Finding myself in the Middle East

Monday, October 31, 2011

Every Day

I clean and cook and
and you, baby boy at my side
destroy faster than I can put together.
It's hard, sometimes, to wash dishes and them put them on the table
and put them back in the sink
you walk, my daughters, in sticky shoes across the floor
still damp from sponga and turn up your noses
at my attempts at dinner.

And I think, I can't.
And I think, it's too much.

And also it's cold and also we're broke and also and also and also


You think that will make it all better?
I love you too, baby boy
Little girl
Big girl

But there never was a but, you know.

The second you smiled

and asked me what clouds smell like

and arms flying, told me that story about Rav Shach

you, you three
you sticky picky three

take my protests

and breath


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Today and Today and Today.

(Still have not quite fixed the comment problems--if I have not commented back to you on a comment or on your own blog, that is why! Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Will have it fixed soon, hopefully.)

Everyone has their own personal goals and their own way of getting there. Mine is heavily wrapped up with my parenting and my writing and has to do with my tendancy to dream of the future and dwell in the past at the expense of the present. It is beautiful, the way that I can see so clearly how both pursuits of mine can help me to overcome that basic character trait of mine. My life was tailor made for me to improve.

It's something that I struggle with on a minute by minute basis. Then I recently read such a sobering, chilling, terrifying article that put it all into percpective in such a beautiful and horrible way. What if the future was out of bounds, and the present was all that you had?

How would you parent--or live--if there will be no tomorrow?

Tay Sachs Turns Mom Into Parent We All Should Be
Posted by Julie Ryan Evans

For all the parenting challenges we face in our hectic day-to-day lives, few, if any, compare to those that Emily Rapp, a self-professed Dragon Mom, encounters every day. Her son Ronan, now 18 months old, was born with Tay-Sachs, a rare genetic disorder that is ultimately fatal. From the time he was born, she knew he would likely die before his third birthday in a slow and painful process. But despite her heartbreaking situation, she parents like we all should.

In a beautiful and heart-wrenching column in The New York Times yesterday, she explained how knowing that she only has such a short time to raise her son has turned her into this different breed of parent. It's a breed made up of those with terminally ill children that no one would choose to join, but from whom we can all learn.

We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.

Unlike Tiger Mom and all the hordes of us out there planning for and trying to prepare our children for successful futures and big accomplishments through every move they make, dragon moms just love and live in the minute. She says no longer do worries about things like future SAT scores or development milestones take up time and energy. "Ronan has given us a terrible freedom from expectations, a magical world where there are no goals, no prizes to win, no outcomes to monitor, discuss, compare."

How freeing would that be?

And really none of us has any guarantee that our children will be here tomorrow. Any day we could lose them to a horrifying accident or get a terminal diagnosis. We can't dwell on the what ifs and live in fear of such things, but we need to remember them more often when it comes to how far and fast we push our kids. Maybe that means letting them eat a little bit more candy and maybe it means not pressuring them to do so well in school. Maybe it just means putting it all into perspective and reminding ourselves more often that none of it really matters when it comes down to it -- that loving them and soaking up the best of every minute we have with them is what it's all about. As Rapp says in her final paragraph:

I can see my reflection in his greenish-gold eyes. I am a reflection of him and not the other way around, and this is, I believe, as it should be ... Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Man and Superman

(a letter that I am thinking about sending to my mother and siblings)

Dear Everyone,

This morning, the day after Abba's sloshim, I didn't feel so great. But I'm getting over the flu, so that makes sense. Then I got annoyed when the baby woke up too early, but that also makes sense because once he's up, cute as he is and as much as I love playing with him, my morning is gone and I will have to write at night, which is not as easy for me. Also cleaning becomes a matching of wits and speeds. Sweeping, for example, involves me starring in the running-sweep, and him in the crawling-after at my heels...thing. (Whatevers, not so good with the made-up titles.) I sweep the pile at a furious pace, an inch away from his chubby little grasping fingers. Good for cardio, probably.

Then I got annoyed at Outdoorsman for something silly. Then, I started folding little underwear into a neat pile. Then I stopped and started crying because I didn't want to fold little underwear into a neat pile. It was the kind of crying that is real and loud and ugly. The kind that makes you need to blow your nose, not just wipe it daintily, and makes your face all blotchy.

I was holding the little tiny pairs of My Little Pony underwear and crying because I missed my Abba so much. I was crying because all I have now are stories, and stories are so nice but they end and I didn't want him to end, I wanted to write him letters again and be worried about him and jump when the phone rang.

Then while I'm wanting, I want him the way my overused rerun little memories remember him--big and strong and quirky.

It was this last word that made me realize what was really bothering me. My Abba, like every other human being on this planet, had his own unique quirks and likes and dislikes. In the stories, he just sounds like a tzaddik.

Don't missunderstand! I KNOW he was a tzaddik. I witnessed it, and so did many of you and so many of our dear friends. And it's important that his memory inspire us just as he did when he was still with us.

But I don't LOVE tzaddikim. I don't MISS tzaddikim. I miss people, quirky unique people.

When I think of Bubby, I know she lived for her family. But what makes me smile is when I think of how she ran to put on her shaitel before we took a picture. I know Sabba changed his world for the better, and I think often about his contributions to the klal. But I feel a pang in my heart when I remember his complete lack of tune when he would sing (using the word lightly) aishes chayil on friday night. Zeidy, who would sit with the women in his bulgalow colony and do needlepoint makes me misty-eyed, even though I also call to mind a man who became frum again years after the war destroyed his faith.

So. I am thinking about this book we want to write about Abba. And I am hoping that with all of the amazing stories that are sure to flow and SHOULD flow--we can also include some of THAT. Something human, something precious. Something unique. Something quirky. I don't really remember much, but I would love to borrow and cherrish the memories of those of you that do.

with you in pain and in joy,
your sister

Thursday, October 20, 2011


After the meal today, which was usually quick since I am under the weather and was longing to get under my covers and stay there, Princess announced, "Ima and Abba, I want to tell you something."

I shot a quick glance at my husband. "This can't be good," I cracked.

Princess waited for quiet, eyebrows raised. "I am going to watch Turtle and Coco-pop, and you are going to nap."

Oh no no no, I was about to say. I had spent two hours this morning cleaning the house of the general messiness that had settled like a fog during the kids weeks long break from school. Sinus pressure or no, I had had enough, and set grimly to the task. I knew what the house would look like even if Princess managed to watch the other two. Which she wouldn't. Princess didn't watch Turtle very well. She manhandled him. She needed him to conform to exactly the game that she had created, and usually within two minutes of their contact together, Turtle was crying and Princess was sent to her room.

Plus, I needed the nap. I was sick. There was no question that Outdoorsman was going to be the one to stay up while I rested. So I gained nothing.

Except he needed to rest too. And there was Princess, her proud visage already crumbling as she read the lines on my face, all poised for a no.

"Isn't that a wonderful offer!" I gushed instead. Outdoorsman turned to me, lips parted, but I has suddenly realized how badly my little girl ached to show us, on her own terms, how big she could be. "We are going to bed," I said, suiting words with actions, "and keep the door closed, and Outdoorsman can you make the baby a bottle, and look what a very big girl I have!"

Through the 45 minutes that Princess rose to the challenge, I could not sleep. I couldn't get my feet warm, and in my dazed state, it took me that long to realize that I should probably put on a pair of socks. Instead,I lay there as little interactions filtered through the closed door.

Turtle cried, and I tensed, but did not get up. she can handle this, I told myself firmly. And if she can't, two minutes of crying won't hurt him. He's a big boy now. I heard Princess shushing, and his crying slowed, then stopped.

I must have drifted off because the next thing I heard was Coco-pop knocking on the bathroom door. "I need the bathroom so badly!" She called. There was a flushing sound, and the door opened. "Wait! Don't go in yet!" Princess' voice.

"But I need--"

"You need to say amen to my bracha first."

There was some mumbling, and then Coco-pop said, "Amen." That one word held a mixture of gravity and delight.

A while later Turtle started crying in earnest and I got out of bed. Princess sat on the floor with him as he thrashed wildly. She looked up at me, away from the crying baby, her face a sun.

I held out my arms, and she ran into them. "He cried and I stopped him. And I played with Coco-pop and it was for a really long time, right? Did you sleep Ima? Did you sleep?"

I was tired and achy. Her face glowed with accomplishment.

"Yes, sweet big big girl. I slept."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Inheritance

(it has come to my attention that some of you are having problems commenting on this blog. That makes sense, because I am having trouble commenting on YOUR blogs. Not sure what the problem is, and as anything technology related makes me curl up in the fetal position, this is not a good situation. I will do my best though! Any tips--if the comments come through--are welcome!)

The kids were in, no small thanks to Outdoorsman. I was thoroughly done. Stick a fork in me done. Sitting at the table drinking tea in the middle of a toy and small random bits of paper strewn house done. Done done. On cue, Turtle wakes up and screams on top of his pretty impressive lungs. I run to his room and find him face down in a pool of medicine-and-milk colored vomit. I lift him up, and he is coated, from his freshly laundered pajamas to his freshly washed face. I yell for Outdoorsman and then carry him, dripping and screaming, to the bathroom to wash him off. "It's okay, poor little boy," I croon. "It's okay." His eyes are half closed under the stream of warm water, and I have reason to hope that he will go back to sleep quickly. He has a cold, and while he's always been quick to throw up, add some flegm to the equation and this was becoming a nightly ritual.

"Ima!" came a voice from the girls' room.

If I ignore it, it will probably go away.

"Iiiiima!" The voice insisted.

My tea cooled on the dining room table and I strived really hard to do the same to my temper. "Yes, Princess." I said in even tones. "What is it?"

"Ima, can I help you with Turtle?"

All I could think was, I am so glad that I kept my temper. I am so glad. "No, sweetie. No, sweet girl. But thank you!"

Princess began to wheedle. "Please? Please can I help you? I want to do a mitzvah."

But he was all clean, and so were his sheets. Getting Princess back to bed after she gets up is an arduous task. And I knew that i might not accomplish it without getting annoyed. "Love, thank you. I know you want to do a mitzvah. But right now, the mitzvah I need from you is to listen to Ima and stay in bed."

She began to cry. "I want to help you with Turtle. THAT'S the mitzvah I want to do."

And I thought to myself as I tucked Princess back in, I know, Love. I really do. It's what's pulling at your heart. But it's not what I need from you now.

And I know that everything makes me think about my father now, but this really made me think about my father now. Because he and my mother were Givers. They had an open door policy. I have so many stories, like the time my father found a woman and her child lost and alone in a new city. He brought them home with him and they lived with us for six months until my mother helped her get set up in an apartment. Baaleh Teshuva, foster siblings, so many people called them Ima and Abba.

My house growing up has four doors, one on each side, like Ahvraham's tent. That's all that was in my father's heart; he wanted to use what he had to help others.

And then he got sick. And at first he was so angry. My mother once said to me in a broken kind of way, "I tell Hashem, don't you know what we want to do in Your Name? I want to take kids in. I want to help lost souls. I want to feed and hold and help all of Your children. Why are you taking away our ability to do that?"

And then my father realized, long before the rest of us were granted the accentance, that he wanted to do so many mitzvahs--but they were not the ones that were wanted of him. He wanted to sacrifice for Hashem--and Hashem demanded a very different sort of sacrifice.

And my father gave Hashem what was asked of him. My father gave Hashem his smile, even when his body was painfully and slowly making him a prisoner, even as his body shut down and, 22 days ago, killed him.

Friday, October 7, 2011

To You

To my darling Coco-pop on your fourth birthday,

Your party was almost a month late. Can you forgive me? I was afraid, these past couple of weeks, to plan your birthday party. I was afraid that we would plan it and then I would be called to Sabba's levaya, leaving you alone with the cake and the balloons and dreams.

You had a lot of dreams for your party, and I did my best. When it was over, you turned to me and said, "That was a FUN party!" I'm so glad, Love! It made it all worth it, planning and hosting a party for fifteen children when it's hard for me to even plan breakfast, in these draggy kind of days after Sabba died.

You refused to believe that you had turned four until you had the party. You woke up that morning, your dreamer's face glowing. You said, "I'm four, now." You seemed to understand the gravity of growing up. You always did have a lot of emotional intelligence. You felt Sabba's illness keenly, and once told me gravely that "it's not fair," that he can't walk.

The moment of gravity passed when your face broke into a sunny smile. "When will I be four and a half?" you asked.

You are a sunny girl, a sweet girl, a girl with genuine chein. You have a unique way of looking at the world, my sunshine, and we sometimes call you Curly Brain.

Happy Birthday, my sweet inexplicably red-headed girly.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Turtle and Jerusalem

The nurse fixed me with a warm yet steely gaze. Concerned yet hard. Gentle yet firm.


She fixed me with something soft and cliche yet something hard and cliche, and of course I knew exactly what she was going to say when she did all that, so I fixed my own face with a look like, I am ready to hear what you have to say, For The Good of the Child.

"He is very big, you know. You need to stop feeding him rice cereal in his bottle."

I kept all the warmth and stuff on. "I don't feel him rice cereal in a bottle."

Some of the looks slid off. "But you still give him materna."

"No, mostly water and a couple of bottles of milk."

"Lots of sugar, then. You need to stop--"

"I don't give him sugar. Well, I do give him fruit--"

"Fruit!" she pounced. "No more fruit."

"No more fruit?"

"Well, not so much fruit."


She looked a little lost. "He is very big, you know."

"I know."

It's one of those days that I feel like I can do this! I can figure out this game, I can live here!

Also, this conversation with my sister-in-law:

"I'm coming home."

"Like, to live? In America?"

"I'm thinking about it. Kids are good, life is good, even with lots of little things, but you know? I just feel like life is too short, you know, to live so far away from people that I love."

"We are the ones who live far from you."

"Yeah, because I moved away."

"But you are living at home. Because you're living where we all should be living."

"Yeah, but--"

"You are living the real life. We should all be living with you."

"But you're not."

"That doesn't mean you should be moving away from your home. We should all be moving into ours."

"Mashiach, I guess."


"I miss you."

"I miss you, too."

"You ruined my rant."


"I was just getting warmed up."


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My father died.

When I am cleaning the oven or writing a story or laying out clothing for my girls, I think, my father died.

My father died. That ice-cold piece of information melts into my brain for a while,dampening whatever satisfaction I was getting from my little mundane chores.

I have this strange urge to tell people on the street while they are discussing succos plans or clothing sales or dinner. I am making fresh herbed bread and zucchini soup and my father died. I want to rip my shirt again. I want to wear it over my heart; my father died.

During the shloshim, I can't watch or do anything entertaining. Just follow the news, which I hate (all everyone does it seems, if you follow the newsites, is get murdered or get charged for something they didn't do, or murder and get acquitted for something they did do. Or get drowned. Or win some sports thing with a goal/unit/basket.) And as much as I used to think it's just fifteen minutes here or there, taking a break with a funny youtube clip or five I find myself with so much more time, it's embarrasing.

And more time to think, too. I take my coffee break with a sefer now or nothing at all. My mind is unoccupied, and what it thinks most of all is, my father died.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Just ride it. Like a wave, they say.

I think it's also like a contraction. When the sadness comes, I need to breathe through it. It comes out of nowhere, this pain and loss I feel for a man that I have not even been able to communicate with properly in years.

He was a tzaddik, I tell people. And my siblings even got a little silly by the shiva, laughing and teasing and I join in to raised eyebrows from those who came to comfort us. Because part of us is relieved. He was suffering so much for so long. And because part of us had lost him a very long time ago.

Until the contraction comes, and the strengh of it shocks me, rocks me. This grief, it's strange. I feel less, I feel diminished in its wake. And I need to affirm to myself that he is not really gone, because of all the lives he has touched.

What can I say about a man who died too young?

That he was gentle. That he was kind. That I remember him as big and strong; that I loved him and that he loved me.

We had so many people who called him Abba by his levaya that one could get confused over who exactly were his biological children and who was a child to him, anyway.

He was a man who lived the last twenty years of his life in constant pain, constantly readjusting to new harsh realities, and the first thing that people call to mind when they think of him is his beautiful smile.

At the end, all he cared about was his family, friends, and the torah. At the end, he was lying in his hospital bed. He could do nothing; not blink, not even breathe on his own. And I kept thinking that this was was the most complete and perfect man I had ever known.

It's a wave, this grief. It's a contraction. I'm riding it, thinking of the most perfect man I have ever had the privelege to know and love.


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