Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yaakov: (grinning) Hey, happy halloween!
Me: Yeah! You could go as a harried husband, and I could go as a hormonal wife. And hey - we don't even have to put on costumes!

Love, Mother.

Yesterday I went to the bank, to be added to my mother's safety deposit box list. She took me into the vault, and showed me the box. Then she took me into a little room, and showed me its contents.

Her kesuba, birth certificates, her life insurance policy, other legalities. Jewelery that will someday be mine. Attached to her birth certificate was a note, explaining how it was an original and that a second one was issued after she was named. It was signed simply, "Love, Mother."

My precious grandmother, who passed away when I was 7. Those were her words, her handwriting, her love. I ran my hands across the words in reverence, and my eyes filled with tears.

Monday, October 29, 2007
Fancy Schmancy Complaining Maven:

I haven't been writing so much because I'm so overwhelmed with my life. Sometimes, I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I'm running and running, yet not accomplishing anything.

Mornings are insane. Everybody needs everything all at the same time. Yaakov is daavening, so it's my show. Mommy, I want a vitamin. Mommy, help me get dressed. Mommy, help me make my hair. Mommy, put my tzitsis on for me. Mommy, breakfast! When Yaakov takes them to school, it's like this huge burden is lifted. The house becomes quiet.

And the house - gevalt! It's basically wrecked. It's a mess. It's dirty. And I have no cleaning help. And I try and try every day, but I can't seem to get it all together. It's like that old joke: Cleaning the house while the children are young is like shoveling the walkway while it's still snowing. And by me, it's hailing.

And then the afternoons - homework and dinner and bath time. Yaakov isn't home and I'm all by myself again. It's like the mornings. Everybody needing everything all at the same time, and everybody's needs are different. Srulik is tired so he's bouncing off the walls and going crazy, which just makes it all the harder. Zalman starts freaking out - how come I've had mommy to myself all day and now I have to share her? He cries. He gets clingy and hangs on to my skirts. I've tripped over him many times.

Nighttime comes, and I feel like I've been steamrolled. I'm so tired all I want to do is collapse.

And then there's hebrew school, which is just the pits. It drains me terribly. Yesterday morning Rivky had diarrhea and she was puking, and I had to leave Yaakov with all the insanity. And there's a part of me that's glad! And another part that's so sad, that feels so guilty. And teaching just takes my kishkes out. The kids are so loud and wild, and I feel like I'm not really teaching them anything sometimes. And that makes me feel guilty, too. Their parents are sending their kids to me, and I'm just not good enough.

And when I come home Sunday afternoons I feel drained. I feel like I can't deal with hebrew school for another whole week. I can't even think about it! Which of course I cannot do, because I have to lesson-plan, etc.

So that's it. I'm trying to be grateful. I'm trying to change my attitude. But the bottom line is, I'm totally overwhelmed. I don't know how to change it.

Where is the joy in this life?

Monday, October 22, 2007
My lovely evening:

It started when we were on the way home from school. I told Chaya that I had set up private space for her to do her homework. "So, what do you have for homework tonight?" "I have to copy my spelling words 3 times each but I left the list in my cubby..."

It's always something with the homework. So I started telling her (none too nicely) how it's her responsibility. "But it's not my problem," she retorts. "Okay, well whose problem is it? Mine? Tatty's? Your teacher's?"

So we get home and I said, "Well, start your hebrew homework." Five minutes later, she's done. "No way," I insisted. "There's no way all your hebrew homework is finished." I looked at the assignment note sent home by the teacher. "What about these review sheets?" "What review sheets?" "I don't know, you tell me." She searched through her backpack. I searched through her backpack. "I don't have any review sheets." Meanwhile, I get on the phone with another mother, who patiently spelled out (in hebrew) every chumash word. There were like, 30 of them. I had to lock myself in a room and take down all these words, while my kids were basically killing each other outside the door.

Dinner time came, and it was a meltdown of nuclear proportions. Corn salad. You would think I offered them a plate of sulfuric acid. Rivky and Chaya both started screaming and carrying on. "I hate this! I'm starving!" "If you eat the vegetables, you get the hot dogs and mashed potatoes." Oh man. they went on and on and on. Fifteen minutes of wailing and dying. A couple of times I lost my temper. "You know, there are children who are really starving in the world! And here I am, making you beautiful food, and you ungrateful children won't even eat it!" And then, this beauty: "Some kids don't even have mothers to make them supper!"

After supper Chaya went back to hebrew homework and I put my boys in the tub. Meanwhile, I got on the phone with another mother for Chaya's spelling words. Srulik was playing loudly and I had to ask her to repeat words over and over again.

We started with the homework again this morning. She didn't finish last night - too hard. I was rummaging through her backpack, thinking, "Gee, Chaya needs some help with organizing." Guess what I found in an outer pocket? The chumash review sheets!

After all that!

Friday, October 19, 2007
Hi, from the girl on the playground.

First through third grade were the most terrible years of my life. I had poor social skills and a bad haircut. I had no friends. NO FRIENDS. I was teased mercilessly. Every day, when we were on the playground, I would cry. I'm crying now, writing about the lonely little girl I was.

I outgrew that phase, though I feel it has affected every part of my life. I believe my anxiety issues are rooted in this terrible time. On a deep level, I don't feel that I ever fit in - even now. Yaakov loves me unconditionally, and I know his love has fostered much healing. Nonetheless, the scars are deep. They fester from time to time.

In the past few months, I have offended three of my closest friends. Each time, I said something inadvertently. In two situations, I mentioned something "safe" that apparently wasn't. My delivery was poor. Or the timing was bad. All my friends took me to task. Two in loving ways, one not.

Today, a friend told me I had offended her. My best friend, my sister friend, who is always on the same wavelength as me. In nine years, we've never had a disagreement. She forgave me whole-heartedly. She knows I love her, and would never consciously hurt her. But it still hurt me, and made me feel so sad. Sad for both of us. There's a fear that the friendship won't recover. It's happened to me before.

In this moment, as I live with uncertainty, I have become Playground-Girl again. Terribly lonely, and unworthy of love.

And I still have a bad haircut.

Thursday, October 18, 2007
I am mad... Rivky's teachers, who just sent a note home this afternoon that she's the "shabbos mommy" tomorrow (we need to provide snack for 30 kids). my oven, for ruining dinner last night. We didn't have more food in the house and I was too tired to be creative. Sixty bucks for Chinese. this stupid rental house. I'm trying to be grateful. I'm trying to count my blessings. But it's so. damn. ugly. There's termites. And baby lizards. And it's all carpeted (even underneath the dining room table, need I say more). the fact that I had to pay $3.39 for a 17oz box of heimishe bran flakes because my Zalman is constipated and needs fiber. the jerks who broke into my brother's car and stole his clothes forcryingoutloud! the lady who called before and put me in an awkward position.

The good news is, Chinese fortunes are getting better:

"Sift through your past to get a better idea of the present."

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not getting talked about." (I disagree)

"Every day in your life is a special occasion."

And, my favorite;

"Today is an ideal time to water your personal garden."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Are YOU a frum woman with a blog?

I got an interesting email the other day:

"I'm a Jewish college professor living in PA (I teach comparative religion and Jewish studies), and I'm presently writing an article about Orthodox women who blog. I'm especially interested in the way blogging complicates the notion of a division between public/private spheres, and the way these are "gendered" in traditional Jewish thought. This is not a popular, journalistic article, but a scholarly piece for a book."

That's interesting, right? She sent me some questions, which I am including here along with my answers:

Who is your audience? Men, women?

I have a mixed readership, but I think the majority are women.

Have you met a lot of "friends" through your blog? Men? Women?

I have a few online "acquaintances." They are women. We email each other. As for men, I don't cultivate friendships with men in "real life" and I stick to that rule online as well.

How important to you is your blogging community? Does it enhance your "real life"?

I don't think I have a "blogging community," per se. I do have my coterie of readers, and they are important to me. As for enhancing my "real life," I get little thrills here and there when people leave comments or email me.

Why have you chosen blogging over a traditional journal or diary?

I blog because I enjoy writing, and I like having an audience for it. Totally ego-driven.

Do you think of your entries as "public" or "private"?

Interesting question. On the one hand, they are obviously very public. On the other hand, they are private, because my blog is basically anonymous. The things I write on my blog are not necessarily things I would share in "real life."

Is anonymity important to you in your blogging? Why or why not?

Very much so. The main reason is because I feel my anonymity allows me to write freely. I do have a few (carefully chosen) friends whom I've told about the blog.

Kressel Housman refers to her blogging community as a "virtual veiber shul"--what do you think of this concept?

I think the concept can be very real. I know of a
bulletin-board-styled website for frum women that I think falls into that genre.

She goes on to say;

"Right now, I'm really most interested in the public/private question. A lot of the journalistic treatments of orthodox women's blogs in the media have focused on the way blogs give orthodox women a type of public voice that they don't have within the traditional community. After reading lots of blogs, I really disagree with this reading, and think that blogs actually seem to serve as a way of expanding the private sphere through a virtual network that serves as a forum for talking about the things all women talk about with other women...

...FYI, the article (G-d willing!) will be part of an anthology of essays to be published in 2008 by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization and is titled, Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity, Jewish Cultural Studies, Volume 2, edited by Simon J. Bronner."

Andrea Lieber, PhD.
Sophia Ava Asbell Chair of Judaic studies
Associate Professor of Relgion
Dickinson College
Carlisle, PA 17013

I think this is fascinating, and I'm pleased to be a part of it. She would like it if other frum female bloggers contacted her. If you fall into this category, feel free to email her:

Sunday, October 14, 2007
Hebrew School Review:

At the end of our morning prayers, the children say, "We want Moshiach now!" Each week I remind them who Moshiach is - the redeemer of the Jewish people. Today I explained that when Moshiach comes, G-dliness will be revealed. We will be able to see it clearly, as clear as this one's sparkle shoes or that one's curly hair. One girl said she sees G-dliness like that already. I believed her, and wished her mazal tov.

We are learning about Bereishis. I explained to them what Hashem created on each day of the world. On the third day, G-d separated the waters and the dry land. I showed them a globe, and all the water and land. I showed them Eretz Yisroel, and explained that this is a place G-d created for the Jewish people. They were amazed at how small it was. I told them that when Moshiach comes, all the Jews will go there and the land will be bigger. One girl piped up that her father wouldn't be going, "Because he's Christmas." I was startled, and had no idea what to say. She didn't seem fazed at all, so I decided to just let it be.

We sing and learn and are constantly talking about G-d. I love reading their mitzvah notes and high-fiving them. I work hard to create projects for them that are fun and meaningful. I want to create memories: warm feelings about Hashem, Yiddishkeit, and me.

At the end of class, my lovely Latina student wrapped her brown arms around my waist. I reached down and stroked her head. She hugged me again. For all the work that Hebrew school entails, moments like that make it totally worth it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007
Hebrew School Blues.

I wish I could quit teaching Sunday school. It's too much. It's not just the 4 1/2 hour block on Sunday mornings (a definite strain on The Maven Family). There's all the prep time during the week! I have to get materials, and every Saturday night I'm preparing for Sunday. So instead of cleaning my messy-motsei-shabbos house, I'm busy doing Hebrew school stuff.

I'm not quitting, though. When I start something, I see it through. Plus, my students are not religious. Their parents could send them to any Sunday school they wanted. For many of them, it's their first experience with Chabad. How would it look to the parents if their kids' Hebrew school teacher just quit on them? It would not leave a favorable impression. So I feel like I need to stay with it, for Chabad. I want the parents to associate Chabad with good things, not flakey teachers. This isn't about me anymore: I'm not gonna let my Rebbe down.

Besides, the parents like me. The children like me. The Hebrew school director likes me. I'm doing a good job! And I like my kids and their parents, too. It's not the teaching that I dislike, it's all the extra work. This is really a job for a single girl, who doesn't have a family to take care of. Honestly, I don't know how Chabad shluchim do it. Their outreach jobs become their lives, and they're raising large families on top of that. I see how hard the shlucha works in MY Hebrew school. So there's a small part of me that wonders, what am I complaining about? Besides, I really feel this job is bringing blessings into my life.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to start getting ready for tomorrow. (Sigh.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

I had a beautiful moment on shabbos. I looked across my table and saw it filled with children. My children. Those I currently have, and the children G-d might bless me with in the future. I saw them, briefly, before I realized who I was looking at. And then just like that, they were gone.

Saturday, October 06, 2007
What Happens on Simchas Torah STAYS in Simchas Torah!

(Unless, of course, you blog about it.)

Each year, the Torah is completed and started anew - Simchas Torah celebrates that. The festival includes dancing, flag-waving, and copious drinking by the menfolk. In Chabad circles, there's a Simchas Torah tradition to "mach a kula." You haven't seen anything in life until you see a drunk chossid do a somersault. On second thought...

This year, my husband had the dubious honor of being in charge of the liquor distribution. On Thursday night and Friday afternoon, Yaakov "tended bar" for stretches of time. His rules were simple: If you looked too drunk, no more mashke for you. If you already made 4 l'chaims, no more mashke for you. If you looked too young, no mashke - period.

Some youngsters raided their parents' liquor cabinets, anyway. One 17 year old was laying on a table in the shul's sukkah, puking over the side. Another drunk reveler, turned away by Yaakov, convinced the shul's goy to get more mashke for him. When he reappeared with some Johnnie Walker, he told Yaakov, "See! I don't need you!" Rav Plony told him not to come back the next day.

Some chassidim got into shoving matches, which startled me when I heard. "The whole point of drinking on Simchas Torah is to loosen up and have a good time," I insisted. "Do you think the Rebbe would be proud of that?" Yaakov was unfazed. "You don't understand men," he said. "Sure, they were going at it a little, but 10 minutes later they were dancing together..."

Me, I stayed home. The women's section is too small, and I can't keep up with my brood in shul, anyway. Besides, Simchas Torah isn't always a great environment for kids. On Friday afternoon, a friend and her kids came for a late yom tov meal. Both our husbands were still in shul, and we didn't miss them.

Thus, another three-day shabbos/yom tov has officially ended (I hope the hangovers have, too).

Monday, October 01, 2007
Lo Leiv.

Sukkos has been lovely, despite the rain. I've enjoyed being in our sukkah immensely. It seems the mitzvah of sukkah has meant more to me this year than in years past.

When I first shook lulav and esrog, tears came to my eyes. I startled myself. "A whole year since I've done this mitzvah?" I whispered. Today, I held the esrog close to my heart. The esrog is symbolic of the Jewish heart, fragrant and sweet with mitzvos. I felt the esrog next to my own sullied heart, and asked G-d to cleanse it.

Halevai, to achieve the simple purity of an esrog.

My Photo Name: Fancy Schmancy Anxiety Maven
Location: Chutz l'aretz - Outside of Brooklyn

fancymaven at gmail dot com