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The One With All the COVID-19


A dispatch from real people who are kind of fine but also about to lose it

Perhaps you’re one of those people who has managed to use 2020 to make your life better: organize and clean your house from the ground up; turn your yard into a garden that your kids eat from, and keep chickens and goats who hardly poop at all; skip your children’s academic progress several grades under your loving one-on-one attention; make every meal from scratch; abandon your meds (no need for them!); and get a solid eight hours of sleep every night, because anxiety is so 2019.

This post is not for those people.

(We don’t think we know any of those people, in any case.)

For a glimpse into the witty repartee we exchange with each other on Messenger, we have decided to interview one another for pandemic survival stories, tips, and tricks.  

Questions for Gila

  1. How has it been working at home with so much, um, on-site assistance?

First, thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts. I’ve had many of them but not time to articulate them. In fact, lately it seems like my thoughts have been dog paddling in the deep ocean during a storm, doing all they can to stay above water but often coming close to drowning. See? This analogy didn’t even make sense. That’s how bad it is, thoughts-wise, around here. For example, here’s a story about thoughts: Back in the summer, before we got quarantined AGAIN, Donny and I were taking Thursday Night Old People Walks. That’s because it was the only time to have a Conversation That’s Not a Family Conversation. As we headed to our walk, after not having spoken in a week, other than “did you want to add anything to the online grocery order,” and “never mind, I’ll just text you,” I opened our evening together time with: “So the electric toothbrush I bought for Yaakov today was on sale!” That was all my brain could muster.

Are the brain cells, and the romance, dead? Yes, yes they are.

(The other reason for the lack of coherent Thoughts is that most of my brain space is taken up with theme songs from children’s shows.) 

Anyway, I’m also so grateful you asked HOW things are going! So many people ask me FOR things, but never ABOUT ME. THANK YOU FOR CARING. And now to finally answer your question: I am dealing with working from home with 17 children underfoot with my usual aplomb. That is to say, terribly. My “usual aplomb” is more like “non-plomb.” Where can I get some plomb???? But for real, the trick to working at home is to work when the younger children are keeping themselves busy and entertained. This happens when: 

1. They are asleep. 

So your choices are midnight or 5 am. I myself am more of a 5 am person. (Kate: ME TOO!)  Which means that by 5 pm my nerves are in tatters and I’m like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, i.e., EXTRA SNAPPY. I love knowing that my children will look back on these months (years? Please god say it’s not years) and remember how the warmth and love and patience of their mother helped them through this challenging time. They’ll probably recall this period in their life while sitting on couches during therapy.

Here’s an example of how aplomby I am doing. (To my work friends who may be reading this: HI I AM TOTALLY ON TOP OF THINGS PLZ SKIP TO NEXT SECTION.) So I opened a document and started editing it. So far so good. About 20 minutes into editing, I somehow thought to check the folder and realized I WAS EDITING THE WRONG DOCUMENT. But not quite the wrong document – a document I had ALREADY edited a few days ago. And I had no recollection. AT ALL. None of the words seemed familiar or rang any sort of bells. (Where are my bells? My bells are gone.) The good news (?) is that when I opened the original version of the document, the one I had previously edited, I noticed that both times, I made similar edits. Points for consistency? 

  1. But surely you’re practicing your housekeeping skills? 

To that end, I’ve become intimately aware of what terrible slobs we are. I have to rage clean so often. And we are also soooo lazy. I can’t even express the depths of our laziness, but maybe this picture can help:

See how we have two “kitchen item holders” in this drawer? And how the front one is super full and the back one is kinda empty? That’s because we’re TOO FREAKING LAZY TO OPEN THE DRAWER THE WHOLE WAY AND PUT THINGS IN THE BACK. We (and here, admittedly, I am speaking of just Donny and myself, because our children were sadly born without the puttingaway gene), open the drawer JUST ENOUGH to get in what we need to get in and then close it. 

Emergency layer cleaning has become the name of the game. You know the emergency layer, we’ve spoken of it before. This the top layer of dirt and mess that nearly makes your house unlivable. So even though my standards are lower than – and covered in – dirt, sometimes even *I* become grossed out by our living conditions. So I clean the top layer of mess while I pee-scream at the kids to help so I can feel semi-human again. You know who I channel during this time? OK hold on to your charm bracelet and hop into your Delorean. Remember Adventures in Babysitting? At the end, Elisabeth Shue’s character has just gotten all the kids back home safely after all the Adventures. And the parents are pulling up but the kitchen is a mess. So there’s a montage of her quickly cleaning the kitchen so it looks livable. (There is no clip of this; I looked. Seems this is NOT the most memorable scene of the movie for most people). Anyway, that’s who I channel in these moments. 1985 Elisabeth Shue. I mean this is also the same time she was in Karate Kid so not too shabby, right?. (Although now that I think about it … she was a babysitter … who also cleaned up? I should tell my children about this. The most I’ve ever attempted when we leave them in charge is to ask them “please make sure the house isn’t in worse condition than when we left.” PS It usually is.)

  1. So … you were in quarantine over the summer … and now again. Tell us about that. 

My emotional state varies at different points throughout the day. For example, sometimes I feel kind of “arggghhhhh” and other times I feel more like “ARGGGHHHH.” Also lots of times I have strong feelings of “[whimper].” 

I’ll tell you the real problem with dealing with yet another bidud and now yet another lockdown. At the beginning of the pandemic, a few decades ago in March,  “wake up and watch tv and color all day” was a NOVELTY. That novelty lasted a while, which helped the days pass. But by the summer, “watch TV and color all day” was no longer NOVEL. It’s EXPECTED. So they needed OTHER THINGS to keep them occupied and entertained. I even allowed Play-Doh in my house during our summer quarantine. That’s how bad things were. (Play-Doh, annoying as its tiny little crumbs of doughy mess is, fits the criteria of “art project they can do on their own.” Do you know how many art projects for 6 year olds require PARENTAL ASSISTANCE??? What do they think I am, “parent that does art with their child?” Have they met me, even once, for less than 5 seconds? Then they’d know. Anyway, it’s difficult to find things to entertain them all day. Who knew I’d be looking back at the early days of the pandemic WISTFULLY???? (Oh god does that means soon THESE days will seem wistful? Possibly, because every time I think we’ve reached rock bottom it turns out there’s more bottom under the rock.)

I even – god help me – taught them “Go Fish,” or “reviot” in Hebrew. Why do I do these things? I have never not rued the day I taught them something new. “LET’S PLAY REVIOT!!!” became the mantra beating inside my skull. 

During summer bidud, we even rented a bouncy house for a few days. And at first they complained it WASN’T BOUNCY ENOUGH. Oh the horrors! (“On the next episode of HaMefunakim: The bouncy house does not provide sufficient bounce!”) But once they accepted the bouncy level, they did enjoy it and it provided some much-needed entertainment. Unfortunately, since it was on our balcony and a million degrees outside, they could only bounce after 4 pm. 

After summer bidud ended, naive little me said, “Well, next time we’re quarantined it’ll be cooler, so we can get it again and they’ll be able to bounce for longer.” OH SWEET SWEET SUMMER GILA, YOU INNOCENT HOPEFUL THING. Our second round of bidud happened mere seconds into September, during “my body’s cool receptors have sweated into nonexistence” season. 

September bidud was similar – MINUS the bouncy house and play-doh but PLUS teaching first grade math (see what I did there?) and reading. For those of us who are short on patience and long on exasperation, it’s been a trying experience. “Mmm hmmm. That’s right. But you have to start at the top.” “No no look again at the first letter. Remember what sound it makes?” “Can you just finish this page? Please? Here is gigantic chocolate bar if you do.” “Why are you crying? Mommy, stop crying.” 

And here’s the kicker – our quarantine end just as the countrywide lockdown begins. Don’t worry – we’re planning on carrying “Bibi Go Home!” placards with us wherever we go, so in case we get stopped for being more than 500 meters from home, we’ll whip out the placards and say we’re going to a protest. (“In your bathing suits?”)

  1. Have you learned anything “essential” from your pandemic experience?

Here’s what I learned: If you had trouble dealing with life’s curveballs before this (hi there, it’s me) … well, I have bad news for you. However, I also learned that my children are much stronger and more resilient than I am. I think I cried more about their corona-related disappointments than they did. So … hope for the future?

  1. Have you found anything new to cook? Please share. 

I am so tired of eating my food. We started a google doc before pesach. It is titled “COVID meal schedule until Pesach.” Because during those early crazy weeks, we really needed to restrict our errands and outings. So Donny and I became super organized, foodwise, planning dinners and Shabbat meals for the week. But then we kinda got into the whole google doc. So we renamed it: “COVID meal schedule until Pesach and after Pesach until the vaccine.” It’s become part of our little weekly routine to sit down together and groan at the google doc and fill in the little boxes for the week. 

We did become experts in one new food item: homemade falafel. We tag team it, where I make the falafel batter and Donny expertly deep fries it. Most of the family even eats it, except for the child who has chopped salad in a pita. (“Falafel in a pita please. Hold the falafel.”) I can’t invite you over to try some, but I can toss you some falafel balls from my window. 

But: I am grateful that I 

A. have food to eat. 

B. have a food planning partner. 

Do we end up rotating the same 4 things? Of course. But we rotate them TOGETHER. 

THE ROMANCE IS STILL ALIVE! 

  1. What’s your biggest frustration with “all this”? (waves around)

NOT KNOWING WHEN THIS WILL END. OMG. And so much frustration toward the people in charge that have brought us to this terrible point. 

I have learned that I am a control freak and this Not Knowing is killing me, but not softly. Loudly, like the Fireman Sam song. And unlike during Pandemic Part I, where I mostly just rotated between stress, anxiety depression, in Pandemic: The Sequel, I have now added “rage” to the Feelings Roster. 

I miss my regular stressed-out life! You’re familiar with the famous story of a man who complains about his nagging wife and annoying children and the rabbi tells him to bring in a cow, then a chicken, then a rabbit, etc etc until his house is full of animals and then the rabbi says “ok you can let the animals leave” and then he’s left with just his nagging wife and annoying children and he’s like “I LOVE MY LIFE WHAT A GREAT LIFE I HAVE.” So I want to go back to just having a nagging wife and annoying children. Get this cow and giraffe out of my house already! 

  1. What are your coping skillz to share with the group?

What you want to do is combine not enough sleep + doom scrolling + taking out your frustrations on your loved ones via snapping and shouting + extra-long showers (good for some alone time AND crying). I worry about water usage during the pandemic, between everyone’s Pandemic Pools and extra-long cry-showers.

Wait, what? These are not “coping skills” you say? You’re right, I forgot coffee. Also, I recommend trying not to lose things during these trying times. And when I say “things” I mean “calories.” Exercised in the morning? Treat yourself to a rugelach (or 3!) in the afternoon! 

Many of you may be familiar with our family song, sung to the tune of hey dum diddly dum. It goes like this:

Sometimes the answer is no/sometimes the answer is no/sometimes the answer is, sometimes the answer is, sometimes the answer is no

But one of the children, in their infinite wisdom, created an alternate version: “Sometimes the answer is … rugelach!” And so it is. Sometimes the answer IS rugelach.

Sometimes the answer is…

Well, I’ve come to the end without an ending. So I will end the Jewish way, with a blessing. Nothing so lofty as “have a sweet new year.” Goodness my expectations aren’t that high! 

How about: May you always know what day it is without having to think too hard. May the rugelach be plentiful and the emergency layer manageable. May your bouncy houses be full of bounce. And may you find a few moments each day to think your thoughts in peace.

Questions for Kate

  1. What has it been like going to work during these Trying Times? On the hand, you get to leave the house and see people! On the other – you have to leave the house and see people!!!!

So my workplace was actually unexpectedly flexible about letting us work from home when nonessential services had to reduce their staff to 10% back in the middle of March. I wasn’t able to do everything that my job requires, but I was able to fill enough hours that I got my full pay. That was honestly so helpful, because let me tell you THESE CHILDREN NEVER STOP EATING. Never. Only a fast day can slow them down. I am pretty sure that the “pandemic project” of every eighth grader — especially mine — was to have a gigantic growth spurt. (Now I am working to pay for the new wardrobe that is to come, if he ever leaves the house again. Questionable.)

Going back to the office to be with people was weird at first, largely because I had to reserve my pajama pants only for nighttime, but now I’ve resettled into a “work routine” that involves such fun things as “late morning coffee,” “gossiping with coworkers,” and “scrupulously avoiding that jackass, far more senior than I, that runs around the hallways without a mask, in clear violation of the posted rules.” (Every day! I hate him! Gah!)

Important mid-September update: That jackass has seen reason or been threatened (not by me, I am non-confrontational) and now wears a mask! Hooray! 

While at work, though, home is never far from my mind – and I can communicate with the people who are at home whenever I want, because everyone has a cell phone. The magic of technology! I am of course only kidding. Not about the cell phones, but that people deign to answer them. They do not. Nor do they check their WhatsApps. What is the point of being in not one, but TWO different WhatsApp groups with my children if I cannot properly distribute chores and instructions? I, however, must be constantly available to reply to things like “I was calling to ask you how to make French toast, but Abba helped me instead” [NB: Abba was in the same room from the beginning] and “What can I have for lunch?” Although frankly “What can I have for lunch?” is often reserved for when I get home, which can be as early as 2pm but sometimes not until 4pm. Apparently my children have learned helplessness instead of learning how to make themselves a scrambled egg or a cheese toast. This also leads to the famous “Well, I was waiting until after lunch to do the dishes! S/he didn’t eat yet, so I couldn’t start the dishwasher!” Oddly, this happens every single day, not once is a rare while or whatever. There is a lesson to be learned, but I don’t think it’s my lesson? Not sure entirely. What day is it? Blink twice if you know what day it is. 

  1. Tell me about how you structure a mentally and physically healthy day for yourself and your children.

Sleeping: My kids do a lot of it, and I don’t do enough of it. This makes them perky late at night and me exhausted all the time. My insomnia has reached new heights! Or new lows. I guess it depends on your perspective. (I am really so proud of this achievement! Always be improving, that’s my motto.) But, wow, for insomniac hypochondriacs of a certain age (mid-40s) this pandemic is just one of a million reasons to stay up perseverating all through the night. “Why does my back hurt? Why is my throat sore? Am I dying, do I have allergies, or am I just getting older?” “Why am I so hot at night? Why is my hair falling out? Is it my thyroid? Am I dying or just getting older?” “Are my children permanently damaged from something I did, or are they just being teenagers?” Even when I do manage to fall asleep, I wake up so tired. Good thing there is a shower and a coffee waiting at the other end of the night, or “night” as the case may be. Coffee doesn’t judge, you can drink it even if you haven’t slept. Have I mentioned I love coffee?

What’s not to love?

Exercise: One kid exercises several evenings a week. The other barely leaves the house, despite my regular entreaties. I have been trying to keep up with my pilates “practice,” as our beloved teacher would say. This means that a couple of times a week I go to pilates class and a couple of times a week I put on peppy music and do the equivalent of about 40% of a class by myself, which I tell myself is enough but probably isn’t. To make myself feel like I am really walking the pilates walk, each time I have a DIY class I force myself to do one exercise I really hate – I usually rotate between pelvic curls, the rocker, and the saw.

Food: I am so bored of everything I make. I miss eating at other people’s houses just for the experience of eating something I didn’t cook. We do not have an organized rotation, but also eat the same few things over and over during the week. For Shabbat I constantly think, didn’t we just have that? And the answer is probably yes, in the past few weeks, we did have that, because we have not eaten anywhere else all this time. The true highlight, though, is that once a week we go to a produce stand and drop an obscene amount of money on fruit and vegetables. Mostly fruit, because my kids are lukewarm on the concept of vegetables. (Less sweet fruits? Why would that be a thing?)

Showering: Yes, we do! All of us!

Teeth brushing: I have no comment at this time. (For the kids, not me; I am a tooth brushing fan.)

Hydration: Liquids are very important to my overall physical health, not only to keep hydrated but to get my exercise at work; I work on the second floor, the only story in a four-story building that does not have a bathroom I can use. Many trips upstairs or downstairs for me in the hours I am at work. I should get a step counter, maybe it would cheer me up.
Here is my approximate (weekday) hydration schedule:

6:30 glass of water
7:30 café latte (cold or hot, made at home and taken to work, as applicable)
9:00 water
10:00 herbal tea
11:30 sad instant coffee (at work)
13:00 water
15:00 seltzer
16:30 seltzer with a splash of juice
17:45 two sips of soda, sweetened iced tea, or blood from my stigmata
19:00 tears of Mitch McConnell
19:30 water
21:00 melted ice cream
22:30 water

  1. What do you think about screen time? Unlimited time? Or however many hours they want? Which is better and why?

I try to be crafty about this and limit time per device. So the kids move from phone to tablet to computer to television, and each movement restarts the clock, which doesn’t really matter because time has no meaning in 2020. They are not allowed to use their phones while sleeping or on Shabbat.

  1. What’s your relationship to cooking shows? Do you feel inspired to “try something different?” Or do you just feel grumbly because they’re eating something with a roux or confit or flaky and you’re making chicken AGAIN? 


Cooking shows are something we watch as a family. We binged a lot of Mischakey HaShef of late. We don’t draw inspiration from it because what they make is usually a direct line to traifin’ up the kitchen. But it’s good for Hebrew vocabulary, so I tell myself, as I make my children translate the very weird adjectives for me. We also watch MasterChef Israel – in all the seasons we’ve watched of that show I’ve made exactly two recipes (one very often – it’s red cabbage with tahini). 

For actual cooking I’ve recently discovered some new-to-me recipes on Smitten Kitchen. Which of course my children do not eat and opt for pita pizza or pasta and cheese for the billionth time that week. We also got a little ice cream maker back near the beginning of all this and have been using it a lot. I do a killer vegan chocolate ice cream, and everybody eats it! #winning

  1. You actually went on vacation this summer! Tell us how that was.

Was that this year?

Oh, yes, right, it was. June. It was good, not as beastly hot as vacation in August. Several things I had wanted to do were closed, so we did a lot of national parks and hiking. Sadly, it was already jellyfish season so the beach wasn’t a good option. We saw the very full Kinneret. In many places, I felt there were too many people for Coronatimes; this has been a very repetitive theme in my life since March: “There are too many people here, I do not want to be here with them; I hate people, especially those who are not wearing a mask.” The little holiday cabin we went to is great – it was our second time there. Two bathrooms, a washing machine, superb air conditioning, and a full kitchen. Maybe by the time we go again they’ll have a pool and charge even more.

  1. What are the best and worst parts of this pandemic, for you? 

The best part is actually sort of sad, and that is that my children have not resisted one iota. They are aware of how science works and have accepted that we can’t have a normal life right now. They properly cover their faces for long periods, even if others around them are not. They are very teenagery in many ways, but more adult than most of the actual adults at the grocery store and definitely more mature than the roving bands of young people that climb all over each other and gather together on a regular basis.

There are many bad parts, mostly stemming from “we have no idea how this fades away” and “people are behaving like selfish garbage humans instead of looking out for their fellow humans,” and as a result we will not have normal for a really long time. School fills me with dread; I imagine classrooms filled with coronavirus. NB: I am not wrong. (I don’t sleep anymore, ever, and send a lot of hotheaded emails that don’t get read by anyone.) Also, I know I tend towards the misanthropic, but I really miss the dozen or so people I very much want to see “IRL” instead of as whatsapp avatars.

  1. What types of “pandemic people” have you met along the way? Where do you fit in? Are you a sourdough gardener painter? Or a child ignorer coffee drinker cryer? 

Here’s my wise observation, based on my friends inside the computer. People who were already into something really drilled down. My friends who were already superb bakers did all sorts of amazing things with flour. My friends who already had a garden made things bigger and better. My friends who tended toward craftiness or home improvement or organizing really lit it up. And I am happy to say that I really leaned into what I was already quite skilled at: being snarky on Twitter, watching TV, and letting the house fall to shambles around me. Come hell or high water, I will leave dishes in the sink! So proud to have not only taught my children the trick about dishes but that they take it one step further, by not clearing their dishes away from where they ate – table, couch, whatever. I found a fork in the love seat today. #blessed

Anyway, I have tried to keep my chin up, largely by divorcing myself from my emotions and the sheer panic swirling around me. Thank goodness for Shabbat, of course, so I can get off Twitter and the Doom All Around, Have You Noticed The World Is Literally Burning? 

As the year 5781 is upon us, I have to think….are we being tested and found wanting? Wear your masks, stay away from people, then come home, wash your hands, and eat your apples and honey with only your immediate family. Please. Don’t make me turn this car around.

Wishing everyone a healthy, caffeine-fueled, dystopia-lite year ahead! 

Stay safe, friends.

images via Unsplash and Gila’s kitchen

Schrödinger’s cat

Hello there!

Is this thing on?

I have come to amuse you in your isolation, because PLEASE TELL ME THAT YOU ARE DOING THAT.

First of all, updates:

The kids, both of them, are taller than I am. Yes, this is normal. No, I am not going to stop talking about it; it’s weird.

I started working out of the house, half-time, in September. It’s really pretty great. Consistent paycheck, doing things I am good at, nice co-workers. It’s difficult to stay motivated from home, to be honest; chores are constant, and the kids are loud. But this is where we find ourselves.

Anyway, I have a story about a cat.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that a stray-slash-feral cat kind of settled in our building’s entranceway and has been hanging around for about a year now.  Female, relatively small and sleek, totally black fur. Our family calls her Ebony.

ebony path

Typical: Ebony blocks Miss M’s progress. Her head isn’t going to scratch itself.

She manages to feed herself pretty well from the trash (we suppose) and from hunting (lizards and birds). We occasionally give her food scraps or a little dog kibble; other residents of the building do the same. She is charming, if you can call persistent yowling charming. Loves to be scratched on the head. Will clamber on to your lap if you sit. She has gotten into our house many times by sauntering in, which ramps the dog into a tizzy and then there is yelling and a chase on par with a Charlie Chaplin film. Ebony comes running when we slam the front door shut, when we meow for her, or when we park in our spot. We choose to see it as cute instead of mildly creepy, okay?

ebony bus

In more normal times, Ebony waits for the #80 bus to the yeshiva with AM at the stop across the street from our house.

At the end of last week, we noticed we hadn’t seen her. Like she had vanished into thin air.

“Do you think someone finally adopted her?” AM asked me.

“Um,” I demurred.

“I don’t think anything good happened to her,” Taxman whispered to me. Ebony crosses the street on the regular and somehow has never managed to get hit by a bus, but luck like runs out — even though there is far less traffic than usual.

We continued to meow for her from the steps, but to no avail. She doesn’t belong to us, so much as we – the whole building – belong to her, so it was extremely odd not to see her. We asked the neighbors if they had seen her. Nobody had, and everybody had noticed she was gone. We discovered that she has a lot of different names. Apartment #2 calls her Levana. Apartment #4 calls her Tzippi.

When I took the dog on a circumscribed walk around the block, staying within 100m of home, I saw a black cat. The cat scrambled up a tree and eyed us suspiciously and silently. I knew it wasn’t Ebony, who has zero fear of the dog and who never shuts up. I sighed and turned for home.

After dinner one night, Taxman wondered aloud, “Do you think she maybe got into my trunk when we were unpacking the groceries?”

“We would have seen her climb in,” I said. “She’s done that to me more than once.”

But this idea continued to flit through my mind. We had been to the grocery store three days before and hadn’t used the car since. (Isolation, what can I say?) Oh, god, what if she were in the trunk? Hello, psychological trauma!

A few hours later, I took the trash out. Though I had no reason to go by the carport, I kind of casually wandered nearby. As I approached the stairs, I heard meowing. Persistent meowing that sounded far away. Like a cat that was trapped.

And there, yowling at me from the back window of Taxman’s car, was Ebony.

Holy hell.

I ran upstairs and reported this.

“Are you serious?” Taxman said.

“Why would I joke about this?!?!”

The entire family clambered downstairs with car keys. Yep, Ebony was in the backseat of the car, and she seemed mad as hell.

She was fine? A little skinny, perhaps. She gobbled a serving of dog food and a sardine, then yowled at our front door for hours. Back to routine.

So that’s the denouement of how the not-ours dead-alive building cat returned to her rightful place.

Fin

Anniversary season

I promise I meant to write up a whole thing for one year past my kidney donation. But it’s hot, and I’m tired, and [insert summer excuse here]. I am also transitioning to a new job and while I am enjoying it, the days that I go to the office just suck the life right out of me. I hope to get over that.

iheartguts

Please consider giving it away….

So, yes, the kidney. Or lack thereof. I had really gotten to the point where I didn’t think about it daily anymore – except in Pilates class, where sometimes I get a weird ping like “someone has messed around in here” – when Facebook started to serve me last year’s countdown to the surgery. (Not thinking about it isn’t exactly true, since I now consume so much more water than I used to. True story about my new job circumstances: I like my new coworkers very much, but ALSO very exciting to me is that the office bathrooms are kept pristine.)  Low-key thoughts, let’s say.

The anniversary came and went; we were going to go out for dinner, but we were busy; life goes on. I am privately mentoring a couple of people who are in the approvals process for altruistic donation. It’s nice and makes me feel like this is much bigger than just me.

Also low-key, but maybe we should make a bigger deal of it (?), is our upcoming TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF ALIYAH (!?!?!?!). This is super-crazy. We have officially lived in our current city longer than anywhere else as a married couple, and in our current house as a family longer than any other place by far. Sometimes I still feel brand new here, usually when I am trying to interface with Someone Official Doing Something On the Phone. But then there are other times….

Last week, I had a little medical incident (ahem), in which our broken bed footboard, which is very heavy, fell smack on top of my left foot. I iced it immediately, figured it would be an ugly bruise, and judged myself ok for Pilates as long as I didn’t put all my weight on that one foot. Cut to a few hours later, when I could put NO weight on that foot and spun out thinking about surgical plates because of the incredible pain I was in. I took myself to urgent care (“the useless left foot,” to quote a wise friend, does have its benefits) for an X-ray and possibly a mercy killing if I cried loudly enough?

I hobbled into urgent care, was cheered by the almost-empty waiting room, and then had a hilarious back and forth with the receptionist about planning to impersonate Kate Middleton and her bank account. I interacted with the triage nurse, the X-ray tech, and a doctor. I told the story of what happened multiple times. Ultimately I was judged to have nothing broken. Yay! I checked out, cleared up a misunderstanding with the receptionist, paid, and went home. My whole experience was conducted in Hebrew (95%, anyway), and it felt…normal.

calvin hobbes bike

My foot is loads better, but this is my mental state around the footboard. Giving it a wide berth.

I feel like we need to have some hoopla around this aliyah anniversary thing, but it is so easy for things to get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Maybe we’ll celebrate when we’re in America on our second family trip of the summer, since we will be much likelier to all be together at leisure? Hello, irony.

So, as I almost never say but could, hypothetically – things are…sababa.

It’s been a rainy winter in Israel. All that water is precious in this desert land, but the storms and mud have put a bit of a kibosh on some of my usual spring adventures.

Thankfully, I was presented with the perfect antidote. I was invited to participate in Israel ScaVentures’ Shuk Dash. It wasn’t my first time on a ScaVenture – I’ve participated as a blogger (in the Old City of Jerusalem and Yemin Moshe), but I’ve also taken my family with me (Old City, for Miss M’s bat mitzvah), Neve Tzedek, Gush Etzion, and Yafo.

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I came prepared to run. Matching socks were a bonus.

Israel ScaVentures has revamped its Shuk Dash to make it digital – you can either download an app or use their pre-loaded tablets. There’s a full slate of missions that are appropriate for a wide range of ages. I was part of a team of five (with Hadassah, who I had been teamed with on the very first Bloggers ScaVenture – back in 2012!).

We got a brief explanation of the Shuk Dash from Israel ScaVentures’ founder and director Tali, who gave a shout-out to tour guide and shuk expert nonpareil Joel Haber (Fun Joel). Joel’s shuk tours, which go deeper into the history of the area and include taste tests at many establishments in the market, would be an excellent companion venture.

The point of the Shuk Dash is to immerse us in the full sensory experience of the Machne Yehuda market, while having us interact with vendors and shoppers alike. We met Israeli natives, olim from various parts of the world, and visitors to Jerusalem.

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My team! (We won, btw.)

How does it compare to the other ScaVentures?

  • It’s self-contained. Though we did a lot of back and forth “dashing” to complete the missions, the Machne Yehuda shuk itself isn’t enormous.
  • It’s fairly weatherproof. Much of the shuk has a roof, so even a hot, cold, or rainy day wouldn’t deter you from the race!
  • It’s very interactive. Dashers constantly have to work as a team, but also request information from others to complete the missions. Extroverts on your team would be a definite bonus!
  • It was reminiscent of scavenger hunts that I loved as during camp field trips as a child – a quick rush of information, interspersed with fun missions and a dose of silliness.

As with any of the ScaVentures, it was thoughtfully crafted and brilliantly fun. The shuk is a great place to be! The Shuk Dash is a terrific way to see a lot of it – make some mental notes about where you’d like to eat your next meal (Lisa and Robin and I, who hadn’t seen each other in ages, hit Crave for lunch afterwards) – and get a sense of who and what is there to experience. I even picked up fruit on the way home like a responsible grownup.

Check out the full range of Israel ScaVentures, both in Jerusalem and around the country!

Everyone needs a healthy obsession. Right? Not obsession, really, but it’s feels good to be a fan of something worthwhile. For some people it’s movies, or comics, or the Tour de France. Just a way to derive happiness from a good story, someone doing what you couldn’t do in your wildest dreams but seems completely awesome.

For me and about 70,000 other people, it’s watching the 2019 Iditarod. I’m American, and I was born after it started, so I’ve known about it in the vague sense of “this is a super-long race with dogs that happens in Alaska, ALSO DO YOU KNOW HOW COLD IT IS THERE?”

But, in the fall of 2018, I somehow stumbled upon the Twitter feed of Blair Braverman, a woman living in Wisconsin with a pack of adorable sled dogs that she races with. She’s a fantastic storyteller whose Twitter threads – including photos of the dogs – are instant classics that are usually some combination of informative, heartfelt, or hilarious. (She also writes for Outside magazine, among other outlets.)

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Not Blair’s actual team but an approximation of her view for a lot (a lot) of days.

I am a big fan of dog Twitter – it helps to find joy to equalize the wave of upsetting and unsettling things that the rest of Twitter brings. So I had already been following Matt (@dog_rates and @dog_feelings) and Gideon (@IvePetThatDog) when I found Blair.

With Blair comes her fan base. The #uglydogs. (There’s a story behind that.)

They’re artists, writers, teachers. Data nerds. A composer.

Some have a background in sled dog related things, but most don’t.

But Blair has managed to make us all care about what she’s doing, and the team she’s doing it with. The UglyDogs have turned their nervous energy to fundraising for underserved Alaska schools while Blair is out of touch. (No outside help or contact allowed as long as you’re in the race.)

I, in addition to being awed by the idea of days and days in the freezing wet with minimal support, am honestly kind of terrified for her. She of course had to prove her outdoorsy mettle before even being accepted to this race, BUT STILL. I can’t believe how hard this must be.

The winner of the Iditarod has already rolled in to the finish (mile 998) (I watched a live feed – 2019 isn’t all terrible – and tearing up for Pete Kaiser), and she’s been sheltering in a cabin at mile 681 for…a while.

There’s been bad weather. There been a lot of water on the trail where there should have been ice. She’s returned four dogs from her team, and there is very little intelligence as to why. The press isn’t that interested in people at the back of the pack (although due to her rabid following we probably know more than we would otherwise).

Really, though, whether or not she finishes her race at 681 or in Nome, it’s an incredible achievement. Not just on the course, but that she managed to bring together so many people to “watch” and care about people and places far away from them. It is one the best uses of social media I’ve seen, and I feel so privileged that I’m able to watch it unfold.

Follow Blair @BlairBraverman and her husband, Q, @QuinceMountain for incredible content. You won’t be sorry.

 

Blogging Bar Mitzvah

I’ve been a blogger now for 13 years.

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When I started this blog, this arm was jabbing me from the inside. Now it’s gone and grown up. (The arm. Not the blog.)  I mean, “grown up.” But still.

Even though I don’t keep it up as well as I should – the people about whom I used to blog a lot have their own lives, thoughts, feelings, experiences and can express them in multiple languages, up to and including emojis – having this outlet has been a great gift.

Reading the archives from my first month – January 2006 – I can see that while my life has changed SO MUCH, I don’t know that I have, per se. I’ve graduated to caring less what people think of me and my choices (though I will second guess them from here to next Tuesday); I hear that this is a side effect of turning 40, and I am maximizing it.

My kids continue to grow up. When I started to blog, I was pregnant with AM. Miss M was 18 months, communicating with a weird mashup of signing and speaking. Most things she did were adorable, except for poor sleeping. That’s never fun.

We didn’t have a clue that she was going to be brilliant, hyperlexic, and wind up both on the autism spectrum by age 10 and taller than me by age 14. With her we had the blessing of being able to ignore every piece of parenting advice we ever received – she’s her own person and parenting her has no manual.

Life with AM, the surprise baby, has unfolded in a more ordinary manner, though I keep wondering if he manifests more typical “first child” quirks that Miss M never did. It’s still a challenge to show up and do the right things for him, as there is shockingly no manual for him either. Not even one of those IKEA ones that’s just pictures of screws that all look the same! (Now I’d have to hold it at arms’ length with my glasses off, because did I mention middle age also comes with physical side effects?)

Honestly, I’ve considered shuttering this blog a few times. Nowadays, I spend more time consuming content than creating it – not necessarily a good thing, but it is what it is, for the moment. But then life takes an unexpected turn – aliyah in 2009, kidney donation in 2018 – and I’ve got my digital journal for the emotional spillage.

If you’ve been here for any length of time, thank you for reading. No snark! I really mean it. Virtual company is nice. Pull up a chair and have a hot drink; it’s January, after all.

The granola of my discontent

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Nutritious breakfast or bitter fruits of labor?

I’m going to quote me back to myself, from one of my long-running and excellent parenting groups on Facebook.

Parenting middle grade kids is basically endlessly wheedling them to display their competence even though it would be so much easier to do it (whatever “it” is) yourself.
(Unlike toddlers, where it’s easier to do it yourself because they are NOT competent.) ~ Sept. 15, 2018

(The real post contained profanity. Because it was borne of frustration.)

This tension occupies way too much of my life. I have worked really hard to start my kids on the road to independence. This means they can navigate from home to their grandparents’ house in another city via bus. They can launder their own clothes. They can do dishes, clean bathrooms, sweep floors, take out the trash. They can order at the cheese counter and at the butcher. They can handle themselves at the dentist!

But the gap between checking the box of competence in theory and in reality, every day or every week, is enormous. Let me translate: If you’re wondering how many times my children will pass through the kitchen, where the clean dishes are perched on their racks in the dishwasher-that’s-ajar, and not empty it, the answer is infinity. Which is coincidentally the number of times they will move a pile of clean clothes from the couch to the love seat and back again, rather than a) folding it and/or b) putting it away.

I mean, come on, they already used up their energy fighting over who could use the computer at 6:25am, and I wish I were kidding about that. (The answer is: Nobody – nobody – should be on the computer, playing worm.io or watching Miraculous Ladybug, at this hour or really any hour if you haven’t even cleared your dishes or brushed your teeth or are risking being late for your transportation to school. If you know my super-cool tween internet references, well, here’s a fist-bump – and I am so sorry. *bump*)

It takes a lot of energy to run a house, and I frankly don’t have the right kind, or enough, or whatever. I am not neat, organized, thrifty, motivated, or any other adjective that would indicate that I am enjoying this part of adulthood. The endless cooking, cleaning, straightening, organizing, and harping at other people to just do what I asked, Jesus, it’s not that hard.* Be careful, you might trip over my standards. Thankfully, I am way past thinking that this makes some sort of statement about my parenting. Nobody would accuse children of being poor excuses for kids because they can’t manage to keep their clothes off the floor, or turn the lights off when they leave a room.

A flashpoint in this whole schematic is, and I am not being dramatic, granola.

Years ago, I came down with an edict that We Don’t Eat Cereal Every Day. It’s expensive (here) and a fair bit of sugar for the beginning of the day (Cheerios have given way to a combination of Cheerios + sugary Cheerios +  Honey Bunches of Oats). Alternative days involved yogurts and cottage cheese or leftover pancakes or fruit or “no, it’s not a cereal day so have something else.” A while ago I started making granola as an alternative. It’s expensive to put together (nuts, peanut butter, maple syrup), but makes a lot of servings. It’s sweet and carby but also protein and whole grains, so please let me have my fantasy  of Good Mothering, ok?

It also creates a lot of sticky dishes, and I have panic attacks when the kids leave soggy leftovers because WASTEFUL and also the dishwasher will never clean that properly unless you RINSE?

I have taught my children how to make this granola; they know where the recipe is. It’s not hard. But somehow they’re never motivated to make it, just to ask me to make it, and to ask me at 6:15 in the morning (currently, this time is before sunrise) why I didn’t make it last night after they went to bed?

NB: Children ages 12 and 14 never go to bed. Actually, that’s not quite true; the 12-year-old will go to bed an hour Before Never, but he is not happy about it, you know?

Yes, they have long school days. Yes, they have to travel to school. But they also have enough hours to sit and be served before I beg them to lend me a hand for 30 seconds or five minutes. I am almost sure this is normal, but wow, is this going to drive me over the edge.

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Put on your seatbelt and stop touching your sibling.

Then my husband eats bowls of this granola for snack. After dinner. And cannot understand my fury. I feel petty and small, yet unmoved. It is the granola of my discontent.

With apologies to David Lebovitz, who is innocent in all of this. You too, can bring this contentious recipe into your life! Here.

* True story: Just today, I asked my daughter to do about six minutes worth of dishes while I was at the pool. “Sure,” she said, staring intently at her phone.
“Are you going to manage to do them before I get back from the pool?”
“I don’t know.” **
Which, I mean, points for honesty.

** She did not. But did them when I asked her to, again, upon my return from the pool. “Did you make granola?” she inquired, inspecting the many bowls in the sink.
“Yes, I did.”
“Oh, good.”
“It is for breakfast.”

Two bits later

Two bits is a quarter, get it? A quarter of a year? Three months?

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Anyway!

The kidney formerly known as my left kidney has been in its current location now for three months. It feels like a long time ago, to be honest.

Despite feeling that my recovery was too slow, it really wasn’t; in the grand scheme of things, six to eight weeks is…not that much.

The only place I don’t feel normal is in Pilates class, which is two (or three) hours out of 168 per week. So…not bad. I’ve definitely been knocked down a peg there, which is a little bit of an emotional struggle for me – to have to “lose” some of what I had earned over 3 1/2 years. I know it’s only three months, but I feel so “regular” elsewhere in my life. Even there, compared to six weeks ago – when I started back with a couple of private lessons – it’s incredible that I can do any of these things again just from showing up and doing the work and pushing a little further each time. But certain exercises make me feel like my incisions are lighting up – not in a bad way, just sort of like a car warning light. Just direct your attention to your abs and don’t do anything dumb.

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What I can’t get over are the “you’re a hero” conversations, which thankfully are decreasing as I’ve been out and about in the world. These are kind of no-win, because:

a) I am not, in my estimation
b) this often leads to other awkward revelations, like when people say they could never do that…what do I say here? Either you have a legit reason (you’re not healthy enough, you can’t afford the time off of work/life) or you don’t (I am really not one to judge though; it is a lot for most people to wrap their heads around)
c) this leads questions about the recipient, who is doing just ok – it’s not a miracle for him, but one part of a very complex treatment puzzle that is still being worked out

My kidney clinic follow-up in is two weeks. I did labs for it today, and I am kind of afraid to check them. I feel fine; I don’t have incision problems or extreme fatigue or pain, so part of me would like to remain ignorant of my blood panel and kidney function. But that’s not how it goes now.

I don’t have any words of wisdom, other than I still think more people should do this. The waiting lists are too long; people are suffering and dying while waiting; donors don’t have to be exceptional or in perfect condition to do it.

I was recently tipped off to a podcast about a kidney donation, and I identified so much with the donor. Unlike her, it wasn’t on a “bucket list” for me (I don’t have one), but just the idea that you have the capability to help and you do it with temporary mild-moderate inconvenience and think more people should. Listen here (it’s three parts, plus a follow-up). Someone in my Facebook group for living kidney donors said she signed up after hearing this podcast, so if anyone has been inspired by my blathering, I would really love to know – you’d make my quarter.

 

Danger Zone

I am doing a lot better than I was three weeks ago.

But I’m still not 100%.

Exhaustion creeps in from time to time. In particular when I forget that I recently had surgery. Sometimes, I’ll get a quick flash of pain along one my scars. It’s all very Harry Potter except I can’t speak to snakes (sad about that) and don’t have a blond kid trying to take me out on a broomstick (not sad about that).

What I am is in, as I put it, the danger zone.

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There have been my own little baby milestones to feeling better. Being able to sleep on my usual side in bed – this was a huge one for me, since at around three weeks after the surgery I lost the ability to sleep on my back. (Also: Being able to roll over in bed without feeling like my insides were rearranging.) Being able to put together an entire Shabbat meal without feeling like I needed to take a nap in the middle. Being able to host people again. Going swimming without negative consequences. Having a personalized Pilates lesson to assess what I could do.

I feel well enough to behave absolutely normally, but if I do that I am probably going to be sorry.

I feel well enough, in theory, to lift that 5 liter bottle of laundry detergent at the grocery store, until I actually do it and realize that it was a mistake. For the record, my children were with me at the store, but they were in line while I had gone to chase down another item.

I feel well enough to swim, but then after 500m I realize I’m on my pre-surgery pace and have dull pains for hours afterwards. Oops. (I started out really slowly, at only 25% of my normal distance. But then I went swimming almost every day for a week, and then this happened.)

So the difference between 90%/95% and 100% is more than I might have thought. Clearly I need more supervision. Or just maybe more couch time and potentially a return to the concept of naps. Luckily, school is starting and at the very least I will spend less time and energy shouting. (That returned much sooner than anything else. One does what one has to!)

7 weeks and 2 days. Still creeping back. I’ve got this.

 

 

Humble Pie

Recovering from surgery has been more difficult than I anticipated.

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You can’t always get what you want

Mostly because of unrealistic expectations and mismatched comparisons. The biggest rabbit hole I fell down was that kidney donation recovery would be similar to a normal (low transverse) C-section recovery. I mean, yes, in that you have abdominal surgery and the attendant issues with things like getting out of bed and pain in similar places, but no – the residual gas pains, bloating, full-torso discomfort and extraordinary fatigue have been only with this surgery. So for maybe 7-10 days, while I was on the good meds, the aftermath felt similar, but then things wildly diverged.

A baby to tend to, while exhausting, is also a great distraction. While at home, now, the days have been long and relatively quiet – although getting my kids off screens and doing chores always causes some noise – so 2 weeks felt longer than 2 weeks, and 3 weeks felt longer than 3 weeks.

“Why am I not better?” I would demand of my husband every other night.

“Why are you not understanding this?” he would counter.

But apparently, the standard 6 to 8 week recovery is really A Thing – because the first couple of them seem to be dealing with just the leftover surgical process (helium inside you! fluids! manhandling of your insides!). Then your organs resettle, your skin knits back together. It’s a little gross unless you’re a medical professional, to be honest.

I was, I don’t know, arrogant? Unrealistic? I thought that being in good shape – I try to exercise five times a week – would somehow help me bounce back faster. But it turns out that surgical trauma doesn’t really take stock of how you were BEFORE, just whoa those are some holes in your body (inside and out), so let’s rearrange everything and see how it goes.

Now, I also feel like I am getting conflicting instructions – namely REST REST REST constantly and also WALK AROUND TO GET BETTER. These two things can’t really be achieved at the same time.

I can drive again, which means that I can errand. The mall is air-conditioned, so I will try to maybe come up with an errand per day in order to tool around for 15 minutes in a cool space. Then come back and sit in my rocking chair. Balance. Or something.

A friend who has said she wants to donate a kidney in the future has already told me not to talk about the pain, thinking I will scare people off. But I don’t want to blow smoke.

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This doesn’t help anyone

I don’t want people to think they’ll feel better in three weeks when it takes double or triple that. People should readily accept meals and chores and help and favors for at least a month, instead of thinking that two weeks will be enough. (I thought I wouldn’t need a third shabbat catered by friends and acquaintences. I didn’t, exactly, but not because I cooked – rather I spent Friday night in the ER, making sure I didn’t have a pulmonary embolism, while my kids unexpectedly were fed and housed by friends. But now we have uneaten Shabbat food for days!)

The important thing is, my regrets are along the lines of “I should have been more realistic in my plans” or “I am sorry my kids are having a boring summer with a mom who can’t really do things.” But I don’t regret donating. Not for one second.