parenting

The Girl is Nine... by Susie Lubell

Dear Sugar Bee,

For as long as I live I will never forget a moment that happened this year. We were on the plane flying from the United States back to Israel. About an hour into the flight you suddenly started sobbing. I was already trying to remember where I'd stowed the children's tylenol, sure you'd burst another ear drum, when, between sobs, you told me you were worried that your kids wouldn't know your Grandma. All I could do was stare at you and cry myself. 

We had just had another great visit with her and goodbyes are always hard for you. They're hard for me too. And I thought my God, you are a spectacular child. Thoughtful and considerate. So expressive. So full of love. We cried together for a little while until the flight attendant ended our moment. "Something to drink?" Make mine a double.

And today you are nine which hardly seems possible. I watch with utter astonishment how you courageously navigate your relationships, especially with your friends at school. With this one not talking to that one and that one telling everyone else not to talk to this one. And you in the middle of all of it telling everyone to be friends. Standing up for the bullied. Sitting next to the outcast. Negotiating peace between battling girl tribes. 

Unfortunately you often leave your peacemaker hat at school to come home and wage war. Brothers are not always easy. I know that. And you have them coming at you from all sides. But those two boys love you very much. Especially your little brother whose greatest joy is playing dolls with you, setting up playmobile, building forts, making tea parties, dressing up with you and basically spending every moment he can with you. And while sometimes you lose your last shred of patience for him and then I want to hurl both of you off the roof, you are largely two for the road. You even willingly offered to sleep with him in his room on a semi-permanent basis so that he wouldn't feel lonely in a room by himself. You are the kind of big sister that I had always dreamed of having for myself. 

What else? It looks like your days as a pixie ninja may be numbered. You've already announced this is your last year in judo, which I respect. It was a good run. Hopefully you'll find something equally awesome to do next year. Maybe you'll join your brother on the roller hockey team. And then we can accessorize with some striped tube socks, a terrycloth headband and a unicorn tee shirt and casually segue into roller DERBY. Then you can really get out some of that signature Sugar Bee aggression. How can someone so sweet and cuddly one minute be so terrifying the next? Wait, I think one of your rolled eyes got stuck. Nope, it's back. Glad these episodes are short-lived.

My birthday wisdom is more of the same stuff I always tell you. Always try your best. We were just talking about this a few weeks ago when you had some tests coming up at school and you were complaining about how everything is so hard for you. I know that can be frustrating, especially when it seems like things come so easily for others. All I can tell you is that training yourself to do the hard work will serve you best in the long run. The ones who seem to breeze through reading and times tables will eventually come across a subject or skill that does not come naturally. And they won't know what to do next.  But you, who have always had to work hard, will rise gracefully to meet every challenge. 

All my love and mieces to pieces,

Mommy

Eleven by Susie Lubell

Taken right after getting off Montazooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm this summer. I am never going on that thing again.

Taken right after getting off Montazooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm this summer. I am never going on that thing again.

Hello kiddo.

Happy birthday. It's that time of year again. When we look back at what a year we've had. The ups. The downs. The completely inexplicable. The truth is I can't remember much past last week but I'll try to review some highlights. 

You won. We bought you a phone. We said we wouldn't and we did. We explained that you didn't need it. That it wasn't necessary. That it would only cause problems. You listened. You agreed. But you kept asking anyway and we just couldn't take it anymore. You broke us. High persistence. Low distractibility. Well done my boy. You will go far in this life. I gave you the choice of having my old iPhone 4 for free or a $100 toward the phone of your choice. After days of searching eBay and Amazon you took the $100 and upgraded to a shiny refurbished iPhone 5c, paying the rest off from your own savings. And that was that. Aba and I worried that it would be a disaster. That you would lose it or break it or spend all your time on it, but I'm happy to report that it's been fine and now I don't have to get a zillion Whatsapp messages from your classmates. And that rechargeable case you insisted on buying has come in handy when my phone has died on occasion. It's nice to have one early adapter in the family. Now you just need to get a job to support your habit.

But we didn't just get you a phone. This was the year that we went balls out. We said, sure, all the research points to handheld devices as the singular factor causing the deterioration of verbal culture, handwritten expression and empathy. True, the radiation these things emit is enough to pop corn, cause a blood moon and melt the ice caps. But why stop at one device? Why not throw caution to the wind and TURN. THIS. MOTHER. OUT. You know what I mean? So we bought you a Kindle and a Raspberry Pi too. And a drone. 

The Kindle is just plain genius parenting. English age appropriate books are expensive as hell in Israel and generally hard to come by. You can't just pick up Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing at the library. The only English books at our library are the Fifty Shades trilogy that I donated last year. But on the Kindle you can get whatever you want and sometimes it's even free. Plus I can use it too. Win. Win. Win. 

The Raspberry Pi is sadly also a device and not an actual pie. It's like a bitty motherboard with ports whose operating system you load on an SD card depending on what you want to do. I don't even know what I just said. All I know is that the whole thing cost me like $30 and whatever you did to it made it turn our television into the Internet. 

But electronics aside, it's been a great year for a lot of other reasons. You kicked it up a notch in piano. You joined the local roller hockey team. Your first friend in Israel who moved to Canada two years ago moved back and now he's basically Canadian. We should send all Israeli kids to Canada for a makeover. He was a great kid to begin with but now he's a Canadian level great kid. And speaking of great kids, you and your sister have found some common ground in your plight to grow up in the same house. Turns out the only thing you can't stand more than each other is listening to your little bother yammer away all day long. That child does not shut up even for a second. Like if he's awake, then he's talking and it drives you and the rest of us mad hatter. Wait, I think I hear him now. He's saying stop widing on da compuda because I'm tawking. Only God can save us my dear. And earplugs. 

Beautiful boy, I wish you another kickass year. I wish you patience and empathy. Such difficult skills but you are getting there slowly. I wish you endless curiousity and wonder. I wish you would clean up your room. You are a shining light. A shining, rechargeable, solar powered LED light.

I love you,
Mommy

 

This Many by Susie Lubell

Hello gorgeous.

You've told me not to call you Babu anymore or even Idan because your name is now Aba of the Animals and, alternatively, Aba of Spiderman. Sounds like someone just turned four.

Happy birthday! It has been a stellar year. One for the books. We started off by starting preschool! You and your best friend Omer bid farewell to the idyllic toddler oasis of your dear Yulia and entered the whirling, chaotic, vertigo-inducing cacophony that is municipal preschool. After six weeks I had a meeting with your teacher to discuss your progress and she said, well he's not especially social. Or verbal. Or coordinated. So I added that he is also likely color-blind! She didn't think that was as funny as I did. But, as expected, in time you have opened up to your teachers and classmates. You speak a seamless mix of Hebrew English so consistent it might qualify as an official creole. And you are coordinated enough to get yourself dressed in the morning so I don't really give a crap if you can hold a pencil. Yet.

This year has been an interesting one in your development. On the one hand you are so much more independent and everything that was once so exhausting, like getting you ready in the morning or getting you in and out of the car, or putting you to bed, is totally manageable now. I'll never forget when you decided after one Shabbat dinner that you were going home with Saba and Savta to spend the night. They actually had plans the next day but you weren't having any of that. You declared that you were sleeping over, went upstairs and packed your bag, put on your pajamas, came downstairs and waited for them by the door. How could they say no?

On the other hand, you regularly point out that you are still a baby. And when you're not Aba of the Animals, you are a baby animal. It can be confusing to the untrained eye. There's a lot of back and forth. A lot of I can do it myself! Followed by you do it! I'm a baby! You could see how that would be sort of hard to follow or predict or understand or decipher.  This stage made me want to strangle your brother. But not now. Not with you. Because you are still my baby. Even as I see that you've become quite long and skinny and the eyes that once took up half your head are now fairly proportionate to the rest of you, I like that you are still little. 

You know what else I like? I like that the whole week you wait for Friday night dinner so you can play your ukulele with Aba and sing Shabbat songs. I like when you and your sister set up the whole downstairs with pillows and stuffed animals. I like when you get out your tools and do work on the house. I like that you still don't notice when your shoes are on backwards. I like when you put on your favorite songs and do capoeira-esque cartwheels on the carpet in the entryway. I like when you ask your brother to read you stories.

I hope next year brings you much joy and maybe a dog. I hope your nose stops running. I hope you agree to eat something besides yogurt. I hope all the animals and Spidermans realize how much they lucked out with you as their aba. I hope we can put your afternoon nap behind us. I hope I manage to make some family albums this year like I did before you were born so that you don't have to keep looking at baby pictures of your brother and ask if they are of you. They're not. Sorry. 

Mieces to pieces,
Mommy

Eight by Susie Lubell

photo credit: Naomi Davis

photo credit: Naomi Davis

Dear Sugar Bee,

Happy birthday to you my dear. Another year goes by. A great year I'd say. The days of tantrums over bumps in your ponytail? Gone. Crying because your favorite tights are in the laundry? Over. Psychotic episodes and hyperventilation over homework? Thing of the past. You are kind of a badass, my little girl. A thoughtful, self-aware, clothes folding, towel hanging, little brother dressing, mommy snuggling, vegetable eating badass. And it hasn't all happened over night. You have worked hard! Harder than many. 

Let's take reading for example. Uch! Screw reading. Who needs it? Well it turns out that reading is important even though it is difficult. And yes, reading the time is also important, namely so you can stop asking your mother. And I know everything is backwards here. You read right to left but then tell digital time left to right! What?!?! That makes no sense! Tell me about it. You learned how to read music this year too and English, both of which are also left to right! It's enough to drive anyone completely mad hatter. I get dysgraphia just thinking about it. But you never give up. You are diligent and persistent and it is quite spectacular to watch. 

And you know what else was spectacular to watch? Your first judo match. You were so nervous and didn't' even want to compete. And then you got out on the mat and DOMINATED. You were like a fairy ninja. You pranced over to your opponent with your raven pony tail bouncing and then threw him to the ground like a sack of potatoes! Huzzah! You surprised everyone and I think you even surprised yourself.

As for our power struggles, which once took a daily toll, they are now so sporadic that when they occur I think we are both startled. I have gotten better at recognizing one in the making and diffusing it and you have gotten better at letting whatever it is go in the first place. It's harder to let things go with your brothers though. I know. I wonder sometimes how you much being a little sister to your older brother has shaped you. For better or worse. We'll never know I guess but I think your relationship is becoming incrementally easier for you to handle. Increments sometimes so small they can only be detected by a scanning electron microscope, but still. It's forward motion. You have yet to finish a game of Taki with him that didn't end in huffing up the stairs, but at least it's not huffing and screaming.

Thankfully you have many friends to distract you from sibling strife. And to watch you all play together is to watch magic unfold. You still make tea parties for your dolls and animals. You still sing and dance around the house. You rollerblade through the living room, arms flailing. And while you've given up on a little sister, your brothers are willing participants when you want to play hair and nail salon. Plus you have adopted several older girlfriends and relatives to be your proxy sisters. I think those are the best kind of sisters anyway. 

I hope it's another wonderful year for you Sugar Bee. Full of rainbows and hearts and smileys. Your spirit, intuition and courage are a shining light to me and Aba and all who know you. Except for maybe that little boy you trounced in judo. He's afraid of you. Very afraid. 

love you mieces to pieces,
Mommy

He said AJIME and I turned into Hyper Sports Mom by Susie Lubell

I never thought it would happen to me. I would read those articles on Huffington Post and everywhere else about problems associated with kids specializing early in one sport or another. And parents contracting Psychotic Bleacher Syndrome whereby they focus all of their own childhood sports failures and triumphs into radicalized sideline encouragement. And I was smug. I thought, that will never be me. First of all, I don't care about winning or losing. I care that my kids are active and coachable. Second, my kids don't really play sports. Problem solved.  We tried peewee soccer. We tried gymnastics. We tried dance. None of it really took. My oldest is into riding his bike and that's good enough for me. And my daughter has made it clear that she is not interested in any sport where she has to do anything in front of anyone. She's just not one of those kids who like to be in the spotlight or warrant any undue attention. Unless we're at home and then she wants a lot of attention. Mostly mine. And her brother's. Separate issue. But I still wanted her to do a sport because I believe practicing a sport is important, especially for girls. Self-esteem and all that. So last year she started Judo. There were a few meets over the course of the year but she made it very clear she was not interested in competing. And I didn't want to drive her an hour to the meets so that was fine with me.

I come from a fairly sporty family. My brothers and I all played competitive sports through high school. My husband too. He was on the Men's Israeli National Gymnastics team. So of course I wondered why my kids don't want to compete? What's wrong with them? They cheat at cards so they obviously like to win...But because I get distracted easily by other questions like, what am I making for dinner and why is there so much laundry, I forgot to be overly concerned. We also don't live in America, so competitive youth sports is less of an issue.

But last Saturday everything changed. We took my daughter, as a family, to a town near Tel Aviv, for her first Judo meet. When we first heard about the meet I told her that I thought she should try it and she immediately spelled out in no uncertain terms that she had no interest in competing. So I backed off. A few days later I casually brought up the subject again and said, well maybe we can just go and see what it's like but you don't have to compete. Don't bother bringing my uniform, she said.

The day of the meet we tried to convince her that it would be fun. She might enjoy competing. It's not about winning but about trying your best. Her dad talked about how he used to get nervous before gymnastics meets. And I told her how I used to have butterflies in my stomach before soccer matches. But then once you're doing it you forget about anyone watching and you just have fun. We basically regurgitated all the regular stuff. She wasn't convinced. I brought her uniform anyway.

I texted her coach to say she would need a little encouragement. We got there early and she suited up while giving me the hairy eyeball. We entered the gym and there were fifty little kids ages 4-8 running around and maybe a dozen from our town. Chairs were set up for the parents. She was looking around, taking it all in. She was visibly nervous. Her coach walked over and explained that the kids would first just warm up like they always do so she could just start with that if she decided not to compete that would be fine. She had tears in her eyes. She walked out to the mat anyway.

After the warm up the other coach split them into groups by age and belt and by then she must have felt more comfortable or maybe couldn't figure out how to escape because the matches began and she wasn't going anywhere. The other coach called her name and she walked over to the center mat and met her opponent, a seven-year-old boy with a yellow belt. She was completely calm and knew exactly what she needed to do. She walked to the side and when the coach shouted RE, she bowed. Then he called AJIME to begin the match and she ran at the little boy across from her and THREW. HIM. DOWN. I mean I couldn't believe what we were watching. We had never seen her fight before. Sure we'd seen her have tantrums about practicing piano and doing her homework and we'd seen her try to kill her brother. But this was something else entirely. She was completely in control. After she pinned him the first time both kids popped up and again, AJIME. And she threw him down again. Three times! Then there was a final bow and they shook hands. She had two more matches after that and did very well in both.

After the meet we gave her a huge hug and asked how she felt and she talked about how her heart was beating really fast and it was a lot fun. And how she wants to go to all the meets and the spring retreat too. I had videotaped all the three matches and in my euphoric state I posted the best one on Facebook. And the comments and likes poured in. I watched that video about fifty times. I was overcome with pride for my little judoka. And I realized that I had never contracted Psychotic Bleacher Syndrome before only because I had never had the opportunity.

A few days later I started to wonder how I would have felt if my daughter had been the little boy that she crushed. Would I still have been proud of her for just competing, as I had always said I would be. I never imagined myself the kind of parent who would get so caught up in my kids' achievements but here I was suddenly wondering if maybe she shouldn't start practicing judo twice a week. And what if she wants to quit, like she tried to at the end of last year. Would I allow it? But she's so good, I could here my future self whining.  I just want for her all of the self-esteem and personal growth and satisfaction and physical strength that come from training in a sport.

What happens next? Do I just let her decide to do something else next year if she feels like it and squander her natural ninja talents? I definitely think this competition has made her want to continue but she's as mercurial as they come. She could very well want to play skate hockey next year and that will have to be fine. I have to just hope that she will continue to enjoy an active life. And that I'll be able to support her choices, her triumphs and her defeats with the same spirit and grace she showed last week on the mat.

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys by Susie Lubell

My painting process is evolving. For this piece I started out by making a big background mess full of color and marks. And then to quiet it down I added some paper layers, the bits I found at the Jaffa flea market last week. And then I looked at the painting upside down and I saw a mouth. I saw a wide opened mouth with teeth which became the face of the little dancing guy. And those two circles under him became balls or color wheels or I don't know what. And then I saw the eyes of the woman next to him so I fleshed her out. I drew his body and at first she was holding him in her right hand but that was weird so I just left him jumping in mid-air. And then I saw the monkey. It was just his nose and eyes at first and then I sketched all of him. And the clown and the monkey were kind of on the same plane so I put them on a high wire. And then I understood what was going on.

Have you heard this Polish expression? Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Which is to say that not all of the crap and drama that's swirling around me is actually mine. Some of the crazy belongs to me, but not all of it.

This is true even about my own kids. I mean, I do feel the need to be aware of what's happening in their respective circuses but in some cases I actively step away and remember that it is not happening to me. For instance and totally hypothetically, it is not my place to tell another mom in my son's class that her kid sucks because he excludes my son, as much as it would give me great satisfaction to do this. It's not my circus. Sure, my son is kind of like my monkey, but he is not an extension of me. He is his own person. And my job is to equip him with what he needs to ringlead his own circus.

This is also true of our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors. It's important to listen and support and care and be available but it's also important to have boundaries. It's not my job to fix everything or everyone. In fact, when I do that it might suggest I don't have a lot of confidence in the other person's ability to manage their monkeys. And that is not a message I want to relay at all, especially to my kids. I want to empower, not undermine or underestimate. But supporting without interfering is a tightrope act all by itself.

A+ in Comprehension by Susie Lubell

Our daughter radiates love. She is a professional snuggler. She likes to get close. She loves to laugh. She has an unbelievable intuition. She understands people and situations. The other day I was watching a video an old friend had sent me from Peter Gabriel's Secret World tour, a concert we had seen together. My daughter snuggles in close to watch together on my phone and then she whispers to me, is he getting divorced? In fact the whole album has mostly to do with his devastating divorce. How does she know these things? Her emotional intelligence is magnificent. She can probably talk to the dead. I'll keep you posted.

The rest of this post is on the Times of Israel.

 

Growing Up by Susie Lubell

I had a conversation last night with my son and while I was having it I was very conscious of it being one of those big conversations that you have some times as a kid and you keep with you for a long time. He's ten now so things stick. Everything gets filed away as experience and later drawn upon or discarded.

I had put the other kids to bed and he was reading in his room. And then he came into my room and told me that at his scouts meeting, his counselor, who is a sixteen year old kid and the son of our old neighbors, told the boys, who apparently had been fighting, that getting a bump on the head or a bruise from a fight with a friend goes away after a few days. But words stay with us forever. If you say mean things to someone, my son told me, that person keeps those words inside them forever. He sat on my bed and we spoke about it for a good fifteen minutes. He was so earnest. He suddenly seemed like a rational human.

There are problems with the kids in his class, the boys and the girls, and those are the same kids in his scouts troop. I don't know why they did it that way but if I questioned every single thing here that made no sense to me I'd be in a constant state of inquiry and that gets exhausting. Someone must have had a reason. But his class in particular is known to be problematic. They've been together since first grade and it's gotten worse every year. And a lot of the kids now have smart phones now so there are chat groups and bullying goes on there. We have steered clear of that nonsense although my son has not been entirely unaffected.

I asked if anyone was making fun of him or calling him names and he said no. But that some of his friends had been made fun of and that hurt his feelings too. I told him that was called empathy. It's a concept I have been trying to convey to him for years with little success. He's a first born. The sun and the moon dance around him for his sole entertainment. In fact just a day before, literally a day before this conversation, he was fighting with his sister about something (ridiculous) and he huffed off to his room. A few minutes later I joined him and we talked about the pattern that he and his sister always fall into. She wants to play with him, he's not interested, she tries to get his attention any way she can and starts bothering him, he gets annoyed and they start yelling at each other, one of them spits, the other hits. Crying. Game over.

I asked him if he could imagine what it's like to be his sister, which I have asked a million times. Imagine that you have an older brother and you want to play with him but he mostly ignores you. And for the first time he told me directly, I can't imagine that because it's not real. I don't have an older brother so I don't know what that is like for her. He didn't know and he couldn't imagine. Problem. I was staring at a future narcissistic megalomaniac.

But then the very next day he understood. Well he understood in the context of his friends, but I saw a tiny pinhole in our conversation and wormed in the bit about his sister. And then he understood that also.

I am sure there are a zillion terra bytes of research on why kids are mean to each other. It must be something about our society; about the way we raise them to look out for number one. And I know it will only get worse. On the other hand, I marvel at my son'scounselor who is all of sixteen and a kid himself, who, despite having to deal with a toxic group of boys, managed to impart a positive message to my son that struck him so deeply that he needed to have a bedside sit down to process it. There is still hope.

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.

Something Between Trophies for Everyone and You Suck by Susie Lubell

IMG_4631

My daughter started elementary school this year which in Israel is the first grade. My husband and I attended a “Back to School” meeting where the principal addressed the parents of the three first grade classes and spoke about the school’s mission and policies. It wasn’t especially inspirational and she didn’t have a microphone so I only heard about 30% of what she said and, of what I heard, I only understood about half so that left me feeling very bored and annoyed. My husband promised I wasn’t missing much. One thing I did hear sounded something like, “if a student is good at something we encourage him to further pursue that direction. But if he is not very good, then we say, this activity is not for you, and we encourage him to do something else.”

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

Only in Israel by Susie Lubell

Interpretive dance on top of biblical well.

A lot of things happen here in Israel that are so ridiculous that I just have to roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut. Otherwise I start to sound very holier than thou and we already have more than enough of that sentiment around here. The other day I went to pick up my kids from their playdate at a girl's house whose mom is incidentally the woman who runs their aftercare program. She's a lovely woman and the kids enjoy the two hours they spend with her after school every day. And they happen to be good friends with her daughter. So I came over at around 6:30 pm with the baby in tow. Two minutes after I arrive, this woman gives my one year old a krembo. Now for those of you who do not know what a krembo is, I bet you can guess from the name that it's not health food. In fact it's a sticky puff of synthetic cream wrapped in a thin layer of chocolate flavored wax sitting on a cookie base, the size of my fist. It need not be refrigerated. In fact I guess they started making these many years ago in the ice-cream factories since no one wanted ice-cream in the winter. So November 1st is National Krembo Day. Well, not officially. But that's when they return to stores. It's like when the Cadbury eggs finally come out in time for Easter. Kids go crazy. My deprived baby shoved that thing in his mouth and all over his face faster than I could politely decline on his behalf. Only in Israel.

But I'll tell you the same week this happened we headed down south to see the amazing red wild anemones in bloom. Carpets of red flowers in the desert! The southern regional arts council made it into a big event over four weekends and had stations set up for enthusiastic flower seekers like us. Music, performances, arts and crafts, food tastings, storytelling. After picnicking with friends behind one of these stations we walked over to find two young women with elaborate flowery head dresses, Chiquita Banana style, doing an interpretive dance above a biblical well in the middle of nowhere. They had rigged haunting music to play from seemingly inside the well and a crowd of thirty or forty people stood around in awe. It was magnificent.

Only in Israel.

 Well dancer Well dancers

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.

Parenting in the Middle East by Susie Lubell

Code red alpaca. Sorry, you weren't doing it for me. You will rise from the paint again. Have no fear. #codered
I went code red on one of my paintings this morning.

I've spent the last few days painting in my kitchen and listening to the radio. They're playing requests all day long from southern residents. And sporadically throughout the day you hear the override system announcing a code red and a location. Code red - Ashkelon. Code red - Ashdod. Code red - Beer Sheva. All. Day. Long. We have been lucky and our daily lives have not changed much since we live near Jerusalem. Trips to Tel Aviv have been postponed and plans for get togethers in the South have been cancelled. But we are not running under our staircase every fifteen minutes and for that I am grateful.

The rest of this article is posted at the Times of Israel.

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.

Not so fast by Susie Lubell

White bougainvillea

I had every intention of fasting today. We know where this is going right?

But I decided that, since I have a cold, I should at least drink water, because I need to stay hydrated. And then I thought, well I'd hate to add a caffeine headache on top of my sore throat and stuffy nose.
So I decided that God would allow coffee under these extreme circumstances.

But I decided to drink instant coffee instead of the yummy espresso we make with our Nespresso machine. That seemed like the right thing to do, all things considered.  Without milk or sugar.
But then that felt more like torture than repentance. So I added milk and sugar. But only a little bit. But it was still so disgusting that I made real coffee also.

Soon after I made toast for the baby from the challah that Mr. Rosen baked last night. But when he started to throw it around the kitchen I decided I needed to model the right way to eat toast, so I had a few bites too, since I'm a good parent. Starting now. At least I didn't have toast from the chocolate chip challah*, which Mr. Rosen made for after Yom Kipur, when we would really deserve such a decadent treat.

Listen, it was a lot easier before we had kids. When we didn't have to prepare food for anyone. When we could sleep until 11:00 am, read a book, watch a movie, loaf around and by then it was over. But when your kids wake you up at 6:00 am, it's a lot of hours of fasting. Anyway, I had a blood test yesterday and fasted for twelve hours. So I'm counting that plus the twelve hours from last night and today. Yom Kipur is cumulative this year.

 Better luck next year.

* I did have the chocolate chip challah.

A year in the life by Susie Lubell



Dear Smiley McPoint and Whimper,

Where did the time go sweet cheeks? I turned around to get you a new diaper and you turned one! How'd you do that? I'm petty sure this has been your BEST. YEAR. EVER. I mean, what with the canon shot delivery, the road trip we took for your entire third month of life, the moving to a new house, the moving to a NEW COUNTRY, the moving to another new house, the seven day rash that looked like measles, the sleep training and retraining and retraining and giving up, the babysitter that I loved but you hated, the freezing winter when we never bathed you because that would mean exposing you to the elements, all of the handling by well-intentioned siblings, the baby album I never made you because you're the third and anyway I haven't even finished your sister's and she's five? I'd say it was a pretty awesome year. And you were a champ.

It's hard to believe that a year ago we were signing the papers on our house sale and bringing you home from the hospital. You were supposed to be the charm. The third one and last and easiest. You were supposed to take a pacifier and a bottle. You were supposed to sleep through the night at three weeks. Or three months, MAX. You were supposed to be the one who happily went to anyone's arms. You were the one who would sense my mood swings and behave accordingly.

Turns out you were not easy. You neither took a pacifier nor a bottle nor do you suck your thumb. You've been "sleep trained" so many times it is unclear who is the trainer and who is the trainee. We're hoping you sleep through the night by three YEARS at this rate. You prefer the arms of Mommy and Aba with very few exceptions. You cry all the time no matter if I'm tired and having a bad day or deliriously energetic and mother-of-the-year. You're kind of a piece of work.

But you make up for it in countless ways. Like how when you hear music, you conduct! And you nestle your head into my lap while we're sitting on the carpet and stay there while I'm on the phone. So considerate! And how you speed crawl over to Aba when he comes home from work screaming ADA ADA! Ada likes that a lot. You also eat olives. And just about everything else. And you do tricks for Grandma on skype. That makes her feel great. And how you play peek a boo from behind my back. And behind the door. And behind anything. And how you like to climb on the dishwasher and pull out the knives. Why just the knives?

Yours is a different kind of charm, Chicken Legs. You were the one that finally convinced me to start letting it all go. All of my notions of what a mother should and should not do. All of my expectations. All of my judgements. All of my guilt. All of my type A-ness. You were the one who finally got me to accept that cereal can be fine for dinner, it's just as easy to find what you want to wear from a clean laundry pile on the floor as it is from the inside of your closet and a back-to-back Disney movie marathon can be a great way to restore quiet to crazy house.

Anyway, this year has been unforgettable for so many reasons but none of them hold a candle to you sunshine. You completed our family.

love,
Mommy

Ducks in a pile by Susie Lubell

Untitled

Do you ever decide you're going to get started on something - a project, an assignment, a new endeavor, a trip, a remodel, your life - but only when everything is aligned in your favor? When your ducks are in a row? This is my tendency. I wait until there's some kind of magic moment. Or, more accurately, I wait till I have enough time to myself to really focus and get down to business. It turns out I never have that kind of time. Even before the baby, when the big kids were in school and I had four hours every morning to work, it was really more like three hours after drop off and pick up. And more like two after I showered, did the laundry, went to the grocery store, picked up a birthday present or went to the post office. So by the time I got down to business I had maybe an hour and a half of unfettered time which I would decide was not enough and I would daydream instead. Or tinker. Or at my most productive I would print out and package some orders. But I would never paint. Painting required my undivided attention, partly because watercolor dries so fast that once you start, you sort of need to get to a good ending point, otherwise you have blotchy. (psst. Did you see how I just rationalized not painting, even as I write this short essay ostensibly about how to get over all that and move forward?)

So, true to character, I decided once things didn't work out with my babysitter and I was again a full-time companion to Sweet Cheeks McTiny Tush, I put my painting aspirations aside. Again. Babies are such a good excuse for so many things! Tardiness, flightiness, forgetfulness, looking tired and unkempt, being chubby, whipping out your boobs in public...and, yes, procrastination. And I figured I would wait until September when my baby will start going to a family daycare and I finally have the time I need to focus on my work.

But then a number of things happened. First I reached out to a friend asking how she managed to be such a prolific painter while her babies were little and she said she is all over the place. But she threw out the question, can you do your work in layers, like 15 minute increments? It's not really how I work. I need time. I need space. Because I hate taking out supplies and then putting them all back which is what you have to do when you work at the kitchen table.

Layers. 15 minute increments.

Then I went to this woman's website, having heard rave reviews about her workshops, and nearly fell over and died when I saw her work. It is so beautiful, it sings. It made me cry! And not because I wished I was her, which is where I usually go in these moments, but because I could see her joy spilled out in her work. That's when I got out the acrylics and some old canvases I had painted 10 years ago and, starting with the "grounds" technique I had learned at a workshop last year with Jesse Reno, I just put on paint and more paint while the baby napped. And for fifteen minute increments while he played. And at night if I wasn't too tired. And I let the layers dry, because that's what you kind of have to do with acrylic  before you can add another layer. I moved my box of supplies to the shelves next to the kitchen table and the oil cloth is now there semi-permanently. I'm just getting used to the acrylics and how they work and what I can do so there is much to learn, but I'm doing it.

So there it is. My ducks are in a pile, all squawky and flappy and cattywampus and I am happily painting almost every day.

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. 

This year in Jerusalem by Susie Lubell

Staples of Passover
Religious Jews hoarding Passover staples

Psst. I'm still alive over here. We are coming off a nearly three week Passover school holiday break and I have been remiss about posting blog entries. I have however been posting lots of pics on Instagram and I invite you to follow my meanderings over there. I'll follow you right back. It's quite fun! A billion dollars worth of fun, so says Facebook.

I wasn't prepared for such a long break in the middle of the year. But we threw together a pretty fun itinerary packed with visits with friends, travels north, south, east  and west, a trip to some enchanted caves, a fantastic seder, a surprise and mysterious visit from Elijah the Prophet and camping in the desert. We even had lunch one day with Mr. Rosen at his work in Jerusalem.

I will say that spending Passover in Israel is a very rich experience. Between the meticulous nation-wide spring cleaning (removal of all bread and crumbs from the home), hoarding of eggs, potatoes, onions and matzah, and the throngs of Israelis hiking about the country, it's really a lot to absorb. Never mind that we personally experienced no less than five out of the ten plagues (blood, lice, boils, hail, and darkness). Let's just say it's enough blog material to last forty years wandering in the desert, if only I'd had the energy to write it all down. Dayenu. Maybe I'll be more on the (matzah) ball next year.

For now's here's a smattering of pics from those three weeks. Enjoy!

Dead Sea with view of Jordan
Dead sea and view of Jordan

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Saba grating the bitter herb with traditional protective eyewear.

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Seder table including rice cake "matzah" cover for our glutton free guests

Saba carrying his weight
Elder carrying small Israelite during the exodus.

Passover hike in the Negev
Obeying the voice of God, Moses and Miriam put their arms around each other.

Camel helping us reenact the exodus
Biblical ride

Stalactite/mite awesome
Enchanted stalactite cave

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Not bear proof, but hyena proof.

I found an oompa loompa from the tv room up on this ridge! Doopadee do!
The oompa loompa I found on top of Tzin Wilderness

Descent to Nahal Gov
Descent to Gov River Valley

Escaping the burning sun
Respite from heat.

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Desert in bloom

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At Kibbutz Sde Boker

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.