Israel. It’s where I feel most connected to my Jewishness. It’s where a cherished piece of my heart comes to life. Right now, it’s also where missiles are landing hour after hour, deep in to the country, sending people running for cover in shelters and staircases, at the base of palm trees along the open beaches, on the shoulder of the highway.
It’s where I am planning to go with my husband and three kids in less than two weeks to celebrate the bar mitzvah of a close friend’s son.
Or am I?
Every inch of my maternal self recoils at the thought of deliberately bringing my three children into what amounts to a war zone. Yet, that piece of my heart that belongs to Israel yearns to be there, to show her my love and unwavering support, to defiantly go about daily life in between running for cover as sirens wail.
For days now I’ve been playing out “if-then” scenarios in my head: if there is a ground war, then we won’t go. If Hamas accepts a cease-fire, then we will go. If I were planning to go on my own, then I would definitely still go. Finally, we told the older girls about the situation and the possibility that we might not go. The 12-year-old sat silently, head bowed, her dirty blonde hair falling like a curtain around her. She understands more than I give her credit for. The 9-year-old’s eyes filled with tears.
“Why would anyone want to bomb Israel?” she asked.
How do you answer that incredibly complicated question? That’s when I realized how much I haven’t taught my children about what it means to be Jewish. They live in a beautiful Jewish bubble where they go to Day School and Jewish summer camp, where we celebrate Shabbat every week. They wander through the house humming tunes from the morning tefillah followed by Iggy Azalea and Ariana Grande. For them, being Jewish means being part of a loving community with the freedoms, rights and protections of being American. How can I explain to my children that not everyone in the world likes Jews and, in fact, a good number of them would like to see us, and Israel, wiped from the face of the earth? The conflict is very real. Is taking my children to the center of it an acceptable learning lesson?
People act in unacceptable ways all the time. I’ve seen the photos on the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) blog of a mother gathering her infant and toddler to her, hunkered down on the highway between her car and the concrete dividers, cowering in fear and resignation as the sirens blare and missiles fly. I’ve seen footage of the rubble in Gaza and think of the Palestinian children left homeless or worse because their political leaders are gambling with their lives and are losing.
Deciding whether or not to travel to Israel right now is a wrenching decision for us to make. Part of me wishes we had left before the current conflict escalated so we wouldn’t have to decide: we’d be in it and we would’ve stayed. The piece of my heart that belongs to Israel is tugging at me with all its might. My mama heart is telling me to keep my girls out of the line of fire. I don’t want them to flinch, like my Israeli friend’s child does, every time a motorcycle whizzes by or a car guns its engine or a truck door slams. My three-year-old already claps her hands over her ears when she hears a dog bark close by or a dish clatters in to the sink. I don’t want my kids to look at me and say, “Mama, is that a rocket coming?”
I don’t want them to be scared. Maybe that’s naive of me. In some ways loving Israel is about being there when it is scary and standing fast. I want my kids to love Israel deeply with determination and ferocity, but without the fear. I don’t know if or when that will be possible, but I do know that I want Israel to own a piece of my children’s hearts forever. That’s something I’m not willing to compromise.
Wow, what an incredible few days.
My article 4 Truths About Our Post Baby Bodies ran on Scary Mommy and has 364K Facebook shares and counting. All I can say is thank you, thank you and thank you to everyone for your support of this piece. It’s amazing — but maybe not surprising — how much the topic of postpartum body image resonates with so many of us. I’m just so glad that I’m touching so many women and contributing to the conversation around definitions of strength, beauty and self-acceptance in a positive way.
Speaking of Scary Mommy, if you haven’t checked her out, you absolutely must! The awesome Jill Smokler is an expert curator of all things true, funny, confessional, quirky, messy and gorgeous about motherhood. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Scary Mommy community.
…and yesterday, my first piece was published on Kveller.com! It’s about getting to know my middle girl, Ruby, while she’s off at sleep away camp for the first time. Cleaning out her room, I realized how much I missed her and I finally found time to truly appreciate the unique person she is. That doesn’t always happen on a day-to-day basis with three clamoring kids, one fuzzy, barking dog and, well, everything that comes with this crazy-busy, bouncing life. The chance to slow down, be present and engage is a rare gift, especially for someone like me who tends to become overwhelmed by the frenzy. See what good things come from cleaning out your kid’s room?!
Again, thank you all for reading and sharing and contributing to the conversation. There’s nothing better than connecting, both in real-life and virtually, as we navigate this grown-up life together.
It’s a beautiful Bay Area afternoon. Josh and I have just finished eating lunch at synagogue after a lovely bat mitzvah service of a friend’s daughter. We’re fetching the three-year-old from the play yard, enjoying the last of our one-kid-at-home hours before picking up Ella from the camp bus later on. I fish my silenced phone out of my purse to check the time and see what’s what.
Twelve voicemails and recent calls. My heart drops into my stomach. What’s going on? I scroll through the call list: six messages from the same vaguely familiar area code, plus one from a friend whose daughter is at sleep away camp with mine. My brain immediately goes to the worst-case scenario: did something happen on the way home from camp?
I listen to the first call. It’s Ella’s camp counselor: “Um, hi. We’re here at Piedmont Park with Ella. It’s about 12:15 and she’s waiting to be picked up…” I check the time. It’s 1:20. Crap. There are four more calls from the same number. I skip them and listen to the one from my friend, “So camp has been calling and Ella’s at the park. I’m on my way to pick her up…call me.”
How did I screw up the pick up time? I’ve had 2 p.m. on my calendar and in my head for weeks. I feel a familiar, harsh surge of anger at myself, followed by my old pal self-blame. I feel like such an idiot! I snap at Josh as he scrolls through his own slew of voicemails. “Come on!” I practically shout at him outside the doors of the synagogue, “WE’VE GOT TO GET TO THE PARK. NOW!”
In the car, my frustration gives way to a knot of worry. Ella is 12 and able to handle so much more emotionally than she could when she was younger, but a part of me is really nervous that she’ll feel forgotten and that somehow that feeling will never leave her. It’ll be the root of all her grown-up fears and anxiety. She’ll end up in major therapy because she’ll never get over The Time We Were An Hour Late To Pick Her Up.
I stare out the window wishing we could drive a little faster. I close my eyes, inhale and exhale. I can’t change what’s happened, but I can forgive myself a little for it. I don’t always get it right. I want to, but I don’t. I don’t screw it up all the time, or even most of the time, but I do some of the time. Okay. True. Fine. I need to let it go. I refocus my thoughts, collecting all the bits, big and small, that I do get right. I think of how fiercely I love my kids and remember that my love outweighs my f-ups in the most glorious and important ways.
I know there’s no redeeming quality to beating myself up, something I’m trying not to do so much anymore. I need to get out of myself and be present for Ella and whatever emotions she’ll bring to me in the next few minutes.
We round the corner to the park. There she is, sitting on her duffle, her golden hair twisted up in a bun, surrounded by four counselors, chatting, waiting. Josh pulls over and I jump out and half-jog down the sidewalk as best as I can in my heels and wrap dress. Ella comes running to meet me, falling into my arms, bursting into tears. I fold her into me, cradling her head to my chest.
“I’m so, so sorry baby,” I whisper. “I got the pick up time wrong.” She gulps and heaves.
“It’s okay mama, it’s okay,” she says once she catches her breath. Her simple compassion drains the tension out of me. I let her cry some more, feeling her sun-warmed skin against mine, grateful and happy to have her home. When she finally pulls away, she gives me a small smile and swipes at her wet cheeks.
“When you guys didn’t answer your phones, I just got so worried that something bad had happened to you,” she says.
Wow. She wasn’t so upset about being left or forgotten; she was more worried something had happened to us. I look at my big girl and appreciate all the ways she’s growing up and gaining a wider perspective of the world outside herself. We are a lot alike, my sweet daughter and I, two works in progress, learning to let go of the screw-ups and remember the wins.
I am a boot-wearing girl. I love my tall, black leather flat-heeled riding boots that graze my knees and my high-heeled suede booties that leave a little ankle showing. I thrill at wearing my flamboyant rain boots decorated with orange, swishing fish and adore my cozy fur-trimmed snow boots for mountain weekends. I traipse around in my beat up Uggs whenever I crave a little fuzzy comfort.
Still, there’s one pair of boots I don’t own: cowboy boots.
When I step off the plane in Nashville, it seems like the perfect place to go in search of the perfect cowboy boots. But committing to cowboy boots is not something you do on a whim. If you’re a gal who defaults to black t-shirts, skinny jeans and Prada purses, cowboy boots are a whole new world, a different kind of wow, a fantasy you’ve always had but not sure is yours. It requires preparation, a little mood music and just the right lighting.
So, first things first: we are here to celebrate my BFF’s 40th birthday. Bring on the honky-tonk, rockabilly, country pop and rock-n-roll. Slightly humid in early May, the air smells of sweet jasmine, deep fry and last night’s spilled beer. Fried green tomatoes and baked cheese one night, vintage cocktails with names like Vehment Vesper and A Summer Abroad the next. Dancing with a stranger to Jerry Lee Lewis. Serenaded by a street strummer playing Junior Wells at two in the morning. By the time I hit the pillow, I’m lovin’ all that is crooning and country and cowgirl.
The next day, I knowingly make the mistake of going to the most upscale boot store in town. They bring me sweating bottles of cool water and fit my foot while I relax in a softly worn leather armchair. They happily haul out box after box of beautiful, exotic cowboy boots until all at once I’m swooning: black boots, lizard across the toe, delicately stitched leather shafts, scalloped cuff.
I walk the store in my boots. I show them off to my friends and my husband. They all nod and smile and encourage. I admire my boots in the full-length mirror, turning this way and that. I can feel my credit card burning a hole in my wallet. My heartbeat dips a little, my brain trips. I do not buy the boots.
Even though I love them and they are singing to me, I am not convinced the boots will transcend Nashville, Tennessee and be at home on my feet in Oakland, California. I’m not sure they will survive out of their element. I thank the salesgirl, taking her card with the style number and my size written on it. “Call me if you change your mind,” she says.
I spend the next several hours wondering, “Am I a girl who wears cowboy boots?” Even now, in my 40s, I am not so sure I’m always living as my true self. I still try on different personalities, morphing from sensible mom of three into party girl one night, then into upstanding school board member come morning; devouring a Neil Gaiman novel followed by Veronica Roth’s futuristic YA stories; dropping the f-bomb in mixed company over the weekend, then dictionary diving for words like “exigent” and “surfeit” come Monday. I pick and choose, trying on then shedding off bits and pieces of personas that don’t feel quite right. Will the boots meet a similar fate?
That night we hang out at The Stage, a popular Downtown Nashville bar, riveted by the awesome Matte Gray Band. Traditional country blends into rap fuses into pop rolls into rock then slides back into country. The songs send me pinging back and forth between the here and now and 25 years ago. They play Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and I am in Colorado at Tuck and Nat’s sweet lakeside wedding where they both wore cowboy boots. “Sweet Home Alabama” lands me squarely back at Duke, face to face with my crush at a fraternity party. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is up next and I think about how the album 8 Mile made me believe in rap music for the first time ever. Without a hitch, the singer slips into Lorde’s “Royals,” a song I’m so incredibly sick of, but always sing along to in the car with my kids.
I am mesmerized by the overlap of country, rap, pop and rock and how they keep borrowing from each other, beats and rhythms so at home with one another. Little Feat, The Steve Miller Band, Hunter Hayes, Florida Georgia Line and even Michael Jackson all live and breathe together on that stage in Nashville. Listening to it all, I reclaim bits and pieces of who I am – and there’s more than a little country in the mix.
A few weeks later back home in Oakland, I find a pair of gorgeous black-cherry boots online and save them to my cart. They are the same brand as the ones I tried on in Tennessee and just as stunning. My time in Nashville is a part of me now and like the songs, the boots will remind me of high times with good friends, dancing on the sidewalk to a twangy guitar, duck fried tater tots and the time we didn’t go to the Bluebird Café. I think I just may be a cowboy boots kinda gal after all. I’m one click away from finding out.
The final week of school is about to begin. Which also means the end of the school dress code for the next two-and-a-half months. At least that’s what my 12-year-old daughter is counting on.
When the weather is warm, not a day goes by that she doesn’t bring up the dress code, usually with an eye-roll or an exasperated, “They just don’t make shorts that are mid-thigh!” followed by stomping and tearing through her drawers looking for an acceptable skirt or leggings.
I know a lot of her frustration at this age comes from having to follow the rules, which seem unfair to her. “Why do we have to wear long shorts?” she asks. “It’s so hot so why can’t I wear this tank top?” And I always have the same answer: because it’s a school rule.
This is the easiest response at 7:36 a.m. with three lunches to pack, one toddler to dress, my teeth to brush and 14 minutes until they pile into the car for the ride to school. But it’s not the best response and with summer coming up it simply doesn’t apply.
My daughter can’t wait to wear short cutoffs and skinny-strapped tanks and strapless summer dresses. Me, I can wait forever – or at least until she’s 25. I’ve been thinking about why that is. Am I just old fashioned now that I’m in my 40s? Probably. Am I afraid the way she dresses will lead to unwanted attention that might embarrass her? Yes. But more than that, I’m concerned that at this age, when she’s just beginning to come into herself both physically and emotionally, she doesn’t have a strong enough hold on how she feels about her changing body to display so much of it to the world. I am worried that she is leaving herself open to critique or judgment or appraisal that could rattle her body image forever.
More than telling our girls what is and isn’t appropriate to wear, we need to teach them how to love and respect their bodies and really own them. We need to teach them that what makes their bodies special and powerful is how they treat and think about themselves. Simply giving them a Do Not Wear list that is primarily based on lengths and measurements and degrees of reveal sends the message that parts of their bodies are somehow bad or unwanted. Girls, especially in middle school, are going through rapid body changes. They shouldn’t feel ashamed of their curves or their skin; they shouldn’t worry whether or not their bodies, which are normal, are disturbing or distracting to someone else.
We need to temper the tendency for girls to feel shame or embarrassment with the conversation about what it means to feel comfortable and confident in their bodies. Girls need to have a voice in the discussion around the why behind the what: why is there a dress code? What does it mean to respect my body? We can talk about why there are some environments, like school, where it might feel more empowering to wear a t-shirt instead of a tank top, jeans instead of a peek-a-boo skirt.
Honestly, I’m all for dress codes. I’m just not a fan of enforcing them without including our girls – and boys – in a conversation about why we have them. Saying it’s because girls’ bodies are distracting is not acceptable. Drugs don’t belong in schools; vulgar words don’t belong in school; violence doesn’t belong in school. But girls’ bodies do belong in school, as well as everywhere else.
This summer, as we wade through the pros and cons of short denim shorts in waist-wringing sizes, strapless dresses and cropped tops with dipping necklines, I’m going to have a meaningful, body-image conversation with my daughter. I’m going to challenge her to really think about what it means to respect and love her body, to be amazed by what it looks like, how it’s changing and what it can do. I want her to feel true ownership of that gorgeous vessel and have the confidence to care for it, protect it and share it on her own terms.
By the time September rolls around, maybe the school dress code won’t really matter that much anymore – because she’ll have one of her own.
The other day, after dragging Lilah around on errands all morning, I decide to take her to lunch. Technically, she’s on a toddler moratorium from eating out at restaurants because it’s too stressful for me. It’s such a nightmare convincing her to stay in her chair and not throw her food on the floor and not to wander over to the next table to ask the unsuspecting diners if she can have a bite of their burger.
But, there I am at 11:37 a.m. with eight minutes to go until her preschool lunchtime, which she enjoys, on schedule, three times a week, and not a crumb of food in my bag. Not even a few stray Goldfish. Not even a half-eaten Z-bar. I’d forgotten one of the Top 10 Commandments of Motherhood: thou shalt not leave the house without snacks. Mayhem and meltdown will surely ensue if I don’t come up with food, pronto. Luckily, there’s a California Pizza Kitchen right there at the mall we’re traipsing around in search of picture frames (don’t ask).
The restaurant is quite empty, a sea of open tables, but the hostess takes that telltale turn towards the back of the restaurant to the dreaded Kids’ Corner – the area where they stick all the parents with small children as though we’ve got the plague. The only other people there are another mom with her toddler daughter. The girl has broken free of the high chair (I don’t even try that anymore) and is walking along the bank of booth seats where no one else is seated, pizza crust in hand. The mom is diligently eating her salad.
She glances up at us as we sit at the table across from them then calls out to her daughter, “Lucinda, come sit down please.” The tow-headed kid, gives her a quick look, then continues her trek across the seats.
“Sorry,” says the mom, her eyes creased with apology. She has a lovely English accent.
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “There’s no way mine is going stay in her seat either.”
We look at each other and laugh. And that’s all it takes for the floodgates to open. She has three kids; I have three kids. We both worked once upon a time and now stay at home. We’re both killing time with our toddlers, wondering how we’ll fill the next three hours before the much anticipated bliss of nap time. She tells me about a horrific experience she’s just had flying on Alaska Airlines that almost ended in her being cited for violation of FDA regulations. What are we parents supposed to do? Keep them strapped in the entire plane ride across the country? I totally agree – ridiculous – then tell her about the time I was shopping in Target with my toddler and the baby and the toddler took off, running into a man in the next aisle over who then yelled at me to control my kids. I was so shaken I abandoned my cart, put the girls back in the car and cried into my steering wheel. “Yes! yes!” she says. She’s done that too.
It’s amazing how we moms make these immediate connections over plane rides, meals gone awry and unfriendly encounters with the curmudgeonly. We swap war stories, getting to the heart of the matter within minutes: yes I love my kids but parenting is hard. So much work goes into keeping it altogether. Planning ahead, knowing the limits of each child, being able to abort a necessary outing because of a meltdown or just having to suck up that meltdown because you still have to fetch your 5-year-old from school and you still need milk.
We bond immediately, understanding what it takes just to be there with the little ones: you have to eat, you have to travel, you have to shop and more often than not, you have to do it with your kids in tow. And it’s stressful and mind-numbing and joyous and exhausting and there’s nothing you’d rather do than this mothering gig and then again, you’d give your left arm to be anywhere other than in the middle of an airplane or grocery store or playroom floor with an inconsolable, tantrumming 2-year-old.
We let the girls run around our mostly empty little outpost of CPK, we glance at them and lob warnings over the empty tables, admonishing them as expected, but really, neither of us care that much. They aren’t hurting anyone (yet). They aren’t tripping up any of the wait staff (yet). They aren’t that annoying (yet). And we need a break. We need those moments between us to shore ourselves up, pool our lives together for a few minutes, swim in the shared love and frustration of motherhood and know we are holding life jackets for each other. We lean into the aisle between our two tables, nodding and understanding each other, encouraging and eye rolling.
Ten minutes later, we collect our kids and head for the door, saying how great it was talking with each other, wishing each other a wonderful rest of the day, all the while corralling the girls, steering them towards our exits. As I cross the parking lot to my car, feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I realize I don’t know her name. I feel that dip of disappointment, the pang of a potential friendship lost, but it doesn’t last. Even if we never see each other again, I know she’s out there, doing the best she can everyday, just like me.
We’re in it together.
Anytime you want to have lunch in the Kids’ Corner at CPK, I’m there.