Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘growing up’ Category

Like all parents, when my first baby was born, I looked forward to many milestones – first word, first sentence, first steps, no more diapers. As they grew, I even looked forward to ones like outgrowing the annoying car seat, being able to open the fridge by herself. The one I didn’t expect until it was upon us was learning to read.

That was particularly slow of me, given how central reading and writing is to me. Maybe that is why – it seems as natural a breathing. It isn’t, though. It is work.

Boo, my last baby, has just figured out the key. Reading isn’t just a switch – one day you can’t, the next you can. But, at least with my kids, there has always been one day when the kid suddenly gets running those sounds together. For the longest time – desperate to read – Maya would sound out words like ‘cat’ as cuh-ah-tuh and then run it together as ‘cuhatuh.’ Then she’d get frustrated and take a wild stab at it – “Chicken?” It was hard not to laugh, I admit.

She spent a long time in the ‘cuhatuh’ stage, not quite getting it. And then, one day, she did. And I realized that the whole world had just open up to her. I teared up, I admit.

It was somewhat harder for Asher, in that he didn’t care, and somewhat easier, in that he didn’t care. He didn’t kill himself at it the way his sister did. But one day, about a week before he was to enter grade one, I decided it was time to see if he could get phonetics. We sat down with Hop on Pop, and he Got It.

Having never really thought about it before, he was wildly delighted to realize that he could actually read.  I’ll never forget the excitement with which he raced up the stairs to demonstrate to his dad that he could actually read. Unfortunately in his case, it immediately got difficult and figuring it out has been a struggle ever since. It just doesn’t seem to come naturally to him, much as he wants it to.

But with Boo, whether it is because she is a third child, or a lucky one, it has happened with the greatest of ease. She figured out the alphabet by herself. As we went through the grocery store when she was 2 and 3 years old, she’d say, “I see my letter! I see Bubby’s letter!” Only later did the letters get their own names, and she already had a good idea of their sounds.

A couple of weeks ago, while I read to the older two, Boo was looking at one of her own books and suddenly said, “puh-ah-tuh … pat!” I cheered, “Boo, you just sounded that word out!” She was delighted, and has been sounding out everything she sees since then, with varying degrees of success.

So last night, I dug out Hop on Pop. And she read it. She even took little leaps, like sounding out ‘see’ as ‘suh-eh-eh’ and not running it together as ‘seh’ but ‘see.’ The best part is her utter delight. She was so excited I had trouble getting her to stop (it’s a long book) and go to sleep, then she showed up bright and early this morning in my bed insisting on continuing the book.

Later, when I insisted on cutting her fingernails, she said, “Okay! I can read while you do it!” She grabbed a book and picked a word, then said, “Buh-uh-tuh-tuh-on. Button! Button? I always thought it was ‘buttin’! Wow, this reading thing is really cool.”

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The first bat mitzvah I attended was that of the daughter of one of J’s colleagues. I didn’t know the kid or the synagogue. It was an eye-opening experience.

It was an Orthodox synagogue, one that would probably be described as ‘Modern Orthodox.’ So I wasn’t particularly surprised that the bat mitzvah was on Saturday evening, rather than during a service. The rest of the experience was a surprise, though.

The kid read a couple of prayers (which could have taken her all of half an hour to learn, as she went to Jewish day school and had been taking Hebrew for 7 years at that point). She then made a speech. I expected a speech on the parsha (Torah portion) of the week, but nope, she just picked a topic. Thirteen years have elapsed between then and now and I still remember that topic clearly. It was: What Golda Meir Means to Me.

Even accounting for the fact that the kid was 12 years old, it was lame. It sounded just like the essay Maya wrote not long ago on why Meir is a Jewish hero, which took her a day to write. Golda Meir is an easy bulls-eye as far as proving Jewish heroism.

After her speech, the rabbi came up and praised her for all her hard work, and I couldn’t help but wonder how he said that with a straight face. I couldn’t imagine that he really thought this child was so intellectually weak that this paltry effort should be praised as hard work. He gave her a pair of candlesticks and we all went and had lunch in the elaborately-decorated events room.

I know that different Orthodox communities celebrate bat mitzvahs in very different ways and I don’t know all of them, so please don’t view this as a condemnation of all Orthodox bat mitvahs, but I did look at this one and vow that any daughter I had would not be treated as such an intellectual light-weight.

I was talking recently with the wife of a Hasidic rabbi and asked her if they did bat mitvzahs for the girls. They did, she said, then went on to describe pretty much what I’d witnessed at this other place. She went on to tell me that in the classes she taught, she concentrated on how to be a good Jewish adult and woman and proffered the opinion that the girls’ experiences were actually more meaningful than that of the boys, as the boys were so busy stressing out over learning the Cantillation and their Torah portion that they couldn’t absorb any deeper lessons on becoming a Jewish adult.

I think she’s selling both the boys and the girls short, as I think there is enough room in the average kid’s brain to learn how to chant Torah and how to be a good Jew, all at the same time. I confess, I did not tell her so.

She also told me that the girls are delighted to not have to go through the trials of learning how to read the Torah. I believed that. A couple of years ago, after witnessing her cousin’s bar mitzvah, Maya announced she wasn’t having one. Shyer then than now, she watched him up there in front of everyone, chanting and even occasionally making a small slip-up, only to be saved by the rabbi, and decided she would die if forced to do that.

I told her that she had no choice. She’s Jewish, therefore she is having a bat mitzvah. “I’m converting to Christianity then,” she announced. You can’t, I told her. “You converted to Judaism!” she argued. I lied: “I know. You can convert to Judaism, but not out of it.”

After sulking for a few moments, she said, “Fine. But I’m not chanting Torah.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“Girls don’t have to!”

“Other girls don’t have to. You do.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

“That’s not a reason!”

“You’ll thank me when you are older.”

“No I won’t.”

But I believe she will. I’ve seen the pride, relief and accomplishment on the faces of kids who have just successfully completed their Torah portions. I’ve felt it to, after I read from the Torah in Israel. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in struggling with something truly difficult and mastering it, then demonstrating that mastery in front of your whole community. I cannot help but think that while the girls who do nothing more than a prayer or two and a speech on what Golda Meir means to them might initially feel relieved to have avoided all the hard work they see their brothers doing, ultimately they realize they’ve been dissed. Their community is subtly sending the message that they can’t cope with anything more.

I know that isn’t what those communities intend. They are doing their best to get around the problem that they believe fundamentally that girls cannot touch the Torah while at the same time trying to give them the same sense of welcome into adulthood the boys have – different, but equal is the phrase they like to use. But of course, it isn’t equal, not when it takes a boy a year or two to prepare for his coming-of-age, and the girl really needs no more than a month or two for hers.

So, despite all the stress I’m facing preparing for Maya’s bat mitzvah, schleping her to shul school, the inevitable battles over practicing her Torah and Halftorah portion, the nerves that will no doubt be involved, I’m still grateful to be doing this.

I can’t wait to see the look of pride, relief and achievement on my daughter’s face, well earned.

Read Full Post »

I confess that for years, I’ve been dreading Maya’s bat mitzvah. They are such huge deals and it all seems so overwhelming to handle. Maybe it is because I converted and therefore never went through one of my own (or, more likely for my generation, watched my brothers go through bar mitzvahs), but I’m not sure that is all, because J is pretty much terrified too.

Her bat mitzvah date is April of 2009 – a year and a half away. I thought that was enough time to keep my fingers in my ears and loudly and tunelessly sing, “Lalalala, I can’t hear you” for a while longer, but apparently not. A few days ago, a friend whose kid is having her bat mitzvah about the same time asked me if I’d signed Maya up for her class at shul yet, and was I going to the meeting? Huh? I knew nothing. J knew nothing.

So I called the synagogue, where the nice secretary peppered me with questions – how much is she going to read? Are we having our evening even at the synagogue? Are we having the lunch kiddish there? Will we be doing a Friday night thing, or Saturday morning thing? I dunno I dunno I dunno.

So I went to the meeting, where I was happy to see I wasn’t the only perplexed parent there. I realized that it was in fact high time Maya start the classes, as apparently they are supposed to take them for 1.5 to 2 years. I can’t figure out what it is going to take so long to learn, since she can already read Hebrew fluently and knows many of the prayers. As far as I can tell (but as I said, I’ve never done this before), she needs to learn the cantillation.

The Torah is a complicated thing to read. Hebrew for grown-ups doesn’t have vowels. You can put the vowels in, as they are marks that go under and over certain letters to let you know, for example, that the ‘t’ sound will be ‘ta’ or ‘to’ or ‘ti’ but after you learn how to read fluently, you drop the vowels. So no vowels in the Torah. There are lots of other little marks on the words, though. They tell the reader how that word is to be chanted. All the different marks, called trope, have their own specific tune and the kids need to learn them so they can properly chant their Torah portion.

This does strike me as nightmarishly difficult and so I do see requiring a far amount of prep time, but now I’m not so sure, since Maya came home from her first class at ‘shul school’ last week with a page of the names of all the different markings, and began singing them to me. Next!

Okay, it isn’t that simple, but she certainly is sucking up the information. At least one of us has a brain. I panicked at the meeting when I discovered that classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. I asked the Rabbi about tutoring as, I explained, Maya has piano on Tuesday and delivers her papers on Thursday. I know one has to make priorities, but piano is unmovable and I think having a job is very good for her. To bad. The tutors are booked solid.

Thursday seemed more flexible, but then I saw that the class was currently populated with 4 boys from her grade at school. Nuh-uh. One boy’s mom came over and told me if I put her in that class, they’d carpool her there and back. That’s very sweet, I told her, but Maya will freak if I put her in that class. But, said the mom, they are very nice boys. Nice? Nice has nothing to do with it. They have penises and nothing else matters.

I then realized that piano is only half an hour and I could race from it to the synagogue, and at least she’d be in a class full of girls, with her best friend. I signed her up. Leaving the meeting, I phoned Maya to tell her the news, as I knew she was keen on being with her friend. After I told her, she said, “Mom, my piano lesson is on Wednesdays.”

So, so not ready.

Read Full Post »

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.

a11.jpg

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.

me-picc1.jpg

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.

a2.jpg

a7.jpg

She was also the happiest.

a3.jpg

a5.jpg

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.

aaaa1.jpg

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.

a4.jpg

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.

a111.jpg

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.

a13.jpg

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.

a121.jpg

Read Full Post »