Finding myself in the Middle East

Monday, February 21, 2011

This and That

So! We ripped out the floor that we installed less than a year ago and set fire to the landlords' cat. (and they don't even have a cat!) And now we are looking, looking looking, for a new place to live.

I can't really believe this. I can't believe that I have to say goodbye to my trees. I can't believe I'm uprooting my kids again, so soon. I can't believe that cleaning for pesach will be bitter and pointless in terms of spring cleaning, since we will be out of here a week after pesach. On the positive side, maybe I'll get more schar, since pesach cleaning will just totally be for the mitzvah! Also on the positive side, this is for sure not as bad as other things, like, say, the Spanish Inquisition. Because people got burned at the stake and stuff, so that was probably way worse.

In a totally unrelated side story to distract myself from my woe and angst, Princess was chatting with her friend in the park. She suantered back to where I was spinning Coco-pop on the merry-go-round, and I asked her what she had been talking to her friend about.

"Oh, you know," she said airily. "Nothing really, just life."

In another unrelated side story, Turtle just started eating vegetables! My mother's heart is beating with joy as I mash a sweet potato for him.

In a related side story, I am thinking about buying my landlords a cat. So that I can set it on fire.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mothers and Daughters Take Two

I tried to explain myself to my mother a couple of years ago when she said, "You sound more and more like you’re thinking about staying in Israel. Are you staying in Israel?”

“Staying? Like, what am I doing with the rest of my life? Ima, I don’t even know what I’m making for dinner tonight.”

“Make tuna patties and mashed potatoes.”

“I love that, but my kids hate it.”

“D, are you planning on staying?”

I tried to explain how I felt about living here, but it came out in a jumbled mess, a tangle of words. Halfway through living the life that I love to live, the ideals of lower happiness thresholds and not living in a fashion parade, I petered off. "Um, how does that sound to you, Ima?"

"Like you're a little confused." She laughed a little.

I laughed, too. "I am. A little confused."

"That's okay. You'll work it through."

The thought of not living near my mother, of not raising my kids close by, is hard. It used to be harder. It used to make me cry. I guess a lot of it has to do with the mother-daughter relationship in general, but it also has a lot to do with our mother-daughter relationship in particular.

I will not mince words when it comes to describing my mother. My mother is superwoman. She is a small trim howling force of nature, but instead of knocking trees over, she will probably just polish them and trim their leaves properly. Then she’ll ask them about their problems, and if there is anything that she can do to help.

My mother raised the ten of us while caring for a sick husband and being sole breadwinner. We had foster siblings, and sometimes she invited into our home whole families who needed her help. She could write a book about the people who walked through our door for a shabbas meal and ended up staying for months, or years. Maybe I’ll write it for her. And all the while, during her ten-hour daily working shifts and trying another radical diet for my rapidly deteriorating father, and feeding, clothing and listening to all of us, she had time to become my best friend. She is disciplined but flexible, organized but spontaneous, regal but sometimes hysterically inappropriate.

“I figured it out, how you do it,” I said to her once over the long distance phone line while trying to rock the baby with one hand and clean the stove with the other. I don’t remember where the phone was. Maybe it hung midair.

“How I do what?” I pictured her, as she was in the morning, putting on makeup while keeping an eye on the latest in my father’s never ending stream of new home attendants and the phone held to her ear by lifting up her shoulder.

“You know, how you do everything. You’re an android.”

“Um. Thanks?”

When people ask me how I have it altogether, I answer, first of all, I don’t, but if I seem to, it’s a gift from my mother. I know what it looks like to have a full plate, to have more than your share to deal with. And what I have is not a full plate.

I have made different choices than my mother has. I live in Israel, a country she was born in but left at age ten, I did not finish my master’s program while she has a successful career, and I am still desperately trying to figure how to make love “multiply” as she often claims it does, but I like to think that we are most alike in our differences. Sometimes, though, like with a puzzle done wrong, I have to squeeze a few of the pieces to make it fit, and I know that at the heart of it I am like the little girl who doesn’t think jumping into the pool is worth it if her mother is not watching. So she yells, “Ima, look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” until her mother looks up and smiles. Then she can jump.

Princess and I once sat together on the couch while she went through everything part of her body and said to me, “It’s just like yours, right?” And I assured her, yes, sweet girl, your toes are like mine and so are your teeth. So are your freckles and so are your knees. She beamed, and her joy was almost audible, at the thought of our alikeness. We are not alike. She is just like her father, but just then she needed to be me, so I let her be me.

Who are we to fight it, this strange dependence on the approval of our mothers, our need to, at times, be our mothers? I thought of this once at three o’clock in the morning, (if one can call what pops into one’s brain at that hour “thoughts,”) as I fed my newborn. A minute ago, this brand new human being had been screaming, confused, maybe even frightened, in pain. Will it ever stop? Then, suddenly—there is food, there is warmth, there is the blessed relief of the yawning hunger, and there is the blurred face of mother gazing down at her.

As for me—my mother is an android supermom with a slightly inappropriate sense of humor. I didn’t have a chance.

* * *

I once played a character in a musical who turns out to be going through life in the shadow of her mother's approval, and isn't quite sure who she herself really is. The director asked me to improv a short resolution for my character. I thought for a moment, and then said, “Sometimes late at night when I couldn’t sleep I would allow myself to feel the pain of being split in two. There was what I wanted for myself, and there was what my mother needed me to be. I became what she needed me to be. I gave her the greatest gift I could give to her; myself.” I said a couple more lines about needing to also find my own way and do chessed for myself. The director said that wrapped it up nicely, but I felt a little hollow.

Life is not a two hour musical. Nothing is wrapped up nicely, and no ribbon is long enough, especially for something as unwrap able as a relationship, and especially one as complex, as beautiful and as horrible as a mother and daughter’s relationship can be.
* * *

The other day, Outdoorsman was greeted by the sight of a mountain of clean laundry piled on the couch first thing in the morning. It had not been there the night before. “Did you do this in your sleep?” He asked me as I poured him a cup of coffee.

“No, just every time the baby woke up I threw in a load.”

He shook his head. “You’re becoming more and more like your mother, you know.”

I felt a warm flush of pleasure before suspicion set in. My mother is his mother-in-law, after all. “You mean that in a good way, right?”

When I light the candles every week on the windowsill overlooking the Jerusalem forest, I daven to be the mother that my daughter needs me to be and the daughter than my mother deserves, and to be the sum of those parts and yet uniquely me.

I know that life is not a musical, but sometimes the little girl waiting for her mother’s smile can have a mini perfect ending. My mother is not overly demonstrative, but on our sixth anniversary, my mother sent a card. She wrote, "I want you to know that I'm so proud of you. You're living the life that I would love to live."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


There's this blog that I follow sporadically and the guy was ranting on and on about this rapist or murderer or maybe someone who smokes in the kiddie park? Someone bad and evil and probably has bad personal hygiene, too. You read his prose, and you feel all, YEAH!They're bad and evil! Because they are. Black and white staring you in the face evil? I love to hate me some of that.

When I was little, I used to daydream horrible daydreams about horrible things happening to me, because of horrible people. It took me years to figure out that having a sick father with no one to blame--except G-d, perhaps--left me with only the dreams that one day I can point a fingure and say--YOU did it! YOU are bad! Because of YOU, everything is horrible! There was no you, and that was hard.

A friend of mine who has fertility issues has a neighbor who has to be heard to be believed. She spent her whole pregnancy complaining to my friend about how tired she is, and now she complains to her about having to, you know, mother her baby.

It's outrageously insensitive and she is probably a thick blockead to not choose who to complain about her stuff to a leeeetle more discriminatingly, and being outraged at her is so satisfying. This world is so gray, everyone has their own perspectives, and half of us know that even as we are mad at the lady ahead of us in line that is taking too long or the jerk that cut you off that they have a side to their story too, and that we've even done what they are doing, once or twice. When you find some annoyance or hate that you can really sink your teeth into, it's so satisfying, it's like love.

Our landlord is kicking us out. Out kids make too much noise. Thing is, we just moved in a year ago, and they saw that we have kids then, and one on the way. We even asked them for a five year contract because we were so sick of moving. They said no, but not to worry, we could stay if we were good. We are good. We are so good! We fix everything ourselves. (We=Outdoorsman, while I watch, because I am better at watching, and it's important to do what you are good at.) We pay on time. (see: disclaimer above.) We are nice. We are sweet. They are NASTY people, and I wish that I can hate them and live on that self-righteous indignation. But I know that life is not so simple. I know that they hard lives, and I know that she just lost her sister, and I know that they are bitter about young chareidim taking over their neighborhood just when they were ready to settle down in quiet retirement in the house they built when the state was new.

Life and people are all shades of gray. I know that. I do.

I also know how much easier it would be if everything was black and white.

Who wants to help me pack?

Monday, February 14, 2011


Wanted to share with you something amazing that my husband wrote. Comment, please please please? I want to encourage him to start his own blog!

It’s easy to be tough about things in the morning, but night is another story. By day you’re a conqueror, a force, but when night comes in the voices do too, the dread comes.

I realize now that it’s been like this as long as I can remember. As a child, I don’t know how old, I lay in bed every night and hoped and maybe prayed that the house wouldn’t burn down. And I think it struck me about five years ago that I’m still just hoping things will be ok.

I can point fingers in every direction. Maybe things were too unstable for a child to handle. Maybe I’m also a holocaust survivor, in a way. Maybe it’s just my job to get over. Everyone’s got something – maybe this is mine. But pointing fingers doesn’t help. How could it?

The world around me has always seemed to swirl with carefree people, and I’ve always felt left out. What’s their secret? That’s the question I’ve asked for years. I’ve tried in earnest to find it. But not even prosperity has brought me the security, the abandon that I seek.

But as I get older, and gradually discover people like me, people I can be friends with, likeminded people however few they are, I find that they’re often as tormented as I am. So I’m trying something new. I’m deciding that I’m right. That really we are hanging from a string and destruction lies in wait. That sooner or later all houses will burn down, and that no matter how hard we try it’s not enough to change that reality.

Perhaps that’s what this modern age is here to do. It’s here to educate us to reality. There’s no more job security. There’s no more financial security. There’s no more national security. Everything causes cancer. And everyone is really out to get you.

The last realization that we need before the end of days is that with all our work, with all our self improvement and prudent planning. With all our self-righteousness and posturing we’re all equal in regard to The Creator. We’re all equally poor. We’re all equally ignorant. We’re all equally defenseless. Zero multiplied by a hundred is still zero. That zero is human existence. And no matter what we multiply that existence by. Whether by wealth, or by knowledge, or by beauty, we’re all equally worthless.

And I’m happy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

To A Friend, waiting for a miracle

I have Things to complain about times three.

The laundry times three, the kvetching times three, the missed naps times three. The Lego I stepped on at three o'clock in the morning on the way to give the baby a bottle. The yogurt that gets finished too fast, the milk that gets spilled. Times three. The ripped books, the sticky floors and fingers. The dinners I spent time on that get poked and uneaten, the game of Candyland with two missing pieces, the... entries that get interrupted and I lose my train of thought so they stay, unfinished


When my baby wants to be held and I'm busy, and I hold him thinking about the million things I have to do, I also try to think about how much heavier it is to hold nothing at all.

Which is not exactly what i wanted to say.

Maybe there is nothing to say?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writer's Block

My writer’s block is small, cold to the touch and has an ominous black cloud and other clich├ęd truisms hanging over it. I hesitantly knock on its single entrance. “Enter!” A single bark. It is impossible to identify the voice’s owner. There is no handle on the door. I try banging my head against it, and it swings open.

Inside, I am surrounded by shapes, colors, sounds, pressing bodies and pulsing lights. I hear fragments of conversation.

“Oh yes, it was yesterday, while washing dishes—“

“Old, and poor, and she was still smiling, and life would never be the same—“

“He keeps thanking me for the fish, and I didn’t give him any fish. He has a feeding tube—“

“A mother and a writer and just no patience this morning—“

“Am I fat or sad? Sometimes I can’t tell the difference—“

“Whose idea was it, anyway? I think that Society—“

I recognize everyone. It is my party. “Oh!” I say joyfully. “Here’s where you’ve all been hiding!” I decide to get to work at once. I roll up my sleeves, open my laptop, pour myself a cup of coffee. “Now!” I clap my hands together, and the noise and lights stop. Everyone stops talking, looks at me.“Good! Now, you, you and you, over there. You taught me about humility, and in a sort of fresh way, too. You! Excellent! You make an ironic entrance, especially if I take off your hat. Can you take off your hat? You don’t mind, do you? It’ll make a better story.” The being I addressed rolls its eyes, but complies. Excellent. Things are getting along swimmingly. I rubmy hands together and open up a new document.

That’s when the mumbling starts. I looked up. “Listen,” I say sternly. “Please don’t make noise while I am writing.” The mumbling only gets louder. The lights start again, and someone starts in on an electric guitar. An electric guitar? How did that get in here? The noise gets louder and louder and the lights get brighter and brighter and everyone starts pushing and I cannot breathe. It is all too much, too much, and I open my mouth to scream, and then it’s all gone. I am alone with my own shadow.

The computer in front of me beams a slow blue light. I blink at it. There are some words there. “The essence of humility is knowing what your talents are and knowing why you have them and where they come from. Just the other day, I saw a man. He had no hat.”

I have no idea where I was going with this.

“Where was I going with this?—“

I hear my own echo for a moment, and then nothing.


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