education · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 175: So long, Sluggy. We hardly knew ye.

For those of you who were wondering: N did a great job on breakfast and lunch yesterday. Dinner, however, was another story. He flat-out refused to do his job, choosing instead to run into his bedroom and hide under his blanket. No amount of pep talk, stern lecturing, or cajoling could get him to come out. Eventually E and I took over N’s job and got dinner on the table in about ten minutes.

When they were all sitting around the table, I opened up the discussion: “What do you guys think is a fair consequence for someone not doing their kitchen job?” When that failed to elicit thoughtful responses I changed tack: “Can someone tell me what harm is done when someone doesn’t do their job?” Eventually we all agreed that shirking one’s duty is annoying and disrespectful to everyone else, and that the penalty should be no swimming or boating for the entire next day.

Kids are creative, though, so today K found a way around having to do all the work herself. She “traded” with me, Mr. December, and R: she’d cook one meal on each of our days in exchange for us cleaning up for her today. Even with that concession, she managed to find things to be grumpy about; and when K ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Today was a weird day. It was very windy and overcast and the water was rough. Thunderstorms had been forecast for today, so as soon as the rain started falling I pulled the girls out of the lake. We spent most of the day inside watching “How It’s Made” videos, reading, and snacking out of boredom. We started to watch a movie and then stopped when nobody liked it. K’s moodiness just added furstration to our boredom, and we were all on edge.

After dinner I went down to the fire pit to start a campfire, but the kindling was all wet and nothing would catch. Some lighter fluid, a lot of fanning, and one hour later we finally had a roaring fire. I pulled out the guitar and started to sing. The first few songs were fine, but R was still off in a corner reading her book and K was still being a bit obnoxious. Then Mr. December requested the “Corner Grocery Store” song, and our day did a 180-degree turn.

The kids went from “I’m-just-here-for-the-marshmallows-and-I-don’t-want-to-be-nice-to-anyone” to “pleeeeease sing that again!” I sang verses based on their suggestions, rhyming “mango” with “fandango” (because the mango is tired of dancing the tango); we sang about marshmallows hugging all their fellows; and how the trees ate up the cheese, which was crawling on its knees. By the time the song was over, everyone was giggling and singing along.

As we moved on to other songs, K turned over a rock and found a slug. She showed the rest of us and E immediately ran to get her tweezers, bug net, and petri dish so we could examine it up close. The kids clamoured to hold the dish and look at “Sluggy” while E insisted that we take him back to the house so we could find him in her bug book (for the record, he was a banana slug.) The kids then sprinkled Sluggy with salt and took pictures with him before unceremoniously flinging his remains back into the woods.

That’s how our day ended: with songs, giggling, sibling cooperation, and a well-salted slug; and to think that only a few short hours ago I had thought the only good thing about this day was that it would eventually end. As Mr. December pointed out, you never really know what will grab the kids’ interest and get them all excited and working together. I guess the important thing is to notice and enjoy it when they do.

education · family fun · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 174: KP

After our frustration with our children’s unwillingness to be helpful here, Mr. December and I decided to implement a better system than the one we have at home. No arguing about which chore belongs to whom: one person is on KP (Kitchen Patrol) for an entire day, and is responsible for preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Halfway through day one of this new system, it’s working well in that I haven’t had to do much. N took his turn today because the menu consisted mostly of things he already knows how to make: oatmeal for breakfast, grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch, and chicken fajitas — which he doesn’t know how to make but is about to learn — for dinner.

Since it’s his first full day on KP, N has a few things to learn: you have to start cooking a meal for six people at least half an hour before you want to serve it; you have to unload the clean dishwasher before you can load the dirty dishes; and you have to set up and clean up while everyone else is out having fun. He tried griping about that last one, but I looked at him and deadpanned: “I have no idea what that must feel like.”

We brought a lot of food up with us. Mr. December has remarked several times that we have way too much and won’t finish it before the end of the month. He clearly doesn’t cook for the family very often; if he did, he’d know that it takes a whole loaf of sliced bread and two packages of cheese to make grilled cheese for the family. We brought six dozen eggs, which he thought was ridiculous. I broke it down like this: a dozen eggs is a single breakfast for the family (along with a whole loaf of bread for toast), or two batches of challah dough (we’re here for four shabbat dinners as well as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which means we could probably get by on three batches of dough.) I know there are people who buy those little half-dozen cartons of eggs, but we’re not them.

“Okay!” He says, with his hands up in a gesture of innocence, “But look how many different kinds of bread there are! There’s so much of it!” And then I tick them off on my hands: pita, one dinner (with falafel and salads); naan, two bags will take us through two dinners of tandoori chicken; those six bags of flour tortillas will go quickly when we use them for PB&B wraps, quesadillas, and fajitas. I give it two weeks before we’re down to our last bag of bread.

K has just come outside. “I’m hungry,” she announces to me.

I check the time. “Well, we can tell N that it’s time to start getting dinner ready.”

“But I’m hungry now!” she whines, “and I can’t go in the hot tub as a distraction because the water is a weird colour because you guys didn’t add chemicals to it last night. Can you do something about one of those problems?”

I sure can, I think. Tomorrow I’m instituting a new daily job: Hot Tub Attendant. And since K seems to know what’s needed, I’m nominating her.

education · Fibro Flares · Kids · mental health · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 165: On Seeing and Believing

At this very moment, K is walking around gazing in every direction and whispering, “Wow!” Why? Because she can actually see everything for the first time in a long time, that’s why.

This is where I confess a parenting fail: it seems that I haven’t had my kids’ eyesight checked in two and a half years. I didn’t have an appointment scheduled for anytime in the near future, either, but last week Mum called my attention to the fact that while K could see the shape of the wall clock, she couldn’t see any of the numbers or hands.

Insight Medical 20/20 Vision Digital Acuity Chart Package – Insight Medical  Technologies

So this week I whisked her off to see our optometrist. Looking at the black-and-white letter chart, K announced that she couldn’t read any of the letters. The doctor switched to a chart with larger letters, this one starting with a giant E at the top, and K could read the top two lines. Everything below them was blurry.

“Don’t worry,” the optometrist said, “we have this instrument that verifies what the kids are telling us. They can’t fool us.”

Why on earth would a kid try to fool an optometrist? I thought. And then I thought, What has made him distrust children’s self-reporting? And then, How does it feel to be the kid in the chair, with the optometrist saying outright that he thinks you’d lie?

I felt insulted on K’s behalf, and on behalf of all the children who have come through that office. Then I realized that I’m equally guilty of disbelieving my kids, although I do like to think I’m less obvious about it.

One of my kids (I won’t name names here) was complaining about foot pain and couldn’t be more specific than that. There hadn’t been any kind of impact or accident that would have caused it, and since I mostly heard about it right at bedtime I shrugged it off as a stalling tactic. Two weeks later, when said child really couldn’t stop complaining, we went to the doctor who diagnosed it as something called Sever’s disease, which is inflammation in the growth plate of the heel. After lots of Advil and many weeks of physiotherapy and taping, the foot was feeling much better. I, on the other hand, was feeling like a total heel for not believing my child the first time. More than two weeks of pain for my child were my fault because I just didn’t believe the kid.

This post was going to be about believing children, but I think it’s a bigger issue than that. We don’t believe anyone, really. If you’re too sick to work, your boss doesn’t believe you until you present a note from your doctor. Heaven help you if you have an invisible disability or chronic illness; people with fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalitis (formerly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), mental health issues, and other invisible-but-disabling conditions are accustomed to hearing people suggest that they’re not sick, or not that sick, or that they could just pull up their socks and get better. I personally know people with chronic conditions who use mobility devices (usually a cane) not because they need them, strictly speaking, but because without some visible signifier, very few people will believe you if you tell them you need the “reserved for disabled” seating at the front of the bus.

How many individuals went through school being told that they were lazy and lying about being unable to do their work, when there were real learning disabilities affecting them? How often do we blame and punish children for their aggressive or impulsive behaviour when there are structural differences in areas of the brain that deal with self-control? How many adults believe that “problem” students could do better if only they wanted to?

We don’t believe what we can’t see. Not in others, and sometimes not even in ourselves. I can’t count the times I’ve pushed myself harder than I should: either because after months of good self-care I start to wonder if I imagined the whole pain-and-fatigue thing, or just because I’ve internalized the idea that to be sick or disabled you have to look miserable.

I hope that we can change this on a societal level. So many social issues could be tackled head-on if we believed people when they shared their experiences (instead of explaining them away.) I don’t have a proposal or idea of how we could effect this change; so in the spirit of being the change I wish to see in the world, I think I’ll start by believing my children… and myself.

education · family fun · Homeschool · waxing philosophical

Day 159: Picky, picky!

I can’t believe I’m about to say this…

My kids are learning how to pick locks.

I have no idea why and only a general idea of how, but Mr. December recently bought a lock-picking kit, complete with practice locks that let you actually see the pins as you try to move them. It took him about two hours of practice before he was able to pick one of the locks successfully, and now he’s teaching K how to do it. He tried to teach me but it aggravated my carpal tunnel syndrome, and I don’t like lock picking enough to make that tradeoff. I need to save my hands for woodworking, kayaking, and biking.

Mr. December looks at this as one of the various skills we can teach as part of homeschooling. We’ve been talking about how to structure our week so that we include time to practice these random skills (also up for consideration: knot tying and woodworking) in our “school hours” so that the kids do it without complaining that we’re infringing on their weekend time.

That discussion ended up exposing a fundamental difference in our philosophies. You see, Mr. December is convinced that after teaching the kids these random skills we’ll need to follow up and get them to practice regularly to master them. I, on the other hand, believe in introducing them to the skills and then ensuring they have the free time, materials, and support to practice if they want to.

See the difference? Mr. December seems to believe that if you’re going to start learning something, you should follow through and practice until you master it. I believe that it’s good to be exposed to lots of different skills, even superficially, because it gives you the best chance to find one you like. Once you’re interested in a skill you’ll practice voluntarily.

So you know, I agree with Mr. December when it comes to core disciplines like math and writing. But when we start to talk about what you might call “electives,” I see no point in forcing the kids to master skills they don’t enjoy practicing. Because really, who cares if my kids know how to tie a bowline? When they need it, they’ll learn. In the meantime, I’d rather they learn that learning is something to be passionate about, not something to be forced by an authority.

What do you think?

education · family fun · Homeschool · Just the two of us · love and marriage

Day 157: Trampoline Math (and other homeschool fun)

Today felt like a highlights reel of all the great things about homeschooling.

My morning started with K. At 9:15 the two of us snuggled on the couch while I worked with her on learning her torah reading and haftarah for her Bat Mitzvah. Then she went into the library to do her math, and Mr. December and I took a walk around the neighbourhood. Predictably, we talked about our plans for the kids, but the weather was perfect — not too hot — and it was nice to be together, just the two of us.

Back at home I suggested to E that we do some math together. I’m not going to repeat the conversation, but there was wailing and gnashing of teeth until I finally said, “Actually, we’re doing trampoline math today. Go get your shoes.” She was off like a shot.

What’s trampoline math, you ask? Or course you don’t know. I made it up this morning. First we did some mental addition and subtraction where I asked the question, and she figured out the answer and jumped that many times. Then I got her to practice writing her numbers by tracing a number of her choice and then getting up and jumping that number of times. E started making up her own addition questions and writing them out, and after half an hour of trampoline math she didn’t want to stop.

Meanwhile, K was doing math online with Khan Academy (which is an excellent resource and free, by the way). She hit a wall in her geometry book this week and we’d made very little progress since Monday, so yesterday we sat down and googled other ways for her to learn the concepts. We ended up at Khan Academy and K seemed to be able to focus and learn, so we decided to shelve the Kumon workbooks for now and have her do math online. When I came inside after trampoline math I went into the library to check on her. Lo and behold, she was still doing math two hours after she started (which is not unusual) and she had made good progress (which is extremely unusual.) What’s more, there were no tears and no yelling the entire time she was working. This might sound very banal to some of you, but seeing K working diligently without any issues is so unusual that I wanted to put it in sky writing.

The wonders didn’t cease there. After some lunch K turned her attention to writing. She didn’t get much down on paper but she was able to choose her topic and research the facts she needed; all of this was self-directed. I’m still floored.

There were more joyful moments: E read me Hop on Pop, but only after Mr. December started clowning around and reading it wrong. Later, we played a board game and I enjoyed watching E add up the numbers on the dice. Mr. December took a break around 3:00 and we biked out to drop off some food and a gift for my cousins who just had a baby. That was my workout and could have been K’s phys ed for the day if we had remembered to invite her along (oops.)

(Pro tip: if you’re bringing food to someone with a new baby, bring something that’s easy to eat one-handed. And err on the side of more food rather than less — nursing moms get hungry.)

I found the weirdest thing on Youtube today: a South African program for kids about different religions that was teaching kids about Pirkei Avot. The craft was making their own Torah scrolls out of paper and chopsticks. E was eager to do the craft, and ran around getting all the supplies before settling down to learn the art of Torah-making from a Black South African lady sitting in front of a huge cross. It was a bit odd to me, but the show was reasonably well done.

Instead of dinner, I doubled up my order of afternoon-tea-to-go so that half went to my cousins and half came home with us. We set it all up on the back porch; I brought out a basket of poetry books; and we had our inaugural “Poetry Teatime” (we got the idea from Julie Bogart’s book The Brave Learner.) In between the tiny sandwiches and scones with jam, we discovered a few new poets today and learned that (sadly) we’re not fans of Leonard Cohen’s poetry (anybody want a Leonard Cohen poetry book? Free to a good home!)

See what I mean about today being a highlight reel? We had snuggling-on-the-couch learning, jumping-on-the-trampoline learning, self-directed learning, tea-party learning. I had time to go for a walk and a bike ride and to deliver food to some new parents, and all of these things flowed into one another in their own time. It was so relaxing that I completely forgot about how I promised my friend that I’d do something for myself today, like bike to a café with a patio and have a meal without people needing anything from me. With days like these, who needs a break?

DIY · education · el cheapo · Homeschool · Kids

Day 155: Teaching E to Read

Now that E is well and truly riding her bike independently (including starting, stopping, and turning), I’m turning my focus back to her reading skills.

When we started with the Bob Books she was zooming right through them. At this point, though, starting set four, she is — how should I say this? — extremely opposed to reading. It seems that she has the same perfectionist streak as her siblings: if she can’t do it perfectly the first time, she gets very upset and refuses to do it at all. Maybe I need to break out the chocolate chips again and reward her every time she’s stumped by a word but works through it?

I’ve taken the advice of some of my readers (thanks, guys!) and tried some of the books from Progressive Phonics. They’re a lot of fun, with silly stories that are designed for the adult and child to take turns reading (adult reads all the words in black, child reads all the words in red.) They’re very basic and easy for her, but I’ve been using them intermittently to keep E enjoying the experience of reading.

In the meantime I’ve discovered a plethora of online resources, many of them free, including this amazing blog called This Reading Mama where, for the low, low price of signing up for her free email newsletter, you can access and download hundreds of materials. I was particularly excited because she has entire packages of games, activities, and puzzles that correspond to each of the Bob Books. I downloaded two to see how E would like them.

She loved them. She was particularly drawn to “I Spy Sight Words” where sight words from the books are printed in teeny-tiny fonts (maybe 4 point?) and hidden in a picture. E was delighted when I handed her the magnifying glass to aid in her search, and she kept me updated by shrieking out the sight words as she found them. I don’t think she even realized she was reading.

We played the “Blend-a-Word” game, in which you draw cards from two piles (beginning and ending), throw them into the “blender” (a printed picture of one, really) and read the result. The beautiful thing about this game is that you’re supposed to write down all the words, including nonsense words that aren’t words at all. The idea of nonsense words tickled E and she was keen to be the first to read the two cards together to see if she could spot a fake word before I could.

Her favourite by far (she loved it enough to play repeatedly with anyone and everyone) is “Oh, Snap!” This one wasn’t from the Bob Books activity packs — I think I found it on Pinterest. The players take turns pulling popsicle sticks out of a cup. If they can read the word written on the end of their stick, they get to keep it; first one to ten sticks wins. Pretty simple, but there are three or four sicks that say “oh snap!” on them. If you get one of those, all of your sticks go back and you have to start from zero. Despite some tears the first couple of times she picked up an “oh snap!”, E keeps coming back to this game.

That’s how we spent an hour this morning: playing games and doing puzzles, reading and playing with the words from the next few Bob books in the series. I’m curious to find out whether E reads the books more easily now that she’s seen the words so many times in a different context. I’ll keep you posted.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 150: Elation, Frustration, Experimentation.

E rode her two-wheeler by herself today! She’s been gliding along (sort of like one does on a balance bike) for the last week, and once or twice she got her feet onto the pedals, but this was the first time that she propelled herself and while steering and balancing. It lasted long enough for me to notice, cheer, get my phone out of my back pocket, and snap this photo.

She was elated. We both were. After she had parked her bike in the garage, I held her hands and sang the Shehecheyanu (Jewish blessing on doing something for the first time or reaching important milestones.) At bedtime tonight she was full of plans to ride her own bike all the way to the playground tomorrow.

Mr. December and I have learned by now that when we encounter defiance in schoolwork, it’s usually a sign of an underlying skill deficit. I’m often able to break down the problem to a point where the child can be coached through the lesson, but this time I’m stumped.

N is working his way through level 3 of Winning with Writing (great title, I know. It has companion programs called Growing with Grammar and Soaring with Spelling.) He’s now into the lessons about writing specific types of paragraphs. I was so excited to get to this point in the book because it breaks down the writing process to a few very simple, very concrete steps. K has had a much easier time of writing since she did these lessons. But N just won’t do it.

I’ve offered ideas for topics. For one lesson I actually created a rough outline for him (point form) and he wrote it from there. Today and yesterday he wouldn’t even do that. I’ve asked him what’s going on. I’ve levelled with him and told him how I know he’s frustrated and I am too, and that to my mind his refusal to work just looks like rudeness and laziness, but I know it’s not. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to yell, “JUST DO YOUR WORK!”

The book has already broken the assignment down into the smallest possible chunks, so I don’t think I can make it any easier. Do I drop it and find a different way to get him writing, maybe by having him strike up an email correspondence with his grandparents? Do I stop nagging but continue to apply the consequence of not finishing the assigned work? Do I keep on doing what I’m doing, sitting next to him and combining understanding and support with a reminder that he can do hard things and I expect him to keep trying?

At least he’s produced more written work since April than he did from September to March, so I feel just a bit more effective than school. But holy moly, I’m out of my depth here.

Mr. December decided to turn yesterday’s DIY sprinkler into today’s science lesson. He taught the kids about water pressure and discussed how the sprinkler spray should be weaker the higher up we place it, because it takes energy for the water to flow upward. To illustrate, he tied the hose and sprinkler to a rope that I lowered from the attic window; he turned on the tap and I hoisted the sprinkler 25 feet into the air. The spray remained strong the entire way up, denying Mr. December the opportunity to say, “See, kids? The pressure went down as the sprinkler went up!” Instead he exclaimed, “Wow! We’ve got some good water pressure.”

If memorable experiments lead to better understanding, it was a successful science lesson. And if the kids won’t remember or retain it, at least it was a fun way to pass the time. Sometimes that counts as a win.

education · family fun · Homeschool · waxing philosophical

Day 148: Teatime!

My mum’s birthday was yesterday. I had the inspired idea of celebrating with afternoon tea, which Mum enjoys but doesn’t have very often. None of us is especially eager to go into a restaurant, though, so I decided to order some scones and other tea-type foods for pickup and then set up for tea at my parents’ house.

Then I hit a minor snag. Both of the scone/tea places I was considering are closed on Mondays; so we rescheduled Mum’s birthday celebration to this afternoon.

Here’s one of the things I love about our homeschooling schedule: if something comes up, like a traditional teatime with Savta (“Grandmother” in Hebrew — it’s what my kids call my mum), we can do that, no problem. Instead of read-aloud and group learning time, the kids helped me set up for tea, including arranging the food on platters and tiered servers. It turns out that K has a particular flair for making food look pretty.

It might be a bit of a stretch, but tea was educational for the kids. They marvelled at the swirling clouds the milk made when they added it to hot tea, and my parents explained density. Then a comment about the china we were using (it was my grandmother’s, and it’s now mine except I’m happy to store it at my parents’) being bone china led to the kids learning a little bit about what that meant (it’s the strongest type of china, it does indeed contain bone, and you can identify it by its slight translucency.)

N (my pickiest eater by far) was wondering out loud whether it was possible to make chocolate macarons, and began list off the ways in which he wanted to make macarons more palatable (to him.) I encouraged him to learn how to make them and then experiment with his own ideas to see if he could make it work. “That would make a great project!” I enthused. “Actually, anything you wanted to learn about or experiment with could make a great project.”

“Okay,” He said facetiously, “How about dying?”

“Dyeing, as in colouring things? Or dying as in death?” My dad tried to clarify.

“Death,” said Nathan, clearly expecting us to tell him that he was just being obnoxious (I’m pretty sure he was trying to be.)

“That would be a great thing to learn about,” I said, “especially if you looked at how different cultures deal with death. That would be fascinating!” And my parents and I starting talking about the coolest death rituals we could think of. For the record, mine was a Viking funeral (the one with a floating funeral pyre lit with a flaming arrow, although I just googled it and it seems the only funeral where that happened was a mythical one.)

And on it went. This is how it often is in our family: we hop from one subject to another, however our thoughts and each other’s words lead us. I don’t know if that happens for other people too. It’s like the opposite of doing a chapter of a history book. Everything in the world is connected somehow, all the time.

I used to teach tweens and teens at my synagogue. Once someone wanted to interview me for a column in the Canadian Jewish News about teachers in the community. As I explained to her, my philosophy of learning content (as opposed to skills) is that it’s a bit like stargazing. You learn a bit of something over here — that’s one star — and then a different thing over there — that’s another — and maybe you read a book that helps you connect the two. Sometimes the job of a teacher is just to teach about individual stars. The more stars a student knows, the more constellations they can see; eventually they see a constellation that’s mostly complete, and they know what pieces they need to fill in if they want to.

It might have been a way of justifying the fact that our lessons went wherever my students’ questions took us, but the more I watch our kids discovering the world and everything in it, the more convinced I am that it’s true. It’s okay to learn bits and pieces at a time, which is exactly what happened during teatime today.

The most important thing, of course, is that Mum loved the afternoon tea, and we all got to spend time together. The rest is just me trying to rationalize skipping “school” for a tea party with the grandparents — which is obviously the more important of the two.

DIY · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Kids · love and marriage

Day 147: The Evolution of our Homeschool

Hey, wanna know what I admire most about Mr. December? It’s his willingness to change based on data and experimentation. I don’t know anyone else who can so quickly change his mind when presented with incontrovertible evidence. Well, he’s pretty immovable on rowdy horseplay at bedtime no matter how many experts I throw at him, but otherwise he’s open to changing things up when the need arises.

I’ve changed a few things about how we homeschool starting today. First off, we actually have a daily schedule/routine posted. I’m not sure how the kids feel about it, but it certainly helped me stay on task today. I’m sure we’ll be a bit flexible with the times, but I think the structure could be a winner. As Mr. December always says, we’ll try it and see.

Remember our checklists? I’ve revamped them. They now have separate sections for daily and weekly tasks, a space for appointments and special events, and a space to record the kids’ own personal or academic goals for the week. On the weekly task section there’s space for me and Mr. December to write each day’s assignment or lesson next to the check box. Alternately, if we do something that we hadn’t planned on, we can write it in so that we know what we did. Ontario’s Ministry of Education doesn’t require any documentation or reporting from homeschoolers, but I’d still like to keep some records. I plan to file these in a binder when each week is over.

Finally, I’ve organized K’s materials so that they won’t be all over the library. Since she’s very distractible and sensitive to sound, she has claimed the library (with its sound attenuation and two doors between it and the rest of the house) as her study space. Unfortunately, that means that the entire window seat, her retractible desk, and the small ledge in front of the instrument cabinet were littered with her papers, binders, and pens… until today.

I can understand why: although she has her own cubbies where her binders and books should live, those are in the living room. Who wants to have their materials so far from their workstation? So I liberated a wheeled cart from the Makery, brought it upstairs, and set it up so that there’s space for her binders, workbooks, clipboard with her checklist, pens and pencils, pencil box of supplies, and whatever book she’s currently reading. Oh, and her timer happens to have a magnet on the back, so it sticks right to the side of the cart.

She was pleased when I showed her the new cart this afternoon. “You don’t have to clean up or organize your stuff,” I told her, “I did that part for you. Just put things back at the end of every day and it’ll stay neat.” For the first time in months, our library is tidy this evening. I can even see the windowsill. I wonder: will the neater space help K focus and work more efficiently? I’ll keep you posted.

community · education · Jewy goodness · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 144: What’s the Point (of going to shul)?

We are not frequent shul-goers. I wish we were a family that went to synagogue semi-regularly, but wishing something doesn’t make it so, and I guess I haven’t wanted it badly enough to make it happen. Still, in the “before times” I enjoyed services for the singing, the feeling of community, and to some extent, the children’s programming. And I won’t lie, I spent a lot of time in the social hall talking to people I like but don’t see outside of shul.

All that has changed now. Our shul hasn’t had in-person services since early March, but according to the weekly email newsletter they’re starting up again at the end of August. Naturally, there are some strict guidelines in place in the interest of public health. In summary: you have to sign up in advance, stay in your seat 6 feet away from everyone else, bring your own siddur (prayer book), and don’t touch anything. Children’s programs and kiddush luncheon have been axed for now. Oh, and no congregational singing — the leader can sing or chant as required, but the rest of us will have to hum if we want to participate vocally.

My first thought upon reading that email was, What’s the point? Everything I love about shul has been stripped away; what’s left is a bare-bones service that my kids wouldn’t sit still for. And they do have to sit still, because otherwise they might get too close to someone not in our family.

Of course everyone attending the service will be wearing a mask. To be clear, I think this is a good thing. I’m a proponent of masks; In 2003 I was a music therapist in a nursing home during the SARS epidemic. I wore a mask for four hours straight while I sang all the hits of the 1920’s and 30’s. No harm came to me. I’ve been assuming that mask-wearing would be fine for me in 2020 as well — until I went to Lowe’s last week with K. After wearing the mask for forty minutes, my chest was hurting from the effort it took to breathe. The upside was that obviously my mask has a decent seal and is keeping stuff out. The downside? Some of the stuff the mask is keeping out is air that I need to breathe, and my lungs can’t work that hard for that long. I think curbside pickup is going to be my strategy for a long, long time.

Back to the synagogue thing. On one hand, going might be nice — I’d get to see friends at a distance and hear the familiar melodies again. On the other hand, breathing might be a problem for me. On the other other hand, it’s only 90 minutes long, as they’ve cut away all of the preliminary songs, six-sevenths of the Torah reading, and the superfluous-seeming repetition of the silent amidah (for all of my non-Jewish readers, our Saturday morning services usually run at least three hours.) And on the other, other, other hand, it will not be the shul experience I enjoy nor the one I want my children to know and love. If I take them and it’s just depressing and boring, will they go with me again? Or will COVID precautions ruin shul for them forever?

It sounds an awful lot like the debate around returning to school in September. For the record, one of Mr. December’s major reasons for not sending the kids back to school is that he thinks it’s going to be a sucky experience all around. I’m feeling that way about shul right now. I know that some people go specifically to pray and to hear the Torah, and others are in mourning and need a minyan so they can recite the mourners’ kaddish. It’s kind of true that my presence there will help to ensure that there is actually a minyan for the mourners, but realistically it’s not likely to be a problem. So I ask myself, why go to shul? What’s the point?