Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So maybe easier wasn't the right word

Well, made it! Two seders done, everything cooked mostly fine, everyone fed, all done. WHEW!

Started cooking on Sunday, and continued Monday. Sam went with David on Monday morning for the Firstborn service at shul, and stayed with him all day, so it was just me and the other two all day. Cooked, finished cleaning, and watched the Boston Marathon on TV. (I must admit I enjoyed it on TV more than going to David's office to watch it right on the road; I got to actually see the whole thing instead of getting a pounding headache from all the crowds of runners!).

David's cousin H and her boys arrived around 3pm, and Laura and Lilie a little later. But my inlaws didn't arrive until after 7pm. Which means seder started LATE. With six hungry kids, three of whom know very little about seders. And my inlaws like to talk a lot, and the kids were rather rambunctious. So it was a somewhat stressful evening. I tried going fast through the seder, but David, not understanding that the kids were hungry, dug in his heels and went back to fill in more information for the not-really-listening kids.

But the food was yummy and it was nice to see the family.

First Seder pics:

Lilie and Ian

Sofia studying her book:


The seder

Sofia with Grandma Dianne

David (and Ian) try to get Micah to pose for a picture with his hat on:

but it doesn't really happen:


Tuesday, David and Laura both went to work (Laura drove back to CT for the day!), so I had all four kids home while I cooked. Cousin H and her boys also left early in the morning. Cooked. And cooked. And cleaned.

And then the garbage disposal broke.

And I was all set to just deal with it, putting all the scraps that would normally have gone down the drain into a bucket instead.

But the sink wouldn't drain!

So, one service call, 3 hours, and nearly $500 later, I have a new garbage disposal. This has NOT been a good year for my appliances!

But otherwise, things went well. I was still prepping the chicken when the guests arrived, but we got started by about 6:30. I had the big kids all seated in the dining room and the adults and Sofia and Lilie in the living room. It was a great mix of people - really one of the best mixes I've been able to put together. Two other day school families, another family with two kids (all dear friends), the couple and grandma with whom we usually have Rosh Hashanah dinner, and my grad school chum Susan and her husband, a terrific older couple. We really delved into the seder, much better than the previous night. Lots of discussion, and the kids did a lot of reading.

Poor Micah missed the whole evening. When people were first arriving, he complained that he didn't feel well, so he went up to my room and fell asleep. And stayed asleep the entire night. Poor boy. Fortunately he felt better today. I guess he just needed sleep!


I had my babysitter working in the kitchen, fortunately, and I wisely chose paper and plastic rather than my good china! Much easier, but still a lot of work!

Food was all yummy, although the stuffings got a bit burnt. We never made it back to the second half of the seder, but the older gentlemen did sing a few of the closing songs. Everyone was having too much fun talking.

Susan and I ended up at the foot of the stairs with the kids for a long time. We'll have a Girl's Event some time - she's just like me, and loves to hang out with the kids:


It was a wonderful evening.

Today, Laura took Sam down to Connecticut to spend a few days with my parents. Had to leave early morning again, which meant waking up early again. In the afternoon I took Micah and Sofia to see "Rio". Micah liked it, Sofia loved it, and I .... fell asleep. Sound asleep in the middle of the movie. Only Sofia's shouting at the screen woke me up!

9:57 - David just walked in! Poor boy.

Sofia's Preschool Open House

Last week we got to visit Sofia's classroom, and I got pictures of her with her wonderful teachers, all of whom have been with her for the past three years.

Mrs. Tomasso, the lead teacher:

Mrs. M, the main assistant:

and Mrs. Henken, another assistant:

Micah had fun exploring the displays:

And Sofia was so proud to show us her class!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is it really easier?

Last year we went to Florida for Passover. Although I did not have to prepare seders - we went with my friend B's for both of them - we had to clean out Grandma Toby's apartment, which had not been used in years, and still needed food to eat all week. But it was limited. We bought certain household items that we thought would be good to have if and when we all started using the apartment more (yeah, nothing since then), and enough food for the week.

Which means it's been two years since I really cleaned my kitchen and prepped for Pesach in my own home. And this year I have two seders. Monday will be David's family - sister, niece, cousin and her two boys, and David's parents. (OY!) Tuesday will be a cast of thousands... or at least 25. Five other families (although only three have kids). We're going to have a separate kids' table for nine of the kids; Sofia and Lilie will be stuck with their mamas at the grownup table.

So I've been shopping and prepping and cleaning. And David's been in Copenhagen all week, which means he brought the dishes up from the basement into the garage last week before he left.

I emptied most of the cabinets that normally get emptied - still have to do the drinking glasses - and piled all the every-day stuff on the coffee table in the family room. Where it certainly CANNOT stay if my Lilie and the two boys are coming! So tomorrow David (who will be home at midnight tonight - YEAH!) and my sons will need to move everything.

Today was a fully day of dishwasher loads (cheating, but hey!). So now all the meat dishes and utensils and pots and pans, and all the plastic ware, are done. Tomorrow will be dairy washing day, since it's not the priority (I do meat seders, so I need to start cooking meat first!).

And I still have a heck of a lot to cook, since I've barely started. The first gefilte fish, for Monday night, is cooking now, and I made fruit granita (ice) this evening. Tomorrow is 16 pounds of brisket, and probably a cake and some macaroons and a few other items. Ramp up Monday with chicken and soup and all the veggies, and a ton to do on Tuesday.

So why do I feel like it's gotten easier over the years? The first time I did my own seder was the spring after David and I were married. I was 7 months pregnant, and landed in the hospital for a day once the seders were done. That was certainly stressful. With the exception of last year, I've always had at least one seder here (sometimes we get invited elsewhere).

A few years ago, I guess I decided to get organized. I bought those terrific "Meat", "Dairy" "Parve" and "Passover" stickers and marked all my stuff, so there was no longer questions each year about which item was for what. We have a full set of dishes for both meat and dairy, and I got appropriate storage containers for them. I labeled all the pots and pans and plastic. I packed things in a sensible way. I have a lot of glass pans in a wide variety of sizes, which can be used for either meat or dairy and go beautifully from oven to table to freezer.

Which means today was actually a very low-key day. Other than loading and unloading dishes, and trying to figure out seating arrangements and table placements, I didn't have much to do. I make a very similar meal each year. Seder is NOT the time to try something radically new! My menu will include:

Gefilte Fish
Hard Boiled Eggs
Chicken Soup and Matzo Balls
Brisket (sweet & sour)
Moroccan Chicken
Mashed Potato
Honey Carrots

and lots of veggies on the table for munching during the seder and assorted deserts.

My big problem with a holiday feeling "easier" is that I forget to prepare for the actual religious part. I need to go through my haggadah, and decide how to tell the story each night. Monday night, four out of the six children will have almost no idea what the seder is about. H's boys are not being raised Jewish, Lilie only gets her Judaism when she comes to me, and Sofia is only just beginning to be aware of anything beyond her beloved Shabbat. Tuesday night's seder kids are almost all in day school, so that's a wildly different approach needed. And on both nights I also have to keep the adults engaged.

Yes, of course, I not only cook but I run the seder. David sure lucked out when he married me ;)

I run into the "it's easier" problem at the high holidays, too. For years, preparing for Rosh Hashanah was a really big deal. I had a lot of music to practice, and usually many meetings with whichever spiritual leader or rabbi I was to work with. But the past couple of years I've had the wonderful Rabbi Sonia, whom I adore, but who insists we meet in JUNE to prepare for the fall. By the time the actual holiday approaches, I've completely lost the mood of our meetings. And since I no longer need to do much review - I already KNOW all the music - I'm not submerging myself in the text for weeks before the holiday.

I think I prefer being in the Learning phase. So I have to force myself to make time to seek out new sources, to learn something new each year. It's hard!

I tried this year to get in the mood by attending last night's service at our shul, where Rabbi Shefa Gold was the guest. That didn't work. Rabbi Gold is a Renewal Movement guru. And I mean guru. She brings her own crowd of groupies whenever she "performs" at Temple Israel. She's big into chanting. I love the music. But last night, I could not find anyone to stay home with my kids, so I had to take them with me (and I had an extra child, who wanted to be with me more than she wanted to run errands with her mom after school!).

So I dragged four children to the service. Micah brought a book, and didn't even bother coming in to the service; he stayed in the hallway. Sam tried for about 10 minutes, but my little yeshiva boy is a service snob, and by the end of the second chanting song, he said "this isn't even a real service" and joined his brother in the hallway. The girls played with Sofia's doll and bag of beauty gear for a while, and then Sofia really got into the music and dancing. The other girl eventually slipped out to join the boys and a couple of other kids.

Sofia followed our rabbi around (he totally blisses out to Rabbi Gold's stuff), and then found a hand drum (tof, dumbek). It was an interesting test. Did Rabbi Gold and her groupies really mean it when they professed all that love and acceptance? Or were they full of it? (Turns out the groupies really mean it. Rabbi Gold shot Sofia the nastiest look when Sofia started banging out of rhythm.)

The big problem was the timing, and an incident with food. The service started at 5:45, and dinner was supposed to be at 7pm. Well, service was still going strong at 7pm, which meant it would likely be at least 20 minutes before any food appeared. And Sofia was getting hungry and crabby.

So I went to the door of the kitchen. The kitchen were I myself have prepared numerous Family Shabbat dinners over the years. And was greeted by the guy who was cooking that night (another congregant), arms folded, who said "there's no more food."

"Nothing? Why were we supposed to be paying $18 per person (and NO kid price!) for dinner?"

"There's nothing left. It's all cleaned out for Passover. Just tonight's meal."

"Yes, well can she have a couple of pieces of salad and maybe a carrot?"

By then, the woman who was running the event came by and asked if Sofia could have some of the soup. The guy went into the kitchen...and came back with a piece of egg matzo.

"Uh. She's allergic to that."

The woman finally dragged me past him into the kitchen, where I gave Sofia a few pieces of lettuce from the counter. He, meanwhile, raided the refrigerator for some tomatoes that were to be for Saturday afternoon's kiddush.


After Sofia ate her veggies, I grabbed the four kids and left. Took them out for sushi, which was very fun (except that I hate going to a restaurant on Shabbat).

Oooooh! Just thinking about it makes me angry again. My first rule of cooking for others - you always go out of your way to please the people! There were dinners where I was still getting RSVPs that afternoon, yet I always had enough food. There were all sorts of allergy requests (none of which phase me, since my own family brings more than our fair share of allergy issues). And I always had munchies on the table (and when there would be a lot of kids, a big tub of pretzels to munch during the service).

Ok. Calm. I'm not gonna think about it any more. Sushi was yummy, and the kids were fun. And I'm loving the freedom this age brings - the boys would babysit Sofia for a while so I could drive A home after we ate.

I love having extra kids. I love the fact that kids want to come here. Tomorrow I have Sofia's school chum, H, and her older sister, who is a year younger than Sam and very sweet. Tuesday I'll have Lilie along with my three (it's school vacation week on top of the holiday!).

A few weeks ago, I picked up 6 kids from the day school. My boys, my regular car-pool sisters, and my friend D's two girls. D's husband showed up unexpectedly at school right after the girls got in the car (he was supposed to be running late, so mom was to pick them up at my house), and the girls refused to get out of my car! They wanted to come to my house. I love that.

So that's that. I wish everyone a sweet, happy, and healthy Pesach. May your seders be joyful and noisy and yummy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Darn You, Emily Perl Kingsley!

I was all set to moan and wail. Why me? Why my kids? Having just discovered that now Micah is having some issues, specifically related to test-taking (more below), I am just exhausted.

Then I came face-to-face with a poster of Welcome to Holland, Emily Perl Kingsley's poem about parenting a child with Down syndrome. (For a lovely discussion about whether Ms. Kingsley's glasses were too rose-tinted, see this blog. I especially agree with the comment from my friend Tara Marie).

So anyway, I have known about Welcome to Holland since I first received Sofia's amnio results. It's that standard go-to text for encouraging new families.

But what I had not really noticed was that the poem does not specifically say "Down syndrome". Rather, the poem opens with "I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability..."

Disability. Not anything specific. Could be talking about any of my kids.

So darn you, Emily Perl Kingsley, for putting things into perspective just when I wanted to whine and complain!

As for Micah, I think his problem - failing tests at a rather alarming rate - is a combination of perfectionism and defeatism. "If I can't get a perfect score, why should I even bother to try?" How the heck do you work around THAT?!

Really, if anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. The school staff has been brainstorming, David and I have been brainstorming. No clue what's going on in that little mind. He clearly knows the work - when they "ask" him specific questions, he gets everything correct - but when faced with a quiz or test he just totally blanks out.


Sam's making good progress with his reading - he actually CHOOSES to read sometimes, which is really a first for him - but it's still a long process.

Sofia is making great strides in everything. Now we just have to work out all the details for getting her successfully into the day school next year. Which supports will be at MWJDS, which will we have to go back to Ashland for, who will provide (and pay for) the supports at MWJDS, where will the required staff come many as-yet unanswered questions. But we all want it to happen, and it CAN happen. Just have to move forward.

Ok, Enough of that.

Nice Shabbat - friends last night here, services this morning (I read Torah, it was my friend's daughter's bat mitzvah), then home for relaxing, a nap, and unpacking Passover dishes (in the garage). Drove David to the airport tonight - he's off to Copenhagen for the week. Tomorrow, Micah is working on his science project with his friend and Sam is going to see another friend's show. FINALLY nice weather!

Thursday morning I took Sofia to the Big Apple Circus for their "Circus of the Senses" special need performance. We get free tickets from the D.A.D.S. group - at the last minute the Dad in charge had to stay home because his child was sick, so I ended up in charge of the group. Circus was fun. Sofia was somewhat afraid of the clowns, and very afriad of the high-wire lady, but she loved the acrobats and other acts. It was so fun to see it through her eyes. When the juggler was using dinner plates, Sofia got quite upset and started yelling "No! Table!"

Took her to Brookline for kosher shwarma (YUM), and had a nice time on the playground at the boys' school for a long time, first with two other girls who will be in her class next year, and then when all the kids came out. Then we dropped Micah at gymnastics, and went home to clean my car! Best thing I purchased last year was a $10 car vac from CVS. Totally cleaned out all the crumbs and trash. One nearly-Passover-ready minivan (I'm sure it'll need another quick cleaning before the holiday starts!).

Good night!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

Life has been somewhat 'normal' for the Rothkopf clan this past week.

Last week I spent a lot of time sewing Sam's tallis for school.

Micah had his class Wax Museum on Thursday. He was JFK. He came downstairs in his suit the night before...with no shirt. "You need a shirt." So he went upstairs, and came back...with a t-shirt. "You need a collar shirt, and a tie." He started to protest, and we added, "And you can't wear your winter hat!". Screaming ensued.

But eventually he did get dressed mostly properly (did not tuck in the shirt), and did a great job.


Friday night was low-key, just us, but nice.

We slept in on Saturday instead of going to shul. David and the boys went into the office to throw trash in the compactor (something the boys love to do, go figure!), while Sofia and I relaxed at home.

In the afternoon, we all went in to Boston! Walked through the Haymarket, around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and had dinner in the North End. Yum.

Sunday we got together with our friends the Burgs. K used to be a hairdresser, and did a lovely job of cuts for Sofia, Sam, and David. (Micah, of course, refused!). Then we took all the kids to the park for a while, then crowded the 10 of us into a booth at TGIFridays. I got stuck sitting at the kid-end of the table. Sofia wasn't feeling great, so she was on my lap, I was next to their Sam and across from my Sam, and their younger daughter was sitting next to me. At one point, she turned to me and asked, "Francine, what is French Kissing?" Nothing like kids!

I've been kind of lazy this week. Not feeling great - I think I've got Sofia's tummy ache now - and tired. Yesterday, Sam's class wore their new tallitot (prayer shawls) for the first time at All School Tefillah. It was lovely. After that, I went with my friend D down to the Butcherie in Sharon, where I spent A LOT of money on meat for Passover! We also took a stroll through Ikea.

Lazing again today. Watching Shrek with my princess - I'll go to the gym after I drop her at preschool.

An old friend sent me this picture the other day, from June 2001: