When Faith Requires Saying No to Children

I’ve chosen a life of faith. I am an observant Jew who strives to be mindful of my religion while living in the modern world. Despite frustrations and disappointments, confusions and uncertainties, I am content with my choice. I have gained great comfort, joy, understanding, and a sense of community via practicing my faith.

I was not brought up practicing this lifestyle. I consciously chose to live a life of faith when I was in my 20’s. I was an adult, and I made a personal decision knowing there would be restrictions, knowing there would be “no’s.”

What about children who are brought up in a household of faith?

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MMK guest post on Dads Round Table

Help Me Deal with Suburbanitis

Massive house in Suburbs surely causing suburbanits

Massive suburban house surely causing envy/suburbanitis.
Courtesy of Suburban Stock Photo

There’s a reconstruction going on at the end of my block. The house was originally a standard 2000 square foot split level, and it is being tripled in size. It has been turned into a behemoth.

The reconstruction began in May. My boys and I drove past it every day on the way to camp this Summer.  We always had a comment regarding the progress, “look at the hole they’re digging, that door is huge, the windows are in now.”

For the boys, the voyeurism was your typical looking through the hole at the construction site.

However, for me, the gawking was different.

It was envy.

I know envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Every religion, psychologist, and self-help guru warns against it.

Yet, I struggled.

I looked at my own house. Suddenly, my 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath seemed inadequate. It wasn’t just the kitchen and the master bedroom which seemed too small for me. I wanted the behemoth.

This version of house envy is part of what I call suburbanitis.

It hit me especially hard when I first moved to the suburbs. I noticed the other houses on your block, in your neighborhood. Inevitably, some are bigger, more modern, and have better landscaping.

Suburbanitis enters stage two when I actually entered my  neighbors’ houses. Once inside these confines, inevitably I found homes that have more attractive furnishings, more vibrant colors, and are more organized.

No matter how hard I or anyone tries, you can never win.

And that’s the whole point. When you get caught up in suburbanitis, the envy gnaws at you. The perpetual flow of catalogues that are delivered to your house feed suburbanitis. You feel compelled to buy, to keep up with the Jones.’ To rid of yourself of suburbanitis. But you can’t win. Even if you are the wealthiest person on your block or in your neighborhood. Someone is always getting something new, else, better.

I’ve struggled greatly with suburbanitis.

It hit me hard when my family and I arrived in the suburbs a little over six years ago. My wife, on the other hand, was more grounded. In fact when a neighbor wanted to show us her house so we could see what one could do with a split level, my wife’s retort was, “I can live in it.”

Ironic that my wife is the one who enjoys the catalogues and does the buying for our house.

Yet, I wanted everything – the big house that was lavishly decorated with all the trimmings. Not to mention the multiple brand new cars.

These things were simply not in my budget. I had a job, teaching, that while steady and rewarding at times, paid a mediocre salary.  Was it the wrong job? Why couldn’t I support my family the way they deserved to be supported?

Simple – suburbanitis.

As time passed, my case of suburbanitis faded to the background. Did I get used to the big fancy houses and not think they were nicer than mine.

Not quite.

Instead, I remembered something. I have what I have because that is what I am supposed to have. I don’t have what I don’t have because I am not supposed to have it. It’s called faith. And it trumps suburbanitis.

However, my touch of suburbanitis still flares up on occasion. The house on the corner being the perfect example.

“Hey boys. Let’s talk to neighbors who live in that house?”

“What? Do they have kids?”

“I don’t know. Maybe, they can invite us to the house. I think we could all move in and still have plenty of room? What do you say?”

“Are you serious?”

A part of me is. Suburbanitis is a powerful disease.

Morning-Shower Phobia

Arachnophobia, claustrophobia, xenophobia. There are phobias for just about everything. I, thankfully, suffer from none of them. Well I’m not big on heights and you don’t want to see me around ketchup and iced tea. But other than that, I am just short of normal.

I took a self-imposed break from blogging though I continued commenting on other people’s blogs. Anyway, the break from blogging coincided with my break at school. Movies, Chuck E. Cheese, a visit to mom, editing of my novella, a staycation with my wife only, and sleeping in till 8:00 (yes, that is a big thing in my house) were just some of the highlights from my break. Of course, I found some time for self-loathing and questioning of my direction. However, the best part was not setting the alarm and moving at a different pace.
On Tuesday night, I had my clothes out, lunch made, lesson plans prepared, etc. I had psyched myself up and was ready to return to work. Then, I made a terrible mistake. I checked weather.com. The site said it would feel like 9 degrees at 6 a.m. That is the time at which I am standing on a street corner praying for the bus to come. My heart sank as my resolve froze. Uggh. I added a pair of long johns to my pile of clothes.
Wednesday morning came, and I got out of bed and headed to the bathroom for my shower. You see, there are two types of people in this world: “shower-before-bed” people and “shower-in-the-morning” people. I happen to be the latter. Thus my shower serves a dual purpose: a clean start and a wake-up call.
I looked at the shower and had reservations. Let me tell you about our shower, and you will understand. It takes a couple of minutes for the water to warm up. Once it does warm up, it can be scalding. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, why don’t you just balance the hot and cold knobs so the water will come out at a temperature you are happy with. Sounds logical. However, my shower is not logical. The knobs are inconsistent, so I never know where to turn them to in order to get a comfortable temperature.
As I have mentioned many times, I often lack patience. So, sometimes in my rush to warm up the water, I turn the hot up too far. It will be a comfortable temperature when I get in and suddenly the water will be scalding. Then, I will turn the hot water down and pump up the cold water and a minute later, the water is freezing.

I have little tolerance for extreme temperatures. So, I spend half the shower jumping away from the water. I jump so often in the shower that it could be a new kind of exercise. You have zumba, pilates, and shower dance (sounds like it should be way more erotic than it actually is). This drastic change in temperature makes washing my private parts an act of faith. So, one minute, I’m burnt like a beach bum and the next minute, I’m frozen ala Walt Disney.

Then, you have water pressure. Well, you may have water pressure, but my shower sure doesn’t. Give my two cups of water and an hour, and I can generate more pressure than my shower.

So now, I have made a change. I am no longer a daytime shower person. It is too scary in that shower on cold winter mornings. In fact, you could say that I have a fear or phobia of my shower. There’s got to be a name for morning-shower phobia.

Do Shirts Count?

Eight presents for eight nights. That’s the way Chanukah works in our house. Each night the drama begins anew. We say some prayers, sing a song, and presents are distributed.

And I hold my breath. Praying that the children will be happy with their gifts.

A friend of mine was holding court recently. The topic was holiday presents.

Specifically, can clothes be given as presents? Now, there are no holy books with great sages’ views on said topic. So, we are left to our own wits.

My initial reaction: “Of course, it counts.”

However, my friend, whose youngest child is in 11th grade, presented his three children’s arguments why clothes don’t count.

  1. They are a necessity.
  2. It is a parent’s obligation to clothe their child.

I think my friend’s children make a point. He might have a lawyer or two in the bunch.

From this Jew’s perspective, Christmas gift giving seems less dramatic. If the children are given a slew of presents or even just a few, you can throw a shirt in or something similarly practical. The child might be disappointed, but with the knowledge that the next present is right there, waiting to be opened – hope remains.

However, with Channukah, the next present is 24 hours away – an eternity to a young child. Each night there is pressure. My wife is the gift buyer in our house. She puts in major hours scanning the internet to find the ‘right’ presents for the boys. I am both impressed with the effort and care and a bit scared. She’s intense. So, if the children aren’t happy, it is my wife who feels more of the sting.

All of this being said, when BR received a shirt the other day, and he freaked out. By the way, it was a Lego Ninjago shirt. He loves Lego.

Anyway, he was not happy and did not feel any need to refrain from showing his displeasure. Through tears, he kept repeating, “I don’t want a shirt. Why would you give me a shirt? I want toys.”

We tried to reason with him, but he was in meltdown mode. Better to back away and let him cool down a bit.

Part of me was pissed off. Doesn’t he know how much his mother works to find the right presents for him and his brother? Doesn’t he know that some people don’t get any presents? Doesn’t he know that one should always express gratitude when given something?

I’m sure he knows all of this – on some level. It is our (my wife and I) job to make sure BR and SJ grow up to be gracious and appreciative – even when they get a shirt.

So, I say yes, shirts count.

What say you?