Finding myself in the Middle East

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quiet as a Mouse! Quick as a cat! And other Stupid Animal Activities.

Angry quiz time!

You might not have known that this blog has quizes, especially not angry quizes, but now it shall! Because I am angry and I will quiz you and then explain myself, and then--well, I have not thought it through 'til the end, but it will do something, like make you feel annoyed for me, and then I will feel better because you are annoyed,which makes no sense, that I should feel better because you are upset now, but it is human nature, and that is why they coined the cliche "misery loves company."

That was called an opening, because the quiz is about cliches!

Question number one: What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "at a snail's pace?"

A SNAIL, right?

If you said "snail" then you got 100! Ding ding ding!

Not things slowing down. Just a stupid little snail, and maybe even a squished one that your son stepped on.

That is an example of a cliche that is the worst of both worlds; it is a cliche, and therefore boring, and also? IT DOESN'T EVEN WORK. It adds nothing to the story you are writing. It is a pointless sentence. And in a short story, what does not add only serves to detract.

I can spent an unlimited amount of time on a story. I can sit on a word for a full hour, and then come back to it the next day. I need my words to work for me. I need them to enhance the telling of the story. No slackers in my fiction.

When it's non-fiction, it's even more important to me.

When it's something personal, even more.

When it's about my father...ah. I can take forever. At the end of the process, I know it by heart.

Then you send it in to the magazine. And they publish it. Yay, right?

Then you buy the magazine and rip open the plastic while walking up the stairs pour yourself a cup of coffee and curl up on the couch with it.

You find your story.

And sitting there, where it does not belong, they put a snail. Or to be more precise, they replaced this sentence:

"Time passed slowly, slowly."


"Time passed at a snail's pace."


And. They changed my tense. They messed with my italics. They changed another sentence so that it is now INCORRECT. And they stuck a squishy, stupid snail where it does not belong.

I know that when you publish things they get edited. But my wonderful experiences up until now made it clear that it was to make it better, not worse! To enhance, not detract!

That was the end of the quiz, by the way. It was just one question, so you can put away your pencils and pat yourselves on the back, because I know that you got it right. No one thinks of anything besides "snail" when they view that sentence.

And now no one with think of anything besides "snail" when they read my story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mommy Brain


But I'm doing it, picking
the everything,putting
the everything,
little cars
go in the car box
cereal bowls, crusted with uneaten corflakes and milk
get washed with warm water and soap
raisins smeared on the floor
get scraped up with my fingernail
and the garbage, down down
and around the back
all before he wakes up.

He wakes up.

I give him cornflakes and cars
and raisins and he smears them into the floor

Then reaches up

to me

for more.

I say,

"Say, raisins!"
"Say, more raisins!"

And give him some more.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


First I was all, New Years was on Rosh Hashana! This First of January means nothing to me!--and resolved to ignore it. This was easy enough--it was on a motzai shabbas, and I spent it doing dishes and sponja in a bleach-stained t-shirt.

But I guess I'm American enough that while I've been feeling fine without watching the ball drop or even drinking a cocktail or seven, my fingers are itching to write a New Year's resolution.

So here it is, in the privacy of my own blog! Which is so private! Except for you guys! (You'll pretend for me, O Internet, right?)

So, I resolve to love more and judge less. And when I find someone impossible to love and not judge, I will pretend in my mind that s/he is a little tiny puppy that no one wanted because he was the runt of the litter and he is sitting on the stoop of my house and it's pouring outside and also he hurt his paw, and all he wants is somewhere dry to curl up. Life was hard for this little puppy! Have some pity!
Look at those eyes!

I resolve to shut off my computer in the afternoons when the kids are home. This is a hard one. Because sometimes I set them up with a game and the baby is napping and then I can just quickly go to the story I've been working on and--!! But, kids have a built in radar that detects when you are doing something that does not revolve around them, and they will know. When their little detector beeps they comes running over to you, but when I'm working on a story I am a zombie and respond to their requests for help with words like "Howzza?" and "wazzzat?" It takes one child striking another to snap me out of it, and then we're all annoyed. No. This year, I will not just for one second...

There will be more dancing and singing around the kitchen with a wooden spoon for a mike while we wait for our cookies to cool on the counter.

Speaking of cookies, sugar is bad for me. I mean, it's bad for everyone, but I have a really low tolerance for it. When I was expecting Turtle, I got off of sugar altogether because I actually got high from it.

That was seriously on my ceiling.

And I felt great when I was off of sugar. My kids are picky picky eaters and I'm fallen into a bad cycle of "treats for food," but I need to get out of that. Sugar is no good for anyone. It is so hard in this country, where teachers liberally give out taffies and chocolate for everything from a mitzvah note to a scraped knee, and my neighbors' kids charge up to my apartment wanting to share from a bulging bag of goodies, and I'm left to feel like the Grinch when I politely refuse. So I can't cut it out completely, but I can try to stop the complete sugar takeover. If anyone has ideas on how to go about making my kids feel undeprived with that when their classmates bring chocolate spread sandwiches to school, I am all ears!

I will be real with myself. I will rejoice with my accomplishments and not automatically move on to the next thing that I need to do without enjoying what I did already. Like stopping halfway up Everest to see the view so far.

I will call my family in America more. The time difference is a pain, but I love them and want to tell them that.

I will smile when my husband walks into the door and hug my girls when they come home from school. I do that, but I want my heart to always be there.

I will work hard when it's time to work and play hard when it's time to play. I will live.

I will hold on to the NOW and know that each moment is the best moment that I can possibly make it.

Oh, and I will somehow get Turtle to sleep through the night. Child, it is time.

Any tips on that will be met with hugs and even tears. Thanks in advance.

It's going to be a great year!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

and an Ima hiding in the pear tree

On the 8 days of Chanuka, my true Lord gave to me;

4 girls sleeping over,

1 baby with mono

1 baby with strep (same baby! poor baby!)

1 broken dryer

2 girls home from school

14 guests at my Chanuka party

nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah.

Yeah, songwriting. I'll leave that to Chanale and just stick to my dayjob.

Things I didn't know that I could do before these past two weeks:

Hold my thirty-pound Turtle in one arm all day long.

Hold my thirty-pound Turtle in two arms all night long.

Type two stories with one finger.

Update blog with one finger.

Make dinner and chanuka party with one finger.

Entertain guests with a screaming baby on my shoulder.

Fit four girls into the baby's closet room.

Not sleep for a week and a half straight. (See: Baby, strep and mono of)

Not take a hot shower. (See: 4 guests)

Dry things on the porch. In the rain. (See: broken dryer)

...and still have a beautiful Chanuka.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blast From The Past

I keep asking Hashem to send me a dream about him. I want to see him walk and smile and talk.

My cousin found a video from a Chanuka party in 1988. "Check this out," he said.

There I was, 6 1/2, looking like a Princess/Coco-pop. It was all so funny, my brothers and sisters and cousins in minature. My grandfather, reveling in being master of ceremonies. My grandmother, pushing food on all of us.

Then my father walked in. He smiled at the camera. "Hi," he said in his soft voice. "Hi."

The video was 25 minutes long, and I kept going back to that part, my tears blurring his beautiful smile. "Hi," he says to me, three months after I said goodbye. "Hi."


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