Monday, October 18, 2010

The Chosen

Life is busy. So many things to think about; to get done; to achieve; to teach; to love each day. Lists are made and goals are realized, but in all of this I like to have retreat. It may be a television show or a day out or an hour to myself or a good book. For me, this book was a calming book. Each night when I read it, I felt like it eased my soul somehow. I thought maybe it had that affect on me because it was simple, but it certainly is not. Chaim Potok, the author, discusses mathematics and Hasidic Jews and Zionism, so certainly it is not a simple book. It is read with ease though. It is welcoming despite the philisophical nature of the book. Almost like watching a bird soar so simply and gracefully without realizing the very intricate nature of the bird that allows it to flow so well. The author repeats certain phrases repeatedly through the book such as, "Where my father and I prayed" instead of simply synangogue. In this way those phrases became like the rituals we all adhere to day to day such as how we make our coffee or when we watch the news. As a people we are calmed by things that do not change such as the smell of a certain laundry detergent or God. The author usese this to calm the reader and it works.

This is the story of Danny and Reuven. Danny is a Hasidic Jew and Reuven a Jew nonetheless. Their lives are different, but they undertand themselves through the language that connects them, in their soul and also in physicallity, namely Yidish. Their religion seperates them though it is the same. Danny is to become a Rabbi, he has been predestined for it by his family and his father. Reuven can be all that he wishes to be. In the end it is Reuven was chooses to be a rabbi and it is Danny who breaks away to become a psychologist which ultimately crumbles a family. Danny was chosen, but he decided instead to choose.

What makes this book such a joy is listening to these boys grow up and interact and how often they choose what is right and just. I guess I don't see that very often. As a reader we are feeling what Reuven feels and he is such a good boy. He listens to his father and treasure what he says and he does right by his friend and is polite when the situation desires politeness. To read of a teenage boy which such a moral ground was calming and relaxing to me. This is so much of what I want for my own son. Reuven's father is a man who thinks before he speaks and when he does he is careful with what he says. There is much to learn from him.

I finished this book last night, but I did not want it to end. I wanted to see Reuven's life and what he became. I wanted to see how he raised his children and how they behaved in their lives. Danny, on the other hand, had a father who taught him with silence. The father would never talk to Danny directly unless it was to study Talmud. The book explains that this was a way to raise a child; to teach a child to listen to silence...the silence that exists in suffering. It was a way to have a child tune into what is not being said but could be felt in the silence of a person. Reuven and his father do not agree with this method and as a reader we are also not to agree with this way, but I do see it's value. I most definitly would want to speak with my child, give advice, and listen to their own stories as they go through life, but silence also has something to teach. It is in silence that vulnerability yearns to escape. I agree with Danny, silence does speak indeed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Liberated Parents Liberated Children

This is not a book; it is a friend. A friend who has known you for a very long time. A friend who is not afraid to tell you that you are wrong and who always says it with love. A friend who listens; who checks in on you; who has done all the bad things you have ever done and so has no judgment.

The book is written by two mothers, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who over the course of a five year period involve themselves in a parenting class by Dr. Haim Ginott, a psychologist and author. As I read this book, I was put in a position to overhear all the conversations that took place during the weekly meetings. I heard mothers and fathers give examples of their lives and I heard the Dr. give advice and listen to them. I ease dropped with intensity to hear of the solutions and oftentimes catastrophes that took place in their everyday lives with their children. I watched them cry and I watched their eyes light up when telling stories of success.

The book is not difficult to read, but there is a lot of information to put into practice. Here are some of my favorite passages translated into my own words. The first is...are you sitting down for this? It is OKAY to raise your voice and even to yell! Dr. Ginott makes it a point to say that trying to always control yourself with your kids will inevitably end in a full blown attack of rage. Hmm I thought. I am almost always trying to control myself and it's true that it only lasts for a while before I let it all out at a later time or day. Here's what Dr. Ginott advices. It may not be what you agree with, but I really feel there is something quite genius in what he is saying, particularly if you are like me and did not have the most ideal parents and thus need more skills.

He thinks it is wise to check how angry you are when something with the kids occurs. If you are just slightly annoyed, feel free to explain to the children what you would like and you may even acknowledge their feelings in the matter. If you are edgy the situation is starting to bother you and you need to let some of that anger out now before it increases. you may wish to state your expectations to your children at this point. For example, "I expect that when I ask my children to put their shoes on that they do it in a reasonable amount of time". If you are in a mean mood, you are wanting to say something hurtful, but instead of doing damage to the child you may want to state two choices. For example, "Blue or red socks, your choice!". If you are feeling rage you are wanting to hit or hurt them in some way, but instead of doing damage, you have full reign to describe the injustice you see without insults. For example, "I feel extremely angry when I ask you to put your shoes on and it is not done. I feel ignored!" He does suggest that when you are in a mood of rage that you stick to "I" statements even when yelling so as not to insult the child and damage the relationship. The book also suggests that you not punish the child; that stating your own discomfort on a child allows him/her to take it in and try to solve it themselves. If punished, the child may feel they have served their time and are free to repeat it now.

Now the above description is a lot to remember, but I do find it valuable to have something in my mind BEFORE a difficult situation comes up so I am not at the mercy of my outspoken mouth. It is a tool, a default when I want to say something that will break the relationship between me and my children. I do agree with most of the viewpoints and it was a pleasure to be included in their parenting class and listening to their very real and very honest stories of motherhood. I absolutely recommend this book and hope many will find it a friend to them as well. I have read quite a few books and this is the most HONEST book about motherhood and child rearing that I have ever read. There are chapters where a mother has slapped a child and left marks and other chapters where teenagers say the most hurtful of things as well as the mothers. I really do agree with the title though, there is a liberating feel to the whole text; to be able to identify how I feel and not hide that from my family or children is quite liberating. One of my favorite sentences in the book states that you can only act a tiny bit better than how you feel. There is real liberation in that sentence if one dares to unleash themselves and reveal who they really are to their children.