Going to Work at Gunpoint

I’ve been writing this post in my mind for a few days now, but it never seems to have made it onto paper.  I’m not sure now is the right time either…but then again, perhaps there’s never a good time.  It’s just that now I’m mad.  Infuriated. Livid. Irate…and a few things in between.  And sometimes when I’m mad, I need to vent.  So vent I will.  Because earlier this afternoon at least three Jewish travelers were run down by a Palenstinian driver just a few kilometers away from my house.

I’m mad for the victims whose injuries are so fresh that their names haven’t yet been released. I’m angry for their parents and siblings, neighbors and friends who will surely be traumatized for weeks, if not months or years. I’m incensed that our children are growing up in a place and time where standing at the wrong bus stop can be a fatal mistake.

But I’m upset for another reason as well.  I’m furious for the thousands of Palestinian workers who go to work every day in Jewish settlements and cities…at gunpoint.  Call me a sympathizer, call me naïve, call me anything you want – but until you’ve been the one standing guard with that gun, shepherding hardworking men to demanding physical jobs where they’re lucky if they earn minimum wage, you don’t know what it’s like.  I’ve been that guard. And it’s awful.

This is not a prison.  These workers have not committed heinous crimes.  Their only offence is that they are members of a nation where other people commit heinous crimes.  And let’s be honest – my fellow Americans shoot each other all the time.  Just this week two students were shot on their college campus in California. And this is just one of dozens of school shootings that occur each year (there have been 10 US school shootings so far in 2015 alone, not to mention hundreds of other random shootings nationwide). And yet, I don’t see anyone shepherding students to school at gunpoint to make sure that they don’t kill anyone.

I understand this example is a bit extreme, but the point is a serious one.  I don’t want to be judged based on the actions of Baruch Goldstein or Bernie Madoff…why should we do the same to others or any race or religion?

On the most rational level, I understand why our security measures are in force and why we need to be constantly on guard.  But it pains me that the few have to spoil the world for the many and that we are perpetuating a society filled with racism and fear. It tears at my soul to see hardworking men being herded like animals and to know they’d rather work under these circumstances than not work at all. It breaks me to know that many of the people who read this post will still not see the bigger picture and will continue their discrimination. And it absolutely kills me to know that beyond the scope of those who read this post, thousands of people within my own country will continue to go to work every single day at gunpoint.

 

The Age-Old Conflict That Nobody’s Talking About

The decision to have a child is, by all accounts, an intensely personal one. In fact, many women, especially in my social circles, areThe birthday boy so private about this decision that they don’t even discuss the option until they’re well on their way to new-motherhood, or until they hit middle age and it becomes apparent that the baby ship has sailed. And though such privacy is certainly warranted (and, perhaps, even worthwhile), it doesn’t leave many doors open for consultation in cases of doubt. At a time when the average fertility rate worldwide hovers well under 3 children per women, couples who choose to have more than 2-3 children often face judgment from a plethora of sources; grandparents who think that their children are overextended with the children they already have, teachers who think that their students aren’t receiving enough attention at home, employers who are afraid to hire women that may opt to take maternity leave on a semi-regular basis. In contrast, women who can have more children but choose not to seem to struggle with the unspoken pressure of others who are still opting for more, and even more difficult ‘what if’s. What if an unborn child was destined to be the president? What if having another will fix the family’s current gender imbalance (on the other hand, what if it won’t?)?

My baby is turning 1 this week, and through all of the preparations and the excitement generated by the other kids, I can’t help but feel a bit conflicted at the arrival of this pivotal milestone. Perhaps that’s my generally nervous personality. But perhaps not. It may be the realization that since Itiel is my fifth, I’m not actually sure if I’ll be celebrating another first birthday of my own child. It may be the idea that despite my completely irrational desire to have another baby, it may not be the best thing for the kids we already have. Or for our bank account. Or my stress level. (But honestly, is there ever a truly convenient time to have kids? Are these valid reasons not to have more? You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? And thus, the ever-evolving dilemma continues).

Not surprisingly, publishing my inner conflict for all to see hasn’t answered any of my questions. But I hope that it will help others debating this issue to realize that it’s an issue that at least one other person is thinking about, and that perhaps it may be one worth discussing beyond the confines of couplehood. It may even be a good idea to ask for advice from others who have made the decision (or haven’t yet), though I wouldn’t know since until now I’ve been too shy to ask around.

 

 

Leaving Good Enough Alone

You know those days where everything seems to be going right? The sun seems a bit brighter, the kids seem slightly less cranky, and maybe you’re even feeling that much skinner? I’ve been having an entire week like that – but for some reason, my ecstasy is

Cute Holtzes

Yup, like I said, 'darn cute'

tempered by this horrible nagging feeling.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a pessimist (at all!), but for some reason, I just feel too skeptical that I could be ‘just that’ lucky. I mean, I’m already lucky enough to have a fantastic family, a beautiful house and great friends in a wonderful neighborhood. But to also have so many unbelievable opportunities presented at once seems almost entirely unbelievable. Because I’m also inexplicably superstitious, I’m afraid to say anything about what’s going on. And it’s nearly irrelevant. I felt fantastically blessed yesterday when I managed to get rides with two strangers from the train station practically to my door. And that’s not even such a big deal (or maybe it is?).

I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with me, that I can’t seem to relax or to enjoy the ride when so many things seem to be falling suddenly into place. Is it normal to be so uptight for no rational reason? I have no reason to think that anything will go wrong, or that my good fortune will suddenly reverse. But I also have no reason to think I deserve any of the miracles that have recently come my way.

I’m really not looking for any pats on the back, or anyone to say that of course I deserve good things. I don’t doubt that I’m a relatively decent person, and that I always mean well (even if it doesn’t come out that way). And I think I’d really be fine if everything just continued on its merry way of being good, instead of great. It’s not that I’m aiming for mediocrity, but rather that I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with good. I’m cool with having a job I love, even if it won’t make me a millionaire (yet). I’m ok if my kids aren’t the best athletes on the baseball team, or the best singers in the choir, or the absolute smartest kids in the class. As long as they are generally happy and well-adjusted (and also, darn cute). I can live with my totally scratched and mangled glasses that survived being toasted and run over by a car, as long as I can continue to see out of them (and don’t have to waste time or money going to replace them). For me, good really is good.

So why is it then that when a few really wonderful things start to happen all at once, I start to feel tense and more than a little bit panicked? Why is it that I start to wonder when something terrible will happen when there’s no reason to think so? Is this a normal behavior or some sort of psychotic paranoia? And how on earth can I learn to just let go and relax a teeny, tiny bit? For my own sanity, if nothing else?

HELP!

 

 

Feeling Numb

It seems that lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the struggles of others, whether it’s from their own illness, the illness of a loved one, the loss of a house in a flood (or a storm), the loss of a job, the loss of a pregnancy, and even the loss of life. I’ve been listening and reading about how others deal with their fear, grief and disappointment. Most people talk (or write) about their anger, their feeling of helplessness, and in contrast, their desire to do something, anything. I’ve seen many people turn to prayer, to challah baking and to tzedaka campaigns, and to the opposite extreme, I’ve seen people fall into severe depression, paralyzed with the inability to move forward following a trauma. And, of course, I’ve seen many of my blogger friends turn to the pen or keyboard, expressing their tears verbally, perhaps as a mirror to a physical phenomenon.

Yesterday our neighborhood buried a child, a young boy about to join the army, whose life was cut brutally short in a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy. I didn’t know him, but it doesn’t matter. I heard the sirens of the ambulance, so loud as if it had arrived at my own home. In a panic, I called my neighbors to check if everyone was ok. Oddly, when everyone confirmed that they were fine, I didn’t feel that pervasive sense of relief. Perhaps it was because subconsciously I knew that something was still wrong, or perhaps it’s because I’m just numb.

I wish I could feel that strong torrent of emotions described by so many of my peers, or to accept G-d’s decisions with that calm understanding beheld by my friends who are truly of pure heart. And yet, it’s not that I reject the events of the world, it’s that I simply fail to understand them, no matter how hard I try. I do pursue some sort of tikkun, through my daily prayers, through my challah baking, through my offers of kindness to those in need – anything that will, perhaps, reverse the horrible fates that seems to have been already set in motion, or to cement the good ones on their noble trajectory. But I think I am doing these things because of the numbness. Because of the lack of alternatives. Because crying or staying in bed just doesn’t help.

I find it hard to relate to my own struggles and happy times, as I’ve noticed that I continually put my personal circumstances into the context of those around me. Yes, it’s annoying to have a sick child home on day that I should be working. But how can I complain, when so many of my friends are begging for children? It’s not fun to shlep 3 hours each way to work, but how can I complain when so many people that I know are searching for a new position? I’m too tired to clean the house at the end of the day, but hey, at least our house is still standing, and it’s dry, right?

My wise husband recently pointed out that just because others are struggling more than we are, doesn’t mean our personal trials aren’t important. And he was right. But one of my friends wrote yesterday about how in our neighborhood, a neighbor’s struggles become your own, their happiness becomes yours. And that is right as well.

And so it is that I find myself struggling with burdens that aren’t truly my own, feeling numb from all that’s going on, bone-tired from working hard, volunteering hard, and raising children, and yet, feeling inadequate because no matter what I do, it’s just not enough. I can’t stop the plague of illness, I can’t prevent my friends’ car troubles, children’s behavioral issues or financial troubles. I’m lucky I can manage my own. And yet, somehow, this small victory doesn’t make me feel better, it just makes me feel numb.

 

 

Separating Dreams from Reality

As a perpetually busy working mom, I constantly dream of a time when I won’t be quite so hassled and harried. A time when I’ll be able to focus on different priorities, when the house will always be spotless, dinner will always be nutritious and ready when the kids come home, and I’ll have all afternoon to play with the children and help them with their homework. For the past 9 months, I’ve expected this utopia to coincide with my maternity leave, which in Israel consists of 14 weeks of paid time off from work. In my naïve mind, three and a half months of ‘vacation’ would certainly allow me to get the house in order, dote on my children and husband and even have time for some fun – how could it not?

Exactly 4 weeks into my maternity leave (no, I cannot believe that so much time has passed, and yes, I hope to fill you in more about the experience another time), I can honestly say that things are not quite working out exactly how I’d planned. For starters, I find myself aching longingly for my computer, dying to know what I’m missing at work, how business is doing and if my colleagues miss me. Will they want me back? Or are they managing fine, so that when I do finally show up at the office, they’ll wonder why they need to pay me? Are my substitutes managing my duties sufficiently, or are they too busy with their own responsibilities to make sure my tasks are complete? Yes, I know this is sick. Most people would give their right arm for such a long paid leave. But for some reason, I find it hard to wrap my head around.

Secondly, I find that when the kids are off to camp and the baby has settled down to rest, I just don’t want to clean the house. Or start preparing dinner. Or fold yet another load of laundry (or wash it, for that matter). I think I’m starting to face the reality that my mess isn’t the result of my inability to clean it; it’s the sheer lack of desire that keeps things out and about instead of in their proper place. Does this make me a terrible person? A terrible mother? I don’t think its laziness, because I have no problem investing myself completely in my work – I just can’t seem to find the will to mop the floor.

Aside from a trip to NY (want to get together?), I honestly have no idea what I’ll do for the rest of my time off. I definitely have grand plans of getting rid of the clutter, organizing the kids’ rooms and stocking the freezer so that when I do go back to work, I can still offer the healthy meals of my dreams. Will this happen? I hope so…but is it really so bad if we continue to eat fish sticks and noodles for dinner? I’d like to think not – I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty about it.

 

 

Mother of the Year? I Think Not

Well, it’s only 8 days to go before I head off for my 30th birthday trip, which I’ve refrained from writing about on this blog, so as not to make anyone jealous of my excursion, relaxation, or the fact that I have the best husband in the world.

I’ve been quietly preparing for this trip by placing shopping requests from BJ’s and other stores and ordering gifts on Amazon so that in my 36 total hours in NY I won’t be running around entirely like a chicken without a head. I’ve been creating spreadsheets and calendars for Mordecai and the kids to ensure that they’ve got the schedule of speech therapy, ballet, English lessons, carpools and dinners all outlined – things that are part of every mom’s weekly routine, but are potentially overwhelming for someone trying to navigate parenthood alone for the first time in 8 years.

I figured that my week away would be full of surprises, both for me and for my family. But I was really hoping that the surprises wouldn’t begin until I was safely on my way. G-d, however, works in mysterious ways, and decided to bring on the first surprise a bit early. I’d like to think of it as an early birthday present for Azi. SURPRISE!!! Azi needs another set of tubes, and the surgery is set for Sunday, the day my cruise (the one I’ve been dreaming about for weeks, if not months) is supposed to set sail.

It’s bad enough that I was feeling guilty about turning everyone’s lives upside down by leaving for a week for no purpose except to relax. But the thought of leaving my baby during his hour of need brings the guilt to a whole new level. The thought of making Mordecai balance the kids, miss a day of work, and sit through surgery alone doesn’t make me feel entirely fantastic either. On the other hand, missing this trip for a 30 minute procedure hardly seems worthwhile. Does it?

The thought of canceling did, of course, cross my mind. But the thought of not canceling seems to be winning out. After all, I married Mordecai because of his cool-headedness, ability to work well under pressure and generally positive attitude…and I love Azi because of his resilience, strength of spirit and perpetual bravery (not to mention his extremely cute face). I have every reason to believe that they’ll be ok, right?

I guess that no matter how many healthy or cool dinners I make, no matter how many birthday cupcakes I bake, and no matter how many times I read and re-read the kids’ favorite books, I may never be the best mother ever. I just hope one day Azi will understand that I love him immeasurably despite my underlying selfishness.

 

 

Confessions of a Fleece Bag Lady

Me in my fleece...after a day in the officeIn high school, I wanted to be shorter…and smarter, so that life would be easier in college. In college, I wanted to be prettier, skinnier (darn Freshman 15!), and smarter, so that I could get married and get into a top graduate school. By the time I was in graduate school, I was tired. And married. And pregnant with my second kid. All I wanted to be was finished. (Successfully, of course, so that I could get a good job.)

In the few years since grad school, I can honestly say that I haven’t wanted much, except to make sure that we could pay the bills and that we were raising well-adjusted, happy and well-behaved children (no sweat, right?!). And suddenly I noticed that now that I’ve reached all of those goals of my earlier life, I am no longer as critical of the way I look as I used to be (and anyone who knew me then, knows I really used to be). Part of me feels that I’m giving up some sort of womanly privilege to look good because I’m too busy being comfortable. Should I put more of an effort into the way I look each day, like some of my friends who actually take time to blow dry their hair or to wear a shaitel just because it looks nice? Should I make an effort to wear more fitted clothing just because I can?

In reality, however, I’m a self-proclaimed “fleece bag-lady.” I just can’t help it. It doesn’t help that 50% of my wardrobe is made of fleece. 45% more is hand-me downs or gifts from generous sisters in law or my mother – or a few pieces that I finally fit into again after high school, purchased in the days where I had to look good or I’d never find a husband. The last 5% is actually clothing that I purchased myself. Probably not recently. It might also help to mention that 9/10 skirts in my closet are made of denim. It’s a really good thing that denim is socially acceptable in Israel, because I’ve worn it on many an interview, since I had nothing else suitable to wear.

Lately, I really wish I could stop wearing fleece (and possibly even denim). I’m not honestly sure why. But no matter how many non-fleece items are in my closet, I find myself with almost no motivation to put them on. It’s probably because it’s the winter, and I’m cold ALL THE TIME. But I think that’s just an excuse. So is the fact that I’m taking care of the kids at different points during the day. After all, my sister is a kindergarten teacher, and she’s not nearly as frumpy as I am. I rationalize to myself that I’m more productive since I don’t waste time on vanities. That I can work with sharper focus because I’m comfortable. And it’s possible that these thoughts have some truth behind them.

A lot of women I know say they dress well for themselves, so they feel good about themselves. But I feel good when I’m warm and comfortable. So should it matter if I always look frumpy? I feel like it should, but I just can’t bring myself to change. Is it laziness? Fear that I might not like what I see when I actually take time to look in the mirror?

I question whether wearing lipstick or stylish clothing will really make me a better person – even if it will make me a more attractive one. Part of my conflict lies in the fact that as the mother of girls, I want them to take pride in who they are, to feel good not only about the way they live their lives (as I do), but about the way they present themselves (which I don’t, mostly). If I continue being a fleece bag lady, I may be serving my own needs, but am I really doing what’s best for my girls? On the other hand, I see that they’re already more interested in makeup and hair things than I am – so perhaps my disinterest has served its purpose, and inspired them to embrace the physical beauty that G-d has given them.

What’s a busy, cold and over-tired mother to do?