I Can’t…But I Will

June 16th, 2014

A lot has been said and written in the past few days about the kidnapping of 3 teenagers in our area.  And while there’s no reason to recount the actual events, it’s worth taking a look at some of the things I’ve seen repeatedly online.  “I can’t sleep.  I can’t work.  I can’t focus.  I can’t eat.  I can’t stop thinking about those boys.  I can’t stop thinking about their parents.  I can’t believe this happened.”

I can’t either.  But I will.  I will sleep…even if I have to run myself ragged until my body shuts itself down.  I will work…and I will make every moment count.  I will focus… on my family, my friends, my prayers and my faith.  I will eat…and I will make sure that the soldiers in our area are well-fed as well.

I will continue to hitchhike and to pick up hitchhikers.  Not because I need to, but because I can.  Because ‘tremping’ in this country is not an act of foolishness or a way to be cheap – it’s show of the nation’s magnanimity, of faith in others, of our people’s perpetual willingness to help those in need.

I will plan family gatherings that will not be tarnished by sadness, because doing so let’s ‘them’ in – and it lets ‘them’ win.  I will look for every opportunity to be happy instead of focusing on the black cloud overhead.   I will avoid petty arguments over hashtags, humanitarianism and private healthcare in Israel, disputes that divide our nation at the very time we should be entirely united.  And when doing these things, I will continue to think of “our boys”, and to remind myself that celebrating life isn’t an act of callousness, but an act of bravery in the face of adversity.

Finally, I will continue to believe in peace, not because I’m naïve, but because I’m human.  And because without hope, we truly have nothing.

347 Days

February 5th, 2014

Dear Poppy,

There’s so much I want to tell you about – things that have happened in the last 347 days since you’ve been gone, and things that I’m planning for the next 347 days, that I’d love to hear your thoughts about. Mundane things, like how I made a new recipe I thought you’d like. How Itiel learned to walk, speak, and most recently, to sing. How I continue to navigate the Israeli healthcare system, despite dozens of setbacks, to ensure that the kids get everything they need. I know you’d be proud, since you did the same. I want to share with you the kids’ great report cards, and to celebrate their accomplishments over drippy Israeli ice cream, just the way we’ve done for the past five years. I wish you could revel in Hollie’s recent hair donation, and to crack your jokes about how you could have really used that hair. I want to tell you about the restaurant where we celebrated our recent anniversary, a celebration we’ve done together for the past decade, since your birthday was the day before. (They served some great veal, and I know you would have loved it.)

This would have looked so great on you!

It’s funny, but sometimes I even yearn to sit by your hospital bed and to have your undivided attention and complete candor. Those weren’t fun days, but they were certainly branded with their own sort of specialness. Of course, I also miss the days when we lived 50 yards away from each other, and I could come over at any time of day or night to drop off something that I’d just baked, or to share some of your expensive orange juice (or wine!). Most often though, I long for the days where you didn’t have time for a visit because you were too busy changing the world of Torah learning. Even then, when you were so busy working tirelessly through your retirement years, you always had time for a call, even about matters that weren’t all that important.

I’d give anything to make you a peanut butter and cheese sandwich, or, even better, something gooey and chocolaty that wouldn’t be good for you but would surely taste amazing. And mostly, I’d love to have just one more “Poppy talk.” I’d ask you to help me understand the cycle of grief and loss, and how to deal with such immense emptiness. I suspect you’d tell me how you didn’t merit to know your grandparents like I knew you, but that you’ve counseled hundreds of people going through it, and how you don’t know how, but somehow, at some time, it gets easier. To be honest, I thought it would be easier by now. But here I am, 347 days later, crying onto my keyboard.

In just a few days we’ll mark the end of the Jewish year of mourning. But despite this ritual milestone, I’m not quite there yet. Part of me really wants to be, but the other part of me isn’t quite ready to let go. I’m not sure I’ll ever be. But since I don’t really have a choice, I guess I’ll keep trying, and hoping that in 347 days from now, things will be easier – not just for me, but for the many people in our family who continue to love and miss you. I know that’s what you’d want…and you know that I aim to please. May your memory be blessed.

Your last family simcha - It's just not the same without you

 

Seeing the World

January 30th, 2014

Last week I had the supreme privilege of traveling to the Far East for business. I made the trip last year as well, (which I wrote about here), but this year was different because I had a better idea of what to expect…sort of. I didn’t get lost at all in the mammoth hotel. I was able to find my own way from Hong Kong to Macau without even batting an eyelash, and I felt much more comfortable and confident when speaking to the other participants than I did last year. In fact, some participants even remembered me from last year, which was simultaneously exciting and just a wee bit awkward, since history has proven that I tend to be rather forgettable.

This year, instead of flying direct to Bangkok and then to Macau’s tiny airport, I was ‘drafted’ into taking the ‘scenic route’, flying from Tel Aviv to Kiev to Bangkok to Hong Kong, where I boarded an hour-long ferry to Macau. In fairness, I’ve always dreamed of traveling the world – I’m just not sure that this is exactly what I had in mind! But maybe I should have been more specific in the formulation of these dreams…

This begs the question - which hand do they mean? Right or left? @Bangkok Airport

I’ll spare you the details about the work stuff, and about the 50 hours of travel time. OK, one quick story: on the flight from Kiev to Bangkok, someone lit a cigarette in the bathroom (aka, the lavatory). SERIOUSLY. I was actually sleeping when I heard the fire alarm go off, and it’s a darn good thing that I was, or I’d probably have freaked out a bit more from the sudden, incessant wailing. I was almost relieved when I smelled the cigarette fumes, because I became instantly alert and realized that the plane wasn’t going down or anything – it just had a really, really stupid person aboard. But as long as it wasn’t the pilot, I felt comfortably trying to go back to sleep.

Beautiful Strangers

The most interesting part of the trip was the few hours that I took to visit Hong Kong city before heading to Hong Kong airport. I researched a bit and found out that the “Ladies Market” would be an interesting place to go in the short time that I had. Needless to say, I was nervous about finding my way there, which required a ferry and two subways. The ferry was no problem. But I hadn’t received great subway directions from the concierge (who’d never even heard of the Ladies Market). Luckily, when we arrived at the ferry terminal in Hong Kong, there was a lovely couple who I heard speaking English, and I decided to ask if they happened to know the way. As if the stars were fully aligned, they were heading in my direction, and offered to show me to the Mong Kok station where the market was, and to teach me about changing trains. They even explained to me how to get to the airport from the market, and listened to my idle chatter as I shared my excitement about this new experience. I only had an hour or so there, but I was able to get a feel for Hong Kong (the city looks pretty similar to New York – I even found a 7-eleven where I got some Haagen Dasz), and to explore the market, where you can get almost anything from authentic Asian slippers and Chinese robes to knockoff designer handbags (again, quite like New York City, but in much larger volume).

Another perk of meeting people? You don't only have to take selfies! Hong Kong Good Luck Tree

Funny that in a region where people tend to be on the short side, the booths are SO high (@ Hong Kong Ladies Market)

And then, the unthinkable happened. Left alone to navigate my way back to the airport via subway and train, I braced myself for the adventure ahead. I managed to purchase the train ticket and fought the rush hour crowds into the depths of the Mong Kok subway station (which once again reminded me of New York, except so much cleaner). And there, standing on the subway platform, was the kind stranger who had shown me the way only a short time ago, heading back towards Macau on the very same subway line! I wrote last year that traveling alone isn’t so much fun, because you don’t have anyone to share weird observations with, but in those moments, I was able to share my reflections with this lovely Hungarian stranger (who just so happened to move to Macau, learn his way around Hong Kong, and be nice enough to share his knowledge with a total stranger). And so, Lori and Rebecca, if you’re reading this blog (which I hope you are), just wanted to let you know how much your kindness and spontaneous friendship improved my trip – thank you!

I made several purchases over the course of my trip, souvenirs for the family I left behind. But this time I didn’t buy anything for myself (unless you count an overpriced bag of potato chips or an ice cream bar?). I didn’t need to. Because I came home with wonderful memories, one more reminder about the fantastic people in this world and a greater confidence in my ability to talk to new people and to navigate unfamiliar territories. Lastly, I came home with 500+ unanswered emails (which almost a week later I’m still going through)? And when you have all those things, who needs (or has time for) physical stuff?

 

10 Years Later…

December 31st, 2013

Today marks 10 years since we moved to Israel. I was wondering how and when I’d find time to record some of the lessons that I’ve learned in the past 10 years, but as is typically the case in this holy country, it was as if G-d just reached down and answered my question, by ‘helping’ me to miss two trains yesterday, and giving me lots of downtime to sit at the train station where I could organize my thoughts. If you haven’t considered Aliyah before, maybe this can inspire you…and just know that now you officially have some ‘vatikim’ (old and experienced people) to help you through the process personally!

1- Sure, it’s painful that most purchases in Israel cost at least double (if not more) what they’d cost abroad…but tuition costs about 2000% less. And though it’s excruciating to spend close to $100 on baby shoes, at least I know that one day he’ll be wearing them to walk into his entirely free pre-school, so I’ve actually saved about $12,000 on these shoes.

2- Living in Israel means the door is always open. You may think that it’s a burden on us when you ask to crash at our place. But honestly speaking, you’re doing me a favor. You’re making me keep the house a bit neater and the kids a bit quieter in the morning. When you join us for dinner, you’re encouraging me to make a real meal, rather than serving the frozen chicken nuggets the kids are accustomed to. In short, you’re making me a better mother. So please, don’t be afraid to drop by, and even to stay a while.

I promise the house won't look like this if you come

 

Mom visited for 6 weeks last year...and you can see how happy I was!

3- Rain can be a miracle, not a curse. The Jewish people pray for two critical things three times daily, 365 days a year: peace and rain. Though we haven’t yet seen the peace that we plead for, there are times when we see the rain…and we can recognize it as a blessing, rather than as a plague. While I used to grumble at the frizz caused by a few drops, today I accept each one as a gift and as a valuable reminder that prayers are often answered.

I love the rain, but maybe not THIS much...

4- Socialized medicine has its drawbacks, but it can also be incredibly wonderful. The hospitals here may be a bit more rundown and the service may be a bit slow, but when it really counts, there are many quality healthcare professionals here, both of the homegrown and imported varieties. You just have to know where to look.

5- We may have chosen to live amongst our own people, but that doesn’t mean that our lives lack diversity. We have the privilege to teach our children about religious acceptance and tolerance of others in their own surroundings, not in the theoretical way that we learned about it when we were growing up. We have the opportunity to slowly break down the prejudices that are so common today, even if we’re only doing it 5 impressionable people at a time.

6- Thanksgiving is highly overrated. I won’t deny that I miss the family gatherings, the turkey and the pecan pie, and that I really miss the idea of having a random paid day off. But actually, we have many ‘random’ paid days off, such as Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach, most of which have plenty of eating as well. And it’s pretty terrific not to have to use vacation days for these holidays.

7- Speaking of “holidays”, I really love the no-frills vacations that are the norm around here. This isn’t to say that I’m not envious of my sister’s upcoming trip to Hawaii. I AM (more than I wish I was). But I love knowing that our winter vacation this year included one day of harvesting food for Israel’s poor, one day of baking cakes for the soldiers protecting our area, and one night in a cabin with bunk beds, hideous linens and free sufganiyot from the local Chabad shlichim. I enjoy knowing that these vacation days were full of meaning and togetherness, even though they weren’t filled with exotic beaches, exciting ski trips or Chuck E. Cheese…and I smile knowing that our kids are content with this ‘simpler life’.

Harvesting food for Israel's poor - it's an annual vacation activity for us

8- I love living in Israel because I know that there’s always a way home. In this society, hitchhiking is the norm, rather than the exception. At the end of a long day, I love knowing that at some point, some kind stranger will invite me into his or her warm car, and help me find my way home. It may take a while, but I have faith that it will work out…and so far, it always has.

9- I find it fascinating to live in a place that can dispatch teams to deal with suspicious packages without warning, but one in which elected officials have little or no concept of how to deal with snow, despite having days or weeks to prepare.

Enjoying the snow

10- Finally, even after 10 years, I still love the feeling of camaraderie that there is between olim, both those who have chosen to come and those who have come out of necessity. It takes a certain type of crazy to leave your family, your language and your comfort zone to move across the world and start new in a country filled with bureaucracy, messy politics and high taxes. And yet, I’m proud to be surviving the turmoil, and to be sharing this experience with thousands of others. And I can’t wait to see what wonderful things the next 10 years have in store.

Some of our favorite olim - Take note...you're never too old to make the move!

 

Ode to a Blizzard

December 17th, 2013

In a quaint little town

On top of a hill,

The residents planned

For winter’s deep chill.

They relished the thought

Of a cozy ‘snow day’,

A respite from work,

A chance just to play.

It seemed so ideal,

So calm and serene –

Who knew that the storm,

Would turn terribly mean?

3 days without power,

6 days without school,

And suddenly nature

Seems horribly cruel.

Businesses halted,

The laundry in piles,

Thousands are stranded,

For miles and miles.

Our ‘startup nation’,

So thoughtful and so bold,

Has been brought to its knees,

By the snow and the cold.

Roads remain closed

During morning rush hours,

For some- no hot water,

For critical showers.

Kids are in heaven,

But parents are not,

We’re somehow ungrateful

For what we just got.

The people of Israel,

Praying daily for rain,

Are now nearly flooded,

And going insane.

It’s time for some snow plows,

And more 4 wheel drive,

So that when the snow hits,

We can still thrive.

It won’t be as fun,

Nor nearly as ‘cool’,

We won’t have a snow week-

But at least we’ll have school.

Snow in Israel

It started off beautifully!

Day 6, school buses got stuck in the snow and ice. Kids were all sent back home.

Sunset over Snow
Day 6, night – so calm, you can almost forget the hectic day

photo credits: Mordecai Holtz

 

Me, Myself and My Nose

October 23rd, 2013

It's not THAT obvious, but it's there...

When I was about 15, my grandfather offered to pay for my nose job. I was simultaneously impressed by his generosity and taken aback by the insinuation that my nose was just that horrible. He didn’t want my bumpy nose to hold me back from finding the right spouse or feeling great about myself, he said…something my insecure adolescent brain had thought infinite times before (but never managed to tell him – yet somehow, he knew). At the time, I was too scared of the procedure to take him up on the offer, and I vowed that if I wasn’t married by a certain (undefined) point, I may want to reconsider, if the offer was still on the table.

Four years later, I met Mordecai. And as we were moving towards a serious relationship, I casually mentioned Poppy’s offer, and said that if he wanted me to change it up a bit, he should speak now: the offer was sure to be rescinded the minute an engagement took place. He laughed and said that he didn’t even notice it, and that it clearly was not a breaking point for our relationship. And so, my dream of having the perfect nose vanished, while my vanity and insecurities remained. I saw the bump every time I looked in the mirror, glaring at me like a blemish that would never go away.

That is, until I stopped looking in the mirror. It’s funny how motherhood does that to you. At first, it’s a baby’s cry that rouses you out of bed so abruptly that you barely have time to brush your teeth before starting the day. Later, it’s the need for breakfast, the packing of schoolbags and the tying of shoes that must be done first thing, lest your child miss the bus. And because you still need to get to work on time, there’s little time for personal maintenance – unless, of course, you want to wake up before the kids do to start on yourself. But who on earth wants to do that?!

In my high school and college days, I spent many, many spare moments analyzing (and crying over) my physical flaws, having my eyebrows waxed to perfection, and even getting an occasional manicure. Now, I’m lucky if I leave the house with matching socks. And I’m ok with that. It wasn’t finding someone to love me despite my big nose that vanquished my insecurities. It was finding more important things to fill my time with. I wish I’d ‘gotten it’ earlier, but I guess some lessons are just learned through time and life experience.

I recently got my nose pierced, something I’ve wanted to do for at least a decade, but never had the guts to do previously. It wasn’t a statement of rebellion. It was an embrace of my imperfections. My own form of nose job, if you will. One can argue that getting a nose ring certainly draws attention to the one part of myself I spent years trying to deny. And that would most definitely be correct. But I’m past that now. For me, having a nose ring is a reminder for myself and my kids that it’s ok to embrace your flaws and to be comfortable with yourself. And this is a lesson that I hope they internalize way before I did.

 

The Kindness of Strangers

October 15th, 2013

I’ve been a bit frustrated lately by the poor customer service I’ve been experiencing lately, starting with an inability to get an appointment for Azi’s surgery for 6 weeks, to the oven repair company that first kept pushing off my appointment, and then declined to service my oven altogether, even before they saw it. But yesterday I experienced two remarkable acts of human decency, or, more accurately, I was blessed to meet two strangers who restored my faith not only in mankind, but specifically in Israeli mankind.

As you may know if you’ve been reading my blog, I have a rather long commute to work (fortunately, it’s only one day a week). After a long day at the office and a long commute round trip, there is nothing I want more than to get home from the train station as quickly as possible – something which isn’t always possible when you have to tremp (hitchhike) home.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spot someone I recognized peripherally from my neighborhood, who agreed to give me a lift home. I was so relieved! As we walked to his car, he decided to call his wife, who surprised him with the news that she had gone to visit relatives near the train station. And so, at the last minute, she asked him to join her there, rather than going home. Needless to say, I was devastated (but of course, I told him I’d be fine and I figured I’d make it home some way or other!). Since I’d already walked in the opposite direction of the trempiada (hitchhiking station), I asked him to drop me off at a corner where I’ve sometimes seen people trying to hitch a ride. It was dark, and the ‘corner’ was actually a traffic circle where Israeli drivers prefer to speed through, rather than slowing down. My ‘neighbor’ offered to stay with me until I got a ride, an offer which I naturally declined. I turned my back to the car and held out my pathetic sign which advertised where I was trying to go, figuring that he’d driven away, as eager to see his own kids as I was to see mine. Let’s just say…he didn’t. He stayed with me until I got a ride, just so I wouldn’t be alone in the dark at night. I was so impressed (and also grateful)!

Three people stopped for me within the first 5 minutes, but the first two were only going halfway home, and I was afraid to go to a place I didn’t know. Still, I was impressed by their offers to help. The third driver wasn’t totally sure where he was going, but said it was to one of my neighboring communities, so I got in. Needless to say, the mere fact that anyone stops to pick up a stranger on the side of the road is truly admirable. But this driver was especially wonderful. We chatted the whole way home, and I told him about my long journey, and my daughter’s birthday, and a whole range of other things. When we arrived in the area, I told him to pull over so I could hop out near the next trempiada. He surprised me by offering to take me all the way home, even though it was out of his way, and it was late, well past dinner time, and his wife was wondering where he was. I tried to decline, but of course, he convinced me in a gentle, chivalrous way, by saying that if his car is kind enough to drive without giving him trouble, he should be kind enough to use it for good deeds.

I can only say that these two men, one of whom whose name I still don’t know, reminded me why I moved here. Because in Israel, strangers aren’t actually strange. In fact, in these parts, helping strangers is the norm – not the exception. Standing on the corner on a cold, dark night may be unpleasant, but at least it’s not scary – and for the most part, neither is getting into a car filled with strangers. I can’t say that I know anyone who has attempted the same feat on a New York street corner.

As a short PS, I’d like to say that last week a friend of mine picked me up from the train – it was also out of his way, and he waited around for 20 minutes while the train was unexpectedly delayed. I was also moved by this gesture, but I remember thinking that in the same situation, I’d also try to show kindness to a friend (then again, this may be easier said than done). Yesterday I was reminded that it’s not enough to only help our friends – by going out of our way for strangers we’re not only helping others, but hopefully inspiring others to become better people. I certainly hope that given the chance I’ll be able to show how I’ve become better due to the kindness of strangers.

 

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

October 14th, 2013

I cannot believe that I’ve been a mother for 10 years. Or that I have a daughter old enough to wear high heels, borrow my clothing, and make better PowerPoint presentations than I can. I suddenly feel old – if she’s anything like me (or most Israeli kids, for that matter), she’s more than halfway out of the house – for good. The only saving grace, perhaps, is that my nephew turned 10 three months ago, which means that my (twin) sister must be older than I am, right?!

Though we don’t really do birthday gifts in our family, I thought the best gift I could give Tzofia was something intangible, that I hope she can take far into the future. So here goes:

Dear Tzofi,

There are so many lessons that I’ve tried to teach you, many of which I’m still learning myself. I hope that by recording some of them here you’ll get the message, even if teaching by example hasn’t worked out exactly the way I planned.

1 – If something can be solved with money, it’s not really a problem. This is a lesson that I learned from Poppy, and one he professed to me even in our last few conversations…which is just one way I know that it’s really, really important. Logically speaking, this makes so much sense to me, because there are so many very important things (such as health concerns, for example) that can’t always be solved with money. But on an emotional level, I have a very hard time with this concept, especially when many things seem to break all at the same time, and each of them is expensive to fix. Tzofia, I want you to know that while it is important to save money for the future, it’s also important to know that it’s ok to splurge a bit on yourself. I haven’t mastered this yet, but luckily, I get a lot of enjoyment out of splurging on you, and for now, that’s enough.

2 – “A bissel un a bissel, macht a gantze schissel.” This is a lesson that I learned from my Bobe – it means that a little + a little makes a full bucket. I know people make fun of me for starting my Shabbat cooking on Tuesday, for example. But at the end of the week, when I can enjoy my Fridays without having to rush and worry whether everything will get cooked, I know I’ve done the right thing. Don’t be afraid to take your time on a project and to make sure that it’s right instead of rushed.

3 – Your siblings are your best friends. Of all the things I hope you’ll learn in life, I think this is the one you’ve mastered best thus far. It makes me so proud to see how you take care of your siblings, share with them and treat them as equals even though you’re the oldest. I hope that this continues to be as you get older, and that you’ll always remember to take care of your siblings, no matter how old you are or how far away you are.

4 – It’s OK to say no. This is not something that I’ve been able to implement (yet), which is why you see me constantly running to do things that I don’t have time for and agreeing to help out when I actually need help myself. And while there’s definitely a feeling of satisfaction in knowing I’m a reliable friend/worker/parent in times of need, there’s a certain personal strength in being able to draw boundaries and to know where your own limitations lie. At least, this is what I’ve heard…and it is my hope for you that you can draw from this strength to focus on the things you really can do without constantly driving yourself to the brink of insanity.

5 – Miracles do happen. I’m not talking about pie-in-the-sky, winning the lottery type of miracles, but every day miracles that aren’t always easy to see, but are most definitely worth looking for. I hope you learn to see these miracles rather than to take them for granted. I also hope you know that you are one of the many miracles in my life, and one I’ve been grateful for every day for 10 years.

6 – Exercise is important. I hope I’ve been able to teach you that it’s important to be active not because it makes you skinny, but because it makes you healthy. I hope you’ll never aim to be the thinnest you can be, but the healthiest you can be – and I hope you’ll find a sport or activity that you’ll love, so that you’ll always want to stay in shape.

7 – Honesty is the best policy. There are, sadly, so very many reasons to bend the truth these days, whether it’s to protect your reputation, to avoid negative consequences or to advance yourself in one of life’s endless challenges. You must know, however, that telling the truth is always the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. This is a lesson that most people learn from making mistakes along the way, and I hope that you avoid these mistakes by trusting your old lady. If not, just know that I’ll be here to help you figure things out when things get rough and that I’ll love you no matter what.

8 – Girls can be mean, but you don’t have to be. It’s a sad fact of life that girls tend to be jealous, judgmental, and sometimes even petty. But that doesn’t mean that you have to act that way. It’s certainly normal to have your feelings hurt at some point, and to want to hurt someone the way she’s hurt you. But at the end of the day, you’ll be a better person (and a stronger person) by learning how to handle yourself with dignity and grace, rather than to act on your emotions in a way that you may regret later. Self-restraint certainly isn’t easy, but if you can master this trait, you’ll be able to develop deep and meaningful friendships, and to easily ignore the haters of the world. You can start by practicing on your sisters, and remembering tip #3 above.

9 – Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Over the course of life, you’ll inevitably be judged based on the way you look, where you live, where you went to school, who your parents are (sorry!) and many other variables, some of which are beyond your control. It’s not possible to make everybody happy all the time. But if you can find the self-confidence to be yourself rather than being who you think others want you to be, you’ll be able to make a long-lasting, positive impression on those you meet along the way.

10 – Be positive. Shortly after I met your father, he told me that his blood type was B+, and that he always tries to look at the bright side because it’s just part of his DNA. This message has stayed with me, and it’s one that I try, not totally successfully, to teach you on a daily basis. Lucky for you, you’ve got some of his blood, so you shouldn’t have such a hard time being positive. A bit of positive energy can go a long way in the way your projects turn out, the way you present yourself, the way you see yourself and the way others think of you (among other things). I know sometimes I tend to point out the downside of a situation, but if anything, I hope you learn from me what not to do. Because staying positive tends to make every situation more pleasant…even when you have to force it.

It goes without saying that there are many, many more things I hope to teach you over the years, but I’m hoping you can get cracking on these for the time being, and maybe by the time you’re 11, you can teach me a thing or two. I can’t wait to see where the next 10 years (and more!) will take you!

Love,

Mommy

 

Breakdown in the Shoe Store

September 28th, 2013

Even as I write this post, I can’t decide if I’m writing it with pride, humiliation, or both. You see, I’ve been living in Israel for nearly

Itiel summer 2013

It's a good thing he's cute, or I might consider selling him to buy a new pair of shoes!

10 years now, and I’ve never purchased shoes in this country. I know that sounds somewhat awful, like I’m eerily dependent on DSW and Target, despite the fact that they’re 6,000 miles away. I know it sounds like I’m snobbish and materialistic – but that’s not actually it at all.

For starters, I seldom buy shoes for myself at all, unless some that I own happen to break (which only happens about once every 2-3 years). Secondly, I’m a very overt anti-shopper, and avoid stores like the plague. As it is, my own wardrobe comes nearly entirely from hand-me downs from my sisters-in-law and gifts from my generous mother and mother-in-law who both know that I have basically no fashion sense as well as a pathological anxiety related to spending money on things that aren’t 150% necessary. It’s an illness, I know…certainly one that deserves an entire blog post in its own right. But that’s for another time.

I do have less trouble buying things for the kids, but since I work full time, I find that I barely have time to get to the grocery store or the doctor, let alone the shoe store or clothing store, or seamstress or bank, or anywhere else. It seems much easier to ask my very helpful (and devoted) mother to just swing by the children’s shoe section at Target next time she passes by, and to bring next season’s shoes next time she comes (yes, I do pay for them…most of the time). Co-dependent? Definitely. Convenient? Absolutely!

But though we just spent two months in New York and I managed to buy shoes for the four big kids, the one thing I didn’t get was shoes for Itiel, who wasn’t quite walking when we left. He does walk now, however, and I thought it might be a good idea to get him some shoes. So, for the first time in my parenting career, I packed him up into the car and took my child for a shoe fitting. (Yes, I know you’re theoretically supposed to do that for every kid. But don’t worry, the older four seem to have survived just fine despite the fact that they didn’t have proper shoe fittings).

Since I’ve never been to a shoe store around here, I figured that I’d head over to the local store, where I’ve heard a lot of people shop. It’s called the Naot outlet, and outlets are supposed to be affordable, right? RIGHT?!

I got some help from a salesman who looked about 12, who informed me that the cheapest first baby shoes are 200 NIS, and the most are 260 NIS. That’s about $56-$72. But they didn’t have any of the 200 NIS shoes in Itiel’s size, so the best he could give me was some for 240 NIS. I don’t think I have a single pair of shoes in my closet that costs that much. Who pays that much for shoes for little, tiny people whose feet are growing quicker than their hair is?! And we’re not even talking about designer shoes here. Just plain old baby shoes, very similar to these that cost a mere $19.99.

How many nights have I held my babies close, whispering in their ears that I’d do anything for them? If that’s really true, why on earth couldn’t I bring myself to buy my baby shoes for $70? I just said, I’d do anything! And so, the breakdown began. It involved a serious amount of deep breaths, a few tears as I called Mordecai in a panic and then an overzealous scroll through my phone book trying to figure out who would be the next commuter I know coming from the US who could potentially bring back some baby shoes. All while Itiel cried in my arms, traumatized at having to stick his feet in these strange, uncomfortable new shoes. It was certainly not the highlight of my day.

I left the store feeling defeated as a mother but proud as a price-conscious shopper (not to mention extremely grateful that I have a way to get the things that I need without selling my firstborn). I was (IE, am) also rather baffled as to what regular Israelis do when they can’t just run to a discount store? A few friends have subsequently told me that there are some bargain basement options around here – there’s even a Payless now…but that the quality isn’t worth even the discounted price, and that you’re still paying more – way more – than a comparable store abroad.

An hour after I left the shoe store empty handed and entirely bereft, I got a call from a woman I know from around town, who happened to be in the store at the same time as we were. She said that the store was having a sale – buy one pair, get the second for 50% off. So for 180 NIS, or a paltry $50, I could have the shoes for Itiel, and she could save on the shoes for her daughter…was I interested in going in with her?

And so, this is how I agreed to overpay for shoes while still managing to ‘save’ $20. I’m not going to lie – I still feel like a sucker. But on some level maybe I’m more Israeli now. Or maybe only Itiel is, as he’ll be sporting the latest in Israeli shoe fashion while I’ll still be wearing American sale rack fashion from 2009. Either way, I’ve learned a lot from this experience, and I hope nobody will judge me if it takes another 10 years for me to head to an Israeli shoe store.

 

New Challenges and New Perspectives in the New Year

September 10th, 2013

For a change, it’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog, but not for lack of ideas – as usual, lack of time is the culprit. I have tons of things that I want to say/write, and hopefully I will one day. About motherhood. About daughterhood (which doesn’t come up on spellcheck so I assume is a word?). About some really divine things that have happened to us in the past few months. About living in Israel, and living in a ‘faraway place’ which isn’t always as fantastic as the fairytales would make it seem. But those posts are not for now.

Now it’s a new year, and even though the year is less than a week old, I’ve learned a lot in the past few days. A lot. About my making peace with the challenges of daily life, and trying to see the good in every situation. And Lord knows, that is hard. But I guess it’s part of life. And so, without further ado, I’d like to share with you some of the challenges (aka crises) we’ve been facing lately, and the flip sides to these potential disasters. I certainly don’t mean to speak from a soapbox or to make my challenges seem worse than someone else’s – I just hope that these slightly odd perspectives will encourage you to find new perspectives during the tough times. Even when that seems nearly impossible.

Challenge #1 – Two beloved family members in the hospital at the same time. On a different continent.

My first response – Panic, fear, frustration at being so far away.

My new perspective – Well, at least I’ll know that they’ll be near the phone when I call! What a great captive audience for all of my other sob stories! Or cute-child stories! And, perhaps a bit more seriously, what a great opportunity to take the 10 days of teshuva a bit more seriously. After all, we pray about health, life and death constantly during the High Holidays, but how many of us actually internalize it? Now I’ve had a real chance to think about these prayers and to mean them when I say them, even if it’s one I’d have been happy to live without.

Challenge #2 – My cell phone simply stopped working one day.

My first response – How will I call everyone before the holidays? And why, oh why, do I have to pay for another phone when I just replaced it a year ago? And where can I store all of the numbers that seem to fly around at the beginning of a new school year (will I have to actually find a pen and paper? Do those things still exist?)

My new perspective – Instead of calling everyone in my address book, I can enjoy the quiet in the hectic pre-holiday days (and I am, though I’m still happy if you want to call).

Challenge #3 – Two broken ovens at once. In the days preceding a week-long holiday that generally includes hosting lots of hungry guests.

My first response – Crap, I really didn’t feel like paying for new ovens this year (which is why I didn’t fix the first one when it broke a few months ago). I REALLY REALLY don’t feel like paying overinflated Israeli prices to replace my American ovens. Oh, and how on earth am I going to cook normally for the upcoming holiday? (Perhaps) worse, how can I replenish my rapidly-depleting cookie supply?! Should I suck it up and get a tiny Israeli oven instead? Then I’ll also have to replace all my pans, since none of them fit in there. Did I mention I’m not very good at making decisions when it comes to spending money? Especially when I’m cookie-deprived?

My new perspective – Firstly, I feel grateful for my fantastic friends who invited the family for the upcoming holiday, so that I don’t have to rush into a decision quite as quickly. Though I always appreciate our wonderful community, I have another opportunity to be especially grateful now. And hey, maybe it’s not so bad if I can’t bake cookies. My thighs (and cholesterol) might thank me later. That is, if I survive the withdrawal (which is slowly setting in). Also, now I finally have the opportunity to try out all of those crock pot recipes that I’ve been hoarding for the one-day that hadn’t yet arrived…until now.

Challenge #4 – Azi lost his hearing again (no, just because this is last doesn’t mean it’s the least important).

My first response – My poor baby…he hears a fraction of what everyone else is hearing, and is slowly going insane from frustration (so are his parents). It’s no wonder all he says all day is WHAT? WHAT? And that he doesn’t respond to over half of the questions directed his way. It’s no wonder he cries so much more than he did before this problem returned, and that he screams at the dinner table instead of speaking in an indoor voice. (Boy, have these things been difficult for us all).

A simultaneous first response – OMG, a third surgery in 3 years?! And when it takes so long to get appointments for everything, it’ll take forever to get to the doctor, get a confirmation for the hearing test, take the hearing test, go back to the doctor, get on the surgical schedule, get another confirmation for the surgery and then do the surgery…and then go back for more hearing tests and follow ups. (Gosh, just reading it all is exhausting!).

My new perspective – Well, at least his brother’s coughing and crying in the night isn’t waking him up! And, at least he doesn’t hear when I kvetch about his newly aggressive behavior on the phone…This challenge, though hopefully temporary, also provides an excellent opportunity to connect with my son on a closer level, to take him on my lap and to speak directly into his ear, allowing me to sneak in some extra snuggling.

Are these things the normal stressors of life? Probably. Am I one of the few that freaks out quickly rather than remaining level-headed? Likely. Maybe by next year I’ll be able to get over this ‘personality quirk’ (there’s a good new year’s resolution!). But until then, I’m satisfied with just the ability to find a new perspective and hopefully to learn something from each experience. And I’m continuing to look forward to the day when these simultaneous nightmares will be something to laugh about, rather than to stress about.