Israeli children and artistic expression: A war story in pictures

Note: We did not ask our five-year-old to draw anything. We didn’t know what he had been up to when at around 7 this morning he came up to us holding a picture he drew.

Turns out, it’s not a story about a disabled boy who has divorced parents.

“Why are there two houses?”
“One is our house, and one is the miklat.”
“And which one is he going to?”
“The miklat. There is sirens.”
“Why is the sky black?”
“It’s night.”
“Who is this? Is it you?”
“I don’t know yet.”

“You see this? <points to yellow in the sky> I wanted so this will be a star because it’s night.”
“Oh yeah?”
“But now it’s a rocket.”

————————————————————

“This is me and you on a boat in the sea, and that’s <muffled, sounds like Abba> cracking open the sky.”

“That’s what? Abba?”

“No, labba.”

“What’s  labba?”

“Labba is טילים (missiles).”

————————————————————

“Hey, what’s that?”

“What?”

“That symbol you drew.”

“I dunno.”

“Where’d you see it?”

“On Bebe’s shirt.”

“It means shalom – peace.”

“I’m drawing an x on it.”

“Why?!”

“Because I want.”

Nettles update: four months

Oh dear Nettles.

I had so much to say about this month. It’s been a time suck.

At the worst of times, I was at least able to hold you, kiss you, nuzzle you, see you. A luxury not everyone’s had with their loved ones in the last few weeks.

Another luxury I don’t take for granted is how focused you’ve become on your brother and sister. You perk up when you hear them; no matter how ‘busy’ they just were, you’re able to lock eyes and fully capture them. You turn them into mush; you make me understand why so many ‘third’ children come away the way they do.

We’ve taken a new turn, me and you: you manage to work your way around a carpet like a clock and I went back to working in an office after three years at home…

…all this, the same week our country found itself at semi-war. I left you with our trusted metapelet but felt an unhealthy cocktail of unease and guilt and doubt the first few mornings while rockets still threatened Jerusalem and Tzur Hadassah. Somehow, those first few days, the weather cooperated with my mood, creating an ominous backdrop of clouds shading disputed territory on my way into the most challenging city in the world.

But as I self-talked through my doubt during those labored car rides, I remembered why I’m doing this. I want to be my best version of me for you. I feel a responsibility to show you what an empowered, capable, productive woman looks like. What she sounds like. How she feels and loves.

So I’m out there, taking it in, day-by-day, bite-size.

Coming home to your smile and your laughing eyes makes it so much more digestible.

Nettles update: three months

Nettles – welcome to the end of the ‘fourth trimester’. Congrats and you may pick up your diploma at the front desk.

Here’s how you got there:

I could have three babies… thirteen babies… thirty babies… and one thing will never ever get old: The first giggle.

It started a couple weeks ago… the silent laugh. Your brother was a star at it, too. That silent laugh says so much – I’m watching you, I’m hearing you, I like it. 

Like your intense gaze, your constant eye contact, your silent laugh is so telling.

And then you giggled. Like your sister did. A geee here. A gooo there. And then you burst out, full chuckle. That’s how I know we’re going to have some serious fun, Nettles.

And it’s not all laughs… it’s also the smiles, which you are extremely generous with these days – and thankfully, since your big sister is finally getting the affection from you she’s craved after all her hugs, kisses, pats, whispers.

We had a bit of a scare back there, when we thought there was a good chance you’d be diagnosed with hip dysplasia after your first postnatal ultrasound (not every baby is that lucky, right!). After a month of waiting, it looks like you might be in the clear. Go hips!

I’ve also been running around to job interviews. I wonder if any of this professional woman energy will transfer through the breast milk. Reach for the stars, Nettles! Well, even if it doesn’t, you’ve been an excellent sport for the babysitters, so thank you,

On to… boys.

There’s something about you and the boys. Specifically five- to nine-year-old boys. There’s also something so very special about five- to nine-year-old boys. I can count on at least one hand the number of boys who have asked to hold you, have taken care of you, have melted into mush while looking at you in the last month or so.

You’re good for the boys.

Now that’s a life skill, Nettles.

‘Who leaves their baby in a car?!’ Me.

Summer’s officially here. My news feed is filled with barbecues, splashy pools, sandy hair… sunscreen warnings, drowning warnings, leaving-babies-in-cars warnings.

It’s all scary. It’s all out there. And, as far as the last one goes, it’s all judgy. It’s all ‘how the hell does that happen?’ It’s all ‘I would never do that.’

But it happens.

I did it. I left my baby in a car.

So now I can tell you how the hell someone leaves their baby in a car.

I think if you know me you’d say I can get overwhelmed at times, I can be hectic, but on the whole I’m pretty organized. They’ll tell you the wrench that gets thrown in is really the change in routine. That’s what the articles have all said. What parents will admit. One change on an otherwise normal day, and you can get totally thrown off.

In my case, it was a day I was leaving my baby with a sitter to go on a job interview. I’d left her to go on my own a couple times before, so it wasn’t my very first time making a long trek to Jerusalem without her in the back. And when I have done it, I’ve managed to think twice at some point in the ride – is she here? Is she supposed to be? Ok. A lot of the time, she cries at some point on a ride – she doesn’t love the carseat. None of my kids have. So her cries are something I’m just used to. And though I’ve driven without her here and there, those silent drives are still jarring for me.

When she is in the car, I tend to stick my arm back to reassuringly pat her head… feel her soft hair in my fingers and remind myself where I am, where I’m going, and where she’ll be when I do that.

But for some reason, a few weeks ago, I had dropped her off, taken a silent drive into town, done my interview, kicked its ass, taken the silent drive to pick her up, and we went home together.

A few hours later, I loaded her, sleeping peacefully, back in the car for sibling pickup. Made the 4-minute drive to the first gan. Was so pumped on a great interview experience, and there was no wailing from the back – I jumped out of the car, slammed the door, greeted friends on the way in, and didn’t look back.

When I spotted my older daughter in the yard, she ran to me and I picked her up and hugged her. It felt so good! I was cuddling her when one of her ganenot started chatting with me… but I have no idea what she said. A thought had suddenly occurred to me:

Why isn’t it that I always pick her up for a hug?

My stomach completely dropped as I made the slow painful realization.

I’m usually holding a baby. 

I nodded at the ganenet to end the conversation and bent down to my older daughter: ‘I need to run and get your sister from the car; stay here, I’ll be right back.’

I dashed out from the gan and got to the parked car, where baby was sleeping as soundly as… a baby. Which is incredible because she usually doesn’t last more than a minute in the car seat when not moving.

I unlocked the car, swooped in, and took her out. It was a sunny day, a beautiful June day, a seasonable day but not anything special.

My heart was hurting.

It had been no more than 3 or 4 minutes. But I looked at my sleeping baby in my arms, and looked back at the car. It could have easily been a hotter day. It could have easily been a distraction found in one of my friends. It could have easily been a longer conversation with the teacher.

And that is how people end up leaving their babies in cars.

Nettles update: Two months

Good morning Nettles! I can see your big blue eyes so much better now that you’re staring at us all the time. We’ve gone from coaxing smiles out of you to being proactively greeted with them when we come to snuggle.

And, much to your disapproval, we are working on that goddamn tummy time. We have Tipat Chalav in three days and lots of catching up to do… Over the last month I’ve calmed down from the initial shock of having another girl to guide through this life. You could say, I’m breathing through it. Who am I not to take on the incredible role of girlhood sherpa? I made it through relatively ok, right?

And if the way you punch at those hanging stars is any indication, you’ll be just fine too.

Also, here’s a milestone even your older brother and sister haven’t made yet – you aced your first job interview! And when I say job interview, I mean you came with me to one of mine, and when I say aced, I mean you didn’t cry or fuss the whole time! So good for you. Maybe you’re ready to go out there and contribute to this family, huh sister?!

I do have a pang of naturally-allotted mother guilt that you are already with us two months and I feel you haven’t gotten your fair share of attention. I know, I know. It’s just the way it is. Bla bla. That’s what other parents will tell me. But it’s not enough.

I guess when we gave the gift of another sibling to your brother and sister, we were also giving you something incredible, too – coming into a booming, blossoming, active, hilarious household. An experience your older siblings either didn’t know, or only had in muted tones.

So let’s look on the bright side, Nettles. The party started and you arrived at a high. We brought you into a house that already laughs and lives and loves. You’ve brought us another reason to laugh and live and love.

Roar: The art of the dinosaur birthday party

IMG_20140425_153409As we know, Koala plans his birthday months and months in advance. About eleven, I’d estimate. In fact, a couple weeks ago, he asked me if he’s five and a half yet.

He had been requesting a Spiderman birthday for ages. If he had stuck to it, I would have - sigh – done it. With my own twist focused on actual spiders, of course.

But a couple weeks before I sat him down and said, “ok. tachlis (bottom line), what do you want for your party?”

And he answered… dinosaurs.

Jackpot! You must know by now how I feel about the topic. So here’s my review of the dinosaur birthday party we threw our five-year-old about three weeks ago.

It was pretty simple; I recommend it. I already had a bunch of material to use, and the rest I needed was super cheap or free. So here were the party’s ingredients:

  • Decorations, which I (oddly) happened to have
  • An arts and crafts project they could use within the party
  • An arts and crafts project they could take home
  • A reason to get dirty and enjoy
  • Extras (dinosaur printouts for coloring)
  • Games
  • Cake (obviously)
  • (was planning a DIY volcano experiment demonstration, but thought we wouldn’t have enough time; looking back, we totally should have done it)

We decided to take deep breaths and throw the party at home in our apartment, as opposed to last year’s, outdoors. It was a learning experience. The decor: Mostly hanging pterodactyls, strung from the ceiling fans. A set of items I inherited by way of a retired school teacher across the ocean. Crafts project #1: Dino feet. After lunch, the kids designed their own set of dino feet, cut out from construction paper. The idea was they could then wear them for the ‘dino races’ later on (which were essentially variations of the egg-and-spoon race, which these sabra kids thought hilarious). Crafts project #2: Fossils. First, I attempted this for fossil-making Too flimsy for what I wanted to do. So I used DAS clay instead (25 nis, made about 17 or so ‘fossils’). I used plastic dinosaurs (look familiar?) to make the imprint. The kids painted their fossils out on the porch after the… Fossil dig! The ‘get your hands dirty’ part of the party. We filled a giant plastic tub with 60 liters of fresh clean dirt. The kids chose three cards from an envelope; the items listed on each – dinosaur, dinosaur ‘egg’, dinosaur head, dinosaur ‘fossil’ imprint – they had to ‘excavate’ from the tub: And of course… the most fun to prep, the most fun to eat – the cake: My newly five-year-old boy had a roarin’ time. And the aftermath in my dishrack – well the after-aftermath, once the house was put back together – made me smile.

Yom HaZicaron 5774: A little boy asking questions

This evening at the Yom HaZicaron memorial service, my son asked a lot of questions.

‘Who is that boy?’ ‘Who is he talking about?’ ‘His older brother died?’

He asked me to explain what every speaker was talking about. I did.

It made me strongly consider how I’ll look back fondly in thirteen years at this time, at this moment while he is sitting on my lap, his little boy face gazing toward the dark stage, his ears perked up, his eyelids eventually drooping closed, this little boy cuddled in my lap, our legs intertwined,

these moments when he was just a little boy asking questions.

Koala update: Five years

Koala,

We’ve been alluding to and celebrating your turning five for so long that, today, you were kinda over it. So we had a chill family day and I had a few minutes alone with you to really… see you.

Hilarious, hilarious you.

As much as the year before four was rough, something clicked soon after your last birthday. Within a few months I was pregnant, and even before we told you, you were suddenly beaming with a new-found affection. Hugs, kisses, caresses, soft secrets whispered in our ears. Even your questions, your curiosity, came from a rich source of love.

If that’s all I had gotten with a four-year-old boy, I’d have happily gobbled it up. But there was so much more this year.

You’ve gone from being an awesome older brother to continuing to be an awesome older brother, only you and your sister are kind of actually… also really good friends.

We’ve worked on you listening to her, and it’s a work in progress, but when you do I think you know you really benefit. She might have had a small role in nudging you into the world of pretend play. You’ve taken it on naturally, whether your the abba to her ima, the Moses to her Pharoah, or the dog to her… well… not so much loving you as a dog.

Here’s something I’ve confided in you this year; that I always wanted an older brother. I wonder what would have been different if my brother and I switched places. Would it be like you, where even though you’re older, you’re happy to try new things with your sister? Enjoy the things she likes just for the sake of feeling connected? Being inspired by her?

You are taking on responsibility yourself – priding yourself on your ability to help out. I think a lot of that was the evolution you underwent during this pregnancy; you really took in my subtle and not-so-subtle pep talks about life after baby and your new role.

A fun highlight this year: I’ll never forget that breathless moment when you showed me a drawing and I saw your freakin’ name scrawled across the top. Four big, block Hebrew letters that made my heart skip a beat and text your dad right away.

And, moving on, moving up and away… Then there’s my eternal personal conflict, which, I guess is not so personal anymore. You have become undoubtedly aware of our delicate, er, international situation. Family across one ocean, family across a hemisphere, and you have become painfully aware of it. How many times in the last few months have you asked me if we can go to America soon?

We’re lucky that we’ve had all your grandparents and uncles here at some point or another in the last year or so, and you absolutely adore each of them. And we so appreciate how quickly you fall in love… and likewise, that you feel the pain when it’s time for them to go. I wish it didn’t have to be that way. I haven’t figured that one out yet. I’m pretty sure, unfortunately, we just never will.

You are really really thinking things through. You’re definitely an analyzer; that’s been apparent for years. But now it’s that we know you’ll figure out a few steps ahead. And ask deeper questions, more at a time. And call us out on what doesn’t make sense…

About god, for example.

And it’s forcing me to come to terms with the disparity between what I believe or don’t believe, and how I live my life.

And how I choose to explain that to you.

Koala, you are someone I genuinely love to talk to. When we’re together, there are times and subjects I get to explore which I never did when I was a kid, whether because I was uninterested back then or not given the chance.

Thanks for that.