Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Comeback

Middle East Mama! It has been too long. I could rattle off a whole list of excuses for why I have been absent, but truthfully there is no good reason to neglect writing and creativity. At the very least, let me say that the past year (gasp!) has been completely wonderful. There have been challenges and struggles and tests, but I think that this past year has truly been the greatest year of my life (so far). How can I even attempt to sum up a year's worth of my LIFE? My relationships have grown - I have connected with incredible people who have shown me new sides of myself and have encouraged me to be a more honest and grounded person. I came to some big conclusions about my future - for example, with complete certainty I have decided that I have no idea what's in store. And that's a pretty awesome conclusion to be at peace with. I decided to stop taking classes towards my degree in Human Development for now. It's not that my fascination and love for family studies suddenly disappeared, it's just that after doing some deep soul-searching I realized that right now I spend about 90% of my energy on my children. The other 10% needs to be distributed very carefully. I need to make sure that I choose how to spend my time wisely. That means making space for the people that lift me up - and not stretching myself thin for those that drain me. It also means that I need to nurture my creative passions and not push myself too hard in any one direction. This has resulted in two very important changes in my life: Pursing a career in makeup & putting my academic ambitions on hold. I have never felt freer and more true to who I am at this moment. My children have grown - they are SUCH BIG PERSONALITIES. Yehuda Or has become an incredibly strong-willed, opinionated, and overall fascinated little person. To quote my father "Yehuda Or isn't just the most observant child I know, he's the most observant PERSON I know." And it's true. This kid noticed everything. If I'm stressed, I can expect to feel his little hand on my shoulder and hear his raspy voice say "Ima, are you tired? Are you feeling sad?" If I insist on holding his hand while we cross the street, I dread the moment that he shrieks "NO IMA! KEEP YOUR HANDS ON YOUR OWN BODY!" Pretty mortifying when other people are close... isn't parenthood a joy? But really... It's a challenge to have such a quick, articulate, and particular child but he teaches me so much - to be careful with how I speak and even how I express myself through my body language. Just the other day he came in from the park, plopped down on the couch and said "Abba, I'm so dead." Oops, I guess I should stop using "dead" when I mean "exhausted." And my little one! Wow! I guess when you follow such a distinctive personality you have to bring it. Coby certainly has. He is the most extroverted little guy - babbling away (even saying a few words!) and smacking anything within reach. He has a certain gleeful playfulness that I already feel, at just one year old, exudes a special optimism and confidence. He is enthusiastic about life. Every bit as goofy and silly as Yehuda Or is serious and reflective. They couldn't be more different, and yet they love each other in a way that absolutely melts my heart. The first thing Yehuda Or says when he wakes up is "I want my brother!" and Coby would literally follow Yehuda Or anywhere - he looks at him with total admiration and beaming love. Life is full, intense, joyful, and deep. My spiritual journey continues to ebb and flow, with constant reevaluations and introspection. It is a good journey that keeps me humble and keeps me questioning. My husband is still my rock and my best friend. This year I learned even more about his strength, his faith in G-d, and his commitment to me and our children. Life is good. A simple statement, but one that I don't take lightly. And I mean it. Can't wait to reignite the writing flame and share this year with you...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"A Half Truth is a Whole Lie"

I don't remember who used to say that exactly, but I remember hearing it when I was very young, and that it resonated deeply in my being. For those who remember me as a little kid - maybe it's because I was such a great liar? I convinced my whole kindergarten class that we had adopted a giraffe, I made my friends swear that they would never tell a soul the truth about me: that I turned into a mermaid when my feet touched water. I even had my friend's mother believing that my mom tied a rope to the back of our mini-van and allowed me to roller-blade, holding on, while she drove around the neighborhood (sorry Mom).

The point is, I definitely grappled with the concept of honesty, and knew even then, that lying was a web that would surely trap me. Soon enough, the lies would always come down to an awkward and somewhat humiliating confrontation, and by age eight or nine, I think I saw it wasn't worth the trouble. As adults, for the majority of us that are no longer tempted by the thrill of lying, we face a different but related challenge: inner-honesty. If you're reading this Matisyahu (yeah right, I wish), this one's for you...

With the light of the Chanukah candles illuminating the darkest places, I am trying to find a deeper sense of consistency within myself. Sometimes I find that I say something, it just slips out almost, and immediately afterwards I know it wasn't real. Exactly. Not a lie, but not a truth. I'll give you an example:

Person 1: "I really related to that character. I feel like that all the time, you know?"
Me: "Yeah totally, who doesn't?"
Me to myself: "You don't feel like that! Why did you say that?"

I of course need to figure out why in the world I said what I said. After lots of thinking and discussing (mostly with my resident therapist, Mr. Eli Veffer), I've pinpointed something about myself that isn't bad, but definitely needs to be honed in order to be good: it makes me feel good to make other people feel good. When 'Person 1' said she related to the character in the movie she was looking for validation. She told me something that made her vulnerable, and before I could even process my inner-truth, I validated her. But ironically, by validating her, I invalidated myself. After all, if you can't SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, then you aren't really having a conversation at all , you're just telling people what they want to hear. And that's a recipe for a really lame conversation, and also really lame friendships.

Let's talk about Matisyahu and his disappearing beard act. I'm not gonna lie. It made me sad to see his shaven face. He looked naked, and stripped of his pride. His beard made him more than a Jewish guy who made it big in entertainment. His beard made him a symbol of being completely counter-cultural for G-d, even while being a superstar. That big, burly beard meant that wearing a skirt when skinny jeans are in, just isn't that big of a deal. Come on, you can wear a measly little kippah to the basketball game if Matisyahu can have a BEARD! His beard transcended him. And that's why he had to shave it. I think... just run with me. When something you are doing or wearing or screaming from the rooftops becomes bigger than YOU, you risk losing yourself. I think Matisyahu knew how much inspiration he was giving to the world, so he forgot to stop and ask himself if that beard was really "what he meant" anymore. And then one day, he knew, that honestly, it wasn't. I think it's much harder and braver to change and disappoint the people that are closest to you, then it is to say and do what everyone wants from you.

This is a paradox in Judaism for me. On the one hand, I want to be sure that my commitment to Torah is from my heart and soul. I don't want to be driven by the expectations of others. Moving to Efrat has definitely given me the space and freedom to evaluate all of my religious decisions and make sure that I know WHY I'm living my life a certain way. The wide spectrum of observance here takes the pressure out of being religious. But on the other hand, are the communal expectations built into Judaism for a reason? When I'm feeling uninspired by halacha, when I'm going through a natural low in the ups and downs of religious life, is my community supposed to be there to catch me? The paradox is that inner-truth means trying to be YOURSELF, but sometimes we need the expectations of others to guide us.

My goal is honesty, but I don't want to walk around being inappropriate or hurtful even if it's truthful. I need to work on giving myself a moment to reflect before I respond, and find a way to validate others without losing myself in their needs. As a Jew, I'm not quite sure how I can find the perfect balance between communal expectations, and my own, private relationship with Hashem. From speaking to those older and wiser than myself, I believe that it's a line all Jews who are honest with themselves straddle. And sometimes we stumble. But I feel satisfied with the realization that this line exists.

It is Matisyahu's new clean-shaven face that I now find inspiring. He did the honest thing. The hard thing. And that is something to be proud of.
Chanukah Sameach!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting Political

I've always been a cautious person when it comes to safety. I always cross to other side of the street when I see a man in the distance if I'm alone, I lock the doors in the car before I even start the engine, and I have a nagging feeling that someone's following me when I'm out at night. You might ask then, what in the world I'm doing living in Israel. Look, I hate to get into politics. This blog was supposed to be solely motherhood. Maybe a gripping story about stitches or mean neighbors here and there, but mostly light and fluffy topics relating to teething and diaper sizes. I am unable to really write about those things however, due to the fact that politics have just about taken over my life.

The world is a scary place for sure, but in the past month I have felt a chilling incline in fear and tension. I am no longer being paranoid to avoid the backroads or to think twice about bringing the baby to the grocery store with me. It is only because this political reality has so completely invaded my life that I sadly realize it now IS a part of my story as a mother. So if you are a mother, a father, a brother, or a sister, and even if politics bore you, especially the never-ending saga in "the Middle East," I ask you to continue reading, because I want to convey the new level of anxiety with which I am now parenting.

The conflict here in Israel seems to be bubbling and I feel... hopeless. My optimism about Arab culture has mostly deteriorated since we moved to Efrat which is nestled into what's lovingly called "The West Bank." It's a strange reality, driving alongside Arabs on the highway, sometimes glancing at one another. A father, a mother, a teenager, some rich people, some poor people. Just people. I hate this, but I can't help but wonder "What does she think about me?" I see a child in the back seat and a horrible question comes to mind: "Does he think I'm evil?" Being an Israeli is not an easy task. It means being pretty much the most loathed subject to a (huge) population of radical Muslims, which frightfully, due to dictatorships and oppression, means most Arabs in this part of the world (and possibly everywhere).

I am not a racist. I do not believe that anyone is born evil. Just a few days ago we went to the American Consulate to get a passport for Coby, and Yehuda Or made friends with a teenage Palestinian girl. He kept peeping over his chair smiling at her, and out of the corner of my eye I watched her warmly smile back. I later glanced at her passport application in her lap and saw that she was from Chevron, one of the most controversial cities in which the Jews and Arabs have a notoriously horrible relationship. It broke my heart that I was surprised to see her smile! But why shouldn't I be surprised?

Just yesterday there was a huge celebration held in Ramallah. Women and children cried tears of joy, men shouted on one another's shoulders, music blasted, and for what? For the release of over 400 Palestinian criminals. I HATE how the media insists on calling them "prisoners" as if this was a swap of POWs. These people are responsible for the deaths of Israeli civilians - brutal, cruel, vicious bombs packed with shrapnel that blasted men, women, and children into pieces. One of these men broke into a home and machine gunned three children watching TV, then moved into the bedroom where he murdered their mother and shot at the legs of a fourth child hiding under the bed. THESE PEOPLE ARE FREE IN MY COUNTRY. Can you imagine if 400 maximum security prisoners were let free in YOUR city? Would you want to leave the house? Would you want your child to wander out of your reach? I am living in a horrible hell of anxiety. Guilty that I cringe at every Arab I see, terrified he or she will attack me. Think I'm being paranoid? Yesterday a Palestinian woman charged at a group of people at the bus stop outside of my grocery store with a knife screaming "Allahu Akbar." Why? She told the police that she was inspired by the heroes finally released from Israeli jails - they are rallying people to continue to attack Israelis, to continue to kidnap soldiers in order to free the rest of their "jailed heroes." I watched the footage of Gilad Shalit hug his father for the first time in over 5 years. I cried tears of joy and relief that this poor boy, who lost 5 years of his life, is finally home. But my gratitude for his life has been quickly replaced by a deep fear. A question and a heartfelt prayer. What will happen next?

There are 2 factors that make me feel hopeless at this point. One, is that the rest of the world is somehow viewing this reality through a skewed, twisted window. I read the American news and it's like I'm reading about a different country completely. The lack of support, and the continued glorification and support of Hamas and PA Palestinians absolutely shocks and terrifies me. It's old news I know, but I'm STILL in disbelief at how biased, and outright illogical the public opinion is about what's going on here. The second, and more depressing issue is that I don't know how the actual average Palestinian feels. Do the Israeli papers simply find the extremists, or is that the norm? Did Hamas force people to sing and dance at these murderers return, or is this truly a cause for celebration for them? Most importantly, when I make eye contact with a Palestinian woman driving in the car alongside me, what is she thinking? What is she feeling? Who am I to her?

Thoughts and answers to any and all questions are most welcome...
Sending love to all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Feelin' Groovy

August 21st was my birthday. It was the first birthday that I didn't open my eyes with that special birthday anticipation. To the contrary, I stumbled into the kitchen at 6:05 to get Yehuda Or his apple juice, changed Coby's poopy diaper, and watched an episode of Barney before I remembered. It wasn't until I looked at the spoil-date on the milk before pouring it into my coffee that I realized "Hey! It's my birthday!"

Eli had a horrible, sleepless night, so I was doing the early shift solo, but as soon as I woke him up he ushered me to go take a shower and get dressed. When I came into the dining room he had made a delicious breakfast and he and Yehuda Or had drawn a beautiful "Happy Birthday Ima" sign. It was a fantastic birthday. But obviously nothing went as planned. We waited at the security checkpoint to get into Jerusalem for over half an hour, parking at Malcha Mall was a nightmare, and the mall was so packed because of summer break that I couldn't hear myself speak, let alone find the headspace to shop. But you know what? We got Yehuda Or a new pair of sneakers, I got two novels that I'm psyched to read, and just being out, the four of us, actually felt like a terrific birthday present. I remember that as a child my mom always wanted to "do something as a family" for her birthday. It didn't really matter what, just as long as we were doing something that didn't involve sitting in front of a screen. She wanted us to be together and interacting. That's exactly what this birthday made me realize - what makes me happy now, in this stage of life, is the simple togetherness of my new, blossoming family. I decided to call the night babysitter and cancel - instead of getting all dressed up and going out somewhere fancy, I just wanted to get in pajamas, order some take-out sushi, and hang out with Eli and my boys.

After a very full day, we put Yehuda Or to sleep (by the way, he goes to sleep COMPLETELY by himself now, in a BED) and I had a moment to think about birthdays past, and how much life has changed. Just three birthdays ago I was engaged, meeting my future in-laws for the first time in Toronto. I was hopelessly in love, optimistic, and couldn’t wait to have children and create a family. By my next birthday I was 5 months pregnant with Yehuda Or. So I’m 24 with two kids. Yeesh, life moves fast. In a good way though. Despite the temper-tantrums and sleep deprivation, I’m a very happy person. I feel productive, I feel satisfied, I feel excited, and most of all, I feel so much love. Yes I get cranky, yes I have off days. But I can’t believe how on top of it I feel seven weeks postpartum. I think after Yehuda Or was born I was in so much shock - I was going through this intense identity change and suddenly I was so responsible for another person. I loved him immensely and yet I was so overwhelmed by the reality of being a mother. I worried so much about every sneeze, every poop. With Coby, the love is easy and uncomplicated. I’ve been there, done that, so now I can just simply enjoy his mushy, chubby cheeks and try my best to hang onto to every moment before it slips away.

My new job (on top of nanny, chef, housecleaner, etc...) is losing the pregnancy weight! Note to self: next time, don’t eat like there’s no tomorrow. Because now it’s tomorrow and I’m dealing with the consequences of a lot of Ben and Jerry’s. Somehow it’s empowering to be on a diet though - I’m eating super healthy food, cooking a ton (so Eli and Yehuda Or are happy as well), and my energy is high. Also, breastfeeding and pushing a double stroller around Efrat is expediting the weight-loss process.

That’s all for now... thanks for reading! Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Birth, a Baby, and a Big Brother

I was starting to think that pregnancy was my new permanent state of being. I knew that it had to come to an end at some point, but it's so difficult to actually picture life with an entirely new person and the end of pregnancy is SO uncomfortable that I stopped believing the baby would ever actually be born. But he was! I'm still processing the birth, but I think I can give a quick overview of the events by now.

I was huge and uncomfortable. I was starting to feel gloomy at my inability to hoist myself off the couch, and at how incredibly exhausted I felt no matter how much sleep I got. On Sunday night, July 3rd I decided to get an acupuncture/reflexology treatment to relax and hopefully to induce myself. The session was amazing. I felt totally loosened up both physically and emotionally. I felt very confident that the labor was imminent when I went to sleep that night. Sure enough, at 4:00 am I woke up to sharp contractions that took me right back to Yehuda Or's birth. It was this feeling of "Oh yeah... so THAT'S what these things are like." I felt like the labor could progress really fast so we needed to just book it to the hospital.

Turned out that my contractions stayed 10-15 minutes apart and instead of checking in to the hospital (and being stuck on the monitor on a horribly uncomfortable hospital bed) we checked into the Hadassah Baby Hotel where I labored calmly and comfortably. By 1:00 pm (now Monday, July 4th) I was really ready to go. Contractions stayed 5 minutes apart but I was in extreme pain and needed to groan or yell during each contraction. Eli found a wheel chair (embarrassing, yes) and off we went back to the delivery ward. By the time I was checked I was almost 5 cm dilated and since it was my second birth they rushed me into a room immediately. Ok, it was 2:00 pm when I got into my room. My son was born at 3:33 pm. So we're only talking an hour and thirty three minutes here. I'm not going to go into detail, but I screamed the baby out. There's just no other way to say it. It wasn't a "bad experience" but it definitely wasn't what I'd call a positive one. After Yehuda Or's birth, which felt peaceful, calm, and under control, this birth just felt very frantic and out of control. I have now had one birth with an epidural, and one birth completely natural. I can tell you with 100% certainty that I never plan to go through natural childbirth again. It's not that it's impossible or that I don't undersand why people might want to, it's just that for me personally, I found the epidural (with Yehuda Or) to really take the "I'm going to die" aspect of labor out of the equation and that's something I really don't want to experience again. One time's enough, THANK you.

Ok enough about pain... then my gorgeous 8.7 pound baby was born! He is the yummiest, calmest, and easiest little guy. He has beautiful big, blue eyes and the most perfect heart-shaped lips. He sleeps like a champ and I'm completely in love. I just want to kiss him constantly. Yehuda Or is amazing. I'm so proud of him, and at the same time I'm so sad for him that he is indeed going through a massive transition. I hate knowing that he feels confused and upset. But all things considered, he's doing great. He loves to kiss and "hold" Coby (full name is Yaakov Asher for mine and Eli's paternal grandfathers), and he sings a song "Cooooby" that melts my heart. The main change that we see is that other kids (especially babies) really stress him out right now. I think he's putting so much energy into "sharing" me and Eli with the baby that he absolutely can't share anything else. Which I think is totally healthy and I'm more than happy to help him through this transition by taking his cues and not pushing him in any way. It's a little tough on a selfish level, because it means I can't hang out with friends who have kids right now. But I'm first and foremost a mom right now, and just like everything else, this too shall pass. Eventually.

I'm still terrified to be alone with the two boys, but tonight I did bedtime myself and it only took an hour and half! Ridiculous I know, but for my first try I think it's pretty good. I'm trying to just take a deep breath and not get overwhelmed by this new challenge, and instead just feel the incredible amount of bracha that I've been given. Two wonderful, healthy, and beautiful children... and the most amazing husband who (just like last time) was my rock through the labor and birth. My heart feels so full and so complete when Eli's sitting on the couch, both boys on his lap. Love is so good.

I'll try to check in more often now ~ lila tov!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Guess How Much I Love You

This is a little late, but in honor of Mother's Day I wanted to give my mom a shout out:

When my son was placed on my chest, tiny and perfect, shrieking with life, you were next to me holding my hand.
Only in the past few months has it dawned on me, that you love me the way I love Yehuda Or.
Being a mother has opened this door into our relationship - into why you cared so much when I was hurt by girls in middle school, and why you worried so much when I was determined to make some seriously stupid mistakes. Yes, I also now understand why you insist that I "wasn't a bad teenager" even though I cringe at some of the things I remember saying.
You love me the way I love Yehuda Or.
It's such a deep, endless, take-your-breath-away love.
It's the kind of love that will not fade, despite being pooped on, puked on, and woken up at all hours of the night.
This love is the real thing - in your bones love that runs through your veins and will exist as long as your heart is beating.
This love, is motherhood love.
So thank you Mom for carrying me for those nine long months filled with backaches and leg cramps, mood swings and heartburn.
Thank you for "oohing" and "aahing" through hours of contractions, for pushing your body to its limit so that I could be born.
Thank you for nursing me, holding me when I got a "boo boo," and reading me "Goodnight Moon" eight million times.
I understand now that I am still your baby, even though I have my own. You will always be my biggest fan, and you will always think about me as you drift off to sleep.
Yehuda Or climbs into my bed in the morning when he wakes up and I have to hold back from squeezing him too tight. He is perfect, and no matter how many mistakes he might make in his life, he will remain in some ways my innocent, beautiful baby boy.
Thank you for believing in me so strongly Mom, for being so invested in me.
Thank you so much for being my mom.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Back to Reality

After three days of "taking it easy" my lower back still seems to be in spasm, so instead of my usual laundry-dishes-sorting-organizing night activity I nestled into my bed and watched a movie. One of my childhood favorites is "The Secret Garden" which tells the story of a wealthy but neglected little girl that is orphaned and discovers many secrets in her uncle's Manor. Now, remember, I'm seven months pregnant here so my hormones are raging, but I found myself so emotional and engrossed in the story that I'm thinking "Why didn't this win an Oscar?" At the end of the movie (*spoiler alert*) a little boy reunites with his father who had avoided him because he was afraid of loving him. There I am, computer on my lap, absolutely bawling my eyes out as I watch little Colin reach for his father's cheek. I'm not exactly sure what the point is in writing this story, other than to communicate how perhaps out of whack (or just wonderfully sensitive) pregnancy makes me. Life is so FULL and emotional.

Our trip to the states was wonderful, if not a little (ok VERY) hectic and packed. We decided beforehand that the priority was spending time with family and friends, even if it meant a lot of schlepping and very little sleep. In Denver we got reconnect with my parents, brother, and a few other individuals that still feel like my family despite living so far away. Yehuda Or got absolutely doted upon, and we watched his development sky-rocket from all of the stimulation and love. We took a three day trip out to Minneapolis where we got to finally catch up with Eli's older sister and her family. It was so great to see Yehuda Or with a gang of cousins and it was a surprising treat that he loved "baby Shira" (his 7 month old cousin) and wanted to hold her and kiss her the entire time. I also did a one night trip to Florida with my mom and Yehuda Or. We got to spend some time with my grandfather which was very dear and felt very important. We also had the privilege of seeing one of my closest friends who is currently battling cancer. Her strength, optimism, and warmth (as well as her mother's) was so incredible, and it absolutely warmed my heart to be able to hug her and express how much I care about her during such a scary time.

So no, it wasn't a relaxing trip, but it was still invigorating and refreshing to step outside of our bubble of life and be so active and surrounded by so much love. Being away from Israel during the horrible events of the past month (Fogel murders, bus bomb, and rocket attacks) felt very strange. Oddly, it made me long for Israel and as soon as we stepped off the plane we couldn't stop saying "It's so good to be home." For the first time THIS feels like home and not "my other life." That realization is relieving and comforting.

After being on 8 planes in 3 weeks pregnant and with a 15 month old I feel like I can do anything. Temper tantrums with no AC and forty people giving you death glares? No problem. Having to force your toddler to walk through a metal detector by himself when you're about to miss your flight? That's nothing. If you need a boost in competence, travel with a toddler and a 6 pound weight strapped to your stomach. It's a ride. These are some points that stood out during our adventures:

1. The more food the better - especially horrible things like sugary cereal and chex mix. To continuously feed your child. Don't judge me.
2. Toys are not worth bringing - the plane is so stimulating and the new-ness is too distracting for blocks, legos, or anything they've seen before to be worth their time.
3. Thank G-d for individual movie screens! And kid's movies! Have you seen Lilo & Stitch? Because I have! 27 times!
4. The seatbelt is the best game ever. Eli and I took turns standing so that Yehuda Or could open and shut the seatbelt again and again and again and again...
5. Make friends with the flight attendants - they can make the flight a pleasant experience or absolute hell. One cranky flight attendant scoffed at me when I stood up to let Yehuda Or walk a bit. "Uchhhhh MAM, that's NOT really an OPtion, uchhhhhh."
6. When they come around with drinks always ALSO ask for a glass of water with whatever you get. The plane is so dehydrating, especially when you're pregnant. I found that the more water I drank, the more stamina I had.
7. Get to the gate on time to ensure that your stroller will be gate-checked! We had a 10 hour layover in London with no stroller. It was stressful to say the least.

I think that's it! Having an amazing husband who did the majority of the running around is obviously key ;). We are home now - finally settling in, although the jet-lag took 9 whole days to wear off. All three of us were awake until 2 am and sleeping until noon for a week. Pesach is around the corner and my back has suddenly decided to poop out on me. I'm trying my best to rest, relax, and not be too annoyed. But staying off my feet is very difficult with an active 15 month old. Thank G-d, we are all healthy and well. I hope everyone has a meaningful and uplifting Pesach! Chag Sameach!