the way back I saw one.  There, up ahead.  Hoho I’ve got you now! There isno way I’m getting anywhere near you!  And your chance to catch a ride on this lady is gone forever.  Ha!  But in the next moment I watched in horror as my son WALKED RIGHT THROUGH ITS WEB!  I screamed and grabbed onto my husband (I couldn’t tell you why exactly).  This was scandalous in itself, as I’m a niddah. 
“What?” Both my husband and son wanted to know. “Nothing.” I said hoping to G-d that at that moment the spider wasn’t working its way up my son’s leg to a more vulnerable, skin-bared area.  “Mommy, why’d you yell?” “Nothing honey, it’s nothing.  Really.” My son also happens to be afraid of spiders and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that a monster was, at this moment, getting ready to crawl to his neck and plant her eggs in his ear where they would hatch in a month and surround him in his bed one night.  But then I saw that the spider had recovered from its broken web by grabbing onto a blade of grass and never touched my son.  In fact, I believe now that the spider didn’t even want to torture an obvious arachnophobe purely with its presence, but instead was a bit afraid of the passing giant with the power to destroy its web.  Huh. 

And as I learn more about spiders (and all the good they do with pest control, yada, yada, yada), I learn more about myself, too.  Like I really am a chicken shit mom who would rather let her child deal with an eight legged beast from the underworld, than bravely flick the spider away and save him from years of therapy.  Live and learn.  And now I begin to wonder: In that moment of adrenaline powered heroics, before I lift the car to save my child, would I check where I put my hands to make sure there aren’t any spiders under there first?
           1.    Mulberries
2.     2.   Watching thunder storms roll in (They really do roll!)
3.     3.    Butterflies (To counteract all the spiders spinning webs in my brain right now)

Monday, August 6, 2012

The First Chapter

Hi all,
I decided it's time for me to stop coming up with excuses and start really writing.  I want to write a book.  About my adventure.  And I wrote a chapter.  No, more like the beginning to chapter one.  I want to know what you think.  Please be honest.  Thanks!

I’m typing one-handed while nursing my son, longing for the coffee I just spilled all over the front porch before even getting one sip.  It was going to be so beautiful, so…perfect.  Just me, my coffee, a gluten-free cupcake my kids didn’t see me sneak out of the kitchen, on a rocking chair on the front porch,  a computer and magic; the first chapter of my book.  Instead, it was me, covered in the coffee I was trying to carry outside, while carrying the computer, tripping over the cat, and swearing so loudly my one-year-old cried. 

This is me.  Tovah.  Nice to meet you. 

I console my little boy, Shaya, and type in the most awkward of ways.  Inside.  Without any coffee.  A little nauseated from the cupcake.  And sore from the morning’s mowing.  Did you know that you can get sore mowing?  I didn’t.  I thought mowing is that fun chore my husband kvetches about so I feel like I’m getting a good deal washing dishes, changing diapers and doing laundry, while he walks around the yard, enjoying the sun and breeze and a break from the kids.  So yesterday, instead of doing the dishes I say, “Honey, why don’t you hang out with the kids.  I’ll mow.”  Now I’ve got him!  “Great! Thanks.” Huh.  Not what I expected.  Okay, well, let’s go!

At first it’s fun.  Pulling the cord like I’ve seen so many times on TV.  Walking around my yard, sun on my head, power beneath my hands.  Just back and forth.  Back and forth.  Wait, did I do that spot already? No matter, just more time to myself, while Hubby entertains the kids.  I’m getting a little hot, but hey, it’s summer right?  And it’s a bit more tiring than I would have expected. But I really need the exercise, so onward and upward!  Back and forth.  This is so great.  I mean, no one’s bothering me.  I get to think, without little mouths interrupting me.  So awesome.  Hey, look how much I did, it seems like so much! I’m so on a roll.  Maybe, I should just stop a bit and drink some water though.  Because I’m pretty sweaty and I gotta keep hydrated.  Yeah, that’s enough for now.  I’ll do some more later. 

But when I went inside I saw how little I had really done.  And my hands were hurting.  Like they were bruised.  And I told Hubby, “Thanks for letting me try.  I’ll do some more this week.”  “Oh no,” he said. “It all has to be done in one day so it doesn’t grow at different intervals and need different mowing days.” Was he smirking when he said that?  Well, I didn’t finish yesterday and had to do it this morning.  With my kids not being entertained by their father, as today is Monday. 

While I’m mowing I call to my oldest, Shavtiel, age 6. “Hey Shav, do you know where Nisayah is?” Nisayah is my two and a half year old.  “What?” The mower is loud.  So I shout louder, “DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SISTER IS?” “WHAT?” “WHERE’S YOUR SISTER?!” “WHAT MOM?!” (Mumbled)  “Oh, fuck it.” “What’s ‘fuck’ mean?” “No, no, sweetie.  Duck there.  I thought I saw a duck fly over there.” Whew, safe. 

My language is just one of the many things about myself that I need to work on.  Patience is a big one.  Mommy rage, which I’m sure will get more attention later on.  Being non-judgmental. Learning the art of listening.  Which I believe means letting other people know, through your silence, that you give a crap about what they’re saying.  Which I mostly do.  But I like to illustrate the fact with an amusing yet genuine tale of my own.  I would like to be a better Jew.  For now that means connecting to G-d in a deeper way while keeping the mitzvoth.  The list goes on and on.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’m a pretty decent person right now.  It just means there’s plenty of room for improvement.  In much the same way I like to leave some space in my coffee cup for cream.  The coffee is great.  The cream makes it better.
Speaking of which, I really am missing that coffee right now. 

There was a long period of time when I didn’t drink caffeine.  Then, when my daughter was ten months and I discovered I was pregnant again (here’s where, if I weren’t working on my language, I could insert many four letter words), I gave up pretending I was too good for him, and came back crawling on my hands and knees, begging Caffeine to forgive me my errant ways.  And so my love triangle was reunited, Me, Caffeine and Sleep.  It’s complicated.  When I miss Sleep, I turn to Caffeine.  When Caffeine is nowhere to be found, I collapse in the arms of Sleep.  But never have I been able to bring us all together.  It’s like, no matter how much Sleep and Caffeine love me, they just can’t find a way to love each other.

But Caffeine has scorned me in another way.  It has made me a snob.  Not just any caffeine will do.  No.  I have no time or patience for the sugary, carbonated likes of Coke or Mountain Dew.  I like my hipster coffee shops filled with glasses-wearing twenty-something year-olds who apparently have no other job but to sit in a dark coffee shop, wearing interesting haircuts and shoes to match, while typing on expensive laptops, drinking even more expensive coffee.  I like the man behind the counter to explain to me why the aromas in this cup bring out blackberries and hints of seaweed due to the fact that it’s grown atop a mountain inhabited only by celibate (and therefore endangered) Buddhist monks, too high in elevation to bear fruits of any other kind and far, far away from the sea. 

However, the coffee soaked on my shirt is Starbucks Columbian coffee, stored in my freezer, made by me, and bought from the discount Amish grocery down the street.  Because I no longer live in a cultured city inhabited by hipters and hippies and punks and suits and non-American ethnicities.  I bought 40 acres of farmland in rural Pennsylvania.  I am an orthodox, homeschooling, earth loving, all natural farmer woman. 

And this is where my story begins.  

Almost forgot my good list!

1. My super sweet husband
2. My second cup of coffee
3. Getting started on something exciting!