Sunday, July 20, 2008


The school report cards for my two oldest girls came in the mail last week.

I suppose that it's normal for children to have rivalries with their siblings. In that regard, my two older girls are just like everyone else. My oldest, who turned 9 in April, seems to have chosen pestering my next oldest, who turns 7 in August, as her true calling in life. It's always interesting to see the way that they can be buddies one minute, and at each other's proverbial throat the next.

I looked at their report cards. As usual and expected, my oldest received good marks. As usual and expected, my second girl got stellar marks, along with copious teacher notes about what a pleasure it is to teach her, how far ahead of her class she is, we should consider eventually putting her ahead a grade, etc.

Children are individuals, and find a way to define themselves. In many families, one child is the athlete, one is the dancer, one is the A+ student, etc. But what if one kid decides to steal all the titles?

For my two younger children, this is not yet an issue. My son, at 2 years old, is too young to know the difference. He basically has down the concept that he and Daddy are the "boys", and Momy and his sisters are the "girls", and that because of that only he is allowed in the bathroom when Daddy is taking a shower. Beyond that, he has no clue.

My third daughter, at 5, is just about to enter Kindergarten in the fall, so she doesn't have a full grasp of interpersonal rivalry yet, either.

My second daughter has a wealth of gifts. Already mentioned is her intelligence. She is very proud of the fact that she can read "chapter" books. She is also a very talented athlete. She loves to run. Just over a year ago, at the end of her Kindergarten year (she just finished first grade a few weeks ago), her school had a fundraiser where the kids got their family to pledge money for them to run laps around the track at a local college, $x per lap. She ran farther than any other child in her school, except for a single sixth grader. For fun, and special one-on-one time, she wants me to take her down to the track and time her while she runs laps. And all three girls go to dancing school, and my second daughter is the most talented of them.

I don't worry so much about my third daughter. She is beginning to show some of her older sister's academic talent, she is the second best dancer (and has enough enthusiasm for it to close the gap somewhat), and has a personal flair for the dramatic that sets her apart. She won't have trouble making a name for herself. But my two oldest, because they bicker, I worry about them more...

I want my oldest girl to know that I love her, and that I am so proud of her, just who she is. But then I worry that I feel like I am overcompensating, and perhaps not paying enough attention to my second girl, and maybe she does so well at everything because she feels driven to try hard at everything to get my attention over her older sister. Then I worry that I am overcompensating in the other direction, and by making sure to praise and recognize my second girl my oldest will feel that I am neglecting her in favor of the one who seems to be good at everything. And of course, then I worry that I am paying too much attention to the oldest two, at the expense of the younger ones.

It's not always easy. I do the best I can to let them all know that I love them, and I am proud of all of them, and of all of their accomplishments.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trying Something New

We are Trying Something New.

Last week, around Wednesday or Thursday, my wife approached me with an idea. She wanted to enforce a new policy, and needed me to back her up: no computer or TV on Saturdays from now on.

I was raised in a very "liberal" Jewish household. My parents' idea of fully participating in the Jewish religion has always been going to the synagogue twice per year (on the High Holidays in September), lighting candles and eating potatoe pancakes on Hanukah, and eating matzo and matzo-ball-soup on Passover. My wife didn't grow up Jewish at all. She was born into a Catholic family, dropped out of catechism and refused confirmation, and then started her own little 20 year spiritual self exploration.

For the first years of our marriage, I never pushed religion on her. I never asked her to convert to Judaism. I loved her just the way she was. Then, about a year ago, I changed my tune for two reasons: us, and the kids.

I overheard a conversation that started me thinking. A co-worker was discussing the fact that she had gone out and bought cecmetary plots for herself and her spouse so that they could be buried together. I thought about my own future mortality, and the cemetary where my great-grandparents and my grandparents are buried. Someday, (hopefully not for a long time), my parents will be buried there, too. I want to be there someday, so that my children and grandchildren can visit all of us and see for themselves their history in our community. I realized that, unless things changed, my wife and I would have to be buried seperately. Our love is like that of Tristan and Isolde. I could not bear the thought of spending eternity with her anywhere other than by my side.

Second, my children have a profoundly Jewish identity. They are very spiritual and are always asking about the nature of G-d and the universe. They want to celebrate Jewish holidays to the fullest, and to make Jewish ritual a part of their everyday lives.

So, my wife and have started making religion a more overt part of our family's existence. And, with the help of our local rabbi, she has contacted a rabbi at the Bet Din (the rabbinical court in Boston) to undergo an Orthodox Jewish conversion.

My wife is a very smart woman, and an absolutely voracious reader. It is not at all uncommon for her to devour 10 or more books in a week. This religious activity has now provided her with an entirely new course of study, and she is reading and learning all that she can, from a wide variety of authors.

A large part of traditional Jewish practice is the observance of the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or "Shabbat" in Hebrew, is held to be more than just sacred. As the day on which G-d rested after creating the Heavens and the Earth and all that is within them, it is incumbent upon people to do the same. Orthodox Jews won't even ride in a car or answer the telephone. They have a big celebratory dinner on Friday night at Sundown, with blessings over wine and fresh bread, and on Saturday they have a day that is devoted to prayer, study, and time spent together as a family.

I have long held that social and religious practices are like a technology in that they perform a function, and that they persist over time because they "work". In recognition of that, we began having the Friday night dinners over a year ago, and it has been wonderful so far. It makes for a great ending to the week, a night to relax together as a family and reflect together upon the week just past. We often invite over friends and family, my wife has learned to bake the best home made fresh bread in North America - definitely two thumbs up all around.

So now she wanted to take the next step, and make Saturday an exclusive rest-and-family only day. In addition numerous small adjustments, that means two big changes: no computer and no television.

I had honestly thought of this before, but decided not to say anything. After all, she is the one who is going through the trouble of converting. The last thing she needs on top of that is me pushing her too fast and telling her what to do.

Last Saturday was the big day, and it was fabulous. There were no arguments over who's turn it was on the computer, or what show we were going to watch. There was far less squabling in general. Instead, we spent the morning at home together, then walked down to the park. We played games, told stories, and just plain-vanilla spent time together apart from the bustle of the everyday world. No phone calls, no email, no tv news. Just he six of us, and the sunshine, and a little ice cream for a special treat.

Even the kids seemed to like it better. Not only did they fight less (actually a lot less - there were hardly any arguments at all), but they also all got a more full share of my wife's and my attention.

My wife actually woke up Sunday morning and felt like it was Monday, because she never feels that rested after only one weekend day.

We are definitely going to make this or new way to spend every Saturday. Or, excuse me, every Shabbat.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Loving them...

My wife headed up to Maine last Sunday to spend some time camping with her family, and brought the kids with her.

I spent three day alone, and man is it different. I guess it has been so long that I really didn't remember what it was like to be by myself.

Starting with Sunday night... I have mentioned before that the computer is a big deal in our household. Well, on Sunday after I dropped my wife off with her cousin (they rode up together), I basically spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the computer. I went web-surfing, I played video games, I downloaded a new video game off of a website. Nobody told me that I couldn't, nobody needed my attention, and nobody needed a turn.

I went to bed late, and woke up early on Monday morning. And when I woke up, it was like someone had flicked on a switch in my head. I was up. Even though I technically hadn't slept as long as usual - maybe more accurate to say would be that I hadn't spent as much time trying to sleep as usual. Nobody kicked me, or bumped me, or tried to climb in with me because they had a bad dream. I just fell asleep, and slept straight through.

And if I had such a great afternoon, evening, and night, then why did I start to think of my wife and wonder where she was as early as 3:18 Sunday afternoon?

Life has thrown me an interesting curve ball. I had the chance to spend my time doing anything I wanted, and what I ended up wanting is to sit down at the dinner table with my wife and kids.

Before I had kids, an old friend told me that I may have thought that I knew what love it, but I did not. He said that I would love my children more than I thought possible. It would be an entirely new experience. He did't mean anything by it. He said it just as a way of explaining something to me that I had never experienced before. I believed him, I had not reason to doubt him, and fair enough - I never knew how right he was until I had children of my own.

I am a big proponent of individual choice, and leaving people free to make their own decisions about their own lives. And I never give advice. Pretty much every bad decision I have ever made, in both my personal and professional life, has been the result of someone who loved me, and cared for me, and wanted the best for me doing their very best to give me the best thought out advice that they could to to help me be happy and successful, and then me following it. So I am definitely not one of those people who says that people in their 30's and 40's who have been married and never had children are somehow being "selfish". But I can say the my life would be incomplete without my family.

And there was no way for me to know that until I got married, and had children.