Tsipporah Ruth

This past weekend we celebrated the introduction of our precious Tsipporah, and officially welcomed her into our home congregation. After having many people ask how we choose “Tsipporah Ruth” as a name, this was finally our opportunity to share the story behind the decision. There is something beautiful and satisfying about the formality of a Simchat Bat no matter how simple, short, and sweet it is, but I have been anxious to describe the finer details on what her name means to us, and how G-d showed His confirmation over our decision.

Tsipporah, which means “bird” in Hebrew,  was a name on our minds for many years.  Back in the early days of our relationship Jonathan and I, like most young and in love couples, would often talk about our plans for the future. I was insistent, due to an especially intense circumstance, that our future son would be named “Jude” (“Yehudah” is the Hebrew form that “Judah” is derived from).

I remember the moment “Tsipporah” entered the picture rather clearly. We were sitting in a diner waiting for our food, and having another discussion about our future (I was about 19 or so). After talking it over for what was probably the 100th time, Jonathan asked what we would do if we were to have a daughter someday. Up until that point I hadn’t put any thought into that possibility. I had been so wrapped up in the intuitive knowledge that we were eventually going to have a boy, I had no idea what girl names I preferred for a daughter.

Since I had nothing to say on the issue Jonathan simply stated that he had always liked the name “Tsipporah”.

And that was that. I figured I would think it over later and come up with my own preferences to debate over, but as we left the diner that night her name settled rather nicely in my mind. From then on further conversations about our future kids always seemed to include the idea of having a Yehudah and a Tsipporah. We were simply waiting for the right time to meet them.

The name “Ruth” came to me shortly after our diner conversation. I was observing Shavuot (equivalent to Pentecost) for the first time with the Messianic congregation we were beginning to call home. The traditional reading for this holiday is the Book of Ruth, which up until that point I had never read in full (for those who don’t know, growing up I had to journey outside of my home for religion. I didn’t have my own Bible and relied heavily on what I could pick up from youth groups and visiting the churches of whoever wanted to invite me).  As I got to know this woman during the study, I connected deeply with her journey throughout the text.

So I mentioned to Jonathan the possibility of “Ruth” as a middle name for our future Tsipporah. From then on she was (going to be) known as “Tsipporah Ruth”.

When we became pregnant for the first time I fully expected a boy. The night before we were scheduled to find out the gender, Jonathan and I sat down to make our final decision on names. We sifted through both boy and girl possibilities, but the reality of the situation was I only  had “Yehudah” in mind.  When the ultrasound confirmed we were having a son, I wasn’t surprised in the least.

With baby number two I was less sure, but held a sneaking suspicion that we were going to have our baby girl. After all, isn’t that what we had naturally fallen into planning for? At least I did.  When the ultrasound confirmed her gender, I was once again not surprised. I did, however, begin to have a wave of doubt on our name choice.

When we last tossed around baby names (in our first pregnancy), we still came to the conclusion of “Yehudah Yishai” and “Tsipporah Ruth”. The same names we always talked about. Part of that had to do with the fact that I wasn’t fully committed to finding a girl’s name at that time. I was too (rightly) convinced in my mind that we were having a boy, and he was going to be our Yehudah. This time around we hadn’t revisited possible alternatives, and I began wondering if we should at least pay some thought to other names. Just in case she was meant for something we had never considered.

After leaving our appointment Jonathan went back to work, and I went back home. The more I thought about it the more bothered I became over the fact that we never gave other names a chance. Once I got home I began searching and making lists. I went through dozens of names, researching their correct pronunciations and meanings. I made a narrowed list I approved of and sent them to Jonathan, who was too busy at work to respond in that moment.

To further my frustration I had to pause my investigation when the mail arrived. Packages are a big deal to Hudi, so when he found a box on the doorstep we both had to stop everything and see what was inside.  I tore myself away from the list of names I had been playing with, and begrudgingly sat in the foyer with him to open the box.

As I was expecting, the package contained used children’s books I had ordered online (I emphasize “used” here). It is almost ritual that when books come in the mail, Hudi and I read them immediately upon arrival, so naturally he crawled into my lap to read The Carrot Seed. I was already irritable that my attention was being drawn elsewhere (I was anxious to figure out a name), and almost as soon as I began reading my disgruntlement increased.

I specifically choose a  book marked as being in “very good” condition. Yet there, on the second page, some kid before us had written in the book.

I was trying to calm the hormonal nerves building up against false advertisement, when I actually looked at the writing:

“Zepporia”.

The writing in the book said “Zepporia”.

I was frozen and in shock for a moment. No, it wasn’t the same exact name we had been planning all these years. But it was close enough to completely halt my baby name search. “Zipporah” is the more common transliterated spelling used in English Bible translations. “Z” is the closest single Latin letter to the Hebrew letter “Tsadi” (צ), which more accurately transliterates into a “ts”.  And no, we weren’t planning to add the extra “ia” at the end of the name.

But, what were the chances of this?

Whether the spelling is “Tsipporah”, “Zipporah”, or “Zepporia” it is not a common name here in America (none of them are listed on the social security’s top 1,000 names for 2015). Yet of all the used copies of this book for sale, we received the one that had a variation of her unique name scrolled across one of the pages. On top of that, the timing of this find was perfect. We just found out we were having a girl, and needing confirmation on our decision I was literally pulled away from my search and redirected to our original choice. The one G-d had put on our hearts so many years before.

To add extra spin to the circumstances, I also noticed that The Carrot Seed was written by a woman named Ruth Krauss.

Snapping out of my shock I immediately messaged Jonathan with a picture of the book. There was no question from either of us that Tsipporah’s name was set in stone at this point.

After my moment of concern had been followed by something I consider to be confirmation, I was finally able to settle on what the name “Tsipporah Ruth” carries.

She is named after the Biblical Tsipporah and Ruth. Tsipporah, who was the wife of Moses, is a woman I find to be intensely fascinating and admirable. She saves Moses’ life on their way from Midian to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26), and she stood beside Aaron and Moses as they confronted Pharaoh with G-d’s demand. She was witness to the plagues falling upon Egypt, and as the wife of a person coming to lead Israel out of slavery I would imagine people eyed her as an example of strength during such a hopeful, yet intimidating time.

While Tsipporah, to me, is a woman of fierce bravery and fortitude, Ruth is an exemplary woman of a patient and loving faith. When we first meet her in the Biblical narrative, she is a Moabite woman who was the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi. After her husband dies, she refuses Naomi’s demand that she return to her Moabite home, and declares on of my favorite verses in the Bible:

Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I stay. Your people shall be my people, and you’re god my god“.

The magnitude of determination in that stance carried Ruth to Bethlehem with Naomi, where G-d blessed her with Boaz, an honorable and godly man who takes her as his wife.

The lives of both these women have played a crucial role in G-d’s ultimate plan for the world. From saving her husbands life, to standing beside him as he shepherded Israel out of Egypt, Tsipporah is partly to credit for the eventual reception of Torah, and the establishment of Israel. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, and Naomi’s G-d (our G-d), brought her into Bethlehem where she met Boaz. Together her and Boaz created a lineage that lead to King David, and eventually Yeshua (Jesus).

Whatever impact our Tsipporah Ruth has on this world, it is our hope that she establishes it through a faith which reflects something similar to the example of her namesakes. I pray that she remains a pillar of righteousness as she stands against adversaries throughout her life, just as Biblical Tsipporah stood against Pharaoh. It is also in our prayers that her relationship with Yeshua (Jesus) maintains a grounding of commitment similar to that of Ruth’s.

Wherever He goes, she will go. Where He stays, she will stay. His people shall be her people, and His G-d her G-d.

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Seven Species Muffins

I am a firm believer in the saying “without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof“, and as my husband and I continue to build our home I find myself relying heavily on tradition for help. Growing up in a secular household I only had speckles of traditions here and there, but nothing particularly concrete or foundational. It was more along the lines of routine rather than tradition.  When I came to Messianic Judaism as a young adult, I suddenly entered into a world overflowing with traditions. As Tevye the dairyman in Fiddler On The Roof elaborates: “we have traditions for everything! How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes…“, and that is no exaggeration. In Judaism there is a way to confront anything and everything in life. How to mourn, how to celebrate, how to face the big and important stuff, and how to get through everyday routines. Having transitioned from a life without traditions into a life overwhelmed with them, I very clearly realize the importance of keeping them alive whether they be great or small. With the traditions I’ve eagerly taken a hold of as my own I find myself on a steady surface that helps hold me upright while the world around me seems unsteady and shaky. As a mother trying to raise her child to be righteous and G-dly, I am in great need of such steadiness.

While I try to incorporate certain traditions into the nooks and crannies of the everyday, holidays are perhaps most dominated by traditions. One of my favorite things about Judaism is the fact that these holidays are almost always observed kinesthetically. On Rosh Hashanah we blow shofars. On Yom Kippur we fast. On Sukkot we build and dwell in sukkot. On Hanukkah we light the menorah. On Purim we literally reenact the book of Esther, and on Pesach we go through the motions of Israel’s escape from Egypt during the seder.

And then there are minor holidays such as Tu B’shevat, which is the “new year for trees”. While it was once a day used to calculate agricultural cycles, it quickly became a sort of Jewish Earth Day. While I’m not particularly hyper with go-green sentiments, I do appreciate nature as G-d’s creation, and I most certainly believe it is our responsibility to tend and enjoy it. Even more important to me is the fostering of a culture which we now deeply connect with, even for the minor stuff. So this year Tu B’shevat was on my radar.

I was then left with a question of how to observe. After an ice storm we couldn’t plant trees as is tradition to do. I have a strong aversion toward “Tu B’shevat sedars”, and while it is completely appropriate to donate money toward planting a tree in Israel, it isn’t something my toddler could be involved in.

So I went with two activities that gave a nod toward the day (three if you count watching the Tu B’shevat episode of Shalom Sesame). First we planted my son’s very first herb garden which included cilantro, parsley (hopefully to be used at our seder in a few months), chives, and oregano. We placed the containers in front of a large window at my son’s level so they continue to be his responsibility and enjoyment.

Of course, like almost all other holidays (with the exception of Yom Kippur), there is  traditional food to be prepared. With Tu B’shevat it is customary to eat a new fruit and/or the seven species of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey, which is all derived from Deut. 8:8). Originally I wanted to make a full meal that incorporated all of these elements, but ironically enough our ice storm had us locked in the house a couple days prior to Tu B’shevat, and that had me hustling at the last minute.

I ended up going with one recipe that included all seven elements, and it was delicious. My toddler enjoyed helping since there was plenty for him to pour and mix. It’s a simple enough process, though I did have to grind my own barley flour since my regular groceries store didn’t carry it (I found the grain in the Mexican aisle though!).

The result was delicious, and definitely something I will continue to do every year.
A nice little way to celebrate a nice little holiday. A new tradition.

Ingredients
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried figs
1/2 cup dates
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup applesauce
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
2 eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
honey as a spread

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop up dates and figs and put them in a blender or food processor along with milk, applesauce, cinnamon, and allspice. Blend until the consistency is smooth and thick. Set aside.

In a bowl mix eggs, olive oil, sugars, and the vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking soda, and salt. Toss in the pomegranate seeds until they are well coated.

Pour the blended fig/date mixture into the flour mix and stir until well blended. Add the egg mixture.

Fold in the raisins

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and spoon in batter. Place prepared muffin sheet in the oven, and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees F.

Bake for 23 minutes.

When muffins are cool, cut in half and spread honey in the middle of them.

Enjoy!

My Free Range Childhood

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s you could look around my hometown and see kids wondering the streets unsupervised on a regular basis. Among those kids you would almost always find a ten year old me riding my bike to the park or pool down the street, or walking the 1 1/2 miles to the public library or Tasty Freeze. If I wanted to go to the mall or a movie, my parents had no qualms with dropping me and my friends off for a couple hours. If I wanted to go to a friend’s house within town, I didn’t have to wait until I had a ride. My feet were perfectly capable of taking me.

If I wasn’t around town I was running through the woods in my backyard. I built forts, climbed trees, scrapped my legs on thorn bushes, brushed through poison ivy, played war games, had campfires, and generally lived as if I were Pocahontas herself from the time I woke up to well past dark. If my parents needed me they could step outside and yell my name, but I was otherwise left to do as I pleased without their hovering as a distraction.

I was to a tee a free range kid, but that wasn’t what it was called back then. Instead it was simply refereed to as being a kid. My parents always knew my whereabouts. They trusted that I exercise the caution they taught me, and simply let me be.

These days when I visit my hometown I take a glimpse around and realize that while there were once handfuls of kids roving the place, I have seen very few unsupervised children lately. The kids at tasty freeze or the library are almost always accompanied by an adult. Children on bikes seem to be confined to their driveways rather than allowed to zip through the neighborhood.  I don’t remember the last time I saw a kid under 16 in a movie theater or mall by themselves. Times have drastically changed since I’ve grown up.

On one hand I can understand why this is. It is incredibly easy for parents to imagine in very vivid ways the driver of a rusty windowless van sitting at the side of a park, beckoning young children to get in. It’s a chilling thought, but it’s also mostly one of the imagination rather than practicality. We’ve heard it said that times have changed since “back in the day”, but that seems to be an assumption built out of emotion rather than evidence. In fact, when we do look at evidence we can find that times have actually gotten better. The chances of a “stereotypical kidnapping” (a case of a stranger snatching a child) is extremely rare.

In a 2011 report it is noted that homicide rates in general have “declined to levels last seen in the mid-1960’s“, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, with the majority of homicide cases against children being the fault of a parent or other family member. If you’ve ever stopped to look at the missing person’s bulletin board at Walmart you can see that most cases of kidnappings involve a custody issue within families, or a runaway situation.

It is heavily unlikely that a child will be picked up at the mall by a stranger, yet I rarely see kids hanging out in the food court alone with their friends like I used to do. What’s far more likely is a stranger meeting a child through social media, and yet there are more children at younger ages carrying their own smartphones and laptops. The idea of allowing children the freedom to explore their physical locations unsupervised is becoming significantly more challenged by the justice system (you can see a few cases here, here, and here). However, the idea of a 12 year old having practically unlimited access to the internet isn’t as widely considered to be neglectful.

It is natural parental instinct to constantly worry over a child’s safety, and it can sometimes be a struggle to make decisions that effect their well being. There is a comfort in having control over a situation, and when a child is under direct supervision it is easier to believe they are doing okay than when they’re allowed to drift on their own. Strangers can’t threaten them, bullies can’t hurt their feelings, and we can step in when they’re about to break a bone. Not only is it hard to trust the world around them, but it is also hard to trust them. It’s almost as if there is a piece of parental subconscious that believes children have no regard for their own well being, and lack any awareness of safety. Whether we want to admit this out loud or not, it is easy to withhold trust unfairly rather than giving them the space to take responsibility over their own security.

Is our knee-jerk reaction to be overly safe the best for their long-term welfare? Hovering over our children will grant us the ability to swoop in when a situation becomes uncomfortable, but at some point the lessons children will learn from their freedom will outweigh the risks taken when parents let go of some control. As I think back on my own experience as a free range kid I strongly believe that the freedom I had as a rover instilled some of the traits I find most useful as an adult.

If I wanted to go somewhere in town, and my grandmother (who raised me) was too busy to drive me, I was told to walk. To this day I maintain a “if you want something done, do it yourself” mentality that has gotten me through a number of stressful situations where I couldn’t rely on others. The idea of walking a mile to get ice cream, or to meet a friend, or to pick up a book from the library, or to buy supplies from the hardware store for a creative project was not foreign to me. I was motivated to abandon a little bit of laziness in place of determination. My schedule wasn’t under the dictatorship of my parent’s schedule, which allowed me the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and efforts. To this day my determination can get me up and going when I need something done my way, and I have always blamed that on the fact that my grandmother told me to walk myself from point A to point B if I wanted to do something bad enough.

Not only was responsibility and character built through free-ranging, but I also feel I had a better sense of safety than I would have, had my parents chosen to hover. If they were going to let me out and about unsupervised, they were going to be sure I knew how to handle myself in various situations. My freedom provided opportunities for us to discuss the common sense of keeping safe, and had I spent my childhood with an adult helicoptering over my every move I doubt it would have been as effective. I would have grown up with the expectation that my parents had my safety and well being covered, rather than understanding that I share responsibility in taking care of myself. When I walked through a neighborhood without my parents I was well aware that I needed to be cognizant of anything suspect.

And yet, I also believe that it helped me keep reality in perspective. The majority of people out and about are generally good, and I was comfortable accepting help from strangers when I needed it. Asking to borrow an unknown person’s cell phone at the library to call home when needed (which I did once or twice) is a far cry from climbing into the back seat of a windowless van. Rather than encouraging fear and over caution, my parents allowed me to have a healthy mix of common sense and a comfort in seeking help when I needed it. It is without a doubt necessary to teach  “stranger danger”, however, as we go through life we will find that strangers are significantly more likely to lend a helping hand rather than carry evil intentions. Had I been more sheltered I would have been less able to accept that help. As I grew into the person I am today I couldn’t count the number of times simple acts of kindness from strangers helped make my life a little easier, and in turn my comfort has allowed me to be on the giving end of these interactions . A dear friend and role model of mine once said to me that it is easier to instill caution than it is to get over fear, and I could not agree more. I didn’t start off afraid of the world around me. Instead I became aware of true dangers after I saw that most people at the library, or the park, or the public pool were regular humans. As an adult I realize that if something were to ever truly go wrong while I’m out and about, it would be these strangers who I would call out to for help.

But aside from the lessons and responsibility I’ve gained, the true benefit of my free range life was having a real and genuine childhood. I have been bumped, bruised, and my skin has been permanently scarred, but with each injury I have a history that I wouldn’t trade for the world. With my parents inside the house and unable to disrupt our activities in the middle of the woods with their watchful presence, the other kids and I shared a world that no one else could ever experience. No one could understand the battle lines of our war games, and our inside jokes will never make sense to an outsider. We trusted each other in a way that is incredibly unique among children, and encouraged each other to take new risks and overcome challenges. We developed teamwork and comradery while building forts and attempting the crazy ideas we came up with. We knew how to be silly, we knew how to be brave, we knew how to productively argue with one another, we knew how to encourage each other, we knew how to pick ourselves up when we fell, we knew where to find adventure, we knew how to make the most out of our carefree days. We knew how to live, because those were the first moments in life we were free to be who we were separate from authority.

Someday my son will experience something I could never be part of. He will have a world separate from anything I could understand, and there will be things he won’t be able to find the words sufficient enough to explain to me. My hope is that I can trust him enough to look out for himself, and that wherever we are at that time it is a place where I feel comfortable unleashing him. If I’m able to do that, I know he will learn things I could never teach him. They would be the type of things a child only learns while their parents are not looking. They are the things that will help shape him into the person I want him to be.

High Holiday Reflections

This was not my proudest week. I’ve been feeling awful, crummy, and burdened with a sense that life is being held together with bubble gum and shoe string. While I normally feel like I have this wife and mother thing figured out, I was put in my place by a mix of frantic car shopping, a broken air conditioner (which we still needed even in September), failed plans, a messy house that was beginning to drive me mad, lack of sleep, and a very real case of terrible twos that I am still trying to figure out how to deal with. It has been a week of a constant battle in my mind between one half insisting that I am doing okay and will conquer the chaos, and the other latching onto feelings of failure and defeat.

Now we enter into the holiday season, where my time is consumed with Rosh HashanahYom Kippur, and Sukkot. While I am about to face many hours at our synagogue over the next couple of weeks, preparing various foods for the numerous community meals, and an overall topsy turvy schedule, you would think that the constant rush would push my anxiety over the edge. On top of the hustle and bustle of holiday season, this is also a time of heavy reflection and acknowledgement of the ways we fall short as humans, as if I didn’t have enough guilt over my faults recently. Yet as Shabbat rolled in on Friday night I was able to release the breath I had been holding in all week, and take in rush of fresh air.

As a major control freak it is almost as if the sudden burst of stress and panic was a form of pre-holiday preparation. I am regularly attempting to force life to go my way, stepping in to do everything myself when I feel things are going opposite of what I desire. If you were to ask me who the ultimate authority is over my life I would quickly answer “G-d“, and deep down I know that to be true. In practice, however, it seems as if I am making routine attempts to high jack that authority for myself. This week I had to acknowledge all of the strengths I lacked, and confront my weaknesses. I failed at so many things, and the tasks that I did successfully accomplish took so much energy and effort that it didn’t feel at all like achievements. By the time Shabbat arrived I was completely drained.

As we inched closer to this holiday season I had so many plans and goals. I wanted a cleaner house, better food prepared, less stress, more confidence in my parenting, and I wanted the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah to be filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead I received what I truly needed. This week of chaos left me with little of what I had set my mind to. My ego was bruised and my confidence wounded. It left me the way we all should feel coming into these holidays. Broken and ready for repair.

This is the time of year when we face G-d straightforward. Admitting our defects can make these days heavy and difficult, but there is also a sense of freedom accompanied with our confessions. It is commanded that we set aside this precious time to reflect, and while our worship is directed solely onto Him, this is also a time for our benefit. Last week I continued to push through and spared no time to regather myself, and if I struggled with that in one week then imagine what the rest of my year looks like.

Our all knowing G-d tells us to pause. We are drowning, and our instinct is to flail our limbs in every which way as we try to save our panicked selves, which only accelerates our sinking. Instead, what we need is to be still long enough to float on the surface. We are told these holidays “…shall be to you like a Sabbath…“, and we are expected to set everything aside to rest, observe, and sift through the deepest places in our hearts. We are to halt our panic, and instead calmly rise away from whatever is pulling us under.

In between the food, music, and schmoozing, there is the uncomfortable and intimidating process of encountering our transgressions, whether they are against another person or G-d Himself. For anyone who truly takes these holidays for what they are, it is a tough process. Just like swallowing a spoon full of medicine. However, just like medicine, once we overcome the initial challenge we can feel ourselves begin to heal. We can realize what it is in our everyday life that leaves us broken, and start to repair for the future. We are not stuck on a carousal of saying and doing the wrong things. Through the Days of Awe we are receiving a chance to step away, realize where we are going wrong, and decide to change. We are given the chance to catch our breath before we re-enter the title wave of everyday life.

As I think back on the core feelings I experienced just within this past week, I can pin point sensations of pride, envy, jealousy, distrust in G-d, and various other experiences that can be traced back to my sinful nature as a human being. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are reminders that I cannot save myself, and with all the mistakes I make in my life that is an incredibly reassuring reminder. I know that if I were expected to provide my own salvation I would fail gravely, just like I fail at so many other things. Just as G-d continues to hold our hands through the process of accepting that redemption, He provides us a time to step out of our routine in order to reevaluate what that deliverance means for us.

It means we have another chance to do better. We do not need to be enslaved to our mistakes, and they do not have to define us. Humanity has such a hard time admitting that we do wrong, and our excuses can run rampant when our sins catch up with us. When we are forced to bow our heads in defeat and admit our faults, setting excuses and denial aside, we are able to begin the process of improvement.

I want my life to be so much more than balancing between justifying my wrong doings and hanging over feelings of guilt. I want to be revived when my imperfections overpower me, and be continuously molded so that whoever I am when I decease is the best person I could possibly be. I should be able to refocus whenever I make a mistake. I should be able to recall everyday the fact that G-d provides for me what I cannot provide myself, while also giving me the power to overcome my lapse of righteousness and goodness. Among all of my other struggles, however, is my forgetfulness to pause and reflect. When the average day becomes too much for me to handle I once again start to drown in my panic, forgetting to still myself long enough to be lifted above the surface. So I am given Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A time to encounter what is most difficult in my life, be freed from it’s subjection, and brought further into the dominion of The One who truly holds His merciful authority over my life.

And that is such a sweet experience every single time.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

A couple days ago we had our friend’s 3rd grader in the car with us. She’s a sweet and very adorable kid, and conversations with her are always entertaining. In an attempt to keep her occupied during our drive we asked the one question grown ups love to discuss with children: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

At first her answer wasn’t surprising. Veterinarian. Doctor. Astronaut. However, her list became a little more flavorful as she described things that had nothing to do with a career.

“I want to be a weed puller for my neighbors”
“I want to be a person who makes babies laugh”
“I want to be a traveler!”

My husband and I got a good giggle out of her long (very long) list of ambitions, but she struck me with the uniqueness of her answers. Children are asked all the time what they want to be when they grow up, and somewhere down the line they learn exactly what to say in order to please the grown ups of our career driven society. They can parrot a list of well payed prestigious careers that so many people value. America is filled with little wannabe doctors, lawyers, astronauts, scientists, and presidents. We have trained kids from a very young age that what they should strive to be is a career.

It was refreshing to hear a little girl want more than that. She didn’t want to be just a career. She wanted to be a person. Someone who cares about her neighbors. Someone who has enough of a personality to brighten a baby’s day. Someone who has a hobby, and a sense of adventure. When asked what she wanted to be her future career wasn’t the defining factor. She projected an entire character to strive for.

Our society struggles with an inability to accurately determine self-worth. We care too much about the money we make. The house we live in. The career we have. We are taught that we should find jobs which suit our passions, even though it is near impossible for the majority of people to do so. It is a rare thing to see someone who separates passion from work, or has priorities outside of their job. Heaven forbid someone sees their career simply as a means to pay for the things they truly value, rather than valuing their work above other things.

What this conversation showed me was how quickly children catch on to a job centered attitude. Her list of non-career related answers made me smile because they were so different from what I was expecting, but what I was expecting is actually pretty sad. I assumed I would hear a list of high paying professions which require years of hard work and school. That is what most kids resort to when asked what they want to be.

Not her though. She wants more out of life, and it is so encouraging to know that I don’t have to push my own children to be like everybody else. I can teach them the priorities that really matter. I can teach them that they can do anything they want to do for money, but happiness is not limited to work.

The person you are is not the title you have at a job. The person you are is defined by your everyday actions, in and out of work. It is defined by the things that interest you, and the priorities you cherish.

If growing up means losing that perspective, then I don’t want my kids to be grown ups.

Mothers: An Image of G-D

We live in an age where women are not bound to a specific role in life. They can heal people as doctors, defend justice as lawyers, spread knowledge as teachers, voice a message as authors, or lead an entire nation as politicians. Women have the ability to be of great influence, and they can choose among a variety of opportunities in life.

For those women who choose to stay home with their children, it can sometimes be discouraging to think about our worldly influence. While we proudly make the decision to put all our efforts into raising a family, our self-worth can be damaged by the question of “what do you do?”. It sometimes may seem that people ask that question expecting to hear something exciting and worthwhile. When we answer “I stay home”, it’s suddenly as if our influence in the world is minuscule. All believers strive to have a role in the coming of the kingdom. We all want to participate in bringing forth “tikkun olam” (repairing of the world). If we choose to stay in our homes, concentrating on our specific family, how are we ever going to contribute to G-d’s greater plan? It’s a question many of the stay at home mothers I know struggle with.

Overall I don’t dwell on this question too much. I’m thrilled to do what I do, and I chose to stay home because I feel it is a necessity for my family. G-d made it very clear to me that I need to focus on my child, and I dare not question His intentions for me. That does not mean, however, that I am not struck with self-consciousness every now and then, especially when I’m speaking to someone who is out and about changing lives through their work. Every now and then I need something that uplifts my spirits, and reminds me that my role in life is worth a great deal.

A great encouragement, however, came this past weekend at my community’s annual women’s retreat. The theme this year focused on being created “in the image of G-d”, and how we as women reflect that image. For part of the time we glanced at the characteristics of G-d, and how He possesses both masculine and feminine traits. We are familiar with the masculine language used to describe G-d (such as the Bible’s use of the word “He”, or referring to Him as “The Father”), but there are also times when G-d is compared to a motherly figure as well (Isaiah 66:13, or Luke 13:34 for example).

For me, this presented a new and improved perspective as the matriarch of my household. We know that G-d created both man and woman in His image, as stated in Genesis 1:27. However, the first time we see G-d declaring something as “not good” is in Genesis 2:18 when He says that it is not good for man to be alone. As G-d is the definition of what is good, His reflection (man) should be good as well. So G-d solved this by giving man a woman.

This small detail really hit me, and it’s something I have been thinking about ever since coming home from the retreat. I had already known that my son needs both a mother and father figure for a variety of practical reasons. However, I walked away from this weekend realizing that together as man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, two people working as one unit, we present a reflection of G-d.

The two distinct roles of father and mother are not required solely for the every day functions of our house. These roles are needed to help show my son who G-d is. G-d presents Himself in many ways, whether it’s through His word, prophetic dreams or visions, blessings, the words of our congregational leaders, or even the actions of complete strangers. One of these manifestations is the reflection a father and mother show their children. The role of a mother, half of a complete image of G-d, is no small thing to be. It is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly, and one that can have great impact not only in the lives of her children, but in the world as a whole.

As we raise our kids we are presenting them with a message and way of life that will be passed down from generation to generation. They are the future. The people who will continue leading by example and spreading this message. What we instill in them will be spread to their friends, their coworkers, their own children. There is something special and important in the decision to give up any personal success in order to focus solely on one’s family. It’s something that shouldn’t make us feel ashamed, but proud. We see that what we impress upon our children will have a variety of ripple effects, so we might as well give it our all.

This does not mean that G-d expects all women to stay home with their children. It does not mean that there isn’t another purpose and path that G-d may lead some women through. Women have made great impacts throughout history outside of their homes, and they too have contributed to tikkun olam. Their work should never be diminished, and everyone should be encouraged to follow the path G-d has set forth for them, traditional or not. It most certainly doesn’t make them any less of a mother.

I am, however, saying that those of us who choose a more subtle and traditional life are worth something as well. We are not stuck in the house because we would be unsuccessful in other areas of life. We are not the weakened damsels who remain locked away at home under our husband’s enslaving authority. Our kids are not the chains that make our lives a miserable Hell. That imagery is pathetically deceitful, yet very common in the mindset of general society these days.

We are so much more than that. We too strive to accomplish G-d’s work, and we have a purpose in our roles. We play a part in the completed reflection of who G-d is, and we present that image to our children who will continue the progress of tikkun olam.

So, remember that next time someone asks “what do you do?”.

You strive to present the future generations with the image of G-d.

Above all else, that is what we were created to do.

My Obsession With Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a huge deal to me. Once November hits I immediately begin brainstorming menu ideas, and researching new techniques for old recipes. I start eyeing the turkeys at the grocery store, and crossing my fingers in hopes that the sugar pumpkins don’t go out of stock before I’m ready for them (because yes, I use actual pumpkin puree in my cooking). Since my husband and I have been spending our holidays together, I’ve scratched my brain over how to make Thanksgiving work in my favor. I disliked the idea of sharing responsibilities and not hosting in our home. Hospitality is a particular gift I want to strengthen within myself, and it’s a form of ministry I want to keep up with. However, I also need to respect the traditions of my husband’s family. I completely understood that I couldn’t dominate the holiday and expect everyone to make their pilgrimage (no pun intended) to my house from various parts of the region just because I wouldn’t give up my insistence that I host Thanksgiving every year..

So I compromised. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, and within Judaism we prepare special weekly meals on Friday nights in order to welcome in Shabbat (the Sabbath). Right there was an easy solution, and one that actually adds a deeper meaning to this beautiful holiday. Thursday we do whatever the rest of the family is doing, while the next Friday night we extend the celebration with out closest friends for a Thanksgiving-Shabbat meal. It also gives us an opportunity to be thankful not just for our blood relatives, but also for our closest friends who we consider part of the family as well.

This would be the first year I’m throwing this Shabbat Thanksgiving dinner, and I’ve been pondering what it is that makes it so important for me to host Thanksgiving. Taking one look at my son, I knew the answer to this immediately: It’s for my children.

In my memories, Thanksgiving is distinct and precious. My grandmother woke up early to prep the turkey, and by noon the house smelled incredible. I remember the happiness that radiated off of her as she stood in the kitchen all day, watching every detail that went into preparing the food. I remember sitting at the table stirring various mixes, and taking in all of her kitchen know-hows she was passing along to me as I assisted her. It’s a memory heavy with warmth, and something I believe helped shape me into the person that I am.

I want to cook Thanksgiving dinner, because that is a memory I want my children to share with me. I want them to see me planning menus, comparing turkey sizes, spending a week dividing the work into increments of what can be prepared ahead of time and what will be cooked day of. I want my kids to see me in the kitchen, radiating with happiness and spouting my own kitchen know-hows as I create culinary masterpieces from scratch. I want them to inhale the same smells I breathed during the Thanksgivings of my own childhood.

In our world, we get so caught up in our individual successes. We want the jobs that come with flashy titles and fancy pay checks. Our vacations and adventures define how much we are truly “living” life. Simplicity is boring, and we’re pushed to spend our most lively and energetic years in “self-discovery”. As I’m growing more and more into my role as a stay at home mother in the most traditional sense, I’m beginning to realize the worth of this simple lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle where cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family and friends every year is an enormous deal.

Despite the simple lifestyle I lead, I still acknowledge the fact that I’m in my years of self-discovery, and I fully take advantage of the energy I have as a young 20-something. I learn who I am by the things I’m instilling in my child, pulling out the morals and convictions that are most important to me, and observing the changes in the way I view the world now that I’m responsible for raising another human being. I wear myself out keeping up with a toddler while at the same time keeping my home a comfortable environment for the entire family. As Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m making shopping lists and looking ahead to a week of constant food preparation. I’m doing these things while I’m still young and able, fitting in as much of it as I can in my life.

Yes, I am definitely living life. As I sit back this Thanksgiving basking in the tremendous relationships that I am blessed with (whether it’s my son, husband, family, or friends), I will be spending every moment thanking G-d for the beauty of it all.

So perhaps I’m a little frantic when it comes to Thanksgiving, but it is my way of showing my loved ones how Thankful I am for them. It’s not about the food itself, though I do admit I have a deep love for cooking. It’s about the message that the food carries. When I’m 65 years old, perhaps I’ll be ready to pass the kitchen over to someone else. Preferably a daughter of mine (be it my own child or an in-law). That is still quite a few decades away, and until then I fully intend to exhaust myself, because that is what my loved ones deserve, and that is how I want to live my life.

Why Homeschool?

I went to public school, and for the most part I had a pretty decent time. When my husband and I first started dating soon after I graduated, he offhandedly mentioned the idea of homeschooling future kids. At first I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the idea, having just come out of high school and having a tiny bit of withdrawal. As time passed the idea grew significantly more appealing, and I quickly found myself more attracted to homeschooling.

Unfortunately a scary factor with taking on such a huge responsibility has nothing to do with how I’m going to provide a wholesome education. The challenge I find myself facing has more to do with how society reacts to my child’s education. I don’t know how often I’ve heard debates regarding the legality of homeschooling, or the accusations correlating homeschooling with child abuse. It’s so funny to me, because when I think about what a parent is risking by sending their child to a standard school (private or public), I cannot honestly see how such a choice is a better option. I’m not saying homeschooling isn’t without it’s struggles and concerns, and I’m not saying all parents should home school, but I do feel that if a person is ready to criticize a family for their decision regarding homeschooling, they should think about the package that comes with the other options available as well.

So, here are my responses for common criticisms I’ve personally received regarding homeschooling, and a few reasons why I feel it is the best option for my family:

1) What about socialization?
This is the number one complaint people have against homeschooling. I understand the concern, and it is a concern. I know of a couple home schooled kids who demonstrate the stereotype of a socially awkward person who never really learned how to communicate and interact with others . You know what though? I knew kids in public school who had those same habits and behaviors. I also knew kids in public school who had plenty of friends, but gained those friends through sketchy and shallow methods.

There are also the kids who come out of homeschooling as confident and pleasant people. They are the type of people who will light up any room they walk into, or make friends with complete strangers in a moment’s time simply by being engaging and friendly. Not every parent who chooses to home school does so for the purpose of sheltering their children from society. These days, there are communities for home school families. There are also a variety of extra curricular activities that get children out and among other kids.

When a parent chooses to home school, they usually know socialization will need to be a priority, and it will be something a parent will need to concentrate on. It should not, however, be a concern that is restricted to parents of home schooled children. Parents who send their children to public school need to be concerned with the socialization their child receives as well. Homeschooling may result in a lack of socialization, but to criticize homeschooling because of that issue means putting too much faith in the socialization a child receives in standard school. Public school produces the type of socialization that results in vanity, a lack of self confidence, bullying, and stupid decisions for the sake of impressing others. To pretend a public schooled child will be better off than a home schooled child is a serious assumption. With a strong family supporting a child, it is possible to get through public school without much damage, but it’s just as possible to successfully home school as well.

2) Will it be a decent education?
While talking to a friend of mine who was home schooled, I asked her what her perspective was regarding her experience (she is a very bright and successful person, and I really valued her opinion). She replied with words I could never forget:

“When you’re home schooled, the world is your classroom”.

One of the reasons behind our decision to home school is the fact that we want our children to have a different educational experience than what a standard school can offer.

The word “exploration” often comes to mind when considering the method of learning that children should be given, but that is the last word that comes to mind when thinking of the method traditional school uses. In a standard school setting, think of how much time a child spends in a chair learning from a lecture, book, or power point. Not to mention, schools are being thrown into testing hysteria. Teachers are so harshly pushed to teach by the test that schools end up concerning themselves with whether or not children will be able to fill in a scantron the correct way, rather than trying to instill valuable knowledge.

In my high school there was a unique program called “studies” that a handful of students had the opportunity to take. It was a two hour period where History and English were combined into one class. The entire structure was different from other classes I had taken. More often than not we were up and out of our seats experiencing our lessons through alternative methods. We participated in simulations. We did experiments. We acted out scenes from history and literate, and we debated complicated issues. It was ground breaking, and I had never learned from one class the amount of things I learned from the studies program. Unfortunately, there was always the threat that the studies program would be eliminated. The school, for whatever reason, was never too sure about the existence of the program, and a couple years after I graduated I had heard that it was cut. It had been a unique experiment in a dull and failing system. A diamond in the rough so to speak, but there is just no room for that sort of thing in many public schools.

That opportunity opened my eyes to the fact that education could be so much more than retaining knowledge from a book or lecture. It could be an experience. When I say I want to home school, I don’t mean to have my children sit in their pajamas at the kitchen table doing whatever work sheet happens to be in a book. I mean to do all that I can to involve them in what they are learning. With home schooling, I have the ability to turn education into something so much more than sitting in a classroom taking notes. Are we learning about American History? We can hop in the car and drive over to DC and see the Declaration of Independence. Are we learning about geology? There are some awesome places around here where you can find very rocks to hold in your hands and observe up close. Are we learning about the solar system? Get up and go to the planetarium.

Will children receive a decent education through homeschooling? It depends on the parents and tutors, just like it depends on the teachers a child happens to be placed under. As for me, I want the type of education for my children that is not restricted by a desk, liability, bureaucracy. I want to give them the type of education that the world has to offer.

3) You’re trying to push your religion on your children
I often internally laugh when people say they want to raise children to make their own decisions and form independent beliefs from what they (the parents) believe, because let’s be honest, no one truly lives by that, nor should they. Parents are a child’s number one teacher, whether they want that responsibility or not. They should be the ones who take charge in setting morals and foundational world views for their children.

With that said, I know of the parents who would intentionally hide a variety of subjects from their children in order to “protect” them from questioning their faith. However, that parenting flaw is no more dangerous than the idea that parents shouldn’t push their beliefs on their children. If parents don’t stand for something, their children will fall for anything.

There is a middle ground. It is possible to instill beliefs in children, while at the same time being honest with their education. Personally I think it is a disaster waiting to happen when children are hidden from certain subjects that might test their faith. They will not be in the nest forever, and eventually they will have to face those issues. A lot of homes schooling parents realize this. I am not keeping my child from public school in order to hide potentially faith breaking subjects. I want my child to know about Evolution. I want them to know the teachings of Bart Ehrman and Friedrich Nietzche. The difference, however, is that I want to present what I believe to be true as well.

In the end, I want my child’s faith to be their own. I don’t want them to believe in something simply because mommy and daddy told them to. I want them to take hold of it for themselves, test it, and persevere with it. I want them to have the type of faith where they are not ignorant of what else is out there, and yet they still stand strong in what they believe. That does not mean I leave them to draw their own conclusions. If children are supposed to be completely independent when it comes to their decisions on what to believe, there would be no point in school at all.

As parents, people are supposed to do the best they can to instill what is right and true into their children. That is exactly what I will do. That does not mean I hide from the criticisms, or the information that might stir a number of questions. It just means I present what I believe to be true, and why I believe it to be true. I offer the chance that maybe, just maybe, we are right and the standard is wrong. If my children come out with the faith of their parents, it is not because they were deceived. It will be because they have the evidence, both for and against, and made their own decisions based on that.
4) Family
Think about the amount of time a child actually spends with family when they are placed in public school. They might have a rushed breakfast with the parents (even that is often not the case). They get to school around 9:00 AM. Finish school around 3:00 PM. If the child is “well socialized”, they will probably have an extra curricular activity that might end by 5:00 PM. Kids get home, possibly have a meal with the parents. They then get up from the table and go straight to homework. By the time they complete their homework, it might be about 8:30 PM (and let’s not fool ourselves, this is pretty early for a high school student. Realistically we may be talking until 10 or 11, possibly midnight). Maybe two or three waking hours on a week day where a child might have time with their family. Sure you have weekends, but children have friends they might want to spend time with (it’s the whole socialization thing).

Some families are not okay with this. They may see a value in being able to have time for a relaxed meal vs.a rushed one. They may want to have flexibility in random family fun nights. With the schedule set by a standard school day you really have to twist an arm in order to find the time for families to enjoy one another, which is sad considering you only have 18 fast paced years before a child is packing their belongings and making a home someplace else.

Homeschooling in and of itself is family bonding. Families not only learn together, but they don’t have to conform to a schedule set by some system that accommodates millions of other families. They can take vacations when it is most convenient for them rather than when it’s most convenient for an administration. They can rearrange their schedule so that they can enjoy a night of board games or bowling, and not worry about a bed time. I want to enjoy the time I have with my children, and I especially want my children to enjoy their time with me. Families shouldn’t have to sacrifice their time together for the sake of their child’s education.

The decision to home school is often misrepresented, and misunderstood. It is often written off based on stereotypes and preconceived ideas. However, for those parents who choose to learn a little bit more about the home schooling option, and to explore what it can be, they often find something they believe to be better for their children. These parents often understand the concerns that accompany home schooling, and choose to work through those struggles rather than give in to the alternative.

It is not an option for everyone. Some families would benefit more from a standard form of education rather than home school, and that is okay. A child’s education must be a family by family decision. What works for one family may not work for another. In either case, however, there are struggles. It is important to recognize the fact that there are challenges in whatever decision a parent makes regarding their child’s education, and to assume that those challenges are without benefit could mean missing out on a truly valuable educational opportunity.

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