Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oh and by the way





It's a girl. Not nearly as grumpy as the picture would lead you to suggest, but since Blogger insists on rotating all my pictures and not letting me rotate them back, I had to pick one that looked OK sideways.

All is well around here. Just busy. As usual.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Of pterodactyls and robots

Just when I had almost completely forgotten that I once had a regularly updated blog, one particular post became the target of about four hundred spam comments. I get all my comments by email, and for the last couple of weeks, the bulk of my mail has been from "Anonymous" on "Pterodactyl." I haven't looked at any of them, so they haven't been that successful as spam, but they have reminded me that I haven't posted since... May, was it? So perhaps it's time.

This morning (it was Shabbos), the three older boys were upstairs playing while I was down with Marika and Mordechai having breakfast (muffins, if you were wondering). Suddenly I heard loud wails of outrage from Avtalyon, who, a few minutes later, came downstairs in tears because Barak and Iyyar had taken away his missiles. (Back story: I went to the US last week for five days for work, and brought them back Lego... something... robots, which came equipped an impressively deadly array of Lego robot weapons, which, sadly for me, are interchangeable; this means that there has been a lot of sneaky reassigning of weaponry to different robots and attendant protest from the owner of the robot thus disarmed.)

I listened to Avtalyon sob about his missiles for a minute or two, then got up and found two pieces of chocolate sitting on top of the freezer. I handed him one and one to Marika; he was not soothed. Then I said, "Avtalyon, I have a devious, sneaky idea for getting your missiles back." It was like turning off a switch: sobs instantly ceased. "You and Marika should eat the chocolate. Be very messy. Get chocolate all over your faces. Then go upstairs and look really happy. Say, 'Imma gave us chocolate!' Then Barak and Iyyar will want chocolate. They'll come downstairs and say, 'Can we have chocolate too?' And then you can take back your missiles."

Avtalyon thought this was an AWESOME idea. He not only ate his chocolate, he actually attempted to draw on his face with it as though it were a crayon. Then he and Marika went upstairs and I heard a gleeful "Imma gave us chocolate!" and then, exactly as predicted, "She DID?" Fifteen seconds later, Barak and Iyyar came downstairs. "Can we have chocolate too?"

Hitch in plan: Avtalyon is again crying. "I don't see my missiles!" "First give Avtalyon back his missiles. Then we can talk." Grumble grumble. All three of them go back upstairs. Me, hollering up stairs: "Avtalyon! Did you get your missiles back?" Avtalyon: "Yeah!" Me: "Did the devious plan work?" Avtalyon "Yeah! It worked great!"

Barak, looking puzzled: "What devious plan?"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Musk Ox Day


Fifteen years ago today, I turned 25. On the same day, I defended my master’s thesis. A few days later, I got on a plane for Moscow, en route to a summer in Tver, which I knew would be followed very shortly by at least a year in the UK for more grad school. It was one of the points in your life that you remember as a temporal landmark in later years; I think of every event in my adult life as either before the summer of 1998, or after it.
During the two years of my MS, I was in a disastrous relationship with a guy who was depressed, unstable, and not at all in love with me. Instead of recognizing this and getting as far away as possible, I devoted more and more time and energy to fixing him (why are we so dumb? Why?), to the point where I suddenly realized in early April that I had not written the master’s thesis that had to be done and defended by the end of May, when I had that plane ticket to Moscow. I wrote my thesis in four weeks, fueled by Milk Duds and Diet Coke.

That same semester, my friend Cecilia was wrapping up her music degree, getting ready for her performance recital, and planning a cross-country move to start a PhD in a different field. It wasn’t an easy decision and it wasn’t an easy time for either of us. We were leaving behind lives were knew weren’t on the right path; we were leaving our friends and our familiar worlds and heading off, both of us really on our own, to do something totally different. I knew, deep down, that the relationship I was in, the one I once thought would last a lifetime, was about to end; she was taking a decisive step off the path she’d been on since she was three. We both knew we were making the right decision, but it was so hard. Neither of us were feeling very happy about any of it.

All through that year, whenever the boyfriend was more angst-ridden than usual or I just felt like I couldn’t deal, I would email Cecilia—sometimes at 3 PM on a Friday—and say, can I come visit? The next Greyhound is in an hour and a half. And I’d get on the two-hour bus and go visit, and we’d knit and watch bad TV and eat pizza and talk about nothing for hours, sometimes all night. It was more than an escape hatch; it was more like the valve on a pressure cooker. I’d stay for a day or a day and a half and then I’d take the bus back to reality.

I don’t remember exactly how the discussion started, or on which late night, but at some point we started talking about qiviut. Qiviut, in case you don’t know, is the fiber of the musk ox, made into insanely expensive yarn. Neither of us could possibly hope to afford it, and we thought about how really, all one would need to support oneself—no degree required—was a musk ox. We thought, hmm, we could forget the whole academic thing and we could open a musk ox ranch! Maybe in Canada, or in Australia. And after a while we decided that if things really didn’t work out, if we both still hated our lives in fifteen years, we’d throw it all up and open a musk ox ranch together. On my fortieth birthday, fifteen years to the day after my thesis defense. I wrote the date into the acknowledgments section of my thesis: May 19, 2013.

It seemed so impossibly far away.

It is, of course, today. In a few hours, to mark the occasion, we’re going to Skype. She’s a ten-hour time difference away, so it’ll be morning for her and late at night for me; we’re going to knit and eat pizza and drink Diet Coke together, and complain that we don’t have any short circular size 6s. We’ll wonder where lost scissors go, and we’ll ask to borrow each other’s tapestry needles. And we probably won’t talk about anything too heavy, because we never do. We won’t talk about the twists our lives have taken, or how we both got to where we are—places we never thought we’d be, but good places, all things considered. We know we made the right decisions, fifteen years ago. Hard, but right. And so, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Diet Coke to chill, and some knitting to do.
Happy Musk Ox Day.

 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Because Grandma E told me to

Guess where I am right now?

No, guess.

Hanging out in a hotel room, in the city where I work, with Grandma E. Mordechai is allllllmost asleep in his crib, Grandma E is reading on her Kindle, and we are both sitting here very very quietly, waiting for him to conk out so we can start chatting and knitting and doing other fun things like that.

I am having a lovely week. I mean, I miss my kids a lot. But even still.

I don't love that I have to travel for work, but since I have to do it I might as well enjoy it, right? So in between working I have been visiting with my friend Yehudis and the lovely Sarah Peasley, who came out for a night and knitted with me and even hung out with Mordechai while I was in all my meetings yesterday. And then she left and along came Grandma E, who took a train A THOUSAND MILES to come and visit for a couple of days. She keeps telling me she's 83, but I find that kind of hard to believe. (I, on the other hand, am turning 40 in a couple of weeks. I find that hard to believe too.)

The trip over was OK. I actually bought a seat for the baby, thereby ensuring a nearly empty flight on the way here (seriously, people stretched out over 4 seats on both flights!). Changed flights in Toronto, which I emphatically Do Not Recommend; I had my pedometer in my bag so I can tell you with absolute authority that the person who designed that airport did it wrong. It took me 1,963 steps to get from Flight A to Flight B, and most of that was with all my luggage in tow. And the baby and carseat and so on.

Grandma E and I have been having a lovely day of knitting and walking and visiting and shopping. Went to Target and bought half a gross of socks for various boys large and small, a bunch of sippy cups and Avengers underwear (and other things). Bought my husband a little birthday present that I think he will enjoy very much. Bought myself a new water bottle and Mordechai a toy phone.

Aaaand with that, I hear the sounds of sleeping baby breathing. Time to turn off the computer and knit!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Briefly

Busy days, no time for blogging. But:

Last week, in the last-minute countdown to Shabbat, Marika kept circulating in and out of the kitchen asking for things, trying to get attention, etc. I know she just wants me to drop everything and pay attention to her, but now is not the time, so I reassure her: "Just a few minutes, sweetie. In a few minutes, I'm going to light. And then it's going to be Shabbos." Marika, joyously, "And then you're going to kiss me!"

Shabbat was lovely; we had nice guests and spent the late afternoon playing with friends. The kids even stayed past Shabbat and I went to get them after havdalah. As we walked home in the dark, Avtalyon was not pleased with me. I had done things wrong, yet again, it seemed. "Imma! How come you don't ever make it be Shabbos for longer? Why, Imma? Why do you always make Shabbos so short?" Because I can't control the movement of the sun, sweetheart. But you don't have to know that just yet.

And last night, as I tried vainly to find an apron to wear as I tackled the mountain of dishes: "Where's my apron? Has anyone seen my apron?" Marika's face lit up and she cried, "You can wear mine!" And she ran over to her little toy kitchen and pulled out her size 3, teeny tiny little pink ruffly apron with the owls on it, that I got for when she helps me in the kitchen. What could I do? I put it on. She thought it fit fine.

Mordechai turns one today. Avtalyon turned five last week. Out tenth--tenth!!--anniversary is in a few weeks. Time marches on; not every day is easy, but every day is good.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Guns and Israel: Why what you think is probably wrong

Two weeks ago, I turned on my computer after Shabbat to discover what everyone in America had already been grappling with for a day: Newtown. And in the days that followed, in the news--well, you all know what you read, about gun control, the NRA, mental illness, and gun control. And every so often, Israel would come up, as a place where people are all armed to the teeth and ergo these things do not happen. A school massacre could never happen here, because we have armed security guards, and, well, people here are armed.

Well, no. School massacres like the ones in Newtown haven't happened here, because mentally unstable teenage boys here don't have access to guns, and the Arab terrorists who would very happily shoot up a classroom full of children aren't given the chance to do so.

Rates of gun violence in Israel are not low because everyone here has a gun. Rates of gun violence are low because guns here are very tightly regulated, and because the guns that are out there are in the right hands.

In  Israel, there are 7 privately owned guns per 100 people. In the US, there are 89. The US rate of firearm deaths per capita is five times as high as the rate in Israel. Even though we have, you know, this terrorist problem.

Guns in Israel are ubiquitous. Yes, this is true. You see guns everywhere. You see guns on the bus, guns in the bus station, guns on every policeman and security guard. You see soldiers in uniform carrying guns, and you see soldiers on leave, not in uniform, carrying guns. So the sight of a 19-year-old boy with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, eating a hamburger, doesn't get a second glance.

It's easy to see this and think that Israel is the NRA's version of paradise. Actually, this is pretty far from the truth, because when you get down to it, you cannot have a gun in Israel unless the government specifically says you can--and unless you have a very good case to own a gun, they're going to tell you no.

Guns in Israel exist for a very clear reason. They're there, to be blunt, to keep Arabs from killing Jews. There: I said it. That is why we have guns on the streets here: so that when a terrorist gets on a bus with a bomb, or walks into a pizza restaurant with a bomb, or starts mowing down passersby with a stolen bulldozer, or climbs through your bedroom window to murder your family, you have a chance to kill him before he kills you or anyone else. It's pretty straightforward. We have off-duty soldiers, policemen, and security guards carrying guns for this reason, and we have the guns visible for this reason.

Attitudes toward gun ownership in Israel are completely different. Gun ownership is not a right. It's something you avoid if you can. There is nothing cool, exciting, or sports-related about guns in Israel. You do not use them to go target shooting for fun or, for the most part, to go hunting (although I'm told some people do hunt here, it's nothing like deer hunting in, say, upstate New York). Military service is mandatory, for the most part, because Israel is constantly fighting for its own existence. You learn to use a gun with every expectation that at some point, you will be using it in a situation where you might die. Guns are large, smelly, greasy, heavy, awkward and dangerous. You do not collect them, you do not show them off. They are a necessary evil. And because of the mandatory military service, people understand this, they understand guns, they respect guns and they know how to use them. There are very few gun accidents here; people do not accidentally shoot their own kids in parking lots. Stolen guns are rare, because if you have a gun, you have to keep it behind two locks at every moment it is not on your body. If someone steals your gun because you were negligent, you--yes, you--can be held responsible for crimes committed with it. It's a pretty strong disincentive for being negligent.

In Israel, you cannot just walk into a store and walk out with a gun. You have to have a reason to own a gun, and you have to demonstrate that you have a need for a gun, and you have to prove that you are capable of owning your gun responsibly. If you live in the West Bank, if you are employed in security, if you transport valuables, if you travel in the West Bank--these are reasons to own a gun. Usually, they are reasons to own one pistol, which you plan on carrying. One pistol. Not a Bushmaster.

If you apply for a gun permit, you stand a 40% chance of being rejected. If you have a gun, the police check up on you regularly, to make sure you haven't done anything you shouldn't have. And you have to reapply, at least annually, to demonstrate that yes, you still need your gun.

We live in the West Bank, within a literal stone's throw of lots of Arabs who would very much like to kill us. We are not allowed to have a gun, simply because we haven't been here long enough and, I would imagine, the Israeli government doesn't have confidence that we are Israeli enough to handle one safely. My husband looked into it when we moved, and was told, sorry--not for another year. If we'd stayed in Jerusalem, we would have been refused even after that time. Because we didn't have a good enough reason.

But it doesn't matter, because we're not going to have a gun in our house. With a houseful of curious little kids, we're much safer without one. And unless you live in Givat Assaf, or Efrat, or Afghanistan, or Yemen--so are you.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kid chronicles

On Friday night, a few of the kids were not sick, exactly, but under the weather. Avtalyon fell asleep on the landing of the stairs at about 4--just lay down there and conked out. Mr. Bigfoot moved him to his bed, and there he stayed, until around 11 PM when the three of us (me, Mr. Bigfoot and Alisha) suddenly heard the dulcet sounds of Avtalyon belting out birkat hamazon (grace after meals) at about 200 decibels.

"Avtalyon? Are you up?"

"I'm benching!"

"We can hear that. Do you want to come downstairs and eat something, so you'll have something to bench on?"

"Okay!"

He came downstairs, a little flushed but not feverish, eyes the size of dinner plates and the color of tar pits. He traipsed into the living room, stopped short, and then, with the full-body, arm-waving expressiveness that is his peculiar provenance, exclaimed, "Imma! Do you know what? It's the middle of the night! It's not morning anymore! Do you know how I know?"

Pause while he waits for an answer.

"No! How do you know?"

"Because I can see the bookshelves!"

I will cheerfully give myself full credit for figuring this one out. He was talking about seeing the bookshelves reflected in the windows. During the day you see the backyard; at night, it's dark out and light inside, and so you see the bookshelves. Of course.

Mordechai is ten months old. How crazy is that? He's got two teeth on the bottom, two on the top, and two more coming in on top on the sides. He just started waving bye-bye, crawls everywhere, loves to climb ther stairs but can really only do it with two adult hands right behind him, because he doesn't have the balance to not fall over backward every so often. He still has that insanely hilarious cackle when he laughs. He just started eating food, and has gone pretty much directly from gagging on half a teaspoonful of pureed carrots to eating cheerios and matzo balls and noodles and demanding four square meals a day plus snacks. If you put him in the high chair, he howls until he sees the box of Cheerios come down from the cupboard. Then he's happy. He's getting much better at navigating them into his mouth, too.

Marika turned three a few weeks ago, and had a lovely birthday party at school that was the culmination of nearly a full year of "yom bodedet" fantasies. She went to an upshearin for a friend's little boy last December and has been kind of obsessed with birthdays every since. She was very very attached to the crown she got, for days, and still refers to any cake or gift or birthday-associated item as a "yom yom bodedet."

I pick the kids up from gan most afternoons, and usually what happens is I pick Marika up a little early, at 5-8 minutes till 2, and she and I and Mordechai in the baby wrap go up and get Iyyar and Avtalyon (whose ganim are right next to each other) and then all three of them play in the gan playground for an hour or close to it. This works out well for everyone. Iyyar gets his OT in by swinging hard on the swings, which I insist on as a prerequisite of playtime; Avtalyon also gets his playground time in, which his OT also suggests for his gross motor delays. But really, what most of them do is sit down in the sand and dig. And dig. And dig some more. Twice a week Barak comes home as I am heading up the hill, and I take him with me, and then they launch major works of civil engineering, with connecting tunnels and bridges and what have you. All the other kids have long gone except for Oded and his sister, the daughters of the assistant in the big gan that is between Avtalon and Iyyar's little ganim (since Iyyar and Avtalyon are both in gan safa, with only nine--NINE--boys in each, they're in smaller spaces. Iyyar's in a side room, Avtalyon's in a trailer.) Today I saw Oded's little sister, who is four but very tall for her age, strike up a friendship with Marika. She has only just begun to really have friends, so it was really fun to watch the two of them settle into the sandbox, collect their toys, take turns and so on.

Iyyar's doing well. He's in a good phase right now, seems happy at gan, is doing less of the weird behavior, isn't too hard to get out the door in the morning, isn't pounding on Marika quite as much. But it's day by day. Some days are great; some days, not so much. I'm still hoping to see him in a regular kita aleph (first grade) class next year, but if he's in a kita katana, and that seems like the best place for him, then that's OK too. He's gotten kind of amazing with mental math. And he's gotten really affectionate, in a way that is a little bit clingy but not alarmingly so. He just likes to sit next to me on the couch and cuddle. Obviously, I don't object to this. I'm all about cuddling on the couch.

And Barak just got a 107 on his Torah test. Homework continues to be a struggle and I've completely stopped trying to get him to daven on days he doesn't have school. I don't need to make it into a fight. He's steadily turning into a yishuv kid; goes all over by himself, although I insist on knowing where he is and exactly when he'll be back. But last week I ran out of eggs, and after wrestling with myself a little bit, I handed him money, sent him to the grocery store, and told him I needed 30 large eggs and he could also buy some parve chocolate for us to share. Half an hour later, he was back, mission accomplished and only two eggs broken. A new era, to be sure.