Monday, May 30, 2005

Doing something fun for a change

Maybe you know the drill just as well as I do - Monday through friday you and your spouse leave your house a 7 or 8 and don't come home until 6 or 7. (if not leaving earlier and returning later). Leaving you very little, if any time, to spend with your kids. Thankfully, I have about an hour in the morning with them (generally, I am saying my daily prayers, while they are crashed down in front of the TV, but there are always our lighthearted moments together) and I also get to bathe them and put them to bed every night.

Since I am an orthodox Jew, Saturday is Shabbos - our sabbath, so unlike some of you who are not sabbath observant, I am commanded by religion to take a day out of my hectic schedule and spend it with my family. Usually I spend most of the day with my kids. We attend synagouge, have a few nice family meals, get a nice family nap (sometimes) and then wind the day down with a trip to the playground down the block. And then when the sunsets on Saturday evening - the craziness starts all over again. Sunday, for the most part is errand day, where either one of us or all 4 of us prance around town shopping and gathering.

Given this frenetic pace, it's a rare day where we get to do something fun. Yesterday I put my foot down - seeing that it was Memorial day. We spent the day at the Aquarium, and the kids had a blast (well, at least Mitch did, Mike was kind of freaked out by the whole 'huge fish in dark rooms' concept, maybe next year he'll take better to it.).

It was great to see the smile on their faces, and to hear Mitch talking about it afterward. I think that we need to do this more than a handful of times a year.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fighting for Attention

While I have commented in the past that I don't feel like I spend either adequate or equal amounts of time with my two boys, I always make every effort to spend time with each of them. This week I had a nasty chest cold that sidelined me from work for a couple of days, days which I spent sleeping at home. I pretty much kept to my bedroom in part not to infect the boys, and in part to make the day as normal to them as possible.

However, whenever I went downstairs - to eat, say - they would fight over my attention. If I am holding Mike, Mitch wants to be picked up, if I am playing with Mitch, Mike will crawl over and start calling Daddy. At one point I took Mitch to the bathroom, and Mike started screaming when I left the room.

I decided to try to get Mike to start walking by coaxing him from the safety of his 'cruising' props. This of course caused Mitch to bite Mike - once on each day. Obviously he was punished, and that night I had a conversation with him about biting and brothers. I told him how much fun it was playing with my brother Yussie when we were little, and that we never fought - all the while thinking about the times that I kicked the crap out of my brother.

Interestingly, when I told this to my mom, she said she doesn't remember all of the fights, but the good stuff - how we played together with our legoes, playmobil and other toys, how we played sports and sang together.

Hopefully when I look back in 25 years from now, I will have more of those memories too.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

If I had a Nickel....

I was thinking of a good t-shirt slogan. I came up with this one:
"If I got a nickel towards my kids tuition from everyone who saw this shirt.... I'd wear it a lot more often!"

I think it is a good slogan, and if you do too, I will give you the chance to vote with your wallet by going to my Cafe Press shop.

It's all about the Brain Baby

At 14 months, and not quite walking yet, it is easy to say that Mikey didn't follow the path of physical development that has brother did (Mitch started walking at 10 months and running at 11 months). But as I tell parents that the first year is really about physical development, while the second year is all about cognitive growth, and mike is ahead of Mitch on that front. Everyday it seems his vocabulary is growing more and more. He picks up words like a sponge does water. He's learned his brother's favorite wiggles songs - not just some of the words, but that hand motions too. And he is ever so polite, as he always says thank you when you hand him something.

It's amazing to witness the dramatic similarities between the human brain and computers. The brain is essentially a combination of CPU, RAM and Hard Drive all in one. Just like a brand-new computer, each baby starts with an empty hard-drive. This hard drive on its own, is completely useless until we start to load 'programs' into it. Yes, humans come with pre-loaded software - we don't need to remember to breath do we? It's amazing to watch the progress a child makes as we load em' up with instructions - how to talk, how to eat, how to walk and how to play.

Now that he has started talking, I remember all the joys of year two with Mitch, and I look forward to similar experiences with Mike.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Of friends and accquaintances

About 15 years ago, I remember have a conversation with my parents about how many people we believe that we know - i.e. Friends, family accquaintances. My dad said he know 50, and we quickly made him realized that he knew a lot more, seeing that our immediately family was at least close to that many people.

I think that all through our lives, we meet and befriend various people and our relationships with them vary over time. You might have a had a best friend in grade school who was inseparable from you, but then once you went to two different High Schols, your paths may have diverged considerably. My relationship with each of my siblings has definitely morphed over the years as well, not to mention the relationship with my wife and in-laws and her siblings.

I will probably be the first to admit that while I can easily work a room, I haven't in many cases beeen the best long-term friend/brother/son, etc. There are many relationships that I have squandered over the years and at the same time, many that have gone away and come back.

Recently, I realized the need to make the effort to be more in touch with some of those people that I really care about, but at the sametime haven't been in too close contact with. I hope that it is more of a better late than never situation than one that is too little too late.

I also hope to teach my sons the value of friendship as a long-term investment of your time. You never know when you're going to need a friend, and it's nice to know that there are those that you rely on.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

What do I expect to get for my $200K?

So I figured that over the next decade or so, I will pay in the vicinity of $200,000 (not adjusting for inflation) to provide each my kids with a solid, well-rounded education that includes both a traditional religious education as well as a solid secular education that will help prepare them for college.
As someone who went to religious school who's emphasis (at least on secular education) was less holisitic and far less serious, clearly I have a lot of baggage from my negative experiences in school that I don't want my sons to go through in their lives. Sure we've all had a teacher that we didn't get along with, but also a teacher that we loved. But the school that I went to emphasized rote execution of religious practice without the capacity for dialog or discussion. That works for some people, but didn't work for me.
I also to this day firmly believe that the principal had it out for me, but that is a whole other story.
I guess that brings me back to the title - what do I expect? In bullet points:
  1. I expect that he will be able to speak,read, and write Hebrew with a decent degree of fluency

  2. I expect that he will have a decent understanding of how to open up religious texts - Misha, Gemara, Chumash, Halacha, and be able to learn something on his own without relying heavily of english translations.

  3. I expect that he will have a strong understanding of our religion and the tools to be able, as an adult, to determine where and how G-d fits into his life.

  4. I expect that he will have the skills in secular studies that will enable him to get into a college that is on par with his abilities (I don't know if he is a genius or not, but if he is, I want his education to take him to an Ivy League school).

  5. I expect that he will have a good understanding of Jewish History - both from within and from beyond the bible - and how it relates chonologically with world history.

  6. Most importantly, regardless of how my children end up religiously, professionally, and emotionally, I expect them to have not only the ability to think for themselves, but also the desire to do so. For as we all know, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Sound like at lot, even for $200,000, but at the same time, whenever anyone makes an investment of that size, their initial dreams are always big, or else they wouldn't find it worth the risk.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Post-Passover Rant

So I just spent my first night at home after 10 days split between my parents and in-laws homes'. The time was filled with a lot of fun for all, and as much fun as it was to spend some quality time with our parents, it was much more fun to watch the antics of our kids with their 'Babi','Savta', and their 2 'Zaydes'. More importantly, it was worth it, if not for anything, for the nachas that my parents and in-laws gained from watching their grandchildren and realizing how much they have grown.

Needless to say, my grandmother (a.k.a. 'Bubby Bubby') probably had the best time of all watching my two boys tear apart her home.

However, with the high points of every trip there come the low points as well. I took a walk with my dad and the boys on the first days of Pesach and quickly discovered that my once strongly modern orthodox neighborhood has suddenly become thouroughly ultra-orthodox. This is a distinction lost on some of those who are not in the know, but basically, the neighborhood has become a lot more religious than in the past, which is part of the reason that I don't live there anymore. Again, this isn't a bad thing at all. My son is just as glad to have Shloimy, Yanky and Gershy to play with instead of Steven and David (however, when I insist his name is Mitch some of them insist on asking what his 'real' [hebrew] name is, but that's okay too).

In fact, it seems that none of my childhood friends live there anymore either. When I was a kid my parent's shul was full of kids within 5 years of me either way. We had youth groups for kids from the ages of 4 up to 18, and activities for young adults and marrieds. But somehow, the number of modern orthodox families with kids of any age are few and far inbetween. In fact the vast majority of my friends have moved way out of Brooklyn to places like Teaneck, the Five towns and New Rochelle. The ones who have stayed (whether they will admit it or not) have stayed primarily for economic or childrearing reasons - i.e. their non-working parents help watch their kids while they work, or they have an established local business. Reflecting this charedization is the fact that 'Mizrachi L'Banim' is now called 'Derech HaTorah' and that Yeshiva of Flatbush is almost entirely Ashkenazi-rein.

20 years ago, I walked down Ocean Parkway on Shabbat and debated with my brother and sister which house we each were going to buy when we grew up. Now that we have, I can't imagine any of us wanting to live anywhere near Ocean Parkway in the least.

Again, this isn't a bad thing. Flatbush will be a bastion of Torah-observant Jewry for many years to come. Unfortunately, it won't inlcude any kippot srugot.

Of course, in addition, whenever we talk about Modern Orthodox Jews and their communities, we also need to talk about two other major costs of living - Tuition for Yeshiva, and Real Estate. It is virtually impossible to move into an established community in the New York metro area these days and buy a suitable house for a young family for less than $400K. And that's pushing it. Couple a huge mortgage with a tuition bill for three kids that a best is approacing $30-40K a year, and you are left with an amount of financial burden that even the most successful of double-income families will have a hard time with.

It is a shame, because we have become victims of our own success. Part of me wishes that I could find a community that has a nice established Jewish base where tuition costs half and houses cost half, and even though my salary will be half, I can still sell my house and cash out the equity to live like a king. With the money I save, I can 'gasp' - donate to charity, put away money for my kids college, or actually go on a vacation. Of course, with my luck, by the time I get there it will become as hot as living in New York and all of the benefit of moving will be gone.

Thankfully, I consider myself lucky to have found a M.O. Community in White Plains, where I have many of the benefits of being further out of town, while still remaining close to NY. Thankfully my taxes are relatively low, and the tuition education tradeoff is a good value. I am also lucky to have found a community that is very unpretentious, so that there is less of a need to keep up with the Goldsteins.

However, as happy as I am here, I wonder if any of my kids will be willing or able to live here too, or will or shul look like my parents shul in 25 years from now? After all, 20 years ago, I don't think anyone foresaw what Flatbush would look like either.