Monday, 30 May 2011

A Squash and a Squeeze

My house is on the small side. It has downstairs a kitchen, a dining room, a living room and a relatively wide hall which I desperately try to keep shoe- and coat-free and encourage the children to use as an extra playing space. But really, there's the living room, dining room, and that's it. So when guests come to stay, as they did this weekend, there isn't a lot of personal space for anyone.

I find that 'divide and conquer' works well with little kids who have a tendency to fight. I try to create spaces for all of them to do their thing, which can be a constant juggle of where to put the travel cot today so that the bedroom is free for the older child to have a friend over, or which door to close or table to clear to enable someone to do a jigsaw without toddleric disruption. I find the baby gate to the kitchen invaluable, and have lately taken to perching a tired child on the kitchen counter to watch me make dinner, just to give them something to do other than get annoyed at and hit their siblings. On long days in I try to change the scenery regularly to prevent them all feeling stale, snacking at the miniscule kitchen table and lunching in the dining room, doing crafts downstairs then making a teddies picnic upstairs. With constant work, I can make our little kingdom feel big enough.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Empathy from Above

A long time ago, like maybe two years, a family member bought my daughter a CD box set of fairy tales with accompanying books. Since we steer fairly clear of electronic entertainment for our kids, a pink Cinderella CD with musical accompaniment was a very exciting prospect for her, and before I could say, "Let me look at that," a well-meaning adult had put it in the CD player.

Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly modern frum parent, and I want my kids to learn about the world outside their own community, at the right time and in the right ways. I don't want to shelter them unnecessarily, but I very quickly developed deep reservations about Cinderella in general and this version in particular. To justify: it opens with several very difficult concepts for any tiny child: a mother dead, a stepmother wicked, and sisters mean and nasty, not to mention the focus on their unfortunate appearance. It continues, via some sisterly meanness and fanciful magic spells, to a party where the heroine not only meets and talks to but dances hand in hand with a man she has never met and knows little about other than that he is rich, and ends with a wedding, an automatically happy heroine, and ugly stepsisters of increased jealousy.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Astonishing Power of Not Rushing

I'm efficient, and I know it. I can bath three children in under ten minutes, cook a fancy midweek meal in the time it takes my husband to change his clothes, clear up breakfast before the last child has finished eating it so that as the final spoon exits the final mouth I can grab it, throw it in the sink and push all of us out of the door.

So it frustrates me when someone takes ten minutes to do the buttons on their shirt or requires reminding to put their shoes on and is found ten minutes later in the living room wandering around wearing just one. I honestly can't fathom what they've been doing in the time in between. I couldn't make putting on my shoes take that long if  you paid me!

So generally I try to encourage, persuade, bribe and even bully my children to learn from my zooming, time-saving, shining example. It's been requiring more marshmallows than I'd ideally like them to consume, and to be honest it's not really been working.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Causative Tense -or- Show and Tell

I remember learning the Hebrew causative tense and thinking it both clumsy and clever. There's a certain pleasing symmetry in the fact that 'batach' is to trust and 'bitiach' is to promise. When is a promise meaningful? When it _causes_ you to trust the promiser. To teach is lelamed, to learn lilmod. How do you really learn something? Teach it. To teach is to _cause_ yourself to learn. The only part I didn't like was the recycling of verbs for so many uses. Didn't each concept deserve its own unique word?

I am fortunate to have a wonderful real-life bubbe looking after my toddler in the mornings while I work, and while she teaches him to eat 'like a mentch' and to put his right shoe on before his left, she teaches me how to deal delicately with people. One particular technique I didn't notice until today.

We were driving home in the car when she asked me, apropos of nothing, how long we keep newborn babies in our bedroom with us for. Since I am expecting, and have arranged that she will stay on to look after the newborn, that's not such an unusual comment, and I would have gladly chatted about newborn sleep patterns in general and my experiences in particular quite happily for the next few minutes if I hadn't already had precisely that conversation with her the day before. And she's not the forgetful type.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Embodying relationships

Every self-respecting Aishes-Chayil-wannabe knows that it's more important to make your husband feel great than to have the seating arranged precisely the way you want it around the shabbos table, to praise your three year old for choosing her own clothes rather than correct her and change at least one of the orange skirt and pink t-shirt, to display the childrens crafts more prominently than your expensive artwork...yes, but sometimes it's not so easy to remember.

When hubbie wants to go boating and you KNOW it won't be relaxing having to keep an eye out that the kids don't fall in, you're sure you just have to say the right words and he'll SEE that it's a bad choice - if you just keep TELLING him all the reasons why he's wrong. Politely and calmly of course. Then the outing will be so much better.

I don't know yet

On a sunny Sunday morning like this, so soon after Pesach that the cleaning-free hours sparkle seductively into the distance, who wouldn't feel like starting something new? Which is why I seem to be starting a blog, without much of an idea what it will contain. I'd like to hope, perhaps slightly un-humbly, that it will be a tale of spiritual growth punctuated with witty family anecdotes and intellectual epiphanies. You never know.