It’s been seven months since we made aliya. As the saying goes, the next time I make aliya I’ll get it right. (Joke: you can only do it once.) Some things we did get right. Some things not. Some things are still works in progress. But for the record, seven months in, for those considering this: here are my thoughts on aliya with 4 little kids and a husband who kind of turned up for the whole process the morning we got on the plane.
There are 16 of them and this is too long for one post, so I’ve broken it up into four posts and postdated them; keep checking back, because a new one magically appear every few days even if I don’t go near Blogger. Fun fun!
1. Start thinking about packing as soon as you are sure you want to go. Not as soon as you know you’re going or as soon as you have a date. As soon as you have decided that aliya is for you, start thinking about how you are going to deal with your stuff. For us, this was 23 full months before we actually got on a plane, with the added uncertainty of not knowing when/if/for how long we were actually moving to Israel, and what we would be doing with our apartment in the States.
In that time, I did not buy new furniture, I sold things (like my loom and second spinning wheel) that I knew I would not take with me, I did not buy anything that I would not either use up or want to take with me. I also went through my storage space about eight months before, and threw out or donated everything I did not plan to ship. Then I went through our entire apartment, room by room, and cleaned and organized, such that I did not, when it came time to actually pack, have to deal with drawers of junk, closets of undifferentiated stuff, drawers of random papers, etc.
2. So far as actually packing, I started putting things in boxes two months before we left. This part is hard, because you need your stuff, but you also need to start packing well ahead. So first I packed up yarn and books, and then clothes that were out of season or not yet grown into; in the meantime, packing stuff into boxes for storage. I also made lists of the stuff I packed to ship, in an ongoing Word file. In retrospect, I wish I had also done this for stuff I’d packed to store—it would have made my recent return trip much easier if I could have looked on a list and seen that the pirate bike helmet was in box #16. But I did the packing alone, with a pretty stressful job, four kids (one of them a newborn), nothing like enough childcare for the hours I was working, and a mostly absentee husband who was working 14-hour days himself. I couldn’t manage that part.
3. Start thinking about the actual flight as soon as you have tickets. I bought new backpacks for the kids who didn’t already have, and confiscated Barak and Iyyar’s backpacks a few days before we left to fill them with all manner of goodies: sticker books, Playmobil, matchbox cars, all kinds of things I knew they would like (that didn't make the bags too heavy for them to carry themselves). I also, the day before we left, made them each snack bags, all full of borderline treaty but basically healthy food: crackers, animal crackers, cheese sticks, carrot muffins, etc. (Nobody ate the pb & j. It doesn’t travel well.) These were separate little bags with handles that they could carry in their hands. That way, I didn’t have a huge bag of food in my carryon, minimizing the weight on my back, and they didn’t have to ask me every time they wanted a pretzel. The juice boxes had to go in my bag, though, because of security.
4. I think my biggest mistake, so far as packing was concerned, was being too practical. I underestimated how much I would want my own psychological comfort items: our pictures on the walls, my own kitchen equipment, my yarn stash; how much my kids would want all their own random toys (even the ones from the thrift store with pieces missing), their own familiar sheets and pillowcases, etc. The biggest smile I saw after we got here was on Iyyar’s face after I’d hung our old fish shower curtain in the bathroom. We didn’t send a lift, to save about $2000; it didn’t make sense financially when we were moving into a furnished apartment and didn't know where we would be long-term. In retrospect, it was a mistake. I wanted our wedding pictures, I wanted our own curtains, I wanted our favorite plastic cereal bowls, not new ones. Change is hard, and familiar items really help.