So this is a whirlwind of impressions from the last whirlwind 5 days of travel… I just want to get some thoughts down before Life gets in the way. First of all, if you’re visiting this blog for the first time and met me at the conference… Hi! I apologize to everybody; I was operating at 40% of my normal energy level for most of the weekend, and I hope it didn’t show too badly.
In chronological order… here are my memories of the weekend:
- Friday, erev Shabbos: Arrive late due to bus driver malfunction (he had to be hauled off in an ambulance). By the time we get to Baltimore, I am sick and miserable and exhausted with what is perhaps the worst headache of my life (partly due to caffeine deprivation but mainly not). Meet blog-world friend Michelle, who I’ve seen at the last 2 conferences. This year, she brought her daughter, Froggy (not her real name, though it would be cute), aged 7 (almost 8), and she and Naomi tentatively meet each other. By sundown, they’ll be getting along great, but on Friday afternoon, Naomi is mostly feeling her out in her weird and snooty way. She doesn’t enjoy new friends and would usually prefer to stick with grown-ups rather than make an effort. Luckily, Froggy recognizes Naomi Rivka for the child that she is and basically slaps a costume on her, forcing her to join in an all-sea creature puppet extravaganza. Yay for kids even bossier than my own (in a good way, of course)!
- Arrive at our hosts’ home to find big, flat, clean beds in a peaceful basement, so – fearing I will embarrass myself in some unpredictable bodily way, and also that I will be incapable of looking after Naomi Rivka if this headache doesn’t go away – I crash in so many ways it’s not funny; sleep for an hour and a half and feel slightly better on awakening. Not better enough to really have much to do with supper…
- Meanwhile, our hosts’ kids are so utterly engaging that Naomi is hooked instantly, spellbound by their 12-year-old daughter and her wacky little brother (and perhaps also missing her own big sister and wacky little brother, just a little bit). With a big girl to teach her magic tricks and style her hair, she’s deep in her element.
- Shabbos: so great! With ibuprofen, rest and a taste of chicken from supper, I am magically revived and by 10:30, we’re raring to go to the Oneg Shabbos at a local homeschool family’s home… an oneg Shabbos which began at 9. Turns out that was just a a serving suggestion, and 11 is a perfectly reasonable time to show up and, suddenly hungry, begin scarfing down the most delicious pareve popcorn I’ve ever tasted. Meet a few other mamas (nobody but us turned up with kids), then head back to our hosts’ home to sleep.
- Shabbos day: more greatness. Feigning frumkeit, I go to shul, for a change (okay, I always try to when I’m a guest). The rav, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, is plain-spoken and direct, and doesn’t seem to feel the need to a) start with a joke, and b) tie in psychological or political ideas into his drash on basic concepts from the weekly parsha. I often enjoy both these things at our own shul, but find this refreshing nonetheless.
- Shabbos day, part 2: Nothing special or homeschooly about Shabbos davening, and we give the kiddush a miss, but in the afternoon, there’s a mass park “playdate” just down the street from our hosts where I finally – FINALLY! – meet up with one of my great homeschooling blog idols (mentresses? role models?), Kerith from Learning Al Pi Darko. And her four kids! And her husband! They have driven two days to be here. Kerith is one of these people who automatically seems to assume that you are fantastic just because she is, and greets everybody with a smile. She awes and flabbergasts Naomi Rivka by immediately, there on the playground, picking her up and giving her a great big hug… and she is not a short lady. I have always sworn that this is who I can aspire to being in another life: with chicken coops and ducks and a goat and adopted children all running around, her life seems so much more expansive, giving and full of potential than almost anyone else I know. Oh, yeah, did I mention living frum in the heart of Georgia? If anybody could make it work, their family can and does. But wait! The fabulousness does not end there, because the insurmountable Yael Aldrich, our host for last year’s conference, also turns up at the playground, sans children (she must be the smartest of us all!) and only slightly jet-lagged from the trip over from Japan. Another hug, this one for me. It’s just really nice seeing familiar faces, new and old. And the niceness doesn’t end there!
- Shabbos day, part 3: Shalosh seudos! At our hosts’ shul, where the rav stands up and gives a long talk about homeschooling, mainly about his changing attitudes towards it over the last 20 years. His talk is both apropos and brave at a time when rabbonim are still coming out and condemning homeschooling. He doesn’t give a blanket haskamah (approval), but offers a more nuanced approach in that he has come to realize that in some families, for some children, homeschooling is indeed the best option. His talk is thought-provoking and mature and, in my opinion, at least, it hits exactly the right note. Plus, the food is excellent. I told Naomi Rivka to expect egg salad, tuna salad, and “knot” bilkelach, and all three are present on the table, but there’s also a weird mix of root-vegetable and tortilla chips (I suspect it’s what my mother would call “Leftover Lovelies”), techina, salsa, and some other yummy savoury bits, along with a fruit plate and a chocolate roll that nearly rivals the chocolate roll I used to buy in Calgary for its generosity of chocolate (you need WAY more chocolate than dough, basically). By this time, Shabbos is over, so we head back for havdalah at our hosts’ home and after Naomi is in bed, I finish this crocheted sunhat I started on the bus. Not sure I like it, but at least, it’s done!
- Sunday, the conference: Okay, I hate to leave you in suspense, but I’m going to put this part on hold until this evening so I can a) process my thoughts, b) eat lunch (yay, my appetite is back!), and c) pay attention to my children. At the end of the day, I am embarrassed to realize that despite having unloaded several Marror Man books and a couple of bottles of maple syrup, I am STILL going to have to squeeze everything into my suitcase, and it is STILL not going to close all the way, which means I am bringing back way more than I went down with. It’s all the conference organizers’ fault – this year, they gave out really nice binders instead of just a one-page schedule and some loose-leaf pages.
- Monday, home again! Moronic passengers at customs, as always, delay us by over an hour. For the first time in my experience, they actually detain one of the bus passengers. A driver told me a couple of years ago that the bus is not allowed to leave the border without a passenger unless they are officially detained. Bad news for the passenger who was detained, of course, but after an hour and a half and I-don’t-know-how-many-cigarettes smoked by the driver outside my bus window, it’s good news for the other hundred-some-odd passengers whose lives are on hold in the meantime. Back in Toronto, crawling through traffic, I point out familiar sights to Naomi, who asks me to please not “show her everything,” I tease her by saying I skipped mentioning two things I knew she’d have wanted to see. So she pesters me until I tell her the two things. Of course, I’d been joking, but I quickly find two sights that I haven’t pointed out and they are indeed the kind of thing she is happy to see. Ted drives downtown to pick us up, which is great because after another night of oxymoronic “rest stops,” my energy level is way down from the 40% I’d cranked it to for the weekend. Distribute aquarium gift-shop souvenirs, then open my special goodie bag of tacky Japanese kitsch items lovingly assembled by Yael Aldrich to find… a nori punch! The kids can have all the other stuff, but I, I am going to have winking sushi from now on. Well, maybe I’ll share it from now on.
I love all this kitsch almost more than the official swag from the conference!!!
But I will take pictures of all of it and post part 2 anon. It’s very funny that I have almost written more about coming home than about the conference itself. I hope nobody’s mad, having stuck with me through this whole post only to find nothing of substance.
I did mention I spent two nights on buses out of the last four, right… what did you expect, brilliance? Coherence??? Those are some awfully high standards…