Growing Up Gilbert

FullSizeRenderThere is a redwood tree in the back yard and a few hydrangea bushes in the front. And behind the black front door at number 58:

“Ssshhh,” I whispered as I tiptoed passed their bedroom. They ignored me.

“Boys. BOYS! Sssshhhhhh.” My teeth hurt I clenched them so hard. “The baby’s sleeping,” I rasped at them. “SSHHHHH.”

The forceful sibilance twisted its way around the back of my neck in a painful spasm. My neck was stretched so taut, I thought my head would snap right off any minute. It would snap off and roll into the room and land in the space between them. They would look at my scary flashing eyes and the ugly, angry scowl on my face and kick my head straight through the window, shattering glass and decibels all over the floor.

They would not, could not hear me.

The doorbell rang. The dog barked. The baby wailed. So did I.

“Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!!” I think I yelled it. My throat hurt so I must have yelled it.

I don’t remember who was at the door, but the dog was still barking and the baby was still crying and, “Juice, Mommy, juice!” She had tried to do it herself and there was apple juice on the floor and in her shoes and dripping onto the cucumbers in the fridge.

The tension marched up and down my spine like an army of angry red ants, gathering in a pinching, hurting cluster along my shoulders. My blood boiled with unexplained rage, or rather perfectly explained rage: all I needed were two hours of quiet so the baby could nap. Two hours. In a 12-hour day packed full of fun and activity and “Dora the Explorer” and crackers and a gazillion sippy cups full of apple juice, were two calm, drama-free hours too much to ask for? Obviously yes, if you’re three, six and eight. And then the dog peed on the rug. GODDAMMIT.

***

The doors are all closed. The dog snoozes in the corner, too old and worn out to hear the doorbell anymore. I hear the TV turn on downstairs and someone is playing the drums in the boys’ room.

From the quiet of my bedroom I look out the window at the giant redwood tree, the green fronds of its branches reaching up to the baby blue sky. Like my own babies reached up to me from their cribs after naps, arms outstretched.

It has grown in the last nine years, this majestic tree.

I didn’t notice while I was nursing and changing diapers and shushing infants to sleep and siblings to keep quiet. While I was overwhelmed by mothering and what felt like too many little children eating and yelling and playing and sleeping. And growing. In this house. Number 58. Behind the black front door, with the big redwood tree in the back yard and a few hydrangea bushes in the front.

I didn’t notice.

***

I didn’t notice the rage, that bubbling, boiling rage, slowly reduce to a gentle simmer. To a soft heat that flared only occasionally when a now tween-age boy talked back or rolled his eyes, when an inquisitive little girl experimented with lipstick not only on her own person but on every bathroom surface, or when an impulsive toddler found a marker in the minivan and decorated the car seats.

As the redwood tree moved ever upward in silence, I didn’t quite notice that the stretches of peace and quiet lasted longer and longer. They could write their own names and fix their own snacks, shoot baskets outside and read to each other. Slowly, imperceptibly, over nine tumultuous years Mommy became Mom, and the fiery cauldron of overwhelming and angry fatigue quietly ceased bubbling on a burner in my belly… and then there were no more babies behind the black front door at number 58.

***

No more babies, but a teen, a couple of tweens and a little boy who stares up in awe. “Is this a redwood tree?”

This summer we say goodbye to the house we’ve grown up in. I stare out my bedroom window and listen. There is no rage rushing through my veins, no sssshhhh hissing from my lips. There are muted voices gently bouncing off the walls and an old dog snores softly in the corner.

And there is a very tall redwood tree stretching silently up to the sky in the back.

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This post is dedicated to my friend Matt who first coined the phrase “Growing up Gilbert” about nine years ago, while sitting at our dining room table behind the black front door at number 58. This summer we say goodbye to number 58, but not to our memories and all that we have loved and learned in this house.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “This summer…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Lisa from The Meaning of Me, Reta from Calculated Chaos, and Allison from The Latchkey Mom.

Protective Edge

Last year, we spent an unforgettable summer in Israel. Unforgettable because Israel is the place where my heart and my breath are one. Unforgettable because it was the first time we showed our kids the land, the history, the life of our people. Unforgettable because my children met aunts, uncles, cousins they had never met before, and the love and connection transcended all distance, time and language. Unforgettable because on a beautiful, hot summer morning we celebrated my oldest son’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem in the midst of a war.

The summer of 2014 was the summer of Operation Protective Edge. It was the summer of intense conflict between Israel and Gaza. It was the summer my children and I learnt words in Hebrew we didn’t know existed, and some we’d never even heard in English: Iron Dome (Kipat Barzel),  alert/siren (azakah), protected room (mamad).

It was the summer my children learnt more about the country of my dreams and desires than I could ever have taught them.

My kids appeared unfazed by the relentless sirens and rocket attacks. We spent time in a bomb shelter somewhere almost every day, and they seemed to accept this as part of life in a complicated country.

Since we returned, I have wondered what they absorbed from that unforgettable summer. What they remembered, and would remember as time goes by. How the experience would color their imaginings, views, hopes of the world, that country, their own lives.

My fifth grade boy, Zak, wrote a memoir essay for school last week:

Unfair by Zak Gilbert, age 11

What does fair mean? Is it fair if you get two cookies and your sister gets one? Is it fair that your brother gets $20 for cleaning his room and you get $7 for doing the same? Is it fair to do an activity that your sibling really wants to do without them? Is it fair that there is a very nice, unfortunate old lady down the road?

Is it fair that in some places in the world there are children who are stuck in a bomb shelter for half their summer break?

We finished dinner and went to play at the park near the restaurant. Suddenly out of nowhere the siren went off! I heard that annoying loud sound that signals a near coming bomb.

Again? I thought. I tried to pick up my baby cousin. I grabbed her from behind but she felt like a crate of baseballs. I put the cute little crate of baseballs down and yelled to my big brother, “Take Stella!”

I ran but looked back to make sure Daniel had her. I continued running and soon jumped over the plants and dashed down the shelter stairs and looked around for my mom and aunt, who was sobbing. “Where’s Stella?!” she screamed. “STELLA!”

I knew where they were. I needed to get this information to this freaked out, 30-something-year-old, first time mom who was on a different continent in a bomb shelter without her three-year-old. “She’s fine. She’s with Daniel, don’t worry,” I said calmly.

“Are you sure, Zak?”

No, Mom. I thought sarcastically. I gave her to some random shop keeper. Out loud, I said, “Yeah.”

I looked around and thought, This is not fair. Maybe someone was about to propose, or maybe someone was going to meet their mom whom they haven’t seen, but are instead in this crowded shelter. It’s not fair that I’m in a bomb shelter in Israel when my dad is in California working at his office, safe from bombs. Or how I’m only here for 2 months, but people have to live here all the time.  My cousins who live here may not even start school until September, maybe even October because of the bombing, who knows. It’s not fair for my brother, who’s not even 13 years old yet, and he’s looking after three kids in a bomb shelter.

What I’ve come to realize is, whether I like it or not, life is sometimes not fair.

Eventually, the sirens stopped and we reunited with the others in the park. We took about several minutes to recount the recent events and catch everyone up.

Now I know. Now I can relate. Now I understand that sometimes life will be unfair. Sometimes you’ll get two cookies and your sister will get one and that isn’t fair but, hey, at least you got a cookie so in a way it is fair. If your parents only let you watch TV after you’ve done your chores, and then don’t let you watch TV then that’s not fair because they change the rules and that’s not fair. Life is unfair.

I don’t like that things are unfair, and before the bomb shelter experience, I knew life was unfair. But now I really know. Things will be unfair and sometimes you just have to accept life the way it is. 

Summer 2014. Zak & Stella on the beach in Israel This essay has been published with the permission of the author.

More Than A Smudge Of Flour

Cuisinart

Her robe was fuzzy and peach in color. It reached all the way down to her ankles, and the long sleeves sat just above her wrists. She would fasten the pearly buttons haphazardly, missing a few here and there, and it always sat slightly skew on her shoulders. With her curly, brown hair still unbrushed, her glasses slipping down her nose, and her feet wrapped in her favorite slippers she looked like a nutty professor who’d just this minute leapt out of bed.

It took a few presses of the doorbell before she answered.

“Hi Gran! Where were you?” Our voices were loud and happy with afterschool relief and love for our Gran, as our eyes took in the well-worn and familiar peach robe. There was a smudge of flour on her cheek.

“Sorry my darlings, I didn’t hear the bell above the noise of the mixer. I’m baking biscuits.”

Always. She was always baking something. Biscuits. Ginger cake. Her famous bulkes (Jewish cinnamon buns). Or trying a new challah recipe.

For the first 24 years of my life, we spent every Shabbat dinner with my Gran and extended family, in a weekly rotation between our house, my cousins’ and my grandmother’s. Those were wonderful family gatherings of gatherings and tradition, laughter, stories, jokes and arguments heated discussions. And yummy food.

My mother’s chopped liver. Gran’s fried fish balls. My aunt’s youngberry tart. Specific dishes of wistful deliciousness that taste of nostalgia every time I try to replicate them.

Sometimes my Gran made challah when she hosted Shabbat dinner. She didn’t have a signature recipe but no matter which one she used (and most of the time I think she did her own thing, she wasn’t one to follow measurements and instructions) her challah was always fabulous. Sweet but not too sweet. Yeasty and cake-like and braided to perfection. Always a treat to have homemade challah, made with love and what I now know to be a lot of effort, on Shabbat.

***

This morning I wake up extra early, hoping to get into the kitchen and prepare the challah dough for its first rise before the kids and their breakfast clutter the counter. But one son is already toasting his waffles and I can hear his siblings not far behind.

With my gray robe belted tight against the chilly morning fog, I set the tin of flour on the counter. Running out of time. Why am I doing this? The kosher bakery down the street sells great challah, perfectly braided and baked and all I’d have to negotiate is a parking space.

Instead I am navigating four hungry and bickering children, boxes of cereal, spilled milk, and countless reminders from me to “Hurry up” in between the multiple cups of flour I had long ago lost track of for my homemade challah. Why indeed?

“Are you making challah, Mom?” one surprisingly observant child asks. “Yep,” I mutter, trying to remember if I’ve mixed in four or five cups by now because six cups will definitely be too many but four cups is undoubtedly not enough.

The dough is too sticky and it clings to the mixing bowl, the counter top and my fingers as I try to move it into a bigger bowl with room to grow. What a mess.

I look up at him for a brief second, and catch his smile as I say yes. He loves warm, fragrant homemade challah. Suddenly I am happy to be making it. It’s messy and inconvenient and I always make it when I’m in a rush and too busy to give it the time and attention it deserves.

But as chaotic as these mornings are in the kitchen before he leaves for school, perhaps his future self will remember his mom making challah in her robe on foggy Friday mornings. Perhaps he’ll longingly taste these Shabbat memories when he blesses the challah in years to come. Or maybe he’ll ask me to email him my recipe so he can make it himself.

I will never be sure if it’s four or five cups of flour.

The dough is finally ready to rise and I leave it sitting in the bowl, covered with a damp dishtowel for protection.

I glance in the mirror on my way up the stairs.

And notice the smudge of flour on my cheek.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “The chore I hate doing the most is…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Michelle (this week’s sentence thinker upper) from Crumpets and Bollocks and Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. Baking challah is obviously not the chore I hate doing the most (actually it’s not a chore at all, it’s a pleasure)… but it is the messiest!

challah

Four Tricks You Can Learn From An Old Dog

4Kids1DogToday he turned 105. When I woke up this morning, he was curled in his signature twist next to me. Snoring softly.

“Happy birthday, Boy,” I whispered as I scratched his now-completely gray ears. He didn’t move. He’s deaf, and he likes to sleep. It’s mostly all he does these days.

My heart ached as I watched him. It’s his birthday and I should be happy he’s still alive, but instead I feel sad. This could be the last birthday we’re together. Fifteen years is a good, long time for a dachshund to be on this earth.

It was a beautiful spring day when we drove up to Santa Rosa to get him. His tiny body belied his playful personality and gregarious spirit. He fit in my two cupped palms. His mom’s name was Ruby and his dad was Spike, and on the way home he curled up in my lap, tucked his nose and feet in toward each other, all twisty and pretzely. By the time we got back to San Francisco, his name was Pretzel.

He was my first baby and we were inseparable in those days, Pretzel and I. Before the human babies came, we spent hours at the beach or the park every day. When his short legs couldn’t carry him anymore I scooped him up and bundled him into my fleece. Dachshunds are bred to burrow, and from his very first night with us he nosed his way under the sheets and blankets, and slept curled at my feet or right next to my pregnant belly. His reddish-brown fur is grayer each day, but he is still the warmest, softest bed partner ever.

As I watched him slowly open his now blind and milky eyes this morning, my heart tugged as I remembered the ever-present, frisky, high-spirited doggy he once was. Suddenly his tail started to wag as he lay there, warm in my bed. Almost as if he knew what I was thinking. And he was reminding me that he’s still here.

He is old, this dachshund, but he’s still here. And watching him live and age over these last 15 years, he’s taught me a few things:

1. Eyes may develop cataracts, bright, healthy fur fades and grays, and in time even the floppiest ears lose their hearing. But an inherently happy, determined spirit will keep you alive even when your heart and bladder are weak.

2. Blatant chutzpah will get you what you want, even at 105. This little dachshund bumps into walls and doors, has a hard time walking up and down stairs, and can’t hear us when we call him. But when he wants a slice of brisket he knows where to find it, and how to get it. Even if it’s high up on the dining room table.

3. Which brings me to his appreciation for good food. His appetite has not completely disappeared but he definitely doesn’t eat with the same gusto as he used to. Unless it’s leftover chicken or hamburgers. Watching him wolf down a chicken leg in no time, I wonder if his bowl stays full during the day because he is saving his appetite for the good stuff. Who wants Beneful when there’s a chance of steak for dinner?

4. There are all kinds of ways to love each other, but unconditionally may be the purest, sweetest and hardest to come by. Unless you have a dog. He will love you if you walk him and he will love you if you don’t. She will love you if you leave her for hours, or even for a few weeks. They will love you, no matter what. And that is the most heartwarming, fulfilling way to be loved.

He is old, our Pretzel. And he’s still here.

Where’s The Pot Of Gold At The End Of This Rainbow?

potgold

Artwork by Jed, age 5

The house is finally, blessedly, quiet. The sound of my fingers tapping these letters out on the keyboard is the only one I hear. And when I stop doing that, there’s a faint, grumbly snoring floating on the air next to me. That’s Pretzel the dachshund, curled tight in his old doggie dreams.

The house is so quiet, so still, so peaceful because the kids are in bed. I kissed them all before they fell asleep (not the teenager, he doesn’t like to be kissed… yet). Good night, sleep tight, love you. The TV is silent. The kitchen is closed. And my husband is out of town.

Again.

He travels a lot. Every week. Usually for two or three days, but lately it’s been for longer. Maybe five. Maybe all week. Usually to Texas or Florida, but lately it’s been further. The Philippines. Or Bangladesh.

Usually I’m fine with it. He’s always traveled, for as long as we’ve been married and even longer than that. I’m used to it, and so are the kids and Pretzel the dachshund. Some days the kids forget he’s gone. “Can Dad take us to school?” they chirp, wild hope in their bright morning eyes. He’s been gone two days.

We’re used to it. We’re fine with it. We get on with it. Usually. But lately, it’s too long. It’s too far. It doesn’t feel right.

We’re a seven-colored rainbow when we’re all together: mom, dad, four kids, one dog. The violet and the red don’t always get along, the green and the yellow hide the remote from each other, and the orange needs to be taken out every hour. It’s not a gentle arc of harmonious hue, when we’re all together, but the colors do blend more happily when all seven are present.

It feels long and too far away this time, it’s true, but there are a few shiny positives to one less color in the house:

Less discipline! This is not necessarily a positive for me, but I’m sure the kids appreciate one less parent hearing them argue, threaten and hurt each other. Which means a fifty percent reduced chance of being yelled at or banished. Favorable odds for them I’d say.

Breakfast for dinner, breakfast for dinner, breakfast for dinner! Cereal, toast, eggs any style, even bagels and cream cheese. My husband actually does like a bowl of cereal at night every once in a while… But the kids don’t notice that the breakfast they ate for breakfast is being served again for dinner, every night. As long as they’re eating something, they’re happy. And as long as they’re eating, and are one step closer to bed, I’m happy!

Schlepping multiple kids to different places all at the same time is hard enough when there are two licensed drivers around, and damn near impossible when it’s just me. But here’s where my heart warmed to see one big brother help one little brother at the baseball photos today, because I couldn’t do that and drive to the karate tournament. Sibling assistance is a terrific way to combat sibling rivalry!

The silence. It’s truly golden. Once those kids are in bed and it’s just the dog gently snoring next to me, I do appreciate the few hours of complete solitude. If only it didn’t drag on for days.

So the rainbow is a little short on color right now, and sometimes it even feels a little washed out with one shade missing. But there are moments in the day when it shines pretty bright… and of course the pot of gold at the end is that we’re almost halfway through that long week, and soon he’ll be home. With presents.

This post is a sequel to Please Switch to Airplane Mode, written last year around this time. It’s interesting to see how things change. And stay the same!

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “When it comes to St Patrick’s Day…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Kelly from Just Typikel and Lisa from The Meaning of Me.