Finding myself in the Middle East

Monday, July 11, 2011

Oh, what a world

The sun is smiling. When I am inside with the blinds closed and the ceiling fans on and an ice pack on my head, that is. When I am outside, the sun is still smiling, in a I'm-coming-to-get-you scary movie kind of way. Everything sticks to everything. The insides of my knees stick together when I walk. My shirt sticks to my back. My scarf sticks to my head. And the kids stick to me.

I don't know what it is about the heat that makes me want to kill someone just with my eyes. When I have a day in which I did not mentally murder, I feel good about myself. And that's when I realize that in the winter, when it is raining and cold and damp, I have no drive, no motivation. So when I get up and write or play patiently with the girls or do the dishes, I feel like a high-powered business woman. Look at me go, I'm the energiser bunny. And THAT'S when I realize that I have no idea how much free will I really have, or how much I am simply driven by whims of my nature and changes in the general nature of the world around me.

Maybe today I slept well last night and ate well the day before and that's why I am a fountain of patience and folded all of the laundry.

Maybe someone told me that I look pretty, and that's why I told my husband what an amazing person he is.

Maybe Princess ate all her chicken, and that's why I am patient when she tantrums 15 minutes later.

Sometimes, it's even conscious. My father is doing so poorly, and the magazine rejected my story, I remind myself as I slump in my chair and decide to veg out with a book instead of something contructive, like re-writing the story or writing my father a letter.

Are we all just chain reactions to what is going on in our lives? I recently saw a book called Age 6: Loving and Defiant. And it went on to describe Princess to a T.

Is there a book out there called D: Age 30: Wherever the Winds will Take Her? (Or maybe D: Vampire Slayer. Oooh, pick that one.)

On the other hand, today I was in such a bad mood walking the girls to gan. It wa hot. The sun was laughing. I lost my lenses so I can't wear sunglasses and the world was shimmering through my teary eyes. Princess decided that she doesn't want to go to gan, and I heard her through my throbbing sinuses. I took a deep quavering breath, and said nothing, just kept walking past her gan to Coco-pop's gan.

In the end she decided to go after we went to Coco-pop's gan, and I'm not sure how calm I would have been had she decided to come home with me since I had so much planned for this morning not the least of which involved enjoying a bit of silence, but the point is, I was calm for that moment.

The point is, I think, not that I overcame the heat and didn't shoot bullets of fire from my eyes.

The point is, yes, maybe we are all chain reactions. But just like we are in the middle of one,we can also start one, can't we?

Because then as she turned to go to gan, she smiled and blew me a kiss. "I love you Ima," she said. Then skipped into gan.

It is over 100 degrees today, but I think that even had it been cold and rainy, my heart would have melted anyway.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Once a month, I write a letter to my father. I tell him the latest news, as pertaining to my little family. I write about the weather, I write about how the kids are getting so big, I write about how much I miss him.

And I do.

But I'm going in now to the states for a visit, and I'm scared. I'm scared of what I will find. I am scared of what is left.

Everytime I go back for a visit, he is diminished, less, in body. He is so skinny now, his fine-boned face skeletal, his arms and legs like threads. But this time, I have been warned, he is diminished also, and significantly, in mind.

I don't know how to continue this post, how to lead it to its positive ending. The last paragraph should read something like--and he's so special, and so wonderful, and still has a beautiful smile. But I'm crying as I write, and I can still picture him as he was just last year, and he was so much better then!--and he made me cry then, too.

Am I just supposed to appreciate each moment? Is there a way that I can say that that doesn't sound trite, a way that I can say that and really feel it? Enjoy this visit. Maybe next visit he won't even know who you are. Enjoy this visit. Maybe next time...maybe there won't be a next time.

Maybe his wonderful smile should be enough for me. I want his wonderful smile to be enough for me. I will kiss his bony cheek and hold his hand with the slender, tapering fingers that I did not inherit, look into his green eyes which I did, and tell him that I love him. And when he smiles back at me, it will be enough.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Afternoon in Jerusalem

We were all walking back from the dentist, and it had gone better than I thought it would. No one had actually tantrumed, and aside for the moment when I thought that Coco-pop was going to bite the dentist' finger, all the little girls in my life had kept their cool.

It was a little bit of a walk, getting back home, but it was downhill, which is a rare pleasure in Jerusalem (I thought the line was about Jerusalem being SURROUNDED by hills, not built on them, but then, I have killer muscular EVERYTHING now, so that's good)and there was a breeze in the air. The girls held on to either side of the stroller, which contained a sleeping Turtle. We passed by a small food stand, and the salty/sweet smell of popcorn wafted in on the next breeze. On impulse, I bought a 3-shekel bag of fresh popcorn, and the popcorn man filled the bag with a large metal scooper and handed the bulging result to Princess.

And we walked, the girls munching handfuls of popcorn, licking their salty lips with the tips of their tongues.

"Ow!" The procession stopped abruptly. I looked down. Coco-pop's eyes were filling with tears. She held a hand out to me to inspect. "I bit my finger!"

I bent down, took the finger, and kissed it. There was a half-moon of dirt behind the nail, and her skin tasted like popcorn. She smiled up at me a little sheepishly. "Maybe I thought it was popcorn. But really, it was my finger."

Princess hooted with laughter, her dimple flashing. I followed suit, kissed the finger again, and so did Coco-pop, delighted at her new-found ability to make everyone laugh. And suddenly, out of the clear blue Jerusalem sky, a wave of happiness hit me. I staggered beneath the weight of it, beneath the weight of the treasures that I had been entrusted with.

Who will they be when they grow up? Flashed in my mind as my laughing girls worked their way through the rest of the bag and we walked slowly home. The rest of my mind frowned at the stray thought. It's enough, the rest of my mind said. It's enough just to walk down the street and eat popcorn, and maybe have a chance to kiss a dirty little finger and make the sun shine again in the brilliant blue Jerusalem sky.

It's enough for now to hold their hands. It's enough that they don't know yet about letting go.

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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