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Shattered

Confession: I was not an intuitive pregnant woman. You know, the kind of woman who knows the “second” she conceives. These women have an instant connection, a lovely internal secret that is then confirmed by pee sticks, blood tests and ultrasounds. I had none of that. “Surprise! You’re growing a person; your due date is [many days before my children were actually born].”

It doesn’t matter. However you find out you are pregnant, or how you will become a mother, through adoption, fostering, anything – you eventually figure out the connection. You build and are built by it. Sometimes there is some tearing down, some forging and reforging through fiery flames. Good times. Great times. Hard times. Shared times.

Today, in my city’s cemetery, three mothers and three fathers, more than a dozen siblings, and an entire nation will bury three children. Three boys — students; kind, helpful, giving people. Their deaths have put an end to a massive national effort to find them. It is not the conclusion we wanted. The politics will long outlive them. There is so much anger. So much sadness. So much frustration. So much helplessness.

I question the decision to send these mothers into the lion’s den, also known as the United Nations in Geneva, to beg the international community for help. In retrospect, the boys were already dead. They were dead by the time their parents knew they were missing. Is this better or worse? This is the kind of question that has no acceptable answer. There should be a parallel universe where they have finished their exams and taking their younger siblings on summer adventures.

The waves of sadness keep coming.

This morning, as Miss M wept in our bed, AM burrowed under the covers; he emerged 10 minutes later to say: “I want to go back to America.” He doesn’t know it’s not safer there.

At the grocery store, a teenager pushed a cart with his younger brother in tow, the two of them taking care of the family shopping. This is how it is. Kids are treasured, but internalize that part of this state of being is responsibility to the source of love.

Almost weepy at the grocery store leads to a lot of ice cream on the tab. FYI.

I am frustrated by the short reach of the news. I feel like all of us, Israelis and Jews, are simply talking among ourselves. We cannot engage the wider world. Does nobody else care? I am sure that can’t be it. Is Israel too far away, too war-torn, too political, too foreign?  I don’t know.

I feel like I, personally, cannot catch the attention of my friends who are parents, smart and savvy and politically engaged — in America. What can I say to them, to you, to make you understand the raw grief and crushing moral equivalency that we are subjected to?

I’ll just be here. And when the passionate speeches die away, Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali will remain as my close neighbors and in my thoughts.

May their families and those who stand with Israel be comforted. Can this impossible task be achieved? I just don’t know.

Hear that? It’s the sound of millions of parents worrying.

In case your news sources have been less than attentive, here’s what I can tell you:

Three teenage boys, ages 16, 16, and 19, were on their way home from boarding schools last Thursday night. They were kidnapped from a spot where they were hitchhiking. They haven’t been heard from since.

The Israeli government is fairly sure (or was?) that this kidnapping was carried out by an agent or agents of Hamas, a known terror organization and now-partner in a “unity” government ruling the Palestinian Authority. It’s unclear what the motives were here: prisoner exchange, as the Israeli government capitulated to in order to free Gilad Shalit, or simply terror.

I can’t even explain how horrific this is on so many levels.

First of all, these boys are civilians. Soldiers are known targets and are well aware of this. They are subject to rules, but also carry guns and are taught how to handle BEING a target. These kids are teenagers, learning in high school or yeshiva. I guarantee you that they were going to BE soldiers, some day. The religious Zionist community is extremely committed to serving in the army. But they are kids, still; they were trying to get home for the weekend.

Here are some more things you need to know, just in case you have been reading the news and have some questions:

  • High school in Israel starts in 7th grade.
  • Partial (sleeping over two nights a week) or full (Sunday-Thursday) boarding schools are common, especially for religious boys.
  • You can apply to any high school in the country; it’s not districted. If there is a curriculum or a teacher or rabbi that particularly speaks to you, you apply to that school.
  • While public transportation in major population centers like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa — and between them — is excellent, much of the rest of the country is extremely underserved.
  • The legal driving age is 18; you can begin lessons at 17.
  • Cars are extremely expensive; import tax is approximately 100%. Gas is extremely expensive; figure $7-8 per gallon.
  • Hitchhiking is legal and simply how people, especially young people without their own cars, get around “between” infrequent or insufficient bus service.

These boys were among the oldest in their families of many siblings. They shouldered a lot of responsibilities besides being high school students, and were, as is expected of most Israeli teens, fairly independent. They were taken from a hitchhiking post that is near many Jewish communities of various sizes, but also near the biggest supermarket in the area, where Arabs and Jews work and shop together.

It is not viewed as a “dangerous” area, though I guess how people feel about it depends on your perspective. We’ve passed this junction dozens and dozens of times.

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(Miss M and me at the Pinat Chama, within sight of the kidnapping location. The Pinat Chama offers refreshments, hugs, and words of encouragement to soldiers passing through this area. It is staffed by volunteers.)

Anyway, now Israelis have united in worry. For the welfare of these children. Who, regardless of your political leanings, are not combatants and do not deserve this.

There have been country-wide prayers. Soldiers who have been called to the area to look for them; and an unending shower of support for them in the form of cakes and treats, if my Facebook feed is to be believed.

But I feel so discouraged – the people who took these boys are either terrible people or regular people under terrible influences. The disconnect, for me, between prayer and their safe return is huge. I can’t figure it out. I feel like the machinations of power in this situation are beyond divine influence. Which is blasphemous, I’m sure, but there it is.

(Which is not to discourage anyone else. If it’s good for you, makes you feel like you’re doing something, anything!, that’s great – that is what we all want to feel.)

From the second they were taken, they were changed people. With every minute, every day that passes they recede from us. As a parent, as a human being, this makes my heart break.

More things I would like to call your attention to:

There are people besides the soldiers who are risking their lives because of this event. Israeli Arab teenagers, two of them, who have been threatened from within their own communities because of speaking out, publicly, to return the boys, and casting Israel’s democracy in a positive light. This makes my heart break.

Palestinian children celebrating the kidnapping with sweets and a three-fingered salute, representing the three captives. This makes my heart break. Because to quote Denis Leary: “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old. Do you know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” Is this the next generation of peace partners?

These are just adding to the pile of sad. No matter your religion or your religiosity, any parent can surely understand what it would mean to have a child go missing. To have an empty place at the table. To have a huge hole in your heart. It is a small country; the connections run faster and deeper. Even though we have been here for less than five years, someone I know lives in the same small community as one of the boys. Lather, rinse, repeat until the whole country is drawn in.

Thank you for reading this. I know I have glossed over all the political issues, and there are many, because that is not the heart of the matter. Three boys, who we now know and love like our own children, are missing. They should be returned to their families and their nation.

Note: there are literally dozens of news, blog, and opinion pieces from the past week of coverage on the Times of Israel. I couldn’t decide which to link, so I haven’t included any. But if you have a spare few minutes, there are many thoughts there from different viewpoints.

So this is middle-years parenting. Excuse me if I get whiny.

We are decidedly out of the baby-toddler years, which threatened to kill us with sleep deprivation, viral loads, and constant vigilance. So that is awesome, really, to be done with that sort of daily torture.

Our kids are good. They are interesting people. They think interesting thoughts. They are science nerds and jokesters. They like books and outer space and nature. They like swimming and ice cream and French fries. They each have their quirks, to be sure, but we are trying to handle them, with varying amounts of success. (Depends on the day, usually.)

So what could possibly go wrong?

It is not the relationship. The kids seem to trust us, despite some age-appropriate lying that drives me batshit crazy. (They are not that good at lying, get caught, then seem mad that they were caught and are in hot water. Still waiting for them to make the connection.)

They love us. They need us. It is the jobs. The JOBS, people. (For more on what I mean by this distinction, see here.)

So the jobs, the daily grind, the hamster on the wheel stuff? I am pretty sure it could be done better by a border collie. The entire border collie DNA is poised to get reluctant or recalcitrant animals to do what they should be doing. Say, fording a stream or switching pens. Just generally staying on task, getting to the new location — border collies will do it day in, day out without a complaint. Because DNA! They love the jobs!

They will do anything!  Photo credit: Paul Englefield, Creative Commons user agreement

They will do anything!
Photo credit: Paul Englefield, Creative Commons user agreement

 

I get frustrated. The herding, it irks me. The waking up every morning to the exact same list of tasks, and yet being treated like I am suddenly speaking in Turkish. (“How would one say…suntan lotion?” “What is this water bottle you speak of? Oh, I was supposed to bring it home? And drink from it again today? Madness!”) I know I am supposed to be making myself obsolete, or starting to, in this stage of parenting. It doesn’t seem to be working. Although one can work the grill with aplomb and the other can sew buttons and embroider, they still can’t manage to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher or the milk back in the fridge. Ever.

Better left to the dogs to herd my cats. That’s my refrain. What’s yours?

Good money spent

It’s been a long time since I offered unsolicited advice, but now I have some!

My children, once upon a time. Back in their amateur days.

My children, once upon a time. Back in their amateur days.

 

(And it does not involve body parts or baby equipment, so that’s different.)

About six months ago Taxman turned 40. Because I suspect that my mom’s love language is gifts, the specter of WHAT TO GET HIM loomed large. I finally suggested that my parents get him the gift of a family photo shoot.

This is something we’ve been intending to do for a long time – the last “professional” photo shoot (and by professional I mean either Sears, Target, or JCPenney) was in 2008 and did not even include the adults in the family (it was our kids and their cousins). To see a studio snap that contains me and Taxman, you have to climb into the time machine and set it for 2005.

NB: In 2005 we had half the number of children we do now.

So my parents sent us a nice little check, and I crowd sourced on Facebook (OF COURSE) for a photographer recommendation. I settled on a woman who lives in the same city, takes pictures in a forest clearing, has a terrific website, and seemed to be able to capture that sort of relaxed vibe we were going for.

Then I planned outfits, planned haircuts, and planned makeup. People probably thought I was going a little overboard. But goodness gracious, this photo shoot was YEARS in the making. The next time I figure we will all be together with a professional behind the camera will be in 2016. For Miss M’s bat mitzvah. When perhaps we will be a bit stressed. So I wanted to PLAN in order to be RELAXED.

And so it was. It was a slightly overcast day. The forest was in bloom. I wore makeup.

The pictures are so, so beautiful. All I have to do is look at them and I am filled with such love and happiness. Even if we have an awful day, there are these photos. They are filled with light. Not actual light but LIGHT. The lightness of this one afternoon when we had nowhere to be and nothing to do but be together. They are a treasure.

So if you have the chance to have family pictures taken, my unsolicited advice is: do it.

My big kids. Gone semi-pro at it.

My big kids. Gone semi-pro at it.

Sand through the hourglass

Well! Life got busy, as it always does. We were lulled into complacency this year by having an “extra” month in the Jewish calendar, but really this just pushed the inevitable craziness of Purim (baking the crumbs) and Pesach (cleaning the crumbs) forward by a few weeks.

The kids wanted to bake hamantaschen this year – I usually bake cookies instead – and I reluctantly agreed. Somehow, though, my reluctance turned into losing my mind, as I made the world’s most complicated and expensive (coconut oil! gel food coloring!) hamantaschen. Well, it was a good experience to teach me to leave Pinterest the hell alone. As was my original instinct.

But they were pretty.

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Pesach involved so much cooking. So much. I wish there were some way to avoid that. A few things made it easier than I expected – a friend’s recipe for matzah meal rolls (insert eye roll here) that I made over and over again; AM’s sudden willingness to eat hard-boiled eggs and his immense (and expensive) love of walnuts; and our switch to canola oil, like the awesome Israelis we try to be. But I also tried to relax and read some books. I left my computer and work email untouched for an entire Thursday, which really just made it harder to come back and do stuff. Plus my brother was visiting and being the fun uncle. So there you are.

AM turned 8. I am gobsmacked. He’s this bizarre little combination of very mature and helpful with squirrely, stinky-footed boy. It’s not going to get less weird, I fear.

Now we are on the slippery slope towards summer: Yom Haatzmaut, opening day at the pool, Shavuot, Miss M’s birthday, and the end of school. It is not yet too hot to be outside, but the powers that be are doing their best.

What’s new in your neck of the woods?

 

 

These lovely yellow buds on stalks are currently on almost every patch of undisturbed ground.

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Black mustard, Modiin

When there are no buildings to disturb them, they’ve taken over. A bit. But they’re so cheerful it’s hard to object.

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Because we’re rapidly approaching March, and I’ve been seeing “March” blooms — an approximate measure, of course — I took the dog slightly off course this morning to see what I’d find.

The answer? Great eyefuls of yellow. A perfect antidote to an overcast morning. Sadly, the hope of rain vanished along with the clouds; will this winter go down as a dry one?

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Arabian cistus, Modiin 

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