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Archive for August, 2007

As this whole fuss over funding religious schools picked up heat, it got me pondering why sending my kids to Jewish day school (as opposed to afternoon school) mattered so much. There certainly is the utilitarian reason of not having to send them to afternoon school, which would complicate our lives further. The school also has small class sizes, which means shy Maya is more willing to participate and Asher is getting marvelous support for his handwriting problems and gnat-like attention span. But that has nothing to do with being in a Jewish school.

As I worked it out, I wrote a column about it, and here it is:

My kids attend T… [I edited out the name of the school for the blog]. As our third child prepares to enter kindergarten, this is starting to cost us a whole heck of a lot of money. I occasionally count up the thousands and dream of vacations and a paid-off mortgage. But despite the lure of all that freed-up money, I just can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to take my kids out of Jewish day school.

Lately, as kid number three brings our costs to an all-time high, I’ve been ruminating on why it means so much to me, to have my kids at T…. As a Jew-by-choice, it isn’t like I have any personal scars of having to stand out in the hallway at public school during the Lord’s Prayer, the way some of my friends have described.

Perhaps it is my position of always having been in the majority as a kid, going to a school where pretty much everyone was like me. It is a comfortable place to be, I must admit. I’ve been thinking back to my experiences when I first converted, and found myself in the minority for the first time.

The Christmas after I became Jewish, I arrived at work one day to discover that the ‘holiday planning committee’ had festooned the office with the traditional Christmas decorations. But whereas the year before every office door had some large decoration taped to it, this year, it was every office door but one: Santa, a Christmas tree, Frosty, nothing, a wreath, a candle. It mostly struck me as silly. It isn’t like I would have thrown a fit to find a snowman on my door and I realize it was their attempt to respect me, but it did rather single me out.

They also changed the ‘Christmas lunch’ to a ‘festive lunch.’ I wasn’t fooled.

It got stranger for me when my first child was born. I remember taking her to her daycare’s ‘winter party’ when she was three years old. Despite the caregivers’ sensitivity in giving her a dreidel cookie cutter to make decorations while the others got Santa Claus and trees, they had failed to mention that Santa himself was going to drop in. She had more than your average toddler’s reaction of shock when this huge red guy showed up, as she’d never seen him before and had no idea what he was doing there. I had not known how to explain him to her, so I’d never bothered, until we were confronted with him in person.

It felt like a relief when she started Jewish preschool the next year, and not just because I got to avoid Santa Claus. I really appreciated not explaining our every holiday and defining her vocabulary for her teachers when she talked about Shabbat or building the sukkah in the backyard with Dad. 

I have one friend who challenged my decision to send my kids to an all-Jewish school (she isn’t Jewish), saying that she loves that her kids are exposed to all different cultures at school, and that is the essence of Canada. While that may be true for her, I pointed out, her kids are still in the majority, getting a taste of this culture and that. If my kids went to her school, they’d be the ones her kids were being exposed to. I want them comfortable with their own culture and religion before it becomes their job to explain themselves to others.

As anyone who sends their children to Jewish day school knows, just because my kids go to school with other Jews doesn’t mean the live in a bubble. They still meet non-Jewish neighbours and make friends with kids through sports and other after-school activities, learning about other cultures that way. But they learn from a position, however briefly, of feeling as though they are in the majority.

The year my son went to Junior Kindergarten at T…, we took the kids to a craft program at the Art Gallery in the spring. They were helping the kids crate fancy Easter eggs and asked if my children wanted to join in. My son announced loudly, “We don’t celebrate Easter. We celebrate Passover, because we’re Jewish.” (He then consented to decorate an egg for the seder plate.)

The project leader laughed at his booming little voice and said to us, “He certainly has a strong sense of his identity, doesn’t he?”

Yes, we agreed, he certainly does.

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Boo at her model seder at school. Check out the plague of frogs on the table cloth.

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I think I’ve given away enough in this blog that people realize (if they care to think about it) that I live in Ontario. We are coming up to an election, and the big topic this time is funding for religious education.

Ontario is in a ridiculous position. The government funds public school and free education for Catholics. Just Catholics. The rest of us get nada, zip, zipch, nothing. Even the most hardline postion against public funding of religious education would probably agree that since our children are learning the Ontario curriculum, the government could cut us a little slack for that part of their schooling. But instead, the Catholics go free and we pay every cent of our kids’ education.

The Liberals, who are in power, insist it will stay that way. Way back when Ontario became Ontario, the constitution entrenched free Catholic education because that was pretty much everyone: Catholics and Protestants. Now when people point out the inequity, The Liberals and a lot of Catholics just hide behind that, as though that were actually a reasonable response. But the Ontario of today is a very different place.

What outrages me the most is that Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal leader, says he won’t ever fund religious education because Ontario is about pluralism and multiculturalism and he wants our children to grow up to be public-minded individuals, and religious education can’t do that. I suspect that Dalton would consider himself a public-minded individual, given that he’s premier and all, but he went to Catholic school. And so do his kids.

So why is it that if my kids go to Jewish day school, they will become close-minded bigots, but his kids can go to Catholic school and they are just fine? Because Dalton McGuinty is a huge hypocrite, that’s why.

I don’t even want my kids to go for free. I just want the government to pay for the non-religious part of their education. I don’t think that would break the bank, because I bet a lot more kids would put their kids in religious schools if it cost half what it costs now, and thereby be subsidizing the system more. I also want them to make the Catholics start paying for the religious part of their education too, but even if we get the first, we won’t get the second.

As far as I can tell, the people who are against funding religious schools come from two camps. One thinks that no religious education should be funded at all and that includes the Catholics. Frankly, even though that would do me no personal good, I can get behind that. At least it is fair.

The other, as far as I can tell, is afraid of the Muslims. They have the notion that if we encourage them band together and teach their own children, the kids will all turn into little jihadists. This is, obviously, terribly unfair to the Muslim community, as well as being generally ridiculous. No one expects that the government would just hand over the money to anyone who opens a school. There would be regulations regarding the curriculum and standards that would have to be met.

It is obvious by this point that I send my kids to religious school, a Jewish day school. This choice means that I only go to the in-laws’ cottage for vacation and have no savings. As the costs rise (Boo is starting full time this September, joining her brother and sister), I cringe and wriggle and bang my head against the wall over how much this is costing us, but I cannot bear to take them out. They love school. Sure, they whine, as all kids do, but when it comes right down to it, they love school. They are getting a solid education and have a strong sense of their own identities.

The Conservative party has promised funding for religious schools. In all other regards, I hate their policies. Every provincial election, I have walked into the polling booth not knowing who I was going to vote for – the party with the ethics that fits most with mine, or the dark side, which would at least give me money to send my kids to school. Every year, thus far, I’ve been unable to put the little tick beside the Conservative candidate, but that is going to change this year. McGuinty’s hypocrisy has pissed me off too much, and I’m holding my nose and voting for the Conservatives.

I wrote a column recently about why I chose to send my kids to religious school. I think I’ll post that tomorrow. This thing is too long already. If you want a more fact-filled history of this topic, you could go to this guy. He’s an actual political journalist who know what he’s talking about.

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My boy is budding photographer. He’s the one who took the picture of me that appears with all my comments. If it weren’t for him, my kids would have no idea what I looked past age 21, should I drop dead tomorrow.

Anyway, there’s a kids’ magazine here doing a photo contest and he wants to enter. The problem is that we are having trouble narrowing downs which ones to enter. I have asked a bunch of people their favourites and have narrowed it down somewhat. He can enter a few, so anyone want comment or email me about what they think are the best 3-5 pictures, we’d appreciate the input. (The numbers are all wonky because that’s what they originally were and to change them would be confusing. Just go with it.)

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1. (it’s alive)

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21. (self-portrait)

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The W*bk*nz people are back. Go away, W*bk*nz people. How many letters do I have to take out of that name before they stop finding me, looking for those stupid, non-existent cheat codes?

I’ve been negligent here, I know. It all has to do with taking my few computer moments to try to write something I’ll actually get paid for, the second installment of my series on conversion. This one is supposed to be why people convert. I have about 750 words to discuss this topic in and I need about 4000. And so it slowly goes.*

We also welcomed friends home from China on Friday, with their new baby girl, T. The kids and I and a couple other friends and decorated their house before they returned. We had a blast. We got flowers and helium balloons, regular balloons, streamers, posters. The kids had so much fun covering every inch of the place. We put little duckie stickers in the bathtub, even.

We then joined a group of about 15 people waiting at the airport, holding up “Welcome Home” signs Boo coloured and a huge butterfly balloon. I forgot my camera and was kicking myself until I realized there were at least 4 other cameras present.

I feel privileged to have been part of the welcoming party and been among the first in Canada to meet little T. She was snuggled up to her Dad in a carrier and peaked shyly out at the huge crowd. I expected tears at all the fuss, but she just calmly checked us all out. We brought some of their stuff home (as an excuse for my kids to see their reaction to the decorated house) and were rewarded with some little smiles from T as she saw the other balloons tied up everywhere. She also reached out from Daddy’s lap to grab Boo’s hand.

We also got a small taste of the sort of nonsense they are going to face as a multi-ethnic family. As we prepared for the airport, a repairman arrived to fix our screen door. He spotted the decorations we were preparing and asked my son if someone was having a birthday party. Asher said no, that our friends were coming home from China today, and we were going to the airport to meet them and their new baby.

“Oooh,” the guy said, jovially. “Are you going to have chop suey there?”

What kind of dumb ass thing is that to say? Fortunately, Asher put him in his place, staring at him in confusion for a moment, then saying slowly, “No. It’s an airport. I don’t see why there’d be Chinese food there.” Then he left, rolling his eyes in the universal sign for “what an idiot” as he did so.

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* Yes, I know I split the infinitive. I felt like it.

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A new milestone

Boo is sick. She woke up repeatedly last night, but to really make her point, she woke me up this morning by screaming her way into my room and vomiting on me from the side of the bed. I was jolted into consciousness and immediately tried to catch the vomit. Yes, I am Mom.

I thought I’d already proved my Mom-ness when Asher was nine months old and really sick. After returning home from the doctor, I accidentally mixed up his instructions and gave him about three times the Dimetapp I was supposed to. I phoned the doctor, who assured me that he would be fine and probably just sleep a lot. Asher had other plans. As I hung up, I heard his stomach begin to gurgle ominously.

Realizing he was about to blow, I calmly removed my slippers and stepped from the difficult-to-clean carpet to the easy-to-clean kitchen floor. I let him puke all over me, then cleaned us both up.

But today, I’ve reached new heights. Boo was lying on the bed complaining of a sore tummy and drinking great amounts of water. As I leaned over to comfort her, she projectile vomited all over my face and hair. Thankfully, my mouth was closed.

I backed up, stripped off my shirt and used it to clean my face and hair, then turned my attentions to Boo, laughing at the awfulness of it all. That’s it, I just laughed. Now, let me point out that since all she had ingested was a lot of water, it was more like baby spit up than big kid puke, otherwise there may have been some sypathetic vomiting going on.

As I took us both into the shower to get cleaned, I told her she had totally won the puking price in this family. She said, “Great! I think when I feel better, my prize should be three lollipops.”

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 One of our birthday rituals is to weight and measure the birthday child. We have, as I suspect many people do, a wall with all our kids’ heights over the years marked. Asher is delighted that even though his big sister is much bigger than he is, he is taller than she is at every year, and catching up.

Boo wanted us to measure her a few months ago, although we didn’t mark it then. She saw that she was right at Maya’s line. Her goal became to reach Asher’s line by the time she turned five. Of course, there wasn’t actually anything she could do, but she still hoped. So when we put her up against the wall a couple of days ago, she said again, “I hope I beat Asher’s line!” And sure enough, she was right at Asher’s line. I marked her as a smidgen above, just to make her happy. And she was: “Look, I’m taller than he was! I actually made it to taller than he was.”

No one pointed out to her that she had just made it past the lines we made when Maya and Asher turned four.

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I planned the summer perfectly – first the family vacation, then 3 weeks of camp, then 2 weeks of hanging out time. The hanging out time begins today. We have made a list of fun activities, like the wave pool, museums, conservation parks, that we plan to go through. So, of course, I was woken up this morning with Boo puking on me.

Now I’m trapped in the house with one sick child and two bored ones whose friends are all in day camp. Oh dear.

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I have occasionally mentioned the weird search string used to reach my site, but I think I have a new winner for weirdness: Africans cutting right arms off pictures. In all capitals. Beyond the fact that I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned the word African on my site, or even right arms, and therefore cannot figure out how that got the searcher to my site, I cannot figure out what this person wants. Are the Africans cutting off their own right arms? Does it have to be right arms? Are they cutting off other peoples’ right arms? And why would anyone want to see a picture of that?

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Boo is turning five today. At this exact moment five years ago (3:07 pm on August 16th, since the time on these posts is always wrong (and it took me a couple days to write this)), I was swearing and yelling in a big bathtub at the hospital, moaning that I didn’t want to be 7 centimetres, as the midwife had just pronounced, I wanted to be 10! Right now, damnit! Meanwhile, I discovered afterwards that J., seeing a repeat of Asher’s birth, was muttering to the midwife, “Get her out of the tub now.”

He was right. The next contraction, Boo switched from sunnyside up to the right way in an instant and I was suddenly complete and ready to give birth in the tub. The midwives hate unplanned water births. This was exactly how Asher’s birth went too, unexpected speed and pushing in the tub. Thankfully this time, J. insisted the midwife set everything out for the delivery before I went in the bathtub – with Asher, the bed wasn’t ready, there were no instruments laid out, the backup midwife hadn’t shown up and no nurse responded to her calls for assistance. She got me to the bed and told me not to push. Ha! Asher was born mere moments later.

The only difference this time was that, since this midwife was ready, they got me on the bed and let me push. You know how they say you forget the pain? I remember it vividly. I can recall the feeling exactly and how I never thought I’d survive it. Thankfully, it only took two pushes and out she shot.

I knew she was a girl.  I had been lobbying for the name Sophie, but J liked Elizabeth better, so we compromised on our second favourite, which isn’t actually Boo, of course. Walking the hospital walls coping with huge contraction, I suddenly announced to him that if the baby was blonde, she had to be Sophie, that Boo was a dark-haired girl’s name. This threw a bit of a wrench in things, as we’d only produced blonds, but how could he argue at that point? So we were both relieved when she arrived with a head full of dark hair.

With midwives in Ontario, they can use the hospital, but you are never checked in, so after we were looked over and I had a shower, instead of heading to a hospital room, we headed home. Two and a half hours after Boo arrived, I came home to introduce her to her eager siblings. This is a picture from then. Even as a newborn, she was freakishly adorable.

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As I’ve mentioned previously, we hit a bit of a snag when I developed a wicked infection that used to be called ‘Childbed (puerperal) fever.’ While OBs and midwives now commonly test full-term pregnant women for strep B, puerperal fever is caused by strep A. I was a strep A carrier, and when a teeny tiny piece of placenta stuck around, it attacked.

Oh, but I’m getting distracted here. Little Boo was a trooper, nursing like a pro with no help from her ill mother and sleeping the rest of the time. I was sprung from the hospital after a week, with a picc line (an intravenous line that is threaded into a vein in the arm and up into the chest cavity to deliver constant medication without redoing an IV) in place to keep me full of antibiotics for 10 days.

The picture below shows what it looked like, with the line going out of my arm and into a fanny pack I wore everywhere. People would see it and feel sorry for me, but as you can see, I was delighted. I was sprung from the hospital and had a healthy baby. It was heavenly.

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Boo was just over 8 lbs at birth – about half a pound heavier than her sister and half a pound lighter than her brother. Despite that fairly big start, she never grew at the speed her siblings did, and remains our petite one. She was also the cutest baby we had. Of course, when they were babies, I thought they were all outrageously adorable, but as time passed and I looked back at their photos, I see that they weren’t exactly the most adorably infants ever after all. Except Boo. She was.

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She was also the happiest.

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She was an incredible climber too. Once, I heard the piano keys being hit and assumed, as Boo was only 8 months old, that Asher was banging the keys. When I went to see what was up, it turned out Boo was – up on the very top of the piano, delightedly flinging the photos to the floor. I took her down, then ran and got the camera to catch the inevitable repeat attempt, but couldn’t bear to let her go further than this. Then I took the piano bench away.

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She was a late talker. Her siblings both spoke full sentences by the time they were 18 months. She had about 5 words at her 18th month check-up. As the doctor and I discussed her, Boo walked over to her, pointed at her box of animal cookie bribes and then held her hand out, opening and closing it in a clear ‘gimme’ sign (I didn’t teacher to to sign, she just made up what she needed). The doctor wrote on her chart, “language: not only understand commands, but gives them.”

Three months later, as I was wondering out loud where her hat was, she walked over to the couch and said, “Dere it is.” And she was off, although she was very stubborn about calling Asher “this” rather than his name for a long time.

We went camping with friends at around this time, and one of them, whose name is Gus, was desperate for her to play with him. J had taught her a game where he said, “Back off!” and poked her in the chest, and she’d yell it back and shove him (usually while held his arms) then laugh like a madwoman. Finally, after a week of sucking up to her, she made Gus’s day by shoving him hard in the chest and yelling, “Bat oss, Dus!” Her pronunciation was atrocious, but she got her point across. She still plays that game whenever she sees him.

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She also did this deeply weird thing where she would stop at every campsite and smush her face up to the sign indicating the number of the site. Never figured that out, but it was very funny to watch.

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She’s spoiled silly, this kid, because even when I try to discipline her, one of her siblings comes to her rescue, unable to stand to hear her cry. When I got angry with her, she used to run to Maya and wail, “Mommy’s being mean to me!” and Maya would pick her up and comfort her. To this day, if she throws a fit in the store because I’ve denied her whatever she’s asked for, one of them comes to her rescue with an offer to buy something. And yet, somehow she’s just turned into a confident child, secure that she is loved, rather than a whiny, demanding brat.

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Boo is the most physically brave of my kids, despite being the tiniest. She’s a better swimmer than they were at this age, and a better biker, and still scares me silly with her climbing (and injures herself regularly, but no stitches or broken bones yet). She throws herself at living, with great joy.

She’s starting full-day kindergarten in a few weeks, and although I know she is more than ready to go, chomping at the bit to be off to big-kid school with her brother and sister, I still can’t quite believe I have no more babies, no more toddlers. I’m thankful she’s so small, so I can still cuddle her as though she’s young. And, thankfully, she still allows me to, although I don’t know how long that will last.

Look out world, here she comes.

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