Finding myself in the Middle East

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time in Your Flight

Once there were four families who lived in one neighborhood. They were all good friends. They went to each other's houses for Shabbas meals, the kids had playdates together, the fathers would have boys night and smoke some cigars and the mothers would get together for coffee.

All was peachy and dandy and other words from the 50's indicating contentment.

In the back of one of the mother's minds there was a shoe. And she was waiting for it to drop.

(Because it always does, she thought.)


One of the families decide to move away.


One of the families is talking about how they, too, do not belong here, maybe not in this country.


One of the families is talking about something--terrible. So terrible.

You know how in novels there is the steady character, the static one, the straight man, who serves as our eyes in a changing world? That is the fourth couple, the last man standing. That would be us, the mutual friends to the rest of the families.

I am totally borrowing trouble.

(which I shouldn't because sometimes shoes hover in the air.)

(no they don't. Shoes don't hang in the air; that's ridiculous.)

(and anyway, you can't depend too much on friends. Because they're not family. Or their shoes. Because they're shoes.)

(I am having an arguement with myself in parenthesis.)

(I'll stop now.)

No one has moved yet. No one has signed any papers yet. No one has left the country yet. But I feel like the woman in the poem who dreams of turning back time, and of her her mother rocking to sleep again.

I just want things to stay the way they are.

Remember when we actually wanted to grow up?

Somebody hold me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

With the Moon on their Wing

"Ima, sing a new song that we never ever never heard before," said Princess.

"Ever never," added Coco-pop.

I scoured my mind. My head is full of countless musicals, and my kids have never seen a movie or show. They think that I make them up. Ima is Magic.I don't discourage this.

"Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens," I started."Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things."

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad!

They loved it. They made me sing it over and over with all the stanzas until they knew all the words, too. I thought it was time for A Lesson For Life.

"You can sing this song when you're feeling sad! Or you can just close your eyes and think of all the things that you love, all the things that make you feel happy and safe. All the things that you are grateful for."

Princess had a dentist appointment the next day. I thought it was hashgacha pratis.

The next day in the dentist chair, her eyes were bugging out of her head and full of unshed tears. I held her hand gently and started singing, "Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudles, doorbells--"

She shot up, pushed the dentist's hands out of her mouth. The tears spilled down her cheeks. "Don't sing that!" she yelled. "Don't sing that song!"

Every friday night when I light the candles I thank Hashem for my family and children and husband and friends, and then I think of something new to be thankful for. I think of something every week, but in order to be sincere I need to be calm and comfortable. When it was a hard week, a hard day, or even, honesty forces me to admit, a hard last five minutes (think: the baby pulled the tablecloth off and he hasn't quite mastered the technique of leaving the dishes on when he does that) that put me into a bad mood, it's hard to find something new to feel grateful for.

We made a thanksgiving dinner on friday night and invited a bunch of friends. Jut for fun, really; we are stricter about Thanksgiving in Israel that we ever were in America. I looked around the table and thought about what a hard year it's been so far. And also what a wonderful year, and when things were hard, how my friends pitched in and helped. I felt an unexpected wave of happiness right there over my turkey and green beans. This is It. Knowing that there is bad and there is good and usually both at the same time. And knowing that there are people who love you who will help you through the bad and eat turkey with you through the good.

It wasn't until the next day that I realized I'd forgotten to serve the cranberry sauce.

"The cranberry sauce!" I wailed to Outdoorsman. "How could I have forgotten to serve that?! It's one of my favorite things with turkey!"

Coco-pop's ears perked up at the phrase My Favorite Things. "You love it like you love girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes?"

Princess said, "And snowflakes that stay on my nose and eylashes?"

"Hey," I said, because I am petty, "when you were at the dentist--"

But they were already twirling around the living room. "silver-white winters that melt into spring, these are a few of my favorite things!"

So much just in this room. And it's not old, to thank Hashem every week--every day, every moment--for my tempestuous dancing butterflies--because every second, they are renewed. Every second, they are made over fresh again for me.

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't Worry 'bout a Thing

When I freelance,after I send an article or story in, I sit on the computer. I leave my e-mail open, and will it to show new mail. I peek at it all day long and then pretend that I did no such thing. When I make the baby' bottle at 2:45 in the morning I tiptoe, bleary-eyed and without my glasses to the computer to see if the editor wrote back. I sit on that story or article with a gun to its head. "Accept my story! Or this article gets it!"

I cannot leave good enough alone. Living with a variable is hard.

So multiply that a multiple amount of time, this inability to live with an unknown. Say your landlord--completely hypothetically of course!--tells you one day that he's selling, the next day maybe not, the third day selling and also but maybe not selling...yeah, I have no hair left in my scalp.

I have often thought of how wonderful it was that kids' skin and bones heal so quickly. How quickly they bounce back from a fall! But also, this afternoon, Coco-pop was playing with a friend in her room. This involved piling every toy we own onto her bed and making a three foot high Ima-Will-Cry-When-She-Sees-This. ANYWAY, they were busy turning my hair grey (I guess I do have a few strands left just for that purpose) and I escaped to the bathroom to resist the urge to straighten as they sit there playing. Because yes, I am that crazy. Also, I had to go to the bathroom. Turtle had been smearing eating a peanut butter cracker sandwhich, but in my momentary absence galloped at full crawl into Coco-pop's room.

"Ima!" She shrieked.

"Yeah?" I called from the bathroom.

"He's ruining everything!"

I sighed. "Coco-pop, I'm in the bathroom."

"But Ima!"

I waited a beat. I hate this, I always have to rush out of the bath--

"Okay!" I heard Coco-pop's sweet little voice. "So it's his birthday and so the tower is a cake and he can eat the whole thing!"

The variable, effortlessly incorporated into her reality.

I have so much to learn from my 4 year-old.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turtle for a Day

(1) We can start with the footsie pajamas that I keep him in all day because the floor is so cold. Footsie pajamas. They are soft and warm. With footsies.

(2) He wakes up in the morning and is greeted as if he has been gone for years. He curls up on my lap and drinks warm milk. In footsie pajamas.

(3) The whole world is new. It's crazy exciting. Look! Blocks!So exciting--check these things out!

(4) Especially the new walking trick. Everytime, everyone flips out. Everytime! King of this town, baby!

(5) When he's tired, he sleeps. Oooooh. Sleeeeep. I could use me some of that.

(6) The world loves you just for being. You can drool, you can pull your sister's hair, you can steal the food right out of your mother's hand, and everyone turns dreamy puppy-dog eyes on you and lets you wipe random Turtle-gook all over their shoulders. And you get carried. Everywhere.

Oh, Turtle. I love you, my baby. And I would love to be you. Just for one day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Excuses, excuses

Oh, this was impossible. It's three hours to shabbas. "Coco-pop, you need to move over. I can't reach the cabinet."

"But I'm making challa! Can I have sprinkles?"

"Challa doesn't--yes, here. Sprinkles. Just move over!"

"I'm gonna take it to my room." She takes her dough, her sprinkles, her cookie shapers, and her cup of flour and gets out of my hair.

It's just because my kitchen is so tiny, wherever they stand they are blocking something. It's a tiny kitchen, that's all. It's a coffin shaped, coffin sized, teeny little old crumbly kitchen, I think to myself as my relief mixes with guilt.

Today I woke up sad. It's my grandmother's unveiling today and of course I'm missing it. My editor didn't get back to me about a story, and it's always hard to start a new one when I don't know the fate of the last one. I miss my father like missing is a physical thing, and the kids room was an unbelievable wreck--and it's so hard for me to clean when we might be moving. It's silly, but it's something that's hard for me. Like I'm cleaning something that is already not mine.

Oh,and did I mention that the kids have all been waking up up a quarter to six in G-d's holy and freezing morning?

Yeah? Bears repeating, anyway.

And the dryer broke this morning, too.

Point is, I had a cupful, roomful, a coffin sized, coffin shaped kitchen roomful of excuses for why my daughters were sent to school today by a bleary-eyed mommy with no patience.

Did I do my best with the tools that I had at that point in time? Maybe.

But part of me knows that there will always be something. A small kitchen should not keep me from making challa with my daughter. A sad morning should not stop me from taking a deep breath, counting to ten and doing it right.

There will always be a way to excuse myself and take a backseat intead of grabbing the wheel.

Life is happening right now. And I need to be here to live it because it's short. Too short to waste on excuses.

I got an early start on lunch this morning. I poured the pasta into the collander in the sink, and a cloud of steam rose up and steamed my glasses. It all vanished; the sink, the pasta,my hands, the counter, my kitchen. Gone in one second, my tiny kitchen, my world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let The Music Heal Your Soul

I am sitting here instead of getting a move on--it's Friday, and the challa is not made yet--because at 8:10 in the morning, I am on my second coffee break. I was always a big coffee drinker, and even the word coffee can make me grow misty-eyed and start spouting bad poetry, but this is ridiculous.

Last night, deep into chicken soup and carrot muffin making, I thought, I'm tired. I need a pick-me-up. And I poured myself a cup of coffee (coffee...can't you hear it? It's pure poetry.) that must have brought my total for the day to around 6 cups. Not to mention the endless teas. And it hit me that what I'd normally be doing is cranking up the music.

I have not listened to music since my father died, and I am only now realizing its place in my life. I used music all the time. I used it like band-aids, when the kids were cranky. I'll turn on something with beat, and we would dance and soon everyone would be laughing. It was a cure-all.

I'd turn it up when I was low energy and still had a lot to do. Fast music, loud music, something I could sing to while dancing around my kitchen with my wooden spoon mike.

I'd listen to classical music by the kids' bedtime. It works like a charm. They calm down, snuggle. I would also listen to soft music when writing or doing something else creative. It stirred up all that creativity. It's wonderful.

We used to dance, my father and I and all of my siblings, to the most teeth-rattlingly loud music every motzai shabbas. We would dance for what felt like hours.

I've been replacing music with coffee, and it's a poor replacement.

Music. I sing all day(until my long-suffering kids crawl under the couch to get away from it) but it's not the same as music. Except sometimes. Like when my father died.

We sang to him for days, as he lay dying. We sang to him as his heart stopped, we sang as his soul left his body. We sang as he was finally free, as we lost him forever.

My mother told me that someone who works in the ward next to where my father died said they are still talking about us, about the family that sang to their father. She said that all the nurses and aids and even doctors would find excuses to wander into his room and stay for a while, listening to the music we made, the songs that we did not write but came from our hearts and souls. We did not notice them. We were singing.

It's hard, not listening to music. I remember an all-star single that I used to listen to in high school called "Let the music heal your soul." I guess I'm not supposed to let it heal yet. Even music that makes you cry is healing, and I guess all of the raw pain that I feel about my father is how I am supposed to feel. I am not allowed to soothe it yet.

It is so interesting, this year, learning to embrace feelings that we usually do anything to get away from. I feel like crying, and I drop everything and let the tears flow. I ride the wave. This is life, I guess, getting used to death.

But for now, I got me my little music. Coffee. Cofffeeeee. Caffiene and song all in one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Baby, you make me Crazy

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a house filled with knee-high crazy people.

My sister is doing internship right now in Belview. I spoke to her the other day. "D, you would not believe the people that are here."

"Why, because they're crazy?" I asked as I grabbed a pair of scissors out of Turtle's hands before he inserted the pointy end in his ear.

"No, because they seem so normal. You talk to them, and they are all regular, good, and then suddenly they are all like, yesterday I spoke to George Washington."

"That's crazy," I said. "Princess, stop hitting your sister! WE DO NOT--"

"But she does't want to play with me!"

"She doesn't have to play--"

"Yes, she does, because I'm the queen!"

"M, can you hold on for a minute?" I said. I kissed a howling Coco-pop, informed Princess that she was not going to be queen ever ever again if she hit her sister again, pulled Turtle out of the toilet, and picked up the phone. "You were saying?"

"That it's frightening how quickly they go from regular, normal, then suddenly out comes the crazy."

Yeah, I hear that.

Knee-high crazy people in my house. The answer to "come for dinner girls!" Can sometimes be responded to with "coming Ima!" and then "I'm starving!" And then, you know, them eating it, or alternatively, with "soon!" and then with, "I hate that," and then with them not eating it and waking up at two in the morning crying for dinner.

We have princesses and kallahs, we have queens and an obsession for the two of them dressing their little brother up as a girl and calling him Sarah.

Little tiny lunatics.

And the baby. Are they born with absolutely no sense of self-preservation at all? First they smile and worm their way into your hearts. Then starts the fun. The toilet is for diving into, the door is to slam fingers on, the steps are for hurling yourself down face-first. And the garbage. Turtle will not eat tuna, but the can? Delectable. The sharper the top the better.

No, you cannot punch your sister. No, you do not need a warning. No sweetie, Hashem will not cut a hole is the sky, so you do not have to worry about neshamos raining down. Yes, sweet girl, I love you up to the sky and back. But no, we cannot fly there even if we flap our arms very very fast. No, not even if we flap them that fast. No, the table does not look better with blue painted spots all over it. GET THE WIPES! Why are you crying? I should be--- made it for me?

Crazy babies.

I sometimes feel like Big Nurse, except my little inmates are so cute, we think their behavior is normal. I am here to tell you that it is not. Because that level of cute is not normal.

It's crazy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Temper, Temper

I turned my back for a minute, I swear. But that's what they all say, right?

"Shel me ha'yeled hazeh?"

I ignored the voice in the hallway. My yeled was right--


I found myself in the hallway, hand over my heart. I live on a fourth floor, and by the steps there is a space--

--you know what, I can't even think about it.

"He's mine! Sheli!" I shouted to my neighbor, and that's when I realized that he was on the roof.

"Who left the door open! Who did it!" I shouted at my daughters drive-by style as I ran to claim Turtle. I shot a relieved smile at my neighbor. He did not return the smile.

"Zeh mamash sackana!" He scowled. It's very dangerous!

Are you kidding me? I felt the smile freeze on my lips. "Ken, ani yodaea." Yes, I know. Do you not see me freaking out? Did you think I left the door open on purpose? He is so fast. I took my eyes off of him for a second.

"Don't leave the door open!" He continued.

And I'm sorry to say that it was not self-control or good manners that kept me from saying what exploded in my head at that moment. It was simply my eye-wateringly awful Hebrew.

Because this man leaves his children waiting at their door sometimes for close to an hour after they come home from school. He is still in Yeshiva, and I pass by these kids hunched on the steps and I sometimes invite them up and sometimes tsk tsk. (And usually also in this mixture is a great deal of annoyed, because they block the steps and I have to wait for them to move and Turtle weighs roughly a gazillion pounds.)

And once when he went out he locked the kids into the house (!!!) and forgot one of them, a three year-old boy (!!!!!!) who wandered around the hallway (I sent Princess out to get him but he didn't want to come) until the locked kids inside found a key and let him in.

So back to me on the roof and all these words locked behind a wall of broken-teethed Hebrew. I let out a strangled "Todah," and went home.

I was still spewing internal venom as I sat down to help Princess wih her never-ending homework. And there was so much that I could be self-righteous about, but three cups of tea later, I realized some unpleasant things about myself.

I consider myself a non-judgemental person. But apparently, this only holds true when there is nothing to judge.

When there is, I do, and nothing except for a bad command of the language kept me from verbalizing my judgements.

And how about my temper? Am I so unsure of my parenting that one parent, whose methods I heartily dissaprove of, can ruin my afternoon with my children? Apparently, I am. Apparently, it can. Apparently, it does.

It is sobering. I'm a little ashamed. And maybe glad for the first time that I still have not gotten around to taking an Ulpan.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Holy Carboard Boxes, Batman!

Okay, so two men walked into a bar. You'd think one of them would have seen it.


Why did the woman cross the road? Who cares? Why is she out of the kitchen?


I'm moving again.


No, really.

Yeah, not so much funny.

We just moved. And we just moved before that.

This will be our fifth apartment just in this neighbohood. Maybe we are really gypies or something, and it's our fate to wander. Maybe I should get those awesome hoop earings and full colorful skirts. I already have scarves. And tamborines! I can play and sing for money!

Or just get boxes. To pack my stuff in. Again.

There's a lesson here, I know. About the transience of life and how this world is not real. I should write it up and tie it all in beautifully. But I am too grumpy because I have to MOVE, you see.

Blaugh. Argh. And other expressions of disgust usually only found in comic books.

What did the landlord say to the tennant? I'm selling the apartment and you have to leave!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

To Have Loved and Lost

You know when you're venting to a friend and she goes, "yeah, yeah, that's horrible. It's like what happened to me that other day," and suddenly you're no longer talking about you but it became about her?

So yeah, apparently I'm that friend. These days, it's all about me.

A huge talmid chacham and tzadik died suddenly, and the frum world is in shock. R' Nosson Tzi Finkel changed the face of the Mir and meant so much to so many people. He was a regular kid from Chicago who made decisions in his life that led him to become the Rosh Yeshiva of the largest yeshiva in the world. Illness did not stop him from becoming the man he was.

But when I see people write things on facebook like "We've lost a father," I get bitter. I think, no you didn't. You don't even know what that is. This is confirmed five minutes later when the same person comments on someone's status about shoes using the word OMG.

I know that it hits too close to home and I'm so sensitive now; I made a scene at the dry cleaners when the owner, trying to be a good business man and pretend that he knows me said to me, "Oh, I think your father's in town, right?"--and I promptly burst into tears, much to his horror.

When people--friends!--casually say things like "Oh I heard a great song--but I guess you can't hear it now, right?" Or, at the levaya of R' Nosson Tzvi Finkel, "Yeah, your father also suffered a lot, right?" --I cry, I cry, I'm crying right now.

I know it's raw and it still hurts so much. But I wish that I didn't always make it about me. I wish my skin was thicker, my heart quicker to judge for the positive, my mind able to excuse them. They just don't know. Thank G-d they don't know.

Thank G-d they don't know.

May we know no more pain.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hope and Change

Sometimes you realize that you had it all on backwards. Sometimes that realization puts you into spasms of humiliation, and other times it just all clicks into place. You get the "aha!" kind of feeling.

Guilt. It's a longstanding Jewish tradition. We are overachievers. We expect perfection from ourselves. I would not have a perfect mothering morning, say, and waving them off I would feel a why? I would feel her morning could have been so different if I would have only... I would feel, guilty, guilty, guilty. Who told you that you should have kids, anyway?

I always know that its counterproductive kind of thinking because my drive would be gone and I would soothe my self-wounded ego in ways that had nothing to do with what I should be doing that morning, ie, things that were productive and would build up my fragile ego again. I would wallow. I would feed the negative thoughts and then think, see? I'm not cut out for this.

I heard a speaker last night. She is not a "real" speaker, but she is a real person. She spoke about simcha, happiness, and she said that one thing that she can share about herself with regards to this topic is the fact that she never beats herself up over mistakes.

"Say what," says I.

"Like, I would say to myself, 'I did the best that I could at the moment with the tools that I had.' And move on!"

I smelled a rat. "But," I said, "Sometimes you KNOW that you did NOT do the best that you could. Sometimes you're lets say cleaning the counter and your daughter walks in and has a meltdown about something and you know you should put down the shmata and go to her, touch her, not do what you do which is continue to clean and say to her without eye-contact, 'oh hon what's wrong?'"

"You didn't have the tools at the moment to listen to that internal nagging voice. You didn't--"

"I DID. I could have PUT DOWN THE CLOTH. You simpy open your hand, and--"

"In retrosepct, yes. Right then, for whatever reason, no."

"But I could have. I knew that I should."

"So now you have a tool that you didn't have last time. You know better. You will do better."

And that was when I knew that I used guilt instead of change. If I felt bad about it, it meant that i wasn't really that bad, right? I mean, a bad mother wouldn't FEEL bad for yelling. I do, so I'm not bad.

But it was all backwards, and I guess I really knew that. Guilt is so draining. It's like spinning your wheels in mud. If I could just let it go, let it ride, then I could actually get somewhere.

My friend told me that she yelled at her daughter in the morning to get up get up GET UP, and felt horrible as she waved her off. When her daughter got home from school she apologized and then said cheerfully, "But the good news is that I yelled so much this morning that I took care of all the yelling for a year!"

There's this acting game that we play in which you pretend to be two different characters. A third person says "Change!" and the character has to switch that last sentence to something completely different.

To change, without the guilt. To allow yourself the space to acquire the tools that you need so that you react the way you want to in the moment.

It's like realizing I've been tying my shoes wrong for years and the real way is easier but my fingers keep tying them the old way, the comfortable way. I need to focus and make the new into the comfortable. "Change!"


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