Archive for April, 2010

Birthdays, part 2

Zoe celebrated her fifth birthday last week and really, really wanted a birthday party. So much so that she began planning it sometime around December. So far, we have celebrated the girls’ birthdays with a family get together, or a very small gathering of a few friends (following the rule of thumb “as many guests as the age you are turning.”)

I’m not a big fan of parties for little kids. I don’t think children should receive a ton of gifts, and especially not all at once; I don’t think kids really enjoy each other’s company in such a large group in a hyped up setting; and don’t even get me started on party bags. But Zoe has a cluster of girls at preschool whom she adores, and I allowed her to invite all 9 of them to our (very small) home to celebrate. The challenge was to hold a party that meet Zoe’s expectations for what a party is supposed to be, but was also true to our family values.

Cool and rainy weather meant we needed to plan indoor activities. I really didn’t want to play games that would lead to someone, or everyone, crying, and I didn’t want to do any crafts that involved lots of plastic, um, crap. So, we started by gathering in a circle and singing four songs of Zoe’s choice. While I played guitar, my husband Keith recorded the girls singing. He spent the rest of the party burning cd’s for each of the girls to take home as a party favor. Then we made necklaces out of noodles that the girls and I had colored the day before with food coloring (see that nice spread up above?) and Ella, my six year old, invited each child to make a spin art painting.

Zoe decided she also wanted to play pin the something on the something, but had a terribly hard time deciding what exactly she wanted pinned onto what. (At one point, she stood across from a sidewalk construction project and suggested we play “pin the cones on the road.” Really.) Finally we landed on “pin the flower on the stem.” In a moment of real inspiration, I drew a stem for each flower, (instead of that one donkey butt), so everyone had a chance to “win.”

May I also boast about my homemade ice cream cake? I grew up on carvel cakes, but when I stood at the supermarket, staring at these $20 cakes full of ingredients that are better suited for a science lab than a child’s tummy, I decided to make my own. A tray of brownies, a half gallon of vanilla ice cream, and a few crushed m&m’s later (did I mention some homemade whipped cream on top?) we had a delicious cake for less than half the price with ingredients we could both pronounce and digest.

We ended the party with a paper bag pinata decorated by the girls, filled mostly with newspaper, and some (forgive me for sounding self-righteously and nauseatingly pc here) fair trade organic earth shaped chocolates that went into the party bags, along with the cd and the spin art.

In the end, it was a lovely little party that stayed true to most of my values. While I still think nine presents is too many, Zoe was very gracious and is sharing everything quite nicely with her sister. Tonight, she sent this to her guests.

And if you think I’m under any illusion of being the perfect mommy, know that I am blogging instead of paying attention to my girls who are supposed to be in bed, but are instead jumping up and down upon the bed.

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Today is my (ohmyGodwhendidshegetsobig) five year old’s birthday. This year, it happens to fall on the same day as Israel’s birthday, Yom Haatzmaut. For us, celebrating one birthday is quite enough, and since I’m sure Israel won’t cry if we ignore hers, the choice is fairly obvious.

I’m allowing this confluence of events to give me a bye for another year, as I figure out how to make Israel a part of my girls’ lives and consciousness. When I was a young child, our relationship with Israel was easy and also superficial. We had our blue pushkes, our Ktonton books, and our elderly neighbors coming home with terribly strange kibbutz hats. We learned to sing Hatikvah the wrong way, and practiced songs and and dances that no real Israeli had done in decades. We celebrated and loved an idea of Israel that was largely an ideal of Israel.

Since that time, my relationship with Israel has become far more complicated. I still love her, but in a very different and admittedly conflicted way. It’s hard for me to sort out the Land of Israel, the concept of the state of Israel, and the decisions of particular leaders and particular times in history. (It’s much like my feelings about the United States of America – but since we live here, my girls learn about the country, gradually and naturally.

I can manage being in love and also sometimes angry and disappointed (heck, I’m practically an expert at it in my personal life) but it makes framing it all for my children just a little bit harder.

For those of you living outside of Israel, how and what have you done to help your children build a relationship with Israel?

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While my two girls are the best of friends (when they’re not busy never playing with you again for the REST OF MY LIFE) they couldn’t be more different. Despite nearly identical upbringings, one of them eats everything, and one eats only treats (unless bribed with the promise of treats.) One started recognizing letters and words as a young toddler, and one wasn’t the least bit interested until she was almost five. One is pants-clinging shy, and one makes new “best friends” somewhere along the journey from the top of the slide to the bottom. I’ve learned from this that qualities we may wish for our child, and may work hard to instill, are just that…wishes. In other words, a mentsh tracht und Gott lach.

Seven years into this whole parenting thing, you would think I would have learned this lesson. And somehow…..not so much.  My ongoing folly in this regard was pointed out to me, not so subtly, by my daughter Ella, when we read the PJ Library selection, Kugel Valley Klezmer Band, by Joan Betty Stuchner, a few nights ago.

Ella, our first grader, is shy. She takes a long time to warm up to new people and new situations, and prefers needs to know EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT in order to be comfortable. One new environment a year is about all she can manage, and since progressing to a new grade is not optional, that’s it. School is her one activity. At the same time, she’s an incredibly bright, talented kid with a wide range of interests. Consequently, I can’t seem to help my self from seeking out, and sometimes signing her up, for lessons, camps and all the other amazing experiences for kids that I’m just sure she would love if she would just give them a chance. Art camp, children’s chorus, Montessori camp, museum programs, swim lessons…..let me count the ways I have made my daughter miserable through the best of  wholly misguided intentions.

One such experience occurred this past September. Our family attended an open house at the local music school, where different instruments were set up around the building, giving children the opportunity to listen, touch and try. When we entered the violin room, Ella’s face immediately lit up. The teacher placed the instrument on her shoulder and guided her hands along the bow. “I love it” she whispered. All the next week, she would turn to me at unexpected moments and say “I can’t stop thinking about the violin.”

“Hooray!” I thought. “I’ll sign her up for violin class!”

Ella agreed with a grave smile, but as the date approached, she became increasingly anxious. On the day of the first class, she refused to even sit with me and watch. “I don’t want to do it,” she insisted. “Maybe when I’m older.”

I recalled this experience when I read Kugel Valley Klezmer Band to my daughters. In the story, a young girl named Shira falls in love with the fiddle. She dreams of learning to play and ultimately joining her father’s Klezmer band, but is told that “some things are not possible.” Rather than abandon her dream, she secretly acquires a violin and finds a hiding place in the forest were she practices and practices and practices. And when the fiddle player in the band falls ill on Chanukah, she takes center stage, bringing a roomful of partygoers to their feet.

“Doesn’t this make you want to take violin lessons?” I asked Ella. “Don’t you remember how much you loved it? Wouldn’t it be fun to play like Shira?”

“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not ready. And besides, Mama, she didn’t even take lessons.”

She was right of course. I had totally missed the point of the story. While I do think taking lessons is a better way to learn an instrument than, say, hiding in the forest with a handmade instrument, this isn’t a story about becoming a virtuoso. It’s about trusting our children, and letting them grow according to their needs, not ours. Ella is delighted to spend hours curled up with a book, or a sketch pad, or playing imaginary games with her sister, or exploring the backyard. And while it’s my job to help her grow, I shouldn’t confuse that with forcing her to grow. Someday, she’s likely to surprise me, and perhaps a room full of adoring fans, at the same time.

*A mom makes plans, and God laughs.

(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and piecesThe PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.

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I know the Omer is supposed to be a time of mourning, but around here, it’s a time for jelly beans.

I may not have made counting the Omer any more meaningful (I have been counting for much of my 42 years, and I still can never remember from year to year what “omer” really is) but at least it’s fun. And since we are a house that sees very little candy, it’s quite exciting. How often do most parents hear their children begging to count the Omer?

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11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.

12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land

Shir HaShirim 2:11-12

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The girls and I spent most of Passover at my mother’s house in Baltimore, where we also visited with a wonderful woman whom I met through this blog. (She was already friendly with my mother from shul — it wasn’t as if I just showed up at the door of someone who clicked “like” a few times on a homsehuling facebook post.) While we were there, I too had a visitor – that dreaded green eyed monster….envy. Was it her gorgeous house? Her top of the line kitchen appliances? The way my daughters instantly fell madly in love with her? No, none of things. She had a closet full of clothes that once belonged to her grandmother, as well as outfits that she and her children had worn on special occasions. A closet full of memories. As my daughters donned and modeled, Project Runway style, every single garment, I was so deeply wishing that I had such a closet. I’m not a saver, my mom is not a saver, and presumably, her mother and her mother’s mother were not savers. I have held on to my wedding dress for the last seven (almost 8!) years, but my high school graduation dress? My first birthday dress? They were long ago recycled into what my girls call “handy-downs” or shlepped away in giant plastic bags by one charity or another, and I’ve unfortunately done the same with my own daughters things. I do remember seeing my mother’s wedding dress, my grandfather’s tefillin, and a gown my father wore as a baby when I was much, much younger….how I regret that I didn’t seize them for the children I had not yet even dreamed of, before someone decided it was time to empty another closet or shelf.

Perhaps the lack of actual artifacts has something to do with why I cling so furiously to many parts of Jewish tradition. I may not anything that belonged to my grandfathers, but I say the same words they did when I raise a glass of wine each Friday night. I may not be able to show my girls my bat mitzvah dress, but I will stand beside each of them, God willing, when they read for the Torah for the first time. (Not that I got to read from the Torah, but that’s a different post altogether.)

Still, I like stuff. At their Simcaht Bat celebrations, my mother gave each of my daughters one of the few relics she has from her beloved Bubbe’s shabbat table. We use her silver ladle and her brass candlesticks almost every Friday night, and they may be my most prized posessions. And on this trip to Baltimore, my mother passed on my Nana’s china to me. It’s so, so, so not my taste. And I LOVE it. I think we will eat fleishigs every single Friday night forever, just so my table can always look like this (even down to the incorrectly positioned flatware). And someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to sit at a table with these dishes, and that ladle, and those candlesticks, and watch my own daughters and grandchildren make shabbat.

like the classy vase? it once held sauce.

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The kids and I are in Baltimore for most of Pesach, which means that I get to raid my mother’s recipe box. You know, the kind that’s jammed packed with stained 3 x 5 cards and newspaper clippings, all bearing the secrets to the foods of my childhood.

Since there’s still time, and you probably have cake meal to spare, try these unnamed jelly-matzoh-thumbprint cookies, which I loved as a kid, and still think are pretty good (for Passover, that is.)

2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 c. cake meal
2 T potato starch
1/2 c. shortening (I used butter, can’t stand Passover margarine…)

mix ingredients together. form dough into balls ~1.5 inches diameter. roll in white sugar. press a thumb sized hole into the middle of each cookie and fill with jelly. bake at 375 (preferably on parchment) until done (10-15 minutes?)

notice the rays of light streaming down from above

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