Friday, November 25, 2016

Chinuch in the Teen Years

My boys still refuse to wear tzitzis.  They aren't comfortable; they scorn even the soft cotton ones.  I've been thinking a lot, having been through the teen years with my oldest and now going through them with my second.  And it's really changing how I'm thinking about parenting the boys in their teen years.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine who parented 5 wonderful boys and her sixth is a girl.  As I was talking to her about girl teenagedom and mother-daughter relationships, she said to me that it's too bad she'll have gained all this knowledge from parenting her daughter through her teen years and then she won't have another girl to parent with the benefit of this knowledge.

I half joked: "Take it from me--it doesn't help."  But that's not strictly true.  Some of the lessons I learned with Sarah: how to de-escalate during conflict, how to take a step back, take a deep breath, how to shift my tone and my body language out of "bristling" and into "listening" mode; how to assume that if they say I'm yelling at them or if my tone is aggressive, then to dial it down, whether I think I've been aggressive or not; how to cool down from an encounter and then later, when we are more calm, ask her to please explain her position and really, really try to listen without explaining where I'm coming from-- all of these things have only been helpful as I stumble through these years with the next teenager.  However, with each child being so different, and the challenges being so very, very different, I am often just as much in the dark now as I was the first time.

I simultaneously grapple with major issues (as people always used to say, which I never really understood, "little people, little problems; big people, big problems"), while I am also very immersed in little people and the drudgery of caretaking.  I have the experience of parenting littles while having an awareness that within the decade, the boundless desire for them to be in my personal space and have me share their lives is going to shift into the desire to separate from me, to individuate, to reject me, my values, and everything I stand for in clarification of where they stand on things.

This has gotten me thinking about a lot of things that I never realized would be an issue with boys.  Growing up a girl and feeling the burden of halachic modest dress and later covering hair, I never realized that boys grapple with minyan, waking up for shema, wearing tzitzis and covering their heads all the time.

When I was a young and naive parent, I assumed that at bar and bat mitzva, my child would joyfully pick up the "עול מלכות שמים" the yoke of mitzvos.  My daughters would dress with skirts to knees and shirts to elbows, and would daven every day and make brachos before and after meals, and their newly bursting intellects would enjoy the wondrous Torah that we would learn together.

Well.  Suffice it to say, reality is different.  Even with Chana's (not so) recent transfer into full nocturnal, along with recent studies that say that teenagers should start school not before 10am made me realize that in a few years I'll be heading into a monumental battle, especially with my middle son, who has naturally preferred a 10pm-10am sleep schedule since he was two years old.

I've observed teens AND adults fully grown, those who attend minyan regularly and those who don't.  Of the minyan go-ers, some tell me their parents instilled it in them, and some tell me they came to it themselves.  Of the non-minyan go-ers, a huge percentage tell me that their parents pushed and annoyed them.

Personally, I feel that telling my teenager what to do is generally an exercise in futility, frustration, and conflict. (To a large degree I feel that telling any of my children what to do tends to devolve into that, which perhaps is why I gravitated towards unschooling, which has a different approach to that whole issue.)  However, I also feel strongly that the internet exerts a very strong pull on the concept of identity and values, and although my teens are smart and skilled at analysis and tend to make good decisions, I want our family values and our Torah and Judaism to be one of the voices in the conversation.  As I may have mentioned before, when I consulted with my Rabbi, he suggested that I take opportunities to share my thoughts and values in conversation, and stay away from nagging and being annoying.

More recently, I've been thinking about my own upbringing.  I was brought up "Modern Orthodox," and when I stopped wearing shorts and began covering my hair when I got married, I crossed over into the land of "crazy""strict" according to my parents, even though I had studied the halachos in school and considered them to be as binding as the laws of Shabbos and kosher that I had grown up keeping.

Modesty was something my mother cared about in terms of the spirit of it, not in terms of halacha.  We wore shorts to midthigh and went swimming in bathing suits; very tight shirts and dresses were our battlegrounds and it had nothing to do with halacha.  My mother rarely told me to daven; davening was between me and God.  Brachos were between me and God.  Everything was between me and God.  I decided what I wanted to keep and how much and what I really thought.  My parents didn't have much opinion except being extremely supportive of my education and my Torah study.

My approach until now, which was to be mechanech my children to keep the Torah so that they will be keeping Torah halachically when bar or bat mitzva, did not take into account the complexity of teens wanting to figure out for themselves who they are and where they stand.  It didn't account for the fact that they often use their parents as a safe space to push against as they discover themselves, as the book Untangled describes with a pool metaphor--we are the walls of the pool and we need to be stable and be there as they push against us to swim, and come back to us to take a rest and breathe, and push against to go swim again.

And inserting myself into the ruminations doesn't seem to be useful.  If a person is grappling about halacha and God and values and restrictions and meaning, isn't the grappling simply about that person thinking about those issues?  What possible good can it have to throw into the mix their complex and conflicted relationship with their superego/parent?  Waking up for minyan and going to shul should be about the question of tefila and being part of the tzibbur; is it a value to have the person also grappling about whether this act is going to please or annoy the parent?

(One might say that there is a value in doing things to please the parent, as per Yosef Hatzadik seeing the image of his father and refraining from adultery with the wife of Potifar.  I don't disagree with that.  But it does seem to me that me pushing for certain halacha observance during the teen years does muddy and cloud their thinking and grappling unnecessarily.  They get distracted thinking about halacha observance vis-a-vis parental opinion instead of it just being about their values.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Rain

It's one of those delightful homeschool days where it's raining outside and we are just pattering around the house.

Chana has switched things up in her schedule.  She was taking Mishlei 2x a week in the morning and although she was enjoying the class, waking up in the morning was excruciating.

I also had been a little concerned that she was spending the entire week recuperating, to the point where she had no energy to read the Stranger and no energy to learn Bio, despite the fact that questions keep coming up and the answers are in the Bio book, if only we would learn it!

She also missed Torah SheBaal Peh from last year.  That was amazing.  I specifically wanted her to get a feel for the halachic process and gain an appreciation for the complex system of halacha and that's not my area at all.  I am beyond thrilled that she got that from the class last year, and that she was missing it!

The school, as always, was incredibly wonderful and accommodating and agreed she should try it out.  She went yesterday and enjoyed it.  We'll see if the schedule change works for her.

Another change we made is that we've begun doing Bio at 10pm.  Pretty agonizing for me, as my brain turns off at 8 or so.  But I'm not as exhausted as I used to be (though Aharon is STILL on daylight savings time and waking up an hour early) and if I'm feeling awake at 10, I'll ask if she wants to learn, and 90% of the time she says yes.

And here's the kicker.  She literally has THREE times the attention span at 10pm.  She could only get through a paragraph before.  Now she can do a whole section.

She's given up on Teaching Textbooks for geometry.  It was clear, but slow and boring.  Her best friend tutors her once a week.  I have no idea how that is going.  I insisted that she take the PSATs (much to her annoyance) and I guess we'll see how she does.  She didn't have enough time to finish any of the sections and when she was tested by the state, they agreed she was slow but since she's working at grade level, she didn't get an IEP.  We have to decide if further testing is called for.  She also wants a specific calculator.  Not sure if it's even worth investing in that if she doesn't end up going to college/taking math.  It may be that going to community college first and then transferring is better for her.  It may be that she won't want to go go college right away or ever.  (As I'm thinking out loud here, I think it is a good idea to buy the calculator.  I already spent more than the calculator on Teaching Textbooks, and she wants it to take the ACTs, so it's probably worthwhile.)

The boys continue to bombard me all day long asking how to spell words.  They have been making videos and uploading them to youtube.  They've also been playing Draw Something.  So there have been a lot of things to read and write.

The house has also been getting pretty messy.  Since KonMari, I haven't needed to clean up so frequently.  The basement and their room keep getting messy as they make their videos and use all sorts of props.  And the floor keeps getting littered with paper scraps.  Even when they vacuum after themselves, they just don't clean or neaten up to what I like.  So after being spoiled for over a year with KonMari neatness, it has been a bit of an adjustment to clean up every day.  But it doesn't take that long.
Minecraft swords.  A bunch are taped together to make some of them 3D

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

unschooling writing

This morning, all 3 boys were awake and I sang parts of Hallel out loud.  I'm not super consistent about davening out loud in the mornings but I have been making an effort and I think it makes a difference.

It's certainly gotten me thinking about some of the words and ideas in Hallel and I'm singing them to myself as the day goes on.  (The gratitude and joy lasted all through the morning giggles and fizzled out a bit as the two youngest started bickering, teasing each other, physically fighting and I eventually separated them.  I was wondering about the juxtaposition of "This is the day that Gd made, we will rejoice and be happy on it" with "Please, Hashem, save me!" but I think I got my own personal interpretation. And things eventually chilled out again.)

Elazar opened up his story that he works on sporadically.  Today he corrected all of his spelling using a combination of the right click option and asking me how to spell a lot of different words.  He focused on capitalizing proper names and beginning of sentences.  He also stopped frequently to move around and then went back.

I don't know if one of those giant balls that classrooms are incorporating to sit on would do the job

Unschooling is pretty cool because there is a huge difference in his spelling and grasp of sentence structure in just a few months.  He corrected all of his "creative spelling" to standard spelling and Jack was reading his story over his shoulder.  My job in all this was to be around and answer his questions, and to enjoy his story.  I know I always marvel about how effortless unschooling seems.  In truth, it probably has a similar amount of parental involvement.  I do feel like I frequently answer questions about how to spell things, and he physically pulled me over to the computer so I could check his work.  I much prefer him yanking me to do his work as opposed to me trying to get him to do it.