An Inconvenient Celebration?

I love the holiday season. I love the festive lights, the feelings of goodwill and the stories of our various beliefs and how we all celebrate in our unique and special ways.

I live in a metropolitan city in the United States with the second largest Jewish population in the country. In my smaller  community of approximately 39,000 people, 10% are identified as Jewish, according to Census and city data. And yet, in the last 24 hours, I have had to remind people that my family cannot attend events because it was scheduled for the first night of Hanukkah. In fairness, Hanukkah is not a ‘holy’ day of strong religious observance. It is a festival and one of the holidays in Judaism that best defines family traditions and encourages people to celebrate together in their homes as a family. I was raised Jewish and have a strong sense of faith and traditions. My beliefs, rooted in Judaism have grown and evolved and I appreciate and recognize that we all get to celebrate our beliefs and traditions in any way we choose.

This year, my older child’s grade is learning to play the recorder and much to the chagrin of most parents and their ears, they perform in a concert to show what they’ve learned. While this sounds a little less like entertainment and more like parent obligation, my son has been talking about learning the recorder all year and as someone with some musical background, I love that he is being introduced to music in some small way. Admittedly, I was also really looking forward to the parenthood rite of passage and listening to “Hot Cross Buns” in the school cafeteria. The unfortunate thing is this- the concert has been scheduled for the first night of Hanukkah. In my son’s class alone, about 25% of the children come from a Jewish background and while I am not in any position to define how those families celebrate, I find it unfortunate that the school decided to put families in a position where they need to choose a school event or a religious holiday. The explanation I received when I brought it up was that they would like greater attendance at PTA meetings so they planned it on the same night which happens to be the same night as Hanukkah. They also said they had no idea that it was Hanukkah in the first place. Again, if I lived in a town where I was the ONLY family who observed certain holidays and traditions, I would accept the oversight, but I live in a city where there are an estimated 500,000 people who identify as Jewish. To not be aware of when a significant portion of your student population celebrates religious holidays is more than an oversight. And I get it, we have a tricky calendar. Our holidays change each and every year… been that way for oh, I don’t know, over 5,775 years now? I’m sure we could get someone a list or something at the beginning of the year, just ask.

I was also told that in years past, they had it during the day and many working parents were not able to attend. I sympathize with this but why are you then planning it when another group- in this case the children who are the reason we are gathering in the first place- may not be able to attend, not to mention Jewish parents who work. Neither group should be put against the other- there has to be another option.  I worry that if I choose to attend the concert and not celebrate Hanukkah at home, I am in some way minimizing the need to recognize my religious beliefs in the first place? I feel a responsibility to speak up and say that all beliefs should be accommodated.

After reading the response to me about the scheduling conflict, I received another email that my other child’s sports team will be having a parent meeting on guess what date? Next Tuesday, the first night of Hanukkah. We sent an email to the team manager, letting them know that our son would not be at practice and that we would not be attending the parent meeting because of Hanukkah and were told that she understood “that it was a busy holiday season and that everyone is busy.” Being busy is a conflict between a cookie exchange and sports practice. Being busy does not mean choosing whether to observe a family’s religious tradition or a team meeting where important information is shared. Being on a team means you respect each other and honestly, calling my beliefs and traditions a ‘conflict’ is anything but respectful.

I have heard some say that Christmas has been watered down because people have to be ‘politically correct’ and ‘inclusive’. I don’t agree. I want people to celebrate Christmas. I welcome the sentiment that comes with people wishing me a “Merry Christmas”, because I know that it means that they wish me well in this holiday season and into the new year. What I want, is to be included and acknowledged that my traditions are just as valid and important, without having to be a squeaky wheel every time someone forgets to look at the calendar. Having to speak up is hard, and I know that by doing so, I am sometimes making things uncomfortable and inconvenient.  I want to be included, not to have to choose, even if that means attending a concert where my ears might bleed.

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“Student of the Month” is Stupid

“I’m pretty much guaranteed to never be Student of the Month,” my oldest son tells me. He is in the third grade. This is a harsh thing for an 8 year-old to believe. I would love to tell him that even though in the three previous years at his school he has never received this “honor”, there is always hope. Unfortunately, I made a promise not to blatantly lie to my children.

I hate saying this, but he’s probably right. He has trouble sitting still. He asks a lot of questions. He can’t just do what he is told, he needs to understand why he is doing a task before he can proceed. He often lacks impulse control. He probably speaks out of turn a lot. He is strong-willed, curious and not always socially appropriate. I see room for improvement, for sure, but I also see a mostly normal 8 year-old boy who last time I checked was supposed to be learning and growing and not perfect.

Student of the Month is an antiquated ritual where the cooperative, quiet, ideal of a child is rewarded for being convenient to teachers. These children are generally introverted and shy, and sometimes they are kids who have learned how to play the game. Listen, I am not telling you that these kids don’t deserve recognition or praise, these are nice kids. But they are not the ONLY good kids at the school. I’ll be honest, I think it’s a cop out for the teachers to just go for the low hanging fruit. It’s easy to reward these kids. But here’s what my son has figured out: because he isn’t perfect out of the gate, he will never be good enough for his teachers. Last year, in second grade, he came home every month and said, “My teacher said I was really close this month. But someone else was better.” By the end of the year, he told me, that he gave up. This is the message my son has walked away with by age 8. He isn’t ever going to measure up.

I can tell him until I’m blue in the face that he is enough, show him the myriad of ways that he measures up, but there is something deeper. He craves the acknowledgment that his teachers see him. He wants to know that they recognize how hard he tries. He tells me that his teacher hates him, she only sees what he does wrong and not the good stuff. I worry that he is correct. My heart breaks. I want to send his teacher a list of the wonderful things that this child does on a daily basis- helping others, showing kindness, improvement and growth- but I don’t know that this is the right way to approach it. From what I’ve seen at our school, I don’t really know that they want to be different. So I work from the inside. I try and show him that what others think of you is less important than what you think of yourself. I try to believe this myself, because sadly, he also gets this from me. I am tempted to keep them out of school during the awards assembly, because each month, I see it wears my older son’s self-confidence down a little bit more. Then I think that maybe it’s okay for my kids to have this experience, to learn how to navigate feelings of disappointment.

Before I am criticized for being bitter, I will disclose that I have two children. My younger one will probably receive “Student of the Month” most years at the school. He is a different kid. He is generally cooperative, small for his age and has a lot of charm. He is a helper and knows how to be quiet (most of the time). He is smart, funny and the kind of person who easily fits in. It comes naturally to him, he doesn’t need to work on it at all and I would rather he didn’t receive an award for it. Recognize the child who has a really hard time sitting still or doing math or learning patience. This is where teachers have an opportunity to change a child’s life. And I know it sounds dramatic, but when you are small and your main job is to go to school and learn, to be recognized for something that you have worked so hard on, something that does not come naturally to you, will change everything. That child will learn that they can shine, that they can change and learn and grow. I can say with 100% confidence that if my older son was given that recognition, it would make a huge impact on his education and his self-esteem.

Now there will be educators that stand up and tell stories about giving it to a child who showed dramatic improvement and I applaud this. But let’s be honest, we all know that each year there will be 9-10 students in a class of 25 who are given this award and I bet if we took a look at the winners, we would find that they majority received it before and are the kids that are the quietest and most cooperative. What does this really teach our kids?

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And the Tree was Happy

“Let’s read this book, Mom,” he said, handing me The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.

Now that the Big One is 7, he reads books to me.  This is new and something I cherish.  Hearing him sound out words and use the punctuations to properly set the tone, I can see his growth and development unfold in front of me.  In second grade, they are working on comprehension, whereas in first grade, they worked on reading the words.  His schoolwork focuses on being able to recall and explain what he’s read and when he reads with me, I try to ask him questions to see how much he understands and whether he is digesting the words he takes in.

As a parent, both his dad and I have reluctantly read this book to our children.  We can barely get to the part with the boy wanting a house without starting to tear up.  Little Guy went through a period, around age 3, when he wanted it read to him every night.  “My favorite book,” he’d say, “is ‘The Gibbing Twee’, by Silverware.”  How could you not read it to someone who calls it that?

Tonight, after his brother went to bed, Big One crawled into bed with me and started to read.  I wondered what type of questions I could ask him.  Maybe talk about empathy, being considerate of others, taking and giving…what I hadn’t anticipated was that he understood more deeply than I could have imagined.

“Do you have any money? The boy asked the tree.”

“That isn’t very nice. He shouldn’t just show up and ask for money.”

When he got to the part of the story where the boy said he wanted a house, his voice cracked a little.  He kept reading, but I could tell he was starting to cry.  I promise you, it was at the EXACT same spot both his dad and I start feeling emotional.  He put the book down, looked away and told me he needed to go to the bathroom.  Sneaking up to the bathroom door, I heard him crying (and peeing) and sniffling.  I rushed away and back into my bed before he could discover that I was listening and he came back.  I asked him if he was okay.  I asked him if he wanted to talk about how he felt.  He said he didn’t, because he didn’t know.  “Do you want to keep reading?” I asked.  He did.

When the boy wanted a boat and said he was sad, Big One stopped again and just bawled.  He cried and hugged me so tight and said, “Why am I crying?”  I held him and said, “Oh my love, just cry.”

At the end of the story, we talked.  It made him sad that the tree was always there and he didn’t think the boy appreciated it.  He said he thought the boy used the tree.  He said that he thought the boy was a jerk.  I really appreciated his point of view, and offered that while I saw where he was coming from, I looked at it differently.  I explained that I saw the tree as the parent who was always there and that the boy needed the tree in different ways as he grew and that was exactly as it should be.  This may have been too much for my little Big One, because he cried even more.  He told me that he would never leave me for so long and that he’d give me things since I give him things.  I don’t think I could have put into words how much he had already given me.  I mean, I could have pointed out that when I buy him ice cream and then he doesn’t do what I ask, he’s kinda being a boy wanting the tree’s apples, but that would have really been a jerk move.  I mean, this kid GOT IT.  He has empathy.  He really WANTS to do nice things for the people he loves.  But he’s also 7 and doesn’t fully have a grasp on his actions, nor should he.  As his mom, I understand and accept that he will take from me and I will give and give and love being there for him, knowing that his appreciation may be difficult to always see.   I put him to bed and after a few minutes, he came back into my room a few minutes.  He asked, “could we just cuddle a little more?”

And the boy loved the tree, very much, and the tree was happy.

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Vintage Friends

I’ve written before about my addiction to Facebook, but one thing I truly love is being able to stay connected to friends new and old.  Actually, I prefer to call these friends, “Vintage”.  One of the definitions of the word (as defined by Merriam-Webster) is ” a collection of contemporaneous and similar persons or things”.  Ok, so I had to look up contemporaneous, but whatever.  I think it is a great way to describe some of the friends I get to keep in touch with via Facebook.  Whether it is my friends from college or from my hometown, I get to see what goes on in their lives today, what’s important to them, their politics (whether I agree or not) and pictures of them and their families.  I also get to wish them happy birthday.

Today, two of my most vintage friends celebrate birthdays.  When I think of them, I smile a lot.  I laugh a lot, too.  I have so many memories collected, like a giant scrapbook in my mind.  We used to sleep over at one of the girl’s house on Saturday nights a lot.  We’d make pizza rolls and her parents went out for dinner.  We thought we were big shots, having the house to ourselves, but really, I think her parents just didn’t want her to be home alone.  We’d play records in the living room- Michael Jackson’s, Thriller comes to mind- and make up dances.  A couple of the boys from the neighborhood would sneak over, banging on the window, trying to scare us.  They succeeded exactly zero times.  These were nice boys from the suburbs and sorry fellas, but they weren’t menacing in the least.  These were the boys your mom wanted you to date, to grow up and marry.  They still are, I know, because I get to see them on Facebook too.

I’m lucky to have these memories.  I grew up in a nice neighborhood, filled with nice families and at a time where we had a lot of freedom.  We could get on our bikes and ride to each others houses and talk when we needed to.  We wrote each other notes about loves lost and stupid algebra class and other important things to a kid.  As we grew, we rode around in our parents’ cars and listened to the radio too loud.  And when we went off to college, we hoped life wouldn’t change too much.  Of course it did, but now we can reconnect and share our lives again.  Even though the connection is mostly through hitting ‘like’ on a comment or picture, we stay in each others lives.

Recently, I went through a hard time and a couple of these women reached out to me personally, just to say hi and tell me that they were still around to listen.  I was so touched, because it reminded me that no matter how many years may pass, they we remain important to each other because we are part of one another’s history.  Vintage, to me, suggests a level of quality and history and these friends are vintage, indeed.

Happy Birthday to my Vintage Friends.  You know who you are and I love you.

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I’m a Guest Blogger! What?

Today, I am guest blogging on SoberMommies.

Yesterday, I reflected on motherhood, gratitude and 9/11.  This time it’s personal.  This was probably the most difficult post I have written to date- sharing my story is hard, especially when it wasn’t a story I wanted anyone to know.  There is a saying that our secrets keep us sick and my secret could have easily made me very sick.  I share my hope today and my gratitude for others who positively listen and love me.

Reflections of Gratitude on 9/11
The other day, I cleaned the boys’ bathroom.  It was disgusting.  If you have sons, you know what I am talking about.  Running to the toilet, barely making it types of messes.  Dirt and grime around the sink, and the remnants of soccer practice and recess all over the tub.  As I scrubbed, trying not to throw up in my mouth, I thought about women I know-  mothers who may never get to complain and feel grossed out by such things.  READ MORE

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Tales from the Backseat

Today, we were driving in the car and I was listening to the boys talking amongst themselves.

“I bet you can’t name the boy singing, but I’ll give you a hint,” says the Big One.

“Okay, I can do it,” Little Guy proclaims.

“His name is Justin.”

“Oh! I know this.  Wait.  No, I don’t.”

“Justin Beaver.  But I think he’s dead.  He was like 112 or something.”

“I know him.  Yeah, he’s dead.  Mommy?  Isn’t Justin Beeger dead?”  Little Guy asks.

“No.  Justin Bieber isn’t dead and he’s like 19 years old.  He is also not singing right now,” I clarify.

They then start discussing who at their school likes Justin (still calling him) Beaver and other pop stars they know.  I realize that they know very little about pop music.  The Big One tells his brother how this one classmate of his likes this one singer, but he can’t remember her name.

“Mom, it’s the girl who sings, ‘California Girls’, with Snoopy.”

“Katy Perry,” I tell him.

“Yeah, her.  Little Guy, you should marry her.”

“No, I don’t want to.  Who do you want to marry, Big One?” Little Guy asks.

“I’m already married to Pokemon.”

I smile and thank the heavens that at least dating and pop music in my car are two less things to worry about today as their mom.

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Let’s Try Not to Get Hepatitis Today, Ok?

Yesterday was one of those days where I found myself doing, saying and experiencing things I never imagined I would ever do, say or experience.  Things that when you imagine being a parent, you NEVER could possibly anticipate.  Things you NEVER thought you would NEED to say.  If you have kids, I expect that you will relate to at least one.  If you are considering having children, maybe just read these as cautionary tales, it’s certainly possible it’s just my precious little gems who are adorably insane.  If you don’t have kids and have no plans to do so in the future,  enjoy the laughs and your holiday weekend.  I remember sleeping in on a day off fondly.

So this happened today:

  • Dude, really?  You are seriously eating my soul.  I mean c’mon! Do you have to try and eat crap off of the ground- I mean crap that has already been- I can’t even finish this sentence without throwing up in my mouth.  I pray that you won’t be the gross kid when you get to middle school.
  • Both kids in the pool, having fun.  I settle into a book, when one of the boys sneaks up behind me and makes a hacking, blowing your nose kinda sound. I’m trying desperately to relax.
    “Mommy, was that funny?”
    “No”
    “Why not?”
    “Because I want to relax.”
    “Well, I want to eat.”
  • “Mom, lets play ‘does that hurt’, ok?”  Before I can even say no:
    Poke- “Does that hurt?”
    Poke- “Does that hurt?”
    Poke- “Does that hurt?”
  • This weekend, we rented a condo in a resort across from the beach.  When walking from the concierge:
    “Do you think living here is like living at Office Depot?” asked my child.
    “Why would it be like living at Office Depot?”
    “Because Office Depot has everything and so does this place- except a pool. Office Depot doesn’t have a pool. Or basketballs.”
  • I don’t know if this is just a boy thing, but do all kids end up turning every song into one about poop and farts?  And is it a boy-mom thing or just me to join in.

“The slippery fish, the slippery fish, FARTING in the water,
The slippery fish, the slippery first, PFFFT… PFFFT… PFFFT…
Oh no!  He’s pooping on… an octopus, an octopus…”

What I hadn’t expected, however, was the very end.  I had really had enough of the hamster-wheel of parenting and all I could think about was getting into my pajamas and into bed.  Instead, as I thought about the day, I remembered when my son and I were out on boogie boards (my first time) and I was enjoying riding the waves.  At some point, we both got a bit too far out and we needed to wait for a couple of big waves to bring us in.  He was crying- he was really scared.  I was shook up, too.  We went back up to sit on our blanket and catch our breath and I just held him as he calmed down.  Then, we talked about what happened, how we should handle the waves in the future and that while the ocean is a beautiful thing, it can be dangerous and needs to be respected.  Then we stopped and got quiet for a minute and my son looked at me and said, “It was pretty cool, though, right Mom?”  Very cool.  And since you didn’t eat that crap off the ground, I’m pretty sure you didn’t catch a communicable disease so hey, win-win.

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