Finding myself in the Middle East

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In the Middle of Our Street

The house that I grew up in is tall and slender and red-bricked and squeezed between its neighbors. Each room is an unimaginative square, each piece of furniture solid and sensible.

The people that I grew up with are tall and slender and green-eyed, eleven of us with a two year space between each one. We filled up the house with ourselves, with the noises of homework and dinner, of singing and teasing, of feet running up and down worn out carpeted steps, and games of monopoly that went on for days.

During solemn moments following a game of Fire or pretending to be a radio station host and guests, we would all reafirm our plans never grow apart. We would get old and married and have kids, sure, but we would do it together. We would build a community called "Katzville" and live together happily ever after.

Katzville is now the name of the album that I keep all of the pictures of my siblings and their spouses and kids in.

"Ima, who is that baby?"

"That's Uncle Yaakov and Aunt Yael's baby. Her name is Penina, but they call her Penny."

"I never saw her, right?"

"Right. She was born after our last trip to America."

"So I'll see her next time we go?"

"Yeah, you'll see her next time we go."

A friend of mine doesn't fly in anymore. She says it's too hard, and too expensive and besides, what kind of meaningful relationship can you develop from a couple of weeks spread over a span of years? She says it's silly to cling to your past at the expense of your present.

I think that my past is my present and my future. Katzville may be just a photo album instead of a town, and my daughter might pierce my heart a little whenever she reminds me that she is not growing up with her cousins, with her blood, the way that I had always dreamed, but the slender house and siblings that I grew up with are part of who I am. I can't imagine a future without them.

My past wasn't perfect, but it was full of life and love.

I'm going to teach my kids how to play Fire.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sorry, Wrong Number

If you hear something said over and over again, like literally from 4 different speakers giving different kind of speeches in the last week, is that G-d's way of telling you that you are so incredibly dumb that you need an individual wake up phone call?

"Hello, D?"

"Yes, this is she."

"Hi. This is G-d. This is what you need to do."

"Oh, thanks, okay, let me just--"

"No, really, this is what you need to do. Now don't mess it up. Okay?"

"Oh, you mean I should like listen and then do what I want anyway?"

"No. I mean this is what you should do. Now. Got it?"

"I think so. Um. I just have a couple of--"


"Oh, I totally got it, G-d. First thing tomorrow morning, 'k? Thanks for calling. Bye."

Um. Hello? I guess I am that dumb.

Or I could not rip myself apart (which I totally forget is an option sometimes) and I could take it at face value.

There are so many things that I need to work on, but I believe that all of a person's stuff stems from the same root. There is one basic root cause for all negative behaviors. So hacking off the branches is a lot of hard work for not enough return. Sicken the roots, and the whole tree will die.

At least, that is how I always operated. In other words, all--or none. Be perfect--or why bother trying? And since no one is perfect, there were lots of things about myself that I was just putting band-aids on top of, and a pretty smile, and pretending that all that junk wasn't there. Like covering a mess in the corner with a white tablecloth before shabbas. Pruning the tree and pretending that I want to keep it, after all. Doesn't it look nice?

Yesterday, Princess came up with a startling idea. She started off hesitantly, but then built up confidence and explained herself like an adult.

"This water bottle," she said, warming to her subject, pointing at a half-finished meh-eden (really filled with tap water, but don't tell) "can't really be here, because Hashem is really here. So it can't be here. Because Hashem is everywhere. Is He hiding? To make room for the water? Because if He wasn't hiding, then there wouldn't be any water. So He's hiding. But really, He's here. Really, He's water." She looked at Outdoorsman hesitantly. Overcome, Outdoorsman kissed her on the forehead and then leaned back and stared at her, openmouthed.

And from the mouth of babes, I knew. My big strong tree that I could not weaken that was full of the fruit of my anger, my jealousy, my laziness, my vanity was not really this big evil entity that I ignored because the size of it was just too big, because the spread of its branches and its black shadow was easier to ignore than to kill.

It's all Hashem. The tree is only in my mind, only there because I let Him hide from me. If I can see Him, then I can't see the tree. If I can see Him; the tree is not really there.

I have so much to work on. Let me start by opening my eyes and seeing what's really there.

G-d, I got the message.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yanky has a Bigger Piece of Cake than Me

"So I think between the night nurse and the full time housekeeper and the morning babysitter and the woman who will come in the afternoon to cook for me and watch the older kids, I'll be able to be a normal person afer the baby is born."

She patted her belly and gave a small, tired smile.

I blinked.

Somewhere, off in the distance, a baby cried.

The world gave a small groan, and then started turning again.

Wow, I wanted to say. A normal person. And all along I thought that I was normal. (Or something cattier.) But all I did say was, "I hear. Good for you. Well, look at the time. I better get going." Then I pushed my non-babysat, not cooked for, non-night nursed baby home, with the help of my girlies.

It took me a while to realize what made me so annoyed about that conversation. Then it hit me. Like a ton of uncooked suppers. I do not begrudge her the wonderful help that her money can buy her. Good for her! (well, Outdoorsman said that I do begrudge. A little bit. Because I'm human. Well, maybe a liiiiiiitle bit. Because a night nurse? Sounds freakin' awesome.) What annoyed me was the end of it--with thousands of dollars worth of help every single day, she would be a "normal person." That she seems to not recognize the fact that not I nor any of my other friends can afford such unbelievable luxuries. That she does not recognize that they are luxuries in the first place.

I read in a great little book that when a person says that they don't have time, it's a false statement. We all have time, because we all live in the same 24 hour time slots. So it's not that we don't have time to do whatever it is that we can't do. We just choose to prioritize something else instead. Sleep instead of calling your grandmother. Going to run errands instead of baking cookies. Not saying what is more important, but just know that you CHOSE how to spend your hours. No one took hours away from you.

There will be a connection between the last two paragraphs. Never you fear.

Because the bottom line is, someone will always have it easier than you. And you can always say, "Well, when I have that that and that, then I will be able to do more chessed, to be more relaxed with my kids, etc etc etc."

But if that conversation showed me anything (other than the fleeting thought to call out "Is there a Night Nurse in the house!" whenever the baby wakes up now) it's that we get used to anything. Anything. She needs all of that help just to feel normal. She doesn't think that she has more time freed up that I do.

I went to shiur last night, and the woman speaker spoke about being proactive instead of reactive when it came to areivus, the concept that we are all responsible for one another. And automatically, we all started thinking of reasons why we can't, not right now, with little kids in the house...the speaker smiled and said, "You think you have more free time when they are older? You don't."


I guess my rambling, loosely knitted point is, only you can know what you are capable of. Only you can know how much time you are wasting, and how much time you are using. Only you know how much energy you have, and what you did with your morning.

Before I marched my unhousekeepered and uncooked for self back home after that conversaton with my friend, she said one more thing that stayed with me. She said, "I don't know how other people do it. Maybe I'm just made of different stuff."

I don't know what "stuff" you are made out of, dear friend of mine, because I am not in your head and heart. But I know what kind of stuff I'm made of, and I know that I can be doing more that I am. Thank you, because in a really roundabout kind of way, you let me see that.

Oh, and if your baby starts sleeping through the night and that night nurse is bored? You can give her my address.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scales are for Fishes

"Ima, what are you standing on?"

I spin around guiltily. "Oh Coco-pop, hi honey. Go out, please. Ima is getting dressed."

"But why are you standing on that? What does it do?"

"It's a scale. It weighs you."

"Oh. Why are you weighing you?"

"To...know how much I weigh."



What can I tell you sweetheart, with your adorably plump arms and cheeks, that I need to weigh myself because not having plump cheeks and arms is a measure of who I am? That I need to know whether to start my day by berating myself or not, and that all depends on a digital number that rolls up like a winning or losing lottery between my two feet?

I teach about Healthy Body Image. I yell healthy body image from the rooftops and still my head dictates to me how to feel about the 10 pounds that I want to (that I don't have to--my weight is fine--that I want to) lose.

For so long I thought it was me, that it was my own thoughts ripping my soul, tearing me down for going up a pound. When you realize it's all the yetzer hara, it's so much easier to separate self from the nasty horrible voice. You can say, don't you talk to me that way. I am a worthwhile human being.

I say it, I say it all the time. Looking down at little Coco-pop, waiting innocently for an answer, I know it's time to mean it, as well.

Weighing myself is not taking the measure of self. It mean nothing. Scales are for fishes. Food is for people. And little girls are for getting off the scale and tickling until they gasp, giggling, for mercy,

Which is exactly what I did.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In a Mirror, Darkly

Some days I feel like I'm taking a deep breath upon awakening and diving underwater. I hold the breath and don't take another one until I resurface after the kids are asleep.

It's not the baby, who henceforth shall be called Turtle, or Coco-pop who make me feel that way, although they are both definitely energy draining in their own special way.

It's Princess.

Ooooooh. Where do I start? If you follow this blog, you know that she is exceptionally bright. She is also beautiful, with an endearing smile and a terrific sense of humor. But that's not the part of her that makes me long for a liquid breakfast lunch and dinner--it's the part of her that is like The Energizer Bunny on steriods. She is intense and driven and wound up, and everything is of equal importance and urgency. Now. RIGHT NOW. She is my full time job. Like Hercules had the strength of ten men, Princess has the whining capacity of 10 girls. It's noise pollution. And here I will say something that I am not, as her mother, supossed to say: She can drive me crazy.

O Internet. Can you forgive me? I love her with all my heart. I even like her, which is much harder. But sometimes at the end of the day, I find myself longing for her bedtime. And then I don't like myself all that much.

Princess and Coco-pop were playing house the other day. Coco-pop was the baby, Princess her mommy. They were playing nicely, so I was listening with half an ear, rocking Turtle to sleep.

The Coco-pop started crying.

"What's going on over there?" I asked softly, wanting the crying to stop but also not wanting to wake the baby. They did not hear me, and I soon realized that Coco-pop was play-kvetching. It was part of the game. I relaxed, and listened in.

Princess said, "Coco-pop, say 'gimme that now.'"

Coco-pop, obediently, "Gimme that now."

"We DON'T talk to our Ima like that! Go to your room!" Princess wagged her finger sternly.

Coco-pop went to her room.

I thought it was time to interject. "Hey girlies, I don't like this game. Maybe--"

I was ignored and overuled. "Coco-pop, say, 'I want to come out right now!'"

Coco-pop followed the directive.

Princess turned to me. "Holy cow," she said. "That child is drving me crazy!"

Which is funny. But really, really not.

And at that moment, I offered up a prayer to Hashem. I asked for more patience. I asked for more love. I asked for the right words to come out of my mouth to build my family. I asked for the children to keep showing before me a mirror of my actions, but that it should be one that I would feel proud to look into.

Help me to live in the moment, in the moment between coming home from gan and bedtime, because it is only a moment. I know that because I blinked and she turned five. And help me to love where I am living.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

love is the only cure

I was never one of those girls who dreamed of her wedding day and who the man standing beside me would be. I never doodled wedding gowns in the margins of my notes during class. (I was more likely to doodle angry chicks in little dresses. I was a wierd kid.)

When I dated Outdoorsman, and he proposed, I was excited to get married to him, not about getting married in general. I was a calm and collected bride, not a giggling head-over-heels one, and I fell in love slowly but surely as I spent more time and shared my life with my wonderful husband.

I would like to define that love.

I like when Outdoorsman buys flowers for me (except when I remember that cut flowers are already dead and just don't know it yet. Then they make me cry. But that's usually when I'm pregnant or otherwie psycho).

I like when he sends me texts during a long day to let me know that he misses me.

I like when he compliments my dinner, takes my opinions seriously and tells me that I look beautiful and no, that does not make me look fat. I likde when he roughouses with the girls and when he remembers to throw his socks in the hamper.

I like that he knows just about everything but is not condescending about it, and seems to be able to fix anything.

But love...

Love is waking up from the baby yet again at 3:45 in the morning and reaching for him...only, he's not there. Outdoorsman is holding him, his large hand supporting the little head,and he's feeding him. "go back to sleep," he whispers and you blink blearily at the two of them, father and son. "I got him."

That's love.

Monday, October 4, 2010

like Monet, but different

I hate shopping. That being said, sometimes, instead of window shopping, lingering longingly over clothes and accesories displayed in a shop window, I go people shopping. I pick and choose certain traits and attributes from those around me and covet them. I want her figure, her sense of humor, his ease with the world around him, and her knack of anyways knowing when to keep her mouth shut. (because I don't know how to do that at all.) I want her shade of green eyes, his genuine love of people, and her graceful walk.

Then I put them all together in my head and presto! A new D, one that will finally be capable of doing all the things that I should be doing but don't because I am one green eyeshade away from it the way I am now, you see. (Quiet. It makes sense in MY HEAD.)

Yesterday, Princess and Coco-pop were coloring, which turned into cutting out, which turned into pasting in, which turned my whole apartment into what looked like the inside of a box of Fruity Pebbles. Colorful scraps where everywhere. I was resisting the urge to sweep it all up from under their feet as they were creating their masterpieces. Just let them be creative and have fun, My head told my itching hands, and you'll clean up later. On cue the baby started crying, so that decision was taken out from under me. I totally would have made the right one, though. Yup. Fer sure.

ANYWAY, point is, they were creating these works of art, and then Princess frowned. Brave men tremble when Princess frowns.

"What's wrong, Princess?" I inquired delicately.

"My CARRIAGE. It looks like scribble-scrabble. I don't know how to do it. YOU do it for me."

"Princess, you are an artist!" I gushed. Overgushed? Probably. "You make such beautiful carriages! You don't need me to make it for you!"

Princess' brows drew together, and her lower lip started to pout. The world paused on its sojourn around the sun, wary of the impending storm.

"No I don't! I make bad bad BAD carriages! They look like BIKES or CARS! There is no room for the BABY! YOU MAKE ME ONE!!"

"How do we ask?"

"YOU MAKE ME ONE! please?"

I put the baby down and drew a carriage on her paper. Then Coco-pop wanted me to draw her one. Then they wanted me to finish both of their pictures. Then they wanted the pictures hung on the fridge.

I read somewhere that it's better to do something poorly than to sit and watch other people do it perfectly. Or something to that effect. I guess we all know that in our hearts, because later, even though Princess said that she was proud of her project half-drawn by me because I do it better, I noticed that when she made her next project (by herself) she put it right on top of this one.

Her carriage did look like a car.

"It's so pretty Ima, right?"

"You're an artist, Princess."

She beamed. Birds sang and kings breathed sighs of relief. "Like Monet, right? I know."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Three Kids=Surround Sound

New Year's Blog resolution: I will write often, and I will write better.

I have so much that I want to write about. The problem is, to write in a way that I can actually click the Publish Post button, one needs a bit of creative energy. Or just energy. And while my darling little boychik is sweet and beautiful and wonderful, leaving me full of energy is not one of his talents. He is up at night from around 1 oclock AM until 5, when he falls into an exhausted sleep.

But, not to shirk from his duties, as his eyes close, he calls out weakly to his sisters, "I've done my bit. You guys take over now." And they do. 5 o'clock in the Lord's Holy and Blessed Morning. They take over. Yogurt and wet diaper and mini morning crisis, as the sun rises.

Ah, my babies. How I love them. I do.

In case I forget how much I love them, as 3 o'clock in the morning can sometimes do to you when your muddled little brain throws up a flare and blearily says, everyone else is sleeping. Everyone. Everyone except me and this child, I have a little note at the side of my bed. On it are listed three names.

Shaina b-s Yehudis

Rivka b-s Sara Chaya

Blima b-s Hindy

They are my friends, and Hashem has not yet given them what I have.

It helps me count my blessings, even when my blessings come wrapped in leaking diapers.

So! I will write more! I will work on my book! I will get published! And I will go to the living room right now where it seems that Princess has Coco-pop in a head lock. Very loudly.


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