Monday, December 24, 2012

Do They [need to] Know it's Christmas?

Who remembers this BandAID video from 1984?*  The sentiment is fine, but nowadays even the question "Do They Know it's Christmas?" feels so so very Americentric. I can pretty well guarantee that, in Ethiopia, they do not know it's Christmas.

I say this with some authority because I am right here *in* America, smack in the middle of America in fact, in my messy American kitchen this morning, here on Christmas Eve day, and planning not one single Christmassy thing for the two kids in this as-Jewish-as-it-needs-to-be household.

No tinsel, no lights, no glitter. No racing downstairs with the dawn on Christmas morning. No lifting the plump heavy stockings down from the fireplace, or -- even better -- happily cradling them in two hands because they are too plump and heavy to keep hanging and have been thoughtfully laid on the hearth. No candles on the buffet. No traditional Norwegian foods, no songs, and certainly no tree.  None of the Christmas joys with which I was so lovingly raised.  We've chosen to partake of a different tradition.

Some would argue that it's a more tenacious tradition. Some would argue that a December Dilemma choice for Hanukkah instead of Christmas -- as opposed to "both" or "with grandparents" or "hybrid" or any of the other impressive number of holiday permutations and workarounds -- represents the choice between mellow gold versus glittering brass; deep diamond versus flashing cubic zirconia; subtle harmonies versus trumpet fanfares. OK, in fairness, I don't think my kids would say that if you dangled a sparkly tree and a pile of presents in front of them, but they had a terrific Hanukkah, spearheaded by my amazing sister who is a Village unto herself, and I am great with that.

So, no, my kids don't know it's Christmas, any more than most Ethiopians.

That said -- and before I am accused of sociopathically missing the point of BandAID's hard work and Christmas as a whole -- I don't think my kids need to know it's Christmas. Because shouldn't Christmas be every day? Peace on earth? Goodwill to men? In America, Ethiopia, and Israel too? 

I'll share a little sumthin' sumthin' I've picked up over the last few years: the Jewish faith celebrates Christmas every week. And, what's more, the Jewish people are exhorted and commanded to celebrate Christmas every day, all day.

How's that, you say? Well, every week, there is a day set aside to light candles, give thanks, eat a special meal, bring strangers into your home, give comfort to those who are alone, give charity to those in need, and live in total peace with yourself, God, and others for just one day. Every week. They call it Sabbath.

Imagine if everybody did that? All the time? Every day? Or even for one special day each year? Gee, that day would be starting to look a lot like Christmas . . . and, some Jews believe, that day would herald the arrival of God's kingdom on earth. Sounding familiar?

I am posting in haste and without much proofing because I was just now interrupted by the pittypat of little feet in pink tights and a blue sequined swimsuit cover-up. "I yam all dwessed!" she announces. "I weah this shirt two weeks evewy day!"

But if I don't get back to making a lump in my own throat on this happy day and magical night and the following holy-day, God bless us, every one. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all men.


*OK, I am probably just a little sociopathic because I can't thinking that BandAID probably raised more money for men's hair products than for the famine in Ethiopia. Check out those stylin' styles.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Preschool Hanukkah Lesson

To celebrate the 2012 holiday season, we are moving into a new house, balancing a four-month-old and a four-year-old, emerging from a scary bout of croup, participating in a co-op art show, and planning three (3) major December trips, one of them outside the country. 

Accordingly, Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids's "When Good Enough Turns Out to be Good AND Enough" has hit me right in the necessaries. This concept deserves lapel pins, colored ribbons, and an Awareness Day.

My Good Enough this month: preschool Hanukkah. As the parent of the only Jewish kid in the class, I was approached for a Hanukkah Day contribution. I tried not to look too deer-in-the-headlights as the teacher enthused over past years' activities.  In one banner year, apparently, a Mama appeared with a frying pan and cooked latkes right there for all the kids. The word "latkes" was, in fact, tossed around several times during the discussion.

Now, although I am committed to raising Jewish children, I have never in my life made a latke. And I didn't think that my first time should involve 15 preschoolers and a vat of hot oil. So I cheerfully agreed to do something, then went home and cast about for an alternate activity.

Idea #1: maybe we could make sufganiot! (Wait, that falls into the "preschoolers and hot oil" category.)

Idea #2: ok, what about baked donuts? (Oh. "Preschoolers and hot oven" is not really better.)

Idea #3: let's make little oil lamps! (Right, yes, mixing preschoolers, hot oil, and fire.)

The class is already doing marshmallow menorahs. Hunh. Those clever teachers snapped up the easy one.

More Googling ensues, landing me eventually at the story of Yehudit, which is suspiciously similar to the story of Ya'el, but who cares because it does not involve hot oil. Instead . . . cheese!

Down the cheesemaking rabbithole we go, desperately searching for a no-cook recipe. This, as those in the know will know, is a good challenge. But I found one, and the next day buttonholed the teacher with a full report:

Me: " . . . and we'll have to edit the story of Yehudit some, because in the real story she cuts off the general's head and we don't want it to be gory so instead we can just say he fell asleep and . . ."

Teacher: [cautiously] "Well, you know, it should be simple, or else they lose interest . . ."

Me:  [frenzied babbling] ". . . so that's the tie-in to the cheese, and then it's a combined snack and a craft, well, we might not be able to really make cheese, but that's okay, because it should be quick and not too much mess, and we can use the sink right? but we won't have to cook anything . . ."

Teacher: [edging slightly away] "Maybe you could just bring some cheese?"

Me: "and I could bring cheesecloth so they'd each have their own little . . . wait . . . did you say just bring cheese?"

Teacher: [clearly used to dealing with irrational four-year-olds] "And maybe a book?"

Me: ". . . a book? To read? Just a book?"

Teacher: [gently] "We even have Hanukkah books, if you don't want to bring one."

Me: "Bring cheese? And a book? And that's it?"

Teacher: "Well, if you have some of that flat bread, they might like that, too."

Me: "Matzoh? Sure, yes, um, I can bring cheese and matzoh."

Teacher: [probably greatly regretting the whole conversation and greatly relieved to be shut of this crazy-eyed Mama] "That would be great, just great, and you could maybe read a story to them during snack time. They would love that."

So I was off the hook, right? No fancy combined-craft-and-snack activity required. No best-ever Hanukkah doings expected. No adaptations of gory Bible stories. No homegrown cheese recipes.

You would think I could be content with that and move along. But even so, I didn't feel it was enough. It seemed totally inadequate for the Hanukkah Day activity provided by the Mama of the Only Jewish Kid In The Class. So inadequate, in fact, that I even crazily attempted to crap out at the last minute:

Me: "He'en, how would you feel if I just sent the snack tomorrow?"

He'en: "But? But you are com-een, wight?"

Me: "Well, I thought maybe I would not come to class. But you would have your snack."

He'en: [tears begin to flow] "But! But you are com-een to cass, wight?"

And that's where I realized, Duh!

DUH, Mama!

It's not about the Hanukkah craft or activity or latkes or anything else.  Duh! It's just about com-een to cass. Little He'en just wants to show off her Mama to the class and provide a snack. Of any kind. Duh!!!  I don't know how I missed that. It's just been such a month, I guess. But DUH.

So the Good Enough Preschool Hanukkah, in the end, included:

NOT a cleverly adapted Yehudit story. Just me, ol' boring Mama, reading aloud a whopping two pages about Hanukkah from A Mouse in the Rabbi's Study.

NOT matzoh. Couldn't find it this time of year. Instead, crackers from Walmart.

NOT Hanukkah gelt. Walgreens was sold out. Instead, stocking-stuffer chocolate coins.

NOT re-enacted handmade biblical artisan cheese. Instead, oh, I can't even type it:

That. I did that. To 15 unsuspecting preschoolers. For Hanukkah. If Judaism had hell, I would be going there.

But you know what? It didn't matter. The kids happily listened to their excerpt. They cheerfully ate their crackers. They delightedly savored their "gelt."

And afterward, my child -- the Only Jewish Kid in the Class -- was beaming with pride and delight.

It was enough.

And it was good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stories: Princess Helen and the Red Dress

He'en no longer asks for this story. It saddens me, because the Princess Helen stories are some of my favorites, and this is my favorite of the short-lived series.

Once upon a time, Princess Helen lived in a castle high in the mountains. She loved her subjects in the village below, and they loved her back.

Princess Helen's favorite color was red.* She had red everything. Her bedroom was painted red. She had a red rug, and red curtains, and a red bedspread.  "Red, red, red," she would say, "Red is my favorite color!"  And of course all her dresses were red. So, every day, Princess Helen would wear a red dress.

The people in the village below noticed that she only wore red dresses. "Wouldn't you like another color?" they asked. "A purple dress, or a blue dress, or a pink dress?"

"No, red is my favorite," said Princess Helen.

But the villagers didn't believe her. They thought that another color would make her happier. So, one night, while Princess Helen was asleep, the villagers snuck [N.B. - sneaked?] into her castle and took all her red dresses out of the closet. They took them all away. They replaced them with orange dresses, yellow dresses, green dresses, purple dresses, pink dresses, grey dresses, and dresses in all the colors of the rainbow. They were beautiful dresses, but they were not red.

When Princess Helen got up the next morning, she went to her closet and found that all her red dresses were gone! There were beautiful pink dresses, purple dresses, gold and silver dresses, and dresses in every color of the rainbow, but no red dresses at all.

Princess Helen was so sad, because red was her favorite, and she had no red dresses to wear. So, what did she do?

Little voice: I daw-no!

Did she sit down and cry?

Little voice: Yes!

Well, she did for a minute, probably, because she was sad. But does sitting and crying solve anything?

Little voice: Nooooo . . .

That's right, sitting and crying doesn't solve anything. So Princess Helen had a good cry, and then she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. And then she got up and found a pair of scissors. With those scissors, Princess Helen cut up one of her red curtains and . . . made another red dress!

Then she left the castle and went down to the village, wearing her new red dress.

When the villagers saw her wearing a red dress, they realized that red really was her favorite, and that she was really happy wearing red and not some other color.

So the villagers said they were sorry. And they came up to the castle and took away all the pink dresses and orange dresses, all the blue dresses and white dresses, all the gold and silver dresses, and they gave back all Princess Helen's own red dresses.

And everybody lived happily ever after.


Should you ever use scissors to cut clothes or curtains?

Little voice: Nooooo....

That's right, it's just in the story.  You cut only paper from your craft drawer. And you always tell Mom first that you're going to use scissors, right?

Little voice: Wight.


*Although He'en's actual favorite color is "pink! and puhpoe, and sio-fer, and gode!", the Princess Helen story has always been about the color red and does not change. I dunno why. I'm just the Mama.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sweetly Tangled

Dragon Girl is overdue for a post. She's staying with her wonderful auntie, so I even have time to do the post.  With Child #1, I had lots of time to send detailed emails to my family outlining when Child #1 napped, what she wore, how much she was eating, &c., &c.  Poor Dragon Girl, Child #2, just gets some formula whenever she cries, a clean diaper, a cute outfit if I'm exceptionally well-organized that day, and away we go again.

But, at 4 months, she is now doing stuff.

The 4-month mark is my biggie. Some plump for the 3-month mark, but I can't say that was a milestone around here. At 16 weeks on the planet, however, Dragon Girl is a delight.  We're through the floppy alien-eyes stage and she is "home" nearly all the time now. There is very little eye-rolling and much more focus. There's a little person looking out of those eyes, in fact.  I figure she has at least as much processing power as the average housecat and probably much more than our famously stupid dog. She knows that the microwave "beep" means imminent milk, and she greets me with a smile from her crib in the morning. She will even giggle at a funny sound or a tickle on the changing table.

Of most interest, she is making her hands work for her. I can tell that she enjoys it.  She will reach for her Ladybug toy and handle it for a long time with a satisfied little dolphin smile on her plump face.  We passed through the swatting stage pretty rapidly; she is now reaching and grasping with pretty good accuracy. I forgot that they don't develop 3D processing for a while. She will try to pick up the tree branch printed on my coffee sleeve. We got a lot of mileage this weekend out of the crinkly envelope window on a piece of junk mail.

And, best of all, she gets all tangled up in Mama.  Often after feeding her, I will get ready to put her down and find that her arm is stretching like a strand of mozzarella, because she's fallen asleep clutching a little handful of my shirt collar or bathrobe. She is happy. I am happy. I love being sweetly, sweetly tangled with this little Dayenu girl.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Draydoh, Draydoh, Draydoh

He'en's preschool Holiday Program is approaching. This one sandbagged me, and I am triple-booked for the day. Fie upon't. With Sister's able assistance, I probably can rearrange things enough to get there. After all, He'en is approaching the age where she just might remember if I attended or not.

I would ask DH to cover, but I'm keeping a low profile about the Holiday Program.  I expect it's the usual mishmash of Christmas traditionals, a token rendition of "Dreidel Dreidel" for the two Jewish kids in the school, and then the rest are about what Sister calls, "Reindeer songs, a totally gray area."  Maybe they've included something Kwanzaa-ish if they are really ambitious.

To my lapsed-Lutheran ears, this all sounds pretty harmless, but DH could have a differing opinion and I don't want a tussle.  We don't have time for a tussle, and we don't have any options anyway. There is no Jewish preschool within an hour's drive, so our religious homeschooling, such as it is, falls on my patently unqualified shoulders. For four years, I've been limping along with the help of, and since He'en can recite basic table grace in Hebrew, I think I am doing pretty well. For eleven months of the year, I am doing pretty well.

For the twelfth month, oy vey, enter the Christmas season.  It's such a widespread problem that there is a catchy catchphrase for it, and if you Google "December Dilemma" (hereinafter "DD") you can read more than you ever wanted to know. Here's one to get you started. Here's another, this one by a rabbi.

Everyone approaches the DD in a different way, according to the mandates of their hearts, faiths, and families. When DH and I decided to raise the kids exclusively Jewish, my parents were incredibly sporting about the DD. Without a fuss, they converted their Christmas presents to Hanukkah gifts. They even have accepted the absence of the grandkids on that great glittery day. Instead they welcome me, staggering in solo every year for Mom's Week Off, Oh, and Christmas, Too, and sleeping for 12-hour stints blissfully alone in a hotel room - O Holy Nights indeed!).

But no matter what you choose to do with your kids, unless you live in a seriously Jewish community, it's just plain tough to say to a four-year-old, "Those 14 aisles of glitter in Target are for other kids, not you. You get this blue-and-silver endcap with the menorahs printed on the napkins. And we light some candles. But don't feel marginalized!"

He'en, however, seems to be quite competently working through the theological difficulties on her own.  This morning, she was singing a little wheedly song into her egg.  On closer listening, I realized it was "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel." *Except that He'en is working on the letter L, still, so "Dreidel" rhymes with "Playdoh.")

She is so happy and content, meandering through this simple little song, and then she launches into "Jinguh Beyos." Then she abruptly stops.

"MOM!" (Every "Mom" lately is smartly spat like the "Sah!" on a Marine's first day of boot camp.)

"Eh? What? Yes?"

"You kin cewwebwate [celebrate] Kwistmas and still be Dewish, right?"

"Little one, you certainly can."

"Becoss I am Dewish no matter what, right?"

"Yes, you are.  No matter what."

I think she has summed it up nicely.