One Halloween I Went to See a Play on Broadway

One Halloween I bought pumpkins, but didn’t help carve them. The kids asked their dad.

One Halloween I didn’t discuss, plan or purchase costumes. They made, borrowed and raided the dress-up box. Without me.

One Halloween I didn’t volunteer to buy treats for the class party.

One Halloween I didn’t go to the parade at school.

One Halloween I refused to buy candy, and told them to keep the house dark.

One Halloween I arranged for them all to go trick-or-treating with others.

I hate Halloween. I dread it. As soon as summer is over and barely a week into the new school year, it looms. Mentions of costumes, parties, candy, pumpkins creep into conversation around the third week of August when I’m mourning the fading glow of a perfect summer, when the leaves are still green and clinging to their branches, when I’m seven after-school activities deep into my four color-coded desk calendar and I can’t get my head around tomorrow, never mind Halloween that’s still two months away.

I loved it the first few years – when there were two kids to dress up, and we could go trick-or-treating early because they went to bed at 7pm. When they were too young to know about carving pumpkins. We would marvel at the neighbors’ jack o’lanterns, and scary Halloween decorations, collect candy from five houses, and head home. It was low-maintenance, easy, something we watched more than did.

But now, ten years and an additional two kids later, it’s an all-consuming operation. It’s too many costumes, and too much candy, and she has plans with those third-graders, and he is going to that part of town, and the teenager doesn’t want to trick-or-treat but does want to go to a sleepover. Not-so-secretly, I hope it rains.

Yes. I’m the Halloween Scrooge. Not Boo… Bah!

The kids have quickly learnt not to engage too enthusiastically with me about it. To figure most of it out for themselves. They gently suggest a good time to go to the pumpkin patch, because it’s fall, Mom, and the pumpkins look good on the porch. They each pick out a perfect-to-carve pumpkin, and even I choose two for their weird shapes and colors. They creatively brainstorm costumes amongst themselves, and resourcefully borrow and make. We have Batman, a Green M&M and a Zak-in-the-Box this year. I am proud of his originality and creativity – all on his own!

zakinbox

One Halloween I left my kids with the babysitter for four days, and flew east with my husband.

We visited the Washington Monument and saw the President leaving town in a convoy of low-flying helicopters. We walked the streets of Manhattan in the rain, and took fun photos outside the gleaming Plaza hotel, hundreds of windows twinkling in the twilight.

Plaza

One Halloween we rode the subway downtown and then uptown with a mummy, Homer Simpson, kids wearing plaid shirts, torn jeans and blood-like paint (were they murderous hipsters?) and a guy in the most authentic costume ever, except he really is a Fedex delivery person.

One Halloween I sat in a 100-year-old theater on Broadway, and couldn’t wait for the play to start. The set was beautiful: a grand, old house dappled in afternoon sunlight. James Earl Jones’ comic timing was gravelly pitch-perfect and the actress who played the ballet-obsessed sister was my favorite.

broadway

The Trick-or-Treaters back home had fun too! The Green M&M took her small cousin by the hand and showed her how it’s done. Batman all in black got together with his BFF the white ninja and the Dyna Duo hit the ground running, while Zak-in-the-Box bounced his way around the neighborhood. I haven’t heard from the teenager yet but he liked the photo of Rockefeller Plaza I posted on Instagram, so I take that as a sign of life and greeting.

One Halloween I surprised myself. I missed it.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt “One Halloween, I…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Dana from Kiss My List and April from 100lb Countdown.

My Kids Only Want to Talk to Me in the Bathroom

bathroom

My kids are pretty self-sufficient. We’re over a month into the school year, they have a vague idea of where they’re supposed to be and when (like school at 8.20am, so stop reading, talking, eating, brush your teeth goodbye), and in theory they are all of the age when they can dress, entertain, toilet and feed themselves. If any of that fails they know how to operate the remote, and although the five-year-old is able to recognize only the sight words he’s learnt during the first seven weeks of Kindergarten (I, am, is, are, the, a, play), somehow he can read the on-screen channel guide fluently. Xfinity is sneaky that way.

So there’s no real need for them to talk to me. And they mostly don’t.

Even when I talk to them. They answer questions with one-syllables, specifically: fine, yes, no, ok (that’s two syllables I know, but it’s barely a real word). They stomp their feet if frustrated, do that “yessss” fist-pump thing if excited, and grunt, yell, whine and tattle-tale in between.

But occasionally they do want to talk to me. And they are very, very selective about when that is. Usually, not always but usually, they talk to me when I am obviously in the middle of something else. When I am clearly not able to give them my undivided attention, which is suddenly exactly what they are clamoring for.

Read more here.

Shitty Mom Rebranded

vintage_momI call myself a “Shitty Mom” at least once a day. Okay, more than that. A few times a day, minimum. That’s vague enough. Definitely every day those nine letters float breezily across my busy brain like a lazy sky-writer sending a message from up high. And then they slowly fade leaving the faintest outline in their place. Or they brand themselves hot, fierce and quick across my forehead, momentarily leaving an angry red scar. 

I’m not sure any part of that phrase Shitty Mom even deserves capital letters. It’s more like shitty mom. Or shittymom. Whatever. 

I feel like a shitty mom when I don’t walk my kindergartner to his classroom. I need to make my 8.30am exercise class and he knows the way on his own. When I don’t buy my 8th grader the protractor he needs for tomorrow because I can’t face dealing with the Walgreen’s parking lot at rush hour for one protractor, and I thought I’d go later but one thing became ten and I didn’t. When I don’t make dinner every night, or even ensure there is something, anything to eat some time between 6-8pm. When my kids hear me curse, when I yell at them again, when I don’t volunteer for the class party. When I forget to remind my son to wash his face and put on deodorant (seriously?!), or when I tell my daughter her hair looks terrible. I’m like Karen from “Will & Grace”: “Honey, what’s up with that hair?”

Shittymom shittymom shittymom.

It’s okay though. I know I can’t be everywhere all the time. I have four children, each with their own needs, schedules, demands, requirements, tastes in food and personal hygiene preferences. And even if I had one less child, or one child, or one child more (never going to happen) I still wouldn’t be able to be everywhere, be everything, all the time. Plus I have needs and schedules and food requirements of my own – and you know, a lot of the time mine and theirs are not at all compatible. Fish sticks? No thanks. I’d rather have chocolate and a glass of wine.

The truth is, I’m not a shitty mom. I may be preoccupied, always late, mostly impatient, too busy to listen right now, or enjoying my book too much to swim or play with them. But it’s okay, because they are more than okay. They’re happy and healthy and some kind of independent. They get enough sleep every night, their clothes fit, they fight with their siblings and help each other out, laugh, whine, tell stories, and don’t stop eating. They shoot baskets, play soccer, say they’re bored, play Minecraft for hours, and also read and joke around and hang out with their friends.

And some of that happens because of who they are, but a lot of it happens because of who I am. Their not shitty mom.

So I’m rebranding myself. What I am is an Honest Mom. Uppercase Worthy!

As an Honest Mom I know:

A sip of mojito or wine won’t kill you, nor will it turn you into a premature alcoholic. I was having a conversation of my own when you asked if it was water, and I distractedly handed you the glass full of ice, mint leaves and a little too much vodka. Even though you’re ten (or five – it’s happened more than once and to more than one) it’s okay.

I do not have to bring snacks for you wherever we go. It’s perfectly acceptable for your tummy to be rumbly while you play on the slide or climb the big tree at the park. It’s only been an hour since lunch, and you can have a string cheese when we get home. And maybe your tummy is rumbling because it’s digesting.

Speaking of trees, I don’t have to watch your every move as you climb on that one. Or scale those rocks. Yes, it may be a little dangerous. You might fall. Scrape your toe. Even hurt your head, or worse. But you are strong and thoughtful and you can do it. Risky situations teach us to be brave, to know our limits. 

It’s not serious if you hear me curse – not all the time, of course, but occasionally. Words are how we express ourselves, and sometimes the evocative F-word is how I express. Your ears are not going to burn off, and usually the words that are accessible are the ones you’re less likely to want to say in a moment of rebellion.

Similarly, it’s not a federal offense in my book if you use “stupid, idiot, shut up.” I’m not advocating mean language, and there are other words you could use instead, but these are words you hear in the world around you, in movies, even read in books, so why shouldn’t you use them?

I do not have to give you a reason for why I say No. Ever. I am your parent and you are the child, and No is No. Don’t ask why. I don’t feel like explaining for the hundredth time why you may not watch your fourth hour of TV. I don’t actually have a reason why you can’t have a sleepover, it just doesn’t feel right tonight so No. I am not going to tell you again about the value of money, and need versus want, and why it’s not necessary to buy that Lego Mixel, those high-top Converse sneakers, that ice-cream cone. Just No. “Because I said so” is a perfectly reasonable reason. Get on with it. 

Shitty mom shrugs it off. Sighs in resignation or laughs in exasperation. Is fine with the way it is, but wonders if it could be, should be better.

Honest Mom knows it’s not going to get better. This is the way it is. And for her, and her kids, this is the best way.

Honest Mom owns it.

**With deep gratitude to my Honest Friend Lawrence, who insisted we reframe the conversation. Life-changing.**

For All These Things

(Hit play)

My music teacher in elementary school was Mrs Orr. She was a lovely, Israeli woman with a graceful neck and blonde hair. I liked her. She would stand on the stage and move her hands in time to the music, her face shining light and smiles as she introduced us to classic Israeli songs in Hebrew and English. Songs about hope, peace, and land. Songs that told stories of Moses, young pioneers, Jewish holidays. Shining sea, green mountains, sweet oranges and laughing children.

sunset

For all these things…

“Al Kol Eleh – For All These Things”: my favorite Hebrew song. Music and lyrics by Naomi Shemer. Performed by dozens of famous and not-so-famous singers, including the Carmel Primary School choir in Pretoria, South Africa circa 1984, 1985, 1986. Loved by me from the first moment I heard it.

The melody flows like a gentle stream, the words sound and feel beautiful and comforting even if they’re not understood, the tears pool in my eyes, and the back of my throat catches as a soft smile plays on my lips. In 1984. And in 2014. And all the times I’ve heard and sung it in between.

For all these things…

Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok
Al biteynu hatinoket shmor eyli hatov.

Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

So sweet. And so bitter. Wine and pizza and night-time play in the park. Siren. Boom. Then boom again. I never fear for our safety, but the siren is loud and the booms and interceptions are scary to hear. But #lifecontinues and Ze ma sheyesh the hairdresser tells me – this is what we have – with a shrug, a wry smile and pain in his eyes. The Red Alert rocket app on his phone beeps again.

Yes. This is what they have here, in this beautiful, tiny country almost entirely surrounded by enemies and hatred – not only on its borders but throughout the world. Two minutes in the bomb shelter in Herzliya is all day for the kids in the south, where the rockets fly too often and the 15-second window of safety is too small to risk corralling 50 little ones into a shelter over and over and over again. So this is what they have.

What they have is 13 Israeli soldiers killed in three days. Brave, heroic soldiers with wives and parents and children of their own, who are on the ground in Gaza protecting not only our children, protecting not only Israelis, but also the Palestinians from themselves. As those soldiers fight to the death, the Israeli Defense Force has established a field hospital on the Israel-Gaza border to treat wounded Palestinians. So bitter. So sweet.

For all these things…

I am here just for the summer. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here right now. It’s a crazy way to spend the summer and I could never have imagined it. But it’s an even crazier way to live, every day, every year, from babyhood and beyond.

Summers are for doing everything you want, and nothing if you don’t. Summers are for fun, and for carefree, for wind in your hair and sand in your toes. Not for bomb shelters and falling rockets and getting used to the deafening wail of the sirens. Summers are for too much screen time playing Wii and Xbox. Not for rocket alert apps and websites like israelhasbeenrocketfreefor.com (20 seconds and counting – it’s reset twice in the last 30 minutes). And there is not a child nor an adult in all of Israel that does not know a summer like this. That is a crazy, unimaginable, unfair way to live.

For all these things…

roadsign

The road to Jerusalem is quiet. The bright orange letters on the overhead traffic signs tell drivers what to do when a siren is heard: Stop safely on the side of the road. I switch the dial on the radio. My favorite song pours out of the speakers. My eyes well as the gentle melody streams over me. My heart lifts a little and I start to sing along.

“Siren in Ashkelon… siren in Ashkelon,” comes the announcement over the music. Not once or twice. But over and over and over again.

The tears cascade down my cheeks. The words freeze in my throat. My heart breaks into a million pieces. For this tiny country and its blessedly unyielding army, protecting its borders, its people, no matter what. Year after year, decade after decade. For the children spending the summer in bomb shelters and not in the park. And for the children who have done so too many times before and who will again.

A crazy, unimaginable way to live.

Al kol eleh, al kol eleh,
Shmor nah li eyli hatov
Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

For All These Things written by Naomi Shemer, translated by Theodore Bikel

Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

Keep, oh Lord, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the man who is returning
from so far away.

Chorus:
Don’t uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase,
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

Save the houses that we live in
The small fences and the wall
From the sudden war-like thunder
May you save them all.

Guard what little I’ve been given
Guard the hill my child might climb
Let the fruit that’s yet to ripen
Not be plucked before its time.

Chorus:
As the wind makes rustling night sounds
And a star falls in its arc
All my dreams and my desires
Form crystal shapes out of the dark.

Guard for me, oh Lord, these treasures
All my friends keep safe and strong,
Guard the stillness, guard the weeping,
And above all, guard this song.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

What I Never Imagined…

BoysWall

We came to Israel this summer to celebrate.

And for many other reasons too: because our kids had never been and we wanted to show them the land of their people, because we love beach vacations and no matter where you are in Israel you’re seldom further than an hour from an incredible beach, because the food is amazing (never mind the shwarma and falafel, even frozen schnitzel and french fries are delicious here – especially if you eat them on the beach!), because you can kayak down the Jordan river and ride a wobbly camel in the Judaean desert, buy fragrant spices and the freshest challah at the bustling Middle Eastern market in Jerusalem and find the most exquisite shoes at the beautiful mall just steps away, because Israel grabs you by all five of your senses and never lets go…

But mainly we came to celebrate my oldest son’s bar mitzvah. He’s been practicing his Torah portion for almost a year. I’ve heard him once or twice – he doesn’t falter, never hesitates. He has spent hours with our rabbi in Oakland learning, discussing, preparing his speech and his words of Torah.

I imagined it. South African grandparents, and aunts, uncles, cousins from Herzliya, London, Florida, Johannesburg, California, friends from Oakland and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I imagined the praying and Mazal Tov! and brunch overlooking the Old City. Shabbat dinner and then a party in Jaffa, while the sun sets into the Mediterranean and we dance and laugh and celebrate.

I imagined us all together, a gigantic family barbecue on the beach, introducing my sister to my future sister-in-law, listening to all the brothers reconnect, meeting my friends at my favorite rooftop bar in Jerusalem. I imagined tears of pride and joy and relief, laughter and singing and so many hugs and kisses on both cheeks.

But I never imagined this.

Of course. I never imagined we would celebrate during a war. I never imagined I would take shelter from an air strike in a restaurant kitchen. Or in my cousin’s house, together with his neighbors and their kids because they don’t have a bomb shelter. I never imagined my kids would know what to do when they heard a siren – but they do, and they don’t falter, never hesitate. I never imagined it was possible to receive so many messages of worry and love from every corner of the earth, every day and through the night. I never imagined I maybe wouldn’t meet my friends to watch the sun sink over the Old City, because who in their right mind would fly into a country during a potential war?

And I never imagined I would almost forget we came to Israel to celebrate my oldest son’s bar mitzvah.

Relentless rockets have been fired into Israel for seven days. Sirens wail from north to south, east to west throughout the day and long into the night. Thank G-d for those sirens, alerting every living creature to take cover, find shelter, usually within 90 seconds but sometimes less. Turn off the car if you’re driving. Move away from it quickly. Find a wall facing north or lie flat on the ground. If there’s no bomb shelter in your building, stand under the stairwell. Listen for the boom, the interception, the all clear.

Finish the surgery on the dog. Continue the soccer game in the backyard. Pay for the sunglasses, and don’t forget the tomatoes. Dinner is almost ready. Life continues.

Who could’ve imagined this? Not I, dreaming my perfect party dreams in my house in California. Not my son, singing his Torah portion over and over with the rabbi at our Oakland synagogue in preparation for his big day at the Kotel. And not our family and friends living their lives in cities and towns all over Israel, planning the summer for their children, taking care of their elderly parents, scheduling appointments and meetings.

Life continues during a war. Or maybe it continues especially during a war.

I could never have imagined we would be in Israel this summer in the midst of an almost-war. But I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Israel grabbed hold of me and every single one of my senses while I was on a family vacation 30 years ago, and has never let me go. Being here while she is under siege, while so much of the world is turning its back on her and its people, only strengthens that grip. She has never let me go, and I will never let her go.

Life continues, especially during a war. And we are here to celebrate my oldest son’s bar mitzvah. Mazal Tov!