“Should be” vs. “Is”, or the Kitchen Sink Saga

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Last week, I discovered a massive leak under one of our kitchen sinks (yes, we’re lucky enough to have two). After mopping up the mess and emptying the cabinet under the sink, I did what any reasonable woman would do: asked my husband to fix it.

Unfortunately, my husband declared that he’s too busy in the next few days, and that I can just use the other sink in the meantime.

Now, the second sink was OK as an emergency backup, but I have always used the first for my meat dishes and didn’t want to mix them up.

So basically, I had two choices here:

I could stomp my foot and get angry, and rave about how inconsiderate my husband was and what’s the point of having a man in the house if not for such emergencies?!

… Or I could roll up my sleeves and get the job done myself.

(There’s also the option of paying someone else to do it, of course, but it’s kind of out of our budget right now).

I swung by the hardware store, bought a piece of piping after consulting the nice man behind the counter, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and dug in.

Did I do the job perfectly? No.

Did I accidentally poke myself in the face with the loose piping, split my bottom lip, dribble blood all over my front and, for the next few days, look like a poster girl for a battered women’s shelter? (I wish I were joking).

Um, never mind.

But is the sink usable again now?? Yes!!

And every time I wash the dishes, I experience this warm glow of satisfaction: I did something that I thought I was incapable of. And you bet it feels a whole lot better than sitting around and grumbling about how unfair it is and how I’m not supposed to also work as a plumber while taking care of four children, running a household, and doing my best to pay the bills.

This little kitchen sink episode illustrates a truth that had taken years and years to penetrate through my thick skull: it’s so much better and healthier to take a deep breath and deal with how things are, rather than keep getting hung up on how they “should be”.

And this, my friends, is – in a nutshell – the difference between the younger me and the me of today. I spend less time thinking about the discrepancies between ideal and real, and more time rolling up my sleeves and getting things done to the best of my ability.

In case any of you Freejinger ladies are reading this (you know who you are!), that’s the process that has brought me to the point where I am today.

I have heard a lovely metaphor, that life treats us like sea glass: the waves, sand and rocks create constant abrasions that smoothe out our sharp edges, tone us down, and shape us into something new and beautiful, and much more pleasant to handle than prickly glass shards.

For me, this process has included internalizing that dreams, ideals and self-appointed rules sometimes don’t match reality, and you have two choices: roll with the waves and become a piece of sea glass, or…

Shatter on the rocks.

I’ll bet you can guess which choice I’m making every day.

Building a financial safety net

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When I was younger, I argued that maintaining a full-time career while what you would really like is to stay home with your children – not out of immediate necessity, but out of concern for possible future happenings such as illness, death, or divorce – is akin to living your life out in a bunker instead of being out in the fresh air and smelling the flowers.

In the meantime, I was doing something that was more like walking the tightrope without a safety net underneath. I had moved to a remote, inaccessible area without reliable transportation means, counting on my husband to always provide for our family and effectively making sure that, in the foreseeable future, I would not be able to contribute to the family income. Having no car and no driver’s license, I depended on my husband entirely for every errand and every little grocery store purchase (there being no facilities within walking distance at all).

I didn’t realize it back then, but I was setting myself up for some pretty unpleasant consequences should something go wrong.

Those who have been following my blog know what happened next: over the course of a few years, unemployment, underemployment and unwise financial choices had brought us to a full-blown crisis, while I couldn’t do much more than wring my hands and try to cope with anxiety and panic attacks. I did do some remote work, but even that was extremely difficult with patchy network access.

While I’m still a big proponent of making decisions out of love, not fear, and while I don’t regret for a second being a stay at home mom to my children (which in fact I still am), I would give my younger self one piece of sound advice:

Make sure you have a safety net. Don’t travel down a road that gives you no possibility to do a U-turn in case the you-know-what hits the fan. This doesn’t mean you are a wimp or lack faith. It’s simply common sense.

If I were to break it down into practical points, I would tell her:

1. Keep on building up your credentials even if you think you won’t be needing those. You never know.

2. Think twice (maybe more like ten times) before you move to an area where you would have extremely limited mobility and no services. Even if it’s your quintessential rural dream with rolling hills, olive groves, and herds of goats. If you purchase a house, take into consideration how easy or difficult it might be to sell it later on.

3. While role division in marriage makes perfect sense for many occasions, two heads are better than one. For a long time I used to think I’m displaying loyalty and trust towards my husband by leaving everything concerning the family finances entirely in his hands. In fact, I was doing none of us any favors. My husband was fallible, as was I. Neither of us was perfect in any regard, but it’s always so much worse when you feel pressure to do what is “right” rather than what works practically.

4. Build up your savings. That’s a tricky one with zero income, I know! But in case you come into some money, like after selling a house, stash some away right away and don’t allow it all to be frittered on stuff like food and rent (ask me how I know).

I guess it all boils down to this: don’t put yourself in a situation where you are disproportionately, entirely dependent on another person for all your basic needs. Even if that person is your spouse. Do not place yourself in a situation where you would be unable to help yourself if need be.

I have a friend whose husband, a really nice, hardworking man suffered an accident on the job and has lost his livelihood. Insurance doesn’t come up to scratch. He is undergoing a long and grueling process of physical rehabilitation. However, my friend is keeping afloat because she lives near supportive family and there’s every necessity readily available in the vicinity. The you-know-what has certainly hit the fan for them, but they had not placed themselves in a situation where they wouldn’t have the tools to cope.

I shudder to think what would have happened to me in a similar situation a couple of years ago. I would be left stranded in the boonies with a bunch of tots, unable to help my husband or my children or myself. I count myself lucky to have been able to move to a better, safer place.

Being safe doesn’t mean being a wimp. On the contrary, the wimpy choice is sticking one’s head in the sand and refusing to consider tomorrow.

Finding the balance: working from home with your kids around

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Stay-at-home moms are on call all the time. There’s always something to do at home – it’s more than a full time job! Between settling sibling fights and washing another never-ending stacks of dishes, it’s no wonder most moms of little ones are ready to collapse at the end of the day.

If you throw in home education and extracurricular activities, you get an even busier life.

And if you are also trying to set up a home business or establish yourself as a freelancer? While it may seem (and is often true) that working from home is a family friendly option, enabling parents to still be there to take care of their kids and save time and money on commute, it does come with challenges of its own.

Many work-at-home parents still have hired childcare, which basically makes it no different from any other job – they do have set office hours, it’s just that their office happens to be right where they live. But if you, like me, choose to work from home so that you don’t need to hand your children over to anyone else, your hours become very fluid. You may find yourself locked up in the upstairs bathroom having a video call with a client because that’s the only place where you can be sure of privacy and you really, desperately need those three minutes right NOW.

It may seem extremely difficult, next to impossible, to find time when you seemingly don’t have any, and I’ve had to become very disciplined. I don’t remember the last time I have watched a movie. I only read for pleasure on Shabbat (as a copyeditor, I basically read for a living during the week). My friends (the ones I have left) often complain that I don’t return calls. I often get up early and go to bed late, and I still have to struggle with guilt for having to do some things during the day when my children are awake and need me.

I have implemented early bedtime, even for Shira who will soon be 11, and have also gotten my kids used to the idea that I’m not always available for whatever it is. We have a home office, but I don’t use it because I can’t leave little ones unsupervised during the day. So if I do have work to complete during daytime hours, I settle with my laptop in the living room and my children know that I’m there for any emergency, but not for fixing sandwiches, reading stories or helping them make beaded bracelets – not for the next hour or two, anyway.

The older kids are encouraged to have quiet time while the baby is napping so that I can work. This includes both my own books and my paid job, though my books often find myself having to wait as I focus on a deadline for a paid project.

I still think I have got a pretty good deal. I am there when a child is sick and needs extra care. I choose my own hours and decide how much work I can take up (the more I do, the more I get paid, but one can only do so much). I run errands whenever it is convenient, I have no commute, and I can always take time off for family occasions.

A few insights:

1. Simplify. Opt for less stuff, less commitments, and simpler meals. Clutter is your enemy, especially when the whole family is home every day and all day long.

2. Avail yourself of any help with kids and/or housework you can get. If you live near family that is willing to help, so much the better for you. Don’t worry, no matter what you do, there will still be more than enough work left over for you.

3. Avoid the guilt loop. While my husband walks into our home office to take care of his stuff and make phone calls without interruption, I have often felt guilty for saying no to sitting on the carpet and coloring because I’m working to a deadline. At other times, I’ve felt guilty for neglecting the deadline and sitting down to color.

You can only do your best. If I find myself struggling with feeling I have not done enough, I look back at the end of the day on all the things I’ve done for my family – from cooking meals to giving baths, from wiping noses to paying bills, and earning the money to pay those bills, too – versus the “me time” (usually a stolen 20 minutes to work on a book, some crochet at the playground, and texting a friend for a bit) and I realize I have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. In fact, I even can and should become my own cheerleading team, applauding all my efforts and appreciating what has been achieved.

Meanwhile, around here

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We’ve had a pretty ‘blah’ week with a nasty cold making its rounds around the family, so I’ve been trying to cut myself some slack and take things as easy as possible. Of course, some things still need to be done – little people and critters need to eat on time, and we all need clean clothes, for instance. In the photo above, Hadassah is helping feed our little pullets (they’re really spoiled and will leave half their grain behind unless it’s cooked!)

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We did still make time for some really, really short walks recently, but today, truly, it has all been about keeping my head above water. Just washing the dishes, folding the laundry, cooking a simple pasta dinner, and taking care of the plants has been a huge accomplishment in my book. And of course, we’re still doing some crafts in between to unwind and relax.

Now that I’ve put the littlest one to sleep, I’m off to reading with the older kids, and hopefully, we’ll all have an early bedtime tonight.

Cultivating Contentment: a journey to simplicity

It’s August, and it seems like almost everyone is either on vacation or toting their kids to amusement parks, water parks, malls, shows, zoos, movies, and any entertainment venue you can imagine.

Peer pressure, anyone?

We like to have fun as much as the next person, but when you consider what a month of constant going out costs, the sum is staggering. Besides, a day in the car is exhausting and usually saps my strength for the next day or two.

And you know what? It’s never enough, because once kids get in the habit of always being taken somewhere, they lose the taste for simple games and quiet, home-centered activities.

We’ve spent this summer refusing to get pulled into the merry-go-round of “doing something special”, and have passed our time pleasantly enough going to the swimming pool, the library, the local play center, and a few visits to see family.

I also believe it’s entirely possible for people who desire a slower, gentler rhythm to their days, to gradually wean their kids off the habit of always being driven to places, and rediscover the simple old-fashioned pleasures of a quiet neighborhood life. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take full advantage of the free or cheap entertainment options in your area. Are there any parks, museums,  or, if you live in a more rural area, farms you haven’t visited yet?

2. Cultivate a home that is conductive to learning, relaxation, and creativity. Start a garden, even if all the space you have available are some pots on the balcony. Get your children to help you and gradually delegate age-appropriate responsibilities. Chickens make great, easy-to-keep livestock/pets combo in areas where they are allowed.

Keep cozy, clutter-free corners for reading and arts and crafts. Encourage your children to explore new hobbies such as painting, sewing, knitting, etc.

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Above: the scarf Shira (10) has started crocheting in the past few days. It’s a lot longer now than in this picture!

3. Do fun and unusual stuff such as camping out in your own backyard. Hang up a couple of hammocks and let your children sleep in them from time to time. Take nature walks, ride bikes, set up a bird feeder and waterer.

Above all, don’t let notions of inferiority or deprivation creep in. I know many families that really struggle financially but still give their kids expensive entertainment and brand-name clothes and shoes, stating that they don’t want the kids to “miss out”. Well, I firmly believe that having the family finances together, and working towards a financially secure, debt-free future is FAR more important than any fun trip or impulse purchase of today. I KNOW that even if my kids might sometimes grumble about not getting this, that or the other thing their friends have, I am working for their future greater good by saving money and cultivating the habit of being content with simple, basic things.

So I guess I just wanted to encourage you on your journey to a simple lifestyle in the face of the rampant spending that is going on all around. Don’t worry, you’re doing great!

Wholesome entertainment for toddlers and tots

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The long, hot days of summer leave us with many hours – virtually most of the day – when being outside is uncomfortable and even dangerous. During those hours, children will get bored, and the lure of computers, TV, and any screen imaginable calls out to them like a siren song.

I admit it calls out to me as well. It’s so, so easy to sit kids in front of a movie or a computer game and have some blissful peace and quiet. And so much of the content out there is educational and cute and does have its place.

Yet overindulgence in passive entertainment comes with a heavy price – restless, cranky, dissatisfied kids who are always bored; have lost their taste for the outdoors, books, and simple games; can never get enough screen time and are always whining and negotiating for more, becoming insufferable, insolent and aggressive if their parents won’t allow it.

So how would you entertain children on a hot (or rainy) day when being out of doors isn’t an option? Board games and Legos are fantastic, but all kids inevitably get bored with their toys and games, no matter how many they have. This doesn’t mean you have to buy more stuff! Here are some tips on getting through a long day of being cooped up indoors:

1. Try to go out anyway. If your kids are bouncing off walls, check the option of a short trip to the library or a play center, or get together with a friend. I don’t recommend malls, because the lure of buy, buy, buy is just too strong.

2. Crafts. I stock up on craft supplies whenever I can! Paper, paint, scissors, glue, modeling clay, glitter, beads, fabric and yarn, as well as natural materials you might want to collect beforehand, can provide the whole family with several happy hours. I’m teaching the girls to crochet, and all the kids love to draw and paint.

3. Science. If you have the option of keeping an aquarium, it can be great for kids who love to observe (and maybe even take notes!). You can set up a worm farm, sprout seeds, or transform your kitchen into a lab with some fun and simple experiments.

4. Reading. It’s kind of an obvious choice… For those who read! That’s why it’s only number 4 on my list, though I could read all day. Younger children will enjoy being read to, but you will need to commit your full attention and have reasonable expectations as to attention span.

5. Cooking. Though sometimes it’s too hot for cooking or baking, there are always many fun things to do in the kitchen. Salads, vegetable or fruit platters with dips, no-bake cookies and bars, smoothies, lemonade, iced tea and popsicles can all make a kitchen-centered activity.

6. Water play. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-blown swimming pool, either. A cool or tepid bath or a wading pool are refreshing and fun for younger children. A baby bath with toys placed on the front porch, balcony, or even in the bathtub can entertain toddlers for hours. ALWAYS supervise water play of any kind!

7. Dress-up. In our house, we have a dress-up container that only comes out when all else has failed. The children love it, which is why I insist on keeping it a special treat, and they are responsible for putting all the things back in when they’re done.

Ultimately, each family has their own strategies on dealing with a time of being housebound. I’d love to know what works for you.

Summer simplicity

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Softie the crochet doll gets new hair from upcycled yarn. It’s naturally curly from former use, and isn’t it perfect for hair?

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Wee feet. She has just started walking recently, and already I can’t keep up with her.

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Current favorite read from the library. We usually go once a week, and we really should do it more often because we get through all the books in about two days.

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Sprouting lemon seeds in a pot for a fun little project.

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Pomegranates already ripening on the tree, reminding me that as much as I love summer, it will be over eventually, followed by another cycle of the High Holy Days.