Archive | parenting

Patience Is a Virtue, or Is It?

In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defines patience as “A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” I support this definition wholeheartedly. I am not a patient woman. I like quick results, instant gratification, swift changes. If something does not work, I turn around and try to find a solution. I do not wait, pause, rethink, reflect. I act.

Patience and I do not get along very well. All too often when I try to be patient, I end up blowing up. “Beware the fury of a patient man,” said John Dryden. I say: beware the misery of an impatient woman. I want everything and everyone around me to be perfectly well, perfectly happy, perfectly safe all the time.

Some projects, like child raising, last a life time. Parenting, as Dar reminded me today, is best done day by day, drop by drop. I’ve been dabbling at motherhood for eleven years now, but I’m quick to despair. I throw up my hands and proclaim myself a failure. Dar had more faith: “No failure can be fairly established until the job is done,” he explained. I am well aware that being a mother will only be done, quite possibly, when I’m dead and gone.

A pessimistic thought? Actually, I feel relief. I hope many more years are before me, allowing me to try and get it right: to pour just a little more love into the children’s hearts, to give more lift to their wings, more confidence to their bearings, more food into their growing tummies and minds. “Don’t try to rotate them in the right direction,” Dar told me. “Steer them little by little. Fly with them so they can fly.”

I asked Dar: what if I am myself too confused? What if I lack confidence in my own flight capabilities? How can I teach the children to fly when I am not proficient? I don’t know how to teach them to fly because I don’t know how to fly myself! And I threw up my hands once again. Failure! Despair! Hopelessness!

Patience. That’s how. Day by day, drop by drop, little by little. I suppose acceptance is important too. Sometimes a day might include only the putting out of fires as they arise. Often a day will require watering the little seedling hearts of the children with a lot of love. Sometimes they might ask me for the moon, and other times I might discover that the moon is as simple an object as a coin the size of their nail, like in the story with the princess from my blog the other day.

I don’t have a detailed mothering plan. I think even if I did, I’d find myself moving away from it almost instantly. But I do have overarching goals: to love the children, give them as much support as I can, have patience with the process, and give myself room to feel hopelessness and despair if I feel I must.

This is where I found the quotes on patience.

Fly, Baby Bird, Fly!

There is a Hebrew song, written by the singer Arik Einstein, that begins like this:
My chicks have left the nest/ they spread their wings and flew/ and I, an old bird, am alone in the nest/ hoping that all will be well.

I always knew the day will come/ to say fare well/ but now it came so suddenly/ it’s no surprise I’m afraid.

Fly baby bird/ slash through the sky/ fly wherever you like/ but don’t forget/ there’s a hawk in the sky/ be aware.

My children are nine and eleven, too young for me to worry about when grown up they will wish to go out into the world on their own. As a parent, I feel that my most important job I as a parent have is to prepare them for that moment. To give them wings, so when the time comes, they can fly.

At age fifteen. I wanted to go to boarding school, the High School for Environmental Studies in Sde Boker, Israel. My parents did not approve, and I stayed home. At eighteen I spread my wings and flew back to Israel and the army. I was back home at 21. And here I still am. I have my own house. I am independent. I have two children. I have dogs despite my parents’ disapproval. I suppose I fly, but I also like staying near the nest. I enjoy speaking to my parents daily on the phone and seeing them at least 3-4 times a week.

 Despite what can be seen as my awkward attempts to break free of the nest, I am a believer of “You are not truly independent till you’ve lived next door to your parents and learned to say no.” I have lived next door to my parents and certainly struggled with this “no.” But the amount of joy I receive while spending time with my parents is considerably larger than the few times they irritate me or make me feel like I’m a child again.

But I wanted to write about my children, not my parents. Though I’m sure the child I was affects the parent I am today. What I felt I needed as a child is what I long to give to my own children now that I’m a mother. I don’t know how successful I am, but the wish to give my children wings to fly and building their trust so they can use those wings when the moment comes is at the core of who I am as a mother. And that’s how I want it to stay, even when the totally surprising and unexpected moment of them wanting to leave the house finally comes my way.

Next week my son is going away for a first overnight trip with his class. A good experience for both of us: for me to let him try out his little baby wings, and for him to trust in his own ability to spread those wings and


Giving my Children the Moon (A Second Time)

Sometimes the best time to see the moon is at daytime.

Once upon a time a princess looked out her bedroom window and sighed. “What is the matter?” Her mother asked. “Can you bring me the moon?” The princess replied. The queen had a necklace made with a silver crescent moon pendant and gave it to the princess. “That is not the moon,” the princess said, and became sad. The general gave her an ivory moon figurine. “That is not the moon,” the princess said and became more sad. The castle cook baked the princess a moon-shaped cheese souffle. “That is not the moon,” sighed the princess and became more and more sad.

Everybody in the castle tried to cheer up the sad princess. The court jester brought her outside and showed her a reflection of the moon in water. “That is not the moon,” said the princess and sadly distorted the reflection with her hand. The queen was at her wits’ end. She knew she could not give the moon to her daughter. The princess grew sadder and sadder every day, staring nightly at the moon. One day a storyteller came to the castle. He asked the princess: “What is the moon?” The princess looked outside at the full moon. “It is small and round, not bigger than my finger nail,” she replied. “It is a silver coin exactly that size.” Now the story teller could give the princess the moon.

The princess grew happier, but at night the moon came up again, and the storyteller and queen trembled that the princess see it. “That is the new moon,” replied the princess. “Mine is the moon from last night.”

I too, like the queen, would like to give my children the moon. I would like to be for them an anchor, a safe harbor, a haven in the midst of the turmoils and storms of life. A place of repose where they can rest and renew and feel supported and loved. But I am not an anchor. Nor am I a haven by any means. Most often, I am swayed by my emotions on an open sea, blown here and there seemingly at random. If anything, it is I who needs an anchor, a safe harbor, before I can be the same for my kids.

Strangely, I never asked the kids if they need an anchor. I suspect that attention rather than stability would probably be their preferred moon. Eden just asked if I could read her a book, and Uri woke up at five and asked for a hug. They want me to play with them and listen to them, read to them and go on adventures with them, jump on the trampoline or lounge in front of the TV with them. They do not want a cumbersome old moon. And once I give the children my attention, the winds of my mood lighten and calm, as though the kids are my safe harbor, my haven, for at least that little bit of playtime.

This is one version of the fairy tale The Princess who Wanted the Moon.

Feeding the Children, or Is Preventing World War Three Necessary?

It didn’t take me long to discover that my two kids require feeding when I pick them up from school. Even when I lived in Palo Alto, and home was about ten minutes away, they couldn’t wait. Eden especially, if I don’t catch her the moment before irreversible sugar-low crabbiness, will refuse to eat and make it complicated to bring her back to an agreeable (read: manageable) mood.

I have taken to bringing with me sandwiches, fruit, candy, cookies, cakes. For a while the kids loved bagels with cream cheese. Then it was pretzels from Esther’s Bakery. Uri had a donut period. Apples came and passed, then came back again into fashion. Popcorn. Girl scout cookies. Baby carrots which Eden devoured by the bag. But every so often I’d bring something they didn’t care for, and thunderous silence battered me from the backseat.

I wondered, am I feeding the children into pleasantness? I sometimes offer a treat when they are upset, but even as I do, I cringe. I can’t believe I’m teaching my kids that food can cheer them up. Yes, eating is enjoyable and fun, but I’d like my kids to have other methods to relax. I’d like to argue, however, that more than a calming after a long day eating binge, the after-school snack is an important transitional aid, shifting the children’s focus and energies from school to home.

For the past few weeks I’ve participated in a parenting class through Hand in Hand. Hand in Hand philosophy says that a parent needs a place for releasing the emotions that parenting brings, a listening partner that gives whole-hearted support and no criticism. The idea is that in order to really listen to and be there for our children, we parents must be listened to in our turn.

According to Hand in Hand, children need tantrums in order to let go of feelings and upsets. In the last class, we were talking about tantrums that happen during transitions, and how sometimes it is good to leave some time to allow the tantrum to happen. I instantly thought about the moment of school pick-up. I’ve been hurrying the kids away from school, giving them their food in the car in order to be on time for our after-school activities, but perhaps I could plan for a few moments to sit and have a treat at school. Then again, I can’t say I’m eager for tantrums in front of all the other moms….

Without doubt, this parenting business is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. At so many turns I hit a wall, and so often I feel like any choice I make will be a bad one. However, just as I feel better after I cry, perhaps so will the kids. And after their tantrum, maybe they’ll finally have their snack, become grounded again, and we could move on to have fun.

Teachable Moments

Sometimes when I write, I am right there with my characters, acting as a scribe to their actions and words. Tonight I found myself in the kitchen at Snow Mansion, watching Anna Mara and Calypso Maximilian having breakfast. Five hundred words later, screams erupted in the bathroom here in the real world, invading my groove. Though reluctant, I left Calypso and Anna Mara mid-sentence and went to see what caused the shouting.

Eden burst out of the bathroom, holding her arm. Tears running down her face, she fell into my arms. Uri stood by the sink brushing his teeth. I hugged Eden for a moment, then asked what happened. They both spoke at once. “He pinched me.” “She kicked me.”

Ah! A teachable moment. One of those moments when total and utter clarity befriends me, when I know exactly what to say and do in order to make all right in the world. Right? Wrong. This is a time when I am beset by total helplessness. “She hit me!” “He bit me!” “She kicked me!” “He said I was stupid!” “She said she’d let the hamsters loose!” “He told me I can’t come in his room!” The accusations flow, and who is to make heads or tails out of it? And who do I talk to first, him or her? Who’s more to blame?

Ah, the joys of motherhood! And me? I’m an elephant in a crystal shop kind of parent (I am translating this expression from the Hebrew, so excuse me if it sounds strange). I want to leave the kids with self confidence, a feeling of accountability and responsibility, and the inner-appreciation that comes from knowing that they did the right thing. Instead, I think I leave them feeling confused (because I talk too much), hurt (because they think I didn’t listen to them or consider their side enough), and mistreated (because of course justice should have been theirs).

I’d like to think that every time such an emergency arises, I am closer to handling it in the way I aspire to, with patience, level-headedness, and the right words. I think today I screamed less than in the past. I tried to explain to them about taking responsibility for their own actions. But I was far from perfect and still screamed too much.

I learn a lot from being Uri’s and Eden’s mother. They give me daily opportunities to grow closer to my better self. They provide me with the chance to be at peace with myself, learn patience, and think before I talk. I think I’m not a terrible student, but I’m definitely not getting many As. If there’s one thing I’d like to take from today, it is to view these moments with more joy and less frustration. They truly are opportunities for growth. And maybe if I concentrated on what I could learn rather than my success in teaching the children, I’d be happier with the end results as well.

Let’s Have Some Fun, Kids!

I like to watch my friends and their parenting techniques, and I noticed there are different parenting schools with regard to one of my favorite subjects: are the kids or the adults in charge of fun?

Some of my friends are the kind of parents who believe that children should fit themselves to the schedule of the adults. They expect from the children a certain level of behavior. While the expectation sometimes results in crying and complaints, the outcome is usually that these friends sleep better at night, are able to finish a conversation without being interrupted, and are not slaves to their children.

There is another type of parents I recognize. This type is so excited to have kids, that they make the children, their schedule, needs and wishes a priority. They walk with babies all night singing to them, they nurse on demand, they let the kids sleep with them in bed, and they go to the playground even if they absolutely abhor it.

Guess to which group I belong?

Going to the playground might appear an innocent, charming activity which parents and children can engage in together, but I dread it. I have a hard time running around trying to get my children not to kill themselves or be killed by other kids on the play structure. I don’t know how to protect my clueless and far-too-innocent two (who must have inherited their helplessness from me) from playground thugs who take away toys from them or push them around in the sand box. Taking my kids to the playground is in my book an ordeal.

My favorite activity with the kids and what I have always loved loved loved doing with them is read together. No surprise there, I guess. I spent my childhood reading books to myself, and now I want to spend my kids’ childhood reading books to them.

Of course, there are many types of parents in between the two I mentioned, in all directions of the spectrum. And I hope that I don’t always belong to the door-mat kind. I rather hope that by thinking about all this, as I certainly did and do, there may have been slight changes in my behavior, possibly undetected by the naked eye, but which have made a difference in the quality of my life.

There is much to learn, and the kids are not waiting for me to learn it. They are growing up, developing, learning themselves. My daughter is now a pro in playground etiquette and is an expert on the monkey bars. My son controls the football field, even if he would prefer that less than forty kids would want to join his game. And me? Well, I’m still here, reading books, writing books, thinking about books, and eating while pondering books. That’s who I am. And I guess that’s all right.

Mother Power

The last few days I’ve been reflecting on my role in my family. Sometimes I feel like I am the engine which sparks most of what we do, pushing the kids along with me. Being sick allowed me to watch the kids and see the difference in how they function when I am less able to keep our usual schedule and activities.

I think partly the children feel overwhelmed and unhappy when I am sick. I suppose that could be a reason for the low rate of homework preparation and music practice and the high rate of junk food consumption that has been going on. But what if my high energy is indeed the driving force behind a lot of what they do, and because I’m so pushy, they never learn to find that motivation within themselves?

My mother always tells me that the love, effort and thought I put into raising the kids will bear fruit many times over. When I told her about my fears, she seemed to think that the high energy I invest in the children will in time bring about the result that I am hoping for — that they will learn to practice and do homework by themselves, growing on the path to methodical, conscientious and responsible adulthood.

Her faith in my way turns my question back onto myself. What if my fears that the children run on my “Mother Power” originate not in fears for them but in fears for me, that they will deplete my energy? Is “Mother Power” a renewable energy source?

The answer that immediately comes to my mind is that of course, yes, “Mother Power” is renewable, though perhaps it needs to be manually renewed and is easier renewed before it is depleted. I have many activities during the day which have the potential to fill me with the love, faith, enthusiasm and patience that I need in order to raise the children. I go to exercise classes and on hikes in nature. My writing is certainly a source of satisfaction and pleasure. The support of my parents and my friends. Eating well and healthy and sleeping enough are a big part of my “Mother Power.”

Sometimes, however, it seems not enough. Sometimes I wish I had an external power outlet, that I could plug into and which would fill me up with energy and love. I haven’t found an outlet like that which could give 100% refilling. Instead, I think renewing the “Mother Power” comes in small increments which need to be noticed to be used: a surprise hug from my daughter, my son’s way of leaning on me and putting his head on my shoulder, my boyfriend thinking about me in many wonderful ways, mother’s day gifts which the kids bring from school, the kids sharing a story. All of these are sources for renewing that important energy so I can give it back again.

Was it Einstein who said that energy is inexhaustible, simply converted from one form to another? In parenting I think it is true. There is an abundance of love shared between us, and all I need to do to become replete is to tap in.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109