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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Parenting Tip

Here's a parenting tip for you.
Tell your children they are never to flush ANYTHING (other than the obvious and a small amount of toilet paper) down the toilet.

Last night Chavi decided to see what would happen if she sent a paper cup swirling down the drain. Even after snaking the toilet and cleaning the whole bathroom it seems the problem is still not quite resolved (or dissolved as the case may be.) So I was up at 5AM to give it a second try and now it looks like I'll need to call a plumber - I have a bunch of jobs for a plumber though so it will be a worthwhile call.

In her defense Chavi said "But you never told me not to flush paper cups down the toilet!"
Which is sad but true.

Parents, don't let this happen to you!

Thank you.

PS Elie, do you have the number for a decent plumber?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Nothing Special

Rabbi Horowitz has posted an article that really spoke to me. Actually most of his posts speak to me but this one really hit close to my heart but not for the reasons you might think.

In his post he writes about the plight of the "average" yeshiva student and the difficulties parents and children are having when it comes to gaining admission to "good" or "excellent" yeshivos. He tells the story of one wonderful but underrated boy to bring home his point but I'm sure that both Rabbi Horowitz and many of my readers know that the problem is far wider in scope than the mesivta yeshiva system. There are girls in Israel who cannot find a high school to attend, Bais Yaakovs, Yeshiva High schools, and seminaries send out scores of rejections every year. It's not just a "Jewish" problem either. The demand for nothing but excellence is so strong that college rejections are also at an all time high. In fact Harvard has decided to stop accepting early admissions applications to cut down on rejections and level the playing field a bit.

Of course as a parent I worry for my children. I want them to have a first rate education in a caring and enjoyable environment surrounded by "good" kids. I also want them to have a childhood, have time to relax, and be happy. But even those worries aren't what hit me the hardest when I read Rabbi's Horowitz's article. You see, I was an average child.

I attended a fairly right wing high school although my parents are your standard "oldschool orthodox" serious about Torah, learned, and shtick free. They felt I'd been a bit brainwashed in high school and felt a quick trip to college would be the best way to straighten me out. The school however, was selling a year in seminary and I was buying! If I could get into a great school, I figured my parents would have to let me go.

I listened carefully to the Rabbis who came to pitch their schools. I knew my skills weren't what they should be when it came to learning. I was always quite smart but learning disabled (undiagnosed at that point but the fact remained that reading Hebrew was a real struggle for me) and it kept me from being in the top classes despite my effort. That said my grades were decent (again not excellent) and I had a very good breadth and depth of knowledge and genuinely enjoyed learning. All of my teachers liked me (except Mrs. S. because I once ate an orange in her class "Do you sink I don't SEE you eating zat ORANGE in my class!?" she hissed at me. But I digress...) I was a youth group leader, I visited the nursing home every week, and was a peer counselor to the younger girls in the school. I was never in trouble, stayed away from boys, and was rock solid emotionally. I was involved in school projects, the paper, and other extracurricular activities.
I foolishly thought I had a chance.

One day a Rabbi came from a fairly well known seminary in Israel. He gave a good dvar torah and then talked about his seminary. He said that he found many seminaries were too focused on grades. What he wanted was special girls, girls with good midos, girls with potential.
That's me!! I thought He wants me!

There was a $50 non-refundable application fee which I didn't have, and I couldn't ask my parents for. Five friends gave me $10 each, knowing I wouldn't be able to pay them back (even with uniforms you can tell who has money and who doesn't.) I went to my interview with high hopes. The Rabbi barely spoke to me - I could have told him about my hobbies, my sick brother, my family, my interests but no, he wanted me to read a huge Ramban - cold.
I couldn't do it. I tried. I choked. I was not accepted.

I went to the vice-principal's office and cried on his desk. I told him about my parents, and the speech, and the Ramban, and the $50 dollars.
"I was tricked" said a very naive 15 year old Shifra "I was lied to! I'm so much more than an Ramban." "I know" said the very wonderful Rabbi behind the desk "you should tell him."
So I did!!! I wrote him a letter telling the Seminary Rabbi my story. About my life, about how his speech gave me hope which he crushed, and about the $50 I'd like back if he never actually intended to accept a "girl with potential." The vice principal even reviewed my letter, and I sent it.

When he got the letter he called my Vice Principal and asked him what kind of place he is running with such "vindictive students" who have so much "chutzpah and disrespect for authority." Even as the Vice Principal was telling me this horrible story I could tell he was so proud of me and even in the depths of my despair that gave me something to hold on to.

Since then there have been a lot of things I've not been good enough for most notably my mother-in-law who reviewed my "credentials" and pronounced me "nothing special"
which certainly hurt and still does.

This post was a lot more personal and certainly a lot more painful to write than most things I put up here but the question I'm trying to ask here is: What is this "excellence" everyone is seeking?

Does it require us to force our kids to take extra classes, sports, tutoring, and music lessons to give them that "edge" they need to get ahead or do we need to look deeper into the hearts of our children and see their inner beauty, their natural gift and personalities and help them to develop what is special about them rather than force them into someone else's idea of perfection.
Although I'm crying as I type this post I will tell you that I really like who I am today. I am a unique, smart, talented, and passionate person and that makes me special and perhaps even excellent. I am truly blessed that no amount of judgement or pressure to the contrary has forced me to lose that spark that makes me who I am and I wish the same for my children and yours.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Good the Bad and the Bogus

As you may recall last Shabbos I decided to take it easy.
This Shabbos however I pulled out all the stops. We had lots of guests, the house was sparkling (or as close to sparkling as a 100 year old house full of secondhand furniture can look) I baked challah, made loads of good food, and set the table with our best dishes and silverware.
"Wow" my oldest said "It looks great in here! We should do this EVERY Shabbos!"
"Well" I said "I like it this way too, but it's a lot of work you know, if I had a little help from you and your sister it would be a lot easier..."
"Because you know" my daughter continued ignoring me entirely "every Shabbos two malachim (angels) come to your house a good malach and a bad malach..."
"What?" I asked "I've heard about the two angels but I never knew one was bad..."
"So these angels they come to your house and see what's going on and it's really nice like today the good one says 'It should be like this every week!' and the bad one has to say Amen. But if lets say you serve chicken from the STORE on PAPER PLATES then the bad malach says 'HA HA! it should be like this every week!' and the good malach has to say Amen. So then it's going to keep being like that."
"It's true!" my younger daughter chimed in "I learned that too!"

I learned a lot of things from that exchange. I learned that my children really appreciate the difference between a fancy shabbos and a plain one and that they like the fancy one better (which is not necessarily what I would have expected.) That being the case, I've learned that it's time that they had specific erev Shabbos chores for which they are responsible. Everyone will appreciate Shabbos more if we work together to make it special - me most of all.
I learned that I'm being judged all the time, by my kids, by the school, and by good and bad angels. I've also learned that just because my children aren't in nursery school anymore it doesn't mean they aren't still taking all the little "morah stories" (medrashim etc...) as seriously as chumash or history. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me as usual.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Someone Call the Smithsonian!"

... is not necessarily the first thing you want to hear from the man who has come to look at your furnace.
I knew my furnace wasn't new but I was pretty surprised to find that it is roughly 60 years old. The good news is it's working fine, the bad news is nothing lasts forever.
At least I'll know who to call when it's time to get rid of it.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Does this Count?

This week I planned to have an easy Shabbos.
I've been doing a lot of cooking lately so I decided not to overdo it this week.
A no frills, no guests weekend, with a little help from the store.

When I got home from work yesterday I had a call on my answering machine from someone I didn't know asking if I would help out by doing some cooking for a family in town that was sitting shiva. She got my name from the Rabbi (which is fine, I like to be called if someone needs me) but only found out about this family at the last minute and wondered if I could prepare "a few dishes" for them. Ugh. I mean... Great! A chesed opportunity!
I really wasn't in the mood but then I thought that if this family didn't have friends in town willing to voluntarily bring them over food for Shabbos they probably could use a hand and some support so I decided to do it. I called back right away (this mental conversation in my head took all of two minutes.)

"Oh that's so nice of you" the woman on the phone said, "but we already have enough volunteers." "OK" I said, and for lack of a closer I ended with "Call again any time." Which I meant, in spite of my better judgement.

Then I did some kind of a funky end zone dance and gave my husband a high five which probably wasn't really appropriate considering that someone just died and I got out of cooking for their family because I got home from work late.

So the question is: If I was willing, despite my initial reluctance, to go ahead and cook for this family even though I didn't end up doing it does it count for anything or did I throw away all my schar when I hung up the phone and yelled "YES!"

Oh well, I'm sure they'll call again.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

The Shins, Mating Raccoons, Bass Guitar, and Joint Compound

It's been a busy weekend and today should prove to be just as packed but I seem to be having trouble getting started so before I get down to the business of working let me tell you what I've learned this weekend:

The Shins have a new album out. I try never to judge an album before I've listened to it four or five times but so far I like it, it's quirky. I'm not a huge fan of every song so far but I've already got three favorites so that's pretty good right out of the gate. Note: Don't try to understand the lyrics, they don't make any sense.

On Saturday morning while drinking my instant coffee (blech) and contemplating the stack of dishes in my sink from the night before, I caught site of a plump midsized raccoon wandering around the back of my yard. Since it was daytime I was a little concerned. Aren't raccoons nocturnal? Could this little fellow be rabid? Soon he was joined by another buddy and the two of them traipsed around my yard and the neighbors yard, up and down trees under fences and behind our garage. By this time my kids were up and watching with fascination as their cereal grew soggy in their bowls. Suddenly my younger daughter called out. "Mommy! The raccoons are fighting!!" Alas, this was not the case. They were, in fact, mating. When I told this to my older daughter she hopped up from the table and with her hands alternately over her ears and eyes yelped "ew eww ewwwww!!! I KNOW what that means!!! EWWWWWW!!"
"What DOES that mean?" asked my younger daughter. "It means they aren't fighting" I said.

I find it hard to spend money on myself generally but sometimes when there is something you really, really want and the stars align in a way that lets you get it, it feels great. Here's my new baby. A fender squire electric bass - I have in black of course, to match all my skirts (like a good Jewish girl.)

The kitchen project is back ON! A few days before Rosh Ha'Shana I ripped down all the ugly wallpaper in my kitchen with plans to paint it quickly before the holidays started. Little did I know there was a REASON the previous owners chose wallpaper. The walls were a wreck and I'd already purchased $80 worth of non-returnable paint! I gave up on the whole things for a while but thanks to some helpful old guy at the hardware store and the product shown above I've got the kitchen on the road to repair and it's looking pretty good if I don't say so myself!

OK that's all folks. I've got work to do!

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