13 Years

We stand under the canopy separated by the discomfort we feel at the display.

You are wearing the uniform of a team you don’t really play for. Your hair is cut according to someone else’s taste. Even your shoes are a stranger’s style.

I am in white for the first time in my life. My face is covered by a thick veil that holds significance to other people. I hate that I cannot see you.

We stand in the stifling heat and we listen to people bless and pray us into our future.

You break a glass; we sip the wine.

You grab my hand and we run towards a few moments of privacy.

I am in your arms and we are happy because we are alone and also happy that we are certified now and they approve and also dreading the rituals and the obligations we are about to face.

But we are together so we can draw strength from the power we found when we became us.

We are so young. We are so desperate for acceptance. We will do anything to prove our love is the right kind of love…the kind that we were raised to believe in…the kind that builds the acceptable kind of family…the continuation of the Jewish bloodline…the kind of future our ancestors would be proud of.

So we face the hundreds of people who have come to witness this return to the fold. We dance on opposite sides of a curtain. We wash our hands for bread and we make the blessings with all the truth we can muster because we are determined to begin our future the way we have been brought up to believe is the only way.

We are happy.

We are together so we are happy.

We make meals and we invite friends and we beam and we pray and we hope and we continue to love as we become the adults our parents prayed we would be.

We lose a child and we thank God.

We are happy because we are together.

I immerse every month and I pray and you slip away as you doubt and then I slip away as I doubt and then we are staring at a little girl and we are so in love and so happy and so together.

Our love looks different from what we saw love to be so we think maybe it’s not the right kind of love but she loves our love so it has to be right. She laughs and sings as we hold her between us and dance to songs we were kept sheltered from when we were babies. She knows Led Zeppelin and Santana and grows to idolize Queen even as I adjust my head covering and you grow your beard long and your side-locks even longer.

We are unconventional and learning to be fine with that.

We move close to our family and we think our little life is so normal and then we see that our way doesn’t match their way and we feel isolated and unsure.

We are so in love that I hurt when you hurt and you choose me when I hurt and so you lose people.

We are happy because we are together.

We are back in our homeland because we have found out that family cannot replace the soil where our roots grow deep.

I am flat in bed while you work all day and we are poor and we are getting angry and we are stuck because we are so in love that when we aren’t together we are scraping at our skin and bleeding ourselves to death but our love is standing against the fears of our youth that are shaking our foundation.

Now we are five minus one and we are broken and complete and we are ready to face things because we know it is time for our love to expand into our days so that we can build on us and not them.

I shave my head because the noose is tightening and you stroke my cheek and untie the cloth that proclaims my allegiance.

You torment your soul and bare it before me and I squeeze your hand and promise you forever.

We are slowly moving away from everyone else and closer to each other and even though we are scared we know we can’t lose.

We are happy because we are together even when we are alone.

The air is heating up around us and is getting heavier so we shake off the chains that bound us and we face the mirror side by side. We know we will become an island if we peel it all off but if we don’t we will become strangers.

We have to be together because we have to be in love.

Our love is stronger than the faith we lost. Our love is accepting and forgiving and we don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore.

But I am falling and gasping for air and you aren’t falling with me because you need to be the one to catch me and your arms reach out the length of two years while I tumble and turn down a rabbit hole I didn’t see coming.

I slam into you and think I broke you because it is taking you so long to stand back up until I realize that my arms are still around your neck. I peel myself from you and you stand me at your side and you slowly lift my shoulders until I can meet your eyes.

We are together and we are crying and we are still happy because we are crying together.

We laugh and dance and sing and cry and rage and lose and grieve and search and change and live together.

We are in love and we are so lucky because we are in love together.

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It is 13 years since we stood beneath a canopy and couldn’t see the future.

Happy Anniversary.

Dear Spouses,

 

Dear, dear spouses…

of victims…

of survivors…

of the broken people…

Thank you.

Thank you for not letting us push you away.

Thank you for seeing past the desperate facade we thought was infallible.

Thank you for understanding that not everyone wants to be touched…or can be touched…and adjusting your needs accordingly.

Thank you for remembering not to ask about it.

Thank you for listening to all of it and accepting it…

even though you wanted to kill someone…

even though you wanted to let anger take over and justice prevail.

Thank you for knowing that you just had to embrace it.

Thank you for sleeping on the floor when the bed became a trap.

Thank you for letting irrational behaviors slide…

because they made sense…because you got it.

Thank you for never attempting to relate to it.

Thank you for teaching us that we can be loved despite…

in spite…

because.

Thank you for always, always standing by…

through panic…

anxiety…

fear…

shame…

confusion…

delusion…

and hope.

Thank you for waiting for us to come to you.

Thank you for knowing when we were ready.

Thank you for knowing when we just weren’t there.

Thank you for agreeing to take part in a holy matrimony we believed we could never deserve.

Thank you so very much…dear, dear spouses…

for loving people…who sometimes doubt the love they are in.

We are grateful for your patience.

We are overwhelmed by your strength.

And we believe in the salvation you offered when you looked into our eyes…

and showed us who we were.

 

The Rabbi’s Daughter

“So I watched this thing…it’s going around…”

They are looking at me, waiting, and I realize it is too late.  I will say it.

“It’s called The Rabbi’s Daughter…”

My father’s eyes raise and I almost swallow the words, even though I know I can’t.

“It reminded me of you…of us.”

And then I am describing the scene, the one where the girl is baring her soul to her father, showing her a piece of him that is so raw and so full of confusion…the part where they watch her creation float across the screen…the image of him walking…her circling him in his shadow, at the end of his shadow…always, always in his shadow…and then he smiles and reaches for a book…and her face shows sorrow and acceptance…as he finds a quote…intellectualizing her experience…explaining it…his way…even though it is hers…

And my father…my teacher…my very own Rabbi…is nodding his head in a way that shows me he knows…very well…why I am telling him this…and he is sort of pulling away…wanting to leave the conversation…

But…

He stays.

We wrap it up easily.  He kids a bit about how I tried to smooth my choice of topic over with a silly comment about his lack of emotional capacity…just so I wouldn’t be disappointed…and in very few words he calls my bluff.

And then the goodbye is easy, comfortable…and I am so incredibly in awe of him…of them…the only two people in my life who were willing…eager…to change…just so that we could hold a conversation where things that aren’t so nice to hear…can be said, accepted…and embraced.

How I Say I Love You

“What – you love each other?” she asks, catching us in an easy embrace.

We share a smile as I lift my head off your chest and answer her with a slight nod.

“Ok” is the only thing she cares to say as she scampers off with her brother, leaving us relaxing comfortably together in the Sukkah.

But I’m not able to casually stroll on as the weight of those words reverberate through my ears, ringing memory bells in a glorious symphony of cherished emotions.

And so I write as my heart fills with the old feelings of new love and my soul wraps the fragile little me up and gifts her to you as a symbol of the kind of trust only you can understand.

The memories…the things I try to talk about all the time…to keep at the forefront…they are not in the past as we live out our days.  They are here, with me, in my now with you…because they keep me from getting lost in the safety of secured love and forgetting what you mean to me.

Remember…we were on the swing, the one we used to go to when we wanted to run away from everyone…and I stroked your hair and realized I loved you.  So I said it.  I think I love you.  But the wind took my whisper and blew it away from your ears and you turned to me and asked me what time it was.

Remember…when you gave me your necklace and promised you would be back…and I loved you so much that I wanted to get down on one knee and propose to you, and beg you to take me with you…but I didn’t know how to do that or how to say that so I said I think I’m falling in love with you.

Remember….when you called and I was crying and needed you…and I loved you so much I wanted to scream out how I couldn’t live without you but the words got lost somewhere from my head to my mouth and I said It would be nice not to have to cry to you over the phone.

Remember…when it got too much for me to handle and I needed you to know and I couldn’t be afraid anymore to tell you how I felt because if you didn’t love me there was no use living anyway and if you did love me I would be able to start living again…so I sent you a three page e-mail explaining how hard it is for me to trust people and all the different levels of trust and then at the end wrote I can say I love you because I trust you.

I cried all that day because I sent that off and I hadn’t even written the words.  I had only written about the words…and explained the words…but I thought maybe you still wouldn’t know.

And remember…you called…and you said I love you too…and I…have never…been…the same.

Happy birthday my love, my life, my darling.

I love you.

Loving You

Come quick!

My husband’s shout propels me off my seat and out on the balcony.  The flock of White Storks are back.  They are flying overhead in a haphazard pattern, lazily flapping their massive wings as they circle their way over our heads and past the mountains.

I am leaning against the gate, my head raised, my toes lifting me up slightly so I can see a bit more, my arms extending towards the wonder that just flew by and the arm of my husband wrapped around my waist.

I exhale as the last straggler disappears from view.

We go inside.  I make a small remark about wanting to go to the Hula Valley to see the birds migrating before the season is over when I notice that my husband’s face is splitting with a beaming smile and a strange look in his eyes.

I love you.

I burst into peals of laughter as he says it over and over.

It’s been more than seven years since the first time he said he loved me.

He said he loved me even though I rolled my eyes when he pointed out a beautiful flower.

He said he loved me even though I told him zoos gave me a headache and that I had no interest in seeing fish swim around in an aquarium.

He said he loved me even though I told him that he could hike all he wanted without me.

He said he loved me even though I smirked as he caught a cockroach and freed it outside.

He said he loved me even though I made a face when he started talking about science.

He said he loved me even though I insisted that knowing how to tell birds apart was a weird and awkward bit of knowledge, especially for a kid growing up in Brooklyn.

Seven years of loving me without needing me to take an interest in what he thought interesting.

Seven years of smelling the flowers as I waited impatiently.

Seven years of appreciating the world around me while I took little notice.

Seven years of loving someone with an incredibly different disposition.

Until…suddenly…here I am…getting excited about a flock of birds on their way home from their winter retreat…looking up the differences between Great White Pelicans and White Storks…and laughing hysterically with someone who doesn’t quite know how he could change a person so much…just by loving them.

I Write the Songs that Make the Whole World Sing…

The world knows about the songs she wrote.

I know about the poems and heartfelt musings she keeps together with some sketches in the back of the file cabinet in the section marked “misc.”.  Most of them are from when she was in high school.  The words are fading and it’s hard to make out the script that used to be mandatory in English classes, but it’s tangible and smells like cheap construction paper and my grandmother’s house.

The majority of her writings make their way into the piano and off to some production or other.  Most of the time I don’t think about them.  Most of the time I just write.

I write words to my children, day after day, month after month, year after year, and I wonder how they will read them when they are older.  As I write, I hum the tunes to songs I sang straight through the long hours of childhood, through the minutes of confused youth and right into the second of my very own adulthood.

And then I stop.

And I listen.

And I hear her words…

…well hello little stranger…entirely new…only born an hour ago…look at you…open up your little eyes a glimmer or two…hey there…can you see me…I’m the one who’ll be there taking care of you…and all the things I do for you…are things you’re gonna do…for children of your own…someday…

…there’s just one more adornment…I’ve added in…my own little prayer…I always sew in…may I live to see…that a bride you will be…and I’ll sew you a dress for your chuppa…as we walk down the aisle…it will have all been worthwhile…

…all those dreams…my child…that you dream tonight…will come true…you can be sure…close your eyes and dream of tomorrow…for tomorrow there’ll be more…

…little one…yes it’s true what they say…fathers cry for their children…and Hashem does the same…when we hurt…so does He…yes He does feel our pain…

She wrote…while we were young…and as we grew…and changed…she wrote…and wrote…and wrote…

She hasn’t written in a while.  She says she doesn’t have the time.  But maybe…she doesn’t have the need…because here I am…writing…and humming her songs…with a smile on my face and understanding in my heart.

Mommy and Me

My son hit another kid.

I’ve been waiting for this challenge for a while.  I’ve been curious as to how I would react.

My brother has three little boys, all deeply rooted in Israeli-Chareidi society where boys communicate physically with one another before they get down to verbalization.  (This is in no way a judgmental statement – typical Yerushalmi boys pride themselves on their strength.:))  My poor baby girl suffered at their loving hands until I limited visitation rights.  I love those kids, I just didn’t know how to handle kid-on-kid violence.  I spent a lot of time talking about discipline and how my daughter was non-violent because of how we raise her even though it was really only because that’s her nature.  But there was definitely righteous indignation in my voice when I protested against boyhood behavior.

Now my son got old enough to hit.

Yay.

What a milestone.

He’s strong and has the cutest smile on his face when he pummels his closed fists (!) into tiny heads and stomaches.

Oh what a beautiful boy.

Anyway – so he hit another kid and it was completely unprovoked and I was sitting right there so I couldn’t try to make excuses for him.

I sighed and began the grueling process of disciplining my son, the joker, without cracking a smile.  Believe me, it’s hard.

First I told him he can’t hit.  Then I told him to give the other child a hug.

His response?

He shrugged.  My baby shrugged.  At me.

So I got more serious, and kind of felt it this time, and repeated myself.

And he shrugged.

Repeat.

Shrug.

Repeat.

Shrug.

My thought process was something like “Ok, this isn’t working, he’s just a baby – shrug – wait? shrug?  Did I teach him that?  No way!  I gotta change this pattern now before he shrugs his way through childhood and adolescence.”

I got him to look at me, repeated my mantra of “No sweetie, we do NOT hit!  You must go give that little boy a hug!”

This time he pouted and almost started crying.

I got down to his level, repeated myself and asked if he wanted me to come with him.

He nodded.

“Ok good – communication.  Not like he’ll really hug the kid, he probably has no idea what’s happening, this is pointless….wait!  What?  He’s hugging him!  He’s smiling!  Wow!”

And then he came to me for some Imma loving and I beamed and he beamed…..

I got a round of applause, literally, from the woman I was hanging out with who happens to be my first friend here and also happens to have a degree in early childhood development.  She told me it was great parenting and gave me props.

I thought about it….and realized something profound.

The applause goes to someone else.

My mother.

My wonderful, amazing mother who, despite all the outside horrors that plagued her children, still managed to instill in me the art of mothering with a full heart, soul and sound mind.

Because when people comment on how I speak to my children with respect and honesty and when I see how I actually play with my children and am an integral part of their education I remember my childhood and realize that, like the starstruck child I always was, I am mimicking my hero and raising my children just as she raised me.

And I am eternally grateful.