Kindergarten 11-13-13. Baby steps and baby birds.

I’m behind on my tutoring stories. Turns out if I don’t write about it that day, I don’t really make time to write about it because there are other things going on.

Last week I had the same three children. I took them in a different order than on the list and I need to remember to not do that again. I need to take V first and J last. If J had his way he’d monopolize my time and I wouldn’t get to the other two.

I’m only there for an hour. It is all the time I’m allowed. There is a great cut off at the end of my time. They all line up for recess. This is useful because it isn’t as if I’m just leaving, or cutting them off. They are going outside and that is important to them.

It makes me think that we adults need to have recess scheduled into our workdays.

J still uses the alphabet list as a crutch. It is like he uses it as a cheat sheet. If the alphabet is in front of him and I ask him where the N is for example, he starts at the beginning and goes all the way through to the end, missing the requested letter every time. This time he was at least aware that he missed it. This is becoming very frustrating for me. There is no way he can get any further if he does not learn his letters soon. Having to start at the beginning every time is going to take forever. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it worked, but it doesn’t.

I decided to try something different. I have letter flash cards to use, and randomly pulled out a card. I asked him to name a letter. He nailed it. I tried another one. Again, success. So in the context of all the letters in order, he is lost. Perhaps it is overwhelming. Perhaps it is too much choice.

It is kind of like teaching colors to a child who is colorblind but doesn’t know it. He can’t tell me what is wrong because he doesn’t have a sense of what is right.

We played the Dora alphabet game and he also could find the letters when they were randomly in the box, but could not tell me what letter he had landed on the board. It was a little tricky to even get him to play the game because he decided it is girl’s game. It may be, but it is a great game to teach the alphabet, colors, numbers, and how to play a game, and these are all things he needs desperately.

At some point he mentioned that he had a bath last night but not today. Five year olds are masters of random statements. I thought about it. His hair is always a little wild. I thought it was just his style, but then realized that five year olds don’t have style. Things are done to them and for them, and I’m getting the impression that he’s not getting enough care at home, like he is an afterthought.

I worked with S and he was a delight at usual. He is very easy going and is doing well on his letters. I don’t think he needs my help, but the teacher keeps putting him on my list. She seems to have really concentrated my job this year. In the past I would work with a random assortment of up to eight different kids. This year I’m getting the same three.

Then I worked with V. Life is hard for her at home. We didn’t work on much for school. What I worked on was building up her spirit. She is so sad and reserved these days. Her work, which was already behind the average, has gotten worse. So I played the Dora game with her and exclaimed about how much I look forward to playing this game with her, and that I really appreciate that she plays it with me. I mean every bit of it. I am desperate for her to stay in school, because school is the only way out of a terrible home life.

Being able to read makes the difference between depression and delight. It makes the difference between poverty and prosperity. It turns ignorance into intelligence.

Reading is the way out.

If I can encourage her to stay in school and learn how to read, she has a chance. But she has to do the work. That’s always the way. I remember my reaction with my first group of students from three years ago. One just was having the hardest time with everything, and he just didn’t seem to care. A blasé kindergartner isn’t the greatest. It is pretty sad, even. But it wasn’t up to me. I brought my energy and my enthusiasm and my skills, and he had to do the rest. If he wanted to just drift through, barely making it, that was his choice.

It is like they are all baby birds. I want them all to fly high, but there will always be some that never have the confidence or strength to leave the nest on their own.

Saying Birkat Hagomel in the middle of the night.

Last night was a little weird. I “heard” the words “Birkat Hagomel” repeatedly. I’ve been studying Jewish blessings and prayers, and I didn’t remember if that was the name of a prayer or some of the words in it. I wasn’t sure why those words were coming to me in the middle of the night. The words kept coming, and I got the impression that I needed to get up and say whatever prayer is associated with them. But the “voice” sounded different from what I’m used to, so I ignored it for a while. It has been a while since God has woken me up in the middle of the night. I’m out of practice.

It is really important for me to not be crazy with God. I’m bipolar. And I hear from God. Yup. I’ve tried to suppress this for a long time, but it isn’t going away. I’ve tested what I’ve “heard” and found that it always is true, so that is a good sign that what I’m hearing from is from God and not the voice of craziness. But it still scares me every time, because I know what going over the edge feels like.

It isn’t really a voice – I don’t hear words. It is as if they come into my head. So that is why I put parenthesis around “hear” and “voice” sometimes.

Last night I ignored the “voice”, thinking I’ll look up those words in the morning. I sat up for a bit, thinking about what I should do, and couldn’t find any paper in the dark to write down the words. I decided if it was important enough I’d remember it in the morning. I don’t want to get OCD about God. It is weird enough hearing from God in the middle of the night. It is weird enough hearing from God and having a mental health diagnosis. It has taken me years to reconcile those two truths.

I lay down, and it only got worse. I felt physically very bad. I had a sense of gloom. There was an ominous nature to it. I felt overwhelmed, trapped even. Was I having a heart attack? What is going on? I prayed some more. I decided to get up and figure things out. Sometimes my best clue as to what to do is whatever I feel compelled to do. It may sound strange, but I’ll pray and God will set my feet on the right path. I just have to wait until it is time.

I got up and went into my craft room. I got down my candle and lit it. I put down a pillow so I could kneel. I had the book I’ve been using to learn about Orthodox Judaism with me. It is “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” by Blu Greenberg. It has the prayers in Hebrew, then transliterated into the letters in English so I can sound it out, and then the translation in English. This is one more step than the siddur (prayerbook) that I have. It assumes I can sound out the Hebrew letters. I’m not there yet.

One reason I finally got up was that in the middle of all this I remembered that the “Birkat Hagomel” is a pretty serious prayer. It isn’t the words in a prayer, it is the name of a prayer. In the words of Blu Greenberg, it “is recited after having narrowly escaped danger, recovering from serious illness, or coming through safely after a long trip.” Remembering what prayer it was increased my feeling that I needed to get up and say it.

I didn’t know what I was being thankful for. I still don’t, really. But I knew I had to get up and say this prayer.

I had a feeling that I could just flip to it in the book and I’d find it. I thought that would be “testing” God, so I decided to look it up in the index. You know – if it really is a call from God, I’ll find it straight off. When I found what page it was on, I turned to it and smiled. I have two bookmarks in this book. One is where I’m reading. One just happens to be on the page for this prayer. God is always in charge.

The translation of the prayer is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who grants favors to the undeserving, Who has granted me all kindness.” I’ve also seen it translated as “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who metes out goodness to the undeserving and Who has dealt kindly with me.”

Before it on the page is the Shehecheyanu, which is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has granted us life and sustained us and brought us to this moment.” That seemed useful too, so I said it first.

I said the Birkat Hagomel three times, slowly, sounding out the transliteration. On the third time I tried to remember the transliteration while looking at the Hebrew letters. Also on the third time, my husband got up. I’m very self conscious about praying like this in front of anybody. It looks a little intense. It is a little intense. I don’t want to worry him. He came in just as I was finishing up and asked if everything was OK. I said it was, because I felt better. I no longer felt the crushing sense of dread that I felt before I decided to get up.

We went back into our bedroom and I thought about it for a little bit. I decided to tell him what was going on. We talked about it for a little, and I decided/felt that I needed to get up and go into the living room to sleep/pray. I’ve done this before. It isn’t that comfortable to sleep in the living room, so I can lie down and pray for a long time. Then when I’m done with praying, I’ll go to sleep.

My husband mentioned that he had been having a dream a little earlier that he felt he couldn’t wake from. He was trying to move or make noise to wake me up so that I could wake him up. This is what he does if he is having a nightmare. The interesting part is that he wasn’t having a nightmare. He just knew that he had to wake me up. This gives me the feeling that it was really important for me to get up.

I went to the living room and lay down on the futon to pray and then sleep. I didn’t know what I was going to pray about, but I just prayed. I felt the same way I feel when there is a big dangerous storm coming, and it is important to pray really hard. I don’t know what the storm is – all I knew is that I had that same feeling. Sometimes the “wind” that I hear isn’t the wind, but the winds of the Spirit.

I was reminded of the expectant feeling that the Israelites had when they were in Egypt, about to be delivered from slavery. They celebrated the first Passover in readiness, prepared to get up and run at a moment’s notice. Their preparations made it so that the Angel of Death passed over them and spared their first born. How many of us are willing to do something as crazy sounding as what they did? Paint a cross of blood over the door? Eat your meal while holding a weapon? That sounds kind of wild. But that is what God calls us to sometimes.

I felt that there is a big change happening. I felt that it was important to pray through it, like how a midwife helps a mother give birth by being there and supporting her. I’m not making the change happen. I’m watching it. I’m supporting it. I’m being conscious through it. I don’t know what the result is, but I know it is important.

It turns out that the Birkat Hagomel is also the prayer recited in the synagogue by the husband after his wife has successfully delivered a child.

I remembered a story of how a guy was compelled to get up and drive over to a friend’s house in the middle of the night. He felt he had to sit in his car and pray for his friend, but not go knock on the door. He kept thinking how odd this was, but he did it anyway. He drove home after his prayer was over. The next day he found out from his friend that he had had a terrible night and felt that he was like Jacob, wrestling with the Angel. In the middle of that time of trial, he started to feel better and stronger, and was able to finally go back to sleep. That was during the time that his friend, unbeknownst to him, was outside in his driveway praying for him.

It is this kind of story that encourages me to keep following this feeling. And it is the reason I’m sharing my story with you. I don’t know the resolution to this story yet. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t know what God needed me to pray for. But I know that it is important to heed that call.

May you be blessed through this time of change, and may you be found awake, with your lamps ready. (Matthew 25:1-13)