Sunday, July 31, 2011

The things that make it all worthwhile

Ever since Barak was born, Mr. Bigfoot has been the Man in Charge of Laundry. I won't pretend that there haven't been a few disasters in the laundry arena since then, but overall it's been a successful term in office. I make sure the laundry gets into the hampers, he stain-sticks it religiously, washes it, and hangs it to dry, and one of us puts it away. It's a good system.

So today, on the eve of the 9 Days (when it is for the most part forbidden to do laundry) Mr. Bigfoot staged an all-day laundry marathon. On Friday we moved all the furniture and dug behind all the toys to find every last scrap of laundry; from last night until today, he ran load after load. I went out at around 1:30 with Barak and Marika to the shuk, where I bought a staggering quantity of fruit and vegetables and bread for about $40; when I got home, Mr. Bigfoot looked perturbed.

"What happened to all my underwear?" he asked.


"I only have about ten pairs. I used to have a lot more."

"Well, yeah. But we use bleach on our whites and some of them got holes. I threw those out."


"I don't have enough underwear."

"I think you can wash that if you really have to."

"It's better not to."


"Do you want me to go buy you some new underwear right now?"

"Um, yes please."

"OK. I can get some at the bus station. But if I go to the bus station, I'm going to take advantage of the air conditioning and get myself a diet coke and sit down for a little bit."

Mr. Bigfoot thought this was fair enough so, after a fruitless attempt to get Alisha to come meet me and split a last-chance-at-meat-before-the-9-Days hamburger, off I went.

I admit that I really like the Tachana Merkazit (otherwise known as the Central Bus Station). It's just a regular bus station, with stores on the first floor, stores and a food court on the second, and departure/arrival gates and a few more stores and food stands on the third. But there are several key differences. First off, all the food in the entire bus station is kosher, at least to the level of rabbanut stam. There is a kosher McDonald's. There are clothing stores where you can buy modest skirts and tops and just about everything, and you can also buy headscarves and kippot and tzitzit and washing cups, and there is a secular bookstore with books in Hebrew and English, and there are four or five bakeries, each of which sells challah on Friday and cheesecake erev Shavuos. On Fridays and Saturday nights it's packed with people traveling for Shabbos. The restaurants in the food court have specials for soldiers in uniform. There are a lot of machine guns. There are a lot of children. It's not like any other bus station anywhere else in the world.

So I didn't mind too much going on this spur-of-the-moment underwear run, without children. The bus came right away and I went in, through the security that's not much different than what you get at an American airport. I bought what I came for, plus some pretty little hairclips for Marika, and went up to the food court to buy a diet coke and bask in AC for a little while. Then I decided to get onion rings. I ordered my onion rings and there was a secular-looking French woman trying to order the soldiers' special and not understanding what the problem was. I translated for her and all was well. Then this woman in jeans with permed hair turned to me, looking worried, and said (in French) "The 9 days start tonight, right? So I can still eat meat now?" I assured her that she was in the clear to eat a burger. I stood there waiting for my onion rings and as the orders ahead of me came up one by one, the tough-looking probably-just-out-of-the-army 20-something guy at the counter bellowed out the names. "Eliyahu? Eliyahu? Where's Eliyahu? Eliyahu, your order is ready!" And up comes a guy in a black kippa and tzitzit. "Mordechai! Mordechai!"

And it's normal. That's the thing. You can get a kosher burger in Manhattan or Chicago or LA. But you can't get one at the bus station. You have to go to the kosher places in the Jewish neighborhoods, and if you want a kosher burger at the bus station you are probably flat out of luck. My kids can wear kippot and tzitzit on the street, but they got looks when we left our neighborhood. They could get a Jewish education, but only in private schools. I could get a good job and my coworkers were nice about my religious idiosyncracies, but they all thought I was weird and a little crazy and I had to deal with it. Once we left our bubble, we all had to navigate our way somewhere we really didn't belong.

Here, my kids can just be themselves and be, well, normal. It's nice. It's amazing. And the onion rings were pretty good too.

* * * * *

One more thing: after we got back from the shuk (with 1.5 kg of cherries, 2 kg of nectarines, 2 kg of peaches, 1 kg of grapes, a whole bag of stuff from the bakery, another whole bag of leafy greens of every description, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, and... whatever else I forgot) I washed all the cherries and we (the kids and I) sat down to pit and devour them on the spot. I got a bottle of water out of the fridge and asked Iyyar to get cups. He got three green cups and a blue one. Barak asked for the blue one. Iyyar declined to give it. Barak, who doesn't deal with things like this well at the best of times and was hot, tired, and thirsty, began to howl.

"It's not FAIR! I ASKED him for the BLUE one and he said NO! I HATE that! It's STUPID! I SAID I wanted the blue one and he WOULDN'T GIVE IT TO ME! It's NOT FAIR!"

I, being a mean and heartless mommy, said, dryly, "I don't think it's actually that big of a deal. The water tastes the same and he was the one who got the cups. Why is it not fair that he wanted the blue cup?"

"It's not FAIR! I ASKED him for the BLUE one and he said NO! I HATE that! It's STUPID!" etc.

"You know what? Other women, they have babies, and a week later? They're skinny again. It's true. I've seen it. I've totally seen immas who are skinny again a week after their babies are born. I'm NEVER skinny a week after. It takes me forever to lose the weight and I haven't been skinny since before you were born! It's NOT FAIR!"

Barak stared at me with an incredibly endearing mixture of confusion, amusement, hesitation, and disdain. "That doesn't matter."

"But it's not FAIR. I want to be skinny a week after I have a baby."

"But it doesn't matter. You're more cozy this way."

"But it's not FAIR! It's stupid and I hate it!"

"You're being silly, Imma. You're just more cozy like that."

"Oh. Okay."

Barak, who at this time was grinning a little self-consciously, drank his water. From the green cup.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Schools. Transportation.

You'd think that it would have all worked out by now. But no.

I moved Iyyar's gan to a closer and I hope more appropriate gan for him. He started there a month ago, just for camp, which I think was a good intro; smaller group, more mellow with the schedule, more fun stuff. He's liked it so far and the ganenet, who will not the same as the one he'll have in the fall, has seemed positive about how he's been doing. Avtalyon will be there too; like many ganim here, it's one school with two classrooms, one for the younger kids and one for the older kids. So that part is good.

What's less good is that it's not all that much easier to get to. Faster, but not easier. It's still up a lot of steps and, more problematic, across a really dangerous-to-cross street; the only way to do it safely is to take the bus (the bus!) up two stops to the next crosswalk, cross the street and then walk back down. To get home, that's not practical because you'd have to haul the kids straight up a really big hill. However, it is easier to cross in the other direction, because of the curve of the road--you can at least see what is coming. So that's something. But it's still really not ideal.

Bigger problem: Barak's transportation. The school has been a great fit for him, he had a really good year and I don't want to move him. But it is looking increasingly unlikely that there will be any kind of a bus. Why? Well.

Because they are opening a new boys' elementary school, literally five minutes from our front door. Opening with first grade only.

I can't even express how I feel about this. If it had been here last year, when we came, my year would have been completely transformed. He could have walked by himself. It's up some stairs, down the driveway, through a gate and up four steps. There you are. Now, not only can we not avail ourselves of it, but the fact that they are opening means that all the boys--all EIGHT boys--who were registered in Barak's school for the fall, and who wanted to arrange a bus, are now going there. Naturally enough. So not only was the school not there when we needed it, it is now taking away the bus that I thought Barak would have.

Anyway. Nothing I can do about the school. But the hasaa. I cannot, and I really mean cannot, do again what I did this year. I don't have a hasaa for the two younger boys. Marika is no longer in the Snugli. Mr. Bigfoot has some part-time work. For me to take them all, and I feel sick just thinking about this, would entail me taking all three boys on the bus in the morning, stopping halfway up the hill, walking all of them back down, dropping off the younger two, getting back on the bus with Barak, taking it to the city entrance, and walking him up the hill another 15-20 minutes to his school before continuing on to my ulpan. It means taking the long slow bus instead of the short fast bus we took last year, and it also makes us vulnerable to rush hour traffic. It's what I was doing the last four weeks, just with Iyyar; one day we hit traffic so bad that Barak was an hour and a half late. For camp it doesn't matter. For school, it does.

And in the afternoon, I would have no choice but to load all three other kids on two buses each way to get him. Every day. Because this past year, the person who took him home half the days was Other Father, who as you may recall was the one responsible for allowing Barak to travel solo to the mall. So he's off the list of Approved Transport Options.

And add to all of this that I am now working more. I have Marika in gan in the mornings because I must, and I really mean must, not only work more but sleep more. I can't do this year again. I can't.

School starts in five weeks. I don't know what to do.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


This afternoon Iyyar asked me to read him Tikki Tikki Tembo. I think this book appeals to him as the second son. Anyway, the very last page has a picture of the mother, who has seen the error of her favoritist ways, sitting with Chang in her lap as Tikki Tikki Tembo recovers from his unfortunate dip in the well. Iyyar studied this picture and then asked, "How come there's only one bed?"

Me: "I think they're very poor. Probably they only have one bed."

Iyyar: "Why doesn't the mother write more speeches? She should write more speeches. Then they could have more money and buy another bed."

Me: "Iyyar, do you think most mothers write speeches at night?"

Iyyar: (blankly) "They do. Mothers write speeches at night to earn money."
Pause. "Most mothers do."

In other news, I bought three and a half kilos of cherries at the shuk on Friday. They are all gone now, as is the entire kilo of cherry tomatoes and a shocking quantity of nectarines. Strangely, there was a lot of competition for the bathroom this evening. Can't imagine why.

אני בקניון עם הבן שלך

What I was able to gather from the woman on the phone was that she'd been on the 33 bus and had seen Barak alone and crying in the back. She'd asked him what the problem was, he'd said, "I don't know where my Imma is" and she'd asked him if he knew his phone number. THANK GOD he did--I had drilled it into him, singsong, with the promise of a ruggel when he knew it cold, months earlier. Efes-chamesh-arba, shesh-shesh-echad, etc. She said, I'm waiting with him at the entrance to the mall, and asked me if I wanted him to put him in a cab with directions to get to me. I said no, I think he'd be too scared (and never mind the booster seat etc.) I told her I'd be there as soon as I could and that I was calling a cab that second. Ran out the door with a booster in hand, then turned around at the top of the stairs when I realized I had no money in my wallet; got money from inside our apartment, ran back out, and took a cab to the mall.

Now. Where was Barak supposed to be? Barak was supposed to be at his friend's house. You know that whole hasaa issue you've been hearing about for the last year? The current deal is that three afternoons a week, I take Barak and his friend home, and the other three afternoons, said friend's father takes him. Today was friend's father's day, and the plan was that he was supposed to stay at his friend's house to play until 3. Apparently what happened was that Barak ran to the back of the bus (where it is more fun to sit) and friend and friend's father did not follow him; the bus got crowded; when it was time to get off, friend and friend's father somehow got off without Barak. From what I understand, the father thought he was already off and he wasn't.

Barak was right where the woman who called (whose name was Avital) said he was; sitting on the steps by the bus stop, face streaked with tears and dirt, eating noodles out of a container she'd got him at Cafe Neeman. She was lovely and told me again what had happened, now speaking in English; I thanked her profusely, she refused to take money for the noodles, and went off (to her job? or to go shopping?) inside the mall. I talked to Barak very sternly about the whole running-to-the-back-of-the-bus issue. He told me with maximum Barakian earnestness (and that is pretty... maximum) that he was NEVER EVER GOING TO DO THAT AGAIN. "Were you really scared?" "I was so scared. I thought I was going to be lost forever. I thought I wasn't even in Yerushalayim anymore. We went past the zoo!"

Since at this point Mr. Bigfoot was missing his ulpan, we went inside the mall and did some shopping I'd been needing to do--got an adult-sized sunhat and an easy-Hebrew newspaper for Mr. Bigfoot and some first-grade-appropriate books for Barak. And we stopped and got something to eat. And talked about how scary it was to be lost.

And then we went home, on the six.

Now. What's the sixty-thousand-dollar question here? It's how, exactly, Other Father got off the bus without Barak.

I can sort of see it, but not really. If it had been another mother with a stroller, I could have seen it more. With a stroller you have to get on in the back, but the kids have to get on in the front to pay, so it's easy, on a crowded bus, to lose sight of them. But he didn't have a stroller, just two first-grade boys. Barak ran to the back of the bus, which he should not have done. When I talked to the friend's mother, though, she told me that he did this a lot and often didn't listen. To which my question is--why? And it sounds like other father is not into enforcing discipline with other people's kids. Which, frankly... well. Barak does what he is told with me. He does what he is told at school. He's not a wild or crazy or rebellious kid. If he was doing his own thing, he thought it was, tacitly at least, permitted, even if not ideal. He's not a saint, but he's generally well-behaved. Where is the other father in all of this? This is why we have discipline, in large part, isn't it? So that our kids stay safe?

And what the other father did when he realized he didn't have Barak made no sense. He didn't jump in a cab and go after the bus. He didn't call me. He didn't call the police. He called Egged. What could Egged do? The buses, so far as I know, don't have radios. He doesn't have a cell phone, so I'm not sure what he did exactly--I don't know if he even had my number with him. But Barak had been on his own for close to an hour when I first heard about it. A lot can happen in an hour. Anything, really.

I don't get it, why he didn't keep an eye on him, and how on earth he got off the bus without him. And I am not planning on allowing Barak to travel with said father again, which takes care of Plan B for afternoon transport. So I really, really, really have to find a Plan A.

In the end it's good that this happened: Barak now understands the importance of bus safety, and is unlikely to go running off to the back EVER AGAIN; nothing bad happened; he learned an important lesson.

But so scary. It could easily have... well. Let's not think about that, okay?

Thursday, July 07, 2011


1. I think that the Egged bus driver training school is actually housed in the Department of Secrets at the Ministry of Magic. Because there's no other explanation for the behavior of the #13 today: right at the end of the route in Katamon, it went down a one-lane road with cars parked on both sides, on the sidewalk, at angles, doing deliveries etc. There was, looking down the road we were about to descend, clearly not enough room for a bus or even a car to pass through the aisle that was left. A Vespa, maybe. A bus? No way. This did not, however, deter the driver of my bus in any way, and I looked out my window in stupefaction at the cars/trucks/delivery vans that were passing within millimeters of my window and in some cases seeming to bend out of the way altogether.

The bus I was riding was not, for the record, purple, and the driver did not have pimples or, to my knowledge, answer to the name of Stan. Still. Suspicious.

2. For the first time ever, yesterday Barak curled up on the couch with a Hebrew book with only a few pictures. And started reading it. As in, reading the words. I was blown away enough by this; but then today, when his friend David was here, I saw him (Barak, not David) sitting on the couch reading a Baba comic book out loud to him.

Baba? Baba is written without nikkud. No vowels. I... the mind reels. Two months ago he still didn't understand anything Rav Eli was saying. Now he's coming home telling me the entire story he heard in class, he knows what they're doing the next day in camp, and he is READING INDEPENDENTLY IN UNVOWELIZED HEBREW.


3. And now, a cliffhanger, for the few readers who don't already know this:

The day before yesterday I went to lie down for a few minutes between my ulpan and Mr. Bigfoot's ulpan. I heard the phone ring. I ignored it. Fortunately Mr. Bigfoot didn't. Half a minute later, I heard him yelling, "Imma, get up! You have to get up right now!" That was pretty effective, and I vaulted out of bed to see which child was covered in blood. Instead, it was Mr. Bigfoot holding the phone out to me and looking horrified. "It's a woman speaking Hebrew and she's saying that she found Barak on the bus by himself. They're at the mall."


Saturday, July 02, 2011

In which I reassure you that I really am OK

I talked to Alisha erev Shabbos and mentioned that I'd just talked to Grandpa M on the phone. "He kept saying how good I sounded. And sounding really surprised."

"Does he read your blog?"

"Sometimes Grandma E reads it to him."


I think she was implying that perhaps my blog has been a bit of a downer of late, and that Grandpa M might possibly have had some reasonable basis for concern based on the most recent few posts. I conceded that there was some possibility that she was right.

I should probably remind my faithful readers (all 17 of them) that I tend to blog late at night when Perspective may not be at its strongest. Also, when I start feeling sorry for myself I don't exactly focus on the positives.

Anyway: I am OK. Really. I am OK, Mr. Bigfoot is OK, the kids are, B"H, basically OK.

Rundown by family member, youngest first:

1. Marika now has enough hair for two actual pigtails. I am unspeakably besotted. She is in constant motion, climbs on and off the couch and the beds and can now do stairs standing up if she's holding my hand (up and down). Favorite foods: full-fat yogurt, nectarines, cherries, peanut butter licked off her sandwich. She is always demanding "wawa!" but after taking one dainty sip, dumps the entire contents of her cup on her high chair tray.

She's a little bowlegged still and I'm wondering if I should look into it. She's been walking for about 4 months, which seems like enough time for that to have sorted itself out if it's going to. I need to make an appointment for Tipat Chalav anyway, since I didn't quite manage her 18 month checkup. I know they're going to yell at me; she's not quite 10 kg at 19 months. At 12 months she was 7.8 kg, so she's gained around 4 or 5 lb, but she's still teeny tiny. And still nursing, every morning, before and sometimes after naptime, and at bedtime. And whenever she climbs into my lap and starts thumping my chest meaningfully with her palms.

2. Avtalyon is great. I went to his gan mesiba on Wednesday and he actually participated, as opposed to the Chanuka mesiba when he mostly just sat in his chair very close to me and watched. Phrase of the developmental stage: "I hate that!" and also, "That's stupidhead!" But the other day, he was sitting at the table eating a nectarine, and I told him he was cute and I liked him so much. He said, "I like you too." Pause. "We like each odder."

Just in the last week or so he's started playing much more with Marika. Instead of viewing her solely as an annoying obstacle in his path to wherever he's going at best, and a competitor for and messer-up of toys at worst, he's starting to view her as mildly interesting. I'm trying to think of specific things they've done together but can't really--it's just general, like if he's playing on the floor with Lego and she comes and starts playing with Lego too, they'll sit there companionably together instead of him chasing her off. It's an improvement, believe me.

Even bigger improvement: Avtalyon has B"H not been sick since THE WEEK AFTER PESACH. So, more than two months without one single ear infection, fever, or episode of vomiting. This is unbelievable and amazing and... fantastic. He no longer conks out at 4 PM when I put him in a time out. He no longer wakes up at night crying that his neck hurts. Even without the tubes. He's just, B"H about a billion times, doing much better. Finally.

3. Iyyar... well. Iyyar is more than a couple of paragraphs. He hasn't gone to gan for a few weeks, which I mentioned last time. We've had some good days and some less than good days. In the meantime, I started the ball rolling to get a developmental evaluation done. He's switching gan starting tomorrow and we'll see how that goes. Hopefully things will improve once he's in a different setting and back with a routine; if not, I've got some names of OTs to see privately, to see if we can't figure our what's going on with him a little. And since I've had more time with him over the last week, I've been able to figure out better ways of dealing with the freakouts/tantrums/behavioral stuff. Like, you can often talk him down, but you have to change his environment first. I don't know why, but this is true most of the time. And you can explain to him why what he's doing is OK, but he'll only listen if you give the example of Avtalyon. To wit, "If Avtalyon wanted a tomato and screamed I WANT A TOMATO, and I said no, and then he screamed I! WANT! A! TOMATO! and I still said no, and then he screamed GIVE ME A TOMATO RIGHT NOOOOOWWWWWW while throwing a chair across the room, and THEN I gave him a tomato, then what would he do the next time he asked me for a tomato and I said no?" Iyyar, giggling, "Throw a chair." "So should I give him a tomato when he yells and screams?" "No." "That's why any time you start yelling and screaming about anything, even if it was something that at first I was going to give you, then the answer is no. Because otherwise I'm teaching you to tell and scream." He gets it, it's just getting him to the point where he's able to listen that's... hard.

4. Barak is, B"H, really doing great. Thursday was the last day of kita aleph. He got a really nice report card that said he davened beautifully, had derech eretz, played nicely with his friends, and was good at math. There was also a sentence that I'm pretty sure was saying that his rebbe admired his ability to sit quietly for hours when he understood nothing. Erm. Anyway, his morah suggested that he should be working on reading comprehension over the summer, and that's what we're doing.

Enter Eitan (yes his real name), the 16-yo Israeli kid a friend of mine found. He rocks and Barak loves him. He's been coming over and sitting with Barakh and reading with him, and talking to him about it to make sure he understands. He came twice so far and has really been fantastic--they're reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea together, in a lavishly illustrated kids' version. I'm pretty sure Eitan knows at least some English, but I asked him to make sure Barak thinks he doesn't know a word. Last time they sat there reading together for an hour, and when they were done Barak told me all about Captain Nemo. "I think he's kind of weird and maybe not so nice." Indeed.

5. Mr Bigfoot is done with school for the year and like me has started ulpan. He's really enjoying it; it's three hours a day, four days a week, and the timing works out well since his is in the afternoon and mine is in the morning. Both of our sessions run until Erev Tisha b'Av, at which point I will reassess how well I can manage this long-term. In the meantime, we're both learning a lot. Plan for him for next year: do the program for getting an English teacher's license here, teach two mornings a week at an English-language high school near here, and do a couple of other (paid!!!) projects I am not at liberty to mention. He's only got two bechinas left for next year, and while he might not be working in the rabbinate at all, a recognized smicha bumps you up the teacher's pay scale, so that's good.

6. Oh, and me. I am fine, previous posts notwithstanding. A friend of ours is going to the US next month and has offered to bring an empty bag over just for me, so that I can do some online shopping and have stuff sent to his parents' house in NJ. This is a HUGE big deal, because Grandma E has books for us, and I want to buy the kids clothes and shoes that won't fall apart and that I can pay for in dollars. Everyone is at the end of the clothes sizes I brought with us, and especially Barak and Marika really need new stuff--Iyyar and Avtalyon have hand-me-downs, but they don't, at least not enough to get by with. Barak, incredibly, has grown through two full sizes this year and is now wearing size 7/8 almost everything--and it isn't too big at all. Marika is tall, so she's in 18-24 month clothes, even though some of them look like circus tents on her because she's so, well, skinny.

Anyway. Work is good; I just got a really good performance appraisal, and a raise, and my boss thinks staying here another year will not be a problem. My clients are happy with me. A few of the hardest things have turned around or are showing signs of turning around: Avtalyon's feeling better, Barak's picking up Hebrew, Mr. Bigfoot has some better job prospects. I have some contacts for the Orange debacle. The weather hasn't gotten horrible (yet).

It's all basically OK. Just, you know, exhausting. And a little overwhelming sometimes.