On Open Houses and Choice in a Foreign Tongue

It is early in the morning.

She rests her head against my shoulder, twisting her body around in an attempt to find a comfortable position. I sit as still as I can, knowing she will turn again and again until we finally get there. I’ve learned to be the rock she circles; forever keeping me at her center.

She lets out the air she’s been holding in all night and squeezes my hand.

“I’m nervous.”

I stroke her hair gently.

“Don’t worry sweetie. Today is just about the options. We don’t have to decide anything yet.”

She settles into another position against me and scrolls through my phone, willing the music she loves to soothe her churning stomach, and I am left alone with anxious thoughts thundering through my still body like a silent hurricane.

We are heading to an open house at a high school in Jerusalem. We are trying to find a place for her to learn and grow and be herself and be valued and shine and become. She is going to love this place, I know. She will see the art on the walls and a set stage. She will hear the music playing, and the dancers will be ready, and she will imagine herself right in the center of it all with a microphone and a million hopes and dreams.

I will listen to the principal speak about math and science and expectations. I will look around at the students and watch where their heads sit between their shoulders. I will find the stories hidden in the walls and the corners and the bathrooms of this place that wants to hold my child. I will not understand all the nuances said in a language I process through a tight layer of plastic wrap that suffocates the message and makes me choke on words. I will feel bewildered and lost and alone as I walk through an option that feels the same as every other one I’m given and points me in a direction I don’t recognize.

I wonder what other parents feel, as they stroll through their choices with an ease that comes from knowing what your options are. Do they lose sleep at night fighting demons the unknown conjures? Do they live with the regret that comes with retrospect only gained once experience shines a light on the pieces of the puzzle that didn’t come with the box?

She reaches out for me again, and I hold her close and kiss her cheek and wish away the fear.

I remember how it felt when I walked off the plane, down the stairs, and onto the ground that held my future. I remember the loneliness and the ache of rising panic as I realized I was in a land that was a birthright but not a birthplace. I remember the struggle of becoming caught between two worlds and the pressing weight of conflicting cultures that forced me on this ledge where I have been balancing as I built my home and found my footing.

I am tired of feeling incompetent. I am tired of not fitting in. I am tired of having to rely on advice from strangers every time I need to decide the future of my children. I am tired of never knowing the full picture. I am tired of these moments where I feel like I am crawling through a stampede, trampled under the assumption that my independence means I don’t need a herd.

It is paralyzing, change. It is a rising wave of feelings that require a mountain of sandbags to hold together strong.

I wrap my baby girl in my arms as she rides her wave heavily against me.

As we climb the mountain towards the center of a choice I made when I didn’t know what it means to choose for someone else, I wonder who will pack around me as wave after wave crashes into my ever changing life.

For now, I still the part of me that is brave and strong and circle it, knowing that somewhere in my mixed up mind is the girl who flew across the world all by herself, found a path full of heartache and joy, followed it to this moment where my beautiful growing-up girl is getting ready to fly.

I don’t know if I chose this land or if this land chose me.

All I know for sure is that the sky above me is the only one blue enough to be the backdrop against my daughter’s brilliant wings.

Can’t I Be The Mom I Want To Be?

They told me kids grow up too soon…so I feel a little guilty right now…

Because it doesn’t seem soon enough to me…

I don’t know if I was made to pick up toys all day…have my skirt used as a tissue…field questions about witches and monsters…listen to never-ending whines about everything and anything…all as I desperately try to maintain a cool I don’t know exists and refrain from losing it completely.

I’m sitting on the couch now…because both kids are in school…and I’m supposed to be looking for a job…but I don’t want to.

I want to have my mornings to myself.

I want to be able to clean the house without anyone climbing under me or walking all over a damp floor with muddy shoes or taking all the toys out at once…undoing everything I’ve done.

I want to go to the supermarket by myself and not have to bribe anyone with candy while I try to push a cart too heavy already with only a package of tissues and a child in it.

I want to exercise without having to put a child or two in front of a screen and then shower with the door closed for once, not having to strain to hear if everyone is still alive.

I want to cook without someone reaching for my knife…insisting on helping me…tasting the tomato paste with dirty fingers…demanding to be fed NOW…and whining about how boring it is when no entertainment is provided on demand.

And then I want my kids to come home to a hot meal and a warm hug.  I want to have a smile on my face and a clear mind, ready to listen to everything.  I want the strength to gently change their tone and remind them how to speak.  I want a clean floor to spread out on…playing games together…building castles…racing cars…with laughter.  I want to help them brush their teeth…comb their hair…cuddle up with a book or two…or three…and finish the day with hugs and kisses.  Then I want to sit down with my husband…my best friend…and enjoy an evening together.

This summer showed me how I am when I am in a constant state of responsibility for another person – especially little bored persons.  I am not happy with how I reacted.  I am full of guilt and remorse for wishing things about my children I know I don’t really mean but don’t know how much I might.  Mostly, I feel guilty for wanting them to grow up already and take care of themselves.

So I’m procrastinating…and writing this instead of a resume.

I love my children.  I really, really do.

I love them so much that I don’t want to ever have to compromise on how I raise them.

I just don’t have another solution.

I’m scared I’ll have to sacrifice the kind of childhood I desperately want them to have for money.

That makes me sick to my stomach.

Mother, May I?

Seven years.

It’s been seven years since I had some time that could be mine to do with as I please.

The routine of my life consisted of pregnancies, depression, births, newborns, infants, toddlers and learning to nap when I got a chance.

By the time my daughter turned three, my son was born.  We added daily pick-up from preschool to the schedule.  The naps got shorter.  The afternoons got harder.  The evenings were a blur.  Such was life.

But my two-year old needed more than what I could give him.  So he went off to gan.  The way I feel about that is still being explored.

He loves it – I’m ok with it, and now I have five hours a day without him.

Five precious hours.

Today I went on a walk.

By myself.

With headphones.

Blaring music without a care.

It made me feel alive…and free…

And when I got home, I prepared a salad without any pulling on my legs and sat at the table and ate slowly, without having to share my food.

It felt weird.

And liberating.

But still weird.

So I knew I needed to work that out – that strange sensation of wanting someone to pull at me and bother me because it makes me feel like I am worth something…

I saw an ad that caught my eye.

A writing workshop.

And I knew that it was now or never.

So I took the plunge.

I start tomorrow.

And I’m sitting here wondering why I’m doing it.

Wondering who I’m doing it for.

Wondering at myself for wondering.

This morning when I walked with me, I knew her well.

Cause I’ve always been there.

Taking care of me through them – and getting myself ready for today – the day I said hello to the only person worth doing a writing workshop for.

And boy is she excited.

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.