stories

La Sandia or How Art Fosters Connection by Susie Lubell

The flattening process before framing. 

The flattening process before framing. 

This story is at once a simple telling of how I ended up with a poster from La Sebastiana Museum House in Valparaiso Chile, the home of legendary poet Pablo Neruda, and a sweeping narrative of connectivity that defies borders and time to make found what was once lost.

In 1996 I traveled alone to Chile. I had just graduated from college and I had a bee in my bonnet to learn Spanish. I hadn't managed to find the time to study abroad during school but I had taken a year of Spanish and wanted to practice. I did some research using the newly discovered interwebs and found several Jewish organizations in Central and South America. Then I started writing letters. Hand written letters to whatever contact person I found. One such letter landed in the hands of a woman who worked at La Comunidad Israelita de Santiago. After we spoke on the phone to make sure I wasn't loca, she offered me to stay with her family in Santiago for however long I wanted. Which I did. I became an honorary hermanita to her four young girls, ages 7, 9, 12 and 16. It was a wonderful experience and we are in touch until this day. I have made ketubahs for two out of the four girls so far...

During that time I traveled the length of Chile with a cast of traveling companions both random and entirely sent by a higher power. One of those companions even eventually led me to Mr. Rosen in a circumvention that only the universe could have concocted. At one point I was visiting Valparaiso, the seaside town where Neruda built a home overlooking the Pacific to spend his days writing poetry in peace. While I was there I bought a poster. On it was a screenprint of a watermelon on a cake stand with an excerpt from Neruda's poem, Oda a La Sandia, Ode to the Watermelon, inscribed around the edges. 

…the round, magnificent,
star-filled watermelon.
It’s a fruit from the thirst-tree.
It’s the green whale of the summer.
— Pablo Neruda

I can't tell you how much I loved that poster. We all have things that we've collected which hold more value than the small sums paid for them. Some originally belonging to a relative. Some reminding us of our childhood. And some that just dive right under our skin and lodge themselves there for no reason at all or not one we can understand at least. Or at first. I took the poster home with me, along with a few advertising posters I'd lifted from Metro stations, some Pomaire pottery, a woven purse, a brass chicken wall hanging, a carpet and a few CDs. 

At this time I was still in my twenties so the idea of spending money to frame something, even something as beloved as a watermelon poster from 6000 miles south on Pacific Coast Highway, was never even a consideration. I also moved around a lot at that time. Four years in Israel. A year around the world. Two years in North Carolina. Finally, in 2003, we settled in Northern California for a stretch and I found my watermelon rolled up in a tube. Still unwilling to spend money on framing, I attached it to some foam core board with spray glue. Over the years it became warped and wrinkled and dirty. I attempted to remove it from the foam core and it tore. Finally I said Vaya con Dios to my watermelon and heavy-heartedly put it in the recycling. I made a few attempts over the next few years to find another copy, all in vain.

Fast forward to March 2017. A friend of mine is now traveling in South America and I'm following her journey with her husband via Facebook. I have never met this friend. We have only connected online and via email. She is a graphic designer and ketubah artist from Vancouver named Naomi Broudo and in 2010 she contact me while she was setting up her ETSY shop. Over the years we have sent each other clients, asked for advice, offered advice, encouraged one another and generally supported one another's growth as artists and business owners. We even share a common trajectory. She and her husband lived in Israel for a stint. Her son was born here and then they moved back to Canada when he was nine. When I was going through the horrors of our first weeks in country, she read my words and deeply understood my suffering. But we have never met. 

Since I have a special place for Chile in my heart, I commented on a few of her posts. Around the same time an issue came up for me about licensing my work to an online ketubah re-seller with whom I knew she was at one point involved so I sent her a message. And from across the globe, she replied immediately. She also mentioned that their next stop was Santiago and then on to Valpo. In half jest I typed, ...if you happen to be at Neruda's house and see a poster with a watermelon, please get it for me and I'll pay you back... 

A week later she messaged me that she had indeed found the poster and had purchased it for me. Just at that time my inlaws were visiting in North America and they would overlap a few days when Naomi returned. A week ago they brought it home with them on the plane.

Oda a La Sandia is mine again. A gift from my friend Naomi. 

It turns out that is just the beginning of the story of La Sandia.  Just this morning I was perusing a weekly newsletter I subscribe to called Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. It is masterful, in case you feel like subscribing to something. In it she mentions a children's book about Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), the world's first computer programmer, a book she has added to her list of other children's books about important figures in art and science, including one about Pablo Neruda himself. With Neruda on my mind and my new poster unfurling in my studio, I clicked on the link which uncovered an article about how a childhood encounter taught him about the unity of all beings and why we make art.

One time, investigating in the backyard of our house in Temuco the tiny objects and minuscule beings of my world, I came upon a hole in one of the boards of the fence. I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared — a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvelous white sheep. 

The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole, but the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.
— Pablo Neruda

Maria writes that the great poet never saw the hand nor the boy it belonged to again but that the brief encounter, with its childhood simplicity, impressed upon him a lifelong lesson about the longing for commonality that compels us to create:

To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things. That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together…
— Pablo Neruda

This is the power of art and the creative spark. Countless times it has helped me forge connections that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. So I continue to put my gifts out into the world and I wait for them to return to me under a new guise. Art, in its most general and expansive definition to include all works created from our imaginations, functions like a magnet, bringing people, ideas, energy, stories, and inspiration directly to us, along its own divine frequency, only to  leave us again as new work which, in turn, moves along to touch the next person in an endless, unbreakable circle of creation and connection. Viva la sandia.

 

Art Garfunkel is Not Dead by Susie Lubell

The view from our town after the biggest storm since Noah and the Ark

On the day before the storm I actually didn't even believe the weather report. I mean how could the weather drop thirty degrees in three days.  It would take an act of God to make it snow tomorrow, I think. But that's exactly how it played out. In EPIC. BIBLICAL. PROPORTION. As usual.

On the first day of the storm which was Thursday morning, we wake up to a foot of snow on the ground. I think, ok, it'll be like last year when it snowed for a day and melted by the next day. We get notice that school is canceled and Mr. Rosen gets the call that roads to Jerusalem are closed so we hunker down for a snow day, a novelty in this part of the world.

I take out all the old ski clothes but the kids don't want to put on that crazy stuff. They head outside in their sneakers and jeans until they are freezing. Then they put on the snow clothes. The baby is excited to see the snow from behind the sliding glass doors within the comforts of our warm and dry living room. We bundle him up and take him outside for a few pictures and he makes it known that he hates us and snow.

My mom is visiting and is less delighted by the snow. She puts on three more layers and goes outside to frolic with her grandkids. They build a mini-snowman on the roof of the car. I make chicken soup. The kids watch a movie. We read books. The snow is pretty and still coming down. Snow is fun.

On the second day of the storm we lose power around 2 AM. My mom wakes me up at 4 AM because she is freezing. I go downstairs to see if any circuits have popped. It looks like the neighborhood is out. I crawl back into bed and pray to the Electric Company.

By 7 AM everyone is up and freezing. We put on more layers. I make oatmeal. We get on our phones to see if anyone on Facebook knows what's going on. No one else in town has power either. No school again. Another foot of snow has fallen. I start making onion soup. It's looking like another long day. The kids can't figure out what to do with themselves. My son can't work on his lego project because he can't feel his fingers. The baby is barefoot.

Why is the baby barefoot?

Everyone wants to play cards with Grandma. Grandma wants to go home. The kids take food coloring outside and make snow cones. I do dishes. Grandma reads her book as the steam rises from her nose.

By 4 PM the electricity is back on in our house. Mr. Rosen's parents have arrived from down south to see the snow as has his sister and her family. We make tea and enjoy the heat. We think the worst is over. Maybe we'll go to the museum on Saturday, we think. By 5:30 PM it is snowing again. Everyone drives home for fear of being stuck here. We prepare Shabbat dinner. Shnitzel, butternut squash soup and beet salad. We hear a knock at the door and it's our house cleaner who lives in an apartment down the street. He asks to borrow a heater because he doesn't have one. We give him a heater and invite him to stay for dinner. The lights flicker a little and we worry about the power. We light Shabbat candles and a few extra just in case. After dinner I run the dishwasher, do a load of laundry and charge all of the laptops and phones. I have a bad feeling. Everyone goes to bed early. The three kids sleep on the floor in our room since we gave their heater to the housekeeper.

On the third day of the storm, the baby wakes up at 6:30 AM and wants Cheerios. We go downstairs and I see the power is out again. I make oatmeal and boil water for tea. I put on my down jacket and ski hat. The tea warms my hands. The kids watch a movie. The baby stares out the window and talks about the snow. The snow is on the car. The snow is in the tree. Aba is in the snow. The doggie is in the snow. I make more chicken soup. Facebook friends report that Israelis are hosing down their driveways to get rid of the snow. I wonder how Israelis manage to win all kinds of Nobel prizes andnot know that when water freezes it makes ice.

By 3 PM the kids are annoying each other. The kids are annoying everyone. The baby is sleeping under six blankets. I try to summon up my inner home schooling super mom to think of crafts to do with the kids. I can't feel my fingers and decide that crafts are stupid. We are checking our phones for weather and Facebook updates. The snowfall has abated. Phone reception is spotty. Grandma announces that Art Garfunkle died.

What?

She remembers meeting him at her senior prom. He was her best friend's funny looking date. 

So sad to lose him.

I ask where she heard he'd died and she says she saw a picture of him on an Israeli website but it was in Hebrew so she couldn't read what it said. My phone has no internet connection so we are left to mourn Art Garfunkel for another hour. We sing Feeling Groovy and Sounds of Silence. Grandma finds Mr. Rosen's harmonica and plays Oh Susanna for the kids. Internet is restored and I google Art Garfunkel and it turns out he'll be recording a new album. We are relieved. There is still no heat. Grandma is starting to lose it. I make carrot soup. Snow sucks.

On the day after the storm, electricity is restored. We are elated. School is canceled.  We are destroyed. No one can get to school because the roads are too icy. Can we not salt the roads here people? Is there no spare salt in this country? Did Lot's wife not turn into a PILLAR of salt? Isn't Jerusalem like less than an hour from the Dead Sea, or as I like to call it: THE SALTIEST PLACE ON EARTH?  For the love of ginger, three feet of snow has fallen and the country has completely shut down. Grandma goes to read like her fifth book in four days. We are happy to have heat and hot water. Everyone showers for the first time in five days. I make tomato soup. I have now made every fucking soup I know how to make. I make grilled cheese sandwiches. I go for a walk down the street and see a car has plowed through our neighbor's gate and nearly into his house. Serves him right for hosing down his street. I come home to find an enormous snowman near our walkway. He is wearing my scarf and has on a cowboy hat. He is outstanding. Leftover soups for dinner. We read stories and go to sleep all five of us in the same room again. I admit, it's cozy.

On the second day after the storm, we wake up and school has been canceled again. Some of us moms decide to burn down the school. Instead we drop off the baby and head toward Tel Aviv. Chunks of snow fly off our car as we descend from Switzerland. By the time we park in Jaffa, the last chunk slides down our windshield. We have coffee and snacks in a cafe and walk around the flea market for an hour or so. By 3:30 it's time to head home.

On the third day after the storm, school starts at 9:30. Mr. Rosen goes to work. Grandma and I meet a friend in Jerusalem. The sky is blue. The drivers are cautious. Art Garfunkel is not dead. Life is good.

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Mohammad and Me by Susie Lubell

I met Mohammad about a year ago. Maybe more. It wasn't long after we moved into our house that he showed up claiming to have worked for the previous tenants. A few others showed up and made the same claim. One was a painter. One was a handyman. They all live in neighboring villages and walk into our town every morning through the holes in the fence. Mohammad says he walks right in the front gate because everyone knows him. He's been working here for years. I've even seen him buying cigarettes at our grocery store.

Last year we had him pull out all the weeds in our yard that, over the rainy season, had grown two or three feet high. You could lose a toddler in there. And Mohammad mentioned that snakes like to hide in those tall grasses. 

When can you start?

So he spent three days yanking weeds and trimming trees and generally cleaning up a very overgrown yard. And I learned that employers are meant to provide the gardener with many cups of strong, sweet coffee, in a small glass, no milk. He also showed up in the fall to pick our olives. We paid him in olives.

He works for our neighbors too. Knows everyone by name. He's a hard worker and a sweet man. He speaks a little Hebrew but it's mostly Hebrew words wrapped in Arabic sentences. And he uses a lot of hand gestures like he's telling a campfire tale. I work from home so we chat throughout the day. Yesterday he asked if he could bother me for a little hummus for his lunch. So I put some hummus on a plate along with a sliced tomato in olive oil and two slices of yummy walnut toast we had in the freezer. He was grateful. He apologized for not eating the toast. He has no teeth. I hadn't noticed. 

He's also missing his left eye. Apparently a family member took it out over a money issue. I think he said 70 shekels but that can't be right. It happened eight years ago. And he was supposed to go to court over this matter but the court date was postponed. But he can wait because he's planning his revenge, which means he will take his cousin's eye.

It says that in the Koran, he told me.

Yes, I'm familiar with the passage. We have one like that too in the Torah, I think.

He told me this same family cut his son and then he motioned to his abdomen for which there was some retaliation, though like all of Mohammad's stories, I only caught about 40%.  Mohammad has five sons and five daughters. He married off the last one six months ago. I told him I thought it was crazy to plan revenge for his eye and that the man who did this needs to pay him money and sit in jail for his crime. Because with all due respect to the Koran, an eye for an eye only leads to more violence.

You're a smart girl, he said.

Maybe you can help me plan my revenge. 

I think I saw his good eye wink.

Today I gave him a bag of old toys for his grand kids and he was delighted.  He asked my name.

It's Susie. Like ex-President Mubarak's wife.

He nodded.

Mubarak was taken down, he said.

He has three tons of gold sitting in Tunis but he lost his power. Same will happen to Assad. Maybe not tomorrow. Or next week. But it will happen. The big men always have power and we starve. It won't last.

Then he turned his foot in the dirt he'd just cleared like he was squashing a bug. When he asked if I had any lunch for him today I said we were out of hummus so I would ride up to the grocery store and get some more. He asked if I could get some softer bread too. I smiled. So did he.

Yep. No teeth.

Facelift by Susie Lubell























Busy times around here, what with all of the holidays (I still need to show you a picture of our sukkah. All in good time), and my son's birthday and then his birthday party. Now everything that was on hold until after the holidays is suddenly off hold and urgent.

So it's back to work. My latest project has been to organize my files - my digital files - a task I despise, which is why they are in such a state of disarray. And why also I have dozens of superfluous gigabytes junking up my computer. Just taking up space and taunting me with their sloppiness. My sloppiness. Ugh. I'll take regular filing any day.

But in the process of giving a facelift to my saggy, worn out, not-so-hard drive, I've come across some interesting gems. Like a word file with a bunch of one line stories about people with no faces. I must have once thought about adding them to some of my Inner Toddler characters. I kill myself sometimes. 

Anyway, it was nice to stop my filing for a brief chuckle. Let me know which is your favorite.
Back to filing.






Cherry on top by Susie Lubell

Roadside ice cream stop

Well we survived Yom Kipur this year, but only barely. I will say that as challenging as the day itself was, the eve of Yom Kipur was quite enjoyable. How can I explain it? It's like Christmas Eve (in Amish country) meets Critical Mass. Once the sun sets, kids from all walks of life hit the streets on bikes because no one is driving. NO ONE. People don't drive. I think it's because they're atoning for how badly they drove the whole last year. And it's the holiest day of the year too, so there's that.  It also means that kids roam the streets freely. I overheard one second grader tell his dad he was going to a neighborhood about a mile away in the dark with his buddies on bikes. See ya, was the dad's reply. So we went out too and saw just about everyone we knew in this town. It was quite an experience.

And only a few days later we are coming off of an even bigger experience. A seven family camping trip up north on the Dan river. It was a hundred degrees; we had to sleep outside since it was stifling in the tent; the kids got eaten by mosquitos (I find I don't get bit when the baby is nearby since he's so juicy). But in the spirit of Indian Summer, we went in search of cool water and found a lovely (freezing) spring where we went for a dip and had lunch and a quiet patch of the Jordan river bank where we watched the sun go down.

All in all we kept cool as best we could, enjoyed the company of new friends and delighted in the incredible food that everyone sizzled, fried, chopped, sauteed, baked and shared. On the way home we stopped for lunch at a family friend's house where I mostly sat on her air conditioner while she served us fresh goat cheese, eggs, salad, avocado, fresh fruit and brownies. It was serious post camping pampering.

And then the (literal) cherry on top came on our three+ hour drive home when we pulled over to change the baby's diaper. It was a random side road off the highway which apparently is a main (dirt)  road to one of the Arab villages (cities) nearby. The kids got out and stretched, we changed the baby and had some fruit while several cars and trucks sped past us. Then an ice cream delivery truck drove past and stopped.  I knew in my heart that the driver had stopped to give us ice-cream. Which he did! A young man popped out of the passenger side, ran around the side of the car and a few moments later came back with five cherry vanilla ice-cream popsicles. He handed them to me and said, you're five right? Happy holidays! Then the driver leaned out and wished us a happy holiday too. Indeed, a little happier made by cherry popsicles!

Up next, a peek into our sukkah this year. Mr. Rosen's parents showed up even before we returned from camping and built the thing, decorated it and had dinner waiting for us too. We need to buy a lottery ticket and really ride out this wave...

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 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. 

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.

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 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.

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.

Welcome to Israel by Susie Lubell

Welcome to Israel

Shalom! We arrived yesterday evening with all family members in tact and only missing one piece of luggage - the baby's car seat (he rode commando from the airport), which arrived to my in-laws this morning via London. When we got to passport control and the woman in the next line over cut in front of us when our window became available, I knew we'd arrived in the right country. The older kids went to sleep last night around 11pm and woke up at noon. Not bad. The baby was up pretty much from midnight until 4am. Not great.

Mr. Rosen and I ducked out at 10 this morning to start our administrative journey. We dragged the baby along in an effort to reset his internal clock. First stop, the Ministry of the Interior where we had to change our National ID cards to reflect our marriage and three kids. As we got out of the car I started to put the baby's little fleece slippers on and Mr. Rosen said, I don't think he needs those today (it's about 65 out). I knew that if we didn't put them on I would get reamed by at least eleven older women for exposing my child to the elements. We stopped for a latte at the mall under the ministry and a fifty year old man mentioned to us that it was windy outside and that our baby should have a sweater. Didn't see that one coming. While we were sitting there we also saw a young woman come in with her friends to get coffee wearing the clothes she was trying on from the store next door still with tags and a security device attached. Maybe she got thirsty all of a sudden? Only in Israel.

We headed upstairs to get passport pictures taken and we saw a a religious woman (head covering and modest flowy garb) and her teenage son (side curls and giant knit kippah) in line, both wearing Vibram five-finger frog feet "shoes". I guess the quest for good arch support is universal.

With our photos and baby in hand we headed upstairs to the Ministry. The Bedouin man ahead of us was there to register his newest child too. I overheard the clerk doing triage handing out the numbers at the front desk say to him, first wife or second? Nice. The Bedouin are still keeping it real I guess.

After waiting for about forty minutes, which was not a long wait considering the last time I was here fifteen years ago I actually learned how to knit and completed a six foot long scarf in the time it took before I spoke to anyone official, it's our turn. We are both in the system as citizens but it apparently takes the same system 72 hours from the time we go through passport control to recognize we are in country. We have to come back on Sunday. Minor setback. Fortunately Mr. Rosen can come by himself and complete the task for both of us.

Next up, finalizing the bank account that my in-laws already opened for us. On Thursdays the banks are closed from 12-4 and reopen from 4-7. Until then, the kids are at the park and the baby is asleep and mama needs to take a shower. In queue after the bank, shopping for a refrigerator, Ministry of Absorption, elementary school registration and dealing with our iPhones that don't work here. Good times. So far I have not yelled at anyone or cried or used any vulgar hand gestures.

Same old story by Susie Lubell


Back in the day.

It turns out that having a lot to write about makes me not want to write anything. The stories pile up in my brain and then there's like a bottleneck in there. I have storytelling constipation. I happen to have the regular kind of constipation too but that's from all the moving around. So where are we these days? We're with family in New York. And we fly to Israel on Tuesday.

Our last week in the Bay Area was ridiculous. Even after sending all of our stuff on the container we still had a house full of odds and ends. We decided to have a goodbye/u-pick party as in, come say goodbye and take a can of tuna for the road. Or a toaster to remember us by. Lots of teary goodbyes. My sister-in-law and I had a sob fest that I think caught us both by surprise.

And then, without much ado, we got in our rental minivan and left Northern California. Eleven years earlier, to the day in fact, Mr. Rosen and I left Israel to embark on a new adventure together. We were only two of us back then. Now we're five. Back then we each had a backpack. Now we have eight suitcases and a twenty foot container. Back then we had palm pilots. Now we have iPhones. The cast has grown and a few of the props have changed but it's basically our same old story unfolding again. Can't wait to see how things turn out this time around.

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.

Sold by Susie Lubell

Goodbye to our house
We say goodbye to 607 Leksich Ave. The baby thinks parting is such sweet sorrow. 
He may also be taking a dump in this shot.

Did I ever mention how it came to be that we sold our house?

Remember in April, how we took it off the market after an offer was rescinded because of some confusion over the status of the house - whether it was technically a condo or a single family home? And remember how we were secretly relieved and planned on putting it back on the market in the fall. Plans are funny like that.

It turns out that right before the baby was born we got an offer on the house from a former colleague of mine and his wife. They came over when I was 39 weeks pregnant and said they loved it. They brought their agent the next day. They sent us an offer two days later with the exact price we wanted, a long escrow and two months or rent-back. We signed that offer the same day we signed our baby's birth certificate. Big day. In my birth story I made mention of downloading some forms between contractions. Those were for the house and needed to be signed by Wednesday and it was Monday and I was about to leave for the hospital and somehow I had the wherewithal, barely, to bring them with us, so that in a moment of post partum agony bliss, we could sign. So instead of signing as originally planned on the eve of Passover, the liberation from slavery, we signed on the eve of Shavuot, the day we received the ten commandments. I love when my life lines up with the Torah.

And while we were thrilled to have this lovely couple (half Israeli, half American - sound familiar?) buy our home, the next forty-five days were filled with untold stress as we tried to manage a mountain of paperwork and tend to a newborn. Oh and the other two kids. And there were major stumbling blocks. Like the one where it turns out because of a recording snafu in the seventies we actually owned our property but our neighbor's garage and vice versa. Nice. All that stuff had to be untangled and we didn't have an agent. We drove our agent to leave real estate altogether after the previous deal fell through so we were left high and dry. We ended up hiring a friend of ours who is real estate attorney saving us much money but causing us to run around scheduling inspections and unearthing old contracts. Many sleepless nights. But we were up anyway with our infant so who cared.

So all's well that ends well. And this epic tale ended beautifully on Saturday evening. After we closed on the house we were able to rent it back from the new owners for two months which meant that we could actually spend some time relaxing in what still felt like our home for the entire summer. Last week we moved into a three month sublet not too far away (the home of a professor who is teaching abroad this quarter) and Mr. Rosen moved all of our stuff over the course of the week. On Friday we lit Shabbat candles one last time in our empty little house and sang songs and shared some of our best memories from that special place. And on Saturday night we had a dance party in our empty house complete with glow bands and much alcohol while a sitter watched all three kids in our new place. Genius.

And now we have three months to figure out how we are moving ourselves and our stuff to Israel. The saga continues. Turns out moving to Israel is not as straight forward as it was when my two suitcases and I did it fifteen years ago.

Bear Proof Vehicle by Susie Lubell

Sportsmobile

Mr. Rosen and I have found ourselves in some hairy situations over the years in our various adventures. While camping in Spain we woke up surrounded by giant cows who tried to steal our breakfast. We once took a ride from a trucker in Turkey who wouldn't let us out where we wanted and started driving east to the Syrian border. In India Mr. Rosen almost got in a fist fight with a bus driver who claimed we didn't have valid bus tickets and threatened to kick us off. Good times. But our near encounter with a family of bears on Thursday night trumps all.

I was in the tent trying to nurse the baby to sleep and our daughter was already out. Mr. Rosen was in the van singing good-night songs to our son who was sleeping in the pop up roof. I'm half listening to him sing and half dozing off myself when I hear some moaning off in the distance. In fact it's the same moaning I'd heard the night before but this time I am hearing it at pretty regular intervals and I'm hearing it in a lot of different directions. I know instinctively that it's a bear. Probably a whole family of bears. It's a friggin bear country jamboree by the sounds coming out of the forest. Mr. Rosen continues to sing and I'm strategizing about how to haul ass out of this tent with my infant and sleeping four-year-old in the event of a bear attack. Plus I can never remember if it's with bears that you're supposed to make a lot of noise and look big or if that's with lions and with bears you're supposed to play dead. I'm also thinking that this chubby baby would seem like a nice scooby snack to a black bear. I'm thinking a lot things. Like maybe we shouldn't have camped so close to that wild strawberry patch. Like why the hell I am in the tent and Mr. Rosen is in the bear proof vehicle.

Finally Mr. Rosen emerges from the van and I call him over.

Me: Can you hear that noise?
Him: It's probably a coyote. don't worry about it.
Me. No. Stop and listen for a second.
Pause
Him: Huh. I think that's a bear.
Me: No shit it's a fucking bear.
Pause
Him: Maybe more than one bear.
Me: Like Yogi and Boo Boo?
Him: Plus the Berenstein Bears.
Me: What should we do?
Him: I'll start by putting our food away.
Me: Good plan.

So for the next ten minutes I watch from the tent as Mr. Rosen runs back and forth to the van about thirty times putting away all of our food and garbage. Then he comes back to the tent and says he thinks we should all sleep in the van. The big kids will be in the back (the back seats fold down to a full bed), me and the baby in the pop-up and he'll find a spot in the hull somewhere. He then moves our sleeping son in his sleeping bag to the back of the van. Then my daughter from the tent to the van. Then he takes mine and the baby's sleeping bags and positions them in the pop-up. Next he places the baby up there and I climb in along side him. Finally he sets up his own little space and we all huddle together in our armored fortress.

The next morning, our ninth wedding anniversary, there are no signs of a bear visitation but a guy from the forest service confirms that the place is teeming with black bears. So we packed up and moved on to Bend, a beautiful city further south with no bears but teeming with exercise fanatics, which makes me and my postpartum body wish we were still in bear country.

After Birth Story by Susie Lubell

Father and Son

The thing about the third time around is that the after part is horrible. Everyone said this would be the case, but I thought how bad could it be compared to pushing out a nine pound human? Turns out, pretty bad. My iron stores were already pretty low and some other blood related thing was low too. Clotting or white blood cell count or some such thing. So for two hours or more after the birth I had nurses and doctors pushing on my abdomen to help expel all of the crap that was hanging around in there. And there was a lot. Nevermind the placenta (which we brought home in a cooler, by the way, and had a friend dehydrate, pulverize and encapsulate for personal consumption. Kooky, to be sure, but good for the healing. And there's a lot of healing going on over here.) I'm talking about tons of blood and clotty bits of ME. Like human tissue. MINE. All this without even considering that I'm already in a world of pain from the 9 POUND BABY I have just passed through my vagina. And while I am grateful for what amounts to only about three hours of labor (as opposed to 28 with my first child and 9 with my second), a fast and furious delivery can often mean a train wreck downstairs, if you catch my drift. So the midwife puts on her seamstress hat and gets to work while the other nurses put on their baker hats and get to work kneading the flabby, doughy blob that is now my midsection.

After some time it appears that I am bleeding too much and there is some fear that something is left behind. Like maybe my lungs are still in there and my heart. Because I am sure that all else has been expelled. So they're weighing the blood and the doctor on call, the one I don't like, comes in to tell me that I will likely need a D&C which is short for drug the new mom and scrape out her contracting uterus with a small tennis racket. Terrific. At this point I sort of don't care, though part of me feels like I went through the trouble of having the baby drug free so it's a little annoying that now I need all of this medical intervention. Meanwhile my midwife is standing behind him mouthing don't worry dahling. We won't need to do it. The doctor's cookoo. The doctor says he'll have to come back in half an hour to see if the bleeding has slowed. That's when I get two shots of something in my thigh, another medication up my tush and a pitocin drip to try and get my uterus to contract, soften up (or maybe harden up - whatever it was supposed to do) and avoid the D&C. It works but the contractions are atrocious. Nevertheless I'm still flying on endorphins so none of it matters. And squishy baby is now being washed off and weighed and poked and rocked and kissed and swayed. Then he pees on Mr. Rosen. All systems are go.

I spend the next day and a half in the hospital getting pricked and poked and cathetered and pressed on. The baby slept both nights in the nursery because as much as I love the idea of rooming in, we'll be rooming in the next 18 years so I'd rather get some rest. Plus, Mr. Rosen was sleeping at home with the kids and there was no way I could get up at night to pick up the baby in a timely manner. Better they bring him in to nurse and hand him to me. It was painful enough just to sit upright in the bed.

My big kids come to visit with Grandma in the morning and they are thrilled with their new brother. My son is actually more thrilled by all of the medical equipment. And my daughter quickly climbs into bed with me. So I pick up my belly and move it to one side to make room for her. The rest of the day is spent getting my ice changed, getting my pee measured, taking ibuprofen and getting my son the snapping turtle to nurse. Good times.

And now it's just a matter of adjusting to our new situation. The first night home Mr. Rosen, in a sleepless fog, asked if we could just let the baby cry (he cried a lot that night. Big baby. No milk. Mad baby). I think we do that at four months, not three days. Lots to remember. Just today I remembered that trick about putting the baby down two hours after they wake up in the morning. Totally worked. Today anyway. Tomorrow is a whole other story...

Birth Story by Susie Lubell


When my due date on June 4th approached I decided to sign up for some acupuncture so we could get this party started. Dr. Lee took one look at my belly and says, "Baby head on side. No good." No kidding Doc. Let's poke him with needles until he gets engaged in my pelvis! What say you? And that's exactly what he did. My mom had come to town two days before so we were fine with coverage and I was starting to worry that this baby was getting too big. Sunday comes and goes. On Monday I decide this is the day. I go to see my midwife in the morning but since she is on call and catching a baby, I see another midwife. I am two centimeters dilated. Not bad. I ask her to strip my membranes which I'm not even really sure what that is but I know it stimulates dilation and is less "messy" than drinking castor oil.  Indeed she does a quick swipe and I grow to three centimeters almost immediately. At 2:30 I have my second appointment with Dr. Lee. He checks the pulse of my right middle finger and concludes, "Baby engaged. Let's make contractions." Let's do it Doc! More needles. I walk home after (how rad that my acupuncturist is two blocks from my house!) and spend the rest of the afternoon getting my stuff organized for the hospital and finishing up some orders.

At 4:30 a package arrives. It's the mezuzah that I ordered a week ago. When we had the house on the market we took down all of our mezuzahs to remove all religious affiliation. What were we thinking? How could we bring a new baby into the house without a mezuzah? So I ordered this one which arrived just in time and I hung it up on the correct side of the door so as not to offend any future carpet cleaners.

At about 5:30 I have a series of random contractions and sort of have the feeling it is showtime. I start making dinner for the kids and then walk over to the dry cleaners to pick up the tablecloth I had them make from this awesome piece of fabric I'd just bought. There is a mariachi band playing at the school across the street. Very festive. Today is definitely the day.

By 6:30 I am keeping track of contractions and texting my husband to get the hell home. I boil some water to make corn. Contraction. I download some paperwork. Contraction. Make the cous cous. Contraction. Hug my kids who are starting to wonder why mommy is leaning against the refrigerator ever five minutes and humming.

him: Is the baby on your vagina?
me: Pretty soon I think.

Mr. Rosen gets home and he gets everything in the car. We say goodbye to the kids and grandma. I am pumped! The hospital is seven minutes away and we arrive at 8:00 pm. My contractions are still pretty manageable but I am quite sure that things will move quickly. I come to learn later that Mr. Rosen is thinking he's in this for the next 10-15 hours and is unsure how he will manage the pain of his pinched nerve while trying to compress my hips during contractions. Brother.

I check in at reception and appear to be fairly calm for a woman in labor. Another midwife is somewhat doubtful based on my appearance that I will deliver any time soon. I remember doing this with my first baby and looking like a lunatic because I have been in labor already 24 hours and arrive at reception at 9 centimeters. This time around things are under control. Indeed, the nurse checks me and I am at 5 centimeters. They hook me to the fetal monitor and Mr. Rosen and I slow dance our way through about a half hour of contractions. My midwife arrives and ties a sheet around my belly to hopefully get the baby's shoulders in line with its head. By now the contractions are getting kind of hairy so I pad over to the shower and Mr. Rosen braces my hips during contractions while nurse Michelle counts them out for me and student nurse Manhung (yes, a lovely male Vietnamese nurse named Manhung, as in Man Hung), sprays my butt and back with warm water. At one point my midwife mistakenly calls him Hungman in her Mary Poppins accent and I'm pretty sure I giggled myself from 8 to 9 centimeters.

After about forty minutes I know it's time and I need to push. The contractions are relentless. Michelle checks me while in the tub with what feels like her whole fist and my water breaks so I hobble out of the tub and walk toward the bed. Meanwhile Manhung and the gang are trying to untie the wet bed sheet that I am wearing like a kimono. Do you have a visual? I come to learn that this is the first birth Manhung had ever attended. Awesome. He can't  wait to get home and tell his new wife so they can hurry up and get pregnant. I can't even get to the bed before I have to push like crazy. I climb onto my side and pull my knee up to my chin and push as hard as I can. The gang is cheering me on. Manhung is shouting that I can do it. Something feels not quite right and my telepathic midwife tells me to roll to the other side when I realize this is exactly how I delivered my daughter. Another push and out came his head. One more push and out came the rest of him including my intestines, uterus, bladder, 30 years worth of swallowed bubble gum, a marble, three dollars and fifty cents, a rubber duckie and a pit bull. All of it. Just pouring out of me. Including about a liter of blood (this part will prove to be kind of scary but mostly annoying later in the story). And then he was on me. This giant, slimy, hairy gorgeous thing that only one second before was on the inside. He's out and I'm high as a kite.

part II to follow.

No rest for the nesting by Susie Lubell

This sparkling oasis is not my bedroom unfortunately. 
It's from the May Anthopologie catalog.

I am officially in crazed nesting mode. Running around buying new pillows. Reupholstering my nursing chair. Desperate for a mid century walnut credenza. And my god if I don't find just the right fitted sheet I might die. This is what brought me to Anthropologie this morning. A single-mindedness so sharp and a belly so large I could only be one thing - a woman in her ninth month.

Unfortunately a woman in her ninth month does not have all her wits about her as she is too focused on putting the final touches on her baby - some more lung tissue, longer eyelashes, a few more feet of intestines and, in our case, seven more inches of hair. She cannot be bothered to remember trivial things like the fact that her husband's bike is strapped to the roof of her car.  For instance.

I pull into the lot and find the closest spot to the entrance because we are having a heat wave and my feet have suddenly swelled to twice their normal size. And this spot is especially lovely as it is under a shady tree. A very low-branched, shady tree, and now with fewer branches, as I plow Mr. Rosen's bike right through it. Oops.

I reverse and pull into a different spot further away, get out and examine the damage. The bike is on its side now, but seemingly intact. With no alternative I hoist myself onto the roof of my black wagon careful to avoid scalding my hands and knees and try to unhook the back tire so I can realign the bike and resume my mission. The wheel does not budge and no matter how I fidget with the strap I can't get it off the back tire.

Do you have an image of what's going on here? There is an eight month pregnant woman in a tank top on the roof of her car wrestling with a mountain bike. And it's me. Hi. So I get down and call Mr. Rosen who is home sick today with a high fever and the sweats. He explains what to do but says he's coming over anyway to be sure my water doesn't break on his mountain bike. Because that would be HORRIBLE. For the bike.

But I don't have patience so I get up there again and follow his instructions, get the bike vertical and strap it on. Now I'm covered in bike grease and shiny with sweat but the bike is back on and I have exactly five minutes to spend at Anthropologie which is exactly how long it takes me to peruse the three items in the sale section. I emerge from the store to find Mr. Rosen tightening the straps to protect me from future harm. What a guy.

Tomorrow I will attempt to re-roof our house. The end.