Thursday, November 27, 2014

The long, long journey home

I was invited by Urban Compass to participate in their Starter Home project - basically, they ask bloggers to tell the story of their first house/apartment and how they made it into a home by fixing it up, improving it, and adapting it to the needs of their family. I decided to jump in, thinking that a summary of our home saga could make an interesting story.

Back to 2008: we're planning our wedding and looking up and down for places to rent. The clock is ticking - there's only about a month to go until the wedding, and still we have no idea where we're going to live. We nearly purchased a lovely wooden mobile home which was affordable, but we'd need a plot of land to put it on, and that was a problem. Eventually we expanded our search to include the settlements of the Shomron, in which area we reside to this day. 

The first home we ended up renting was a trailer-type temporary home which was, frankly, in awful condition. I remember once in the middle of the night the toilet flooded for no obvious reason, and there we were in our night clothes, trying to fix it. There was no air conditioning and it got boiling hot in the summer. Luckily we knew we wouldn't have to stay there for more than 6 months, so we didn't really invest much in the place. We didn't even have a proper bed at that point: we slept on air mattresses thrown right on the floor. By the time we moved I was midway through my first pregnancy, and the mattress didn't provide adequate support for my back. Getting our bed was a huge relief.

Then there was our second home, of which I will always have fond memories because our first two children were born there (well, not technically there - they were born in the hospital - but they were brought to that home when they were a few days old). We bought it outright, with no mortgage, and there was a great deal to be done to fix it up. Unfortunately, after the purchase we didn't have any money left for fixer-uppering, so we kept delaying that. We lived there for 3 years and didn't even paint the walls once. We did, however, build our first little chicken coop there, which began our Great Chicken Adventure that goes on to this day.

Before we managed to save for fixing up our home, an opportunity came up to move to a place which we fell in love with when we first saw it. From a typical little house on a street full of other little houses exactly like it, we began living out our dream: moved to a stand-alone house on a hillside and became integrated into a small community of an outpost. The space all around us was a huge luxury - from neighbours next door, to no visible neighbours at all. Since that home was rented, we didn't do much in the way of improvement either, but we built a nicer and bigger chicken coop which also served as a goat shed (animals are addictive!). There was a large and lovely balcony with a breathtaking view, and a river that flowed during the rainy season. 

After three wonderful years, we felt it was time to move on. We let our landlord know we wouldn't be prolonging the lease and, about three months ago, moved to the house where we currently live. Here we are, for the first time, doing what I can call major renovations, such as covering the wall paneling afresh. We only started that after we've built a chicken coop, of course. :o) And hopefully other animals will come again too, in their time. My husband loves to surprise. Today he called in the middle of the day and just asked out of the blue whether I'd like a couple of donkeys (donkeys?!). I'm fully prepared for the possibility that I might wake up one day and find an alpaca or two grazing in the yard. 

In this home, we've faced some new challenges, such as dealing with the local wildlife (scorpions, giant yellow centipedes and lots of rodents). There's also an irregular water and electricity supply, which brings out some obsessive tendencies in me, such as washing every dish as soon as it's dirty and running the washing machine in the middle of the night (because then it's less likely everybody else is running their appliances, and so you have less chances of the electricity suddenly fluking out). 

Trite as it sounds, I've come to realize that it's the people who make a home. No matter where we are, when we all sit together around the Shabbat table it feels like home. It's a privilege to have such a lovely place of our own, though. I only hope it will all be fixed up, ready, orderly and clean by the time the baby comes. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Is parenthood a "right"?

There's a lot of talk about the "right" to be parents; as in, people who believe it is their undeniable right to delay childbearing for as long as possible, also believe it is their right to beget children as soon as it is desirable. Recently, there was a revolutionary ruling in Israel, which states the possibility of writing two "fathers" or two "mothers" into a child's ID, as opposed to the usual father/mother option. You can imagine the confusion.

Certain Modern Orthodox rabbis authorize single women in their mid- to late thirties to conceive, without being married, via sperm donation, ruling that the woman's "emotional well-being" and her "natural ambition to be a mother" are reasons enough to bring children into this world - children who will never know their fathers and who will, eventually, know how they were conceived. Somehow, nobody thinks to suggest a simple concept which should make perfect sense to a person of faith (and I presume that those who consult rabbis are women of faith): if G-d desires you to have children, He will send you a husband. If He has not sent you a husband yet, it's part of His plan and your task is to find different ways to fill the void, rather than wilfully insisting on creating an unhealthy situation.

Some will say, "easy for you to say - you got married at 22 and had a baby ten months later!" - which is true. I know, however, the other side of the story. 

I was raised without a father. This, unfortunately, isn't unsual, nor was it unusual throughout history - many children were raised without fathers. Some were orphaned. There was always illegitimacy. But it's worse when a child is raised with the dangerous message that a father - or a mother - is actually dispensable, unnecessary. It's very, very difficult to compensate for the defects of such an upbringing. When I was newly married, I thought I'd defied everything I've been brainwashed to believe, such as that women don't really need husbands, and that a woman who "succeeds" in marriage is one who tramples her husband and makes him do just what she wants. Yet the message was ingrained deeper than I had thought. I was absolutely clueless about what it takes to make a marriage work. Almost seven years later, I'm still learning, and sometimes it feels I'm only beginning to learn how much my upbringing had actually hurt me.

It's criminal to deliberately and knowingly create situations in which children will grow up not just fatherless, but rootless - deprived not only of the physical presence of a father, but also of fatherhood as a concept. Divorce - in its current rampant state - is tragic, but children usually still keep in touch with both parents, at least to some extent. Orphaned children can see still pictures and hear stories of their absent parent, and meet their father's relatives. Children created by a sperm donation will never know any of that. It's worse than being an orphan, or the child of divorced parents.

Motherhood, and parenthood, isn't so much a "right" as a duty. Remember that old-fashioned word? You may have the "right" to purchase a house or buy a new car. But there is no "right" to obtain a child. Children are gifts and heavy responsibility above all. They aren't our property, nor prizes to be woven around in false triumph. G-d made it so that children can only be naturally conceived by a man and a woman. He meant for it to be done in the holy covenant of marriage. Defying that only leads to confusion, disorder and grief. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tell lice to get lost

For the past three weeks, we have been struggling with getting rid of head lice. These creepy-crawlers have become the bane of our existence, with constant treatments, combing, checking, re-checking, hoping we've gotten rid of them all, only to have a child complain of itching again a week later (and sure enough, there they are, which shows we must have missed a couple of nits). For some reason they prefer Shira (though Tehilla has much thicker hair, which you'd think would be head lice heaven). 

I've tried several over-the-counter remedies, and read many tips for home treatments - including smothering your hair in anything from mayo to olive oil to Listerine (by the way, if anyone has a good strategy to share, I'll be most happy to hear it). Today, I came across this article, which not only made me almost choke on my cup of tea with giggling, but also contains some really great tips on thoroughly de-contaminating your children's heads and your home. 

I think a huge factor here is how serious the people around you are about treating lice. When I was a child, back in our "Old Country", lice was considered something to be treated ASAP. Once your parents found some on your head, they freaked out and you were isolated and kept at home (no seeing anyone) until there was no sign of lice or nits and every strand of hair was squeaky clean. Think children spent most of their time in neat little sterile boxes? Nope... almost nobody had lice, because they were always treated on time. Lice were associated with terrible conditions, such as in concentration camps or prisons. In Israel, the attitude is comparably very lax. 

I've actually met some parents who have despaired of ever getting rid of lice completely, and settled on keeping their population down (just so they won't crawl all over the child's face and become a public shame). Their children always have lice, and they rationalize by saying "so what? Everyone has them!". The Israeli Ministry of Education isn't very helpful, with its guidelines which forbid teachers and daycare workers from checking kids' heads (so as not to "shame" anyone), and which declare that no child will ever be sent home because of lice, even if they are live, multiple, and untreated. If one of your children's friends has head lice, it doesn't take much to get an infestation. If left uncontained, it will spread to every person in the house. 

It's either cry or laugh..we hope you laugh

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The true work of feminism

My recent acquisition of a Smartphone enables me, sometimes, to check on blogs without actually sitting behind the office desk and turning on the computer (which I often just can't find the time to do, nowadays). Today, I was lucky enough to come across this fabulous post by Daniel Greenfield, titled "The Unbearable Lightness of Feminism". Here are a couple of select quotes:

"Professional feminists respond to the negative feedback by claiming that feminism is simply equality. But if feminism were equality, women, and for that matter men, wouldn’t dislike it so much.

Professional feminists don’t want to fight rape; they want to fight an intangible “rape culture”. They don’t want to help women. Instead they want to exploit the problems facing women to advance their own agendas and careers. They are part of a movement cut off from ordinary people and rooted in academia. Few women want to identify as feminists, because feminism doesn’t identify with them."

Do take the time to read the entire post if you can. Some of the comments below are very insightful, too. 

All the talk of "equality" is mostly nonsense, because equality doesn't exist in nature or naturally developing societies, and when someone artificially tries to create it, it doesn't usually lead to anything good. Equal opportunities for equally capable individuals who can do the same kind of work equally well, that's fantastic. But usually it goes far beyond that. Examples are not exactly hard to come by:

- Standards of physical performance in the army are lowered in order to enable women enter elite combat units. Thus, the performance level of the entire unit is compromised, in order to stroke the ego of a few conceited individuals who label this as "progress" and "enlightement". 

- Women demand longer, government-funded maternity leave. The money would of course go out of the taxpayer's pocket. And there's no going around the fact that being out of your chosen field for a few years lowers your professional level. No amount of government funding will compensate for that loss of competence. 

- Firing a pregnant worker results in very unpleasant consequences for the employer. This was established in order to protect the right of pregnant women, but the fact is that it's very much abused. Basically a lot of pregnant women consciously decide to put up their feet and relax at work, because they know their employer probably won't dare to fire them. As a result, many employers think twice before even hiring a woman of childbearing age. And from their point of view, they are absolutely right. 

- On the other hand, we are told that government-funded daycare from the earliest age is the answer, encouraging women who are otherwise "stuck at home" to leave their babies in the care of strangers and go do something useful with their lives. Besides the fact that this concept is incredibly demeaning (implying that if a woman stays home with her child/ren, it's only for lack of other opportunities - or, to word it simply, she'll leave her children if only she is paid enough), I wonder if anyone even thinks of the fact that no matter how you slice it, it takes women to care for children. I've never met a daycare or preschool worker who wasn't female. So... yes, of course young children have always been, and will be cared for by women. But if they receive the personal full-time care and attention of their mother, why, that's a waste of resources. 

- When several people apply for a public office, their capabilities are of course taken into question, but... alarm call! Alarm call! We must have such-and-such percentage of women. But what to do if the most suitable professionals applying for the position are all male? Sorry, tough luck. Have to weed part of them out and somehow squeeze a woman into the office. Think I'm exaggerating? Not at all. I've actually witnessed this in the process of a formation of a small committee. The most suitable people were chosen, and then it occurred to someone that none of them are women. The head of the committee flat-out refused to give up on people he found most capable, just for the sake of fitting a woman in. This caused a lot of offended feelings in "under-represented" women, despite the fact that many of them were members of all-female committees, and no man ever protested against the under-representation of his sex. 

- A sobering fact: in Israel, about 400 people kill themselves each year. About half of them are divorced or separated men. In contrast, about 70% of the divorces in Israel are initiated by women. Coincidence? On a regular basis, innocent men are stripped of their rights, separated from their children, and forced into unbearable financial consequences - often before any evidence against them is presented. They are men, ergo, dangerous beasts who must be strictly controlled. Actually this is such a wide subject that I wish and hope to do a separate post on it, if and as time allows. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sending children out into the world

A few days ago, I stumbled across this, and though pretty much everything I wanted to say had already been said in some of the comments below, I still felt compelled to jot down some of my thoughts on the issue.

Obviously, I disagree theologically with the author. He's Christian, I'm Jewish. However, I have heard the same argument repeated in various forms and guises:

"You cannot shelter them from the world" - not when they grow up, certainly; but as long as your children are young, it is actually the parents' duty to shelter them as much as reasonably possible from what they see as a negative influence. Previously we have had the misfortune to be often in company with a man who absolutely could not and would not watch his mouth. Every time we encountered him, I had some very awkward questions from the girls ("what is a homosexual?"). Eventually I began taking an effort to avoid this man. That's because the girls were 5 and 3 years old. I felt absolutely no scruples about avoiding such confronations. Had they been teenagers, my attitude of course might have been very different.

Almost all parents I know use discernment when deciding what sort of movies their children can watch, what internet content to allow, whether the children can have a Facebook account and at what age. What is it if not sheltering? Thus, if parents feel that the local public school can and will damage their children, and think that the best educational option would be to pull their children out and teach them at home, I see it as absolutely justified. 

"It's immoral not to be part of society. Everyone should be schooled together" - This goes beyond the homeschooling argument. This actually implies that only one type of schools should exist, with uniform program and content. In Israel, there are secular public schools; religious schools on a wide spectrum of Orthodoxy; alternative schools; Muslim schools; Christian schools. People can and do separate into groups according to their religious and moral values, and want their children to be educated according to said values. It is natural and it has always been so, and always will be so, and trying to artificially weed this out results in tremendous injustice and trampling of human rights. At the dawn of Israel as an independent democratic state, Jewish children from North African and Yemenite religious families were forcibly or near forcibly sent into secular education by the more "enlightened" European-descended founders. This is not democracy and is still remembered with indignation by many people. 

"Your children can be a good influence in a bad environment" - In Israel, there's a long-standing public conflict, at the heart of which is the refusal of Charedi (so to speak, "Ultra-Orthodox") Jews to serve in the IDF. One of the arguments of the army avoiders is that the army does not provide a culturally acceptable atmosphere for the young Charedi man, even one who isn't capable of becoming a full-time Torah scholar. This can cause much bitterness while a large slice of the population is risking their lives for their country, and others are shirking their duty because of seemingly petty excuses. However, there is no denying that a secular environment promotes secularism in isolated religious individuals, far oftener than such individuals can reform a secular environment. When my husband went into the army, he remembers being quite shocked at the mixed male and female environment and the lack of modesty it promoted. He told me that nearly all his Orthodox friends who joined the army experienced a slipping of their religious standards. It was simply a lot more difficult to keep up in an environment which was not supportive. 

The question of women in the army is another one, and too charged to be lightly discussed here. I only meant to use this as an illustration. These are adults, with adult struggles. What, then, can be said of children? What are the chances that children reform a government-funded system run by adults whose authority they must obey? Think basic nature laws. Drop an ice cube into a bucket of boiling water. What will happen? Will the single ice cube be able to cool the whole bucket? Or will it melt instantly until no difference is felt in the temperature of the water? 

It is no wonder, then, that though few people in Israel actually homeschool, most - and especially Orthodox Jews - take an effort to find a school which will represent their values as closely as possible. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Do the first thing

When I'm feeling an upsurge of terrible pressure because of all the things that have to be done, and are undone; all the things I planned to do, and have no idea when I'm ever going to do them; all the things I would like to do, yet know that it is impossible for the time being, I remember very precious words which I once copied down, from the (now long gone private) blog "Eyes of Wonder". They now have a place of honor in my personal notebook of inspirational lines, and I have read them so often that I can quote them with tolerable precision:

"Do the first thing, and let the first thing be just to love and care for the people in your life. 

If you feel that extra commitments or certain relationships are hindering you for doing so, cast them (the commitments) or set them (the relationships) aside for the time being, until you feel you can reach out a bit further." 

I feel that at this time, it's very important for me to hold on to this simple truth: set it aside. Set it aside, for the time being, if it doesn't really matter, and/or if it isn't really urgent. Let myself be free from the burden of feeling that certain things must be done, when in fact the only one who feels that they must be done - and without delay - is actually myself.  

Even when it (frustratingly) feels as though nothing will ever be done - because of time constraints, money constraints, energy deficiency common to the last trimester, certain circumstances that oblige us to be away from home oftener than it would be convenient - I know that it is not true. Just as we have had busy periods before, and then they passed, and when things were calmer a great deal of what I had hoped for was accomplished, so it will in all probability happen now. Even and especially when it seems when the pressure will never end - during cleaning for Pesach, or moving house, or when a new baby is born - the difficulties are temporary and the hectic busy-ness is over all too soon. 

And for now, I try to focus that today, like every day, I have the privilege and joy of caring for my family. There are meals to be served and dishes to be done, clothes to be washed and folded, walks to be taken, conversations to be had and countless things to be learned.