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My Grandson’s Kindergarten Graduation Takeaway

When Robert Fulghum wrote that all he ever needed to know he learned in kindergarten, he wasn’t kidding.  I had a similar experience in kindergarten just by watching my grandson and his peers sings songs at their graduation.


The other day I attended the 5-year old graduation and listened to them say their valedictorian speeches – sing the songs and perform for the parents and grandparents with such clarity of speech, twinkles in their eyes and motions of their hands.  I realized for myself that these kids know everything they have to know already. Today.

They learned it already and they don’t have to learn it anymore. From here on in, it’s just review and repetition.

Robert Fulghum’s list of material learned in kindergarten included sharing, being fair, cleaning up your own mess, being nice and even flushing the toilet. Lots of things. You can check them out here. They all have to do with behaviors, rather than attitudes or values. Behaviors are important because the more we do them, the more practice we get at being good at them. And the more someone who we respect praises us for doing the behavior (kids love mitzvah notes!), the more we want to do it more.

I wonder: After kindergarten, is there is anything more to learn about how to act properly, with manners and politeness? Or is it just trial, error, repetition, review, feedback, practice and refinement of the basic lessons?

Beyond behaviors, there are attitudes and values. Attitudes and values are important because they are the pillars that hold up what we believe to be important in life, and they motivate us to do the things we do.

My grandson and his buddies sang so many songs (they were each very short!) that my heart was singing and dancing. I couldn’t stop kvelling (pretty typical for me but ok).

Songs about values such as honesty, visiting the sick, being nice to guests, knowing that even bad things are all for the best, loving others, and appreciating what others do for us.

These children have learned things in kindergarten and learned it well.  I saw it in their eyes. I felt it in their smiles. And I watched it in their hands that moved in unison.

On that day, in that classroom, at that graduation, those 22 kids dressed as little sailors sang songs about values and beliefs that they will hopefully be mindful of every day of their lives.

Here they are sitting together and watching a slide show of the various activities they did this year representing the values they learned.


And now? Where do they go from here? We hope and pray they take these values and self esteem they have had this year and go forward from strength to strength.

And to that blessing this grandmother says “Amen!”




The Rope in the Swimming Pool


Remember the rope in the camp swimming pool?  If you were only able to swim in the “shallow” water, you stayed on one side of that rope. The more skilled swimmers who were deemed able to swim in The Deep, ventured out to the other side of the  rope.

But everyone – all swimmers – knew the cardinal rule, that when the lifeguard blew the whistle and called “everybody out,”  we had to swim to the steps and get out of that pool. Fast. We stuck to that rule like our lives depended on it.

Restrictions can be a very good thing.

Boundaries. They’re important in raising children, following religious laws, enjoying friendships, keeping to a nutrition or diet program, and relationships.

I don’t always follow every single rule (that’s for another post!) but when I do,  they make me feel safe and in control. For example, I feel really great and at peace when my food is in order, and when I pretty much stick to the number of Weight Watcher points that I’m allotted per day.

Okay,  I have certain fantasies. Like sometimes I want to just End. My.  Day.  at 3 pm. Why?  Because I’ve basically used up all my points for that day by 2:30 pm. I want to call it a day and go to sleep. No more day. Points used up. Bye.

I’m working on that by spreading my points out over the day that I’m given.

But. And here’s the big but. When I’m in a leadership position such as teaching or some community service, there’s something in me that has a hard time setting limits for other people. And when I do set them, I feel guilty that maybe I am being too harsh.

It was like that for my husband and me (he’s the same!) when my kids were little and we had to be consistent and set rules.

Now, our kids are grown up and setting boundaries for their own kids (surprisingly doing a great job at it!), and I’m pretty darn good with the mother-in-law thing.  I have figured out when to intervene, when to keep my mouth shut (the latter is really the way to go most of the time).  I get it. I work at it. Because boundaries work both ways in adult-child relationships.

But there’s one area where I continue to struggle.

I run a Gemach out of my home in my spare time. A Gemach is the Hebrew acronym for “Gemilus Chesed” which loosely means doing kindness. Basically, the type of “kindness” that I do from my home is loan baby gear to people in and around our community.

Many people I know run Gemach’s. You can google the word and lots of “free loan” services will pop up, from loaning money interest free to loaning wheelchairs, baby clothing, diapers and anything that someone may need. It’s a common service.

People call me or text me to borrow an item, they arrange a time during my hours to pick up the item(s), use them for as long as they need, and then return the item. There are other details involved in the set-up, but that’s the gist of it. Some of them give an optional donation to a charity cause. It’s win-win. People really appreciate the service.

It works out great and I meet tons of people in the process. I love knowing that I’ve helped people who either have company coming from out-of-town and don’t want to buy and/or store a car seat or small crib. It’s much easier for them to borrow from me, since I do the storing and maintaining of items.  Many of the items are donated but some are bought by me using the funds that some people donate. Also, many who find the cost prohibitive (which it is) are able to benefit from borrowing.

My own sons and daughters-in-law borrow from the gemach!

So, what does this have to do with boundaries?

I think the fact that I work with soooo many people from many walks of life that is reason I run into problems with some people. And it all comes down to my not being clear about my boundaries.

You see, about 95 % of people I deal with, are amazing. They inquire about the item, set up a time to pick it up, pick it up, leave, and enjoy the item (hopefully!). Then several weeks or months later, they return it.

All is well. But the other 5 % is the reason I’m writing this post. I’m not complaining about them. I think they are doing the best they can. This is how they are. And this is my personal challenge so that work on my character trait of setting boundaries in a calm manner.

I used to think these people didn’t get it. That they were unappreciative. That they thought I ran a store and sat home all day waiting for people to borrow the items.

But now I know that they are just being who they are. And it’s my job to change. I can’t change others, just myself.

In the early days I had hours 24/6. (not Shabbat). Now I have hours certain days and certain hours set for the Gemach.

I have on my voice mail that people should text or email so that I can streamline the system and answer their questions in writing.

I have a website which I encourage people to go to. All the policies and other information is written clearly on that website.

But still.  I still struggle with some stuff – where I feel like I’m not being clear and then I have to make myself clear, and oh no, am I being mean? I don’t want to be mean. I want to do a mitzvah.

For example,  someone texts about an item, then forgets to come when they say they will come. In the meantime, another person wanted it, but I had to say no to Person #2.

Or someone texts about an item, with no commitment. Then a few days later, texts about another item. And then continues this serial texting, setting up time to come, cancelling, changing their mind, forgetting to come, their kid gets sick, they live too far to come during my hours….. without once committing to borrowing.

I call them the Serial Inquirers. Checkers. Requesters. And then back-outers. Change-their-minders. Over and over and over.

Or those who have constant “emergencies.” I need an item in 15 minutes. Can I come now? (9 pm at night?).

Of course, I try to be flexible. Emergencies happen, I try to accommodate if I can.

But my job with the ones who kinda-sorta take advantage (remember – they are only 5 % of the folks I deal with!) is to stay clear with my boundaries.

I set my hours, times, and mode of communication. I let them know that I prepare the item they asked for and hold it for X days within my hours, and if they don’t come (or let me know), I free it up for someone else.

Boundaries. Hard to set. Even harder to enforce.

But what’s the alternative? We drown in the pool of relationships. Not fun!

Always good to have those walls of protection — not for the safe swimmers, but for the ones who seem to push the limits.

Now, I think I’m going to have a piece of cake. Whoops.  Maybe not.





Please Tell Me That Story Again!

About two weeks ago, my mother-in-law had hip surgery. After several days in the hospital, and a remarkable recovery thank G-d, she was released from the hospital and admitted to a rehabilitation center where she stayed for about a week. While my mother-in-law (we call her “Grandma”) was in the rehab,  I visited her. Wanting to cheer her up, I shared a cute story about one of my grandsons.

My husband mentioned to  me that after I told Grandma the story, she was so happy that she repeated it to my husband that night when she saw him. And the following evening she asked my husband to review the story again with her.

She wanted to remember every detail.

When my mother-in-law (did I mention she will be 95 kain ayin horah, in May?) joined us at Pesach where our family was together for the Holiday, the first thing she asked me was “Miriam, please tell me that story again. The one about the little one who you took shopping with you. I love to hear it…”

And so I agreed!

Her eyes lit up in excitement as she leaned forward to listen to the story yet again.

Several weeks ago, JoJo (my grandson’s name changed to protect the adorable) who is 4, came shopping with me to K-Mart, where I needed to pick up a few items.  After about an hour of shopping, where JoJo was being a very good boy, he asked me for something to eat.

‘I’m huuuungry….can you buy me something to eat?’

Looking around as we were waiting in line at the checkout, the first thing I saw was a Hershey Bar. I asked him if he wanted that, and his said, ‘Yes!’ Fine, I thought. It will keep him happy till I get him back home.

Isn’t that sweet….said Grandma while I continued on with the story.

Okay, so I paid for my items, and handed him the chocolate bar, which he held carefully in his hand while we walked to the car, with my bags in the shopping cart. I opened the car door, and helped him into his booster car seat.

‘Can I eat it now?’ he asked.


‘Sure,’ I said.

Turning toward her daughter, my sister-in-law, (who was with us at the time) Grandma said, Pshhhh. Could you believe the maturity? Unbelievable…

I continued: And I buckled him in and  loaded the car.

After driving a block or two, I stopped at a stop light, turned around briefly to check up on him, and  saw him munching the chocolate bar. He was busy and all was well.

Then I saw him fold the wrapper over the chocolate, as if he was done eating. He had eaten about half of it, and I wondered why he wasn’t finishing it.

Figuring he wasn’t that hungry, I didn’t say anything.

‘I’m saving the rest for B.B. (his older brother’s not-real-name).  It’s his birthday today,’ my grandson offered.

Doing a Mitzvah!

I love mitzvos!

Grandma opened her mouth in wonderment, as if hearing the story for the first time. She threw back her head and laughed with sounds of joy and nachas that only a great-grandmother can do. Then she leaned forward, looked downward, and shook her head, “Unbelievable…just unbelievable…such kindness!”

I continued on:

So, the whole thing happened so fast, I really didn’t know how to react or to think anything huge about it. I just simply said,”OH, that’s so nice of you. What a good idea! Such a mitzvah!”

‘Omi,’ said JoJo. ‘Can you take it from me and put it in a plastic bag? I don’t want it to melt.’

I took one of the shopping bags and put it inside, but JoJo wasn’t satisfied.

‘Can you put it in by itself?’

Not wanting to ruin the birthday gift, I did. I emptied the contents from another bag and put the half eaten chocolate bar into the bag and held onto it until later when JoJo’s mom came to get him.

Sure enough, later on he gave his 7 year old big brother the special gift of the leftover chocolate bar.

And that’s the end of the story, I told Grandma.

No, it’s not, no, it’s notsaid my mother-in-law. He’s going to be some great person…because he’s so kind.

And me? The grandmother? The teller or kveller or bragger or boaster of this story about my grandson? What do I gain from this story?

I realize how powerful one positive event can be in a person’s life, in ours and those whose lives we affect.

What narrative do we create out of the stories in our lives? How do we interpret them?

Do we repeat and reinforce the positive events over and over by sharing with others or at least in our minds and our hearts for posterity?

How do you feel about sharing or reinforcing positive events with others and ourselves? Let me know.

And by the way:

Postscript: This morning, I was passing my mother-in-law while she was talking to her physical therapist who came by for scheduled sessions. I overheard my mother-in-law tell the therapist, “You have to hear what my grandson did. His mother…or someone…bought him a Danish…or a candy bar…I don’t know what… and he only ate half of it, and offered to give the other half to his brother whose birthday it was! Could you believe how special he is?”

Happy Holidays to all! May you have much pride and joy from your families and loved ones!


Top 10 Tips for Visiting Sick People


Visiting the sick is an art, not a science. In Hebrew, we call this act of performing any kindness to family of sick people– bikur cholim.  Recently, I have been laid up in bed for many months, due to a broken ankle, and I have been the recipient of this mitzvah (good deed) by so many people in our community. People have been generous beyond my wildest imagination. Although I performed bikur cholim before I broke my ankle, I don’t think I did so with such skill and grace as those who performed the mitzvah for me. And so, I’ve compiled a list of 10 “best practices” for mastering the art of bikur cholim based on my experiences as a recipient. Just as one must master certain skills in order to produce a true work of art, so too one must master certain practices in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim in its highest form.

In creating this Top Ten Tip List, I am speaking to myself as much as to the reader:

  1. Call, text or email the sick person before visiting to ask when is a good time to visit; it’s not a good idea to pop in without prior mention.

  2. When others are also present, refrain from side conversations without involving the person who is sick.

  3. Unless the sick person asks, do not talk about yourself or your own life; rather, talk about something you know is of interest to the sick person.

  4. Your presence is what is most valued by the sick person, even more than cards or flowers.

  5. Ask open ended questions (i.e., “How are you feeling today?”) to encourage the person to talk if they are in the mood; do not ask details about their illness.

  6. Speak using empathy and compassion; avoid speaking platitudes.

  7. If you are running errands such as going to the market, it’s nice to call and offer to pick up something; you can keep a running tab on how much you’ve spent so the patient can pay you back.

  8. Ask first before sending over food; coordination (regarding time and food sent) is important to not cause undue stress for the patient. If they tell you they are fine with whatever you send, then go with their wish.

  9. A brief friendly phone call is always appreciated; most important is to listen to what the person has to say and help the patient feel validated. You can offer to relieve a young mom of the kids for a few hours, by taking them to the park.

  10. If you say you will do something, follow through with it; if something comes up, let the person know because they are likely relying on you to fulfill your word.

After all is said and done, we strive to do our best when it comes to any mitzvah, especially visiting the sick. And if we aim to do bikur cholim artfully and purposefully, then G-d will help us achieve our goals. May all the sick and injured be cured by the ultimate Doctor, and may there be no more need for bikur cholim.

Photo credit: M. Hendeles

18 Ways to Bring Cheer to a Homebound Mom or Grandma

It’s a common dilemma. Your friend, acquaintance, relative, or neighbor is laid up in bed, due to a sickness or some other disability. You feel badly for them, and you want to help out in some way.

But you just don’t know what to do. You’re afraid to impose, and be in the way. You’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.

But still, you want to show that you care, that you are thinking about the person.

You would love a great idea to pop into your head,  something  that would make your friend happy. Something small – not too big or fancy. Something that just hits the mark, that brings good energy, and boosts the person’s mood and morale.

Something that fits his or her personality and is not too complicated for you to carry out in a timely manner. Continue reading

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