What I’ll Miss About This Summer

IMG_7018I often end up conflicted about summer. In June I’m like a wide-eyed toddler about to chomp down on her first lollipop, all excited and can’t wait and finally! By mid-August I’m more like a disgruntled teenager who just wants to be alone.

The first two months of summer brought visits with old friends, a trip to Disneyland with Lilah, time on the East coast at the sea and then the lake and a weekend away for me at a writing retreat with the most marvelous people. Once home, I reluctantly agreed to let Ella and Ruby stay home and do nothing the last two weeks of summer vacation. They bickered and didn’t make their beds and wanted to be carted to this friend’s house and that movie and this mall. Without meaning to, I morphed from The Laid Back Mom Who Digs Summer into The Mom Who Can’t Wait For School To Start Because My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy. Continue reading “What I’ll Miss About This Summer”

Lost and Found Among the Van Goghs

We did not go to Israel. We went to Rome. Instead of playing on the beach in Tel Aviv, we circled the Coliseum, spectators among the ruins. We did not go to Israel. We traveled on to Amsterdam. Instead of resting our heads in reflection against the warm stone at the Kotel in Jerusalem, we toured the canals, took in the windmills.

After making the decision not to go to Israel from Florence as planned, we tried to make the best of our muddled vacation. Like us, at first the kids were sad and confused at this change of plans. The endless gelato in Italy followed by Dutch chocolate and pancakes for dinner seemed a respectable and happy-making substitute for them.

I, on the other, felt as though I were walking around in a fog. Yes, Rome and Amsterdam are wonderful cities, with so much to see, do, eat and drink. None of it filled the hollowness in my heart, that nagging feeling of missing something you’re not sure you can ever replace. I know canceling our trip to Israel during a war was the right decision for our family, but that doesn’t mean it felt good.

IMG_3531We are in the Van Gogh Museum stepping off the elevator into the lobby. I am pushing a cranky three-year-old in her stroller; the big girls straggle behind me as we make our way to the museum shop. A mom and her young daughter are walking and talking just in front of us. That’s when I hear it: Hebrew. At first I think my ears are playing tricks on me because Dutch is guttural, like Hebrew and who would be speaking Hebrew in Holland? Then I realize, no, it really is Hebrew. I can’t help myself:

“Are you Israeil?” I blurt out. The moment I ask, I realize this might be a question that makes them wary: a stranger asking if they’re Israeli? In Europe where anti-semitism is rearing its ugly head once again, who knows what the asker’s intentions might be? But the woman doesn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” she answers, smiling lightly. I feel as though the world has stopped spinning and that if I don’t hold tight to this woman, I might just float away. I put my hand on her arm and start gushing about how we were supposed to be in Israel right now for a friend’s son’s bar mitzvah but we changed our plans because of the rockets coming from Gaza and the ground operation and we’re so sad not to be there, so heartbroken. I can feel the flush in my cheeks as tears well in my eyes. She covers my hand with hers.

“It’s not the time to bring your family,” she says in her accented English. “We are here taking a break from it.” “It” being the stress and trauma of living in a war zone with sirens going off throughout the day and night and rockets arcing overheard and young soldiers putting their lives on the line to ferret out terrorists while the casualties mount.

In her eyes I see pure sympathy and understanding. I feel the tension of the last 10 days melt away and then I feel something amazing: connection. I’d been wandering around Europe feeling isolated, not just from Israel, but from my Jewish self. I shushed the kids whenever they used a Hebrew word or sang a Hebrew song or wondered out loud if a certain food was kosher (no, bacon salami is definitely not kosher). I’d been nervous to visit the Jewish quarter in Rome, not wanting to broadcast that we were Jews, worried we’d end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wondered if there’d be extra security at the Anne Frank House. My fear and anxiety about the world made me feel small and dark, on edge and alone.

Talking to this Israeli mom while my girls shoved each other impatiently and the little one demanded a snack, I felt my heart surge. She was like a lightening rod to home – my Jewish home. I’d been feeling as though I’d somehow forsaken Israel by not going, but there, in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam I knew my love for Israel was more passionate than ever. I knew we would do everything we could to be there soon.

I never could have imagined my summer would turn out the way it did. I didn’t swim at the beach in Tel Aviv or watch my friend’s son become a bar mitzvah at the Kotel. I didn’t shop for dried fruit and spices at Machane Yehuda or hang out with my BFF in Neve Tzedek. I didn’t get to taste the sweet, gooey rugelach at Marzipan or have a drink with my friends at the rooftop bar at the Mamilla hotel in Jerusalem.

No, I didn’t go to Israel this summer, but my connection to the aretz is stronger and fiercer than ever before. No matter where I am in the world.

Vacation: All I Ever Wanted

IMG_4122Josh and I just got back from six days of vacation together, without the kids. We perfected the amazing and lost art of doing nothing. We lolled on the beach with our books, drank fruity drinks and took our time at the breakfast buffet. We sailed, we parasailed, we snorkeled. We actually talked to one another and no one interrupted us. Sometimes, we didn’t talk much and that was good too. We felt happy, relaxed, full, sexy, smart and witty. In a way, we rediscovered our marriage.

When we fell in love and I started thinking romantic thoughts like “This is the person I want to be with for the rest of my life,” I didn’t necessarily know to qualify that statement with, “as long as it’s just us.” That’s because, in those magical sweep-you-off-your-feet moments, minutes and months, I only knew how awesome we were as a couple and I couldn’t really conceive of how that might change when our twosome morphed into a threesome, foursome and then finally a fivesome.

So we got married. That glittering thread of love spinning between us grew, connecting us, wrapping us up with each other. We were tethered together and the line was strong and taut but still soft as silk. We gave each other space and the line let out just enough, but the distance between us was still a manageable hop, skip and a jump into each others arms.

Then, BAM! We had kids and suddenly that line seemed to stretch across miles, canyons, continents. It had to hold, one, then two, now three little beings. Over the years it’s started to sag and fray a little. The two of us work valiantly from opposite ends to keep our precious darlings safe and sound all the while juggling commutes and carpools, work conferences and teacher conferences, school lunches and client dinners. Now and then, in the midst of the insanity, one of us might look out across the distance, over the tumbling toddler, her curls bouncing, the skipping 8-year-old with her neon green retainer, the cartwheeling 11-year-old blinking madly over her new contacts, trying to catch the other’s eye. But it’s tough to connect when often we’re spiraling away in our own little orbits of stress and exhaustion, desperate just to gather ourselves rather than seek out each other.

Those six days reminded me that Josh and I are good together. The thread between us is still there and when it’s just the two of us, we can allow the other to be themselves. That’s both good news and bad. On the one hand, it means that we made the right decision when we married, that we really do love each other at the core, and that’s worth a lot. I fully believe that once the kids are grown and out of the house, we’re gonna have the time of our lives together. On the other hand, the here-and-now side of things, we have three kids to raise and the truth is, we often have a hard time seeing beyond them so we can behold each other.

Here’s what I know: you can’t work on loving someone — either you do or you don’t — but you can work on connecting with the someone you love, no matter how stressful life gets or how many kids you have. I’m going to work more on connecting, despite those darn kids and the lack of a tropical beach setting. Don’t worry, I’ll set reasonable expectations for myself — there’s only so much I can do without sand, sea and sun, abundant cocktails that make me think I should wear a bikini 24/7 and three adorable but needy, loquacious, squabbling offspring.

There’s one last reason why I think we have a good shot at this thing called marriage: Just before Josh proposed to me 14 years ago while on our first beach vacation together, we saw a rainbow and he took it as a divine sign. We saw three rainbows this time. I like to think we saw one for each of our girls. I know it’s kind of cheesy, but if that’s not a sign we’re meant to be, in all of our grace, gusto, bluster and beauty, then I don’t know what is.