Finding myself in the Middle East

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Which My Weapon of Choice is a Black Whip

Let me just preface the preface by saying something that I will be glad to get off my chest; I am a nerd. I really am. My whole life, I have been a nerd stuck in a cool girl's body.

I really do feel much better now.

Now here is the preface. I was thinking about this old Batman TAS episode. (see? the nerd. she emerges with alacrity.) It was kind of deep, and that is why I carry my nerd card with pride. They are all kind of deep, the sci-fi shows and books that I love. They are a sort of fun house mirror of our lives that can tell it just how it is precisely because it takes place on such a different plane of existance, and--hey, you. Reader. Wake up! There will be a quiz on this afterwards!

Okay, I'll stop. (For now.) But the point is, I was staring at myself in the mirror, and sort of wistfully thinking about my pre-baby body, and maybe even thinking about my old one-stomach-crunch-per-calorie body from so long ago, and then I thought about the coming-out-of-the-cool-closet-to-flash-my-nerd-soul Batman TAS episode.

It was about this evil chick who went around kidnapping all of these heads of modelling companies. Turned out, she used to work for all of them, as a model, and was kicked out when she turned 30. Because she was too old and therefore not perfect.

She wore a mask and did not even let her evil minions see her face. When she was captured at the end, the police removed her mask, and she covered her face with her hands, screaming, "my face, my hideous face!"--but not before the veiwer caught a glimpse.

She was beautiful.

I guess the real question is, why do we do it to ourselves? It doesn't feel good. I don't like crying 10 minutes before candle lighting because I feel so fat in all of my clothing. I don't like crossing my hands over my body while talking to someone thinner than me.

I guess I know that people see me as a very pretty girl. When I was younger, it was the only sense of self that I had to cling to. But the second I am stressed, or feeling inadequate, presto-chango, I am Di The Horror Show. And I actually believe that if I would only lose 20 pounds, I would be this whole different person. A better mother, even. Instead of just the same person in a smaller body.

When I catch Princess watching at me as I am looking at myself, judging, I feel a wash of hot and cold. I need to break the cycle of senseless self-loathing. Even if I cannot understand it completely, I just need to stop. If not for me, than for the little 4 1/2 year old who wants to know what "baby fat" is, and if it's catchy.

Or I might don a mask and start kidnapping people. For kicks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's Mine is Yours

It probably had something to do with me being the middle child, (4 years of therapy, ladies and gentlemen) but growing up with nine siblings in a four bedroom house, I spent a few years sleeping in the playroom. I had been downgraded from the kids' room, a great big room (or maybe I was just small?) with two bunk beds and a single bed when the newest baby was born. I was not downgraded alone, though. I served my sentence with my sister. We shared a daybed that had a high riser that we pulled out and yanked up into groaning, cranky, half-hearted position every night. Although the truth is that the bed was probably older than my mother, and I should not make light of my elders, so scratch the previous sentence. We also shared a closet, which also held all of the winter coats and a great big basket of school bags, and we also shared a dresser. We each had three drawers.

During the day, the playroom was, in fact, a playroom, and was therefore played in. By everyone. Did I mention that I have nine siblings? I did, didn't I. It bears repeating. Nine.

So, as one can clearly see, I grew up used to the fact that very little belonged solely to me. It is for that reason, I think, that I still get a tingly feeling in my spine when the school year is about to start and all of the stationary stores' displays go up featuring new, unbent notebooks and fresh pencils and pens. When I got my school supplies in the beginning of the year, they were MINE. My own. No one else's. (and you can't have em! Mwahahahahahaha! Ha?)

This is all a preface that will all tie together brilliantly at the end to what happened yesterday.

I had passed by the toy store, and sitting out front was a pile of boxes of BIMBAS, a little toy car or truck with wheels that a toddler can ride on and scoot along with his/her feet. I had been wanting to get one for Coco-pop for a while, and these were on a good sale, and I had some money on me (meant for vegetables, but who needs vegetables? You don't win friends with salad.) so I bought it. Outdoorsman put it together while Princess and Coco-pop watched. Then Coco-pop spoke.

"Wanna ride Princess' new Bimba."

"No!" I corrected her, smiling. "Booba, it's yours! It's your Bimba!"

Her face screwed up in concentration. Her little fuzzy two-year-old brain turned for a full minute. Then she said, "It's mine Princess' Bimba!"

She could not really comprehend that it was hers. Everything, after all, belonged truly to Princess. Even if it were hers, it was, in essence, Princess'.


When I was pregnant with Coco-pop, I was so worried. I was so intuned to Princess' every move, every thought, every wish. I did not know how I would be able to be there for them both equally.

And you know what? I wasn't. I couldn't be. Sometimes they both cry together and you have to make a choice. Sometimes one is right and one is wrong. Sometimes, you see that one is more sensitive and one is less so and can handle "no" better at the moment.

A second child does not get the same undivided attention as a first one does no matter the intentions of the parent. And the fifth (cough* school supplies *cough) well...

I knew the universe did not revolve around me. I think that Coco-pop knows that she is pretty cute and can get away with pretty much everything when she smiles her beautiful sunshiney smile, but at the same time she, too, know this truth. Princess is convinced that she is the single most important thing that has happened, ever. She draws pictures of the family as three adults, and one tiny baby Coco-pop. (Actually, in her last family portrait, Outdoorsman and Princess had three big strong feet each, and I was a cloud with one eye. And eight arms.I looked like a nearsighted Indian goddess. I wonder what that means.)

Maybe it's healthier. Since the world does not actually revolve around anyone, and is in fact the other way around, maybe it's better than we as mothers cannot always leap the second a need is discovered. Maybe it's okay that they have to repeat themselves sometimes, and have to share. And the pure, unspoiled excitement and astonishement at actually getting something new that is ALL THEIRS--maybe that's a good thing.

Plus, if you're sleeping in the playroom, and you are bored at night, there are all these, you know, toys. To play with.

Coco-pop has been guarding her "my Princess' Bimba" with her life. She has lost some of her best men in the battle. Strollers, dollhouse, dolls; all were allowed to be sacrificed for the cause; keeping both hands on the Bimba and never, ever, letting go.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Scales Are For Fishes!

"...and this shows that you are 30% body fat. Which means that you have low tone. So we'll have to work on that!"

She looked at me, the gym lady, all perky and smiley and exclamation points, and then jotted something down on my chart. Probably something like, whoo-whoo, you are one fat chick.

I smiled back, and then two little being fluttered onto my (low-toned) shoulders. One said, in a deep and scary voice, kinda batman-like, "Omigodomigodomigod, you are fat."

I assumed that one was the devil.

Then the next one spoke up in a silvery voice that bespoke of hope, and dreams, and love. It said, "Omigodomigodomigod, you are fat."

So I'm not sure why I needed both of them to tell me what I already intuited on my own. So I sent them away. I can speak for myself. I opened my mouth, and I said, "Omigodomigodomigod, I am fat."

"No!" Thus spoke Perky Gym Lady. "You are not at all fat! You just have to work on your toning! And that's what we are here for! Together, we will reach your goals!"

There is something so demeaning about being weighed and measured. Like I am being reduced to a number, to a mathematical formula. You are this number, and you want to reach this number. Subtract that, and you will get this. That is you, and that will be you.

I used to do that. I used to do that to myself. I don't want to do that anymore. But I do want to be healthy. And I do want to look good and feel good. There has to be a happy medium, and I have to find it.

I recently found a stream of consciousness kind of writing that I must have written when I was prgnant with Princess. I have included in at the end of this post. I was still struggling so much then, but I was in a good place. I am still in a good place. And I can stay in a good place and still have a mad awesome body. Right?


I passed by a girl today, and I knew her from Before. You know. Before cereal with milk and close-faced sandwiches. She had a baby and a toddler and she was bent under their weight, even though she was not carrying either one. But I knew that she was bent under their weight, the pounds that they had put on her during pregnancy despite her ignoring the intense demands of her pregnant body.

We smiled at each other; said our ‘hello’s and ‘what brings you here’s as her eyes raked over my body. I felt her mind calculate my weight, and then calculate her weight, and I saw the tight look in her eyes ease. She was the thinner one, by far. She was the winner. Satisfied, she turned to go and left me there, reduced to nothing but the pounds that would show up on my scale, had I owned one.

I covered my pregnant belly with my arms in fear. Is it contagious? Could I catch it? The twenty-odd pounds that I gained for my unborn baby—I do not even know the exact amount—would it hurt me, cause me to bleed inside until my very skin seemed black and blue and wounded? I still cry sometimes, when it’s dark outside and cold inside and the night seems to stretch on forever, over the pounds that I gained; but not like that. Never again like that.

I closed my mind on the shadows that immediately crowded into my head, clamoring for attention. She was not going to put me back in a place that I had no interest in being. The cold dryness of scales and pills and charts, mirrors and calculators and a chorus of accusing voices have no place in the warm, watery world of pregnancy and washing dishes. Warm and watery, like the tears that fall silently after I cry out about my pounds, my beautiful baby pounds. How can I cry out like that? How dare I cry out like that? And I’m not any more deserving than the friend who struggled and overcame but is left inexplicably with empty arms. And I’m not any stronger than the friend who struggled and fell and struggled and fell and then left this world so abruptly that I couldn’t catch my breath.

It was all a game. We played to fill the emptiness that yawned like a rocky pit inside of us. We played to personify the nothingness that was felt inside, the way a tongue automatically probes the area of a missing tooth. We played because we felt that the dichotomy was too strong and it would tear us in two. We played for lack of a better way to demonstrate how it all felt.

And then on the other side, there was no depth. It was just a simple fight to the death. Thinner is the winner. Can you see me now? How about now? Now? What if I stand sideways? Got you there, huh? I disappear. I can bend the rules of physics and live, ghostlike, in both worlds.

I wanted to run after her and shake her. Not for her sake, I realized with a guilty start, but for mine. Don’t you do that, I wanted to yell in her too-chiseled face. Don’t you dare think that you can calculate my worth with one glance. Don’t you dare think that I can be reduced to a number. The world is not your playing field and I refuse to be your opponent. I will not be someone that you have beaten, because you see, I no longer play The Game. I changed the rules. I’m filling up and fleshing out the empty space inside instead of personifying it. And I’m filling it with a brand new life.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Hope You Dance

I was doing a quick spot check on my kids in the park--one in the little car, trying to climb on the roof, one going down the slide head first--when a friend asked me, "Do you think that you would give your life for your children?"

The one going headfirst down the slide was going a little too fast, but no emergency action was needed--"huh?"

"Like, a girl was saying yesterday, that she would totally jump into fire for her kids. And I'm not sure. I'm afraid that I would hesitate."

Wow. Fire. Your child's terrified face at the window, and you are Supermommy and you dive right into the flames, your child's name on your lips and you pull her from the gaping jaws of death. Not today, oh scythe! She is mine.

But what if you hesitate? If the flames are so high and so hot and instead you scream and scream and freeze in place?

--Coco-pop was going way too fast. I ran to the slide and stopped the impact. "Slide down!" She exclaimed, and scrambled out of my arms to do it all again.

The flames are licking at the edges of the window. Her beautiful little face shadowed, reddened, screaming--"Yes! I would. I would. I would jump into a fire for them."

But is that the point? Is that how you know that you are Mommy, that you would die for your children?

Because just today, I yelled at Princess. She can be so trying. Everything has to go her way, even to the point of being ridiculious. "Princess, go to the bathroom before we go to the park."

"No!" She answered immediately, automatically. "First, I have to--"

"Have to WHAT? Have to WHAT? We always go to the bathroom before leaving the house. Please just go to the bathroom so that we can go, before it gets too dark!"

"No!" Her will, not mine! "First I have to dance!"

And the child started dancing.

As I write this, I am smiling at the image of Princess doing a silly little flailing dance, all to avoid having MY will imposed on her. But at the time, I was furious. It was just too much. Just DO it! Just GO! So that we can GO! "Go!" I glowered. Mean Mommy! "Go to the bathroom NOW, or we are not going to the park at all!" (Because I am a glutton for punishment, and not going to the park would mean three more hours before bedtime in my little apartment, with the two of them tearing the walls down and me tearing my hair out.)

I think flames shot from my eyes, because she went. And then we went. And then my friend asked me if I would die for them, or if I would hesitate.

But it's not about dying for them, is it?

It's about taking a deep breath and counting to ten when they tell you that they need to dance first before going to the bathroom. And maybe laughing, because you know, that's really kinda funny. And pulling her into a hug and saying, yes, my love, my precious, let's dance together. Let's turn on some music and dance together because you are a bright ray of light, you are a sunbeam, you are my life. Let's dance and never stop until we fall on the floor, laughing, exhausted. Then let's make some cookies and eat them warm from the oven with some milk. Then let's dance some more.

So I don't think that we need to think about hesitating before pulling them from a burning building. I don't think that we need to worry about dying for them.

I think that we need to think about living. About loving. About dancing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My daughter, the Rocket Scientist

"Ima, how does a baby come out of an Ima's belly?"

It's bedtime. I am tired. Coco-pop decided to try an alternative lifestyle--a feeewheeling newborn--and has been waking up roughly every other SECOND at night. Or something like that.

So tired. So it makes sense that Princess would spring something like that on me.

"Ima, how? It's too big to just pop out of the belly button."

Darn it. Belly button was on my lips. "Well, it's a miracle! Hashem just makes it come out!" I smile brightly, briskly, and tuck her in. There. Done.

I bend down to kiss her cheek, and get a roll of the eyes from the child who not a moment ago popped out of my belly button. Or something. "Ima. I know it's a miracle. But how does the miracle work?"

I answer something to her satisfaction (or maybe I point out the wonderful hummingbird that was just out the window! Over there! No, over there! It's so beautiful!--oh, you missed it. AnywaygoodnightIloveyouseeyouinthemorning!) and stumble off to the couch and a cup of chai. Mmmm, chai.

I totally had a point that I was getting at here. About us wanting to know how miracles work and bitachon and emunah and hishtadlus and all that. Good stuff, I think. But, oh, chai. And a depthless book and a soft couch. Too many deep thoughts are already swirling around the precocious little mind of one member of this family. I think perhaps I'll keep things at an equilibrium by just, ya know, not thinking. At. All.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What I am Not

13 Things that you'll never hear me say:

1. "Actually, this skirt is swimming on me. Do you have it in a size 0?"

2. "Ah, 5:30 in G-d's holy morning! Bless you, my precious progeny, for waking me thusly (by sitting on my face clad in nothing but a soggy morning diaper)so that I can start off my day nice and early!"

3. "Oh, yes, I can eat as much ice cream as I want. I never seem to put on an ounce."

4. "You are so right! Girls really are so much easier to raise than boys!"

5. "You can totally eat off of my floor. I just finished waxing it."

6. "Oh no, I never drink. I have no tolerance at all."

7. "Well, the bathub is scrubbed to a pearly sheen! I guess there's nothing else left to clean today."

8. "French tip, please."

9. "Steps are great! A free workout!"

10. "Why, I prefer my post-partem body. It means that I bore children, and besides, more of me to love."

11. "Superman? Lame-o. What am I, an 11 year-old boy?"

12. "Dr Google is not a real doctor! You can't trust him!"

13. "Wouldn't it be awesome if I got bitten up by mosquitoes from head to toe tonight?"

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Succah Hop

"One over there, Ima. A new one."

"And another one! That makes 8!"


"Eser! Because that's 10 in hebrew. And another! How do you say 11?"

Succoses (Succosim? Succii?) are poppin' up like daisies in the spring. It's so nice. Everyone has a little zip in their step, even the succah building fathers and the decorating and kid managing mothers. But best of all are the kids. Counting all of the new succosesessses (oh, I give up pluralizing that)and bringing home gan-made (morah made, in my suspicious opinion, is my daughter's lovely wall-hanging), building tiny creations on the corners out of leftover scraps of wood, and begging for the ready-made decorations sold on every corner stand, especaily the ones that light up (jingle bells, jingle bells...but which Israeli knows, or even cares, about the tzadik with the long white beard and merry smile depicted on the shiny chains of lights, all dressed in warm winter red?)

And I...I feel a combination of the seasonal excitement, and also a little homesickness for the huge succah that we made in my parent's house on the back patio, filled to capacity with my brothers and sisters, but even more than that for the smaller succah that we used to make in the old house when I was little, in the backyard, and how during the meal we used to run outside and watch the fireflies moving across the darkened sky as the laughter and clattering of forks from the adults in the succah filtered through the fall night air.

Succos is a time for family. I have family 6,000 miles away, but I also have family right here, counting succoses(eses?) and coveting shiny new decorations as we skip down the street in the Jerusalem fall night air.


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