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Excuses

Hi! I’m still here!

My sanity is…debatable.

Miss M turned 12, and we had 120 people for dinner to celebrate.

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Actually, it started last summer, when I said something incredibly stupid, like, “For the bat mitzvah, Miss M should make 12 pieces of art, then we should auction them off for charity at a gala dinner. We will make it nice enough to justify the grandparents schlepping over from America.”

And nobody with some sense thought to stop me and my gigantic mouth.

(System failure!)

So that’s pretty much what happened. Miss M learned her Torah portion and commentaries in-depth, created art pieces, wrote explanations of them in Hebrew and English, picked charities, and there you have it. EASY PEASY. (Hahaha, plus dozens of sleepless nights. And speeches!)

We of course hired an event planner because I still don’t know how to say “easel” in Hebrew, never mind having a clue where or how to rent ELEVEN of them for one night. She also herded us through a catering crisis and a billion other things.

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My takeaway is that three detail-oriented people on one project makes for a beautifully micromanaged event, but if I never have to answer my phone or return a related email again I would be ok with that.

Anyway, it was a big enough thing that I had hair and makeup and wore heels. It was nice.

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Then we squired our American visitors around for a few more days for some sightseeing in Jerusalem and Tzipori. Then we had a big Shabbat do (more food! more speeches!) at our synagogue and had 13 relatives over for meals.

Then I legit had jet lag, trying to recover. Did not matter that I hadn’t been on a plane – I needed midday naps and freezer meals to get through dinner.

I’m better now.

Whew.

Phase: Next

I am one of those people who loves the Facebook “On This Day” app. I find it funny and nostalgic, although the further back it goes the more I apparently vaguebooked. (In the days before restricted lists, I suppose.)

So a few days ago, Facebook served me a message from someone who wrote on my wall in 2009. (We met in third grade, but haven’t seen each other in at least 25 years.)

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So I saw this and nearly doubled over laughing. Because this sweet little girl, who now has two younger sisters, has made it all the way to being a tween. Her parents have (based on the pictures and posts) experienced some lovely times with her.

And soon, God willing, she will be consumed by, as we (read: Miss M) call it around here, The Puberty.

But back to being 3 1/2. Did I angst about this on Facebook? How did Brian know that I had tips? Because at this point AM had just turned 3. (Where tips would mean referrals to Ask Moxie.)

And I am curious as to what I would say. Or did say. (Pinky swear, I have not yet searched my message archives.)

Because now that I’ve done this twice, I would probably just advise to lay in the coping mechanisms of choice (alcohol, sweets, salty snacks, trashy magazines, Netflix, whatever) and stay sympathetic but vaguely detached. Don’t take things personally, because the three-year-old freak outs are so about them, not you. (Those kids are working out some STUFF, and if you get wrapped up in it you will never have the strength to wash those gigantic piles of dishes that show up in your sink EVERY SINGLE DAY.) Get some friends who will listen to all your funny-crazy stories and reassure you that you are not insane and that you have not broken your child.

NEWSFLASH: Your three-year-old is already broken. It is entirely possible that only you can see it, because he or she is so funny and so charming and so willfully adorable to the outside world that you think you might be raising the next Sybil.

(It gets better. Sort of. It gets different, surely.)

In sum, this is not an age I miss in my house, but I find other people’s three-year-olds hilarious.

So what advice would you give yourself, in retrospect?

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Changeling #2, at 3 1/2

February Flowers, Resurrected

I just can’t stay away! (See my posts from 2014 for oodles more.)

It’s been a rather wet winter, judging from the number of times AM’s tennis class has been cancelled. But never mind that – it’s February, so when it’s not storming, it’s gorgeous and every hillside and roadside is blooming and lush.

It makes me very happy.

Last week, I shoved the kids into the car and trundled them out to a little patch of nothing. But this tiny mound has sandy soil and is home to a rare iris, the Iris HaArgaman, named after it’s burgundy color (referred to in Exodus 24-28, among other places). This iris is found only on “Iris Hill” in Nes Tziona – where we were – and along the Mediterranean coast near the city of Netanya. My children, of course, know this and were properly gobsmacked by its appearance. (Squealing and pointing! Over a flower! I am so proud.)

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The rare and beautiful Iris HaArgaman – its name reflects its rich purple-red-black color.

I was then treated to a lecture about Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow.

Earlier this month, on a quick Friday hike in the northern Negev, we also saw the low-growing and much more common Iris Eretz-Yisrael. But a great gathering of them.

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The Iris Eretz-Yisrael, now appearing on a hill near you. (If you’re lucky enough to be here.)

And now that we’re past the Ides of February (the 13th, by the way), we are beginning to see poppy flowers, which are refreshing the reds of the increasingly bedraggled kalanit. (It’s hard to be a national symbol.)

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Poppies are just coming into season.

Another spring is hurtling towards us – and it’s going to be busy – so for the moment I’m thrilled to brandish my camera and to go hunting at a slow pace.

Want to hear something shocking? My most popular post ever was written in 2009. That was eons ago. Nobody really cares about my thoughts on Israel, my struggles with immigrant parenting, or what’s happened since I gave up breastfeeding.

So yes, seven years ago, almost five years into my parenting – and breastfeeding – career, I produced a ranty-though-cogent screed about breastfeeding that still attracts more than 10 readers a day.

I find this stunning.

Nobody comments on or links back to this post. The mommy wars have cycled back over this debate many times in the years since, but I must have inadvertently had fantastic SEO to keep getting page views. Good for you, 2009 me – who didn’t even work in marketing!

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This squishy newborn is almost 10.

Now that I have some emotional distance from breastfeeding (although, to be fair, I don’t really, because one of my best IRL friends has a pretty new and very squishy nursling RIGHT NOW), I am not really encouraged. Women and babies are still unsupported by hospitals, employers, and governments. Formula companies are still backed by the very deep pockets of drug manufacturers and violate the law when it comes to marketing their product.

But in this decades-long debate, I’ve reached a couple of conclusions.

Conclusion One: Taking Sides

If you dis breastfeeding, you might be:

  • anti-science

Breastmilk seems to be one of the most studied substances in the world. Why can’t we just leave it alone already? Because artificial milk substitutes keep trying to imitate it, that’s why. That’s how badass this stuff is. All our 21st century science can’t capture that lightning in a jar.

  • anti-woman

Let’s allow women to do something with their bodies that’s not pleasuring a man. (This is so heteronormative I don’t even want to bring it up, but let’s look at the messaging coming out of, say, the United States government or mainstream Hollywood.)

  • have body image issues

Pregnancy and breastfeeding will change a woman’s body in ways both temporary and permanent. One thousand percent. That is difficult to handle, sometimes, for both women and their partners.

If you dis formula feeding, you might be:

  • anti-worker

Shift work without pumping breaks is a real thing. Family “unfriendly” jobs and industries are real things. Countries without paid maternity/family leave are real things (the United States, in particular, stands out here).

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Nope, not poisonous

  • anti-reality

Families have all sorts of reasons why breastfeeding is not possible – medical issues on the part of the mother or baby, economic pressures, family realities (a widowed father, a two-dad family, a baby being raised by someone other than his or her parents), or other things. Passing your holier-than-thou judgment on these situations doesn’t make you a breastfeeding advocate. Remember that wet-nursing has been a career choice for thousands of years – largely rendered unnecessary by the advent of formula.

  • paternalistic

Really, women can’t make up their minds and need to be told what to do?

Conclusion Two: Check Your Privilege

If you’re busy on the internets vociferously defending your position, this means you are in a privileged position. If you’re dealing with working and pumping breastmilk (like many) OR traded your paying job with people who wear underwear to be an unpaid manager of people who don’t (like many others), you have a certain amount of economic privilege.

I honestly do not know people who have traded one kind of baby milk for another due to being squeezed for money, but it must happen. Sometimes a paycheck or scrimping on childcare is simply more vital than how a baby gets fed.

There’s more.

If you can safely formula feed, it means you have access to clean water or electricity to boil it or money to buy it.

If you can safely breastfeed, it means your partner is on board with it and you are (probably) physically safe.

If you can work and pump, it means that your state or country or employer protects that privilege.

If you can leave your baby with formula and a paid babysitter, nanny, or day care, it means you can afford it. Maybe you’re just breaking even to advance your career, but others who can’t might stay home and breastfeed.

If you have nursing bras, nursing clothes, access to a breastpump, books, and more, it means you have means. Maybe not a lot of means, but possibly good health insurance. Maybe generous friends. All of these are not to be taken for granted.

SO….

If you want to formula feed, nobody should stop you.

If you want to breastfeed, even for years, even at night, even in your bed, even in public, even without a nursing cover, even in a place of worship, nobody should stop you.

And we need to take our righteous indignation for what’s “wrong” and use that adrenaline-driven excitement to support parents and families. If the idea of going up against the drug lobby gets your motor running, do that. If you want to call or tweet your congressional reps to demand family leave, do that. (Canadians and Scandinavians can take a moment to bask in their glorious rights.) If you want to help a mom who is working shifts, struggling to pump, or cluster feeding every evening from five until eleven, bring her family some dinner and offer to fold some laundry (I guarantee she has some). If you hear of a financially struggling family that has requested formula, go buy it.

Perhaps I have mellowed in my old age – though admittedly there are still plenty of things that get me riled up. But babies who are being loved and cared for are not something to sneeze at, regardless of how they’re receiving their nutrition.

See other adorable mammals here and here.

(Thanks to Gila for the advice.)

My son, my precociously snarky and sarcastic (read: be careful what you wish for) 9-year-old has joined the ranks of Those Who Blow Off Mom’s Wise Words.

Where parents' best intention hang out during a child's second decade of life.

Where parents’ best intentions hang out during a child’s second decade of life.

Sadly, this was easy for me to recognize because I am a charter member of this cool club.

Which isn’t to say my mom didn’t have good advice. She did! And she still does. But somehow I thought I had to forge my own way.

So when my mom said: “Practice piano before I get home,” I did not.

When she said: “You’ll eventually regret giving up the piano,” I did. (Who thinks about being 30 when they are 12? Nobody, that’s who.)

When she said: “If you’re going to a liberal arts university, you should think about taking a wider range of classes,” I did not. Because who needs to understand economics? (Me, the asshole who thought I did not. Also you. And you.)

And so on.

I was really primed to recognize the advice brush off in my own kids, but I did not expect it to happen quite so soon. But here we are. Age 9-and-a-half.

Both of us ran in the local road race this past Friday. I struggled through a 5K, where I finished but with a rotten time after a hot summer and a dusty September cut deeply into my running times. I took up Pilates in the spring and did it twice a week all summer, which means that my core is fantastic, but it did not do a lot for my running pace. I probably have better posture as I plod along, so that’s good. Because I am old.

He ran 2.5 kilometers, which is 1,000 meters more than his last race (last November). We decided to run these races a couple of weeks ago, and I forced him through a few training runs. I paced him (slower than my own speed), gave him pep talks, and made sure he would be able to finish at the distance he selected. We stretched. We talked about not sprinting. Then on the actual day of the race it had rained overnight, so I gave him EVEN MORE ADVICE about the road conditions and how to cope.

If you're short and limber you have fewer worries about running in wet conditions. Ask me how I know.

If you’re short and limber you have fewer worries about running in wet conditions. Ask me how I know.

Then I had to send him into the chute by himself, surrounded by kids who were mostly in grades 6-12. We – Taxman and I – did not see him in the blur that passed us on the way up the first hill, but we noticed this clump of pounding feet was going really fast. Really, really fast.

We spotted him on his way back down the same street – his red shorts helped make him stand out – and waved frantically.

A few hours later we checked his results, and he had blitzed through this race in 12 minutes and 54 seconds.

(If I had gone at that pace I would be dead.)

Here I was, worried that the extra kilometer would cut into his sprinting jam, and I had tried to shut off his natural instincts in the name of pacing. Foolish me.

But I have a feeling the cult of “bad” advice will continue. I just can’t help myself.

Heavy and Light

Once upon a time, several weeks ago, I started a Facebook thread in a group I belong to. It’s mostly moms, all very smart, thoughtful people. Most of them live in the United States, though there are a sprinkling of us from Elsewhere, or expats, or temporarily assigned abroad.

I mentioned that AM, who is now 9 — “almost 10,” he says, as one does who is nearing one’s half-birthday — has started riding his bike one kilometer to his twice-weekly tennis lessons, thereby allowing me to take Miss M across town for a class that begins at the same time.

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After-school tennis class, comprised mostly of 4th graders. AM in is the green shirt.

It was meant as an “it gets better” post, to give hope to the people who feel as if they are drowning in the never-ending demands of their tiny despots and the society that expects us to chauffeur them everywhere, while holding down a job and keeping a spotless house. On Sundays, when both my kids have these simultaneous after-school activities, I actually have an nearly an hour TO MYSELF. In the middle of the afternoon! It’s a whole new chapter, let me tell you. (I don’t spend it cleaning. What am I, crazy?)

People mentioned that Israel, in their minds, was an unsafe place, but are wise enough to know that they are under the influence of the photographs and descriptions that make the international media. Suicide bombings, war operations, major riots, be they Palestinian or ultra-Orthodox, make it through, of course (and well as LOOK AT ALL THAT TECH IN TEL AVIV AND ALSO BEACHES WITH HOTTIES), but not wildflowers and cool graffiti.

I described my boring giant suburb, where there are dozens of parks, and horrible traffic during school dropoff and pickup hours, and they roll up the sidewalks at 9:30 at night, but obviously it’s a different experience from an American suburb with the same vibe. So I volunteered to take pictures.

And I did. But then I got busy with holidays and the kids were underfoot for two weeks, and I was trying to work, and the general mess of life took over before I got a chance to post the pictures.

And then Israelis started being attacked. It started with a shocking murder of parents in front of their children, and then within days the entire country was on alert. There have been stabbings, Molotov cocktails, and giant rocks being thrown at cars and busses. The flash point is allegedly the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the location of the Al-Aqsa mosque and under control of the Waqf, and the fear that Jews will be allowed to visit in larger numbers and pray there (they currently cannot, under threat of arrest), although the Netanyahu government has repeatedly stated that there is no intention of a change to this policy. Regardless, this is being used as justification to rally the hatred of many people, some of whom have literally taken to the streets with knives and rocks and intent to kill.

(NB: It is pretty difficult to obtain a gun here, hence the weapons of choice.)

It is too much to go into the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here. Let’s just say that it goes back much further than the Gaza withdrawal, the Sinai withdrawal, the wars of 1973, 1967, 1956, or 1948, or the Balfour declaration. People of different religions and different (though similar) ethnic backgrounds sharing this space goes back for many generations. Jews have been in the historical record here for more than 3,000 years, so I don’t really like it when we are told to go back to where we came from. (Also note that if you’re talking recently, the Israelis who have come from Arab lands have nowhere to go back to – they are unwelcome in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, north Africa and elsewhere.)

Please note: I am fully aware that many people who live in the Palestinian Authority have difficulties, be they economic or otherwise. Some of these are brought on by their horrifically corrupt governments (Hamas and Fatah), that glorify violence and give payouts to families of terrorists and take away their international aid in order to build more terrorist infrastructure or build luxury palaces in Ramallah or Qatar. Some are brought on by the Boycott, Sanction, & Divestment movement, which alleges to want to help them but instead takes away their jobs. They feel trapped. This is understandable. But it’s not about “settlers,” because we are all settlers to the Palestinian Authority government.

As I pointed out on Facebook, ridding Israel of its Jews would not, I’m guessing, bring a utopian peace to the land, because all those Arab countries that are now empty of their centuries worth of Jewish communities – Aleppo, Damascus, Sanaa, Baghdad, Cairo, and others –  are experiencing civil and religious unrest even now, decades later. Imagine that!

Ok, back to right now. Things are very tense. Even in my boring, “undisputed” (although Arab governments like Iran and the Palestinian Authority, would gladly have it, and me, gone) city there are now checkpoints and beefed up police presence, because we are at no less risk than Tel Aviv, Afula, Kiryat Gat, Petach Tikva, and all the other previously quiet places that have suffered from vicious attacks lately. (I know, I know, you’re thinking: Where on earth is Afula? It’s a little industrial, mixed Arab-Jewish city in the north of Israel, home to an amazing cafe that we try to stop at every time we take a trip even vaguely in that direction.) And now there are revenge attacks in Jerusalem, Dimona, on the roads. It’s horrible.

So I have been putting of my show of normalcy. (Although, to tell the truth, what is mostly making the news is only when the terrorists are taken down, now with extra slant!) But if this is an intifada, when is the right time to explain to people that I am ok? That we are taking safer roads to Jerusalem, but I still worry about my kids’ teachers, who live beyond the so-called green line? That the idea of pulling up stakes now and deserting the country that would have me under ANY circumstances is just not going to happen?

How about right now? Yes. Right now. Here is a slice of my neighborhood. (And, full disclosure, the next one over.)

The city I live in is in a landing path for Tel Aviv”s Ben Gurion airport. Which is actually in the city of Lod, but Tel Aviv is way more sexy. Sometimes the planes fly very low, and the 747s sound like they are going to land in my backyard.

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This large apartment complex might be an architectural eyesore masquerading as a nod to the Romans (it’s an aquaduct! it’s a plane! it’s terrible!), but it’s a great landmark when giving directions.

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This is a fantastic park. Americans might see it as a lawsuit waiting to happen, I don’t know.

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This is a complex of kindergartens for age 5. They feed into the elementary school next door, where my kids attend.

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An elementary school with different types of residential buildings rising on the hill beyond. The sign is warning you to go slow because there is a school.

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A cute park for smaller kids, in the shadow of three high-rise apartment buildings.

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My city’s branch of Yad Sarah, a wonderful organization that loans medical equipment to anyone who needs it, including breastpumps, crutches, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, and about a million other things. It has a big volunteer base and services people all over the country.

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A synagogue that prays in style of Jews that came from north Africa, mixed with Israeli customs.

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A meditative spot that is a memorial for fallen soldiers and residents killed in terror attacks. It is carefully tended and has signs up forbidding dogs and ball playing.

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I joke that these are the native birds of Modiin. (Cranes, get it?) The city is still under construction and allegedly will keep going until it’s home to 250,000 people. This is shocking to me, because we’re only at 90,000 and it’s already impossible to find a parking place at the mall on Friday morning.

the birds of Modiin

Dinner rush at the city’s best falafel place. That’s Miss M in the middle of the scrum.

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Did someone order a ham with his falafel? Nope. Just pickles and hummus and fries.

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Post Yom Kippur Thoughts

So I am a bit slow on the uptake. Additionally, it’s hard to let go of preconceptions.

The communities I was raised in took Yom Kippur seriously. They were not traditional communities, in that people drove, the rabbis/cantors could be women, and the prayerbooks were often mimeographed pages from various sources (mostly English), stapled together. But a lot of people did fast on Yom Kippur, and it was celebrated on the proper day, meaning that people had to take off from work and school to make it happen.

Even when I began to pray in Orthodox communities, Yom Kippur was serious business. Hours and hours of prayer, much of it standing up. A thick prayerbook, used only for this day, that felt so heavy in my hands.

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Joy or distress? It might depend on your perspective.

Then we moved to Israel. Where things are lighter. Literally – so many people wear white. With flip-flops (leather in your shoes is a no-no). Prayers are long, to be sure, but the services we attend are punctuated with singing and joy. And I realized, the hard work of this season is really Rosh Hashana. That is the day of judgment, but we try to beat it into submission with festive meals. In the days that follow, we scramble to give charity and make apologies.

But on Yom Kippur the burden is lifted, and it really is a holiday in the deepest sense. When the kids eat on Yom Kippur, they first must sanctify the day with grape juice and challah, as we would for Shabbat. (Now it’s only one kid eating on Yom Kippur. Bat mitzvah on the horizon.) That didn’t used to make sense to me – possibly because my grandfather, when he became too ill to fast on Yom Kippur, viewed his non-fasting status as a failure. But in reality I think it meant that he had to make a different approach – and people are slow to change.

May this be a year of acceptance of change and new perspectives for all of us.

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