It is a source of great anger among the littles that I dared to birth both Eitan and Dov on the same day. I like to remind them both that neither of them was supposed to be born on Friday, February 27th. Eitan showed up 12 weeks early and Dov, practically late by Katz standards, came 5 weeks early. But early they came with 5 years to separate them, on February 27th.
This year Eitan won the birthday wars. It was, after all, his Bar Mitzvah so Dov’s birthday slid by with little fanfare while we planned Eitan’s day down to the color of the napkins. Through it all I solemnly promised Dov that I would most certainly make him his own party. And a mere four months later, I came through. So today, June 26th became Dov’s defacto birthday — celebrated with all his classmates in our backyard with epic pinterest attempts and an entire party revolving around Pool Noodles and the games you can play with them (spoiler alert: many. the amount of games you can play with them is oh so many). And they ate cake and ice cream and ice pops and played sports and went home.
Except that today, June 26th, Dov’s birthday party day also happens to be Yoni’s actual birthday. So now Dov, the boy who never had a birthday to call his own, celebrated his birthday party on Yoni’s birth day. Sigh. One would think there aren’t 365 days in a year. But it is what it is so after Dov’s party we invited Yoni’s closest friends over and just BBQed the hell out of some meat.
I have a great deal to say about 16 year old boys but I will say this: I have loved Yoni’s friends since they were old enough to toddle into and out of this house. They are ridiculous and wonderful and smart and gross all in the right ways. And if who you are can be reflected by the choice of the people you befriend, I am so so happy.
So while I may be hiding in my room escaping the X-Box marathon, the kite-flying debacle and the overall over-saturation of meat, let me wish the happiest of days to the boy whose day was co-opted by 18 8-year-olds with pool noodles. Yoni, I love you. Happiest of days.
In order to get the best seats in the house (or the outdoor amphitheater as it were), you need to set out a blanket e-a-r-l-y. So early, in fact, that when I did my first round of carpools this morning at 7:20 there were already blankets out. It’s a bizarre etiquette, this whole seat-saving, blanket-placing Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony-ing. It’s counter-intuitive to be sad/happy to be kind to all as long as you don’t sit in my seat. It overwhelms me.
We put a blanket down. We’re notoriously known (just in our own family lore) for getting the worst seats possible (this year we are sitting directly behind the AV computer tent), but it never really matters. It’s always the same. A little freezing. A little overcrowded. And just wonderful. We’re sad as a community. We laugh together at “inside jokes” that we either get or don’t really get but try really hard to. We shower little kids with love as they dance and sing their hearts out.
When our kids were little, there was The Song — the quintessential Israeli song, written in some long ago era of idealism where we put on our kova tembels, took our backpacks and hiked the land or bought a shovel and cleared a swamp. The 4 and 5 year olds would belt out the song in our makeshift Carnegie Hall and we would jostle for the right angle to take the perfect picture to record this moment as proof for the immigrant in us — we have arrived. Look, our kid sings.
There are just a million of these moments, where we proudly or tacitly announce our arrival. Some are breathtaking and some are heartbreaking. But it starts here with our 4 year old singing off key.
This year the first of our 4 year old singers got her first call-up to the army. We are long past the days of afternoon rehearsals in the park. And it passes in a heartbeat. But we’ve got our blanket and we’ll all squish onto it and watch other people’s four year-olds (who we love so so much) sing and sing. We have arrived.
I don’t want to write this post. I am actually really angry that I am writing it. What I want to do is to be curled up in bed with a book, with a kid, with the NYTimes crossword. But I’m not. I’m here. Feeling sad and not brave.
When Erez Orbach was getting killed, I was probably driving a carpool run to soccer practice on the same Kibbutz where he would be buried a day later. Just earlier that morning, I felt that there was a modicum of closure after Yakov Don’s murder. There was a step forward.
Alon Shevut is a bruised and battered place to be. But they sure know the drill. The older kids shuffle out to Bnei Akiva, to the snif, where they say tehillim, cry and sing. Adults show up with drinks and soup (it is, after all, right after a fast day). The trained professionals from Alon Shevut show up next and speak in murmurs of kindness and faith. The 16 year olds, the “older generation” sit with their chanichim to talk and to listen and to cry. Everyone comes home shattered.
The funeral felt like this: All of Alon Shevut gets up and walks across the street to the cemetery, buries another victim of terror, and turns around and walks back home. It is sadly a beaten track. It felt like the average age at the funeral was 20. Kids upon kids upon kids who should have been in school, in the army, somewhere anywhere that wasn’t a cemetery. It is a heartbreak that there is no need to explain funeral etiquette to a 16 year old.
And the wind feels relentless, bursting forth throughout the funeral. The soldier next to me with the crumpled white satin kippah loses his kippah to the wind four or five times and we just keep passing it back and he keeps putting it back on as if this time the outcome will be different.
Today everything is more subdued. Quieter. Sadder. But the sunset tonight is exquisite. The entire Gush seems to be on fire. And much like the rainbow where God promises forgiveness, tonight it feels like He is offering an apology.
Picture credit: Shachar Kelner
Look, it hasn’t been a great week. Each boy had me bringing him to the doctor or the hospital at least once. Some kind unsuspecting teacher accidentally opened a caravan door into Dov’s face giving him a mild concussion. He followed that up with a 103.5 fever and strep. I was with Channan at the ENT and with Yoni at the orthopedist (his home away from home). Dov and I watched Minions at 3:00 am and he has, in general, been suctioned to my side.
And then it seems like Israel may be on fire. Not just like “where’s the rain” fire but a legit “didn’t Smokey Bear warn us against these” fires. And there are bad guys doing bad things.
And I’m missing deadlines all over the place… which is OK. But then I pull my computer into the bed with Dov waiting for his fever to break and I start recording my podcast. And he adds an idea or two, quietly at first but enough to make me smile and forget that I am exhausted and woefully behind in things like life and laundry.
We’re back now, snuggling on couch under his fleece Spiderman blanket. I’m waiting for his fever to break again while watching the season finale of Dancing with the Stars. Judge if you want, but it’s exactly where I want to be.
When we were little, my mother invented the Island Bike Ride. To know my mom is to realize how entirely consistent it is with her personality. She was a mom who took us on Sunday bike rides. She was a mom who charted out our route perfectly so that our 25 minute bike ride didn’t have us crossing any streets at all. We were awestruck at her brilliance.
For the past 14 years my mother has suffered from Parkinsons. I’m sure all diseases suck. This one is no exception. It super sucks. And then two weeks ago she had brain surgery where a surgeon who I can only describe as awesome poked around for 3 hours in my mother’s brain while she was awake. The next 3 hours had them implanting two electrodes in her brain while she was knocked out.
And then she woke up.
This is what it feels like for me: it feels like a black and white movie that has a splash of color added to it. My mom who has had severe dyskinesia (shakes) can sit still now. We secretly (and not so secretly) position ourselves near my mom whenever she walks. But now she just sort of walks. I videoed the moment that her electrodes were turned on (my kids call her Robot Grandma), and there she was… that mom. And we have missed that mom so so much. More than we ever allowed ourselves to admit. And then she was back.
Yesterday she went on a new Island Walk with my sister. Because if you walk in a full square around her apartment you don’t need to cross any streets. It took them a half an hour and my mom was completely wiped out but it didn’t matter because 25 years later and our Islands are back.
Thanks for all of your prayers and texts and warm wishes and kind thoughts. People are good. Science is good. And my mom is great.
My people are scattered all over the place these days. I have three boys up at Camp Stone enjoying a Pennsylvania summer while Yael is away traipsing around the North in 100 degree weather planning Bnei Akiva camp. So it is really just us and Dov. Which is riotous.
The three of us celebrated Sundae Sunday, Movie Monday, Town on Tuesday and David and Dov are at the pool now enjoying Water Wednesday. I’m busy making soup and filling my freezer with food to last us through Sukkot (we all vacation in different ways).
Dov ends his run at summer camp tomorrow. The past two weeks have been so beautiful and eye opening for me. Dov went to a Kibbutz camp in the Gush. Every day we packed him with bottles and bottles of water, his hat, a good pair of shoes (that are now a very gross pair of shoes) and sprayed sunscreen all over that guy. And off he went.
And then my 7 year old hiked the heck out of Gush Etzion. He walked through maayanot (water springs) that I didn’t know about. He followed hiking trails that were so off the beaten track that we were amazed they made it home. His most valued possession from the summer is a map of the area that they all got. And he feels like this is his home. He isn’t scared because he doesn’t know that we usually are. He isn’t overwhelmed. He isn’t political. He is just a super cute kid, hiking with lots of other super cute kids. And it is great. One day they stopped alongside some Arabs who were harvesting their grapes. They sat together sharing grapes for awhile and then everyone moved on. And that is my dream. Truly my dream.
My Facebook feed is a hateful place these days. The elections are polarizing and it seems to be playing out so angrily and violently with links and videos and mild hysterics every day. So here’s to my seven year old, hiking with his friends with his too big backpack ready to meet kindness and discover the world. Maybe I’ll join him one day.
It was pure joy this morning to learn that Dov still reaches for my hand as we walk to the bus stop on this, his last day of school. I thought things might have changed. He lost his first tooth. He’s reading in two languages. He is hilariously popular. I thought perhaps, over the year, our morning ritual might have moved on. I was happy it hadn’t.
At some point, in the middle of the year, we left the world of hand holding and bus stop waiting and I began driving him to school. His school is right next door to the bakery and, on most days, I start my morning there anyway. It just seemed easier to toss him in the car and go.
This last day of school is always an emotional one for me. Even as someone who has spent over 20 years in the world of education, I rejoice at vacation. I love vacation. I count down to vacation. It is the healthiest air for me and my small people. I plan it down to the smallest detail — what books will they read, what will we learn, which movies, which fun, which adventures, which friends.
This morning my backyard furniture came in anticipation of a summer full of reading books and hosting cozy dinner parties. The landscaper came to turn my backyard beautiful. I met with tutors for next year to set out our plan. I met with the vice principal of the boys’ school 1o minutes after school let out for the summer to set out the boys learning plan for next year. And by noon I was ready to breathe summer. My three littles joined me in Jerusalem meeting my sister and some of hers’ for celebratory lunch and then we continued on to the movies where there was popcorn (!) and soda (!) and everything that shouted vacation. Because it is vacation and they earned it and they are children.
But in the back of my head (who are we kidding? in the absolute forefront of my thoughts) is the other child Hallel Yaffa Ariel who is gone. One minute here. Next minute gone. I can’t talk terror and I can’t talk politics. But I can talk children. And I can talk about what it means to put your kids to sleep at night, to tuck them in and then to head off to work. I can talk about what it means to leave a child sleeping in a house as the summer day unfolds.
Dov falls asleep in our room most nights. We watch Phineas and Ferb or PJ Masks, sometimes we talk and then he snuggles in and falls asleep. And I know that someday he’ll outgrow this too but tonight it seems like perfection to start the day holding his hand and end the day with his snuggles.
Hashem Yakom Damah.
I’m not sure when my kids started having opinions. But whenever that was, I didn’t deal with it well.
I noticed it, clearly, at Disney World over Pesach. We had taken the kids there five years ago and I had made lists to my heart delight. I had a list for which groceries to buy, which meals to prepare, which rides to go on and everyone sort of complied. They just listened. It was all good. (My Type A personality was very very happy.)
This year, we rejoiced at our good fortune to hit Disney with no stroller, no diaper bag, no juggling bottles, feeding and nap times. We were with big kids. Nothing could stop us! Nothing except…our children, who suddenly had independent thought. Why go on Peter Pan if they could go on Speedway? Maybe Winnie the Pooh (which Dov still adorably calls Windy the Pooh) wasn’t all the rage anymore? We lasted until Dumbo when the kids revolted. I gave it a good fight but couldn’t hold on. Yoni and I both had the app that showed up the waiting times at each ride and suddenly everyone wanted the bigger, the scarier the more intense rides.
As if I needed one more lesson to underscore the point, Yael and I ducked into the Bibbity Bobbity Boo salon to watch all these adorable little girls get glamorized. As we were checking it out one of the princess hairstylists asked Yael, “Are you here with a little princess?” Yael, in her always awesomeness, answered, “I am the little princess.” Needless to say we got kicked out.
And that was it. As I try to integrate this new feeling into the reality of our family dynamic, Yom HaZikaron creeps up on us. Each year, we’re in our house, with our kids in the middle of putting them to sleep as the siren goes off. This year the four older kids (!) are going to be at a special tekes at the Alon HaBoded outside our yishuv. There they will sing together, listen to a speech or two and experience the siren together, without us, without our guidance and our words. And while I know that that’s how it should be, I can’t help feeling that this is one more step closer to them growing up, moving on, choosing not to ride the Dumbo Ears.
So tonight, in an hour, I’ll hug Dov, who is young enough to ride the Windy the Pooh ride happily with me, and hope that my kids are doing just fine, having their own experience.
Sometimes, we have to secretly buy challot from the makolet. We sell until there is nothing left to sell. More likely is that we have the runts of the challah litter — the slightly misshapen but otherwise quite tasty challot. That’s the bakery life, I think.
But I always put challot on the side for chayalim. With four sons who keep getting older and older (and taller and taller), I think a lot about the chayalim who are on duty just minutes before Shabbat. I think about their parents and wives and children who won’t have them home on Shabbat. So I tuck some challot on the side.
And then as close to Shabbat as possible, when I imagine chayalim are feeling the furthest from home, I put one kid in the car and go deliver those challot. Channan actually walked into an army field-briefing with bags of challot. It must be some commentary on our lives and times that he was completely unintimidated by a group of very elite forces and their officers.
My dad came with me once and I watched the emotion of a grandfather and an oleh as he spoke to each chayal.
Today, Yoni was with me as I drove to the tzomet. Yoni needs to get out of the car, to walk over to each chayal while I usually just roll down a window. He talks for a minute and moves on. I sit back and watch as my kids grow up and become their own selves. It’s not always an easy journey (super not easy some days), but I am grateful to spot the moments of kindness and joy.
I got into a cab to go to the Kotel today. Not really the Kotel, I haven’t been feeling that for awhile. But I do go to the sealed up entrance to the Kodesh Kedoshim when I feel like there are some things I want to say. And there are some things I wanted to say. You pay to go to the “tunnel tours” unless you tell them you are going to pray and then they step aside and let you walk through the cavernous areas filled with untold history. And there are tour groups and bar mitzvahs and wanderers but I go to the small part of an underground hallway and sit down and say some words.
To get there today I jumped into a cab. Nothing kills my holiness vibe than hunting for parking. The cab had a passenger in it or so I thought but, in truth, the front seat came as a package deal, a dynamic duo, the equivalent of Borscht Belt Entertainers of the 1950s.
And they kvetch about their children and how one continues to spoil his son at age 35. They talk about politics and throw out the words Obama and Kenya enough times to make Trump proud. To prove they aren’t racist in the slightest they list all the races they know (or so it seems) in ways that would make liberal arts colleges shrivel up and whimper. But they know that Kotel and are happy to give me a laundry list of things to add to my prayers.
And then the music comes on and it must be their favorite song ever because those 70 year old men can sure belt it out. And then the Kotel comes into view and they are disapproving of the lack of upkeep of the Dome of the Rock — in our day, they tell me, it used to shine.
And then off I go. I pay them before we arrive because stopping by the Kotel is too crazy so they don’t want to make a full stop, they slow down and I leap out. It all seems bizarrely reasonable in this Twilight Zone cab.
I loved the Muppets growing up (possibly because it was one of the three shows we were allowed to watch) but I have a newfound appreciation for Statler and Waldorf who exist in a parallel universe — one where only they find themselves truly entertaining. But for today I was happy to go along for the ride.