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So I did my TV show yesterday. I used to drag cameras out to events and film them so I could show those instead of my awkward self, but my self has gotten a lot less awkward in front of the camera and I’ve changed how I do things. The last few shows, I’ve just gathered people in studio and had a discussion on some topic or another.

The obvious topic this time was funding of religious schools. My guests were like the start of a bad joke – a Jew,  a Christian and a Muslim walk into a TV station … But they were great – articulate, well-informed and smart. I particularly liked the Muslim woman. She’s a very outspoken and involved woman and I was surprised, when I met her, to see that she was a tiny and very young-looking. (I wonder how many men underestimate her based on that?) Anyway, she brought her outrageously cute young son and I brought my three, and we abandoned them in the Green room with construction paper, markers and orders to behave. I wasn’t really worried – Maya is very responsible. Turns out they were all having so much fun that the little guy didn’t want to leave at the end since mine were staying while I taped my introduction.

I brought up the various arguments against funding religious schools. These were the responses:

1. It will take money away from public school.

Schools are funded based on how many students are enrolled. Just because another school is now also getting money doesn’t mean that first school will receive any less. No money will leave the system. Yes, they will have to put more money into the school system to pay for the extra students, but since we are talking about only an extra 53,000 kids (this is a very, very small percentage of Ontario students), it isn’t going to break the bank. And, as one guest pointed out, if all the parents sending their kids to religious day schools suddenly decided to pull them and put them in public school, as is their right, the government would have to find the money, and would.

2. Religious day schools are against Ontario’s values of multi-culturalism and those students will grow up less tolerant of others.

This one is just silly. The Muslim guest was a former principal of an Islamic school and pointed out that her students graduated with a strong sense of their own identity and self-esteem, and were more likely to comfortably integrate into society (which they’ve obviously been doing all along, with soccer, and neighbours, and inter-school tournaments). Providing a child with a strong sense of who he or she is does not make them less likely to be an involved citizen.

3. Tons of kids would leave the public system for religious schools, taking even more money out and segregating kids more.

Other provinces that already fund religious schools (Newfoundland, Quebec) have not found this to be the case. The numbers don’t change much. And my Christian guest pointed out what a sad argument this is – basically ‘the public system sucks so much that if you give people any option, they’ll leave.’

4. The Muslim schools will become terrorist breeding grounds funded by public money. Again, my Muslim guest answered this well. Firstly, she pointed out that the schools already exist and no one has a problem with how they are teaching their students, so why would that change with public funding? And secondly, as it stands, the schools have standards enforced by the parents, who expect a good education for their children, but they do not have to keep up to provincial standards – and with lack of funds, some of the smaller schools struggle to do so. By providing provincial funding, all these schools will be brought under the government umbrella and forced to keep to provincial standards. The extra scrutiny means the chances of anyone teaching hate or intolerance is less likely, not more.

So, it was a good, in-depth discussion. Too bad more people won’t see it.

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Man, summer went fast. When I was a kid, it went on for ever and ever. But I’m old now and zip – all gone. I know I’m supposed to love it when the kids go back, but I don’t so much. I like the freedom of late bedtimes and sleeping in and going off on day trips. I don’t feel like we did all we wanted to this summer.

And I hate hate hate the homework grind, and the driving back and forth, and figuring out when the spoiled rotters will eat for lunch (day one here and already Maya wouldn’t eat anything we had).

Boo doesn’t start for two more days, as they are having each kid meet the teacher individually first. This is a waste for us, as the teacher has know Boo since she was an infant (and Asher was in her class), and every time we saw her at school since then, she’d run over to Boo and say, “Are you going to be in my class next year yet?”

But at least we get two days of mommy/no-longer-a-baby bonding time. As we walked Jasper at the off-leash park, with Boo biking wildly ahead, I wished she weren’t going in two days and I’ll be back to reading my paper as I saunter after the dog. I like our discussions. I don’t think I’ll cry when she goes, as for us the break has been gradual rather than abrupt, but I’ll miss her being around.

That wasn’t what I planned to talk about, though. What I wanted to mention was school supplies. Dreaded school supplies. The weirdest thing happened to me this year. To start with, the school did not send insane lists. I’m used to lists requiring camera film, paper towels, boxes of kleenex, ziplock bags, rags, 80 sharpened pencils.

These ones didn’t. No paper towels or kleenex, only 20 pencils. I can’t figure it out. And every year they all ask for 4 tennis balls (to stick on chair legs to quiet them). I can never figure out what they did with last year’s tennis balls. But this year, only one kid’s list had that (I’ve never sent them in anyway).

The school supply gods continued to smile down upon is as we headed to the store at the end of last week to buy what we needed. I expected there to be a mob at the place, as I’ve always experienced in other years. But it was downright quiet. And pretty much everything was easy to find and – get this – we got everything we needed. Just like that, in one place and one visit. I walked out in shock.

Actually, I exaggerate. We couldn’t find one thing – some particular notebook that could NOT have coils. No coils, got it? Everywhere we looked, there was the book we needed, but coiled. Maya said, “Why are they asking for something that doesn’t appear to exist?” I explained, “Because they want to drive us crazy, honey. They always have to put one impossible thing on the list each year, just to make us nuts.”

But I am a veteran school supply shopper now, and I don’t fall for it. I bought coiled anyway. Ha! I spit in the eye of the system!

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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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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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Thirteen Things about just making it upThe kiddies are out of school! Yesterday was the last day. At 6:50 am, Asher showed up beside our bed and whined, “I’m so bored!” Not a good sign. Nevertheless, inspired by summer vacation, I’m going to come up with 13 good things about the kids getting out of school for the summer.1. NO MORE MAKING LUNCHES. Sorry about yelling, but I loathe making lunches for school. We have milk days and meat days and children who will eat practically anything we hand them at home but pretty much none of it at school and it drives me nuts.

2. I don’t have to drive back and forth to the school twice a day.

3. NO MORE HOMEWORK. Okay, I know I’m yelling a lot, but I loathe homework too.

4. We don’t have to be so rigid about bedtimes.

5. No schedule in general.

6. I get to sleep in more.

7. Family vacation.

8. The kids and I get to hang out more.

9. No homework (it’s worth two).

10. Lessening peer pressure.

11. I get to feel like less of a failure for incessantly forgetting to return permission slips, send in magazines to be cut up, signing spelling tests, etc. There’s less to forget in summertime.
12. Asher is a happier, less-frustrated kid out of school (although this year was better).

13. After two months of this, I’ll be delighted to see school start again.


Links to other Thursday Thirteens:
1. Pass the Chocolate

2. Bring Your Own Cheese

3. Burnt Offerings

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

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Spring!

Ha! Not! as my children like to say. It got lovely and warm last week for a few days. It smelled all springy. Every time I walked the dog, great swaths of grass on people’s lawns had been revealed.

Then, my cleaning lady/hand-me-down nanny/wife/saviour told me that the weather was supposed to get cold again this week, and snow, and ruined all my fun. At least, I think that is what she was trying to tell me. My fingers were in my ears and I was saying, “LALALALA” so I can’t be sure. Didn’t help, though. Everything is covered up with snow once again and I had to put away my shoes and break out the big boots.

The only good thing about the latest snowstorm is that Jasper loves bounding in the snow on people’s lawns. I stand in the middle on the road with his leash run all the way out and he leaps and bounds and charges back and forth on the snow, pausing to smush his face all the way into the snow and hold it there for many seconds before bursting out and galloping off. We were quite the sight. All the other dog owners would walk staidly by and their dogs would stare at mine in amazement as he threw himself around in completely puppy joy. I don’t know what we’ll find in summer to replace that.

He’s gone from a dog who hated to go for walks to one who loves them. He also hasn’t peed on the floor in a week. He did, however, liberate a big hunk of cheese I was cutting up for an omelet from the counter. I had lots more cheese, so I mostly thought it was funny.

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Yesterday around 1 pm, I got a phone call from the school. It was Maya, reminding me that there was early dismissal and parent/teacher interviews at 3. She has absolutely no faith in me to remember anything, and despite the office staff assuring her I’d remember, as report cards just came home on Friday, she insisted on calling.

It can be very annoying, that she reminds me every Friday when they get out of school (it changes depending on the time of year, because Friday night is when shabbat starts, at sundown), and reminds of when to pick her up from camp, or when she has some event at school. But I can’t really get angry at her because – and those of you who know me well could see this coming a mile away – I’d forgotten completely about the interviews and early dismissal. Thank goodness she called.

I didn’t bother with Maya’s teachers, as she’s fine, but did the rounds of Asher’s. He has problems with handwriting and reading – he could do the latter, he just refused to, but he’s much improved. He also has mild ADD. It is hard for me to write that, because I feel like I’m labelling him.  I tried just saying he has problems concentrating and with organization, but people aren’t stupid and would say things like, “Oh, my nephew has ADD too.” He’s not hyperactive at all and he’s also has no behaviour problems, which is sort of how I normally imagine kids when you say ADD. He’s just very, very easily distracted and forgetful and disorganized. He’s exactly like me.

His handwriting and reading are coming along beautifully, but his teachers have his desk up right beside theirs so they can keep him ‘on task’ as opposed to staring out the window.

After the interviews, I was driving Asher to his tutor and told him his teachers love him (which they do – his Hebrew teacher said at times he’ll come up to her and say, “I’m sorry, but you know I have trouble concentrating and I wasn’t paying attention when you told us which page to work on. Can you just tell me again?” She wishes all the kids with concentration difficulties were so self-aware), but of course we need to work on his organization so he doesn’t forget so much stuff.

He said, “There’s no point. It isn’t going to get better.” I said, “Of course it will! As you get older, you’ll get better at figuring out how to remember things.” He said, “Like you and the parent-teacher interviews?” Ouch. He had me there. So I told him that when I was a kid, no one knew exactly how to help me, but teachers know more nowadays and can help him more. He wasn’t buying it. As we arrived at the tutor, I told her that he’d gotten his report card, then said, “Oh darn! I meant to bring it for you!” and smart mouth said quietly, as he went into the kitchen, “Never gets better ….”

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