lessons

The magic had been inside her all along by Susie Lubell

The story goes like this: There was once a little girl who spent most of her time playing outside, climbing trees, inventing games, exploring her world and delighting in the endless reaches of her imagination. She knew she was magical.

And then the girl got a little older and started to compare herself to everyone else and the more she did that, the less she could access her own unique spark, until she all but forgot she was magical in the first place. And it took many years for her to realize that the magic had been inside her all along. That she had unique gifts to share with the world and stories to tell that were completely her own. She was only required to be her most authentic self and the magic would once again reveal itself in mysterious and wonderful ways.

This illustration which I created for my seven-year-old daughter had been in my mind for quite a while before I was able to finally get her down on paper. But the minute I did, another kind of magic unfolded. Suddenly women near and far, friends I had known as a child and not spoken with in twenty years, people I didn't even know, reached out to tell me how they'd been touched by this little girl in a tree. How the words spoke to them. How they had once felt like the girl and hoped to feel that way again. How the message was one they wanted to impart on their own daughters.

At first I was surprised but then it all made perfect sense. I had put aside my drawing insecurities (I have those) and without fear or hesitation, I shared my gift and the magic swirled. Here's to encouraging the little girls in our lives to be true and brave and embrace their magnificent gifts!

Of course, I couldn't create a piece for my daughter and not make something for the boys. I thought about all of the images out there directed at boys with a focus on power and bravery and physical strength. But boys are so much more than the Spiderman costumes they wear every day to preschool for a year. They are bounding energy and big plans. They are soulful, kinetic creatures with wild imaginations. And with that in mind I created Super Boy who is inventive, curious, enterprising and thoughtful and still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Magic Girl andSuper Boy are available in print and poster sizes in my ETSY shop. Or buy both and receive a special "sibling" discount. Plus, through March 14th, you can use the code SUPERMAGIC at checkout to get an additional 25% off your entire purchase on ETSY

P.S. And did you know that repeat customers get 20% off every future purchase? The discount code can be found on the the thank you card packaged with your prints. If you have lost the card or never noticed the discount, please email me or message me on  Facebook and I will send you a reminder.

An Immigrant Mom Learns Israeli Persistence by Susie Lubell

Nerd Street

Being an immigrant mother means a lot of things. It means struggling to instill your native language in your kids while they slowly start to speak to their siblings in their new language. It means your kids become hyper conscientious about the school supplies they need and their homework assignments because they know mom struggles to read the daily emails. And it means you can’t be the parent who was once on top of everything, which usually doesn’t matter much (I have missed a few bake sales) but sometimes it matters a lot.

The rest of this post can be found on The Times of Israel.

Perspective by Susie Lubell

Ancient Mama
She hasn't had her coffee yet either.
The Americas Wing, Israel Museum


I was having one of those mornings. First day of the week. House still wrecked from the weekend. Kids lunchboxes still packed (and stinky) from two days ago. Dishes piled high. Frowny McSnotFaucet indecisive about breakfast. That is, until he decidedly poured the soup crackers still on the table from last night's dinner into his bowl of cereal. All of them. My son and daughter are tormenting each other in the way only they know how. My daughter can't find her favorite shirt. Head is pounding. I ask tell everyone to be quiet. My daughter shouts back that if she has to be quiet then so do I. I tell her to "be careful of me". That's a real phrase in Hebrew that parents use and I'm glad I'm allowed to use it too. It means "don't fuck with mommy." The other phrase I like is "I forbid it". Very direct and culturally sanctioned. I get the baby dressed and go to tackle the dishes and lunches. The baby pours a bag of almonds on the floor. Mr. Rosen takes the baby far away from mommy to daycare. The little girl is still mad that she has to be careful of me. The boy is singing. He has not stopped singing since yesterday. We get in the car and drop him off. Little girl says sorry and feels better. We hug and walk to school Lavern and Shirley style. I get home feeling dizzy which can mean only one thing. I have not yet had coffee. I see my neighbor friend walking her dog and she can tell I am having a morning. And she giggles because she remembers those mornings. Her boys are teenagers now and she looks back on soup crackers in the cereal with an aching fondness. Her oldest son who is sixteen just got his first draft letter. I guess kids start getting the letters two years ahead of time. And there are many meetings and placement tests and physical exams leading up to the day we all dread. The day that even coffee can't wash away. And I think, you know what? I will happily endure many more years of piled dishes and morning tantrums and snotty toddlers and teasing siblings and spilled almonds and the kinds of things easily fixed by a little coffee and a little perspective.

Banana Rye Bread by Susie Lubell

Time to make banana bread
exhibit A

Tonight I'm participating in my first art exhibit in Israel.  Some local wineries are supplying the wine and the artists are bringing the rest. So this morning I set out to make two loaves of banana bread. After I converted 12 tablespoons of butter into grams (170!) I went to the cupboard to get out the flour. Alas, I only have rye flour.

Rye flour? Who the hell buys rye flour?

I do. And do you know why I buy rye flour? Because I have the Hebrew reading skills of a first grader. I go to the super market and invariably come home with things I don't want. And in many cases, like this, on the back of the package it actually says what it is in English. So now I am functionally illiterate in two languages. I have bought "sweetened" plain yogurt (if I wanted it sweet I would buy cherry pineapple or guava or any number of amazing flavors they have here). I have bought perfumed wipes (the ones that smell worse than any child's poop ever could). I have bought farina (cream of wheat) when I wanted flour (obviously my biggest problem is wheat derivatives. In my defense, all the packaging looks the same with a giant wheat stalk on the front). I have bought spicy tomato sauce and made lasagna my kids wouldn't eat. I have bought non-virgin olive oil (I like to call that slutty olive oil). I have bought cooking cream instead of whipping cream. I have bought what looks like a stick of dried salami but is actually all wet and bologna-like inside. I did that twice actually.

Last night I went shopping with a friend of mine, another American who moved here eight years ago. And she told me how her first year here she would have panic attacks at the cheese counter trying to figure out what to buy and how to order in grams. In Hebrew. That resonated in a big way. I'm getting better but I still mostly buy my deli meat and cheese pre-packaged.

Being an immigrant is rough going sometimes. Ending up with the wrong food is aggravating but mostly just funny. Ending up paying banking fees you didn't know about, or inadvertently signing up for the most expensive telephone service is both aggravating and costly. I'm lucky because I have a native husband and most people here speak some degree of English. A lot of people around the world are not as lucky and end up having to eat banana rye bread. Or worse. Banana farina bread.

Ever been tongue tied at a cheese counter in a foreign land? Brought home sour cream when you wanted cream cheese? I feel you.


Back on the bike by Susie Lubell

Aviv

Two weeks ago I finally took my bike out of the garage and not a moment too soon. This was the bike that I bought the day before our container arrived so that I would have a bike in Israel. In a truly uncharacteristic move I bought the first bike I saw in the store closest to our house and I did it in half an hour. I usually spend weeks researching these things and making lists and generally wasting a lot of time finding exactly what I want. Anyway, I bought the bike and the next day it went on a cargo container.

When it arrived it was winter and too wet to ride. Plus the baby was too small to put in the copilot seat. And my daughter had started boycotting bike riding which made family rides impossible. She had learned to ride without training wheels last summer in Bend, Oregon while on our big RV trip. But then we had to leave her old bike in New Mexico at the end of our trip (since we were flying back). The plan was to buy the kids bigger bikes before we left for Israel.

But the bigger bike was too big and riding it made her nervous. And then it went on the container and when she saw it again four months later, her fear had only grown. And even when we fashioned her a smaller bike with a frame we inherited from a friend, she still wasn't interested. Because by now she was nearly a whole year older and a different girl altogether. She was unsure. A little clingy. Timid. Not interested in challenging herself. Worried about what her hair would look like after she took off her helmet.

The change in her has been difficult to watch for many reasons. Obviously because I want her to be a self assured, confident, kickass rockstar girl. And for her to know her worth. But also because I know this path. For me it happened later. I remember feeling like a kickass rockstar girl as a kid. I performed in front of large audiences. I ran in races. I played aggressive girls soccer. I spent a lot of time raising my hand in class. But as I got older and maybe because the stakes were higher, I started to put my hand down. I stopped performing. I quit sports altogether. Not in kindergarten, mind you. It happened slowly as high school was winding down and gradually through college. Even into adult life and graduate school. It was counter intuitive. I thought that with age came wisdom. But I was becoming more self-conscious. I started to doubt myself in a way I never had as a kid. Even now I can still fall into periods of destructive thinking where I compare myself to friends, other artists, people whose lives seem charmed.

The good news is that I continue to work through my things and she's working through hers. When I finally got my bike out and put Toothy McHelmet Head on the back (which is now his all time favorite activity besides throwing food), she got out hers and we rode around our cul de sac for an hour. Then she attempted to ride down a little hill where previously she would get nervous and brake with her feet, Flintstone style. This time she was fine. Her helmet on, her hair whipping out the back in every direction and her face all smiles.

Electricity is hard by Susie Lubell

Bauble stands in the Jordan Valley.
Electrical wires made prettier by colored glass, Jordan Valley

Do you remember in junior high and high school, spending hours of your life learning things that you knew were completely unnecessary? Like geometry? Or the Krebs cycle? Or the Middle Ages? Uch. So boring. I find though, that as an adult, and especially as a parent, all that stuff comes in handy. Because my kids ask questions about everything all the effing time and I don't know is usually met with additional, harder questions. So I mostly make up answers that seem within the realm of possibly true based on my foggy learnings as a young person. I'm usually not too far off. And there's always Google.

But there are some things that I never learned and so I really just don't get, made starkly apparent by our move to Israel, and I'm not talking about Middle East politics, although that is another thing I don't get.  I don't get electricity. I mean, I get how to turn on and off switches and that energy gets generated in a number of ways both benign (wind) and nefarious (dinosaur bones). And that it costs a fortune here in Israel and that they never actually check your meter when they bill you; they just make grossly inaccurate assumptions based on past consumption  by the family of eight that rented your house before you.

What I don't get is which of my American bought appliances/devices work in Israel.  And which needs a transformer or just an plug adapter. For instance, my computer doesn't need a transformer, nor my phone. But my wand mixer does and so does my breast pump (which I thankfully don't have to use anymore). Mr. Rosen's guitar amp needs a transformer. But my son's electric toothbrush charging dock does not. And neither does our portable ipod speaker thingy. But our lamps only work when we have Israeli lightbulbs which are different than lightbulbs in America.

So if my son's Oral-B dock works then my guess is that my dust buster would have worked here too! Damn it! I gave that thing away before we came thinking it wouldn't work. Stupid! That is the one thing I need now more than anything since Trouble McFood Hurler is the kind of little boy who leaves a path of destruction wherever he wanders.

And just yesterday I went to plug in my lightbox* and I basically blew the thing up. Bye bye. I've had that thing for almost twenty years and now, because of my ignorance, it's dead. You see I didn't take physics in high school or college. So for me Hertz is a rental car company and Watts is a bad neighborhood in LA. And don't get me started on voltage. If the little pin thing is the right size for the contraption you want to power, it should work, end of story. Unfortunately this is not the case. Meanwhile, Mr. Rosen, the mechanical engineer that he is, finds this both annoying and amusing. Though I feel I should mention that he has blown out two power drills since we've been here. And looked very sexy while doing it.

But my point is this. As my kids begin their long descent into formal schooling I anticipate a lot of moaning about why we need to learn so many seemingly useless things. Take heed, young friends.  Algebra is important. And so is stoichiometry and syntax and Beowolf. And don't skip out on Physics in favor of Anatomy just because the Physics teacher is not as cute as the Anatomy teacher. You will regret this decision, if not while you are dissecting a fetal pig, then when you are bigger and need your hair blower to work in a foreign country.

* a wooden box with a light bulb inside and a glass surface that I use for tracing - like when I finally arrive at a sketch I like but the page is full of erasures, I need to trace it onto a clean piece of watercolor paper so I can paint it. Calligraphers use them to to write in straight lines on envelopes. FYI.

The picture I wanted by Susie Lubell

Birthday Boy

This is the picture I wanted. Well not exactly but pretty close. I wanted a picture of my little boy with his crown of flowers, next to his cake, with his one candle, surrounded by adoring friends and family with their mouths in various states of half open singing Happy Birthday to him. I wouldn't have minded a smile too. But this picture is close enough. And it almost didn't happen.

I hit a low point last week right around the baby's birthday. On the actual day of his birthday we didn't really do anything. By the time Mr. Rosen came home from work (which was pretty early actually) and made the cake with the big kids, it was already nearing bed time and darkness. I hadn't had time to make his crown. We barely put up some construction paper garlands. And it was just us. No other family or friends. Entirely my fault. It was midweek and everyone was busy and anyway we thought of having family over on the weekend so I just let it go. Then on the weekend the plans got miscommunicated and suddenly there was no party. Not even family. And I started feeling very sad to be far away from my family knowing that had we still been in California I would have just gone to Michael's, picked out some streamers and napkins and whatever, some cake decorations and made him a little party with our closest friends and cousins and everyone would have found a way to come.

Mr. Rosen felt partially responsible for having downplayed the importance of this event. Indeed I downplayed it myself. But I was secretly wishing the party would plan itself because I have really reached the upper limit on sleep deprivation and plus there's no Michael's here so I don't know where to buy party supplies.  So Mr. Rosen made some calls and in fact a few of our closest friends planned to drop everything and come.

Except they didn't come because the next day Mr. Rosen contracted some nasty stomach bug and spent most of the day throwing up. So I cancelled the party. But the baby's aunt and uncle still popped over with some treats including the blackberries from their garden which I used to decorate his cake. The kids had all spent the night at their grandparents so I actually slept eight hours and finally had the time and brain functioning to make his crown out of the bougainvillea in our yard.

So in the late afternoon Mr. Rosen's parents arrived with the kids and we celebrated our little boy's first birthday feeling grateful for all of the people in our lives and everything they have done and continue to do to make us feel at home here.

And I got the pictures I wanted.

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The kindness of strangers by Susie Lubell

Gefilte fish year round
The Gefilte Fish aisle at Rami Levy's

The other day I took the baby to a supermarket in a neighboring town. We'd never been there before. In fact, we'd been there the day before, with all three kids, and my daughter remembered as we were about to park that she wanted to go home and put on her tap shoes. She could not go on. Plus, even if she had agreed to go into the supermarket, her recent string of unpredictable lash outs make her a wild card in public places. I opted to cut my losses and head home.

So late morning the next day I take Stringbean McToothy Face to the very same supermarket, cautiously optimistic that we can get in and get out without too much disaster. You see, this is no ordinary supermarket. This is a Rami Levy supermarket in an ultra-religious city in the West Bank. But I am dressed modestly (though wearing pants which is frowned upon) and it is Wednesday (as opposed to Thursday which I know means a mad rush for sabbath prep). Turns out Wednesday is also a mad rush and I should have just turned around when I saw the parking lot. But then I'd have to admit defeat twice in two days which I just couldn't swallow. So I park and we charge ahead, the baby as my shield.

The allure of Rami Levy is that it's cheap. I'd say 30% cheaper than other supermarket chains, especially the one in our town, Mister Zol, which means Mr. Cheap. In fact it's Mr. Expensive, even more expensive than "Half Free Warehouse" in Beit Shemesh which should be called "Twice as Much Warehouse". Who comes up with these names?

We hustle our way through a sea of black hats and modestly dressed religious men and women and after a little less than an hour we are ready to check out. This is when I start to sweat. There are lines three and four people deep at every check-out and these folks are not here to pick up a carton of milk and a loaf of bread. These carts are meant to feed a family of ten for a week so they are spilling over into the aisles. That's when my copilot decides he'd had enough. Now I am caught with a screaming baby in a half hour check out line with a full cart of food. I am just about to abandon my groceries when a lovely Yemenite looking guy in front of me with a knitted kippah asks if I could use some help. He suggests I take the baby to my car and feed him and he would watch my cart and call me when it was time to come back. So without thinking twice we exchange phone numbers and I leave my cart including my diaper bag and my wallet, grab my keys and take Starving McChompers to the car for some lunch.

Twenty minutes later I come back and my friend is nearly finished checking out. Perfect timing. I strap the baby back on, thank him profusely and load up my groceries. Seeing that I am encumbered with a giant baby on my chest, the checker (religious Jew of Middle Eastern descent) calls over a bagger (likely Muslim Arab) to help me get on my way. They exchange a few friendly words in Arabic and have a few laughs (they're probably laughing at me come to think of it) and I'm left to wonder why it is again that we all hate each other? I mean if the Yemenite religious Zionist Jew can help out the American Ashkenazi Progressive New Immigrant Jew while the religious Moroccan Jew makes jokes with the Palestinian, then can't we just all be friends?*

* I realize just the fact that Arabs don't shop here though they work here points to a wider, more systemic segregation issue. But I can't ignore these brief, friendly interactions. They're happening all around me. Everyday. 

The New Normal by Susie Lubell

Five sparkly new gas masks
Five shiny new gas masks hanging off my stroller.

Some nights I'll be sitting on our couch watching reruns of Seinfeld and eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles and it feels like I'm back in California. We live in a nice house. I drive a Mazda 5. My kids have playdates. Organic free range eggs are a fortune. It's all the same as it was. And then I remember that my daughter goes to ballet lessons in a bomb shelter. Someone checks my bag whenever I enter a large building, like the mall. My kids have lice. My housekeeper is a Jewish man. I buy my fruits and vegetables in the West Bank. My seven year old has a cell phone. And I pay $8 a gallon for gas.

Not normal.

Last week I met a friend and her three kids in Ramle, a town outside of Tel Aviv known for its poverty and excellent kabob restaurants, to exchange our old gas masks for new ones. It was the first day of Passover vacation so I packed all the kids in the car and we drove to an elementary school downtown where a squadron of adorable soldiers took my two outdated masks and issued five shiny new ones. Everyone was friendly and professional and efficient. Someone from the BBC even interviewed me. When asked how I felt as a newcomer getting gas masks for my children, I was honest. I told the guy I had no intention of using these things. They will go into a closet until the next recall, a decade from now. And then we hustled our six kids back into our cars, drove to a nearby playground, worked up an appetite and then drove downtown to Halil where we snarfed down two plates of kabobs, a plate of fries, hummus, pita, pickles and malabi for dessert. Mmmmmm.

And so it goes. I shift back and forth between there and here, feeling used to it all and feeling shocked by it all, letting go of what I knew as normal and embracing what is now the new normal.


Gas mask lesson
Gas mask tutorial

Playground in Ramle
Playground in Ramle

Parking lot near Halil restaurant, Ramle
My daughter stepped out into this parking lot and asked, are we in India?

Swinging
Cutest ten month old ever

There will be blood by Susie Lubell



Sometimes I just can't stop from turning into Mommy Hyde. Does this ever happen to you? You know you're going down the wrong parenting path, that what you're doing is sure to cause a major power struggle, that you will unintentionally cause a public scene, that your kids will likely get over it fifteen minutes later but that you will hold the whole horrible thing in your chest for the rest of the day, maybe the rest of the week or even your whole life. But it's like when you're tripping and you know you're tripping because it's almost happening in slow motion, such that there may even be a chance to save yourself from imminent danger and certain embarrassment, but you can't because of all the gravity. Damn you Sir Isaac Newton!

Well such was the case today on our way to school. I was planning to drop off my oldest, then my girl, then bring the baby to the sitter. So it goes with Mondays in general. For whatever reason my oldest, who is now seven and a half and getting very close to having a rational brain, gets hysterical about having to sit in his sister's booster near the door instead of his own backless booster in the middle. Meanwhile he always sits in her seat without issue when I intend to drop him off because it's easier and quicker for him to get out. And it's not even the chair she threw up in a month ago. It's a different one. It doesn't smell. There's nothing wrong with it. In fact, it used to be his chair. But he throws a fit and won't sit down and I tell him I'm not driving until he is seated properly and that we will be late. He continues to refuse and this is where I take a wrong turn.

I tell him I am cancelling his playdate. Why Susie? Why would you engage him like this, you amateur!

That just sends him limbic. I can almost see him turning into a crocodile. He finally sits down but instead of apologizing and pleading in a nice voice to have his friend over, he starts shrieking about it. So instead of just following through with my inappropriate consequence and taking him to school, I turn toward the clinic in town because we've been sitting on a referral for a blood test for him for a week (stomach pains, want to rule out Celiac) so I figure as long as we're late and the lab is only open from 8-8:30 in the morning and I have a little leverage with the play date, he should do the test. Now I'm limbic too and making all kinds of horrible decisions and he's terrified and starting to twitch and I'm starting to twitch but also grin a little because I am evil.

I spend the next ten minutes telling him that he can have his playdate but he has to do this blood test. The power struggle is on. Everything is on the table. The blood test, the playdate, a chance to sit in the front seat (we're one block from school), some kind of chocolate treat after the blood test, boarding school in Uzbekistan, everything. It's all game.

He pulls it together enough to walk in the clinic quietly though he is still snorting and drooling and we go upstairs to the lab. When it is finally our turn he can't stop sobbing enough for the nurse to get the needle in so we have to leave and I fear we will have to repeat the whole exercise tomorrow. On our way out he decides he can do it so we go back and I hold down his arm and try to distract him. My attempts are in vain. Fortunately the nurses attempts are also in vein and she gets the sample. My poor boy is shaking uncontrollably. This apparently did hurt, way more than any inoculation or flu shot. I had lied to him. I tried to explain how fear can cause us to perceive more pain than actually exists empirically. He is not listening. I'm an idiot.

He sits in the front seat and we drop off my daughter. She is glad to be rid of us. I take him into school and his teacher tells him he was a brave hero and generally blows smoke up his ass. Thank god for her. The other kids are happy to see him and he shows everyone his bandage. His friend asks if he can still come over and I almost throw my arms around him to say YES YOUNG MAN. YOU ARE THE PRIZE. NEVER FORGET THAT. I use the filter instead, nod enthusiastically to the friend, hug my son and leave the building.

After I drop off the baby I go to the supermarket and stock up on ice-cream, candy and cookies. That's how I plan to make it known to all in my family that I am an ass and that I apologize. All will be forgiven. Life goes on. I will review the Positive Discipline parenting aid I have on my iPhone and hope for a better outcome next time. The end.

Pay it forward by Susie Lubell

Fruitful

In these last few weeks I have been especially enamored by the view over here - miles of terraced olive groves with their short stone retaining walls and the picturesque hillside villages they surround. But views here are often colored by the conflict. I try not to think about it too much.

Next week is Tu B'Shvat, a minor Jewish holiday to celebrate the trees and we've been gearing up by eating a lot of dried fruit and reading the Lorax. This new painting, called Fruitful, was inspired by a little passage from the Talmud (that has made its way into the Jewish summer camp storytelling canon. I don't actually read the Talmud regularly. Or ever, come to think of it). Has me thinking about the kind of legacy I want to leave for my own kids. Heavy stuff.

Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him: “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?” The man answered that it would require 70 years. Honi asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. So, too, will I plant for my children.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

Available here.

How the universe sent me a babysitter - Part II by Susie Lubell

Havdalah

When I walked in to her little house on the prairie I immediately breathed in the smell of spice tea. It was toasty warm inside, clean but not sterile. Yael had the look of a home schooling, bread baking, granola rolling, all-terrain strolling, pioneer mama. I stayed for about forty minutes and we played with the babies. I nursed my boy. She nursed hers. We talked about how he sleeps, what he eats, how he motors across a carpet on elbows. He stared at everything with his giant eyes. When it was time for me to go he made the boo boo face and started to cry. I said goodbye and left him with Yael. And then I went to get a great big coffee from the cafe across main road. After, I went home and straightened up the house, did some laundry and generally felt happy to be alone. Really alone. Not the kind of alone where you still have a baby strapped on to you. We were separate and it was fine.

I picked him up two hours later. He had cried. But he also slept. I gave him the food I had made. He hadn't taken it from Yael. But she wasn't discouraged and neither was I. We wanted to make it work.

The next day we came straight after dropping off the big kids. He was tired and I didn't stay long so that she could put him to bed. Before I left she changed his diaper and sang his favorite song, Itsy Bitsy Spider, but in Hebrew. He calmed down. He was starting to connect to her. He cried again when I left but she texted soon after that he was asleep.

This time when I got home I got out my paints and a drawing, the third in a series, that I had sketched a while ago but never painted. So I painted it. The series is called Day of Rest. One panel is Sabbath Eve with the two candles, the glass of wine and the challah. The second panel is Sabbath day - a tree of life shading a quiet village. The third one, the one I just painted, is called Havdalah, the separation between the Sabbath and a new week, the symbols of which are the braided candle, the glass of wine and the spice box. It seemed the perfect theme to celebrate my own brief separation.

When I went back to Yael's he was awake and cried when he saw me. I nursed him and we snuggled. He relaxed.  He had slept a lot and eaten both jars of his food but still no bottle. In due time. While I was nursing him Yael asked me if I knew someone named Galit from the moshav. I asked, does she have a seven month old? Yes. A few weeks before I had been in the cafe with my kids and another family was there with some out of towners so they were speaking English. I guess the husband overheard us speaking English too and when we were leaving he asked where we were from. We had a brief conversation about California because someone from his family was living there but I don't remember the details. Nice guy. They live in the moshav across from the cafe. A week later I was at our health clinic with the baby and I ran into the guy's wife with their seven month old. She asked, didn't I see you at the cafe? Yes. I gave her my card and said she should email me if she ever wanted to get together. I told her I work from home but I don't yet have childcare and I'm with the baby a lot. Hoping to find a sitter sometime soon...

That was Galit. Turns out Galit had given that card to Yael a few days later and mentioned she had met an American looking for some part time childcare. At that point in our conversation Yael went over to her jacket pocket and pulled out my card.

The universe is funny that way. Sometimes it expects you to take the last step and close the circle. Which is fine by me since I'm one who thinks we make our own fate. But I learned from a good friend not to  dismiss the powers of attraction and our abilities to draw exactly the right people at the right time into our lives.

How the universe sent me a babysitter - Part I by Susie Lubell

Seven months

This was a very big week. I found a babysitter for Bug Eye McChicken Legs. This is big for a number of reasons but mainly because I wasn't totally convinced that I could rationalize spending money for someone else to take care of him when I only earn barely enough to cover it. I always have it in my head that I can still run my business and my household in two hour increments while he's napping and why would I pay for someone else to watch him sleep. Except he doesn't always nap as he should. And I never feel at ease starting the next project because I know that at any moment I will have to stop. And then I secretly start to resent just a teeny bit the McChicken. Plus maybe the reason I am only earning enough to barely cover childcare, is that I'm not actually working much at all.

Since he was born I haven't painted a thing. In the weeks leading up to his birth I had several commissions to finish and it was quite a fruitful period. But then the baby came and the house sold and the RV trip and the move and leaving the country and settling into a new county. Well, it hasn't been super conducive to creating. And unfortunately I'm not the type to just jot down sketches and doodles whenever I can. I know that about myself so I don't even buy journals anymore.  I've continued to fill orders and have them printed and shipped through a lovely print shop in North Carolina thanks to the magic of the Internet, so business goes on. But nothing new has hit paper in seven months which had me feeling like I'm not really an artist (I feel this way from time to time. Impostor syndrome. Very destructive).

So when I saw a flyer posted next to the neighborhood grocery (think Israeli bodega) advertising a 29 year old mom of two (baby and toddler) looking to watch another baby three days a week in the morning while her two year old is at preschool, I sort of thought this might be perfect. So I took a tear off with her number.

And I stuck it in my pocket where it sat for a week.

I had those thoughts again that I don't deserve childcare. That my baby is too problematic. (no binky, no lovie, no bottle, lots of nursing). That it's not worth the hassle of getting him ready in the morning and packing up his food and diapers and wipes. That surely she's already taken another baby since half the tear-offs were gone and that was a week ago.

Finally I called and even during the conversation I felt a weight rising in my chest. I don't really want to do this. I can't do this. I don't deserve it. She had one other family interested but she was waiting to hear back from them. She'd call me back. A few days later I got a text that she'd like me to bring the baby over and we could try it out for a week or so. See how it goes. I liked that approach.

So this week on Tuesday I took the kids to school and put the baby down for his nap when we got home. When he woke up we rode over to the village next door where the sitter lives (across from the awesome cafe that I wrote about last month which will prove to be an important part of the second part of this story). As I drove in I already started to feel lighter. She lives in a moshav which is kind of a little farming community. This one happens to be a vineyard. And she lives down a dirt road next to a few abandoned chicken coops which I find endlessly charming. Her personal roost overlooks a beautiful valley. And when she opened the door and welcomed me with a giant smile, I sort of knew this would be right for us.

Part II to come.

The Cross Sell by Susie Lubell

Up sell at the gas station

Israelis are masterful at the up sell and the cross sell. It seems like with everything you buy there is the option to get something along with it for really cheap. Or not so cheap. This goes for the regular stuff like health insurance add-ons or services you don't need from the phone company. I even got suckered into buying some fancy conditioner from the guy at the hair salon to help keep the salt and stone that is apparently in the water from wrecking my hair. The supermarket is especially notorious for the up sell.  The checkers always offer you one of the specials sitting right there. Would you like some mushrooms for ten shekels? A jar of jam? Gum? Two for three shekels? Or if you spend a certain amount they'll sell you a toaster or a set of glass cups or a towel. I'm usually so flabbergasted by the end of my grocery shopping, what with Screaming Jeepers McSpongey Butt strapped onto me making me sweat like it's the middle of summer, I always pass.

The other day I was at the gas station and saw that for a mere 24 shekels I could get a pastrami sandwich, a bottle of water and a pack of mint Mentos to go! I don't know why but that cracked me up. Maybe because it made me think of those Mentos commercials that are so obviously made in Europe or who knows where and dubbed in English.

In fact the gas station offers a world of cross selling opportunities. Marketers take heed! Mr. Rosen came home a few weeks ago from the gas station with an espresso machine! Here we go... We were on the market for one after having a delicious coffee at our friends house not long ago. But instead of buying the one they had which would have been the smart way to go, Mr. Rosen went with the model at the gas station. Only 500 shekels ($150) which unfortunately is quite cheap here. Except it took Mr Rosen about half an hour to make a cup of coffee and it made so much noise the baby woke up and the coffee tasted like diesel fuel which is what you get when you buy an espresso maker at the gas station. Not true. The coffee tasted fine but did not seem worth the effort. We figured we'd just add that to the account we've set aside for newcomer miscalculations. Sunk cost. But after cleaning it up and repackaging it, and with my encouragement and a very believable story (it was such a good deal my parents bought us the same one in white and my wife prefers the white one), he was actually able to return it a week later.

I'm hoping the cross sell applies to house cleaning services too. I'm actually hoping to hire someone to clean my house twice a month one of these days. And I'm hoping that in addition to the usual kitchen/bathrooms/floors/dusting regimen, s/he'll try to cross sell me on windows, laundry and childcare. It won't be a hard sell.

The empties by Susie Lubell

Empties

The best thing about this pile of boxes is that they're empty. This week started out great but quickly deteriorated. We were so excited to greet our container on Sunday, the one to which we bid farewell in California exactly two months ago. The one crammed with ten years worth of stuff we obviously don't need since we haven't seen most of it since we put our house on the market last February. The one that was full of plastic toys made in China only to travel back to China, switch boats, and then continue on through the Suez Canal to the Port of Ashdod. And while I should have been deliriously happy to watch the four delivery guys deposit box after box in what I thought was our largish new house, instead I felt an emptiness set in. Why do we have so much crap? Why did we pay money to move it here? How will I ever move back to America if all of my stuff is here? How can we unpack if the shelves and bookcases we need to contain all of our crap are only arriving next Wednesday on a different container? FUUUUUUHHHHH. K! And how the eff am I going to get through all of these boxes with Mr. New Tooth Bronchitis Walrus Snot Face McEye Boogers as my constant companion?*

It was not a great week. And yet somehow I managed to unpack the entire kitchen into a space that has half as many cupboards as our old kitchen.** And we managed to get the kids' room functional. And Mr. Rosen built our bed. The one I thought I didn't like but now I ABSOLUTELY LOVE. And all the bathroom stuff is in the bathrooms where there is incidentally a ridiculous amount of storage space leaving us to ponder whether or not it is inappropriate or even gross to keep our tupperware or ziplocks or wineglasses so close to the toilet. Chime in if you have an opinion about this.

We did have some wins this week. The kids continue to like school. We might have made some friends. The psychotic clown at the Israeli birthday party we attended did not give my daughter nightmares. Our kids have health insurance.

One day at a time.

* I love my baby.

** At one point there was one giant box remaining in the kitchen and I thought there is no way this kitchen can absorb even a single extra teaspoon, let alone a giant box of dishes. Miraculously I opened it to find a hamper inside of bigger hamper inside of a still bigger hamper. And the angels wept. Amen.

School Daze by Susie Lubell

School

Israeli kids are really exuberant and they move in swarms which can be completely overwhelming to a couple of sensitive kids from a culture that values personal space and manners above all. My kids didn't have a chance.

My daughter started preschool last Sunday (Sunday is the first day of the week here) and managed pretty well for a few hours. The problem is that prek and kindergarten are managed by a regional council of the Ministry of Education. So you don't actually pick where the kids go, at least when you move to town this late in the year. You get placed. And we got placed in the only place with space which is a kindergarten. Meanwhile my daughter won't be five until February. So she's the youngest by a lot. The idea is that she'll stay there next year too (but her friends will go to first grade). It's not ideal. And I tried to make a stink about it but no one would budge. So on her first day a gaggle of girls with the best intentions attack her wanting to do her hair and dress her up and draw pictures for her. All the while yammering in Hebrew. My poor girl basically curls up fetal-like in a corner and sucks her thumb.

That same Sunday we went to my son's elementary school to register him. He would only start the next day. While there he starts to complain of a stomach ache which I chalk up to nerves. When we get home he crawls onto the futon (our only piece of furniture currently) and stays there moaning for several hours. Then I discover he has a fever. And then he proceeds to throw up for the next four hours. May be more than nerves. He doesn't make it to school on Monday.

Meanwhile, our girl goes back to preschool on Monday and makes it through another day with the help of some puppets - Shmuli the hedgehog and Morris the Fox. Trooper.

On Tuesday my son is finally ready for school. He doesn't have his books yet but he does have his uniform. He wears his red hoody sweatshirt with the school logo and meets his teacher, the one we'd heard good things about and were hoping for, in the front office. Score. Turns out all the kids are supposed to wear green, yellow or red (was it Rasta Day?)* so he would fit in great. He gives me a kiss and walks to class with his teacher. I pick him up a few hours later and he looks worn out and like he is about to burst into tears. They had swarmed him apparently and pulled him in a million directions and wanted to show him their soccer trading cards and invite him to a birthday party after school and be best friends. And all he wanted was for everyone to stop talking. Which he made clear at some point when he couldn't take it anymore. Poor kid. He was hungry too and thought he missed lunch somehow. There is no lunch at school. It ends at 1:30 and the kids eat lunch at home or aftercare. Only snack at school. Aha. He also can't follow along in class because he doesn't have his books yet.

Mr. Rosen runs out to buy his books later that day and comes home $150 poorer with sixty pound of books. That's when Mr. Rosen and I hit a low. Why did we take our son out of his amazing school in California so he could sit in class and do workbooks all day long? And this was supposed to be one of the country's better schools.

The next morning he cries that he doesn't want to go to school. He hates school. Hates school? I had never heard him say such a thing. He once told me he wished he could sleep at school because he loved it so much. My heart breaks for him. I pull out whatever anecdotes I can think of. I remind him that his friends Ido and Leonard and Itzel all spoke other languages at home and had to work extra hard in the beginning of kindergarten to catch up and now in first grade they are all speaking and reading and writing beautifully in English. It takes time. He humors me and agrees to go to school. We don't realize it is his teacher's free day (or that there is even such a thing as a free day) and he has a bunch of other teachers for PE, music, road safety (this is a big focus in school apparently - probably because of the way people drive here). He has no idea what is going on and we are equally in the dark.

His sister, on the other hand, appears to be doing well and is making friends. We are fooled into thinking that she is fully acclimated.

On Thursday I pick up my son after school and he has another fever and a rash on his face and it is clear that he is not going to school on Friday. He's a mess. I'm a mess too. I just didn't think it would be this hard and I have to remind myself that it's only the first week and he's only seven and he is completely out of sorts. His Savta comes to visit and sits down with him when he's feeling better to do some of his workbook exercises to catch up. Turns out he likes working in the workbooks. He learns four letter in one hour. By the next day he's reading in Hebrew. A switch has been flipped.

By Sunday, he's ready for school and he's feeling himself again. I pick him up and he tells us about a friend, Roi, who he's been hanging out with at recess. Progress. His teacher and school counselor let us know that he is ahead of his classmates in math and following along pretty well in Hebrew. And that he is a clever and wise little boy. He has endeared himself to the authority figures, as is his way. This morning he tells me he loves his school. I feel like I won the lottery.

Meanwhile in preschool, our little girl is becoming more and more clingy at drop off. She understands that this is not just a temporary thing and she wants out. On Wednesday I leave her there sobbing. And I spend the whole day wondering if I should just keep her home. Or demand she be placed with kids her age. Or start my own preschool. Of course when I pick her up she's fine. She even has a new friend who asks for her phone number to invite her over. Progress.

This has been the hardest thing so far. Harder than the whole health insurance debacle. It's made us question all of our decisions. Was this move the right thing? Would they have gotten a better education in the States? It's obviously too early to tell but we are encouraged by their progress and by the willingness of their teachers to welcome them and ease their transition.

* I later realized it was national road safety day so the kids dressed in the colors of the stoplight.

How it hit the fan and then I lost it by Susie Lubell

Sabra

Well it was only a matter of time before what all was on the sidewalk, would rise up and hit the fan. We are on the other side of a horrible week. Things were moving along and we were getting everything done but Mr. Rosen was soon to start work and there were still some bureaucratic items hanging in the balance. One of them was our residency status. As returning citizens of Israel we're entitled to certain benefits, one of which is an exemption on the social security we haven't been paying for the last ten years (since we've been paying into another country's system). The deal is that if you've been away long enough and you come back, you pay a bunch of money and then you get reimbursed by the government, half right away and half after a year. And paying into this system means you have health insurance too. Apparently when Israel went universal with health care many years ago they figured it was easier to run it through social security since that system was already in place. Easy peasy.

Turns out that my status is a little different since I am technically a new immigrant whose status was frozen when I left Israel eleven years ago and now resumes as do some of my new immigrant rights. Some of the rights are useful like financial help setting up my studio. Others are less useful. One thing is for sure: I have a six month waiting period for my residency to kick in and I used up my six months of free health care in 1998 when I moved here originally so we ponied up for private health insurance for me. Mr. Rosen and the kids were supposedly insured the moment they returned, so said everyone with whom we spoke. Not true. It took us two full weeks to get all of our residency paperwork in order, not to mention the strike, so the earliest we could pay this chunk of money was a few days ago. Then the website where you pay was down. FAAAA!!! Meanwhile the insurance we had through Mr. Rosen's former employer was going to expire November 30. And that's exactly when the baby and my older son came down with 103 fever and a horrible rash. Less horrible for the seven year old. Full blown on the baby.

I posed the question of how to get my kids seen by a doctor to a Facebook group I found of English speakers in my town and everyone was sure we could be seen in the clinic. Not true. I went to the clinic and explained our very complicated situation but the receptionist insisted we go somewhere else because we didn't have magnetic health insurance cards. That is when I went all mama bear and started shrieking about how my baby might have measles (it did in fact look like measles and about four other viruses according to Dr. Google). No dice. I walked out hysterical and a nice young woman offered to drive me to another town where she was pretty sure they would take us. We followed her through a checkpost into what is technically the West Bank to a religious town where everyone has twelve kids with rashes so they probably wouldn't even ask for a magnetic card. At this point I am on high alert having forgotten after being away for eleven years that it's totally normal to drive into the West Bank and go to a health clinic in an ultra-orthodox town. Our tour guide sits with us while we wait to be seen except they won't see us either. The kids national identity numbers are not yet in the system. It can take two weeks from the time you established residency. And this is when I ask why on earth would it take two frigin weeks for the country-wide computerized system to be updated? I mean it only took god one week to create all the world! How does it get updated? By hand? Courier pigeon? Maybe a tiny gnome writes the numbers down on a paper and brings the papers by bike to the Ministry of Health? I decide to take pictures of my baby and send them to my brother in law and my pediatrician friend and they both give the same diagnosis which I pretend is the same as being seeing by a doctor in person. Because our only other option is urgent care, which I would only resort to if the rash randomly turned into appendicitis or something.

We're on day five of the rash and it's slowly fading. And my disbelief and disappointment in what I once considered an exemplary national health care system is also fading. Every system has its cracks. We happened to fall into more of a crevasse. And all this during the same week that our kids started hating school. It was a little more than my delicate system could handle. It seems all that time in California made us soft. Got to get me some thicker skin, the kind with long, pokey spines. Stat.

Watch out for poop by Susie Lubell

Bougainvillea

In Israel you have to keep an eye out for poop. Dog poop. Because it's everywhere. Israel is ahead of its short 63 years in terms of technology adoption, universal health care, drip irrigation, solar water heating and pita, but they are sorely behind the times in terms of cleaning up after dogs. Even in a small town like the one in which we live as of four days ago, there is still poop on the side walk. So when I walk with my kids to school, we have our heads to the pavement always scanning for poop.

Don't misunderstand. The dog shit situation has improved in recent years, to be sure. When I lived in Tel Aviv thirteen years ago I had to almost tiptoe to work because the sidewalks were so covered. Do pet owners here just think that dog shit is magical and just disappears at the end of the day? Or maybe special poop fairies come out at daybreak to turn the poop into milk and honey?

In our case watching out for poop is tough because where we live there is astonishing beauty around every corner and it's distracting. The old stone houses. The olive and fig trees. The cobalt blue sky. The bougainvillea. It seems to be the perfect metaphor for our own situation as newcomers. So far our settling in has been a great success. We have a car! We moved into our home! We bought a fridge! We have Internet service! We have a bank account! Our kids are in school! I found the place to buy my son his school uniforms thirty minutes away along a winding road in the middle of the Judean Mountains! Beautiful!

But then you hit a dump bump. Like today, for instance. Mr. Rosen left at 7am to go to the Social Security administration so that he and the kids would be registered as returning residents and therefore be entitled to health coverage. Getting to this stage required a mountain of proof that we are actually residing in Israel in general and in our little town specifically. To help us out Saba Rosen stood in line for us to deliver this paperwork yesterday afternoon only to be told that they don't handle these requests in afternoon hours and anyway they can't do it in that office because now that we've moved, we have to take care of it in the Jerusalem office. Hence, Mr. Rosen's early morning departure leaving me to get all three kids ready and out the door by 7:40 for our oldest son's first day of first grade. Turns out that the Social Security Administration is on strike today. And closed tomorrow. That's some seriously stinky poop on the sidewalk if you ask me.

Such is life here these last two weeks. All things moving along pretty well. And just when you've spotted an alarmingly beautiful patch of bougainvillea and you can't believe your luck, you look down to see you've stepped in the poop.

Thankfully there is more bougainvillea around the corner. In our case, Mr. Rosen was able to get to the customs office instead since they're not striking and now all systems are go to receive our container in a little more than a week, barring any unforeseen acts of piracy or god. The sidewalk is clear again.

Where it all began by Susie Lubell

Essex Street

On Sunday we met up with an old and dear friend of mine and his amazing wife and two delicious daughters. They live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan about two blocks from the corner where my grandmother grew up and about eight blocks from where Mr. Rosen's grandmother was born and raised. In fact we told this to Grandma Rosen and she asked if we had seen all the pushcarts. She remembers it very differently from the funky, eclectic, bistro'plenty place it has become. But even though the vibe is very different now, it was easy to imagine what it looked like a hundred years ago when these women were born. The streets are still lined with five story walk ups (read: three million dollar tenements) and their ubiquitous fire escapes.The pickle guy is still there and plenty of kosher delis. Although now the neighborhood is peppered with Chinese grocers and organic juice bars.

It got me thinking about all of the Jews who came over from Europe at the turn of the century. My dad's parents arrived as kids from Poland and what is now Romania. Back then the country designation made no difference if you were Jewish. Your nationality was Jew and the authorities made it clear you were living on borrowed time.

All of this seems especially poignant right now as we prepare to cross the ocean and start our lives anew. While we like to complain that the process and the packing and the goodbyes and the schlepping seems never ending, we are most certainly doing it on our terms. No one is chasing us out of America. We are not refugees. We are not saying goodbye to loved ones forever only to land in a country full of hardship. On the contrary. We feel loved on both sides of this journey; we are dual citizens; we're making this move because we want to, not because we have to.  That feels incredibly fortunate to me. And we owe it all to our grandparents whose generation made terrible sacrifices so that we could enjoy the liberties they or their parents never had in Europe.

Nuts by Susie Lubell

Nuts
plenty of nuts around here

Don't you hate it when you post something on Craigslist, for instance the bunk bed that you just bought on Craigslist but that you no longer want because your kids cried when they saw it and want to keep their old one that you don't like, and then arrange for someone to come look at it late at night when you're home alone with your three kids because your husband is in Israel and then tell your friend to call every five minutes in case the buyer is really a psychopath and then answer the doorbell anyway even though you're terrified and sweating a lot having just locked all the doors and windows even though it's like 85 degrees in the house and it turns out to be a six foot three adorably doughy young man from Singapore who magically fits the entire thing into his Mazda 5 and by the time he leaves you're wired from all the adrenalin and the glass of coke you had from the two liter bottle in the fridge leftover from your dance party (don't you just love the way cold coke claws down your throat in the best possible way) so you watch the first five episodes of 30 Rock since you remembered that your friend loaded like seven seasons on your computer when you visited him in August and then you go to bed after midnight knowing full well your baby will be waking you in one hour and then two more hours?

You and me both.