Finding myself in the Middle East

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Our Bodies, Ourselves

I feel like telling someone, but only in a whisper. It's a pretty momentous secret, actually. Too big to contain, too big to let out.

But you won't tell anyone, will you, O Internet?

I have a cleaning lady.

She just started coming last week. She comes every sunday for three hours and does all the things that I can't do due to Large Belly Syndrome. She scrubs out the bathroom and cleans the outside of the windows. She dusts the tops of the cabinets and the hard-to-reach corners.

I tidy up along-side her, doing the dishes, folding laudry, projecting a busy, industrious air.

My husband hired her, only telling me at the last minute.

Most of you are rolling your eyes and leaving your computer to get a cup of coffee. You have a very nice husband, you weirdo, you are thinking. Get a grip. I thought that you were gonna say something along the lines of, I'm having triplets. And they're all over 12 pounds.

But some of you understand.

When a friend of mine has a cleaning lady, and inevitably finshes that thought with "because..." as in, "I have a cleaning lady, because my mother insists and besides she pays for it." I nod understandingly and, while laughingly tell her that there is nothing wrong with having a bit of help, relish the inner smugness of, I don't need one. I do just fine juggling everything on my own.

I come from a family of superwomen. My mother works full time, keeps house in perfect condition, is primary caregiver for my chronically ill father, and mother for the kids that are still at home and are out of the house as well. She is never overwhelmed, never tired, and will stay up until all of the laundry and paperwork is done.

My sisters all work, or run their own communities, and balance everything in between.

This year, for the first time, I am not working. I am a stay-at-home-mom. And my inner superwoman is laughing at me. They all do it, she says. They all do it, and work besides. What is wrong with you?

I try to explain to her that as a stay-at-home, I am with my kids much more, and it takes a lot of energy. Plus my husband WANTS me to have some help. And I am due in 3 weeks. And...

And nothing. My imperfection is showing, and that is why I have a knot in my stomach, and that is why I have not told anyone about my weekly visitor from Sri Lanka.

And maybe I'm reaching, but I think that I know why.

I feel like we grew up in a generation that requires of itself perfection, and not just perfection, but effortless, breezy perfection. Our mothers did it all. We need to do it all too, and be thin and have perfect teeth besides.

In my neighborhood, the majority of the girls are slender and pretty, their children dressed like little mini-me-s, and they attend chinuch and shalom bayis classes twice a week. Everyone is all smiles. Everyone looks, well, perfect.

Through my own battles with eating disorders and unhealthy body image while I was all smiles I know, the hard way, that effortless perfection is very, very, messy. I KNOW that. I teach that. I write about that. True perfection is G-dly. We are all trying to emulate Him, and in this world of klipa and sheker, we get everything all mixed up.

I am in the middle of reading a book, as reasearch to flesh out my body image workshop. I'm not sure how much help this book will be to that end, but the author says something so nice, so true, so heartfelt.

She says how everyone and her mother is thin and perfect. Thin and perfect is nice to look at for a while, it's easy on the eyes, but it's actually boring. What is interesting, what is sexy, what is endearing?

And I misquote, to bring to more to home:

My mother's gap-toothed smile is endearing. My small mouth in endearing. My friend's large nose with the small bump makes her look soulful, exotic. Beauty marks and moles are interesting. Large hips can be sexy. A rounded belly. Dark brown eyes. Short legs. A loud sense of humor. A laugh that comes from somewhere deep inside. The ability to cry.

Our so-called shortcomings, physical and emotional, mental and spiritual, make us who we are, and make us memorable.

And if that all seems like a pretty dramatic justification for having a cleaning lady three hours a week, that's okay. I am dramatic. That's part of who I am. And that's okay.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Smell Of Summer

What we were really supposed to be doing, on that breezy, hot, post-sandstorm afternoon, was reaplying suncreen and blowing up tubes on the green green grass next to the blue blue pool.

Which was very different than what we were actually doing--holding the kids back with one hand and scooping the unbelievably vile contents of the overflowing sewer into garbage bags with the other.

It was an interesting day. I use the word interesting very sparingly. I had made up with a group of friends to take the kids to the big swimming pool. One of us has a car, and all of us packed sandwiches, suncreen, tubes, bathing suits, and sunglasses. Then the morning dawned, and one of us woke up with a stomach bug. I woke up to weather which must have been over one hundred degrees and sand blowing against the windows, a nine month pregnant belly and a husband who sternly reminded me that I had been all shaky the day before and perhaps the pool was a bad idea.

Also, the truth is, I had been feeling bad about the expense. Even with my friend driving, it costs a lot of money to get in, and I would also have to buy a couple of new tubes.

So I stayed home.

And then the washing machine broke. And then the bathroom overflowed. And then the sewer plate started spewing the most vile horrible unbelievable---

An unbelievable amount of NIS nis later, I think perhaps the pool might have been the way to go...

Memorable quotes from the afernoon of fun in the sun by the (cess) pool:

Princess: "Can I also scoop? Please? Ima! You never let me scoop stuff from the sewer!"

Plumber: "That will be all of your life savings, please."

Landlord: "It's your fault, because you flushed TOILET PAPER down the toilet."

Plumber: "Actually, we found a red hose and a pair of pajamas and a box full of sand down there. Nothing to do with toilet paper.

Landlord: "Ah. Well. It's your fault anyway. We gotta go....catch a plane somewhere. Byeee!"

And to sum it all up:

Coco-pop: "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew, Ima."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Wrinkle In Time

The apartment is messy again. Socks on the floor. Toys on the table. Dust on the shelves. Laundry hamper full. I finished my coffee and brought the girls to gan. I am working up the energy to put my swollen feet on the floor and start cleaning up. But as much as I pretend it's about my swollen feet, I feel like there's more to my reluctance than that.

Sometimes I feel like I'm going around in circles. I love having a clean apartment, fresh food on the table. I equate it with happy faces around me, knowing that I am providing a haven for my husband and girls. But this aimless feeling, this feeling that I am not Doing That Which I Should Be Doing is so strong sometimes that I don't actually do that which needs to be done. Is this what I am really here for? To make dirty dishes clean and then dirty them again? To sweep against the never-ending tide of dust? To pick up the toys and then encourage the girls to take them out again?

What happened to the girl with a mission, marching off to the Emerald City armed with nothing but a certainty that she was supposed to be Somewhere, anywhere, but here?

Should I not be having a midlife crisis when I'm only in my twenties?

Yesterday, as I was putting on my shaitel for shabbas, Princess and Coco-pop, my fashion consultants, were eyeing me critically.

"Make the pony a little higher, Ima," Princess dictated. I did so.

"You look so pretty, Ima," Coco-pop beamed at me. I beamed back.

"Ima," Princess inquired and I braced myself for another emergency change of my earings, "What are those line on your forehead?"

Eh? Say what?

"What lines, sweety?" I kept my voice light.

"Those lines." She touched my forehead lightly.

I looked at her smooth, umblemished skin. Then I looked at myself, hard, in the mirror. And for the first time, instead of a slightly bewildered 16 year-old, a woman, aged 28, looked back at me. She looked a little tired, or were those bags permenant? And yes, when I stood even closer to the mirror, I saw the lines. On my forehead. But no time to panic. There is a little girl at my side, and she is waiting, fingers rubbing her own forehead anxiously, for an answer.

"Oh! These lines," I said. "You'll get them when you are as old as me. Should we go to the kiddush now?"

And the woman, limping with age, escorted the children out of the house.

There is going to be a gap in this post, after these lines. I will not bridge it, not yet. I need to actually feel the smooth transition from my fears, from my questions, from my domestic reluctance to the beautiful poem that I have hanging in my kitchen and that I so love. So for now, I will simply skip a few lines, write the poem down for you, and then finish this post with my daughter's innocent ending line to the above conversation. Then I will turn on the sink and start the dishes. And after a few minutes of warm soapy water and the house starting to put itself back in order, I will get there. I will feel the poem.

I always do.

Maybe it's all about the doing. Maybe it's about being. Maybe it's not so much about Emerald City and far more about what you can learn on the yellow brick road.

I Stop Writing the Poem

by Tess Gallagher

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.

As we walked to shul, Princess touched her forehead again and looked at me. "Maybe when I'm six, and I'm so big, I'll get them?"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot

"Ima, I put my sandals on my own feets!" Coco-pop informed me. Her little heart-shaped face was flushed with pride.

"Oh, look at you! Wow! What a big, huge--" my automatic, but heart-felt praise was interrupted by the sounds of Princess' laughter. I asked her what was so funny.

"Coc-pop! She said feets!" Princess almost shrieked.

"Well, what should she have said?" I asked the all-knowing big sister.

"You don't say feets! You say foots!"

And sometimes I wonder if I do that, too. Intervene with my oh-so-helpful know-it-allness and really just put my foot--or foots--or feets--straight into my mouth.

I have ideas. I have solutions. I have solved the world's problems in less time than it takes to drink a cup of coffee after the kids are out of the house. All seems so bright and clear when I have some space to myself and the house is clean.

And every night, when my kids are asleep, I suddenly realize the Perfect Road To Parenting and Clean Bathrooms All The Time has been before me all along. I expouse muchly in this manner to Outdoorsman, and then drink another cup of coffee. The next morning, when I am awakened at 5:00 AM by a soggy diapered bottom sitting on my face, my wonderful solutions flee, afraid, I guess, of my morning hair. (The word Jew-fro was invented for the amazing way my hair has of defying gravity in the morning, so I don't really blame anyone.

Someone once said that when one person is talking, the other isn't listening; he's waiting. Waiting for the lips of the one doing the talking to stop doing that wierd up-and-down motion so that he can jump in with what he wanted to say.

I don't want to be like that. I don't want to have to be like that. Is it because I need people to think that I know everything, that I'm smart? I think I'm smart. Why would someone else thinking that make it more true?

Outdoorsman is totally my hero with this. He never has to get his words in. He knows that the world will get along just fine without his words of wisdom, if they don't get said. I think it's because he does not need confirmation. He doesn't need the world to see things through his eyes.

I need to stop talking all the time and start listening. Really listening. Then maybe I will hear what Princess hears when she says things like;

"Ima, when you sit outside and close your eyes and no one is talking, you can hear the birds. They are singing such a beautiful song."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Olam Haba and Orange Juice

I had a scary dream.

I've spent the past two days not accepting that dream, as per Outdoorsman's instructions. We gave money to tzedaka. I said tehilim.

Still for someone not accepting a dream, I spend an awful lot of time thinking about it. And I realized how often I think about worst-case scenerios in general. Outdoorsman 15 minutes late? The most logical explanation involves two fire engines and a nuclear bomb. Coco-pop not up at her usual 6:00 AM? I run, heart pounding, to check her breathing. Dr. Google has diagnosed me with bubonic plague and scurvy. I have written a will, and of course, always wear clean underwear. Because, you know, if you are run over by a truck and the doctors see that your underwear wasn't clean, you could die of embarrassment.

My mind leads me places that I have no interest in visiting, much less settling in for a winter or two, and I must follow the train of thought, helpless, unable to press the bell and say, "Okay, Mind. This is my stop. Lemme off."

I am afraid of the dark. I am afraid of something unknown scaring me to death.

I read about some detective finally finding the true murderer, and I think, The person is dead. Gone forever. What's the difference?

And I wonder. What does this say about my emunah, my belief, in Hashem's plan? If I truly believed in Olam Haba, and I truly believed that everything happens for some ultimate reason, would I be so afraid? This much afraid? Reading about someone in the news and cry cry cry, thinking, she must have been so scared, how could a person survive, being so scared?

Outdoorsman says that, like everything else in our adult world, it's not so simple. He says that there are degrees of belief, levels of emunah. We need to work on them, sure. But it doesn't mean that I don't actually believe.

Which is nice, and a little more heartening than my black and white binoculars that I use to view myself and my faults.

Yesterday, Princess came across a picture of Outdoorsman's grandfather, who passed away when Outdoorsman was four years-old. "I never saw him,"Princess said, puzzled. Then her face cleared. "Oh. He must be in shamayim with Zaidy and Sabba and Hashem. Can I have some juice?"


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