Finding myself in the Middle East

Friday, July 1, 2011


The mesibat sof shana seemed to take a deep breath as it launched into its second hour, and so did I. I kept the camera rolling, focused on my daughter, and gave the baby another piece of bamba. I would enjoy it more, I think, if I could hear her. She had been practicing the songs for over a month, and I could not even hear her over the woman singing on the CD. All the girls’ voices were muted compared to the deafening strains of the electronically singing woman and her entourage of little girls singing in head voice.

I peeked over the camera at my little—big!—girl’s grave face and watched her perfectly executed motions. The props were beautiful. They must have cost hours of painstaking work. The Morah was incredibly creative, and I desperately wanted to enjoy the show that she had created. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. When it was finally over and we walked home, Princess balancing her plate full of cake and cookies and candy, she chattered on about she didn’t take any taffies because she didn’t want any more cavities in her teeth, I smiled and nodded, and felt and odd feeling. Probing it, I realized that I wanted to cry.

“Did you have a good time?” I asked Princess. I held her hands as she jumped off the wall surrounding our building.

“Yeah, except for the treats.” Her face grew stern. “Because they shouldn’t give so many treats when people could get cavities.”

“You took a lot of treats,” I said, tucking my smile into one cheek.

Princess blinked for second, but only for a second. “Cause Baila took tons. So I took tons. Because I didn’t want her to feel bad.”


She crammed a piece of chocolate cookie into her mouth and made an exaggerated face. “I don’t even like it.” She licked the crumbs from around her mouth.

It took me the whole day to figure out what I was feeling, probing the odd feeling like a lost tooth. Or like a lost child, looking for his mother, right before the panic sets in.

Kindergarten. I’m standing on stage, and I’m a fruit. Maybe an apple, or an orange. It is my turn to sing, and I decide to do so before the music’s cue. I start off loud, and end on a note that perhaps has never been heard before on this earth. The applause is deafening, and I wave my arms over my head to the face that is beaming the most, in the back of the crowded auditorium; the face of my mother. Even then I knew how hard it was for her to miss work to come my performances. I sang my little orange—or apple—song just for her.

I stared my daughter’s class picture, and thought back to the two-hour long performance, my daughter’s grave face, her lips mouthing the words instead of belting them, like the little girl I had been had done.
Something is wrong here, I thought with a start. Something about my little girl singing so loud but her voice not heard. Princess' elegant costume, so different from my apple costume that I made myself. The teacher gave us oak tag and markers, and set us loose. We wore the outcomes on elastic strings tied around our necks.

Maybe it’s one of those times, simply a case of cultural difference, but I feel somehow that this is one difference that I cannot wave away. I want to hear my child’s voice, however off-key it might prove to be, to see her beaming face instead of the still carving staring austerely ahead.

“It just scares me so much!” I said to a friend of mine the next day. It was hot, we were both pushing strollers, and the streets were full of people just like us. I pushed the disturbing image of mirror images stretching across the street, all pushing identical strollers, all griping. “The lack of individuality. Perfection is all that counts. The final product. Oh my G-d!” I felt tears burning, or maybe it was just so hot and there were so many of me in the street, kids tugging at their skirts, that my eyes went blurry. “My little girl doesn’t count unless she fits the box that they’ve already made for her!”

My friend agreed with my assessment and we threw around words such as microcosm and cognitive dissonance. Then we both went home to make lunch for our husbands coming home at the exact same time from Yeshiva.

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