Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moving and birthdays

Now that things have calmed a bit around here, I'm at leisure to sit down for a few minutes and write a longer update, probably the last one before Rosh Ha-Shana, which is Wednesday evening. Some of you might remember that Rosh Ha-Shana will also be the first birthday of our Tehilla, who was born last year just a few hours after the holiday candles had been lit all around Israel. How very thankful, endlessly thankful I am for the blessing of this dear, sweet, beautiful daughter, who gives us joy every day and every moment of her precious life.

I vividly remember the weeks leading up to her birth, and the mounting anxiety as 40, 41, 42 weeks were counted, and no signs of approaching labor appeared. We weren't really worried, but we did grow impatient to hold her in our arms, closer to the end. And finally, here she was, just on *her* right time - 43 weeks and 3 days, a quick, natural and uncomplicated birth. A miracle. She was born with a visible defect in her foot, a misplaced bone which the pediatrician warned us will never be quite corrected, and will only improve with extensive physiotherapy. There were many tears and prayers, and when she went through an orthopedic examination, only 5 days after her birth, there was *no* defect to be found. Both her tiny pink feet were smooth and perfect, and such they remain. Another miracle. 

She was born tongue-tied, but despite this obstacle, we are still nursing successfully, and she also shows signs of becoming an early talker. Truly there is no end of things to be thankful for. 

Since starting this blog way back a few years ago, I got married, had two children, and moved four times, two of them with my husband and I as a family. Moving is always hectic; last time we did it, I was pregnant and all the bending, lifting, packing and unpacking was a real strain on my back. This time, I wasn't pregnant, but we now have two children and much more accumulated possessions than we had when we were only married 6 months. In the haste of packing, I had no time to weed through it all and decide what we can do without, so I just shoved it all into boxes, and I'm decluttering as I'm unpacking. I already have two big boxes of books, clothes and toys I forgot we even had, which is a sure sign we can safely give them away and never miss them.

I don't have access to the camera yet, so all I have to describe our beautiful surroundings is my humble words. I hope you will bear with me. Just as we set foot in this house, I told my husband, "this is the kind of place I have always dreamed of living in"; so many things spelled h-o-m-e to us right away. The private little path with gravel crunching under our feet, the lovely wooden front porch which merges into a wraparound verandah with gorgeous mountain view. On our first morning here, I went outside to the verandah and had my breath taken away by the beauty of the mountains, and the mist hanging about them, first grey and then golden, and then slowly dispelled by the rising sun. 

Compared to our previous home, which we also loved, and in which we were very happy, this house has many more windows and so much more light and air. I'm happiest when I bask in the sunshine, which makes it lucky we live in Israel!

The bedrooms and office have wood plank floors, which give such a warm, inviting atmosphere. In Israel, you'll find tiled floors pretty much everywhere. Tiles are the practical, easy-to-clean choice, and they make the summer heat more bearable, but nothing can beat my undying love for wooden flooring. Even if it's more work to clean them. ;o)

The man who built this house is a wonderfully ingenious inventor, who did all the planning himself. He also planted extensively, and left us with many lovely trees, plants and a beautiful grape vine which wraps around part of the verandah. This reconciled me somewhat with leaving our grape vines behind, back in our old home. All in all, I'm thankful for being placed here, at this season of our life as a family, and we intend to make most of every day. 

I do hope to have pictures soon, though probably not as soon as I hoped, as I doubt I will be able to squeeze in another post before Rosh Ha-Shana. In the meantime, I would like to thank all you dear friends for the warm, kind and encouraging messages you sent our way through email and in the comments. 


Mrs. T

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We have moved...

... to one of the loveliest, most special houses I have ever seen. This explains my blogging absence. I hope to have the camera again soon, and to post pictures of the local beauties, with a longer update. In the meantime, you can imagine how much there was (and is) to be done, and how tired yet satisfied we are. Anyway, the move is behind us, and here we are, alive and well!

I will try to keep in mind that the degree of exhaustion and confusion in a big move is almost the same as in having a baby. Next time a new family moves in, I will do my best to cook and deliver a nutritious meal for them. To be sure, there's enough to do without having to think about dinner when you can't even find your kitchen utensils, let alone time to cook.

Time is still very short and I must make use of every spare minute, so I will say goodbye for now.


Mrs. T

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Going on a break

My husband and I are approaching a particularly hectic period of our lives, during which I won't have enough time or thought to spare for blogging, and so I'm sitting down to write that I'm going on a break. I'm not sure how long it will be, perhaps some weeks. Not that I'm resolved against blogging, however sporadically, during this time, but I don't want anyone to sit wondering where I have disappeared.

Just in case, to make sure no one is worried, I will tell that we are all well and healthy, simply very busy, and I hope to be back with plenty of fun and interesting updates.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy at home

A reader says, "I know of several stay-home moms who have filthy homes and put their kids in front of the TV while they chat on the phone all day. I know several working mothers for whom working fulfills them as people, energizes them, and gives them more energy, patience, and attentiveness for their families. Different scenarios work for different people."

First off, just the fact that a mother stays home does not make her automatically better than the mothers who also work outside the home. If the stay-at-home mother has no vision, no self-discipline, no goal of serving her family through devoting most of her time to them, she might well slip into habits of laziness, selfishness and self-indulgence. The most precious resource wives and mothers at home have is their own time. Since no one stands over us to make sure we don't waste it, it's important that we do it ourselves.

Second, I have often heard women say, "oh, I could never stay at home full-time, it would drive me crazy" - yet when the arguments are analyzed, often it turns out that their desire to work outside the home actually has to do with things that aren't strictly related to their work. Most women here where I live don't have very ambitious careers, they have jobs. They are secretaries, preschool teachers, school social workers, school psychologists; for many of them, the issues with which they deal at work are similar to what they face at home (whiny toddlers or disobedient teenagers, for example). Yet what prompts them to go out and take care, for example, of someone else's kids instead of focusing on their own? 

"Going to work stimulates me to dress up nicely, get out of the house, talk to people," I often hear. Well, you know what? If I were to be stuck within four walls wearing my frumpiest clothes for weeks on end, I would probably become depressed pretty quickly! I might not dress up every day, but I always put on such clothes as wouldn't make me blush if an unexpected visitor comes along. Besides, it's my husband I want to look pretty for, not strangers! And we go out every day. Co-workers are not the only people with whom one can socialize. Admittedly, for me meeting fellow moms is quite easy - all I need to do is step out to the playground. Some need to go out of their way to make social contacts, but I can't think of a situation when it might not be possible at all.

Some say they must work for the money. Interestingly enough, those are often women who work as preschool teachers or social workers (both are low-paid jobs in Israel), while their husbands work very nice jobs with good salaries. So, they do have something at the end of the month left after daycare and travel costs are deduced, but it isn't that much compared to what their husbands make. Now, for some families this little something might be all that enables them to pay their rent or mortgage, but for some, it's no more than a perk-up they are perfectly capable of doing without. The peace and stability and the gentler rhythm of life that are gained by having a mother at home are worth it, even if it means living simply and reducing costs. 

Another thing to remember is that you can't plan special moments with your family. You can't say, OK, I finish work at 6, come home at 7, and until 8 p.m. the children will have the time of their life with me, which will make up for me being absent all day long. It just doesn't work this way. A relationship is built around the mundane, around the daily rhythm of breakfast, play time, lunch, a walk, dinner... and the spontaneous moments in between, when your child reaches to take your hand, or runs to you to show you a curious something they have found. Things like that cannot be scheduled in advance. They are lived moment by moment, day by day. 

It is true not all families fit the same mold. Sometimes a father is absent, sometimes the family is going through a period of illness, debt, or other stress. I just feel we ought to always think what we value most. What is truly precious, what will matter as we approach the winter of our days.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Questions about Jewish life in Israel

I received a couple of questions about life in Israel by email which I would like to share with you here.

Mrs. P writes: "I was very surprised to learn from your blog that in Israel, (the "epicenter" of the Jewish faith, if you will) the norm seems to be mothers putting their kids in day care.

Are Hasidic people and Orthodox Jews a minority in Israel? I always just assumed Israel was very traditional, like the small traditional Jewish neighborhoods here in Manhattan and Brooklyn."

In historical perspective, it must be remembered that the founders of the modern State of Israel were, upon the whole, highly secularized European Jews with strong communist influence. Many of them were only reminded of their being Jewish by the terrible persecution of Jews and the tragedy of Holocaust. Their motive in coming here was not religious, but rather, a blend between the nationalistic and the defensive: "I do not believe in the G-d of Israel, I do not adhere to Jewish tradition, but Jews must have their own homeland so they can properly defend themselves against antisemitism."

This attitude explains the essence of Israel as a secular, not a religious state; also, from here you can trace the influence of the kibbutz, the social-communist unit, on the overall Israeli culture. Another obviously communist hint is the compulsory service of women in the army, a practice unheard of anywhere else in the world.

Of course, many religious Jews came to settle Israel as well, but upon the whole, the policy was and is secular, and furthermore, many religious Jews who came from less developed countries, such as the area of the Magreb and Yemen, were pressured to leave their "primitive" ways. 

Today, the society of Israel consists of a wide spectrum, from the completely secular (which used to be a majority, but are proportionally shrinking because they simply did not produce enough children to uphold that status) to somewhat traditional, to religious of various lifestyles, Hassidim of different groups, and more. It's really a very heterogenous society, which is part of what makes living here so interesting.

Regarding daycare: I think that upon the whole, it is of course more acceptable to stay home with one's children in religious communities, but even here, most women work outside the home. Some of them have very large families, which of course makes it all even  more stressful. And in the stricter Orthodox circles, where the husband studies in the Yeshiva full-time for a measly scholarship, often the wife works outside the home to support him, a practice which I find extremely unfair.

Following the last point, Miss S. asks: "What do you think about Kollel families? You mention many times that you think it is extremely important for a woman to be a homemaker, but of course, that is only possible if the husband works full time to be the breadwinner of the family. In Jerusalem, there are many families where the woman is the breadwinner and sends her babies to daycare at 3 months old because the husband is learning in Kollel all day and not earning anything beyond a measly stipend. If women are meant to be homemakers and men the breadwinners, then why is the Kollel family model more typical amongst religious families in Israel?"

I have shared my view on this beforeIn a nutshell, my thoughts are as following: in the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, the husband takes upon himself the explicit obligation to support his wife. No religious studies may allow him to say this responsibility is now lifted off his shoulders. It is extremely unfair and taxing for a mother of a young growing family to also be the main breadwinner. Also, it seems, in the circles where it is common, there is an unhealthy attitude telling girls they are not spiritual enough unless they give up their right to financial support from their husbands. Some perhaps can pull it off without obvious damage to their health and sanity, but far too many are exhausted and worn out.

The practical solution, in my eyes, would be to reduce the number of full-time scholars. Not every man is meant to immerse himself entirely in study, and a society based on a large percentage of Torah scholars cannot function without unjustly burdening those who work. In my opinion, only the most talented should dedicate all their time to studying Torah. This would make it possible to give them higher scholarships and the possibility to honorably support their families without putting an impossible burden on the wife.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The miracle

Every mother has vivid memories of the moment when her newborn child was placed in her arms for the first time. Every mother can recall the overwhelming rush of emotions - the wonder, the exhilaration, the all-encompassing love - that engulfed her as she held her babe to her breast, felt the warmth of the little fragile body, examined the tiny fingers and toes - G-d's perfect creation.

But such a peak of emotion does not and cannot last. Soon, our life is settled into a routine, and those of us who are mothers to babies and toddlers know that this routine includes nursing, diaper changes, a vast deal of laundry, mashing up bananas, breaking up fights, messy play, sand from the sandbox all over the house, sticky finger marks on the recently cleaned windows, bath time turned into a water fight, and many other, sometimes endearing and sometimes frustrating, marks of our precious little ones' early years. 

There is a lot of fun along the way, but sometimes we feel exhausted, overwhelmed, or too busy, too caught up in the daily grind to perceive much beauty around us. Sometimes we aren't even sure what it is, exactly, that we are doing. Especially if you are the only one in your surroundings to keep your toddler at home with you, sometimes you end up wondering whether you are wrong to be doing differently, whether the common, easy and neat way to dispose of children throughout the day isn't better. In particular when you have no extraordinary achievments to boast of, nothing evident at which you could point and say, "see, it is obvious that my child is doing better than other children, and that's why she is better off being at home with me."

It is understandable to be discouraged sometimes when there is no immediate reward for what we are doing, when the investment we put in will sometimes take decades to show results. 

But last night, as I put my children to bed, one look at my soon-to-be-3-year-old brought back that rush of love and gratitude, of excitement and devotion, that I felt back when she was put in my arms, in the very first moments of her becoming part of this world. "I have a daughter!" I cried, "It is a miracle!"

I may not be a perfect mother; no, I will never be a perfect mother, but I am the only mother these children will ever have. No kindness or affection of other people can replace or overshadow the importance of a mother in the child's life, and so my job is to take step after step, day after day, growing in gentleness and gratitude, and being always there for my children, physically as well as spiritually. 

As their little personalities are in a large proportion influenced and changed by my attitude, so I am challenged and changed by their presence in my life, and so we all are guided, molded and shaped by the kind and wonderful G-d who placed us all together on this journey. 

And this is our own private miracle.