Finding myself in the Middle East

Monday, December 31, 2012

And if You Don't Know, Now you Know

I know more about myself today than I did yesterday.

For example, I now know--it came to me in a flash, like an epiphany--why I have been spending an inordinate amount of time watching YouTube videos of military fathers returning home and surprising their loved ones. I knew because all of a sudden there were tears streaming down my face and I was sobbing, "Abba, Abba, I miss you so much Abba."

(I also knew because of the duh factor. Like, duh.)

I also know that there is so much that I can live without and so much that I cannot live without. For example,I can live without a real kitchen. I know that because our new apartment will be ready soon, but will not have a kitchen. For a year. Because we have to apply for permits and because of the blahblhablhah yawnyawnyawn official something something yada yada. Kablooey.

Point IS, we will build and temporary one out of pallet wood. And I am all, "yay!" Because Outdoorsman bought a table saw and how fun will it be to make our own cabinets? Totally fun! Awesomely fun! Wwwwrrrrrrrr! (that is the sound of a table saw. Good,eh?)

And also we get to appreciate our apartment in stages.

And I am grateful for the opportunity to work on being grateful.

(See what I did there?)

But one thing I have in my life right now that I cannot give up is Turtle's cheeks. I am going to have a hard time wiving wifout der squishy goodness. He still has way to go, but they are slimming down and while I know that that's what we want, for our kids to grow up, it breaks my heart a little tiny bit. And then I say to him, "I just know you are going to marry a girl from Australia and move halfway around the world from me,I just know it."

\(And he says, "cookie?" and smiles disarmingly and then of course I give him a cookie. And then they all ask for cookies and I give them all cookies and then they make a mess and then I glare and think that I can't wait for them to grow up and get married to someone from Australia.)

(Ignore the above. I just want to smush and kiss his cheeks all day long.

We should nuke Australia.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Some Useful Dictionary Terms


As I am tucking her into bed, an hour past her bedtime: "Ima, for my Chanuka mesiba tomorrow, can you make a cake? Shaped like a doughnut? With icing and sprinkles?"

We are out of eggs and confectionary sugar. I will have to go shopping. I say "Sure!"


Outdoorsman goes shopping for the missing ingredients.


He also buys me candy.


I take the cake out of the oven at exactly the right time.


It is still raw in the middle

Diligence: 2: 

I put it back in for ten minutes.

Inexplicable: 2:

I go to sleep.


The baby wakes up at 2:00 in the morning for a cup of milk. I wake up to a house that is filled with billowing smoke.


The oven did not explode.


The cake looked like it was made from granite. I could use it for my new kitchen as a counter top. Shaped like a doughnut.

Love: 2:

I make a new cake and wait up until 3:10 in the morning until it is ready.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Up to the Sky

When the letter arrived, it was official looking and made me sort of want to vomit and also sort of want to punch people.

"Some people," I explained to my husband as he numbly allowed the letter to flutter down onto my chicken-gut covered counter, "some people are stupid and should die.Painfully. And first we should punch them."

I chopped the chicken on the counter. Chop-chop-CHOP.

Someone told on us. We are renovating and there is a room that has been dug in from the mountain that my apartment is built into but is technically not part of the official blueprint and we have been a little nervous about the illegalness (illegalality?) of it. But there were so many things that were illegal about that apartment, and we changed so much of it to suit the neighbors legitimate complaints, that we figured that room would go unnoticed.

Plus, who does that? What does it matter to you that I have an extra room that you can't even see on the outside of the house?

Someone does that, apparently. And so not only did it not go unnoticed, but other parts of the apartment are in peril as well, parts that are considered "storage," and not part of the actual apartment, but they are part of the apartment, but they are also I DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE EVERYTHING IS SO COMPLICATED AND WEIRD are drawn over in the blueprint that accompanied the letter in heavy red lines. Now, I am no expert at Hebrew or legal stuff, but usually red lines in a sign of bad, bad stuff.

The letter arrived on Friday. Our lawyer sounded like we woke him up when we called him and told us to call back on Sunday. Perfect for an entire weekend of worrying. The layout was set, the electricity was laid out.They could just say, too bad. They could just say, rip everything out. They could just say, we don't care about your cryin' eyes.

And then I said, after the punching and murdering and vomiting urge passed, that we need to be more grateful. Because we are getting our own apartment after years of being pushed around by landlords and lack of money. We have been sweating the small stuff a bit, worrying about prices and fees and lawyers and holds and loans and maybe we lost sight a little, of the fact that we are so so lucky.

And then just because sometimes Hashem wants to say to you, "VERY good, you got it! Exactly!" I went to a shuir motze shabbas and the speaker was talking all about miracles and how they come about through us being grateful.


I am, so very.

So here is ten things that I am grateful for, in no particular order.

1. My husband. He is awesome, and funny, and talented, and cute. I am so lucky to be married to my best friend.

2. My children. They are individuals, and they bounce back in spite of me. They light up my life.

3. My mother. She is supportive and loving and we get each other and she finally figured out how to send e-mails, so yay for that!

4. My siblings. They are far, but near to my heart. And sometimes make me laugh so hard I cry.

5. My friends. They are awesome and there for me and are a great substitute for my far-away family.

6. You guys! You read and respond and sometimes argue and make me feel like I am not shouting in the dark.

7. My new house. But also my old house even though it is literally falling down around my ears. because it is a place that I can walk into and throw up my feet and make myself a coffee. It is a place to house our laughter and our tears, our ups and our downs. It is a place for us to live.

8. My words. I can express myself and be understood, and that that is a wonderful feeling. (Also, they pay me for my words! How awesome is that?)

9. My body. It is amazing. I open my eyes and see, I open my mouth and speak. I move my legs and arms and they move, walk, sit, and pretend to run. (Yeah, I need to get back into exercise.)

10. My father. It was the addition of some of his life insurance money that helped us to get this apartment, and while that can make me sad, I choose to think of that as exactly what he would have wanted; his gift to us. He is not here but he is so so much here, always in my heart, and watching out for me from above.

And now I can write a million things more, now that I got started.

But I guess the point is not just to write it; but to live it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ancestral Memory

I can't watch the video of the car bearing Ahmed Jabari being blown to smithereens. I feel the heat, the terror, the blood, the moans, the death. I try to remember his large frame manhandling the emaciated and shocky Gilad Shalit, but I still can't. I can't. The fear. The moans. The blood. The death.

Outdoorsman says that buses and trains are off limits for now. He always gets a little fussy when Hamas says things like, "now it is all out war!"

I always feel like they are just shouting in the dark, scowling like a scolded 2 year-old and saying, "Now I'm REALLY angry!" Because I never thought that they needed an excuse for terror, just the resources.

Still, you never know.

I will avoid buses.

A couple of years ago, I spoke to a Rabbi about a few things that were bothering me about living in Israel. I said how I couldn't stand the way that my kids were talking about "goyim." I hated the word "goyim,"too.

"In America, we have respect for everyone!" I said hotly.

The Rabbi smiled indulgently. "Listen," he said. "In America, the goyim are not trying to kill us. For now. Here, they are. So, we don't really like that. So we don't invite them to our Kumbaya sing-a-long."

(I might have made up that last line.)

It was like someone had thrown water into my naive face.

Because they are trying to kill us. There have been an insane amount of rockets this week alone. Thousands of people--families, kids, old blue-haired women--while I was curled up in my bed, spent last night in their shelters, waiting for the all-clear.

When I was in Neve, a girl in my apartment was shot while waiting for the bus. I missed the Cafe Rimon bomb by fifteen minutes, though I heard all about it from the girl in the room next door to mine. She threw up in the toilet and cried on the floor of the bathroom for hours.

It is so hard to wrap my mind around it. I see them in my park. One man puts his daughter on the swing and smiles at her as she squeals. A woman rocks her baby to sleep. My neighbor says, "You have to glare at them when they come! They have to know that they are not welcome here!"

Instead, I watch them, father and daughter, swinging past the green trees in the clear blue sky. And I think, no. It can't be. Look at him, smiling at her.

Outdoorsman makes a face when we are in the old city and a nun walks by in heavy black fabric. I say, they are our friends. Outdoorsman says that for a Jew, I have a very very short memory.

Today, while I was bringing Turtle to gan, a man passed by. He walked slowly, hunched up around himself, and wore a child's backpack. Short hair, short beard. Arab.

I wrapped my arms around Turtle and walked faster. I scolded myself for leaving my cell phone at home.

Vagabond? Or terrorist?

I wasn't sure. But from my heart, straight into my mind, shot one single word.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paying in Forward

I was so afraid that I wouldn't know what to say to her. I sent up a quick tefila before I even opened my mouth.

Put the right words into my mouth. I am doing this for Your sake.

"Hi," she said to me on the phone. She felt a little silly, I could tell, vulnerable and intimidated. Intimidated by whom?

By me?

"I don't really know where to start," she said.

"Just talk in any order. I'll jump in when you stop for breath," I said.

She laughed. And went on to tell me that her pregnant belly, with its stretch marks, is making her cry. It's all she can think about; it's hugeness, and how her skin is getting ruined. "I feel so stupid. I mean, I have everything. Really! Great family, great husband, no money worries. I know that I'm carrying perfectly; little belly, and the rest of me is still skinny. I'm pretty.I have everything. And then there's this, always, hanging over me. Why can't I stop thinking about it? Why can't I get past it? I try to imagine how incredibly happy I would be if I didn't care so much."

We spoke for over an hour. I told her stuff. I told her about happiness, how it is within, not without, about challenges, how if we didn't have internal struggles we might as well be dead. About accepting your feelings and not using the phrase "I shouldn't be feeling this way!" About aging and true beauty and lines on the skin which, if they went away, will always be replaced with something else to focus the obsession on.

I told her that it is hard, and we live in a material world and we are material girls (I told her that I made that up by myself; she was impressed) and it's always a fight.

And I sounded wise and knowing and I felt wise and knowing because I know from whence I speak. Because as different as we are and always were--my life was always very far from "perfect"--I remember being so lost and so sad and so confused. I remember thinking, but this is not how my life was supposed to be. I was not supposed to be spending it calculating my calories so that I would know how many stomach crunches to do tonight and tomorrow morning. 

And how I remember the people who put out their hands to grasp my flailing one as I search blindly for dry land.

And then after she thanked me profusely and I told her to call back when she wants to, I sat down and thought to myself, this feels so nice.

And I thanked Hashem for all of the opportunities that I have in my life to pay it forward.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Past Tense

Want to know the worst thing about him being gone?

Okay, it's not the worst thing about him being gone.

I mean, the worst thing about him being gone is Him, Being, Gone.

But one of the worst things?

That every memory, funny or sweet or otherwise, is laced with him being gone. Even things that were funny are now wouldn't that have been so funny if he wasn't gone...

Every anecdote is coated in a layer of death. You don't get laughter when you tell over the funny story of how one time my father was... You get sad smiles and eyes filled with cloying understanding sweetness of oh, how you must miss him so. And the uncomfortable body language. Shift, shift. As if hiding your living father behind your body. I don't want your living father! Keep him! I just wanted to tell you a funny story!

But when the subject of your story is dead, nothing is just funny.It has gone beyond that earthly emotion. It is now all in the realm of nostalgia.

"My father said that joke all the time! That's so funny that it's also your family joke! We would throw tissues at him! Soooo corny!"


"My parents were also a foot apart in height.My mother had to run to keep up with him when he was strolling."

Tsk, tsk,.

"One time my father picked me up from school and there was that poem on the wall, 'A Smile Costs Nothing,' and he thought it was so amazing that he read the whole thing out loud--really loud--to me as all of my friends were walking out of class. I was so embarrassed, I wanted to sink into the floor."

Ah, yes. A sad dead story about her sad dead father.

No! No! It was funny! And you were just talking about your father embarrassing you, and I said a story about my father embarrassing me, and...and...yeah, okay, let's all shift uncomfortably and talk about recipes.

Also? So many italics in one short post! You know what? It reminds me of that time that my father...

Oh, forget it.

Edited to Add: But for real? Methinks I protest too much.

Because maybe--just maybe--they are picking up on the lurch in my heart that I get whenever I say the name "Abba."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Echo, Echo

Hi, ya'll!

Yeah. So lots happened, but mostly just busy and then my father's deathiversary and then emotional and speechless and then listening to lots of music with tears streaming down my face and new clothing feels SO GOOD! and more busy and then lots of cooking and a little more busy and the kids home and the keys still not being in our hands for the new apartment and then--

here I am!

so thanks for waiting for me!

both of you!

The yartzeit was...well, can I say wonderful? Because I want to say wonderful. I flew in by myself which is the best thing everevereverever--I loaded up my kindle and reeeeeead, I watched Brave (and annoyingly the princess looked like Coco-pop and had an attitude like Princess just when they were totally not leaning on various parts of my body) and The Avengers and I loved it because I am a nerd and that is okay.

I had a stopover in London and there was a Starbucks and I thought, yay! And stood on line for a Soy Chai. But then I wondered off the line and was sad because you travel to a different country. So shouldn't things be, well, different in that different country? Starbucks in England? Seriously? There should be like a Tea and Scones store. Sadness.

And then I went back on the plane and I read some more. Nothing awesome, but it was awesome. Because I was  reading, and no one was saying, "IIIIIIIIIIma!" Just a woman in a uniform and jaunty scarf who said, "Excuse me ma'am, tea or coffee?"

Yes. BOTH.

And then my sister picked me up from the airport and then it hit me! I was going to spend three days with my siblings! It was so wonderful.

So something my father would do for me.

The unveiling left me a little hollow. I flinched when I heard the echoes of my own wails from a year ago, from when they were lowering him into the grave; but the day now was so beautiful and the kids were playing with the rocks in the green grass in the bright sunshine and all I could do was murmur;  "Abba, I miss you. I love you. Your stone is beautiful." My brother spoke and I thought, he speaks like I write. 

The meal was nice; it was only family, as we wanted it, but there's a lot of us, and my other brother spoke and then I handed everyone a book, the book of their memories of our Abba, and I gave my mother the painting that I had had made of my father and all of his words of gratitude painted around him, and then we showed her the slideshow we made of my father and the song about him and I had my arm around her the whole time. We watched it three times.

After things and aunts and uncles petered out, after it was dark outside and the day was over, my brother came downstairs holding a guitar. He strummed and winced. "Needs tuning," he said.

But then we kicked out the brothers-in-law and sat around the living room on chairs and couch and floor and as my brother played guitar with fingers that had lost their calluses over the long year of no music, we sang songs, some new, some old, and then we thought, music! And we turned on some music, and it was good because my father loved music. He used to buy every single Jewish record/tape/CD that came out. And I mean every single one. And he would turn them up loud--so loud!--until the walls shook and we all had no choice but to dance.

It was a short time and a long time all rolled up in one, and when I came back home to my little family, I wasn't sure if I had just seen them a minute ago or lifetimes ago.

So--lots more to say about lots more stuff, but I'll leave you with what I wrote in my chapter of the book that we put together about my father.


For the brave souls who stuck around!

Both of you!


It’s been, always, until it stopped. It’s like when someone turns off the music and only then do you realize that it had been playing the entire time. And in the sudden absence of sound you startle and say, what’s that?
What’s that?
It’s your heart, Abba. It’s the beating of your heart.  
  Your heart is, of course, legendary.  It’s the first thing referred to when someone tries to explain what kind of person you were. My gentle, giving Abba, bringing home strangers in the middle of the night because they had no place to go is just one example of how you viewed  our home and all material things; in terms of how they can be shared. Everyone can recite the rest. You read stories and we would wait for the moment when your voice would crack, stop; and then one of us would run to get you the tissues. The tzeduka you gave to strangers. The love that you had for your family and the loose definition you had for family. All that you did came from your heart.
But I’m also talking about your heart. Your actual, beating heart.
It was because of a song, an Uncle Moishy song, a song that frightened me. It was a scary song. (It was!) A boy had a messy room, and he would not clean it up. Because of the mess he lost his bed, and his head, and other things that rhymed with “ed,” (bread?) and I am sure the moral was simply; clean your room, boys and girls! But I didn't hear the lesson; instead, I saw the boy in my mind, as lost and as scared as I was then, a little girl for whom people and events moved too fast, a little girl who wondered, bewildered, how everyone else seemed to know the secret language of making friends while she was left to doodle, read, and dream.
The other day, as my kids colored with their new markers, we had an Uncle Moishy marathon playing in the background. When The Song went on, I cast a sideways glance at my daughters, and saw that they were laughing.
“Ima, it’s so silly! He lost his head!” Princess said.
 “He lost his head! So silly!” Coco-pop echoed.
So silly! I agreed, and laughed with them. And I didn't tell them that when I was little that idea scared me so much, I would make sure never to be in the room when the first song of the tape (record?) began to play.
Except that one time.
I’m not sure why I stayed. I think because it was cozy. Ima was there, and Abba was sitting on the brown chair in the middle of the room. Everyone else was perched on chairs, couch, carpet; teasing, laughing, singing. It was something to be a part of, I guess, something I wanted to be a part of.
When the song came on, I panicked. “Turn it off,” I said softly, then louder. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” but no one listened. No one heard me. I felt the smallness of myself, of my voice, and I knew that they would never hear me, least of all if I screamed.  So I tried to run. I heard their laughter, because honestly, how silly! And halfway down the hall I felt my legs turn to jelly, and I fell.
But this is a story about your heart Abba, not about the fears of a small girl who has long ago outgrown them, so it’s really about what happened next.
You picked me up and carried me to the brown chair in the middle of the room and you let me cry against your chest and I did cry; I sobbed, unable to catch my breath, my heart beating wildly, until I heard it. The slow, steady beating of your heart. It was like a port in the storm. It was the most comforting sound in my world, and I leaned into your chest and let my heart listen to your heart until they matched in tempo.
And I was little, but I thought, that’s why I stayed here today.
I knew that everything happens for a reason. And that everything was going to be all right.
I listened to your heart again, when I was older and I could not accept how sick you were getting. It hurt me, what was happening to my strong and handsome Abba, and you saw how deeply it hurt me. And so you apologized. You pulled your wheelchair alongside me. “I’m sorry,” you said, and I opened my mouth to say sorry? Why are you sorry? I’m sorry! But instead of words, out came a flood of tears. I covered my mouth with my hand but they wouldn’t stop. I leaned into you, and heard it; your steady, patient heartbeat. I breathed in and out, in and out, in and out, and gradually my heartbeat slowed down to match yours.
Everything happens for a reason. Everything is going to be alright.
And it’s been, always, in your voice, and then when you had no voice, in your eyes. Even when I was 6,000 miles away, and I wrote letters to you, and Ima would call me and say, “I read it to him, and he’s smiling.” And I would hear it through the phone lines; your heart, Abba; the beating of your heart.
When it slowed and stopped, it happened so suddenly. It was me, Y and M around the hospital bed, and we knew that viddui was to be said when it was almost over, and then suddenly Y asked, “Now? Should I say vidui now?”
And I got angry. He’s not gone yet!  “Not yet! Y! Wait until he is almost—!”
“D,” Y said, “Look at the monitor.”
And Y said viddui as your heart slowed, stopped. And we sang “mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha” as your heart slowed, stopped. And something in me slowed, stopped as your heart slowed...and stopped.

I guess I just couldn't believe it. I guess I could not believe that it was possible for that heartbeat to ever, ever stop.
I grieved its loss—your loss—all year. But you left your heart here, down here, with us, didn't you? As more people tell their stories of you and as I remember my own, I can almost hear it; its slow and steady beat, telling me that everything happens for a reason. And that everything is—and is going to be—alright.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eizeh hu ashir

While brooding about our apartment woes, Outdoorsrman went to work and I drank a vodka and orange juice as the kids destroyed the house played with the children for hours on end.

It's funny about vacation, right?  Summer vacation!! My heart skips a beat! Then I realize, oh. 

So I have been keeping them busy and letting the house slide a bit, which is so so hard for me, but right now I am typing this while their wet towels are scattered on the floor, the garbage can is yet to be graced with a new garbage bag, and there just seems to be a general stickiness in the air.

But I was distracted, too, thinking about the apartment, how every time I can almost allow myself to feel that is will be ours, it's moved out of our grasp. And my apartment, here? Is falling apart around my ears. For serious. It's like the apartment is expiring. Or giving up. Like, what the heck, it's saying. I can't do this anymore. I'm tired. Plonk. The nob falls off in the bathtub.

Outdoorsman came hom early and the babysitter came because Outdoorsman and I had an appointment at the bank. Da-da-da-duuuum.

But no. Because they called. They cancelled.

We looked at each other. I don't remember the last time we had hired a babysitter, and the possibilities were endless!

We decided to get all wild and crazy and go out for coffee. We might have giggled over the idea. Just sayin. ANYWAY, we took a walk afterwards, and Outdoorsman told me about this guy that he bumped into on the way home from work.

"He was flagging a cab down and he barely spoke Hebrew. Almost none. Fresh off the boat from Russia. A cab pulled up and told him, 80 shek. He said, "lo, lo." I went into work for a few minutes and then I had to go back down and go on an errand for a part that I needed. He was still out there, trying to flag down another cab. I asked him where he was going. He was headed in my direction, so I told him that I would take him.

"D, he is so lost. He has no family. No no one. No job. He doesn't speak a word of Hebrew. He wasn't complaining, I was asking him and he was answering, but it was crazy to bump into this man who has nothing just as I was in a frenzy about the apartment."

A friend of mine calls problems like ours "upper class issues." They are not worries of hunger, or sickness, death, exposure. I have a place to live. I have beautiful children, a wonderful husband. We make enough money for all the basics and some extras besides.

It's true. I look around and see; I all of my problems are of the first class sort. Because really? Look.

I have everything.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Go, My Son

I break stuff.

Once, when I was pregnant, I managed to smash into tiny shards my entire set of fleishig dishes at the same time. I was only lifting half of the dishes into the cabinet, but when they slipped out of my swollen fingers, they landed on the other half waiting on the counter.

I break stuff. This year, I have broken the deep freezer by leaving the door ajar all night, I have broken my brand new computer by letting one of the kids drink a cup of milk while they were looking at pictures--which, of course, promptly spilled across the keyboard and fried out all of its inner workings, I have broken--well, had stolen--the garbage can. I left it outside for a few hours. When I came back, it was gone.

I broke the dryer by putting in a soaking wet load and snapping the thinga-ma-worly-thingy.

The air conditioner broke. It wasn't my fault--probably--but I was the only one home, the one who turned it on. So default my fault. Our phones hardly work--also, probably not my fault, but with my track record, who knows?

And I hope I am not breaking Princess. I pray that I am not breaking her.

And I've been thinking lately, about the Land spitting you out. Because we have lived in apartment after apartment and it always ended too soon and in tears. We laugh about it to friends--ha ha! We are nomads! We are free spirits! We are a segulah for landlords to sell!--

But you know? It's not funny, living in unrenovated fourth-floor walk-ups that are covered in mold and falling apart around my ears. That would be okay, actually. I Can Do. But then it's not even ours. The landlord is trying to sell it, and even doing my daily housekeeping seems futile and pointless, like I am already cleaning someone else's house.

 Last night, the tris to the tiny mirpeset flung itself down and  broke, and now we can't get out. We are stuck in our tiny box in the sky.

I break things.

But we are moving! I say, we say to each other. Everything will be different in our own place, in a big place, a place that will have room for everyone, a place that we will tailor make to suit ourselves. (Read:I am so buying the Ikea Bar Cabinet.)

Yes. But the morgage? Not going so well. At all. Yeah, going really bad, for No Good Reason. Really.

And it all seems so pointless and hopeless and a little bit broken. (and I probably broke it.)

So now I am thinking; how can one tell the difference between the yisurim of Eretz Yisrael--and being told to leave?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sea Salt

I won't romanticize it.

That's what I thought for the two hours that flew by like minutes, with the sun and the spray of the surf and the laughing children with their long, healthy limbs glowing and wet and then sandy. We will make a tunnel to China!

"I love it! The water, I love it!" said Coco-pop, who has been morbidly afraid of water since she went under last summer, her eyes open wide, fear shaking her little body as I pressed her to me, you're okay, you're okay, I got you, Ima's got you and Turtle, whose vocabulary has tripled since his second birthday last week echoed,

"Love it!"

Princess did not have to tell me that she loved it. Her normally rigid existence,  pinned down with her self-made rules, was a wild thing, a free thing, as she ran into the waves and let them hug her as she seldom lets me.

I threw a clump of wet sand at her, and at first she froze, unsure. Then she tried being miffed and crying. Then she ran over to me, hands outstretched, and at first I thought that she wanted a hug, but no, she rubbed sand onto my shirt, my scarf, and I said, "Princess!" spitting out wet sand and then laughed and we ran, together into the waves.

I thought that I didn't understand her. Her rules and her cutting brilliance, her high IQ that puts her into the "gifted" category and makes life into a thing that is hard for her, is all from Outdoorsman's side. But I found that in certain things she is me. I pretend not to worry but I worry so much, like her. In the water, my eyes dart from child to child. "Where is Turtle??" I scream, scanning the water for a bobbing head, and then we all laugh; he is in my arms. She worries about everything and I tell her, Don;t worry, stop worrying! that's what Ima and Abba are for, but I remember worrying when I was her age, worrying about the dark and what it was hiding from me.

I drank a beer, cold from the cooler, because I wanted the salty taste of the beach on my lips, in my belly, as I watched my children and husband build a tunnel to China, their shrieks as the sides caved in and China, ever illusive, dissapeared from view.

After two hours, Princess needed the bathroom, Coco-pop got a cut on her finger, Turtle sensed the change in mood and decided to be overtired, and we dragged our wet things and the scorching hot sand burned the soles of our feet and sat in the car and the traffic, sticky and uncomfortable and sunburned.

But before that, there was our day on the beach. Unromanticized. But perfect.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life Here, Smushed


Therefore, my brain tells me to stare blankly at my toe nails and then decide that they really need to be polished.

I never polish my toe nails. Or my fingernails. I don't even own nail polish.

And what about the kitchen counter? It needs scrubbing! And YouTube is so lonely and needs watching!

And now it is a quarter to one and the kids need picking up and I have scrubbed counters and watched YouTube and have shiny toe nails and a feeling of panic in my chest.

Also? My air conditioner died and I am sitting shiva for it in shorts and a t-shirt and a glistening, glowing forehead.

Also? I saw a cat get run over TWICE--just to add insult to injury--and I can't get it out of my mind.

Also? Princess left this message on my husband's phone. "Abba, I hope you are working good. If you pass by a store and you want to go in and it has beautiful clips, I need a beautiful clip. Like, a sparkly one? Maybe blue? But if not blue then whatever, if it's beautiful. So can you go in and get it? If you see it."

So I wish her husband all the best.

Also? Coco-pop said her favorite colors are black and blood.

So I wish her husband the best.

Also? Turtle is really a little fat hurricane. He leaves unbearable cuteness and random acts of senseless violence in his wake.

Also? Red tape. When you buy apartments. Wrap up every last inch of you until you are like a red-tape burrito.

Also? I want to hug and smush every person that I just mentioned in this post. (Except the cat. It is already smushed.)

Does that make me crazy?

Yeah, probably. Or maybe I just found another way to push off everything that I need to do. Free hugs for everybody!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Best-Laid Plans

Coco-pop drew a picture last week and presented it to me proudly. "Oh wow," says I, the proud mother, at loss for words. "It is so very. So very very!"

"See what it is?" she said, light shining from her eyes.

"It's. A! Um! Girl?" I threw a dart. The dart broke the lightbulbs in her eyes.

"It's a turtle," she said dully, and turned away.

"A GIRL turtle?" I said desperately, and just like that, boing! Lights back on.

"Yes," she said, pleased. "A girl turtle."

I have so much planned for my father's first yartzeit. I am putting together a book--not to be published, just for us--in which every one of my siblings writes a chapter. I told them it can be ten words or ten pages, and then I will edit it and put it together and my wonderful friend will make a cover and then I will find one of those online-y places to put it into book form and makes copies for everyone.

Then I am planning a paper cut. Not like the type you get on your fingers and then hear the sound of in happening over and over again, O clever and snickering Internet. The type that you frame. A paper cut of the lines that we found on the computer that my father wrote, for my mother to hang up over his old desk.

My sister and I will record, thousands of miles away from each other, (Internet, you is amazing! Mwah!) a song that she wrote for my father while he was dying, and then we will maybe set it to a slideshow of pictures of him.

And I am going in. For billion dollar tickets, for three days, I will leave the progeny with Outdoorsman and he will suffer care for them as I do. I am arranging play-dates for every afternoon, so he won't kill them can work/learn.

I am trying to understand my strong feelings about this, that I need it all to happen, that I need it to go smoothly, that I have a knot in my stomach when I think about that sibling who is dragging his feet with the writing, or the fact that I have not settled on a studio yet. you only have two more months! said my inner voice.

I know, I know, I answered it. I'll get there. There's lots of other things happening. Ima just came to visit for two weeks and I took her all over, and we just bought an apartment...

and you also need to lose ten more pounds! my inner voice added.

Ah. You showed your hand, Inner Voice.

I know you, now. It will be beautiful and wonderful and my waistline has nothing whatsoever to do with it. I will do my best with everything that I piled on my plate, but no one can ask for more then that.Least of all, myself.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Happiness, misunderstanding of

"If I had less space and the kids crowded around me more, that would be the best," said no one ever.

I am cooking in the kitchen and my helpers are having a knock-down drag-out about whose apron is whose, and their flailing bodies manage to block every single cabinet that I need. And I am calm--well--calmer, because I am thinking, my new house will have an island and they will sit there and smile and be sweet as together we make shape cookies and put them carefully into the spotless oven

So yeah.So first, yay! Because we have to get the mortgage approved and sign a bazillion papers and maybe cry a little and eat a lot of pasta, but then we are going to move!  And be nomadic no more! Our own place; no one can kick us out! (unless they give it back to the Arabs, of course, there is always that. Crazy world. Nuf said.) To a big apartment and it has a garden and a porch the size of my current everything and it is gutted so oh well we have to renovate it, and it is going to be awesome.

And my mind says, Yes! And it will also be perfect! And the birds will sing and dinners will be perfectly balanced yet surprisingly tasty and the kids will start eating things like broccoli and I will never raise my voice!

It's been a hard year for a lot of reasons, but also and especially my father died and for a while nothing seemed worth anything. Conversations in the park were insipid(er) and cookie making was draining. But there is grieving and then there is sadness, and sadness covers everything with a thin, dampening layer. And while I have experienced sadness in the form in which helping yourself means accepting that for right now you can't do it by yourself, real sadness, regular sadness, is a choice. If I relinquish that control and put that choice onto anything external--new house, non coo-coo for Coco Puffs kids, a smaller waist--I will never be happy. There will always be something else--when I get THAT, I will be happy--and my hands, reaching reaching reaching--will always be empty.

Also, this happened:

(walking home from gan, sipping on bottled water, with my mind on the heat and the heat on mind)

Coco-pop: "Ima, the scary lady pinched Zahavi, and it hurt her."

Me: #freakingouteverymothersnightmare "When? Which lady? In the park? WAS THIS IN THE PARK?"

Coco-pop: "No, on her ears she pinched her."

Me: "....?"

Coco-pop: "It feels like it. When Zahavi got earrings. So can I get earrings? Just with no pinch."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cast off the Shackles! Or, please Pay by the first of the Month

"Princess, put down that marker this instant, and go to the bath! Before it gets cold!"

"No! I can't! I need to finish this picture first!"

And of course I get annoyed, and of course I mumble between gritted teeth what are we going to do with a girl who doesn't know how to listen to her Ima and of course I take the marker out of her hand and march her straight to the bath.

But a teeny tiny part of me is glad to hear her loud, firm, chutzpadik NO. 


Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a girl.

Yeah, whatever, she was me, you get that.

Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, I was saying that there was a girl. And she could not say no.

This was bad, because there are people who, like the dogs they are, smell weakness. They smell prey.

This blog has a number of posts that never made it past draft stage. Most of them are about that time in this girl's life. Because I share all sorts of things with you, O Internet, but there are all sorts of things that I never will.

There are some places in your mind that you can never go into again. And not because you  are not healed; you are. But because you are not that person anymore, and the box no longer fits.

Of course it no longer fits.  Now this girl is a grown-up! She is ME, as I so cunningly lifted the curtain and revealed to you! And she can now stand up for herself!

Except that it still gives me a stomachache. It's like I reevaluate my worth every time I need to take a stand. Am I worth bothering this person? If I send the e-mail demanding explanation, she will have to take the time to explain. Am I worth that time?

Of course, I am worth that time. Of course. I know that. 

Completely not mysteriously at all, this theme keeps coming up again and again in my life.

And I take my sword and have at thee.

Because I am all grown up. Now it's time to take care of myself. Now is the time to say no.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Turtle and Peace in the Middle East

Outdoorsman is a big man. Not a fat man; a big man. The football coach in high school cried real (manly, I am sure) tears when Outdoorsman stayed loyal to his chosen sport of La Cross and refused to join the football team. He benches his body weight with his legs. He likes fishing and beer, usually at the same time. His face glows when he works with his hands. He is Man. Frequently, he roars.

Turtle is, limb for limb, feature for feature, his mini-me. Except for my eyes, which seem to be superimposed on his chubby-wubby face with Photoshop, he is all Outdoorsman. He was the first infant that I have ever seen with broad shoulders. 

And, like most manly men, he is secretly a softy. 

I'm talking about Turtle, of course! Outdoorsman is ALL man. No soft sides at all! (He's also reading over my shoulder as I write.) 

So, Turtle.  He is a sensitive little boy who runs after other children in the park with his arms outstretched--not to hit, but to hug. They run from him anyway, and sometimes he has to hold them down to administer the hug, but it is with love, you see. 

He is also sensitive to whatever bug is going around, poor baby. This year he has had mono, ear infections, strep, numerous little 24-hour stomach bugs and...I think that's it. He also had a hairline fracture, but that's not a bug, that is a five year-old boy jumping straight onto his leg. OLD ENOUGH to know better. (I have totally let go, of course.) 

Then, for shavuos, instead of learning torah and being mekabel naaseh v'nishmah and eating cheesecake and lazagna, we ended up in the hospital because my poor little sensitive boy with the broad shoulders and the girly eyes turns out to be allergic to mosquito bites. 

We also ate cheesecake. But not happily. Not happily at all. 

He got bitten too close to his eye, and needed to get intravenous antibiotics. Outdoorsman and I took turns with him in the hospital for two days. We chased him up and down the hallways and stopped him on numerous occasions from pulling out other children's IVs. 

There are so many emotions that were brought up from all of the tiny little worlds that happened over our forty-eight hour hospital stay; 

--The chiloni nurse's reaction to our telling her that we want to move to neighborhood X even though it is not so chareidi because it's okay with us not to live only around people who are exactly like us; "I never heard anyone say that before," she said. And smiled. 

--My wonderful, wonderful friend who stepped in and watched the girlies and said, "Don't say thank you, it's the only natural thing to do!"

--the couple who brings food to the hospital every shabbas and yom tov--challa and little containers of gefilte fish, baggies of croutons to go with chicken soup, plates piled high with liver and potato kugel--I don't come from that world, but my heart was warmed by such a heimeshe feast even as it gave me indigestion. They've been doing it every week for a very long time. Then the woman  asked; can you take over for us? We laughed, and she said, no seriously. And we are thinking about it.

--All the sick children! My G-d, all the sick children! I could cry a river over all of the sick children.

--Outdoorsman lining up awesome chavrusos for himself for shavuos night; and then, not being able to learn at all. What does it all mean? He finds meaning; he always does. 

But this post will be about Turtle's attempt at making peace in the Middle East, so I will end with that.

I mentioned Turtle's tenancy to hugging, right? 

So there was a thin little boy there, and his mother hovered over him. Turtle ran after the little boy with his arms outstretched and hugged him over and over again while I shot apologetic glances at his mother, who wore a pretty scarf. She tied it differently from mine. She was an Arab. 

"He's not contagious," I said quickly. "It's from a mosquito bite."

She gestured that it was okay, and we watched the two toddlers play. I made sure that Turtle would not knock her slight-looking boy over.

"Aich kar'im lo?" I asked.

"Abdulla," she answered. 

She looked tired, and I said "I hope he feels better."

"He won't," she said. "He has hemophilia."

"I'm sorry," I said. Tears sprang to my eyes, as they always do, and I usually look away, blink them away, but instead, spontaneously, I let her see, that there were tears in my eyes for her. I saw her own eyes widen in surprise. 

Turtle played with Abdulla and I noticed all of the Arabs watching him, watching and smiling at my big boy-boy. "Chamud," said a man with a severe mustache, his arm around a pale girl around ten. Another Arab man brushed Turtle's hair away from his face and was rewarded with a scowl. Laughing, he put the lock of hair back and winked at him. Turtle laughed back.

Outdoorsman hates that they use our hospitals. He says it's like a curse from the torah, that we cure our enemies. I refuse to see them as anything other than people, but even I will admit that I am afraid of them, when it is dark and I'm alone in the house and there is a strange noise coming from the bathroom. (It's the pipes, it's the pipes, go to sleep!)

But here, in the pediatric ward...we all love our children, don't we? 

Don't we?

There was another Arab woman there. She smiled at Turtle  and at me. She did not know any Hebrew and she kept trying to talk to me in slow, clear, Arabic--don't we do that too, to foreigners, as if that will help them understand?-- but I did not know what she was saying. Whenever we bumped into each other in the hallway, we smiled brightly and apologetically at each other and shrugged our shoulders. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dancing in the Darkness

I was hunched over Facebook, reading the various 'what's on your minds' of the asifa, some gleefully bashing

--Oh, I told you, I SAID they wouldn't say anything meaningful--

to saddened

--I thought they would say something to help, not just compare us to dor hamabul and mitzrayim--

and I was nodding and shaking my head and drinking a lot of coffee. Why don't they GET us, why don't we have the leaders like those of yesteryear (I shamefully use words like 'yesteryear' when melodramatic enough)

and that's when the music started.

No, not in my head, I'm not completely over the edge yet--but outside.

The mood I was in was black, ye ken, and foul indeed. For reals, though, there has just been so much, so much happening lately to shake my faith in our leaders, to feel orphaned and alone.

Outdoorsman agrees, but he also has something so strong in him that I do not have. He is a baal teshuva and also a smarty-pants who came to this life through philosophy and logic, not through the people who claim to represent Judaism, and he does not shaken easily. He'll even say sometimes, "Wouldn't it be funny if we were all wrong and everything was really on its head? And they were all right?" It's enough, sometimes, to entertain that idea, enough to know that with all of my blustering, I know nothing.

But sometimes, although I might play devil's advocate the other way, I can get so disheartened. Like this asifa. What is it, I ask of you? Was anything new said? Was it necessarily to  speak in Yiddish to a crowd of Americans? What are we becoming? Are we smaller than our nisyonos? Do our gedolim not believe in us? If they did, they would give us tools, not just make us feel really small, too small to climb such insurmountable heights.

But then, the music.

And the foul mood, yes, made my first reaction--I just put the baby to bed, and he's teething! Turn that down!

But then the music got louder and louder and I closed the windows in the kids rooms and  I went to the window in the living room to see what was going on.

There was the largest, most gaudily decorated truck I have ever seen, with winking lights of all colors and a flame that was actually a flame-colored cloth blowing around in a glass box affixed to the front of the truck.

Following the truck were my people.

All different kinds of them.

Black hats and no hats, beards and clean shaven, white shirts and colored, all dancing, dancing, dancing, to the blaring music. At the sides, little girls with their hands on each others shoulders made long, giggling trains while the boys seemed more determined to cause bodily harm with the torches that they held.

And in the center was an old, old sefardi Rabbi in a long white robe, holding a Torah covered in hard, glittering silver. Even from my fourth floor perch I could see that his eyes were closed and tears were on his cheeks.

I felt answering tears on mine.

Sometimes right and wrong, together with right and left, melt away. Nothing else really matters anymore, not really, when we all put our arms around each other in the presence of our holy Torah and dance.

(although if they wake up Turtle, there will be hell to pay.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Our Futile Search for a Pet

Outdoorsman says, when I wax poetic about how wonderful it will be in our larger apartment, that the size of the apartment doesn't matter; no matter what, the kids will always be clinging to my skirts.

Three days ago, Coco-pop, who had been playing downstairs with a neighbor, came running into the kitchen where I was washing dishes with Turtle attached firmly to one of my legs. "Ima!  Come see!"

"Can we keep her?" said Coco-pop, as soon as I approached the spot that she had led me to, to the right of the garbage room.

Why do we always assume cats are she? was my first thought.

My second one was, oh, no.

The kitten was just a few days old, by the looks of her. She was mangy too, and shaking from paw to whiskers from some unknown but probably deadly disease. Outdoorsman had given her a little dish of milk, but she looked too young to know what to do with it.

Tears came to my eyes, and, annoyed--it's just a cat!--I blinked them away. "Sweetie, this kitten is too young to take home. She needs her mother. Let's leave her here, for her mother to find." and I turned away.

Turtle was fascinated, and I had to hold him back from certain kittenacide. Coco-pop pouted, and Princess pretended to be upset as well, even though I could tell that she was relieved. Things that can jump unexpectedly  frightened my hyper-aware eldest daughter.

The next morning, I went to check on the kitten. I pretended that I was doing nothing of the sort, however. I lugged out my garbage bag half-empty instead of my usual preference of stuffed-and-almost-ripping-and-slightly-oozing, and went to the garbage room. I let my eye drop casually on the spot she had been yesterday.

She was gone.

Slight hope sprang in my heart. If she was gone...she couldn't be dead, right? Maybe she was okay.

Why did I care so much, is the deeper question, I thought as I tossed my too-light load into the garbage  bin, making sure, as I always did, that no cats were inside waiting to be squished by a well-flung garbage bag.

Well, they are mammals and they can feel pain. So it makes sense that I care about them. 

This morning, I walked into my building and stopped in my tracks at a sudden movement that streaked in front of me.

The sudden streaky movement had a tail and whiskers. "It's the kitten!" said I.

But it couldn't have been the same one. This one was the same color, but frisky and healthy and bigger. A healthy sibling of the poor sick one? "Oh, can we keep it?" I said to Outdoorsman. He smiled in a way that can be construed as condescending, if one were to construe it.

I walked towards it, and it darted up a flight of stairs. Then another. Then another. We were on the third floor, now. "Here, kitty kitty," I crooned.

As I edged towards it,  I had a horrible premonition. "No, kitty, no! Don't--"

It jumped.

Down the stairwell.

A high-pitched scream may or may have not escaped my lips. I quickly looked down the center stairwell, and saw a set of ears and a tail. "Oh please, don't be--"

It wasn't. I saw the ears twitch, and then she got to her little feet.

Yes, I had to wipe away more annoying tears. Yes, I hate to see creatures hurt. Yes, darn it, I refuse to kill moths, bees, or even cockroaches. I do allow myself the occasional mosquito, especially when I am covered in a fine layer of bites, but I still feel a twinge of self-disgust. And I think, I ended a life. 

I refuse to analyze it, though.

Suffice to say, while I love pets, they do not seem to love me. Our hamster died of mysterious bumps, our old bird flew out the window, (we have a new one; keep your fingers crossed!) our chameleon died of what I hope was old age, and kittens jump down stairwells to avoid me.

Which puts my kids and their skirt-clinging into perspective. Hey, at least there, my feelings of love are firmly returned.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This was supposed to be Princess' Birthday Letter, but that will wait, now.

To my almost-niece, with the unknown name in the unmarked grave,

Your Ima wanted you so badly.

She wanted a girl, you know, and then she just wanted to get pregnant. Then you were both, and she was so happy. She's one of those perfect pregnancy people, she doesn't get nauseous and her little baby bump stays cute and pert until labor. This is annoying for people like me, but we were all just so happy for her we overlooked her unfair gorgeousness.

When they first realized something was wrong, the doctors thought it was Downs. Your Ima and Daddy took some time to think about that, about welcoming a child with Downs Syndrome into their home, and they decided that yes, they can do this. They can shower you with love and get your love in return.

When it was discovered to be much much worse than Downs, it was very hard.

And when they lost you before they even saw your face, (it would have been horribly, terribly deformed) held your little body (a twisted hunk of flesh) it was so, so hard.

Your Ima said that at least she knows that she can get pregnant again. Your Ima says that there was a reason for your almost-existence. Your Ima says that she was surrounded by people who love her, and it was the most  horrible experience, but also, somehow, beautiful.

Almost-niece, we all cried for you. We all loved you. I wonder why you were almost here. I wonder why you didn't stop to say hello before flying back up to your home in heaven.

And I wonder why we can't even know your name.

All my love,
Your almost-aunt

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In Which My Father Tells Me To Shut Up.

I can't leave well enough alone.

I was there when he died, which is more than I ever thought I would have.

 When I cried for more, I got a word document.

 Then I got greedy again. I wanted him, I wanted to see him, not his sightless body before he died, not his philosophy, found in the computer.

 I grew preoccupied with how it would be when he finally came to me in a dream.

"Hi D," he'd say. "My pesach kneidel. I love you." 

 "Why did you have to leave me?" I would say.

And he would answer, and it would all make sense, everything.

Then I would say how I have no one to ask for advice, and he would say, about what, and we would talk, and he would give me his opinion on the neighborhood that we are looking into, and the apartment. He would reassure me that living in Israel is the right decision for us, and that all the little things that are tangling up my life right now will pass.

 Then he would promise to be back.

I would dream about the dream before I went to sleep.

I would wake up every morning feeling let down.

 Finally, he sent me a note.

 We were in my mother's house, cleaning the bookshelves for Pesach, and Outdoorsman deigned to roll up his manly sleeves and help with the girly chores. The first sefer than he opened was an old gemorah. A note fell out and fluttered to the ground. Outdoorsman picked it up. "Whose handwriting is this?" He asked my mother.

She took it from him. A soft smile fluttered to her lips and her eyes brimmed. "Abba's," she said. She blinked a few times, and handed it back to Outdoorsman, who read it and then held it out to me.

"I think it's for you," he said.

It is now in a picture frame above my computer.

 "Every hardship I should say Hashem I accept your punishments. And not curse. Mikabel B'ahava!"

 Which is my gentle father's way of telling me to shut up and leave him alone.

 Got it, Abba. I'll stop being such a kvetch.

 Thanks for the note.

 I love you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I am who I yam

"How do you feel about being broad?" Her question is open and honest.

She is that rare tall-petite combination that is was my futile goal. Even when I was dangerously thin, thinner than my petite friends, I learned that bones don't shrink. No matter what I do, I will never be petite.

She continued. "Because I used to wish that I was broad shouldered, like all of the models, you know? I have big hips"--she pointed at her slender lower body--"and I feel like if I had broad shoulders I would be in proportion, you know?"

So I told her my speech, the one I tell myself all day every day. That no one takes us apart inch by inch the way that we do to ourselves. That we are more than the sum of our parts. And that FOR G-D SAKES WOMAN, YOU DON'T HAVE BIG HIPS.

"Am I just going to have to keep telling myself that?" She said in frustration, twenty minutes later, when we were on to inner beauty and outer beauty. "Am I ever going to feel it?"

Yes and no.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Just like everything else in our lives.

Is it the human condition? To hate what we have and covet what is not ours? It must be, because we are commanded not to.  And we must be able to overcome it, because we are commanded to.

In America, I went to the DMV to get my...yes, alright, I went to get my permit, and it's a long story, and I'll post about it someday, but you should know that the pimples and angst are clearing right up.

SO ANYWAY, I went to get my hm-hm, and sitting in front of me in line were two women, their backs to me. One had a head of kinky curls, the other's was stick straight. When it was their turn, they stood and I saw--the curly head belonged to an Asian woman. The straightened hair's owner was black.

So, long windily, I am here, with my kids, and they want want want, because apparently everyone's mother gives their kids those huge ices every single day.  My cries of "I am not their mother. This is not what we do in our house. It is not good to have sugar sugar sugar all day long! Who wants some ice water??" is not met with resounding understanding and gratitude.

Maybe when I accept myself so totally it will roll off of me in waves and they will, too.

Maybe I should just give them the ices.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Back In Bidness!

I'm going to go out on a limb here. Bear with me.

 Jet lag sucks.

 I know, I know, I'm sure I'm gonna get flamed for this, but I feel like someone had to finally take a stand and say it.

 You know when it is the worst, though?

When you don't have it, but the progeny do.

We had a relatively normal flight in. It was actually the first flight that I can remember that I was not vomited upon, which is a pretty low standard now that I am saying that out loud, but you know, if you keep your standards low you stay happy for longer! So there was no vomit whatsoever on the flight and so I was as happy as an unvomited-upon lark. Or unvomited-upon anything, really, because all uvomited-upon peeps be chillin!

 So. ANYWAY, we landed, we smelled only of plane and not of stomach contents, and then we got into our ride and were thinking, this is great. This is a good omen. Because this has been a kind of tough year for us, and we are ready for things to get better. So not that we believe in omens or anything, but this seemed to be a good omen.

 So it's a good thing we totally do not believe in omens because then we opened our front door. And everything in the whole world had gone into our apartment to curl up and die. The stench of death was thick enough to gag on. It was pitch black, and yeah, the electricity was turned off. As was the phone, the internet, and everyone other means of contacting the outside world and yelling, "Help! My apartment DIED!"

 So yeah. Lots and lots of meat and chicken and fish and cheese were grimly dumped and many much of the washing and scrubbing and phone calls to the various responsible parties were made and there was much gnashing of the teeth and pulling of the hair. Which brings me to the jet lag.

 Ooooh, the jet lag. Turtle sleeps in half-hour increments and Princess decided that she is actually above sleep, she is more of a crying and screaming and freaking out and driving me out of my gourd kind of girl. It does agree with her. Coco-pop is like a little angel at night, but because the other two are making so much noise, I keep running to check her pulse. Coffee is my best friend and I tell her all my secrets. Like, "Child abuse is illegal, right? Right? RIGHT?"

 Hold me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Which My Husband Throws Me out of the Car

So many things, so little with the writing of them down! I will now write down a few of those things in terse, jerky sentences, like I am being debriefed. Just because right now I am wearing a hat, and I feel all secret angent-y and mysterious.

-Turtle on the airplane. Five minutes into the flight, I was wearing the dinner that I had just fed him, in decorative swirls. Of course, I had brought changes of clothing for everyone but me. Trapped on a 12-hour flight,I smelled. For a long, long, time.

-My sister's wedding. It was beautiful. My sister. She was beautiful. And when my mother walked her down with my brother instead of my father, I cried. The ugly cry, not pretty delicate wedding tears. And my Ugly Tears Face may or may not have been in every. single. picture.

-My kiddies playing with their cousins. It makes me so happy and so sad, how well they play together. Why don't we live here? I want to live here. Then they cousins all pull out their ipads. Oh yeah. That's part of why we don't live here.

-Me playing with my siblings. We missed each other. We be loud. We be jokey. We be us; tall and loud and at times shrieky with laughter. The family that my sister married into watches us. They are small and quiet and smile politely. They watch us. We are used to this sort of arrangement.

-I met my editor! She is sweet and so pretty and gracious. I was nervous to meet her in person for no real reason, but there you have it. Outdoorsman waited in the car with the three screaming, jet-lagged progeny. I told him I would be a minute. I wasn't.

I got back in the car. "Sorry!" I said.

"No problem," he said. He smiled at me. "How was it?"

"Good! She is nice, and I met a bunch of people. I think they like me. They said it was so nice to meet me." I was quiet for a minute. The car moved around three inches through the traffic. "What do you think they meant by that?"

"By what?"

"By saying it was nice to meet me."

"'s nice to meet you?"

"No, really. Maybe they hated me."

Outdoorsman laughed. I didn't. So he stopped and blinked for a while. The car moved along another three inches. "Why would they hate you?"

"I was nervous! So I was awkward! And she asked me all these friendly questions and I didn't ask her any questions and maybe that was rude? And maybe my scarf was ugly? And everyone wore shaitels. And my skirt made me look like I had a big stomach. And they asked me to edit and I said yes."

Outdoorsman grabbed onto the one sentence that floated out of my mouth in a sea of hysteria that made sense to him. "You don't like editing."

"I do! I edit stuff for people all the time."

"That is critiquing, not copy-editing. It's different."

"Oh, gosh! You see? I got all nervous, and now I said I'd do it-"

"So tell them you can't that it's not your thing. Stick with writing. Plus sheva brachos are tonight, and cleaning, and we told Ima we'd go shopping and start cooking for Shabbas. You won't have time. Tell them."

"Yeah. Okay. They totally hate me anyway." I brooded. "That's probably what they meant by saying that they liked my writing."

Which is when Outdoorsman didn't push me out of the car, but probably should have.

They say that when you come back home, you revert to the age you were growing up there. If so, I totally got in touch with my teenage self with that last scenario. And with my 30th birthday peeking at me behind my fingers covering my eyes, it actually makes me glad to be one year further from 16.

Other than that--it is so so nice to get together with my family for good, happy reasons. I am so glad I am here. And my editor is really nice. It's not her fault that I am coo-coo for coco-puffs.

Now I have to go write an e-mail and explain that I won't edit, at least not now.

Me saying no to someone?

Piece of cake!



Wish me lucks?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In the Valley of the Shadow

It was so nice to bump into her; I hadn't seen her in a while. She was the kind of friend and lived the kind of distance that you keep meaning to visit and you think about all the time, but then it just never happens.

She was all dressed up, and then I noticed that her kids were, too.

"So fancy, C! What's the occasion?"

"It's the day, today. The, you know. We came to say a bracha."

Tears sprang to my eyes. I wasn't there, but every mother has been there;why aren't they home yet? Maybe there was a--non,no,no, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation-- you tell yourself, but the images pass in front of your eyes unbidden--a car, driving up on the sidewalk, your husband, your children--screaming--

For most of us, they come in ten minutes later, and you say, "I was so worried! Where were you!"

And they say, "Oh, we bumped into what's-his-name,"

And five minutes later it is all forgotten.

For her, it really happened. She was home with her one-week old, resting. Her husband took the kids to a kiddush, giving her a little break.

The rest is every mother's nightmare. Except that, against all odds, they all lived.

"Today?" I repeated.

She nodded. "We made a seudah last night."

"Do I say mazal tov?"

She laughed, startled at the idea. "Yeah. Mazal tov!"

Her kids needed the bathroom, so I herded them across the street to my apartment building. "Hold hands! Princess, hold hands! Hold hands, everyone!" Eyes on the traffic, on the people, we crossed.

We made it across.

In my heart, I said a bracha.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Who is This Girl I See?

When her teacher told me to get her into Gam Saffah, so that she would be able to learn how rules worked, how to sit in a circle with everyone else, how to color in the lines and speak Hebrew fluently, I thought, Good. She won't go through what I went through, to figure it all out. No one will take advantage, no one will abuse my dreamy little girl the way I, ever the dreamer, ever not living in the present, was taken advantage of and abused.

But now I am not so sure.

Someone wise once told me that the worst thing that a parent can do is live through their children. I always thought that this was meant in terms of ambition, like those mothers who live through their daughters who are child actors or pageant queens.

But maybe it also means that we should not see ourselves in our children, because our reflections can block the real light that they are casting.

Because, she is not me. She is she.

Is it the way that you are like me, little girl, or the way that you are unlike me that I love best?



"! I can't remember the word! Ima!"

And I feel with you in that. I lose words, too, when they are most important. I get teary-eyed when you do that, little girl, and when I tuck you in at night I give you extra kisses.

You look expectantly towards the ceiling when directed to find your shoes near the couch, and my nickname was Space Cadet when I was little, coined when I went down to the basement to get a case of plastic spoons and emerged an hour later bearing a lone jar of mayonnaise.

You are bewildered by large groups, and I remember, after most of junior high was crowded in social confusion and hiding books and sketch pads underneath school books, deciding that to become popular was simply a question of science, and I figured it out like a formula. (Then promptly lost interest.)

You are so like me, my little girl, my Coco-pop.

And then I see your brown button eyes, so unlike my narrow green ones. Your auburn hair--I was blonde at your age--the tiny mole beside your upturned nose that you got from your Abba. You see things that I would never see, because you are not me. You are you, I sometimes realize with a start, when you surprise me with a thought that I would never think.

You are you.

I love you, my little sweet girl, my monkey-in-the-middle. Just like me.

I love you when you surprise me by being you.

I need to think if Gan Saffa is something that I need to heal my own kindergarten self, or something you, my-daughter-who-is-not-me, needs.

I need to clear the mirror, and look straight at you.

And you know?

I love you--the whole you--best.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Opening Night

Princess' morah, who has been teaching first grade for 25 years, called three times to make sure that I was coming. First, I decided not to come because of the music, but when she called, alarm in her voice, I asked my rav and was told that I could go.

The second time she called to tell me that if I couldn't come, she would make a section of the party without music for me. Touched, I guiltily told her that I could come, and I'm sorry for not telling you earlier.

The third time she called was because Princess had told her that I would be leaving early since a play that I was directing had opening night that very same night. She called to make sure that I would not be doing that. My heart sank--this was going to be tricky--but I promised I would stay.

After all, the siddur party started at 4:00 and the play was at 8. How long could the siddur party possibly be?

As the siddur party sang its way into the third hour, I experienced a not entirely unpleasant out-of-body experience. I floated above the 40 singing girls in their costumes of ruffly blue, and the music teacher who was blasting prerecorded music so that the singing girls were only faintly heard, and the morah, who was gesturing to the singing girls to clutch their siddurim tight and close their eyes in a mimicry of devotion.

Part of the floating me was a little hysterical at the time. Did I mention it was already three hours long with no end in sight? And that I was directing a play, and opening night was in, like, now?

And that it was an hour past Princess' bedtime, and she was yawning onstage and her cheeks were bright pink. She was halfway to her second wind, I could tell, but for now,she looked like she wanted to burst into tears.

Another part of the floating me was kvelling. My little girl, all grown up. I can't believe it. I had just spent four hours pushing, getting her out into this world, yesterday.

The rest of the floating me was eyeing the food set up all around us many, many, many (many) hours ago. I was starving. Did I mention I was directing a play? I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Yesterday.

I came back down and into my own body with a thunk. Hunger can do that, I think.

This is crazy! I looked at the professional videographer that a parent had hired, and all of the grandmothers (Tova's mother and mother-in-law flew in from America for this, my seatmate had whispered to me). Everyone seemed to be smiling.

What is wrong with me that this entire spectacle seems like one long overdone Israeli tzedaka campaign? The overly dramatic songs. The long winded speeches. The slideshow with pictures of the Bais Hamikdash in flames.

Another hour past and the girls filed offstage to accept their due hugs, praise, and candy, not in that order. I waited in line to thank the morah for all her hard work. My coat was on. I had to dash to the play the second we finished talking.

The morah was dancing with the girls as they wound their way offstage. I met her eyes. Her eyes were filled with tears.

"I'm so glad you could make it!"

"I had to ask my rav," I told her in my best Hebrew, "but he said that I could--"

"Yes! Because it is very important!" A tear wound its way down her cheek. "It is very important."

I pressed her hand and flew to the door. And was startled to a standstill at a few thoughts.

It's a different culture. Just because I don't understand it doesn't make it wrong.


Princess has a siddur now! She is so big!


The morah was crying. Because I came, and it is so important that I was able to come. I put a hand to my cheek. Inexplicably, I was crying.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mother, may I?

There is a huge decision that we have to make. A really big one. One that makes me want to be 16 years old again, and I HATED 16. Being a grownup is so overrated. Just when you can finally do whatever you want, you find out there is a catch; it's not RESPONSIBLE to do whatever you want.

So I did what any responsible grownup would do.

I called my mother.

"So what should I do?" I said, after I explained it all.

She paused, thinking, and then said, "Jump in the water and a net will appear."

I totally got shivers. Wow. "Wow," I said. "What is that? Zen? Kabbalah?"

"Monk," she said.

"What monk?"

"No, Monk. Adrian Monk."

Great. I am now being inspired by a TV show.

"That's all you got for me?" I said, a trifle ungratefully.

"No, because it was really funny, and then later in the episode he was actually in the water,like drowning, and he's like, 'a net will appear, my--'"

"Yeah. Thanks. I got it."

"Really. It's a leap, you're right, but what else can you do? The second option is not much better."

"Rock and a hard place, Ima. And no, Monk did not say that."

We laughed and hung up and now I have a massive headache.

What is the fine line between foolhardiness and faith? Does your intentions have anything do to with it? When do you leap, and when do you stay on the ground that may not be the best place for you but at least it is solid?

How do you know that when you leap there will be a net waiting to catch you?

Because I know people who have leaped, and drowned.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Half a Mind

"So she was put in this big room with a few other patients, and like a nurse always in the room."

Yeah, I thought. I know that room. "Uh huh," I said.

"And I guess because there is no night or day or whatever, people go a little crazy. So she went crazy, my mother-in-law! She called in the middle of the night and said into the phone, 'this is it. I am calling to give my last will and testement.' She thought she was dying!"

My friend was smiling. Like, isn't that the funniest thing ever? I pushed my plate away.

"So we all rushed to the hospital! It was like 2 in the morning, and we ran down the hallway and--"

"I need the bathroom," I said. And I was only halfway out the door before the Ugly tears came.

She didn't mean it. No one means it. It's me, not you, and I know that. And sometimes it's fine, you can talk to me about the shiva call you paid or your grandfather who is doing poorly. And sometimes all you have to mention is the dead cat you found in your yard and I see it all again. I see the line on the moniter going flat. I see his skin turning yellow, so quickly, I didn't know it happens so quickly. How they left the respirator on for what felt like forever and so his chest was still going up and down even though he was gone. And my mother rushed in and started talking to him, quickly, desperately, and then her phone rang and it was my brother, and she said, "No, run, you can still make it, he is still here--"

And I blurted out--"No,Ima, no! Didn't they tell you? He's gone!"

And she looked at me, her eyes went round and her face went slack and she crumpled and I grabbed for her.

And misaskim called and I left my mother with my sister and went out because I couldn't hear them and I had to tell them what we needed, chairs and cloths for the mirrors, and where we lived, and my brother came barelling down the hallway and I had to tell him too, no, no, he's gone.

He's gone. But nothing else changed. Cats also die and mothers-in-law can also go to the hospital and I can cook shabbas and laugh on the phone with a friend. I still get overwhelmed with weeks like this one, when I bit off a little more than I can chew, and the kids stay up too late.

Nothing changed and everything changed all at once, and sometimes I can lay out clothing for the kids and then sometimes my mind goes, he died right before my eyes. And I can write and say inspiring things about him, and I can be so grateful for the time I had with him, and still--sometimes--all I can think is having to be the one to tell my mother. Of my brother, his cheeks red, running down the hallway and meeting me coming out the door while I was on the phone with misaskim. "Did I miss it? Is he still here?" he said.

He's gone, I said.

Oh G-d. Oh G-d. My father is gone.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Time Enough

It's not just me, I know. We all get busy. It's efficient, I think. To bathe them first and then give them dinner in pajamas, and them smoothly trasition them to bed. I read them a book, we say shema.

And it is good, it is efficient, and probably better for them, to bathe when they can play and not when they are cranky and attempt to drown each other.

Everything has its times. You don't start baking cookies at 5 oclock, or they will be late for bedtime. Homework is right when you come home. And you come home right after school, because we go to the park after homework is done and lunch is eaten.

I have a friend who baked challas with her kids a hour before candlelighting. I was there for shabbas and I was thinking, then when is clean-up time? It turned out that there was no cleanup time, and I ended up sneaking into her kitchen to sweep because yes, I am that crazy. I spent the whole shabbas wishing I was her. Then after shabbas the maid came, and I said, oh. So that's how she does it. Because I need it clean. And she doesn't, and then anyway someone cleans it for her, so that's why she can sit on the couch with her kids, braiding their hair, while the table is covered in crumbs, and the drink--look at it!--it's still spilling slowly onto the floor! Drip. Drip. Dri----ah! I can't take it anymore! I confess! I confess! My need to clean is stronger than my need to do what you are doing right now, dear friend, which is gazing deeply into your daughter eyes and saying, "I love you. You are my treasure."

But I want that. I want to do that. I just want to do it in a clean, efficient house. I want both.

Yesterday, I sent Princess to get Coco-pop from gan. I wait on the corner and she runs up to get her. She feels grown-up like that, and I don't have to bounce the stroller up a gazillion steps. Win-win. Efficient.

The sound of wailing filled the Jerusalem afternoon a full moment before Princess dashed over to me, out of breath. "Coco-pop fell on the steps!"

I ran over as fast as I could. Coco-pop was lying on the steps, wailing, and a woman was bending over her. "I'm here! I'm the Ima! Thank you!" I called in Hebrew.

The woman didn't move away from her until I was almost on top of her. Her hair was orange and poufy like cotton candy, and if I was not a very polite and adult woman, I would have reached out and touched it. Her nails were blue and short.

I smiled my thanks again, then assessed the situation. Coco-pop was crying, but nothing was torn and there was no sign of blood or broken anything. "You okay, sweety?" I said as I picked her up and dusted her off.

She wailed, and nodded."I feeell," she said.

"I know. That must have hurt. You're okay," I said.

The woman was still standing there. "Hold her," she said to me.

"I am--"

"Hold her close to your heart."

Awkwardly, I pulled Coco-pop closer. She hiccuped.

"Keep on holding her. Let her feel your heartbeat. Feel hers. It is healing for both of you."

We were in the middle of a busy sidwalk. I help Coco-pop so close that I could hear the beating of her heart. Carriages angled around me.

"It only works if you can hear her heart and she can hear hers. Keep on holding her, and don't let go."

I held her for another minute or two, until Coco-pop pulled away and took my hand. "You know Ima," she said as we started to walk, "I saw a bird in the Chatzer and it was maybe dead but then it flew away and it wasn't even dead!"

Hold her close to your heart, or it doesn't work.

I looked up again to see the woman, but she was gone.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shalom, Shmee D. Mah Shlomaich?

I reached for the phone and dialed a number. After being on hold for eleventy hours, a woman picked up.

My head pounded. My stomach lurched. But I took a deep breath and faced my fears. "Shalom," I began.

I never thought it would be this way, with my Hebrew. I never thought that after living here for nearly 8 years, the language would still be such a problem for me. Words were always my thing. I revelled in expressing myself using them.

But maybe it's because of the dependability of English words that I have a hard time putting myself out there using ones that I am not super comfortable with.I am not used to taking risks and having people laugh at me. I am eloquent, dernit! I do not sound like my Polish grandmother!

But here I am, panicking, with a list of phone numbers in front of me. I am trying to:

A-get Coco-pop into a special gan with physical therapy and speech therapy and every other kind of therapy that her teacher says she needs. So this involves calling the neurologist to make an appointment. I call. I stumble, but get the words out--I want to make an appointment for my daughter. Because her morah says.

There is genuine relish is in the woman's voice on the other end of the line as she informs in Hebrew faster than a speeding bullet that "Well! It's not quite so easy! First you must get a hearing test done. Then you must get her eyes checked. Then you must fill out these forms that we will tell you we sent to you months ago every time you call but really we didn't because we love when that little squeaky note of hysteria enters your voice but you can't even say anything because your Hebrew makes small children hide under their blankets. Then there are more appointment to make but we will not tell you about that until after it is too late to get in. Okay? B'seder? Yala, bye."

B-Find us another apartment. I cannot continue talking about that. Because I will cry and it will be the kind with a runny nose, and it will not be pretty.

I went to ulpan. I have Israeli neighbors. It's a made up language with so few words! What is so daunting about it? Why does it make me cry?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Heart to Heart

I don't remember what she was crying about. I didn't buy her a treat? A party missed? That was it, yes, she had a birthday party and somehow I had gotten the date wrong, but she wasn't mad at me because she had also remembered the same wrong date. (Hey, maybe they had told us the wrong date! Just occured to me.)So she wasn't mad, but she was so SAD, she was sobbing so hard she could barely walk up the steps.

"You don't even really know her!" I pointed out, frustrated at her level of sorrow.

This, suprisingly, did not help.

"There will be more parties, better ones!" I said.

She sunk down on the filthy staircase and howled like a--oh, I'm stuck here. Like something that would sink down onto a filthy staircase and howl.

"Princess!" I said sharply. "those steps are gross! Get UP."

She did not get up. Her pain and her decibal level increased to a level that could probably make it into the Guinnes Book of World Records under Saddest Girl Ever Over a Missed Party.

The door two steps down opened. I cringed and looked down. It was the only neighbor in my building who did not cover her hair. "Ma kara,motek!" she asked. What happened?

I flushed and made a face like, kids. gag me with a spoon. "She missed a party," I explained in my halting hebrew over the noise of Princess missing a party.

"Ah...." her lovely brown eyes widened sympathetically. She looked at the pathetic lump formerly known as Princess and said, "Zeh kashe." It's hard. "Aval, hakol l'tovah!" But everything is for the good. Her eyes were still sympathetic. They were also completely sincere.

And Princess stopped crying. She stood up, shakily. "Can you maybe buy me a treat?" she said, swiping a full arm across her nose.

"Yes, I can buy you a treat," I said. I waved at the neighbor lady. She waved back.

"Zeh kasheh la," she said again, before she went back inside her house.

Not anymore, I thought as we headed towards the makholet. A fleeting whisper of a thought,why couldn't I say that? accompanied me all the way there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ice Cold Derriere Ponderings

We don't have heat.

Things that cause me to flap my hands like a possessed chicken as a result:

Coming out of the shower.

Getting out of my bed.

The hot water urn finishing, and me only on my fifth cup of coffee.

The toilet seat.

To name a few.

But sometimes I think that you know, it's winter, and it's cold in my house, and that makes sense.

In fact, sometimes I think that that is one one of the reasons that I live in a country where the butcher doesn't wear a hairnet or gloves;

For the salmonella! realness of it all.

Have you ever been to someone's house on the summer and they have the air conditioner on so high you need to wear a sweater? And the heat on so high that you strip to your lightest layer? Is't that a little weird?

I feel cold when it is cold, and hot when it is hot. I do not glide up an elevator and barely realize that I live on the fourth floor; I trudge up 4 flights of steps, because I live on the fourth floor, and that's a lot of steps!

I live on the plane of existance that I live on.

Speaking of planes, I think of this when I travel by airplane. I think a lot of the disorientation that we dismiss as jet lag is really our mind and body saying, "huh? Where are we?" Because we are 6,000 miles away in a different country now, and you know that feeling when you leave your stomach on a bump on a country road? So our head is still back there, and our body is feeling the pull between two continents. There was simply not enough time to get from here to there, so we must still be there, our minds insist while our bodies go check out the local color.

Not to bite off more than I can chew, but there are so many things in our lives that play out this way, our body feeling the pull as our brains cannot settle in one location.Instant food, for example. I did not cook that, says our brains when the pizza gets delivered. what just happened? And we overeat, to compensate for the lack of preparation, for the lack of dicing, preheating, the smells, the anticipation.

Either I am right about this, or I am just trying to make myself feel better about my ice cold toilet seat.

Yeah, that's probably it. Ignore this whole post. I hear Dr. Pizza has a coupon in the Pirsumit, and I need another cup of (instant) coffee.


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