Finding myself in the Middle East

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Great Equalizer

"Turtle is a blah-blah-blah blah!" Princess shouted, exasperated when Turtle ruined fifteen minutes worth of puzzle time with one sweep of his chunky busy arms. She didn't say blah-blah blah, but that is what I heard.

"What did you say?"

She said it again.

"Is that Hebrew?"


"What does it mean?"

"Like..." she screwed up her face, concentrating. "It means, like, he's oatmeal. Like, soggy oatmeal. You know."

I didn't know. I didn't know what she was talking about. I told her so.

She rolled her eyes a bit. "It's like...oh, I don't know how to say it in English, Ima!"

And maybe I was tired and maybe I was thinking a little bit too much about my father and maybe I was feeling fat but when she said that, I left the room to cry a bit and maybe to eat a little bit of chocolate.

I always thought that when my kids finally learned Hebrew I would find it adorable. Outdoorsman on the other hand didn't like how the language sounded phonetically and dreaded the day they entered the Israeli school system.

In real life, Outdoorsman gets a kick out of our biligual kids, and I feel a knot in my stomach whenever I hear them speak in Hebrew.

Because of what it means.

It means that her brain, understanding a different way of expressing itself, will be wired a little differently.

It means that the first thing that jumps into her mind won't mirror mine, won't have us looking at each other with shared amusement, shared understanding, but with our own impressions of what really happened.

It means that my daughter will be in a situation such as the baby ruining her puzzle and she will think about something--an expression, most likely--in Hebrew, and it won't translate. I won't understand what she is getting at. Her being a native Hebrew speaker will cause a rift between us and I will never, ever fully understand her.

And that makes me cry.

And eat chocolate.

And even as I beam proudly at her, with her big girl packback and her brand new uniform, my heart is squeezed with fear. "Don't go, my baby," I am thinking as I smooth her skirt and fix her headband. "Don't go. Don't go where I can't follow."

But if I am honest, I can remember when Princess went to her first year of gan, which was English, and when she came home with an idea in her head that I did not put there, that was put there by somebody else (I do believe the idea was along the highly intelligent lines of "I'm gonna make this dolly dead because she is a mushy-tushy-pishie!") I had to go to bed early with a headache.

I know it's the job of every mother to know when to let go. I know that my fears are just an extension of every mothers fears as she opens the golden cage.

And gives her baby the gift of flight.

And, okay. We're talking about oatmeal. Mushy oatmeal. Which is so weird and I will never understand that applying to Turtle.

I'll never quite understand it, but I can know what I have to do, anyway. And I can know that I have to be okay with it. I cannot be uncomfortable with it, because it is a part of her. And if I am uncorfortable with it, I will be uncomfortable with her, hence creating the very rift that I afraid of in the first place. A self fulfilling prophecy.

I turned back to Princess, an idea forming in my mind. "Do you mean mushy like mushy cause he's...uh..."

She looked at me. "Like what?"

I lost the idea. Ah. "I love you, Princess."

She smiled, a questioning crease fading between her eyes. "I love you, Ima."

And that will just have to be enough to bridge any gaps.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Natural Course

The first words that popped into my head when I saw my father for the first time in a year and a half is,

My father looks like a baby chick.

And the words popped into my head whole, like I wrote them, like I was writing them, like I was writing about it on the spot, like I was a reporter for National Geographic. (Page 45: After a 20 year study, at this point, the MS sufferer begins to resemble a baby chick.)

My eyes skimmed over his form, skinny to the point of horrifying emaciation. He had been thin for a while already, but there was nothing to him now at all. His white skin was stretched over his bones, his fingers shaped into claws, His face was frozen into a waxy mask, his eyes half closed. The only thing that stood out in sharp relief, beak-like, was his nose.

I took a shaky intake of breath and smiled, grazed his cold cheekbone with my hot lips. I felt my blood pumping in my ears, in my chest, making me hot all over, and I felt big, too big, with my working muscles and sinews and nerves and bones covered in a layer of fat under my skin.

My mother squeezed my hand when she saw my face. "Baby," she said to my father, "D is here. From Israel."

"Tell him I'm happy to see him."

"You tell him you're happy to see him."

"I'm happy to see you." The girls clung to my skirt. I shifted Turtle on my hips, opened my mouth again, and let it hang that way for a minute. Did he see me? His eyes did not flicker, his face did not thaw. I let the babble that had been building up in the back of my throat spill out. "I miss you. We miss you. We think about you all the time. This is Turtle. He's really big, right? Like for his age? Everyone say he is. Turtle! Say hello! See, he's smiling, he's happy to see you."

My father makes an effort; his teeth are clasped together and I realize he's trying to make me feel better. He's trying to smile back.

I smile too, and suddenly, tears are spilling down my cheeks.


The National Geographic reporter inside of me paused. Like a baby chick,she whispered. Because of the nose like a beak and his skinny cold body and his open mouth. Like he's waiting for feathers to grow.


"I know," my mother said.


"I know."


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