Archive for the ‘Bad, bad Ema’ Category

So this is middle-years parenting. Excuse me if I get whiny.

We are decidedly out of the baby-toddler years, which threatened to kill us with sleep deprivation, viral loads, and constant vigilance. So that is awesome, really, to be done with that sort of daily torture.

Our kids are good. They are interesting people. They think interesting thoughts. They are science nerds and jokesters. They like books and outer space and nature. They like swimming and ice cream and French fries. They each have their quirks, to be sure, but we are trying to handle them, with varying amounts of success. (Depends on the day, usually.)

So what could possibly go wrong?

It is not the relationship. The kids seem to trust us, despite some age-appropriate lying that drives me batshit crazy. (They are not that good at lying, get caught, then seem mad that they were caught and are in hot water. Still waiting for them to make the connection.)

They love us. They need us. It is the jobs. The JOBS, people. (For more on what I mean by this distinction, see here.)

So the jobs, the daily grind, the hamster on the wheel stuff? I am pretty sure it could be done better by a border collie. The entire border collie DNA is poised to get reluctant or recalcitrant animals to do what they should be doing. Say, fording a stream or switching pens. Just generally staying on task, getting to the new location — border collies will do it day in, day out without a complaint. Because DNA! They love the jobs!

They will do anything!  Photo credit: Paul Englefield, Creative Commons user agreement

They will do anything!
Photo credit: Paul Englefield, Creative Commons user agreement


I get frustrated. The herding, it irks me. The waking up every morning to the exact same list of tasks, and yet being treated like I am suddenly speaking in Turkish. (“How would one say…suntan lotion?” “What is this water bottle you speak of? Oh, I was supposed to bring it home? And drink from it again today? Madness!”) I know I am supposed to be making myself obsolete, or starting to, in this stage of parenting. It doesn’t seem to be working. Although one can work the grill with aplomb and the other can sew buttons and embroider, they still can’t manage to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher or the milk back in the fridge. Ever.

Better left to the dogs to herd my cats. That’s my refrain. What’s yours?


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Last week was trying for me in a lot of ways, mostly because AM was sick and kindly shared his germs with me. He gets very snuggly when he’s ill, and while I find this endearing, the fever and deep, rumbling chest cough were not appreciated. To add insult to injury, he got a pneumonia diagnosis and therefore got on some kickass antibiotics while I had “clear” lungs and muddled through on cough meds and fever reducers.

(There was also the night when I was so tired I took Tylenol PM and had a paradoxical reaction. And was even more tired the next day. Plus extremely bitter. But “one tired, bitter ema” does not have the same ring to it.)

So, to recap: sick, tired, sick-and-tired. Plus all the usual backtalk from the children, mess in the house, and, you know, life. (Taxman was around a lot, to make up for the times when I just could not leave the house, or drive Miss M to various scheduled appointments, but by Friday he hadn’t thrown in a load of wash either. Bought milk, yes; laundry, no.)

I felt crappy pretty much every afternoon, so in the mornings I tried to do the minimum I had to do for work. Sometimes with company hanging over my shoulder. Or dancing on the couch. Because why go to school when you can stay home and play Fruit Ninja on my phone? Or whine at me to play backgammon until I give in? Because the alternative — is not pretty.

Humans don’t eat their young.

I don’t know why I thought of this so suddenly last week. Perhaps because I’ve been reading a couple of books right now where mice are prominent (The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and Intuition by Allegra Goodman); mice, of course, do sometimes eat their young.

But we are not rodents. We are in this kid-raising thing for the long haul. At first it’s all about how to keep them alive. When they are asleep at night we sigh in relief because we managed to keep them from harming themselves…sometimes with varying success rates.

We are past that stage. Honestly, we had it pretty easy (my toddler nephew is a climber; we never had to deal with that, or lock picking, toilet drinking, street running or other particularly hair-raising toddler things).

Now we are in the long muddle of making our children socially acceptable. Table manners, polite conversation–hell, any kind of two-way conversation–empathy, friend-navigating. It’s harder to score how you, the parents, are doing. The metrics are totally foggy.

  • What if other adults find them lovely but they don’t get invited for playdates?
  • What if they are happy to eat three kinds of raw vegetables but never salad?
  • What if they get great grades but collectively blitz through a box of carefully hoarded pencils from Target in 2 weeks? (Seriously, do they EAT them? Are they not children but beavers? Do beavers eat their young?)

I decided that this is part of why parents are so joyful at their kids’ big events. It means that other people find them socially acceptable and want to celebrate that too. It’s a big cosmic reward for not eating them.

Graduation –> Your kid earned a degree! They applied themselves! You probably only had to do 50% of the work/80% of the cajoling!
Good job –> Somebody else wants to PAY your child to work at something! Someone else is trusting them to be responsible! Let’s hope the job doesn’t entail putting laundry into a hamper!
Wedding –> You’ve been so successful at child-rearing that somebody else wants to live with your child on a permanent basis…and even finds some of your child’s qualities worthy of passing to a new generation. (We hope. Because how else will you exact your revenge?) Cute and breedable! Good job, parents!

This last part occurred to me because an Internet friend married off a child last month. She projects the picture of calm and happy level-headedness, but through some private messaging I know that some of her children have provided a few sleepless nights and therapy sessions in the past. But here she is, walking to the chuppah and sending off to be amazing grownups. So there is hope!

So, no, we won’t eat them. We’ll try to raise them right and turn them into real people. But if anyone would like to, say, borrow a 6-year-old who will play backgammon all day and night or an 8-year-old who is up on all kinds of 19th century diseases (yellow fever, cholera, scarlet fever), just, you know, give me a buzz.

NB: In the time that elapsed between me wanting to write this post (last Thursday) and actually writing it, I served a dinner everyone ate. It was teriyaki salmon and rice. Everyone had seconds. Civilization is coming faster than we think.

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For some reason I can’t just let this blog go.

I’m working 90 hours a month at a job doing things I like, mostly. I feel lucky to have it. I have benefits. I got a bonus for the first time in my life, and I was in disbelief for a few days. Taxman assures me that this is how good companies operate–they reward good work with something other than a paycheck. It is still bewildering to me. In a good way.

I spend every afternoon playing mommy, in which I prepare one of 3 lunches (pancakes, pasta, or some sort of melted cheese sandwich, in rotation). We do homework and run errands. I break up fights and soothe feelings. I cajole and scream and wind up with a messier house than I had at noon. Which, let’s face it, sometimes isn’t much of a stretch. Still a terrible housekeeper.

Sometimes we go out to catch the fleeting sunshine. The winter is rough on my mentality; the weather turns chillier (from 70) starting at about 3pm and the sky is dusky by 4:30. It’s hard to get everything done and out to the park before I want to turn around and pack it in. Games and books, violin practice (for AM), showers and baths, more cooking (dinner! like lunch, only with more courses!), more fights. Bed. At 8pm, work at home mom comes back…until I curl up into the pile of clean laundry on the couch. I would curl up into the pile of dishes in the sink instead, but it’s just not comfortable.

We’ve adjusted to life in Israel. I no longer feel bad about my Hebrew. It is what it is; I can understand a lot. I can’t have great conversations. It’s ok. My work is in English. I speak English to other Anglos. My kids are fully bilingual. That was the point; they’ll fly while I walk. Isn’t that what all parents want?

The kids are thoroughly their own ages and their own selves. We are trying to mold them to social acceptability, but it is impossible to repress the personalities. Not that we’d want to.

Anyway, I started the blog, all those years ago (SEVEN!) because I was feeling lost and trying figure shit out. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that some things get worked on, some things get forgotten, and some things just change, both for good and bad. I found people to be lost with, both “in person” and “virtually,” with the understanding that we are no more lost than anyone else. I had that years ago, back in junior high, and finally have it again.

Being earnest was never really my style; being wry and jaded fits my personality better, but I had to come to that conclusion on my own. So, to a large extent, the blog has outlived its usefulness. But it really is the baby book. I can’t leave it.

Hoping 2013 is happy and healthy for all of us and all of you.


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Fading away

Summer is suddenly drawing to a close. Many of the things I had planned to do with the kids (typing tutorial for Miss M, a photo album for AM) got consumed by hours of creating things out of Fimo, watching the Fimo bake in the oven, playing with the baked Fimo items, and making messes in the basement. Good times.

There was also a huge amount of time consumed by bickering, so we can check that one off the list.

Up until last week, Miss M was excited about school and AM was nervous.

Then we found out that Miss M’s teacher for first and second grade was going to be his teacher for first and second grade. Now he is excited. Miss M, forced to give up her tiny shred of hope that her teacher would move to third grade with the class, is nervous.

We had a vacation. It was fabulous (though the lodging I found was decidedly average). It pisses me off a little bit that like 80% of the best hikes and fun things to do with kids are located two hours to the north. Just far enough away that you really need to stay overnight to do them.

I guess there’s next summer to go explore more? Although AM is pushing to go to America next summer. To go to my parents’ house and water their plants. (HI, MOM!) Hey, if he’s paying I’ll do anything he wants. NB: He is going to earn the money a half-shekel at a time, by scooping dead jukim (big ugly bugs) into the toilet so his mother doesn’t have to.

The holidays (you know, the holidays) start in three weeks. I can’t wrap my brain around that one. (Next year is worse; Rosh Hashana is September 4th or 5th or something ridiculous like that.)

In the meantime, I am just going to sit back and let the last day of summer vacation wash over me. Monday morning it’s all backpacks and aruchat eser and white school shirts…then I’ve got to buckle down and do the work I’ve been meaning to get to for the past few weeks but haven’t. Because of the bickering, don’t you know.

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We had Miss M in one-on-one therapy this year for several months to try to get to the bottom of what, exactly, her attention-slash-social deficits are.

What she received was another adult who got to know her very well. She loved the one-on-one attention and got to creatively express herself. Over the course of months, things seemed to smooth out at school, but I wouldn’t necessarily attribute that to the therapy. Although who really knows?

Taxman and I also had a few meetings with the therapist. I was hoping to get a point-by-point plan to get her on to the “children would be best-advised to listen to their parents” notion, but what I got were two inquiries as to whether she had been tested for giftedness (lo and behold, she was later tested, through the national Dept. of Education, and she is). Also encouragement that we are doing the right things with her, being strict and repetitive and full of rules and constantly dragging her out from her fun little bubble of books to meet the rest of the world, replete with table manners and social cues and train schedules.

But, wow, I’m sick of it. I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. I’m tired of a five-minute task being dragged out to one hour. I’m tired of the morning song-and-dance. I’m tired of the threats to take away stuff. I’m tired of negotiating showers. I am tired of her not seeing the big picture–that if she will just put down her book for 10 damn minutes and play with AM that he will stop whining and I will back her up for having made an effort.

Apparently there is no evidence that Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” but nevertheless I really want to try to apply that what I’m doing here, because Plan A (or B or C or whatever the hell plan we’re on) isn’t working.

I kind of want to just let go of everything, let her dishes pile up at her place at the table, let her laundry pile up on the floor, let her dirty socks and papers and dust bunnies populate her room, not enforce bedtime, let her go to school without putting on sunscreen (although this would cause me guilt in extremis–it is like the surface of the sun out there lately).

I want her to be easy. Just to see what that would be like. I mean, I’d probably think she was now a zombie or a Stepford Wife, but it might be pleasant. And not attract the attention of the neighbors with all the yelling all the time.

So…let us see if I can, just a smidge, let go.

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Well! Clearly my introspection navel-gazing is unappealing. So I will quit that right now.

Unfortunately, I am low on inspiration, since my part-time job(s) seem to be taking over my life, a little bit, which is actually good because children cost a lot of money to house/feed/clothe/educate/send to pricey day camps for ONLY ONE-THIRD OF THE SUMMER HOLY CRAP.

Today was Miss M’s 8th birthday. Though, as I admitted to Taxman this morning, after he ferried two pans worth of chocolate mini-cupcakes to her class, once AM turns age x, I automatically think of her as x+2. In some ways she’s growing up, but in others…let’s just say that the leopard doesn’t change its spots. I am going to turn that to my advantage, because I’ve been parenting this leopard for eight years now.

For your amusement, I give you Deep Thoughts Theater:

Reasons to Not Have More Than One Child:

Holy hell, the whining! The fighting about nothing! The last-second race to the bathroom to be first to brush  teeth, even though they know they should do it right after breakfast! The crying because somebody won the race and the other somebody got knocked down in the process!  TIMES EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Kill me right now!

Reasons to Have As Many Children As Your Sanity/Wallet Can Accomodate:

“AM, want to help me decorate my cupcakes? If Ema says it’s ok, you can have one.”

“Yes, Miss M. Thank you! You’re my best friend!”

“I’m your best sister! I’m going to be your sister forever!”

(Bury me. I died of melty adorableness.)

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Let’s cut to the chase: in my 30s, I learned to bullshit.

Not coincidentally, I became a mother at age 29, and turned 30 when my baby was around 9 months old, and therefore becoming highly attuned to words and language.

I don’t mean the bullshitting in a bad way, at all. For example, I used to have a hard time making the minimum length for papers in college. I would write all I needed to say, have a solid argument or whatever was required, and feel extremely uncomfortable with padding it to make the minimum of 5 pages or 10 pages or whatever it was. (Usually 5, because I took a lot of English classes that required many short papers over a semester.)

(For those of you who do not know, E.B. White is one of my personal heroes. I find Strunk and White inspirational and aspirational. Hence my discomfort with adding extra words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs. Use strong verbs, and you’ll save yourself from too much everything. Et cetera.)

In my 20s, when I worked for a publishing house with a particular style, I started to adapt. But I had an editor to watch over me; I was never the final arbiter. Plus the style was so old-fashioned and distinctive that I could never have adopted it as a voice or naturally put it to use outside of the confines of that job.

Then came motherhood. And motherese, where I comforted my baby through crying jags, upset stomachs, shots, bumps, bruises, and hurt feelings.

Then came Life with Toddler. I learned to deflect or distract instead of lying, but let’s face it, sometimes flat-out lying is the way to go while parenting. There were plenty (PLENTY!) of times when I said “I just don’t know” to typical toddler questions, so we conjectured together and turned it into wacky and wonderful conversations.

I learned to expand the truth, to knead it and shape it to suit my purposes. Where it’s not lying, but rather giving a partial picture, a piece of worldview, with selected information, because the remainder is not relevant, too distracting, or just opens up too much hurt.

And now, for a living, I write. I write things that would make my hero, E.B. White, retreat into his barn in Maine and not come out. I adapt myself to styles and tone, put out the required number of words (this is sometimes easier, sometimes harder), and worry over grammar. (Not everyone does, you know.)

But I feel freer, being able to shape words to market something, to teach something, to incite a “call to action,” or to invite responses. Not everything has to be so staid or measured or exacting. My children, so different from each other, prove that there are multiple interpretations of everything and that everyone needs to find their own truth. Blurry lines help me to be there for both of them, to support while deflecting and distracting.

It took me a while to get here, to the last fourth of my thirties, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

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