Finding myself in the Middle East

Monday, December 27, 2010

Good Enough

Today was going to be sweetness and light and honey and a thing of beauty and a joy forever in terms of the absolute amazingness in which I was going to be as Mommy.

I would start off by singing "Good morning" to my precious progeny when they entered my sleeping haven. Then I would give them breakfast wide awake, (perhaps curtesy of some strong coffee)as I smoothly floated about the immaculate apartment, gathering things up for gan and preparing perfectly balanced lunchboxes. The baby, already (mysteriously, now that I think about it) fed, would gurgle happily on his mat. Angels were going going to sing, too, I think, and maybe sprinkle down gold coins and fat-free muffins.

But Princess too, awoke with a dream. She too was determined as she gazed into the unknown future. She was going to definitely, no matter what, cry and tantrum the whole morning through.

It started at 4:30. The day, that is, started at 4:30. The girls were up and eating yogurt before the sun even got his pants on. 4:30 is not really my hour of glory, I must admit. I prefer to spent it drooling on a pillow, truth be told.

Outdoorsman, bless his soul, got up with them, and I kept drifting off to sleep between poundings on my door and spilling of aforementioned yogurts for the next hour. 5:30, Outdoorsman was off to shul and I sailed out of bed and took a deep steadying breath.

"Good morning, girls! Who want to get dre--Coco-pop, off the baby. Who wants to get--"

"Ima! Can you pour us orange juice and also I spilled my yogurt on my shoes."

"Ima, Princess doesn't let me use the glue."

"Ima, Coco-pop is using the big scissors and I told her you don't let and she didn't listen."

"Ima, Princess pulled my hair!"

"Ima, Coco-pop is yucky!"

"Ima, the baby is crying."

So he was. And so were they. And there was a huge pile of laundry that I forgot to fold from last night that was being used as--well, not exactly sure as what, but it entailed the used-to-be-clean articles of clothing being dragged through puddles of semi-dried yogurt.

I tried. I did. The angels laughed, though, and kept their singing talents and gold coins and fat-free muffins for themselves. And I'm afraid I said something to the effect of, "She gets it from your side," in rather a hiss when Outdoorsman came home for breakfast.

The apartment is in shambles, my nerves shot, and Princess went off to gan in tears.
And I'm rereading my first paragraph here and here's a thought--maybe she gets it from my side.

I mean, really. Why can't I pray and aim for a GOOD morning? Why does it have to be perfect or nothing? And I see the same look in Princess' eye when something doesn't go her way--okay, might as well let it all out. Day's ruined anyway.

Why can't I aim for a decent start and for everyone to be mostly happy? I can't sing first thing in the morning anyway, I would scare small sparrows out of the lemon trees.

I see it in Princess when she doesn't understand something on the first try, the frutration and the automatic reaction to give it up as a bad job. That's the reason I flunked math in school--it didn't come as naturally to me as the english subjects, so drop it. Why do soemthing if you can't do it perfectly?

Is this what I am passing on to my kids? Don't bother if it's not going to be guaranteed perfect?

Tomorrow, I will be pretty good. I will be good enough.

And the good-enough angels will sing mostly on key for me. And drop agurot and 95% fat free-muffins.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


"Hamakom yinachem otah," I told my father over the phone. "I love you and I'm thinking about you and I miss Bubby, too. Did he hear me?" I asked my mother when she put the phone back to her ear.

"He heard you, but oh no...he's shaking his head and looks upset. Hon, do you remember that you lost your mother? She died on Shabbas. She went peacefully. She was 91."

My mother has to remind my father several times a day that his mother just died, and each time he looks confused and hurt that no one told him and gets sad about her passing all over again. Something happened to him this last time in the hopsital, something terrible happened inside his head.

I never heard of MS doing that to someone, playing tricks on the mind in such a horrible way, but then again, Outdoorsman pointed out that most people in my father's condition are not still here with us. The unbelievable care that my mother takes of my father is why is is still alive. There were so many close calls, and they all ended in relief because of her. She loves life, and she loves him.

On a cheerier note, because my father's condition plus the fact that I might as well convert to Islam since my kids wake me up before the first prayer at 5:15 and I am grumpy and tired NEEDS a cheerier note, I sent something in to a magazine, thanks to all of your encouragement! I'll let you know what happens. Any great ideas for a pen name?

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I'd been having premonitions. Dreams, and a sense of dread that hit me right in the stomach as I was benching licht. It's nothing, I said, my husband said. It doesn't work like that. So it was with a vague sense of relief other than for the obvious of reason that his infection was cleared up that I told my sister, "Oh. Good. I’m so glad the hospital released him. Because I've been having these dreams."

"Me, too."


"Yes. Also L’s been having them. She cried."

"L cried? L doesn’t cry."

Then the phone rang at 6:30 in the morning. Coco-pop was sitting on my lap, Princess was sitting on the baby, and Outdoorsman had just walked in from shacharis. He handed me the phone. “Who in the world is calling at this—“

"Ima! What time is it over there? Everything okay?"

Everything was not okay. My heart crept up, up, up, into my throat. Abba, my Abba--

"D, it's Bubby."

A flood of tears, and a traitorous sense of--relief?--no, not relief, it can't be relief, my Bubby is gone, and horrible crushing guilt--I have not called her in over a month, I kept meaning to, what kind of person--

And Ima was saying that it was quick, and asking if Outdoorsman could say Kaddish because my Abba is Bubby's only son and he obviously can't say it and Outdoorsman is the only son-in-law who lost a parent, and Princess and Coco-pop wanted to know why I was crying, and if they could talk to Savta too.

I hung up the phone, feeling tingly, feeling numbed, feeling a slight edge of unreality fluttering in the corners of my mind. I’m always here, always far away, never where it could feel real. Outdoorsman tried to get the girls out, to give me space, but they were looking at me, and they were scared. I tried to remember what frightening words they might have heard from my end of the conversation. Ima, where was she? She was on the floor? Like she fell? I hope she wasn’t conscious, I hope she wasn't scared...was she all alone?

I remembered when my Sabba had died last year and how the words that we use to comfort ourselves as adults can be so very scary for kids. We lost Sabba. He left us. How not true, how very misleading and confusing, how frightened I would have been in their place, to learn that people can get lost or pick up and leave forever. I must be succinct. I must push past the wooden emptiness of it all and reach my words. I took a deep breath. “Bubby died. She was niftar. The part of her that made her Bubby, her neshama, went up to shamayim, and her neshama is very happy to go up there, to be near Hashem and to see Zeidy again, but we are sad because..." I fumbled, my lips feeling heavy, and caught it, "sad because we're going to miss her."

Princess asked how high shamayim is, and if it hurts to get niftar, and then asked for cornflakes in the white bowl. Outdoorsman set them up at the table and took the baby. I wandered around my room, looking around blankly for my blue scarf.

My Bubby wasn't here anymore, my Bubby with her suit and shoes matching, my elegant Bubby who went to put on a shaitel before we took a spontaneous family picture, who drove like a cowboy but never got the hang of that new fangled answering machine.

She was aristocratic and fanatical about cleanliness and made the best potato kugel in the world. And I remember the first time I saw her sit next to my father while he lay in bed and her voice broke as she said, "Oy, B, oy my poor boy." And it hit me, it hurt me--my sick Abba is her sick little boy, how hard, how unfair, after all she went through, to start a new family, to go on.

How my sister used to tease her, as she teased everyone, and at the age of 80 Bubby surprised everyone by teasing her back and developing a precious little sense of humor of her own.

Her mysterious additions to her stories of surviving the war that she told me last summer--a pregnancy in the middle of the war, but Bubby, I thought you met Zeidy in the DP camp-- stopped abruptly when she smiled, and offered me some more melon. Now I'll never know. How important is it, really, to know her full story? Maybe it is important. I think it might be.

Bubby never got her mind wrapped around the idea that I can now make a local call from Israel. She still thought of long-distance phone calls as prohibitively expensive and did not stay on the phone for more than three minutes at the most.

"So D'le, how are you?"

"Actually Bubby, I was thinking about coming in for the sumer. Tickets are really expensive, but I miss everyone and it would be--"

"Oh, okay, Dahlink. Okay. I love you, thanks for calling. Goodbye."

I love you, Bubby. I love you, Darling. Goodbye.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just to Know You're Alive

My father is home from the hospital.

I know. I didn't even mention that he was in the hospital to begin with. He was. Double pnenumonia and an abdominal infection.

I spoke to my mother last week, when he went in.

"Hi Ima, how's it going?"

"Okay, we're alright. Abba's back in the hospital, though."

"Oh, no. What happened?"

"He's having trouble breathing, even with the respirator. His color is off and he's unresponsive. You know how he gets when he's sick. So I called Hatzala."

"Is he okay?"

"They don't know yet. I'll call when there's news, okay?"

"Thanks, yeah, okay. And tell him that I love him."


"So Ima, did I tell you that I decided to try out for the play in the end?"

"Oh, good! You're in, I assume?"

"Ya. They wrote a part for me before I even tried out."

Cold, Di. Real cold. Skip a beat, go on living.

I was reading this book, and in the book, a woman has two sick kids. Something to do with their lungs, and it's genetic and very sad. Anyway, there's this line in the book, something to the effect of how the sound of their coughing ripped into her soul. Each time they coughed, great big gashes. In her soul.

I am a pretty sensitive person. I have a hard time reading the news without crying, and I can only read happy endings. I broke the spine of my copy of Gone With the Wind because I threw it across the room, I was so furious at the ending. But when you live with something, really live with it, the gashing of the soul, well, at the beginning. When it still hurts. After a while, the gash heals. It forms a scab. Then you callous. And callouses don't bleed.

Or maybe it's just whistling in the dark. My brother went to visit my father right before he was released from the hospital. He laughed and told jokes the whole time. Driving home, he told my sister, "I laugh and tell jokes whenever I visit. Because what am I supposed to do? See him as he really is and spend the whole visit crying?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On The First Night Of Chanuka

Angels were singing sweet twinkly songs, and I was wearing a long silver dress. Frogs were flying in a neat formation in the purple sky, and all the people clapped and cheered. The frogs flew in closer and closer until they landed on my shoulders. One hopped off and stood before me. He opened his mouth and spoke.


What? I'm not your Ima. You're a flying frog.


I opened my mouth to tell him off, when my tongue snapped out a good two feet and caught a fly. Chewing thoughtfully, I looked down. I had green webbed feet.


"Ah!" I woke up. I was in my bed. A little girl in a nightgown a bit too snug on her was around an inch away from my face. I took a deep breath and slowed my pounding heart. "Princess,"I rasped. I sounded like a frog. I swallowed painfully. My head hurt. I must have slept around five minutes since last putting the baby back in. The clock said 2:45. Three minutes. "It's the middle of the night. Go back to sleep."

"Ima, there are people in my room and they are having a party and now they are on Coco-pop's bed and they don't want to go home because it's dark outside."

I slid myself out from beneath my warm blanket and stumbled to her room. No party. Just Coco-pop, sitting up in bed. "Princess. There is no one here. Why don't you just--"

"Ima." It was Coco-pop. "Ima, the beds are moving. I don't want them to move."

Okay. Now, I am a grown woman, mother of three, college degree. And I am also really really (reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaally) afraid of the dark. I fought to keep my voice calm. "Girls. The beds aren't moving. There are no people here. It's the middle of the night. Go to sleep!"

On cue, Turtle woke up again. I quickly tucked the girls in and went to calm him down. I avoided looking out the dark windows and sang songs, mostly to soothe Turtle, partly to soothe myself. Outdoorsman came in, yawning, eyes half closed. "Everything okay?"

"Sure. This house is haunted, though, so we have to move."

Outdoorsman blinked at me, stared, then blinked again. He then retreated to the safety of the bathroom.

The whole night was a variety on the same theme. When the sun came up, one look into the girls' glassy eyes was all I needed. The house wasn't haunted. Both girls had a high fever.

So the first night of chanuka, which was supposed to include color paper and crayons and draidel stencils and latkas and doughnuts and presents had a lot less that and a lot more unabated misery with a chance of tears.

Happy Chanuka. It's a good thing we got eight days.


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