Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Eight Things Meme

I'm going to go a bit counterculture here and neglect to paste in the rules of the meme. I don't feel like these rules are so crucial to understanding what this is all about, and I'm not always that big on thinking that the rules always have to apply!

1. I often drink water (cold NYC tap is the best) with a few drops of lemon juice concentrate added in. Or sometimes seltzer with the same add-in. Ann has the habit of referring to this as "melon water" and can't get the word "lemon" straight. I'm so used to hearing it that I now refer to it as melon water myself. Speaking of, RaggedyDad, can you make me some melon water with ice and a straw?

2. I like to bake, and baking means eggs. I use a specific glass for cracking the eggs into for checking blood spots, and I still mentally think "No red!" whenever the egg is clean (almost always). Since Ann and Andy are usually on the step-ladder next to me, I taught them to check from on top and from underneath the glass and to call out "No red!" too. Andy's egg announcement sounds more like "Aaah-Re!"

3. For several years after moving here from Israel at age 5, I hardly used my Hebrew (aside from being able to coast through Hebrew language tasks at school) but luckily I got it back for the most part when I was ready to get into it again. These days I push myself to use it whenever I can (with Ann's teachers, in half of the stores around here, etc.), glaring errors and all.

4. Usually, at some point on my birthday, I cry. Not because of getting older, since I still feel like I'm about 16. I guess it's probably out of nostalgia and the sadness of time passing. As a kid, I was often away at camp on my birthday, and it just felt very empty being away from home on my birthday.

5. My aunt is a nurse-midwife and delivered me. And I spent my first day in the world in an incubator because I was small.

6. Even though I cook a good deal these days, I have a mental block when it comes to potatoes. When it comes the differences in cooking and peeling approaches to mashed potatoes vs. potatoes for potato salad, etc., I have to quickly consult with the man of the house.

7. I don't know how to ride a bike. Awful, I know. My brothers were teaching me and got impatient. If I remember correctly, they took the training wheels off too soon and then got bored and went to go play Pole Position or something (I can still hear that droning sound in my memory!). Hence, I still can't ride a bike. RaggedyDad, who rode his own bike for miles to and from school, tried to teach me last summer in Belgium, but his sister's bike was a poor fit and I was pretty hopeless in my apprehension.

8. My mother has two sisters and one brother. Her sisters both have only sons. So I'm my grandmother's only granddaughter through one of her own daughters. Being that I'm my mother's only daughter, Ann is (so far) the only continuation of the "chain of women" phenomenon in our family.

I think that most people I'd tag have either done this already or been tagged. If anyone who hasn't been tagged yet wants to do this meme, consider yourself tagged!

p.s. triLcat, the Polarity Meme is my next one, although I may do a somewhat abridged version!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ending My Tenure

For the past year, I've been one of the class mothers in Ann's preschool class. And now I'm glad I'm not.

Don't get me wrong - everything went pretty smoothly over the year. But as with all such roles, there were a few, ahem, issues that irked me.

Now, this was not that complex a job, as it basically entailed:

*Collecting money for the teachers' gifts at Chanukah

*Collecting money for the teachers' gifts at the end of the year

*Calling parents about school cancellations due to inclement weather or other unforseen events

Initially, the head teacher also suggested running a little program where instead of sending lunches on Monday, each parent would send about $1 or $1.50 and she'd buy bread, spreads, vegetables, etc. and the kids would make their own sandwiches. Since the preschool director was not a fan of this idea, the teacher left it up to the class mothers to poll the other parents and see if the majority would be interested. The response was a little lukewarm, so the idea was shelved.

I would have gone along with the sandwich idea, but I can certainly understand that in families where the preschool child is not the oldest, school lunches are made assembly-line-style and there's no major purpose served in being spared the making of that one lunch for the little one. Even in our smaller household, I typically make RaggedyDad 3 sandwiches for his long work-and-schoolday, and making one more for Ann is no big deal.

This year, we had no snow days at school. None. So basically, I was just a banker twice a year. Actually, my job was made even easier because there were 18 kids in the class and the teacher requested 3 class mothers, so my part of the class list amounted to just my family and 5 other families.

Of the three class mothers, one lives in an outlying neighborhood, works half-days, and sends her daughter to preschool by bus. The other is more of a queen-bee type who had filled the class-mom role once or twice before. And then there was me.

When it came to the biannual teacher gifts, we came to the consensus that rather than take the pooled cash and buy something for the teachers, we would present them with a nice card and The Cash. Having been a teacher myself (and received my fair share of Korean Jesus statuettes, etc), and having a mother who is a preschool assistant, I firmly believe that while less "personal", cash is most appreciated by teachers. Particularly in Ann's assistant teacher's case, where I'm aware that personal finances are tight, a gift card to a particular store would also not be ideal.

However, two issues came up at Chanukah time that irked me. First, since both the Chanukah performance and the graduation took place on Fridays, I thought it would be appropriate to present each teacher with a small bouqet of flowers, with a small amount of money taken from the amount collected. When RaggedyDad brings home flowers, he typically spends very, very little on them, so it can be done.

Queen Bee Mom nixed the flowers idea, and for no reason other than the fact that she felt that particularly the assistant could use every dollar. I hear her point, but the amount collected was sizable. I believe that even when someone could really use the money, if, say, a small, small fraction of it gets taken out, they're just as likely as anyone to appreciate a little pick-me-up like flowers. But I didn't push the point, and acquiesced. And it's possible that those few dollars would indeed mean a lot.

What bothered me more was that Queen Bee Mom insisted on presenting the teachers with the money in the same denominations in which it was collected. Which meant some larger bills, but also a Lot of small bills. I asked her if she thought we might go to the bank to change the money for larger, though not impractical denominations, which would be a little more presentable.

She decided against it because a)going to the bank would be a tirchah (imposition) on the class moms and b)[My blood is still boiling over this one] the assistant might have a hard time with larger bills "at the types of stores where might shop".

I probably bit my tongue hard enough to bring up blood. I saw that there was no headway with this mom, but how rude can you get? It's not as though the assistant teacher buys her groceries from vending machines! There really aren't that many stores nowadays that give you a hard time over a $20 or even a $50 bill.

I just can't stand it when, in the name of thinking they're doing what's best for someone, people get so self-righteous as to govern how and what is done for someone else. Queen Bee Mom would have you think this was a huge favor she was doing for the assistant. Grr.

Suffice it to say that when I was in charge of assembling the cards and cash at the end of the year, I skipped the flowers but made sure that there were kavodik (respectful) denominations of money in those cards. And Ann and I baked two little chocolate cakes for the teachers as well.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Life, Catalogued

If you're like me, you feel an occasional niggling guilt over not having your family photographs arranged in a way that allows you to enjoy them most.

We got a digital camera in July of 2003, when Ann was born, and since then, have printed very few pictures. We used to upload them to photo printing websites, get the prints by mail, and give them out to family. Since RaggedyDad's family lives overseas, it's often more practical for them to view the pictures in emails and let us know if there are any (very occasional) shots they want to have in physical form.

My parents, on the other hand, are able to see the pictures via email (and I'm so proud of them for figuring that out!) but really want a few real photos for frames, albums, etc. Now and then I hear, "I don't think I have one picture of Andy!" and he's nearly 20 months old. Guilt!

Tonight I've been organizing the pictures on the computer by month and year, since they're automatically stored by date. But this is just a tiny drop in the bucket of what I ultimately would like to do:

1. Upload photos to some kind of sharing site (I'm open to suggestions) that my parents can use to order prints. Some of them even allow users in different countries to order prints locally, which would be ideal for RaggedyDad's mom in Belgium, and grandparents in Israel (who don't use email but have a neighbor who'll help them order shots).

2. Print some of our nicer shots over the past couple of years and get some nice albums going on. Or at least photo boxes. It's hard to share photos with Shabbos guests when they're all on the computer! This also connects with the guilt about not doing anything nice/memorable with some of our vacation memorabilia, other than stashing it in a Ziploc bag for that trip.

3. Backing up the photos onto RaggedyDad's external hard drive and/or a CD. Actually, since I don't really know what this entails, I'll leave this to him.

4. Scanning old photos. RaggedyDad's sister did this with their old family photos dating back to the 1920's (!) and did a very nice, organized job. Complete with backup CDs in different locations. For those of us who have those occasional fire nightmares, I think this would help me sleep that much better at night. Not to mention how nice it is for us all to have copies of those photos.

5. Understanding how to lift movie clips and create real, normal home movies (DVDs nowadays I guess) from those funny little cassettes that our video camera uses. I'd really like to have some movies that make sense and that we can watch properly.

So there you have it. My guilt list regarding family photos and movies. I don't think anything on this list is all that complicated, though I have to learn it, and it is time-consuming. If a little bit gets done after hours on a regular basis, though, it's feasible.

For now, my task focus is finishing up the sewing of name tags on Ann's camp clothing. But I'll bet I'm not the only one feeling photo guilt!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Genre Study

Most people who know me know that I am a big reader. Growing up, my father always read the Israeli paper, but not books. My mother has phases of reading - sometimes voraciously, sometimes more emphasis is put on other recreational activities like needlepoint. I don't recall my brothers being the biggest readers. But for me, reading was like breathing.

I've mentioned about my childhood that as a non-driver, my mother would walk to do the grocery shopping, and would often leave me alone in the library for an hour or so while going in and out of stores(different times, folks). By the time she returned, weighed down with supermarket bags, I had a tall stack of books ready to take home. Of course, since it was a 20 minute, semi-uphill trek, some of them had to be whittled down.

Once my oldest brother was driving, on Friday afternoons, he would be forced to take me on a quick library trip. Of course, he wouldn't start the ignition until he made me sing parts of a good three or four Led Zeppelin songs. I guess it was funny having his kid sister sing the opening part of "Immigrant Song". That song still makes me want to . . go to the library :)

One area of contention was the fact that I always wanted to read during mealtimes. It's not that our family conversations weren't scintillating(ish). But I was usually in the middle of a book. When I went to Belgium to meet RaggedyDad's family, one of few similarities we shared was reading at the table! Finally! It wasn't rude anymore if everyone was doing it!

These days I tend to read light novels or parenting-related books. Sometimes non-fiction, sometimes Jewish books. RaggedyDad, however, almost always reads the same thing: Russian sci-fi or fantasy novels. I laugh when I see these books because there is the inevitable sorcerer/three-headed-creature/dwarf-colony etc. on the cover. These books look so strange. And being that the text is in Russian letters (somehow connoting a sense of weird mysteriousness) they're even freakier-looking to me. Let's just say that from a very early age, if I asked my kids to bring me my book, they'd never mistakenly think that one of these colorful Russian oddities belonged to me.

This past Sunday, we were in Brooklyn for an early bris. On the way home, we made the cursory couple-of-times-a-year visit to Brighton Beach to stock up on RaggedyDad's reading material.

I don't really emphasize what someone is reading, provided that they are reading. Or maybe that's a quote from when I went to grad school to become a "Reading Specialist" - not that I claim to be a big specialist! But reading in general gives you a greater sense of vocabulary, grammar, and spelling, not to mention the creative benefits. Best of all, it's QUIET! Leftover children's books that I kept in my classroom as a teacher line many of our bookshelves, and to me, there's nothing greater than watching the kids feel comfortable to sit, explore, and read. Or, of course, reading to them.

But maybe they'll go easy on me and not get too much into Russian sci-fi.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Nice Kids Finish Last?

One of my more painful challenges as Ann progresses through the preschool years is seeing her navigate the murky social waters. It's tough to let go and worry about how she manages when I'm not there to help direct her environment and experiences.

I know that these years are fraught with ups and downs. One day two kids are best friends. The next day one of them doesn't want to be friends anymore. The next day they're friends, but another child has stepped in too, forming a tricky triangle. It doesn't seem like these patterns change much with time, but rather, become slightly more sophisticated versions of the same thing.

Like many kids, Ann thinks very deeply about what she sees and experiences. She's shy yet friendly, and a total chatterbox at home. She narrates a good deal of her inner thoughts when she feels comfortable. Her observations are often punctuated with a resounding, " . . . and that's how it goes!"

Over the past year at preschool, Ann has sporadically mentioned either hearing or sometimes being the brunt a few of the usual kiddie barbs. When Boy Y called her a baby at the start of the year, she matter-of-factly told me, "But he's wrong. I'm not a baby. My brother's still a baby, but I'm big!" Today Girl S told Ann that her picture was 'not beautiful' which had Ann a little down in the dumps. Thankfully these incidents haven't happened often. Ann's not an unpopular kid, but she's no queen bee either.

Ann is the product of two non-queen-bee types who are also sensitive. Chances are, there'll be a good share of hurts over the years. My report cards always said things along the lines of "good student but overly sensitive." And RaggedyDad asked to be changed from one first grade class to another because the teacher was too harsh with some of the other kids and it was too upsetting to him.

It's difficult to see Ann face the usual peer-meanness, because, though she certainly has her other faults, she's not the kind of child who tries to knowingly insult or hurt the feelings of another kid.

Though much of this is just typical preschool phase stuff, sadly, what happens a lot is that the rude kids turn into rude grown-ups who often do get their way. Maybe they're less liked for it, but they don't seem to mind, and in the shorter version of the long run, they even come out on top.

And while I'd rather be the mom of the nice kid, I'd rather her not be relegated to finishing last.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Erev Shabbos Entertainment

Finally, the concrete, rusty-nail, ancient "playground of doom" behind our area of the apartment complex where we live has been replaced!

We've been watching the various stages of tearing down and rebuilding over the last week, and it has been really fascinating. Sometimes, progress was amazing, and sometimes it just looked like a bunch of workers in the hot sun all scratching their heads, simultaneously baffled.

They seem to be nearly done, with just a padded floor to lay out and a few more finishing touches. All the local kids can't wait to get in there. I'm glad because the equipment seems age-appropriate for my kids, with more closed-in sides and easier access to the slides than some of the other play-structures within close walking distance.

I never bothered taking any before shots of the eyesore monstrosity, but here's where "our playground" is holding now:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Is it just me, or does having kids around mean that there are very rarely times when I get to eat without one or two extra little mouths hovering about, vying for a bite?

Accompanying these attempts to hijack my meals are cute phrases like, "Me too! Me too!" although Andy usually prefers to call out, "Iwannin!" (I want it) and Ann has taken to coming up close to me and trying to flatter her way onto my plate ("Mommy, I really love you, Mommy. I like you. Can I have some please . . ?").

I like to eat in peace, and while I realize that, for the most part, those days are over, it sometimes seems as though I only get to taste every fourth or fifth bite! I guess it would be different if early on I had been very adamant about "Mommy's Food," but it seems this is not the most territorial of households.

Thankfully my kids are good eaters, with nice appetites, healthy-ish tastes, and the willingness to try new foods. But I think there's still no greater way to make a food appealing to them than to start eating it myself. Anything from a bowl of cereal to a real meal to a glass of water lends itself to frequent meal-jacking.

When Ann was just starting to eat regular food, I could get away with continuing to cook for just me and RaggedyDad, and taking off a bit of food to give to her. Now that she's a bigger and hungrier kid, she actually needs to be counted in the shopping and cooking equation!

But Andy puts us all to shame. Eating is his forte, and he tries to eat each meal several times by meal-jacking every other member of the family. I remember when my brothers were teenagers and food would literally disappear before it had more than a few minutes to get comfortable in its spot in the fridge. The day Andy's big-boy appetite really kicks into high gear is going to be a momentous (and pricey!) one around here.

Another hidden un-benefit of all this meal-jacking is that it's also a great way to ensure that when one of us is sick, we all get sick very quickly. Just another way we like to spread the love around.

Considering that the RaggedyKids' bedtime runs rather early, I do often have the option of waiting until they're asleep to eat. But I kind of like to eat together with them and then get everything cleaned up together.

I just have to be prepared to be meal-jacked. Yet again.