Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When you have "those days"

Yesterday was one of "those days". You know, the ones that pass in a blur - the baby is crying, the phone is ringing, a thousand of things demand your attention and you can't do anything... by midday, you are ripping your hair out. By the end of the day, you are exhausted and can barely hold up a sane conversation with your husband before you crawl into bed.

When "those days" happen, it's important to remember: it's not everyday, and tomorrow will probably be much better. All you need is some strategies to keep afloat for the next several hours.

Make a plan.
However small, short-term and unambitious it may be, a plan will help you feel you are in charge of the situation. When you say, now I'm going to make beds, and later wash the dishes, and then you go ahead and do it, you feel... hey, I'm still able to think!

Make a list of the things you have accomplished. Often, at the end of a day, it seems as though you did nothing. But when you think about it, you realize that you made the beds, washed the dishes, took out the garbage, cooked dinner, packed your husband's lunch for the next day and swept the floor. It might be less than you wanted to do, but it's not "nothing".

Be inspired. Do you have a book, web site or blog that encourages you on your journey as a wife and mother? Take a peek at it whenever you have time during the day, or even just keep its main ideas in your mind as you work (or race around). Some ladies keep daily homemaking journals or notebooks of inspirational quotes, which is a great idea. If you have a friend who understands and encourages you, and you can steal a few minutes to talk on the phone, that's even better - but it doesn't often happen on "those days".

Welcome your husband. When he comes home from work, remember he probably had a hard day as well. He had been away from home all day, and he has to keep up with the expectations of a boss and/or co-workers and/or clients. Even if the house is a mess and there's no dinner, smile at him. It will make all the difference in the world.

Unwind. It can be a bowl of ice-cream you and your husband share once the children are in bed, or a few pages of a good book, or simply sitting outside for a little while - anything that helps you relax.

Pray.
The Almighty can get us through anything, so surely He can get us through "those days". Pray to be calm, patient, devoted and loving throughout a difficult day.

And remember, "those days" don't last forever. Someday, maybe even tomorrow, you'll look back and smile. Just be easy on yourself, your husband and your children. It will pass.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A young wife's vision

When I started writing here, I was in the final year before completing my degree, and already very disillusioned with the idea that feminine happiness can be achieved through a mad race of trying to keep up with a career, family, marriage and home - all at the same time. I knew I just wanted to be a wife and mother, raise my children, and through my daily works give my family a peaceful life. On the outside, I was a promising, successful, educated young woman on the verge of a blossoming career. On the inside, I was a traditional, heart-at-home aspiring housewife.

Now I'm a stay-at-home wife and mother, blessed to be married to a wonderful man who appreciates my efforts at home and has a sound and realistic perspective on how the movement of women out to the work force affected individual families and society as a whole in less-than-positive ways. I live in a little house surrounded by a little garden, and am busily occupied by issues such as: how to raise a family and nurture a home on one income, how to cook healthily and frugally, how to be more efficient with house work.

I still have a lot to learn about the basics of keeping home and other, more subtle domestic arts. Because I didn't have much background in this while growing up, I think I will keep learning in years to come. I'm not anywhere near perfect, but I do love to cook, work in the garden, catch a quiet hour here and there knitting and/or crocheting and/or hand-sewing. I'm passionate about growing as a person through marriage and motherhood.

And I think that only now, I'm starting to truly feel the social pressure most, if not all women today face if they dare to remain at home for their husbands and/or children, rather than be out working. When my degree was all finished and done, I was already very pregnant. Then I had a baby. Shira is not six months old, but I think 90% of babies her age are already staying with a nanny or in daycare around here. More and more, I find myself having to answer questions, such as: why aren't you working? Aren't you bored at home? When are you going to do something useful with your life?

And more: don't you feel a hint of panic when you see all your peers working and gaining experience, while your education is slowly using relevance because you aren't keeping up? What if something happens to your husband and you need to establish yourself in the work force not this year or the next, but 15 or 20 years from now, when it's too early for you to retire but too late to do anything with your education? What will you do then?

Staying at home does not come without challenges. I enjoy society, but I'm also a natural introvert, so making acquaintances isn't easy when company isn't pushed on me (like it was in school). I can get lonely but it isn't easy for me to reach out and make friends. Sometimes I'm discouraged because I can't keep up with a schedule, or because I have a seemingly never-ending list of goals and I can never accomplish more than a fraction of it. But I'm definitely not bored. I'm busy and challenged, intellectually as well as physically. No, it doesn't take much brains to do the laundry or wash the dishes. But it does take lots of effort and thinking to direct this enterprise called "home", and it's certainly challenging to try and find more efficient and economical ways of doing it.

Yes, something might happen to me or my husband one day. God alone is unfailing. My husband is human. However, I think it's hardly constructive to let my life be directed by fear of what might happen. I can work outside the home, limit my family size and give up all the precious early years of my children's lives, thinking I'm being wise and preparing for what might come in the future. And what if, in 40 years, when both my husband and I are retired, I see the years of our lives stretching behind us and realize that I have given up our dream and vision out of fear? What if I end up telling myself - oh wait... nothing happened after all. We could have made it on one income. We could have had something different than this mad rat race we've lived in... why did we give up? What a bitter thought it would be! I want to be guided by love and trust in God, and by my husband's leadership... not fear.

I'm not saying being employed outside the home is ever and always wrong in all circumstances. But if you and your husband are in agreement that it would be the best for your family, and the only thing that is stopping you is fear of possible (present or future) financial hardships, or concern of what others may think, there might be ways to make it happen. It isn't wrong to try and secure the family's future in case something ever happens to the main provider. If you are worried, you may want to invest extra in a good insurance, and/or keep up the wife's qualification for something she might do in the future.

Paying attention to what others think may seem shallow, but it can be honestly overwhelming. If all the women in your family work, if your in-laws raise eyebrows every time they hear you are still at home, if everyone is asking when, finally, you're going to do something useful, if the overall feeling directed towards you is that of concern and pity, no wonder a woman is pressured to leave her home. It's so important for every wife to pray and to consult her husband.

I'm just a beginner along this path of wifehood, motherhood and building a home. Often people write to me and ask for my insight on various matters, courtship, marriage, education for young women, raising children and faith. When I write back, I always begin by saying that I'm a young wife and the main focus in my life right now is learning, not directing others. I'm often overwhelmed when I think about how much there is still to learn. I can only pray that as long as I strive to be the best wife and mother I can, I will be fine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A new week

Well, believe it or not, my amazing husband was able to fix the computer so I'm back - I sure hope it doesn't crash again anytime soon. Yes, being married to someone who understands all about computers certainly has some very special benefits! Now I just have to get busy making backups in case something like this happens again.

***

In the meantime, I'm going to continue the story of Becky, the modern teenage girl who unexpectedly landed in her aunt's traditional homeschooling family...

That's it. I'm doomed. Where do I start? With the worst, I guess. It turns out that instead of taking my clothes, I picked up Grandma's suitcase, the one where she keeps old scraps of fabric. My jeans and tops! The cute little strapless dress I only bought three weeks ago! My blue mini-skirt! Catherine, on the other hand, was very happy about getting Grandma's old fabrics and immediately set to making a patchwork quilt out of them.

Of course, I immediately wrote to Grandma and asked her to send my clothes along. But until the package arrives, I need something to wear. Catherine very generously offered me to borrow her clothes. I can just as easily wear a sack over my head, I thought. But as it appeared, she has more normal-looking clothes than the ones she usually wears. Her aunt, Uncle Ben's sister, often sends her packages of clothes that didn't fit her daughters. However,Catherine thinks that knee-length skirts aren't modest enough. I ask you! She usually wears ankle-length skirts and dresses. I thought her legs must look terrible, but no, she's just slightly crazy.

Let's go on. A short description of the house we live in. The first story consists of a large kitchen, a dining room, a sitting room, a laundry room, and Uncle Ben's working room which also functions as a library. On the second story we have five bedrooms (one of them is David's old room, and now Aunt Anne turned it into a sewing room) and two bathrooms. I, of course, was sent to live in the same room with Catherine. Until then she had her own room. I would be really mad if someone was placed in my room just like that, but Catherine acts as though she couldn't be happier.

The boys sleep in one room. Uncle Ben and Aunt Anne have a big soft rug in their bedroom for an enormous labrador named Corny. Rachel has her own bedroom, the smallest. But Aunt Anne said that they "hope to give Rachel a little brother or sister". They are crazy! In their age! They have too many children anyway.

The house is surrounded by a large garden of fruit trees, a vegetable patch and fields. A 15-minute walk will take us to our nearest neighbours - another homestead. What a miserable place.

I was happy about not having to go to school. I thought "home education" is for idiots. But it turns out that I'm not good enough to do the program that is meant for my age! I have to study together with Catherine. Of course, she was over the moon with joy and immediately volunteered to help me. She's so boring.

Studies begin immediately after breakfast. And prayers, of course. I forgot to say they pray every day. Catherine prays twice or even three times a day, it drives me crazy. I told Aunt Anne right away that I'm not going to pray, and thakfully, she let me off the hook. We study for only about two-three hours, but somehow, do more than we did in school.

After classes, there's still plenty of time until lunch. During those hours, Aunt Anne finds something to do for everyone. Uncle Ben (he's an engineer) is in town at this time, or if he's at home, he's working in his office and we have to be quiet as mice if we walk by his door. So Aunt Anne usually sends the boys to work in the garden, sweep the paths or pull weeds, or water the plants. Catherine volunteers (!) to clean up the kitchen after breakfast and helps Aunt Anne make lunch. Rachel follows as if she's glued to them.

Aunt Anne won't leave me alone either. Of course, I told her right away that I'm not used to housework and can't do anything (as if I ever wanted to!) - she didn't believe me. Later, when I broke six glasses in my one miserable attempt to wash the dishes, tried to wash the floor using fabric softener and fruitlessly wasted half a box of matches trying to start a fire on the stove, she realized I'm right. But she didn't give up, and gives me all sorts of boring jobs, such as sweeping the floor, dusting and watering the plants in the garden. I'm so glad my friends can't see me right now.

After lunch, as far as I know, normal people do normal stuff. At home, I would finish my homework as quickly as possible, and then I would go out with my friends or my boyfriend. We'd go to the mall or movies, and if it wasn't a school night, we could be out nearly all night long. Sometimes we'd have slumber parties with my girlfriends. Here, of course, there's none of that. These people don't even have a TV! Catherine explained to me that Aunt Anne and Uncle Ben believe that TV is a bad influence. And it seems she agrees. I told you they're crazy.

They have a computer and internet, though. But each of the children has a one-hour-per-day limit of using it. Not that I would have time for more - there are seven people in the house, and Uncle Ben uses the computer for work. Anyway, after lunch there are still many, many hours until evening. Oh well, I thought, at worst I could stretch out on the couch reading a book, sleep a bit, paint my nails or listen to some music. But no. Can you guess Aunt Anne's motto? "Children should always be occupied!"

So Sam plays the flute, Nathan plays the violin, and Catherine plays the piano. They do this about an hour or two after lunch. Later the boys and Rachel have play time until dinner. Catherine has all kinds of weird hobbies to keep herself busy during that time - sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery. My Grandma would have been proud of her. Later she helps Aunt Anne make dinner and set the table. I have nothing left to do but read. But it's not like I have too much to read, either. There are plenty of books and magazines in the library, but no juicy love stories or good detective stories, or anything interesting at all. They have shelves upon shelves of holy books, biographies, art books and classics. Believe it or not, I'm so bored that I'm getting through the works of Tolstoy.

Twice a week, Catherine visits the neighbours and gives their children piano lessons. They pay her a bit for that. I forgot to mention children here get no allowance, not that we'd have anywhere to spend it.

After dinner, we're left alone perhaps for an hour or two. After that it's bath time and bed. We're sent to bed early, at about ten. Which is about now. Good night!

PS: I hope my clothes arrive soon!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finding freebies

A short announcement: our computer died an unexpected and untimely death. I do hope my husband will be able to revive it somehow, or at least to retrieve the data from it - there are hundreds of photos, music and audio files, e-books and more, with no backup elsewhere. Anyway, until then, I won't have a regular internet access so I don't know if, when and how much I will be able to blog and/or answer emails.

Today, I'll answer a reader's question. Someone asked me how we get so much free furniture and other things. We love giving old things a new life in our home: I think we only have two items of furniture in our home that are new - our bed and the closet in our bedroom. A few more items were bought second-hand, and the rest we got for free. The result: we have a happy household that lacks nothing, and for very little money, too! All it takes is just a bit of creativity.

Look at stuff that people are throwing out. Yes, I mean things that are labeled "trash". Sometimes the items that are thrown out are in perfectly good condition. Just one example: a family in our village downsized their household by moving into a smaller home. As a result, they had quite a few bits of furniture they simply had nowhere to put. We got some free bookcases which I love, and a closet very cheaply.

Use your network. Don't be ashamed to let people know you will accept old furniture (or whatever it is that you need). Many will be more than happy to let you have items they no longer use, if you are willing to come and pick them up. Also, let your friends and family know what you are looking for. Who knows, maybe one of them will spot precisely what you need. Our fabulous dining set was noticed and reserved for us by my sister-in-law.

Join a website, forum, or group for swapping and recycling. In Israel, we have http://www.agora.co.il/, I know similar sites exist for other countries. Give away what you don't need anymore, and take what other people are giving away. During my years in the university, once in a while we had a day on campus when people would bring old clothes, books, jewelry, decorative items and more, and anyone could take what they wanted/needed.

Of course, passing items down and "inheriting" old items is much easier in close-knit communities. If you never say hello to your neighbours, how will you know they have a lovely antique-looking coffee table they want to give away because they bought a new one? Just one more reason why a strong community is good for you!

Be creative; look for stuff people are giving away. Give away what you don't need. Reuse, recycle, and restore. Fight consumerism.

I do hope to visit with you again soon, but I can't know for sure when it will happen. At least, if I disappear for a while, you will know why. Having no computer is a blessing in many ways, such as saving time and getting more done, but internet is a useful tool that allows me to research different topics and connect with friends easily. I will miss it until we have it back. I will certainly be back, though!

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Marriage as tikkun midot

Why did the Almighty create marriage? Wouldn't it be easier and more convenient if He made us sexless, or able to reproduce by pollination like some plants, or at least without the yearning to settle into families?

Or, without wandering into the realm of science fiction, why couldn't He make marriage easier? About one third to one half of all couples (the statistics differ around the world, but nevertheless, compared to previous generations the number is astounding) end up in the divorce court. How many of those couples explain they drifted apart while using the vague term of "incompatibility"?

There is such a matter as compatibility. Yet I'm convinced that in some, perhaps many cases, what people label as "incompatibility" can be more accurately described as "inconvenience". How so?

The Almighty did not design marriage so we could have an easy time. Should my spouse love and accept me as I am? Yes, but it doesn't mean we're not supposed to be challenged to improve ourselves. In Hebrew, it's called "tikkun midot", which can be roughly translated as working on one's character.

My husband is not "convenient" to live with. A marriage of convenience would allow me to continue with my old ways, to fall into my old habits. To continue spending my life in a comfort zone. But my husband is just right for me in the area of "tikkun midot", because he challenges me to improve precisely in the areas that want improvement. I'm challenged to develop in ways that have previously been neglected.

My husband makes me confront my fears and doubts. He makes me double-check old, long-formed opinions. With him, I'm motivated to do a great deal of soul-searching. It isn't convenient. It is often painful. But it is so important for my growth as a human, as a woman, and a child of God. I feel I have grown so much in the year we have been married.

Am I "losing myself", then? Yes, probably. I'm losing my old self, as I'm most definitely not the person I used to be. My husband is losing his old self too, and we are both molding and changing as we meet new curves along the road - of marriage, family, motherhood, fatherhood.

It's a winding road, and sometimes there are bumps. Sometimes we can't just fall back in our seats and relax. Sometimes we must teach ourselves to hold on to keep from falling. And this holding on, I'm convinced, is a big part of what tikkun midot is all about.

Edit: It turns out Karen wrote a post about married life too, and a very interesting one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My random wish list for the home and garden

I think many of us have a vision of the house they would like to live in - perhaps the dream house of your childhood, with the fireplace and the large garden and the old trees surrounding it. But even in our real-life, less-than-perfect house, we can dream and make projects, which s-l-o-w-l-y, bit by bit become accomplished and turn the home into a nicer, more welcoming place to be, a place where we feel nurtured and comforted. Sometimes it doesn't even take big things to make it happen.

It's especially important to me to keep vision of the home now, as a new mother, when I often feel as though I'm chasing my tail to get even the most basic things done, and sometimes think as though my house will never look the way I envision.

So, here are some things I would like to have accomplished in my home and garden:

~ More storage space in the kitchen. This one is on top of my list. My kitchen is in such shortage of storage space that I can never have it properly organized, and there are many dishes, pans and utensils that we bought or got as gifts that we don't use yet because there's simply nowhere to put them. A set of nice, new kitchen cabinets would make me so happy.

~ I would like curtains to be put up in Shira's room and in the kitchen. Curtains are the final touch that puts such a homey feeling to a room. I was so thrilled on the day my husband put up the curtains in our living room and bedroom.

~ More flowers planted in the garden. And vegetables. I have time to tend to the trees and the grape vines, but otherwise, we are very behind on all our plans to plant.

~ Painting the walls. Two of our living room walls are a warm terracotta color, it's a nice earthly color and I like it, but lately we thought it over and realized it makes our living room look even smaller than it actually is. It would be so nice to freshen up the walls. We are talking perhaps light blue.

~ Ages ago, my husband bought a cabinet for under our bathroom sink, but haven't had time to fix it there yet. It will be so nice when it's finally done.

~ Lamps for our bedside tables. It would be so nice to read in bed, then switch off the light without having to get up.

These are just some things off the top of my head. What's on your wish list?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Flipping more pages in the diary

Today I'm going to continue writing out Becky's story, the first part of which I published last week. Thank you for expressing your interest in reading it.

I got several questions about why there aren't enough descriptions of setting and details. The answer is simple: what I'm publishing here is a sketch, and I'm thinking about details as I write. There are many parts about which I haven't decided yet. For example, I went back and forth trying to decide whether Becky should be Jewish. Making her non-Jewish would perhaps appeal to a larger audience, but would probably lack authenticity. I thought of getting away with a vague religious identity, but that would undoubtedly raise questions, and besides, it's difficult not to mention anything about such an integral part of people's lives. And if the family is Jewish, how much emphasis I should put on the religious aspect of their lives? And so on and so forth. I'm still doubtful about that last point.

Anyway, here goes the second part...

***

Aunt Anne is nicer than I expected, well, for an adult anyway. She has soft brown eyes which crinkle at the corners when she smiles, and she always looks relaxed and fresh as though she just stepped out of the shower. She met me at the airport and it was obvious she was fighting tears. I was grateful she didn't cry then and there. These days people cry buckets whenever they see me, and it doesn't make me feel any better.

Anyway, Aunt Anne hugged me and told me that she will do all it takes for me to feel "just like one of her own children." She was dressed in an ankle-length skirt and wore a hat, but at the moment neither this, nor the "like one of her children" comment arose my suspicions. Had I anticipated what was to come, I'd grab my suitcases, run to the nearest phone booth, call Grandma and beg her to send me a return ticket.

Uncle Ben was waiting for us in the car. He is a big strong man with a bushy mustache and booming voice, but he uses it (his voice, not his mustache) only when he really needs to. I've never met anyone who talks so little. But at least he didn't cry when he looked at me!

And off we went. "Not far," said Aunt Anne. I looked around. We were driving down a narrow country road, with farms here and there and not a sight of town. Oh no, I thought. Goodbye, movie theaters, malls, night clubs where I could get in with Ted even though I'm not 16 yet. The area is pretty, though. Especially to the taste of those who like Little House on the Prairie. I never fancied it.

It was then that I found out something that cheered me up a lot. I kept thinking - how will I go to school when it's so far? When I asked Aunt Anne, she told me that all her children - and me too - are signed up for a home education program. I could dance with joy! To study at home is nothing like going to school, I can always do nothing and get away with it. Goodbye, school uniform, boring lessons, and annoying teachers!

Finally, Uncle Ben's old minivan stopped and we got out. We were in front of a big old house with a red tiled roof, standing in the midst of a neatly kept garden. I didn't have much time to look around at the old trees and flowerbeds and the distant vegetable patches, because my cousins came out to meet us. Aunt Anne and Uncle Ben have five children - David, their eldest, turned 18 and recently started his first year in college to become a veterinarian. He will only be home for winter break and summer vacation. But the other four - Catherine (14), Samuel (10), Nathan (8) and Rachel (4) still live at home.

Catherine (otherwise known as Rina) is nearest to me in age. Her long braided hair and eyebrows are the color of straw, and she has big round blue eyes. She was smiling from ear to ear when she saw me, as if she has been waiting her entire life to meet me. She was wearing a long and loose cotton printed dress of an impossible style that fell to her ankles. I've never seen a more ridiculous dress in my life. If someone in my class came to school wearing something like that, I'd laugh and ask if she forgot to look in the mirror this morning. But because we just met I bit my tongue and tried to keep a straight face.

- Welcome, Becky. We'll be best friends, you'll see, - said Catherine.

Yeah, right, I thought.

Uncle Ben and the boys took hold of my suitcases, and together we all started walking towards the house.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dealing with immorality and lust

A few days ago, I first found out about the wonderful website called Guard Your Eyes. It was started with the idea of helping Jewish men overcome battles with lust, immorality and porn addiction. However, I believe that the advice distributed there can be helpful to any man and/or family struggling with these issues, Jewish or not.

It is so difficult for men to guard their eyes, and even religious men who have loving wives and a good family life ofter give in to porn addiction. Those who resist the temptation of easily available pornography still have to deal with women who put it all on display at work places or just walking down the street.

I'm not justifying infidelity or impure thoughts. Nothing can justify this. However, I believe it's important to approach the issue with compassion and see what men have to deal with. A typical man isn't geared emotionally like a typical woman. Handsome men don't trigger the same reaction in women as beautiful women do in men, especially when the women go practically uncovered.

If a man is married, lust addiction is subtly (or not so subtly) destroying his marriage and the close bond he might have with his wife. If a man is single, he is setting the foundation for harming his future marriage. Either way it's poisonous for men-women relationships.

Often, the blame is put on the woman: she did not pay enough attention to her appearance, she wasn't loving enough, she didn't display enough affection and attraction towards her husband. While the wife's attitude can certainly help, it is not all. No matter how nice-looking and loving a wife is, she cannot and is not supposed to compete with thousands and thousands of younger women whose bodies were not changed by pregnancies and births.

If you know someone who is struggling with this problem (and sadly, most of us probably do), or have to face it yourself, I encourage you to visit Guard Your Eyes, see the advice for getting rid of lust addiction, and read stories of former addicts. May our marriages be spared this plague.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer challenge: keeping cool

It's mid-June, and summer is officially and undoubtedly here, accompanied by heat and humidity. It's a bit better up here than near the coast line - actually pretty dry, and the nights are deliciously cool - I'm so grateful for that, it's difficult to fall asleep while you're all sticky and sweaty - but we're still in Israel. Our little house accumulates heat during the day, and because not all our mosquito nets are fixed yet, we can't open all the windows as wide as we'd like.

It's very tempting to just push a little button and turn on the air conditioner, but if we do that, I know our electricity bill is soon going to double. After Shira was born, we used the air conditioner heavily to keep our house warm (I know, I know, we could have found more frugal ways, but we were too overwhelmed back then to think about it) and got our biggest electricity bill ever.

Last summer, we lived in a house without air conditioning, and somehow managed. This summer, I'm challenging myself to live as though we don't have an air conditioner - at least most of the time. My husband might turn it on for an hour or so after he gets back from work, but otherwise, I'm designing alternative methods to battle the heat:

~ I keep several bottles of cold water in the refrigerator, and make sure ice trays are full so we can always enjoy a cold drink. I also made a pitcher of lemonade yesterday - very refreshing.

~ Cool showers. Several times during the day, if necessary. Very refreshing as well, especially if your hair is wet.

~ I dress lightly at home - meaning that I wear a skirt made from light fabric, a short-sleeved shirt, and no hair covering. I know it's not always possible for those who have visitors coming and going frequently during the day, but we don't have that many.

~ Baking has been put on hold. Instead of cakes and cookies, I make fruit salad for dessert. I just throw in some chopped pears, bananas, pineapple and dried fruit and berries. Can be served with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.

~ I try to do all my cooking, as well as outside chores such as hanging laundry, working in the garden and grocery shopping during hours when heat is not at its high - early morning or late afternoon/evening.

What are your favorite frugal ways to combat the summer heat?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fresh blossoms

When we moved into this house, I discovered a miniature rose bush in our garden. It was rather forlorn and unkempt.

I watered and pruned it, and it rewarded me with beautiful blossoms.

I just wanted to share this unfurling blossom with you. It's so pretty. I've never had a rose bush before, even a miniature one. I'd love to plant more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More furniture!

We have a new (well, new to us!) set of table and six chairs. The table has an extension that makes it possible to seat eight if necessary.

The table has a few scratches, but I'm not too concerned about that because it will be covered with a tablecloth. The chair seats will need to be re-upholstered or simply covered (I'm leaning towards the second option) because they have a few stains that are difficult to remove.

Otherwise, I love this set. It's sturdy; it's solid wood; and we actually have matching chairs in our living/dining area now! The wood looks decent after polishing, but if we renovate it, I'm sure it will look as good as new.

And the best part? It was entirely free, and even delivered right to our house.
We are still keeping our old table and folding chairs. The table holds fond memories - it was found and rescued by my husband just a few days before our wedding, and renovated by my father-in-law. It's still in excellent condition and very light - will be perfect for Sukkot when we eat outside, or when a few extra seats are needed.
A bit of encouragement for engaged or newly wed couples: none of our living room furniture is new, but it's solid and sturdy and works perfectly well. God provided everything we needed and more. It doesn't have to take a lot of money to start a household, and you can have excellent finds if you just look around a bit.
PS: I forgot to mention this dining set used to belong to a rabbi we hold in high esteem. It makes me so happy when I think about the many blessings that were recited by that holy man at the table which is now ours. I'd like to think that the table carried those blessings with it into our home.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The beginning of a story

All my life, I have been a writer. Apart from keeping a journal, which has nearly always been a part of my day and now takes a form of blogging, I have written stories, sketches of novels and hundreds of poems. I have never tried to publish anything in print, but perhaps, with my husband's blessing, someday I will. In the meantime, in this delightfully busy season of my life, I just enjoy having plots ripen in my head and writing them down from time to time.

And so, one day I thought...

What would happen if a typical, modern, urban teenage girl unexpectedly found herself living right in the middle of nowhere, on a homestead with a traditional, homeschooling family? Wouldn't that be an interesting cultural clash?

It led me to writing the story of Rebecca, a 15-year-old who is bored at school, loves being a slave of fashion, and just started seeing her first "real" boyfriend when all of this suddenly comes to an end.

I thought it could be nice to share snippets of this story here, now and then. Here is the beginning.

~*~*~*~

Hi, my name is Becky, I'm 15 years old, and my parents died in a car accident a year ago. I know it sounds horrible, and it is, but I really would rather not talk too much right now about that last part, because it's all still too painful and confusing. I simply wanted to write a journal of my normal life - or whatever passes for normal these days, anyway.

After Mom and Dad died, I moved in with my grandmother who lives two blocks from our old apartment. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay with her too long, though. Grandma is very old and keeps talking about going to live in a nursing home. Poor Grandma! She seems a decade older ever since Mom and Dad...

Apart from Grandma's, I had nowhere to go. I'm only 15, you see. I'd love to drop out of school and start working, but I know social workers would be right on spot - ah, the poor neglected child!

And then, imagine this, we got a letter from Aunt Anne, telling that they would love to have me come and live with them.

Our family rarely saw Aunt Anne ever since she married Uncle Ben and moved far away many years ago - that was before I was even born. I knew they had five children, but that's about all. Aunt Anne is not a very close relative - my father's cousin. But since both my parents were only children, I suppose this counts for something.

Anyway, as soon as Aunt Anne got a letter from Grandma about our situation, she wrote back and offered to take me in. The letter was hard to read because it was blotched with tears in several places, but Aunt Anne wanted me to come - that was certain.

I began to think. It sounded much nicer than any other alternative we could think of, but it's so far! What about my friends? My boyfriend?..

But in the end, after Grandma and I thought it all over, it turned out that I really don't have much choice. Grandma, sobbing, packed my suitcases. Of course, she left half my stuff out. How can I leave without taking my high-heeled boots, my white leather jacket, my tops and miniskirts and all my make-up? Anyway, I packed another suitcase, kissed Grandma goodbye and boarded the plane. Goodbye, friends! Goodbye, my first real boyfriend Ted! I already began to lose interest in you, but I will still miss you!

To entertain myself during the flight, I decided to start writing a diary. But now I will try to sleep. There are still many hours until we land...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Breastfeeding? I have better things to do with my time!"

Audrey shared this article, titled "The Case Against Breastfeeding", with me. She warned me that "it might make your blood pressure go up", and if you are a breastfeeding supporter, it probably will indeed. However, I was tempted to read it, and once I did I couldn't pass without reviewing this masterpiece. So, go ahead and read the original article if you have the time - I'm warning you, it's long, and you might have steam coming out of your ears by the time you finish.

Summary: Hanna Rosin finds out that breastfeeding takes time, effort and patience, becomes frustrated, and attempts to prove that it really isn't worth the trouble by pointing out the lack of clear-cut scientific evidence. I think the following statement reveals the true spirit behind the article:

"Being stuck at home breast-feeding as he [the husband] walked out the door for work just made me unreasonably furious, at him and everyone else."

While discussing the possible long-term health benefits of breastfeeding, the author says:

"The past few decades have turned up many promising leads, hypotheses, and theories, all suggestive and nifty but never confirmed in the lab."

Researching breastfeeding is difficult, because virtually all we have to rely on are observational studies. We cannot take a group of mothers who would be of the same age, ethnicity, social background, lifestyle and many other variables, and tell one half of them to breastfeed their babies and the other half not to. That would be unethical. So researchers find mostly correlations, and that's something that's easy to second-guess, especially if you're skeptical in the first place.

This kind of ambivalence in research findings is typical in anything that has to do with nutrition, because it's always so complex and involves so many interactions. That's why there are so many fads, trends, and hysterical claims that such-and-such food is a killer or otherwise the ultimate remedy for anything and everything.

But you know what? I don't need scientists to tell me breastfeeding is the best thing for my baby. I'm sure research of breastfeeding will continue, and perhaps revolutionary findings will be revealed, but regardless of whether or not this happens I know my milk is the perfect food, because God made it. Formula can never measure up. It's not only about the milk, either; it's how the babe is nestled in its mother's arms, skin to skin, the naturally longer, more relaxed feedings, and the entire comforting nature of it all.

And yes, it makes me sad and angry when someone flippantly dismisses the rich blessings of breastfeeding and at the same time blames it for the difficulties of the adjustment period that comes with new motherhood:

"And in any case, if a breast-feeding mother is miserable, or stressed out, or alienated by nursing, as many women are, if her marriage is under stress and breast-feeding is making things worse, surely that can have a greater effect on a kid’s future success than a few IQ points."

Right. Just mix a bottle of formula, and there will be no more stress, no night feedings, no challenges of transition to life with a new baby. And above all, we will be equal, because then the father can feed the baby too, and isn't that the most important thing?

I'm not saying all this to inflict guilt, pain or shame upon mothers who for some reason couldn't breastfeed. Not breastfeeding doesn't make anyone a bad mother. Maybe there were medical reasons, maybe the mother didn't have the knowledge, help, support, or whatever it was needed to make breastfeeding successful. Truly, there should never be shameful remarks directed towards any mother who is committed to doing the best she can with what she has. But in love, and only in love, my heart aches for every mother and baby who could have enjoyed the wonderful, miraculous, sweet relationship that breastfeeding is, and for some reason did not.

Breastfeeding is not egalitarian - God, in spite of what would have been politically correct, only gave milk to mothers. Breastfeeding requires patience - you aren't going to be in peace with it if you are constantly on the run, impatiently tapping your foot while your baby is nursing. No, it doesn't fit into the mold of modern life, but it fits perfectly into God's plan for mothers, babies and families.

"Recently, my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?"

Now we are starting to really get to the point: poor women didn't reach their full potential, because they were brainwashed and allowed themselves to be enslaved by breastfeeding. How unjust and oppressive!

"It [breastfeeding] is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way... This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing."

Because nursing a baby isn't meaningful work, you know what I mean? You should only do it if you have nothing better to do with your time. Such as going out there to "hold positions of serious power" (anywhere but in your own home).

Like Audrey said, I feel like my blood pressure is going up indeed. And that isn't good for me or my baby girl. So I'd better get up from the chair now and do something cheerful, productive and relaxing. Shira is asleep, but soon she will wake up looking for Mommy's milk.

And I will hold her, and nurse her, and rock her. Cuddle her and play with her, and comfort her, and make her laugh and laugh with her. And I will be forever thankful. Thank You, God, for giving us such a precious baby, a bundle of pure, sweet joy. Thank You for giving me milk to nourish her, You made it and I hope I will have plenty for my baby. It's rightfully hers and I will continue giving it to her with much love for as long as she wants.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Representing the good works

If you are a full-time homemaker, you might well be the only one on your street, in this day and age when most women work outside the home. In fact, for many of your acquaintances you might be the only stay-at-home wife/mother they know. If you think about it, it means that for many people whose lives touch yours, you are representing the entire concept of being a helpmeet to your husband, a mother at home, a housewife.

It means that your conduct, your spirit, your behavior, and everything you say or do, affect the way people around you - your family, friends and neighbours - think about stay-at-home wives and mothers in general. This really makes you stop and consider the impression you leave, doesn't it?

If you project discontentment, people will think, "staying at home is probably frustrating for her, she should be out working like everyone else". If they drop by for a visit and your home is messy, they will say, "she is lazy - she doesn't really work in her home, she just wastes her time"; and if you dress sloppily when you go out to the grocery store, people will decide all stay-at-home wives and mothers don't care about their appearance because dressing up for their husbands isn't worth the effort.

Such judgment may not seem fair, and it probably isn't, because each family with a mother at home is entirely different, and even those who are excellent, cheerful, prettily dressed homemakers with helpful children have their bad days. But the fact remains, you are someone who, by her entire way of life, is in opposition to the common worldview for most women today.

That's why I always try to seem content when out and about; I don't think I'm being less than honest by doing that, even if I'm not having a particularly good day, because on the larger scale I'm not only happy with my life at home, but consider it a delight, a privilege, and the highest calling.

Often neighbours who work outside the home ask me how I feel about staying home full-time. When I tell them how happy I am, and what a good arrangement it is for our family, some of them secretly whisper to me they wish they could be home with their children, too. Others tell me how they see mothers at work coming back from maternity leave and crying their eyes out because they miss their babies so badly.

Not long ago a neighbour of mine saw me washing our windows on the outside when she came back from work, and told me how sorry she is she never has time to wash her windows. When she took a day off recently, she happily spent it working in the garden and cleaning, and told me how wonderful it felt to be working in her home. Her face shone with happiness. It was obvious to me her heart is at home, but being at home full-time just isn't socially acceptable anymore.

Imagine that one of your acquaintances says about you when you aren't present, "I know a woman who stays home for her family, even though she is well-educated and could get a good job. She is happy, her home is welcoming, and her children are sweet. And she is always so soft-spoken and cheerful. I never thought anyone could be so productive by simply being a housewife." And perhaps one of the people who hears this is a woman who is struggling with the decision of whether she should become a stay-at-home wife; and perhaps hearing that there are other women out there, doing just that and living a happy life at home, might make her lean towards the decision of coming home as well. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Protect her

I look at Shira, peacefully sleeping in her bed, and my heart overflows with love. And I think about everything I need to do in order to protect her, and even more importantly, teach her to protect herself, in the jungle called modern society.

Absurdly, in an age when women are often favored over men in higher education and in the workplace, when a woman can easily accuse a man of rape, and about anything and everything is labeled as "discrimination" women are in danger - more than ever - of having their hearts broken and their lives shattered.

Women bought the lie that purposefully delaying marriage and childbearing, and giving themselves away in numerous relationship with men who have no intention of marrying them, is actually empowering. When such a woman ends up being empty, sad, broken-hearted and lonely, she receives little sympathy. Whose fault is this? Does it matter right now? The important part is that being unprotected left many women scarred for life.

For now my little daughter is carried in my arms. Soon, she will take her first steps, and will hesitantly start to explore the world. And I hope and pray that we can, without suffocating and stifling, help her avoid the worst mistakes I made.

I believe that a girl on the verge of womanhood needs even more, if that is possible, loving guidance and protection from her parents, up to the point of her marriage and starting a home of her own. Our daughters are precious treasures God entursted us with; can we betray His trust? Godly wisdom of parents and elders is more important than prestigious education. How much we must grow spiritually to be able to properly guide our daughters.

Being the mother of a baby isn't easy. It's a priceless gift that comes hand in hand with molding my heart according to God's plan of sacrificial love that takes the focus off oneself. But I expect that being the mother of an older daughter will be infinitely more challenging, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Will I measure up to the incredibly important mission of teaching, guiding, loving, nurturing and protecting her until (hopefully, one day) we will give her away in marriage?

Recently I read two interesting posts about protecting daughters. One of them was written by Mrs. Lydia from "Home Living".

The link to the other post was sent to me by a reader - thank you! It's from a blog I've never visited before:

Raising Girls in the Midst of Cultural Collapse
"How old-fashioned, how primitive, sneer the feminists. Sorry, women. You can burn your bras and run around the business world while outsourcing your motherhood, but true joy is found in serving others, beginning with our own families. Those are the values that make for happy homes, busy and useful girls, and the development of young women whose eyes are on the Lord and not on their bodies."

Both posts, naturally, weren't written by Jewish women, but nevertheless I find them very enlightening.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Breastfeeding update

I would like to start by saying, once again, a big Thank You to all the ladies who offered their insight, experience, wisdom and support last time I talked about our breastfeeding journey. It was so wonderful to hear from you.

I'm writing a little update for those who might be wondering how we are doing. We weighed Shira yesterday, and I'm happy to tell you that she is gaining steadily and well now, at an average rate of about 4 ounces per week. It's not as much as the pediatrician would have wanted, but as long as she's constantly gaining at a reasonable rate, we are fine with that.

More news: Shira went back to nursing at night. I never thought I could be so happy about getting up at 4 AM. I think this has been really beneficial for my milk supply.

I'm still angry and sad that my sweet, happy, active child was labeled FTT, and also about the fact that when our doctor told me "you probably don't have enough milk" she went on and said, "use formula" rather than "do anything possible to get your supply back up". To tell you the truth, I feel cheated and betrayed. Breastfeeding is so, so important, so why aren't we encouraged to put up a fight to keep it up?

Kellymom is a wonderful breastfeeding online resource, which I'm sure many of you are already familiar with. It's so helpful for nursing mothers. Here are a few especially informative articles about weight gain and milk supply:

Increasing Low Milk Supply
How might I increase baby's weight gain?
Is Baby Getting Enough Milk?

Moms, eat well, drink plenty, and nurse often! Happy breastfeeding everyone.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Just a few random notes

~ All last week, our internet connection was elusive, at best. I'd write a post and sometime during the day, I would have a window of about 15-20 minutes to publish it and read the comments, and then it was gone again. So I'm terribly behind on email upkeep again. It will take time to get through them all - I do hope you understand.

It was, however, a hidden blessing as well, because the past week was especially busy in our household, and not having the temptation of internet meant that a couple of extra projects got done.

~ We're away from home again this week, so the second half of the week and weekend will be super busy once more - and then, finally, I hope to be back in the swing of things.

~ I want to send a heartfelt thank you to all the dear people from all over the world who wrote to me during the past week and expressed their love and support for Israel. It was so heart-warming to read all your notes. God bless you.

~ I'm trying to eat more. Stepping on a scale a couple of days ago confirmed my suspicion that all my nice little cushion of extra weight has melted away. Nursing burns calories, and I'm not experiencing any of that famous increase in appetite. Being a vegetarian doesn't make this any easier. I do, however, want to gain just a bit to maintain my milk supply, so I'm enriching my diet with healthy fats. Tehina is one of the little extras I've been eating - rich in calcium, too. Olive oil, avocado, and yes, just a wee bit of butter will become my friends too.

~ I hope all my American readers had a good time celebrating 4th of... er... June?! Is it June? Thank you for telling me! Keeping up with two calendars is definitely a bit too much. ;-) Maybe I should give it up altogether and just wish us all a happy summer (unless you're one of the dear friends in Australia or New Zealand).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Modern medicine and its shortcomings

During my years in university, we were taught to idealize (and idolize) Western medicine as the ultimate, unfailing solution to any and all problems. But after observing different situations, both during the period when I worked in a hospital and in my own life and the life of my dear ones, I suffered a grave disappointment when I noticed the many shortcomings of modern medicine, such as:

* Unwillingness to recognize anything that isn't going strictly by the book as a possible variation of normal, even if life presents such situations again and again.
* Inability to provide real solutions to a variety of problems, yet looking with contempt at other, "alternative" methods of treatment.
* Ignoring everything – any tendency, remedy or treatment - that hasn't been tested and proven by extensive scientific research. This, while failing to notice that research findings seem to change every few years, and also that most researches are funded by someone, which is why many of them aren't exactly neutral in their leanings.
* Too little focus on the individual patient; too much on the symptoms – and system.
* Routine treatments which aren't carried out for the benefit of the patient, but rather for convenience, yet the patients don't know it to be so.

The last point is something I had to face while giving birth. I was progressing slowly but normally, and was in absolutely no distress or danger. Yet I was offered pitocin to induce a faster onset of labor, while being told I "cannot occupy a delivery room for too long". Yes, I was offered something potentially harmful for myself and my baby, out of pure convenience. It still makes me angry every time I think about it.

There is also a lot of scare-mongering done to patients to prevent them from thinking independently and reaching informed decisions. For example, when I refused the aforementioned induction, I was told I'm taking a risk because I'm "late" (according to the highly imprecise weeks count). When I pointed out that according to my first ultrasound, my due date is today, what I said was brushed aside. I was so happy I still had enough self-confidence to just grab my belongings and flee; I had a natural, uninterrupted birth 12 hours later.

Many of the current medical guidelines are based on epidemiological studies, and therefore are focusing on the system instead of the individual patient. I think routine child immunizations are a good example of this. Take the immunizations given to all newborns while still in the hospital. Why would it be good for our child to be vaccinated so early? As much as we tried to get a coherent reply from the medical staff, we didn't get any. Our suspicion was that vaccinating newborns is done simply to make sure everyone does it – which is much easier to do while babies are in the hospital. Might be good for the system, but for the individual child? I'm not so sure.

I'm writing all this not in order to start a doctors-bashing discussion. Thank God for doctors, for modern medicine, for hospitals and for medical treatments which save lives every day. However I still believe that there are many areas where the advice of health professionals is seriously lacking. I believe it isn't rude, or reckless, or arrogant to practice independent thinking and reach independent decisions. It's your right and responsibility and no one can take that away from you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What we are creating

An often discouraging part of the homemaker's work is that most of our daily tasks are never "done". Cleaning, cooking, bathing a child, changing a diaper, pulling weeds in the garden - all these are things that will have to be done again, and again, and again, and somehow aren't appreciated enough.

Lots of guilt is heaped today upon women who choose to stay at home; guilt for not being productive members of society, for taking advantage of our hard-working husbands by not providing a second income, for not spending our time in a worthwhile enough manner. I think women who are labeled as potentially successful by the world's standards are given especially much grief for "opting out". This heavy burden of guilt and nagging worries and "what ifs" prevents women from truly enjoying what can be a blissfully content, beautiful life in their own homes. I took a lot of grief for not being ambitious enough, before I realized that perhaps I'm not meant to be ambitious at all, and just desire a family and a home of my own.

We are definitely doing work which must be done. If I'm not at home to clean and cook during the day, it will have to be done in the evening, which will chop away at our family time. If I go to work, my baby won't take care of herself - I will have to hand her over to someone else, most likely another woman, and pay for it. But so often, it may seem as though we aren't really creating anything with a long-lasting value; as though the results of our work can hardly be seen.

However, this is simply not true. Every day, without even noticing it, simply by being loving wives and mothers and being there, we are creating memories:

~ Memories of a tired husband who is so grateful to come back from work to a loving wife who has been waiting for him and has hot dinner on the table;
~ Memories of happy children whose mother was always there for them. It might be normal today for children to be away from their parents most of the time, but my husband told me he still remembers how his heart broke when his mother took him to kindergarten as a 3-year-old.
~ Memories of an entire family, spending time together in a comforting, nurturing atmosphere of a home.

Yes, the floors might become dirty once more, the food we cooked will be eaten, the laundry will need to be done again and again, the children need to be bathed every day and so the work isn't "done"... but the memories are created forever! Memories of togetherness, of a cheerful attitude, of contentment and love.

Every day, I see my little girl's face light up in happiness whenever she sees me. I don't think she would have been equally happy in the care of a stranger. She trusts me and needs me, at this point of her life, more than anything in the world.

Today, my husband told me, "how wonderful it is that you didn't buy into the feminist lies that a woman must work outside the home". Yes, I have the gift of a tremendously supportive, loving, appreciative husband. And I know I'm doing right. Not perfect, but right, by being where I'm needed most and learning to give all I can.

PS: An unrelated note - I wanted to ask you all to email me only at domesticfelicity@gmail.com ; I'm woefully behind on answering emails anyway, and keeping up with two accounts is simply too much at this point!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

To be children

In response to my post, "Blessings of closely spaced children", I received several comments stating that when there are many children in a family, close in age, the older children are forced to grow up too soon, by necessity, and thus are essentially deprived of their childhood.

After reading the impressions of several different people, all along the same lines, I felt the need to write a follow-up post and say that I'm all for children being children. Children should be given the gift of a carefree childhood, with plenty of time to explore and create. The main burdens of a family, of teaching and training the little ones, should not fall on the children's shoulders. Children, even older ones, are not supposed to serve as a substitute for parents and such a situation would not be healthy for anyone.

However, I don't think it's right to say, "it's irresponsible to have many children if you cannot do all the housework yourself", or "children should be free from responsibilities". Children love to help. Children want to help, and there's nothing wrong with delegating age-appropriate tasks. It will allow children to feel important and valued members of the family, and will give them important practical skills which they will be so thankful for in the future. If a child is taught to pick up after himself, he will think twice before throwing heaps of clothes, toys or books on the floor. If a child dislikes eating vegetables, he might be more enthusiastic if he is encouraged to participate in making salad. You might ask why I am so certain; well, I simply remember myself as a child.

I wasn't taught early enough to work around the house, and being an only child didn't help either. And so I reached the age of twenty without knowing the basics of cooking, cleaning or laundry. I was still living at home and at that age, I could have been a great help to my mother for a number of years already; instead, I was still a burden. I'm so thankful that I had the inspiration to spike up my homemaking skills shortly after that, and reach marriage (only two years later) knowing at least the basic essentials.

In my opinion, it's all about finding a balance. Participating in running a home and teaching younger siblings is good for a child; becoming a parent substitute is not. When an older daughter becomes her mother's right hand, she's not being exploited, she's preparing for marriage.

I don't mean to say, either, that an only child will necessarily be spoiled and irresponsible; I have seen many examples of the contrary, too. And if children aren't spaced closely, it doesn't mean they won't be friends; my husband is one of five, none of whom are spaced closer than 3 years, and they are all great together. I love being to family gatherings with everyone; the gift of nieces and nephews, through marriage, is something I didn't know I would have.

It is my most sincere wish that, no matter how many children we are blessed with - whether Shira will have no siblings, or a dozen - we will raise them for the glory of God and enjoy many years of tender love and friendship together as a family.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Being the mother of a small baby

Our culture is supremely concerned with weight. Overweight men and women are made to believe they are ugly, weak and good-for-nothing. I had a taste of the other side of the coin, when Shira's pediatrician decided that since she isn't gaining weight at the expected rate, we must supplement with formula.

Shira, indeed, has been gaining weight very slowly after her first month. However, we didn't see anything unusual in her behavior, and she was definitely growing in length and outgrowing all her clothes so I thought we're fine.

I always breastfed on demand and never gave any bottles and/or pacifiers. Thinking back, I probably had a dip in my milk supply after Shira started sleeping through the night at 2 months. We never pushed sleeping through the night by methods such as letting her cry, introducing a pacifier when she wanted to nurse, or any other way, but we let it be. Now I think it was way too early for her to night-wean, but I was so tired back then that I just took every bit of sleep I could have. Setting the alarm clock and waking up in the dead of night while my baby was sleeping peacefully and I could be sleeping too was simply too much for me at the time.

Another concern of mine was that I've read a breastfeeding mother must keep on at least a small, minimal "cushion" of extra weight in order to maintain an abundant milk supply. As much as I tried, I just kept losing weight. I was living the dream: when Shira was two months old, I had lost all my baby weight and had a little one who was sleeping through the night. But I would gladly go a size up and be awake five times a night, if necessary, to ensure my baby's well-being.

I asked the pediatrician if night weaning was what might have caused a dip in my milk supply but it was obvious she couldn't care less. She told me that she was only able to nurse her son for 10 weeks and that was it - for some women, milk "just dries up" and we're endangering our child if we won't supplement with formula. Of course, from numerous examples I saw, I knew that supplementing can very soon become a substitute for breastfeeding. Shira is so young and I so hoped to nurse for at least a year!

The pediatrician classified Shira as FTT, which made me feel terrible. I, as you know, was firmly set on exclusive breastfeeding and decided to give it my best - and perhaps last - shot. I started offering the breast even when Shira wasn't showing signs of hunger. I nursed her for comfort and nursed her to sleep. I tried breast compression. I started taking fenugreek. I tried pumping between feedings but it was so slow and frustrating that I thought it makes more sense to just nurse often, especially since Shira has no problem to nurse.

Other than her weight, Shira always seemed to be a happy baby - she's calm, alert, active, playful, smiley, giggly and is developing very well for her age. She has never been ill so far. She makes plenty of wet diapers. She grabs things, plays with toys and started rolling over freely at 4 months. Her blood work and urine came back just fine. Everyone who has been around her notices what a very sociable, communicative, company-loving baby she is.

I nursed and nursed and nursed, nearly all day, for as long as she would take the breast and at our next appointment the pediatrician was pretty happy with her weight gain, but then we had a "control feeding" (weighed her before and after feeding) and she gained only 20 gr (less than an ounce). I did feel she just nibbled through that feeding, but the pediatrician told us we must supplement with formula and to come back every day to check Shira's weight. They wanted to give her a bottle of formula right then and there, to make sure I know how to do that, but thankfully, they had no samples on hand.

After that appointment I went home and cried my eyes out, and then called the local La Leche League hotline. The lady who answered my call told me that I don't need to be worried about that one unsuccessful feeding, because breasts aren't bottles that refill at exactly the same rate at all times, and perhaps my baby takes just a few big meals during the day and the rest is "snacks" and it's normal. She also told me that since both my husband and I are tall and lean, it's natural that our baby tends to have the same constitution, and that we have to remember breastfed babies don't grow as fast as formula-fed at this age, and also that it's pointless to check baby's weight every day because it just leads to fretfulness. She told us that even early introduction of solids doesn't undermine breastfeeding like supplementing with formula and so we should avoid it if at all possible. And that I should just keep doing what I have been doing - nurse, nurse and nurse.

I also asked counsel from a couple of friends who are/were breastfeeding mothers, and am so grateful for them sharing their experience, specifically with slow weight gain which later resulted in perfectly healthy, normal children (without having to switch to, or supplement with formula). I also read several breastfeeding stories such as this one, which confirmed my belief that it's possible for babies to be misfits concerning growth charts, and still be following their own version of normal. Yes, it's very cute when a baby has big round cheeks and chubby legs, but it doesn't mean that lean babies cannot be just as healthy and well-developed.

My mother instinct told me my baby is fine and healthy, but we were under so much pressure. Everyone in the family told us how thin Shira looks. My mother kept comparing her to her friend's grandbaby (who is formula fed and doubled his weight by 2 months). Of course we weren't going to give her formula because of what others think, but we were seriously concerned. I've been feeling so terrible about Shira's poor weight gain, almost as though I'm a failure as a mother, to the point of not wanting to see anyone because I'm afraid people will ask me about her weight or point out how small for her age she is.

We decided to forgo obsessive weight check-ups, trust the Lord (while closely observing our daughter for any signs of distress, malnutrition, or dehydration), and simply nurse often. A couple of days later, I rejoiced when Shira woke up to nurse earlier in the morning than she was used to. Every other day, she started waking in the middle of the night to nurse, too. Some parenting books might have warned me about messing up good, convenient sleeping and feeding patterns, but I couldn't care less. I didn't care about sleep deprivation, not getting things done around the house, or not having enough "me" time. All I wanted was to give my baby the best possible nutrition. I trusted my body. I knew I could make milk, and therefore, even if there's a problem it can probably be resolved. I didn't believe what the pediatrician said - that I simply cannot make enough milk and I should just give up. Over the next days, both my husband and I prayed that my milk would be enough and plenty to provide for all Shira's nutritional needs.

I don't want it to sound as though we dismissed the pediatrician's concerns, but I must say I wasn't impressed by her attitude towards breastfeeding. Milk production is a bodily function like any other, not some sort of mystical phenomenon - and when something seems to be wrong, it should be checked, not dismissed. Offering formula as an immediate choice is not a solution, it's a bypass.

Frequent nursing (such as every hour or so), coupled with drinking plenty and a supplement of fenugreek - and lots and lots of prayer - seems to be the answer for us so far. I don't know exactly how much weight Shira gained lately, but her growth is noticeable, even though she is not (and probably won't be) chubby. Last week, my heart rejoiced when my mother-in-law picked her up and commented on how much she seems to have grown, and asked whether I've been supplementing. She was very surprised when my answer was a happy negative.

Our breastfeeding story isn't by any means near the end, but I still thought I would share it because it might be encouraging to another mother who is perhaps struggling with the very same issue. I hope to write a happy follow-up as time passes.

I think it's also important to say that my last intention would be to cause any hurt feelings by writing this, specifically to mothers who for some reason didn't breastfeed or stopped breastfeeding early. Perhaps you were in a similar situation and made different choices. I know how terrible it feels when your very best is labeled as not good enough, and I wouldn't want to do it to any other mother. My purpose is only to offer encouragement and support, which I generously got from fellow mothers.