Monday, April 30, 2012

Parks, zoos, museums and libraries

Last week, I found out that the Midwood branch of the public library has a weekly story time for kids up to age 5.  So, this morning, I corralled the Things, and we went over.  Turns out it was a sort of "Mommy and Me" group with not just stories, but songs and playtime as well.  It also turns out that even Thing 2 was on the older end of the spectrum--most of the kids in attendance were babies and toddlers.
After the story time ended, I took the Things into the main area to check out books.  As we were leaving, I commented to the librarian, "Zoos, parks, museums and libraries--they add so much to a kid's life!"
She remarked snidely, "Yeah.  They're also the first things that get cut."
How depressing.  Parks provide necessary green space in the middle of the steel and concrete of the city.  Kids need time to run around in nature.  Zoos (and I'm including aquariums) provide kids with access to animals they might never see up close.  Museums can open a kid's world to art, history, science, and exploration at a decent price.  And as for libraries--what can be better than free books?
Support your zoos, parks, museums, and libraries.  The kid you aid could be your own.
(Gets off soapbox.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Internet asifa--Who's in charge here?

Well, the BIG DAY is coming up--a day to reinforce our commitment to Orthodoxy at a major New York Area sports stadium.  No, I'm not talking about the Siyum HaShas (although Builder is getting tickets for the whole family, including the Things and Queen Mom).  I'm talking about the Internet asifa at Citi Field.
I wasn't planning on going.  Good thing, too, because the asifa is only for men.
Halachic justifications aside (I guess the mechitza fund was used up for the Siyum HaShas, and they couldn't scrape up another quarter million), I think I know why.  The main talking point that comes up again and again, is that the Internet is the source of tumah.  (For my non-Orthodox readers, the translation of tumah is below):
Of course, we ladies do not fall prey to this tumah.  We're on a higher spiritual level. (Insert laugh/gag/note of disgust here.)
And that's what bothers me.  A man must avoid the Internet lest he develop a porn addiction.  He cannot control his lust in the sight of an uncovered toe, or a wig on a styrofoam stand.  However, HE IS IN CHARGE!  If men have so little self-control (and the Torah is nothing if not self-control), why are they the ones who get to tell us what to do?  Why do they paskin all the shailos?  Why do they get semicha?  Why not let the ladies (who after all, are so much higher and less likely to fall prey to tumah) have some authority too?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy 64th, Israel!

Today is Yom Ha'Atzma'ut!  For 64 years, Israel has been a sovereign state!  May it be so for all time!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The new siddur--a milestone!

As Thing 1 finishes up her Purple Aleph book, I have to wonder what the next step is.  Because Thing 1 does not learn well in a vacuum, she can never become fluent in reading a language she doesn't understand.  This, of course, turns Kriah into the equivalent of Chinese water torture--for both of us. 
So, I started cheating a little bit.  I taught her what a few of the words mean (I would teach her more, but I can barely speak Hebrew either), and how to look for word roots in what she reads.  By doing so, Thing 1 has turned reading into a game.  And we avoid the wailing and gnashing of teeth on everyone's end.
The next book in the Aleph Champ series is the Brown Aleph.  This one, like the Purple Aleph she's finishing up, uses tefillos as reading practice.  (Which makes sense, because kids are usually somewhat familiar with what they hear in shul.)  However, with few exceptions, most of them are completely foreign to Thing 1, and we're back to torture time.  (In all honesty, I can't even read one of them.).  So, while we'll still use the book for practice, Builder and I decided that Thing 1 was ready for her first non-illustrated siddur.  I, of course, had picked out the one I wanted months ago, the Artscroll Chaim Shlomo Chinuch Siddur (Nusach Sefard, of course.)  Builder went and picked it up today.  (Builder prefers buying sefarim at Berman's Bookstore--or as I call--men's territory.  That place scares me!  But it's cheaper than Eichlers.)  Builder thought it was beautiful, but was surprised that I would choose one without English.  But, if Builder can daven in a Hebrew-only siddur, why not his children?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Educational neglect--in school?

As a homeschooler, I am all-too-familiar with the term "educational neglect."  Simply put, every parent must secure an appropriate education for their child as defined by the state.  Living in NY, in order to avoid a charge of educational neglect, I must document that I am teaching Arithmetic, Reading, Writing, Spelling, English, Geography, Science, Health, Art, Music, and Physical Education.  I must document at least 900 hours a year spent on learning activities.  And I must have my children evaluated annually and tested periodically to ensure that they are being taught the appropriate skills for their ages.  Or, I could just put them in school.
Apparently, it's not that simple.
Over at Imamother, there is a thread running twelve pages long about whether or not yeshivas need to teach secular studies.  Apparently, a number of them don't even teach basic English or math, leaving it to the kids and their parents to supply these skills in the evening hours.  Now, judging by the posts, a number of the posters are writing from New York State--which has all those strict rules for us homeschoolers.  In other words, I could circumvent all these cumbersome regulations and essentially have my kids learn nothing by placing them in yeshiva--and I wouldn't be guilty of educational neglect
See, we don't often think of education neglect happening in the classroom.  However, the same regulations that mandate how many hours a day I must spend teaching and what I must teach are apparently not required by institutions supposedly designed for education.  Why not require THEM to teach Arithmetic, Reading, Writing, Spelling, English, Geography, Science, Health, Art, Music and PE?  Why assume, that just because the building is called a "school," that these necessary skills are being taught?  Why not audit THEM for hours of instruction or demand detailed educational plans?  Why give institutions the benefit of the doubt and stick it to homeschoolers?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The attraction of fundamentalism

Why would someone who votes Democratic and was raised as a secular feminist become a fundamentalist?  Why give up jeans and Friday night drives?  Why adhere to laws that date back 3,000 years?  Well, it ain't because I have an affinity for cholent.
Two things I lacked growing up--stability and acceptance.  I was a quirky individual--neither here nor there.  While I could be very liberal on certain issues--gay marriage, women's right to choose, society's need to assist the poor (I spent many years poor), I could also be very old-fashioned.  I never smoked, avoided drugs and alcohol, and believed that there were some things (OK a LOT of things) that a lady didn't do on the first date.  In fact, this lady didn't do any of them until marriage.  Also, I did not use profanity until I was 15, and after experimenting with it for a while, still try to avoid it.  I even dressed somewhat modestly, wearing mostly dark, baggy, fairly gender-neutral outfits.
Fundamentalism certainly provides stability by it's very nature.  After all, we have 3,000 years of tradition to fall back on.  If that isn't stable, I don't know what is.
Acceptance was a trickier matter.  While my clean-living lifestyle is certainly the norm among my female neighbors (a shocking number of Orthodox men both smoke and drink to excess), other areas, like my love for Sinatra, my waxing nostalgic for Appalachia, my reading matter, and my aforementioned liberal bent, are not accepted, except by a few individuals in whispers.  Also, because of my low tolerance for hypocrisy, it's hard for me to accept my fellow fundamentalists when they use racial slurs or try to hondle.  I can't handle JAP behavior, and I get outraged at any reports of wrong-doing.  However, in a lot of ways, this is the closest to any sort of acceptance of a pure lifestyle that I've ever seen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

George Washington, the Hudson River School, and the Samurai

A couple of days ago (after explaining to Thing 2 the difference between "looking" museums and "touching" museums), the Things and I hit up the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I had planned to take them before Pesach, but between PT and cleaning, it just hadn't happened.  This trip, I would keep the map from Thing 1, and we would explore the Armory.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is easily one of my favorite places in the city.  Apparently, Thing 1 likes it too, since going this week was her idea.  As soon as I located the Armory on the map, we headed in that direction.  of course, in order to GET to the Armory, we had to pass through a roomful of medieval sculptures (read--icons).  Of course, Thing 2 noticed the subject matter right away.  "Look, Mama, a baby!"  "That's right, Thing 2, and when you get older...much, much, much, much, MUCH older, I'll tell you all about that baby."  (I'm not teaching my kids about J*sus until they are old enough not to get confused.)  Thing 1 said "Mama, these are idols."
Finally, we reached the Armory.  Both Things were fascinated by the armor, the chain mail, and the armor for the horses.  However, unbeknownst to me, the Met also has a collection of Samurai armor.  I got to explain to the kids that the Samurai were like Japanese knights.  At first, they thought that the armor was scary, then they thought it was funny.  Thing 1 noticed a suit of armor where small plates were actually connected by chain mail.
Also unbeknownst to me, the American Wing opened right off the Armory.  Since we had studied Bierstadt paintings all winter, we decided to see if they had any.  As we got to the area with the paintings, I pointed out the 18-century portraits of boys in gowns.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Washington Crossing the Delaware, and steered the kids in that direction.  To get there, we had to pass through a room of portraits, including Gilbert Stuart's famous one of George Washington.  Thing 2 got all excited.  "Mama, Mama, Geoge Wassington!"  Other patrons were amused that a little three-year-old got so excited by our first president.
After Washington Crossing the Delaware (which is freaking HUGE--took up almost a whole wall), we wandered into a room full of Hudson River School landscapes.  Thing 1 picked out a Bierstadt right away.  Of course, she thought ALL the Hudson River School landscapes were Bierstadt--but she's only five.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When the students surpass the teacher

Today, Builder asked me what would happen when the day came that the kids would know more than me.  Of course, he tossed this question at me as he was leaving--which usually means he doesn't want an answer.  However, I do have an answer for him.  Something besides my tossed-off response about sending them to community college when they're fifteen.
First of all, a little perspective, please.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 are FIVE and THREE, respectively.  The chances that they will possess the knowledge base, or the skill set, of an adult are virtually non-existent for at least the next few years.  (And if, by some miracle, they are smarter than most adults before the age of ten, most schools wouldn't really want to deal with them.)
Secondly, there is a lot more to homeschooling than just teaching everything I know.  That's why there are these wonderful things called curricula.  For Thing 2, we mostly fool around with coloring, cutting, play and stories (again, she's THREE!  I'm not expecting a completely mastery of Shakespeare or the periodic table of elements for a while).  However, with Thing 1 (who would be in Kindergarten, or Pre-1a depending on whether you use public school or yeshiva terminology), I am not averse to planned programs.  In fact, we used Singapore Math and Handwriting Without Tears, both on the Kindergarten level.  She finished both books back in February. We also read through two different primers, McGuffey and Free/Treadwell.  We're still working on Hebrew reading, but she is definitely on track to receive a siddur around Shavout.  As they get older, there is the Ambleside Online curriculum (which I fell in love with a couple of years ago), materials from Torah U'Mesorah and Behrman House, Singapore Math, Life of Fred, Robert Bruce Thompson lab guides, Artistic infinitum.  Not to mention the wonderful learning experiences unique to NYC!  In fact, I would love it if my kids knew more than me!  Nothing would make me happier than my kids surpassing me in any area--history, literature, art, science, Chumash, mathematics, or even the fine art of being human.  To truly homeschool is to give children the ability to love learning, and the tools to learn anything they want for themselves.  And I'm determined to see that they can. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sefirah: A time to learn, a time to mourn

Pesach, and it's accompanying condition known as Pesach brain, is now behind us.  We are currently in sefirah, the seven-week pre-Shavout countdown.  A time when we mourn the deaths of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's disciples, who died because they failed to honor each other.  We remember this tragedy by avoiding music, haircuts, and weddings during sefirah.
Of course, this will have very little effect on us.  Instead of looking at the events (massive deaths due to sinas chinam), we incorporate mourning practices without a second thought.  Ours is not to reason why, and all that.  We instead use this time period by bickering about the exact parameters of sefirah, listening to a capella sefirah music (I once heard a piece of sefirah music done to the tune of Guns 'N Roses "Paradise City".  Weird.), and counting the days to Lag B'Omer, the party in the middle.  And we make the same mistakes. 
Over Pesach, I had a conversation about the different types of Jews out there.  As far as I'm concerned, there is only ONE type of Jews--The Jewish type.  Everything else, Ashkenazi, Sefardic, Chasidic, Litvish, left-wing, right-wing, Conservative, Reform, is all a matter of interpretation.  And, until we understand this, and refuse to be divided over petty hashkafik differences, our mourning will not change to dancing.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mazel tov, Mike Logan!

When I was a teenager, I my favorite show was Law & Order.  (Actually, it still is--I'm saving up for the 20-season box set.)  And my favorite character, or at least the one I had the biggest crush on, was Mike Logan.  Handsome, tough--and perpetually very unattached!  Mike Logan then went on to bigger and better things, because the actor who played him, Chris Noth, went on to play one of the most famous single hotties in television--Mr. Big on S*x and the City.  Television has truly typecast him has the most desirable bachelor in his world.
Well, his single days are over.  Chris Noth is married.  Mazel tov to you and your new wife!  May you have many happy years together!  (I'm certainly very happy--it's not like I'm still holding on to an out-of-my-league crush from FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Equal-opportunity disempowerment

There is a stereotype about fundamentalist women--whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim--that we are perpetually barefoot, pregnant, and chained to the stove.  We are considered delicate little flowers, who dance attendance on their husband's every whim.  And we are married to macho creeps who dictate EXACTLY everything we think, do and say.
Now, I've never practiced any version of Christianity or Islam, so I can't comment on it's family dynamics.  However, I am a practicing member of fundamentalist Judaism.  And, I'm not sure that entire stereotype holds.  Particularly the part about the bossy, macho creep that we are (supposedly) chained to in matrimony. 
The truth is, I don't see men as having many more choices than women.  For the most part, Ultra-Orthodox women are better educated than their husbands, more likely to attend some kind of college, and more likely to attain a career.  Men have few choices, whether it's career path or even spouse (often, he's a victim of his parent's choices as much as his wife is.)  Many men can barely speak English--a real problem in the United States.  Often, his decisions about working, learning, level of education, what to wear, and where to daven have been made for him by his family or community.  Moreover, he's so busy working and learning that he has little time for his family, and not much input on how to raise them.  If he is Chasidic, then they go to school in their Chassidus.  Otherwise, the wife has nearly-complete decision-making power about child-rearing.  And these decisions impact him.  If his wife chooses an expensive yeshiva, he must pay for it.  (I actually know a family where the husband wanted to homeschool the children--and the wife vetoed the idea!  The kids have all been in school since the age of three, and the husband must pay for it.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Silent children

When Thing 1 was about a year old, and at her well-baby check-up, her pediatrician heard her babbling and chatting away (her spoken vocabulary at 18 months was well over 100 words), and said to me, "I can tell you talk to your baby."
"Of course.  Aren't you...supposed to?"
As my kids got older, I noticed a very large difference between them and the other kids on the block.  While my two would talk to anyone and everyone, their little friends...didn't.  In fact, it was almost creepy to be surrounded by children who didn't talk.  (Of course, they could talk--they just didn't talk to anyone outside the family.)  I even once saw a four-year-old cry without making a sound.  My heart broke that a kid that young was too inhibited to cry aloud.
My two were little chatterboxes with everyone, from their peers to our Shabbos guests, most of whom are 60-something bachelors.  It was almost a relief to take my kids to homeschool get-togethers because I was once again around exuberant, chatty kids.
And then, my friend AriSparkles put it into perspective.  She told me that she was surprised that I allowed Thing 2 to talk away when there were other adults present.  (At three, Thing 2 is constantly talking and asking questions.  She wants to be heard, to the point where she'll cover your mouth and say "Be quiet!" when she wants to be heard.)  Apparently, there are families that take "children should be seen and not heard" to an extreme.
To be honest, this scares me.  I am raising two girls who I hope will grow into strong, independent women.  I want them to express themselves.  I want them to inquire about the world around them.  I want them to speak up when something is wrong.  I want them to feel like they are part of the household and the conversation.  Of course, I want them to learn the rules of polite society.  I want them to learn to wait their turn, to say "please,"  "thank you," and "excuse me."  I want them not to talk over people.  But I am not raising silent children.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Titanic: The Movie in ten words

Boy meets girl
Boy loves girl
Ship sinks
Boy drowns

I'm not wasting my money on movie tickets.  The ship's still gonna sink in 3-D