Finding myself in the Middle East

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Time To Shout

We brought bathing suits; most people did, but not everyone. I guess the sprinklers caught some people by surprise, but in a good way, and the park now had its fair share of little boys stripped down to their underwear, screaming with joy, splashing in the water. It was a hot day, a very blue and white and blinding day, and I lived through them for a bit from my very adult perch on the very adult bench.

"People are sad," I said to my husband. "We become all inhibited and adult-y. It's not an improvement."

Children are so beautiful, so uninhibited, so capable of tremendous amounts of joy.

And that's when I saw him.

Bad man, said my entire being.

But we don't listen to that voice that makes the hairs in the back of our neck rise because what if we are wrong? We are civilized, after all. Children are joy uninhibited to us, all glee and beautiful with their new skin and eyes to take in wonder. Innocence. Something to protect, to cup in our hands, to hold in our hearts.

Surely, everyone feels the same.

So I thought, a father. No, a grandfather. But while other parents and grandparents had kids running back and forth between them and the sprinklers, no one ran back and forth to the man with the low-slung baseball cap, his greying hair sticking out from the back, his camera held in front of him.

And he panned all over, while other parents only focused on their own. Of course, we only see our own, don't we?

Bad man! 

Okay, no, so an artist. The kids are beautiful in the spray.

But he was videoing and focusing and--


"That man is creeping me out," I said abruptly to Outdoorsman.

The man made me want to gather my children to me. He made me glad for the bathing suit dresses that covered elbows and knees that my daughters wore.

Outdoorsman got to his feet. He went abruptly down the green hill and towards the man. I stood. The baby was fine, but I took him out of the stroller anyway. He squealed in protest.

He stood behind the guy for a good ten minutes.

What are you doing? I mouthed at him frantically. He gestured towards the man's camera--he was watching what the man was filming.

Little boys, he told me later. Only boys and only the ones only in their underpants.

Outdoorsman then walked out of the park and returned with a policeman.

The policeman looked through the man's camera and called for backup. We didn't leave until the man, his face blank, his camera slung over his shoulder, left in the back of a police car.

I want to end this cleverly. I want to end it in a way that gives over a message and also is well-written and also personifies what I saw, what I felt, what happens all the time every day because our world is sick and growing sicker.

But instead I will end with Outdoorsman telling me, "I got a shot of him."

And me saying, "we should put it somewhere."

And with us putting it on Facebook.

I didn't give it a thought. I felt bad! wrong! dangerdangerdanger! with every nerve ending, and I thought of the glee and the beautiful and the innocence in the water and I wanted to cup them all in my hand forever. Mamma Bear sitting on the bench and watching.

I got an avalanche of support, but also:

"How dare you?" said one email. "How do you know that he is guilty?"

"You can destroy his family by putting up his picture," said another.

Did I do too much by putting up his picture? I am left with a sick feeling. It felt so right. It still feels right.

But how can I be sure?

"I saw him Pesach time, doing the same thing," one person posts.

"I was also there today," said another. "He was definitely creepy."

Am I the only one who wants to hold the glee and beautiful and preserve the innocent?

Insert your own clever ending here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

In Internal Discussion

Part of my mind: Okay. Okay. Whew. Take a deep breath. The kids are out of the house now and the baby just went to sleep. Now, okay, you have an awful lot to do right now, and a lot of things are riding on this time that you got, but I would like to suggest that you straighten up the house first. It will be much easier to think once everything is neat and clean and put away.

Another part of my mind: Good idea, I totally hear that, but you have to cook for Shabbas anyway and that'll make a mess anyway, so why don't you just start with that? Cook and then clean.

Yet another part of my mind: Guys, guys, guys. Listen, I know you both mean well. But thing is, you are way behind on your writing schedule. You have that big feature that you haven't even started on even though you assured your editor that it is "on its way," and pages of unanswered questions about how to proceed with the serials within the next five chapters of each. You have five ideas, not five stories, and you promised your other editor that you are totally looking over the book and about to send it to her--I think you used the word "cusp," which is a bad word because no one even knows what cusp means but you are not on the cusp of anything anyway; if computer files could gather dust, the book is layers deep. You have a lot of thinking and writing to do, and I'm sorry, but that's just going to have to take priority.

More mind parts: Hey! Hey! Breakfast! Breakfast!

Mind part number five: I hear you all, I really do. But here's what I'm thinking. Why don't you instead of all those things go on YouTube and watch soldiers reuniting with their families? Because then you can stew in the murky and stale juices of regret when the baby gets up before you get anything done at all.

The rest of my mind: Awesome! That is so the plan!


How have you guys been?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Me and My Shadow

I'm sure you know. Don't you? I mean, it's nothing special. No big deal. You won't eat too little or too much or lock yourself up in a dark-roomed corner; at least not for long. You'll still be on your game; sweep the floors, face the laundry, write the stories, tuck them in. And if the smile is a little forced, it'll be real again soon enough. It's nothing. Really, thanks for asking, you say. But it's nothing.

It comes in slowly, almost shyly. It had knocked hesitantly with a small limp hand and when you answered, it said, Um, can I come in? And you said oh,okay. It looked so pathetic, standing out there. It was probably raining the day of the knock and your heart can't bear turning down strays. When you shake its hand its palm is damp and the damp spreads like mold all through you.

It's not depression, not exactly. That word is too clinical, too solve-y, too cold. Maybe it is the far lovelier melancholy, with it's vision of poets in high black-collared coats and pale skin.



Because you used to embrace it as if it were your own, write diary entries in your own blood, trying it on for a size, thinking that the child crying rather expressionlessly in the corner was You. Then you realized it was not. (And that was a journey,of course; it wasn't "and then you realized," the way that books think that they can sneak a "four years later" on you.)

(Plus, blood. Bleagh. Melodramatic and gross all at the same time.)

But then you made it worse; you analysed it, yes you did, don't deny it. You used to think about why it had slunk in, all shadow-casting and gloomy, all anti-heat. You used to say, why why why? You used to think that if you knew why it had come then you could send it, shuffling and small, back out into the cold outside.

So if that was today you would say well of course, it's because the house is half-boarded up as we wait for permits to come through and the baby is keeping you up all night. Your story was rejected and the book pushed off and you are bearing too much crushing responsibility for someone else's children, but they are too dear to your heart to refuse. And the cousin who lost a day and ended up finding a brain tumor and the little boy who was almost-family who suddenly, inexplicably, died. And Past and the Future and the cold wet wind outside.You have so many blessings, so many more blessings than crosses to bear but even your blessings can weigh, can all be calling for you just when you need a second, just when your introverted soul says, who are all these people in my house? When are they going home?

And aha! you used to say. It is the tired/rejection/responsibility/something to do with my childhood.You Figured it Out. And you would wait, arms folded, pleased, for the thing to leave.

But it didn't leave, even then.

And that's when you realized ("four years later") that you were going about it All Wrong.

That whatever it is, it's fine, it's okay. It is. 

(Or at least, it will be soon.)

It will come, it will go, and now it is here so the least you can do is offer it a place to dry off from the rain poor thing, as you go about your business, smile at it every so often as you dry your hands and plunge back into your day.

And maybe, later, write about it.

And maybe, later, you should very probably buy yourself some ice-cream.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bad Things Happen

The headlines were horrible, unforgivable, sure, but even worse is the gossip. A man died, a family is orphaned and widowed in the worst possible way; why don’t you just cry for them? Cry for the wife; what will she do now? Cry for the children; no one can ever replace a father. Cry for the man; how horrible, horrible, unthinkable, what he must have gone through.

But you don’t. You say, after the quick lip-service you pay to the tragedy, oh, because, well, don’t you know…

No. I don’t know.

And neither do you.

I guess we feel better when we can point at something. Intangibles, the unknown, are scary for precisely that reason; they are intangible. They are unknown.

We need reasons. We need reasons so that we know that those reasons are not ours and therefore, it follows, it would never happen to me. Because I would never do what he did I am safe. I am hidden behind a wall of righteousness where death and tragedy will never ever find me.

But on the same day, a little boy who is part of my extended family was playing with his older brother. Maybe he was not getting into trouble the way he usually does, not pinching his brother or dumping out all the toys.

But that would be reason for relief, not alarm. He’s growing up, then. About time, too; that child is a handful!

Or maybe her mother’s intuition tells her that this is not growing up, that this is reason for alarm, that he is not himself. Maybe he’s getting that bug that’s been going around, she thinks. He looks a little flushed, come to think of it; a little listless. I’d better make him a doctor’s appointment. In a minute, after I finish the dishes.

Horrible things happen, and we don’t know why. We have been davening for that little boy ever since his mother finished the dishes, ever since he closed his eyes and slid to the ground. Meningitis, the doctors say, and shake their heads.

And what can you say then, huh, those of you who know why bad things happen and who they happen to? What can you say now other than join me in davening for a little boy who could be anyone’s son?

Please daven for Eliyahu B-n Zeesle Yehudis. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Would Smell As Sweet

How does it make any sense?  How does it comfort me, your rubbery smile that you express with your whole little tiny body, your arms, legs, flailing in delight, your eyes like the sunrise?

“It’s like he’s fond of us,” I say. “It’s the weirdest thing. There’s fondness in his smile.”

I feel like you know me, little boy, I feel like those baby-blue eyes of yours are inexplicably old, set in your brand-new face.

And who am I talking to, anyway? To you, Abba, or to the baby bearing your name?

Let me talk to you, then, Abba. If you don’t mind. If you can spare the time to listen.

Or is time meaningless where you are? Is it nothing but a human creation for the very human need for things to happen first, second, and then third, with the third thing being a result of the first and the second things?
I don’t know about any of that stuff. I don’t really know how any of this works. All I know is that when we named him after you the one who had been the baby of the family eight days before needed my attention and when I heard them announce your name the tears that came to my eyes were less about that and more just the vague results of happiness mixed with exhaustion and because I hated to hear my baby cry.

And then there were the dazed weeks, the weeks of transitioning from three kids to four and feeling like I love them all so much but oh G-d help me they’re everywhere and they sense just when I pour myself a mug of hot coffee or finally close my eyes. I wasn’t doing too much thinking then, and anyway he was just “baby,” or “sweetie” you see, too small to carry something as big as a name, but now…

Now Baruch is smiling.

How does it make any sense, the comfort I feel?  

I confess that I needed comfort because my friend’s father came to visit and I was jealous because there he was and there you weren’t, so I gave them a heartfelt bracha in my head like I always do when I am unfairly envious of someone else’s good fortune.

So, anyway, Abba, past my shameful human frailties—if there is such a thing as past human frailties—when I hung up the phone with my friend, I walked over to your picture, ostensibly to dust it because it suddenly needed dusting  and tears sprang to my eyes.

I miss you. I miss you miss you miss you, but the memories of you are interwoven with the words that I’ve written about you and became trite almost, reduced to catchphrases and things to tell the children about their Sabba whom they barely remember.

But thankfully no turn of phrase could ever really describe your smile, Abba, the one you wore through it all. (And you’ve been through it all.) So I think, sometimes, not about who you were or what you’ve done but just about your smile, about the warmth and fondness found in your hard-earned smile.

But back to my linear, limited story where things happen first and second and then third with the first and second causing the third—because that’s the only way I know how to tell a story Abba, so please forgive me— there I was, crying.

And there he was, the baby bearing your name, and he was smiling at me, his first smile, smiling fondly with his eyes and mouth and arms and legs, his whole body one big smile.

And how does it make any sense—it doesn’t make any sense—

The comfort that floods all through me when I bask in the glow of my Baruch’s smile.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Slam Poetry: One Take On Tuesday

She wants cereal in the purple bowl and I can only find the green

And I'm tired, can't they see that? He looks perfect, is perfect,

And screams all night long, putting all thoughts of bowls, purple or otherwise, into

The part of my mind that's in free-fall.

When they leave, bump in her hair, shoes smudged, I say, "I love you! Have a great day!"

But kisses don't replace "Hurry UP!" as the song-worm in their brain, and I think,

I will make it up to them, but

Lunch is late,

The baby and the writing and the laundry, because those are important,

And I'm cutting up vegetables in a frenzy instead of hugging when they come home.

(vegetables are important, you know)

And in the park sure, there I am,

And homework, sure,

But I am pulled into four and say "hang on, just hang on," so many times

I might as well record it and press play.

And dinner, and book, and bath, and bed

And all I want to do is finish the load of laundry that I started in the morning,

Move it from clean to dry

(it's important that the clothes smell fresh, you see)

And so many kisses, kiss them to sleep.

"Okay. We'll talk more in the morning," I say. "I love you."


The laundry,


Spins round and starts again.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Theory of Relativity

The locust storm has passed, leaving blackened stalks in its wake.

Did I say locusts? Silly me! Mommy brain and all that. I meant family! My family has gone. All but one, and the last holdout leaves tomorrow.

And by blackened stalks I meant my refrigerator. And cabinets. And by flying house I meant flying house.

Did I not say flying house? I meant to say it.Repeatedly. And then cry a little and then write a blog post instead of cleaning up and/or making lunch for the kids who will be home in an hour and/or finishing the chapter I started yesterday because how does one write when the house looks like it was hit by something very large and slightly listing to port? Port being the kids' room that housed 6 kids under the age of eight for three weeks, and actually I have no idea if its port, but when things list, they always do so to port, amiright? Also, if you say "port" enough times, it loses all sense of meaning.

So the baby is named for my father, and I think I need the space and time to get very emotional about that, and about him, his silky and small perfection, his little nose and beautiful eyes and his long and slender fingers and toes that are startlingly and starkly like my father's. You have big shoes to fill, tiny little boy who has already stolen my heart. No pressure.  

Anyway, they're all gone! It will be so quiet here with just us! Who said that transitioning to a fourth child had to be hard? If I was a hashtag kind of person--which I am most definitely not--I would write something hashtagy about that. Like #easiesttransitionever or something.

It's a good thing that I would never do that. Being not hashtaggy and all.



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