The Great Hanukkah Melt-Down

A friend and fellow blogger had the brilliant idea of bringing together the Jewish blogging community by creating #hanukkahhoopla – an opportunity for those of us of the Jewish faith to blog about Hanukkah this holiday season. I’m jumping in with a little kvetch about Hanukkah melt-downs. There is also a nifty give-away tied in to this post (please see below & don’t forget to comment!)

Holy shit my kids are so freaking crazy. So. Freaking. Crazy.

I mean they are really, really bat shit crazy sometimes.

Tonight was the second night of Hanukkah. My kids are like aggressive animals about Hanukkah presents. It’s not like they are in need of more toys or books or anything whatsoever. And it’s not like they are brats on a regular basis. It’s the wrapping, the surprise, the suspense. It just gets under their skin. And the waiting until sundown is just too much.

(Aside: Last night, after the Eldest made a small complainy noise about wanting to open more presents after she had already opened a bunch from my brother & sister-in-law, my husband got The Concerned Psychotherapist look. I saw him take the Eldest aside and talk to her. I got his Marital Look of Disappointment thrown my way. It read: Reign these brats in. I know, I know. I break the one gift per night rule every year. It irks the husband.)

Anyhow, tonight was a whole new level of crazy. My father, Papa, took the kids to see the godawful new Chipmunk movie and brought them back home to give them his Hanukkah presents. (My husband was working late and thus didn’t get to see that they each got one and only one present) This is what ensued:

The Eldest got a really cool, but very goopey and smelly, Make Your Own Slutty Lip Gloss set. She was stoked.

The Middle Guy, whom you may remember from this post, got a Put It Together Yourself Solar System Mobile. Now let me tell you, this kid is completely obsessed with all things planetary. He also has extremely bad fine motor skills and the patience of a jittery heroine addict who needs a fix.

Here is an example of his dedication to the solar system:

Anyhow, the Middle Guy, who was still coming down off all the sugar that Papa gave him at the movies, had quite the reaction when he opened the gift. He tore half the paper off, saw a picture of the solar system, started screaming at the top of his lungs, ran to me and burst into tears of joy. Then he ran to Papa crying, Thank you, Papa, thank you!!” It was weird. Very, very weird.

The Eldest, who has Asperger’s, was completely freaked out by this display of Middle Guy emotion. She didn’t like the Middle Guy’s loud excitement, so she covered her ears and put her head down smack in the middle of her stinky, gooey lip gloss making stuff. Then, when she saw his tears of joy she launched into a 15 minute discussion about tear ducts, and the varying reasons that one might cry, and asked me ten to twenty times if she’s ever cried tears of joy.

The Littlest, seeing that the Middle Guy had gotten something with planets (a.k.a. colorful balls), abandoned his cool new recycling truck, and began to beg loudly, Gimme Sun! Gimme Juperterter! Gimme Saturn!

All the while I was trying to make dinner. I really wanted to get some chicken nuggets into the Middle Guy before his blood sugar plummeted even lower and there would be no return from the pool of tears/Solar System induced hysteria.

So Dear Old Papa tried to put the Put It Together Yourself Solar System Mobile together with the hysterical Middle Guy (whom I’d given two Calm Yourself Down Time Outs already). But Dear Old Papa is an engineer. And engineers are never in a rush. They analyze. They inspect. Not quite the speed of a hysterical glucose deprived freakish Middle Guy.

Here’s what it sounded like:

Middle Guy: (wailing) It’s never going to work. We’ll never figure it out!
Me: It’s okay. (Trying to shove a chicken nugget in his mouth) Just calm down.
Littlest: Gimme Sun! (Launching his body across the table) Gimme Jupiterter! Sun! Sun!
Eldest: Have I ever cried tears of joy? I think maybe in 2009! Maybe when you got me that Pillow Pet. I was really happy. I might have cried tears of joy. Remember?
Middle Guy: (whimpering) Papa, you’re doing it wrong! That’s not where Saturn goes!
Littlest: Gimme Shaturn! Gimme Sun!
Eldest: Can you help me with the lip gloss?
Papa: (Working quietly, trying his best)
Middle Guy: (Crying) The labels won’t stick! OH NO WHERE IS VENUS?!
Littlest: (Running out of the room with tiny, sized for choking model Venus)

And so it went until the solar system was put together, albeit crooked and with labels falling off. Exhausted, the Middle Guy retired to the sofa with a book about the solar system as the Littlest tried his darndest to sneakily pull the tiny planets off the newly constructed solar system. Dear Old Papa, lips shiny with slutty pink hand-made lip gloss, took his leave of the hysteria, and I wrapped up the second night of Hanukkah with thoughts of a gin & tonic.

Thank God I will be at work for the third night of Hanukkah. Good luck, honey!

By the way, #HanukkahHoopla would not be possible with out the generosity of our sponsors.  I would like to thank Streit’s and Doni Zasloff Thomas a.k.a. Mama Doni, the lead singer/songwriter of The Mama Doni Band for providing each of the 16 bloggers involved in #HanukkahHoopla with a little cyber-swag. Their cross-promotional alliance is designed to celebrate Jewish culture with the young generation, a mission of both Mama Doni and Streit’s.

How can you win?  Leave me an awesome comment on.  On January 5, 2012, I will select one winner at random.  Be sure to subscribe to my blog or subscribe to the comments on this page so that you can find out if you are the winner!  If I don’t hear from you with 48 hours after announcing, I will select another winner.  Please don’t make me work hard to find you.

Prefer to be contacted via Twitter?  Leaver your Twitter handle in your comment and I will tweet you if you win.

Not interested in winning?  You can still leave a comment!  I love to read your words.  Just write: “No prize necessary” in your comment.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Happy Hanukkah!

20111221-231646.jpg

I Am Swimming Beside You

My dear friend,

Fucking December. Everyone is so damn jolly with their Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas crap.

There is nothing little about Christmas, and for many of us it’s a real bitch to muster our merry.

I know this month has to be especially hard for you. There’s nothing as painful as feeling shitty in the midst of real and manufactured holiday cheer.

You have been on my mind because I know you are struggling. Struggling hard. I want to thank you for fighting. I want to thank you for digging in your heels and not giving up. It is a gift to everyone who loves you.

The undertow of depression is strong. It is a long, hard swim with no view of landfall. It is a sandbag on your chest, a chorus of unwanted voices in your head. It is the ultimate internal battle.

You do not fight this fight alone.

Tonight I was thinking about you and a vision came to me. First I saw you swimming for shore. You were gasping for air, struggling to keep from swallowing salt water. Your hair was wild. The tide was working against you and your legs were burning and shaking from exertion.

Then I saw you buoyed. You were buoyed by the sounds of your children laughing, playing, fighting, whining, whispering their secrets.

You were buoyed by their sweet breath and their silky hair. By their pages of homework and art projects.

All thoughts of what you should be or could be and what you aren’t and what you are trailed off behind you and dissipated into the ocean.

You were completely free to love and be loved.

Then I saw you buoyed by the perfect cup of coffee, by the melty goodness of your favorite chocolate, by the heady fruit of a glass of wine.

You were lifted by scenes in a movie, the words of a great writer, a girlfriend’s laughter. And the most soulful music filled you with light.

You were buoyed by the warmth of your mother’s smile, by the sound of your father’s voice, by the silky fur of your dog.

All thought of what you should be or could be or what you aren’t or what you are trailed off behind you and dissipated into the ocean.

You were completely free to love and be loved.

The weight of your despair trailed off behind you and in its place was peace. Your heart was buoyed by calm and surety.

I want to share this with you because I so badly want this peace for you and feel very deeply in my bones that you will have it and much, much more. It must be so. It will be so.

I will be swimming beside you.

I love you dear friend.

A Jewish Case Of Christmaslust

I’m starting off this post with an email I sent to my brother regarding my kids’ behavior at a preschool event:

Subject: add one to the Ruby & Lucas files 
Today was the “All School Shabbat” program at Ruby & Lucas’ preschool. It’s really nice because parents, grandparents, friends, etc. are invited to come. All the kids gather in the auditorium & there’s special singing, candle lighting, snacks for Shabbat, and performances by the kids. Today was Ruby’s class! She got up on stage and sang her little heart out. It was really cute. Unfortunately she loved it so much that she wouldn’t get off the stage & after trying to negotiate with her calmly, I had to drag her off kicking & screaming (in front of about 100 people). And, God love him, Lucas saw Ruby get upset, ran onto the stage & started howling, too. So I had to get back on stage with screaming Ruby & drag them both off. OY VEY.

I shared that email because it highlights the fact that:
1. When you have a kid with Autism you never know how it’s going to go at social events  2. I have always felt like a fish out of water when it comes to religion.

I was the Jewish kid who begged for a Christmas tree. And Christmas lights. And I really wanted one of those tacky Christmas sweaters.

Every December I would torture my mother with requests for a blow-up lawn Santa for our house. I wanted the Christmas carols, the stockings on the mantel.

I even wanted to wear a crucifix like Madonna (during her Like a Virgin days). My poor mother.

The things I liked best about Hebrew school were the carpool rides that included a stop at the 7-Eleven for Slurpees and Dip-n-Sticks, and the cute boys. I didn’t get much in the way of spirituality in Hebrew school.

I become a Bat Mitzvah (complete with after party where we all wore leis and danced the YMCA) and later swore that I would never torture my children the way my parents tortured me.

And yet, here I am carting the kids to Hebrew school, Sunday school, tot Shabbat and family night services at the synagogue.

This feeling of Christmaslust still plagues me at times. Last week, for example, as I was driving my kids to the synagoge my older son asked why Target has so many Christmas decorations and barely any Hanukkah decorations. It’s a difficult question to answer.

Being a Jewish kid can have its challenges. It’s an orgy of Christmas in November and December. Have you ever looked at the selection of books for Jewish kids? The characters often look like they are straight out of a shtetl. The men have big black beards and are wearing yarmulkes, the women look like bubbameisters. Let’s get real. Most Jews these days have iPads, Nike kicks, and shop at Nordstrom like the rest of the world. But I digress…

It’s not that I don’t respect Judaism. I do, very much. I love Jews. I am proud to be a Jew. To be a Jew is to be in geek paradise. And I mean that in the very best possible way. Jews are smart, intellectual people who love to debate and kibbitz and create community. They are big on education, humor, reading, doing for others. And at our synagogue, kids with special needs are embraced and celebrated.

My problem is that I don’t know where to find myself in Judaism. I’m not sure how to make it a part of my life in a meaningful way that works for my family. I’m trying to figure it out.

I sent my first two kids to a Jewish preschool because we had just moved to Portland and I knew no one who had kids in school. The first friend I made was sending her little girl to Jewish preschool. It seemed like a good idea. I met the teachers and they were so sweet, and well, warm in that motherly way. My kids would get the foundation of Judaism.

That was all good, but I didn’t feel like I fit in with the other moms. In my freakish imagination they were lighting the candles every Friday night, making big Shabbat dinners, frying up latkes, and doing interesting craft projects with their adorable little Jewish prodigies.

My two-year-old was different than her peers. She was licking walls, melting down at the slightest change in routine, not making eye contact. I was just trying to make it through every day with a kid who appeared to be going off the developmental rails. Going through the rituals of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays seemed impossible to me given the challenges I was having with my daughter.

When it came time to decide on sending the kids to Hebrew school, I didn’t know what to do. So one afternoon I took my kids to synagogue to check it out. They hadn’t been there in a long time. We ended up in the main sanctuary. It was dark and quiet. We walked up and down the aisles silently observing the stained glass windows, Ark, and eternal flame. I don’t know why, but I started to feel something. It wasn’t a Jesus Has Healed You! fall on your knees moment. But it was significant.

I felt my mother’s presence there in the synagogue. I remembered playing thumb war with my dad during Saturday services. I remembered how the rabbi knew all the kids and would call us up by name to participate in services. I remembered helping my mom set up for the Oneg Shabbat (social time after services) and sneaking sips of Manischewitz. I remembered lighting candles with my grandmother.

I left the synagogue that day wanting my children to have these memories. Do I still want a Christmas tree? Yes. Yes, I do. Do I feel like I know what I’m doing in terms of religion? No, not really.  But as I light the Hanukkah candles with my husband and children I feel connected to something powerful, something meaningful and bigger than me, and for now that is enough.