Finding myself in the Middle East

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.


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