Finding myself in the Middle East

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


His teeth were big and white, with spaces in between each one. His hair and beard were trimmed short. His skin was dark and his eyes had smile-lines that extended from behind the sunglasses.

Arab, I thought.

I loaded up the carriage and kids anyway and told him where we needed to go. My husband waved goodbye. "Call me the second you get there," he said.

The driver looked at me in the mirror. "Call him, he is a little afraid maybe of me."

I laughed a little, but clutched the phone.

"What is your name?" He asked Princess.

"Princess," she whispered.

"A beautiful name!" He said. He smiled. It was a very nice smile. "What a lucky girl to have such a beautiful name."

He waved at a police officer and shouted out a greeting in Arabic. The police officer answered in monotone Hebrew. "You see," he said. "He is a Bedouin. They pretend not to speak Arabic." He smiled again.

I shifted the baby, who had fallen asleep, to my other side and nudged Coco-pop, who was falling asleep.

He turned back to Princess. "Do you love Chanuka?" He said.

She nodded.

He smiled.

"Do you have a holiday like that, with lights in the winter?" I asked.

"No," he said. "But we light a fire when it is cold."

"These kind of lights are for the cold you feel inside. In your soul. You know, because of the winter and the dark. The lights make you feel like everything is going to be okay. That in the heart of winter, of sadness, it's already halfway over."

He looked thoughtful. "We light lights on Ramadan. Shaped like a moon, you know, like a banana. It is very pretty."

"It sounds pretty."

"But expensive."


A few minutes of silence. I adjusted Coco-pop's head, which had flopped forward, and put the phone into my pocket.

"Do you dress like that?" He pointed.

I looked, but saw nothing. "Like what?"

"There was a woman, wearing clothes from top to bottom, but so tight it was like she was wearing nothing. It is not right. It is not for a woman's honor, to dress like that."

"I agree. It is not tzniut."

"What is tzniut?" He asked.

"Like...well, like what you said. A woman's honor."

"Ah. Yes."

We arrived. He took the stroller out and gave me change. He smiled at Princess. "Chamuda," he said. He chucked a sleepy Coco-pop under her chin.

I took the stroller from him. "Toda," I said.

"Call your husband!" He said. "He shouldn't worry."

"Toda," I said again.Do you hate me? I didn't say. How can you hate me?

I didn't say it. And then he was gone.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It Could Always Be Worse

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a kingdom by the sea, except there was no sea because this was really in a tiny shtetl with no sea at all but that's just how these stories start, just ignore the sea part, there was a man who lived in a tiny little house. It was crowded with his family members, so crowded that he felt like he couldn't breathe.

So he goes to the Rabbi and recounts his troubles with much sighing of the sighs and crechtzing of the crechtzs. Farm animals! Says the Rabbi. Many many much of them.Bring them into your house and let them frolic!

Long story short, when he let the animals go, the house felt much bigger. And he was so happy, he felt like he really was living in a kingdom by the sea. The end.

I live in 87 square meters. It is crowded with my progeny and husband who has many much hobbies and also tools for his legitimate jobs. Also, the bird.

My two little sisters (and their two suprise friends! Surprise!) Will be here for two and a half weeks.

They are cute and I'm so glad that they are here!

I cleared off some shelves for them to put their stuff on. The shelves used to be filled with Princess' and Coco-pop's clothes. I put their clothes on the bookshelves and the books on the toy shelves and the toys in the fridge and the food--well, everyone ate it. So now I have to go make more food.If I can just squish past all the people in here to get to the stove.


I feel like it is a much less barnyard-y solution to my problem. Come the middle of January, and my house will be so big, I will be fishing at my kingdom's sea.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I put the baby in for the night (well, one can always hope) and then served the girls dinner. I then ran to the computer to squeeze in a few minutes of writing.

"Ima sit with us," said Princess.

"How do you ask for something?" The question rises automatically. I didn't even hear what she said. 'Slither' is a better word than 'slide,' I thought. I changed the word. Then I changed it back. Hmmm.

"Ima, can you please sit with us?"

"Much better," I said. Slither. Slide. I stare at the sentence.

", can you now?"

"Now what?" I look up at them, sitting by the table. They are both holding their forks. It is a dinner that they both like. Did they want something else? "Do you want ketchup with that?"

"No!" Princess said. "SIT with us."

"How do you ask?" says I.

Really? said Princess' eyebrows.

Did I already say that? "I'm coming!" I said. I came. I sat down. I wiggled a bit. "Eat your dinner, girls," I said. Slither...?

"Ima, can you feed me?" said Coco-pop.

"Three bites, and then you eat the rest yourself, okay?" Slide.

"Also me," said Princess.

I nod. They're both good words. I think I can use both if I--oh, perfect! "One second, okay?" I bolt over to the computer and quickly type in the sentence. "The smile slithered off of his face like raw egg sliding down the wall."


I hurried over and sat. I faced my girls and fed them each three bites and thought about the sentence. Was it too fun? Was it kind of gross? Was it gross but also funny? Does the grossness cancel out the funny? I wanted to run back to the computer and look at it, in black and white. Coco-pop wiggled her nose at me. I wiggled mine back. We both laughed. I fed her one more bite and pinched her nose lightly. Then I pinched Princess'. She made an I am too big for this face but her dimple peeked out.

"Ima, you know that today when I was walking to school I fell on my knee and I cried because I had blood and then I walked to school like this--" she slid off of her chair and demonstrated a hobble--"and then I got there and showed it to my morah and she said she gave me a band-aid."

Princess cries when she hurts her finger and there is not a mark. She asks for band-aids anyway, saying, "Any MINUTE now it's going to bleed, I know it!" I could not picture her walking to school with torn tights and a bloody knee.

"You were walking with M?"

"No, because she walked ahead."

"You were walking by yourself?"


I blinked at her, this big girl of mine. "And you just walked to school?"

"Yes because then I would be late if I just stayed and cried and cried!"

Big girl. Great big girl, walking to school by herself ignoring her fears and pain because she would be late.

Blink and you miss it. There they are, eating dinner, and here I am, at the table with them. The story is not yet done, the laundry not yet folded, but we are sitting in the middle of all of that, a moment in time that I can see and be a part of as long as I keep my eyes open.

(She threw a fit five minutes later about a cuticle, my big little girl. But you have to watch all of the minutes for the kind of moments that make you realize why.)

Wishing You were Somehow Here Again

I have been busy lately. Productive busy. The kind of busy that when you fall asleep, sometimes you're still dressed. Good busy. But very busy.

I went to Coco-pop's Chanuka Mesiba today. She glowed, singing the songs. My camera only shows glimpses of her; the Very Animated girl to her left enthusiastically blocked her with every shake of her candle pom-pom and her menorah cymbal, but they were very sweet glimpses.

I am not a huge fan of the productions they do in this country. They are flashy and fancy and the music they play for the girls to sing along with has a singer that completely drown them out. As I have mentioned before, I think it is a very group-think oriented exersise and goes against my American grain. I try very hard to see the positive in it, but here was positive; Coco-pop's smile and the little line betwen her eyebrows as she concentrated on remembering all of the words to the songs.

I sit in the little tiny chair, filming my girl (and her animated bench-mate) for five minutes before the battery runs out on the camera. Oops. The rest of the time I sit and watch. She is so cute. Then the mesaba winds to a close. Not! The mesaba launches into another song. It is long, the animated girl is blocking Coco-pop again, and I sit on the tiny chair holding a dead camera doing nothing for the first time in a while. And I'm thinking, Abba, Abba, I miss you so much Abba. I am suddenly aware that tears are rolling down my cheeks. Mortified, I wipe my face. They keep coming.

I think of Coco-pop, how sensitive she is to my moods and how excited she was about this day. I do not want to ruin it for her. But I can't stop myself.

Someone leans over and asks me a question. I smile and answer and do my best to get into a conversation with her in my sin-against-humanity awful Hebrew. I distract myself seaching for a word and the tears stop.

I keep busy. So busy. Because underneath the busy all I am thinking is,Abba, Abba, I miss you so much Abba.

Coco-pop wants to know what Sabba is doing in shamayim.

He is walking and talking up there. He is basking in the light of the shechina, I tell her, I tell myself. He is free. He is at peace.

I know that.

I'm not sad for him.

I'm sad for me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's All Good

Remember when I indicated that it can be hard to find something to be grateful for when life gangs up on you?

I am ashamed. I am ashamed in the face of my father.

My sister, M, had a final to study for. So naturally, she cleaned her room and baked a cake, made a slide show that she had promised a friend she would make but had been pushing off, and polished her shoes. Then she poured herself a big cup of coffee and decided to go through all of the old files on the family computer. It seemed timely.

She found a folder labeled "My Thoughts." It had last been updated in 2002. She opened it.

And this is some of what she found.

I want to thank HaShem for all the good that he has given me.


I want to thank HaShem for giving me this house, next door to a shul and a yeshiva, a with a ramp.

A rich man is one who is happy with his lot.

Looking for the Chesed in the “Ra”…if I wouldn’t be in my wheelchair, I wouldn’t learn my Mishnayos.

I keep saying to myself that “Mitzvah Gedolah Lehios B’simcha Tamid” (to rejoice always is very meritorious).

Everything is for the best.

I want to quote Christopher Reeves, “I am not my body, I am not my body.”

I’d like to thank HaShem for (my wife) and for my 10 healthy kids.

In 2002 my father was nearly blind. He was able to sit for a few hours a day in his wheelchair. He was able to support on hand with the other and type painfully and slowly with one finger.

And this is what he did with that one, nearly numb finger. He thought and typed out ways in which he could be grateful to Hashem for the illness that was robbing him of everything.

After 2002, my father could no longer sit in the wheel chair or move even one finger. But a friend of his just told us that once a week my father, bedridden and hooked up to feeding tubes and colostomy bags, would tell him what he was grateful for that week. He could barely talk, but he would breathe out words filled with happiness at his lot in life.

He had all the words even though he could not talk.

I, who can talk, am speechless.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I, Ima

Turtle can walk now.

Horray for Turtle!

Turtle can now climb onto the couch.

He can open the toddler-proof containers. He broke the child-locks on my cabinets. He adores cleaning the toilet with the toilet brush and his head. He goes on his tippy-toes to empty the silverware onto the floor and he broke all of my favorite mugs.

He smiles and snuggles and then pulls all of the wires out of their sockets. He broke my cellphone and got stuck under the bunkbed. He tries to climb up the ladder to the top bunk. He climbs into the bathtub and turns on the water.

I have never sent a child to gan until they were three years old. I have always worked around this, around having them home. I have catered from home, babysat, directed plays with an infant on my lap, tutored with the baby between my knees, Typed stories with one finger while feeding a toddler with the other hand.

Outdoorsman watched Turtle for two hours on Shabbas while I napped. I slept so soundly, I did not hear the noise that a toddler makes when he pulls the sandwhich maker out of the cabinet and pulls the milk pitcher off the counter.

I woke up and stumbled into the living room. "Thanks so much. That was great," I said to my beloved helpmeet.

My beloved helpmeet met my eyes. "Send him to gan," he uttered.

"There is no gan on shabbas," I laughed. Silly husbands.

"No, really. How do you do this every day? No wonder you're all frazzled lately."

I bristled. I am not all frazzled lately. "I am not all frazzled lately," I countered. I am totally all frazzled lately.

"Seriously, D. You should send him out. A few times a week. He'll love it, you know he will."

And you know what the problem is? He will. He will love it. He loves other babies. He is just so bored at home with me, and I can't take him out because he keeps getting colds and it's freezing out now, so I try to play with him but he needs more than that. He needs friends.

It's another expense, though. It's a lot of money. I was happy calculating how much money I was saving by having him home and counting it as money that I was earning by not spending it. If that makes sense. I do the same for my lack of cleaning help, and low-cost dinners. I'm proud of being a low maintanance wife. But how can I know which corners I'm not supposed to cut?

Well, let's look at this logically.

He would love it. And he would.

We'd find the money. Outdoorsman said it's feasable.

What else is left, that I'm still fighting this?

Me. I'm left.

I keep my kids home until they're three.




It makes me cry to think that no matter how altruistic I think I'm being, everything boils down to this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Elokai Nishama

I am just getting over a stomach bug that left me with this feeling of never wanting to put anything unantural in my body again.

It was just a bug, I think, it wasn't actually something I ate, but I feel oddly cleansed, and anything processed makes my stomach lurch.

It's funny. I think we actually always know what our body wants. That line that goes 'inside every fat girl is a skinny girl screaming to get out, but I can usually shut her up with some cookies' has some truth it it. It's not about being skinny though; it's about not treating our bodies like garbage cans. Eating right, I think, can be simple if we would just learn to listen to what our bodies are saying.

I remember my birthing class teacher saying something to this effect, her beaded necklaces jangling against each other as she leaned forward to emphasise the point. "Listen to your bodies, girls."

It was hot. We were sweaty. We were pregnant.

And because I am really 14 years old, I said, "My body says...iiiiice cream."

She laughed. In a very polite way, I think.

Point is (and I did have a point, believe it our not)that when you throw awesome tasting junk at a person like the 20th and 21st centuries have done to us (devil dogs. I cannot be alone in this.)the real signals grow weak. Like a flashlight with a dying battery in a dark forest.

But we can scrape it all away and feel the truth, because that's just how awesome we are.

I had a teacher many a moon ago who was going on and on about how awful my generation is. On and on, and we were sitting there, taking it, taking notes!

I stood up. I should not have. I was not her favorite. "We rock," I said. "We have so much garbage to deal with and we are still frum, still keeping the faith! That means we are awesome! We have to fight through so much sheker to hear the truth, and we still hear it."

The class clapped.

I might have gone on from there to blame her generation for raising us poorly because once my mouth is in motion, it takes a lever the size that can move a planet to stop it from doing that. But moving past that.

We can move past it.

Because we start off so pure.

Coco-pop said to me as we were walking to gan, "In M's house, they played not Jewish music."

This didn't sound right to me. I strained my morning brain to remember. M's house. We were there yesterday. They were playing something, like one of those annoying Jewish boys bands. "It was Jewish, Coco-pop," I said.

She shook her head. "It was NOT."

And I don't know what defines "Jewish" music (I just know that I only like a very narrow section of it) but to Coco-pop's innocent ears, that wasn't it. And I would have to agree.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't just play D'vekus 'round here. Outdoorsman and I have pretty interesting and varied tastes in music. I think we listen to good music. I think that good music is important.

But we start off pure, and we can feel when things are off.

I asked Rebbetzin Heller once what she thought about a specific tznius book the color and size of Barney the Purple Dinosaur. She said, "Why do you need 800 pages to tell you to cover your knees and elbows?"

It's buried under an avalanche of pages of Cosmo and Vogue. And maybe even under rules and measuring tapes brought out by well-meaning teachers. But I think that underneath, a light glows. We just have to dig deep down. We know what real tnuius is, each of us, inside.

We know what truth is. Hashem planted it in us from when we were young and pure.

And every morning that pure soul is returned to each of us.


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