Friday, January 1, 2016

31.12.15 - Lean Left, Choose Life

Another year has gone by, and what a year it has been. Like I said at this exact time last year, this evening will forever be awash with emotion for me because it was right about now, 24 months ago, that I calmly announced during a New Year's Eve party that my water had broken, I'd best be getting a move on. For more on that hilarious episode, click here.

But this year, things are a little different.

As many of you will likely know, my mother Karen passed away in September. As some kind friends and family helped me remember afterwards, at her funeral I pointed out the fact that her passing was not a tragedy; she had in fact been "gone" for many years, and this corporeal exit from the world was in many ways the kindest gift she could have received, for she is now at peace.

Mom was never at peace, I think. That may well have been the biggest tragedy. Somehow, through all of the turmoil she experienced, as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, as someone who battled with mental illness perhaps her entire life, as a shy, tiny woman who struggled to find true friendship and intimacy with others, she managed to hold together a marriage, work, raise three balanced, (moderately) respectful, loving children and even volunteered for community events.

But she was always in pain. Always fighting. Constantly at war with a world in which she felt she could never have control.

All of these things are easy to say three months after the fact. The truth is, I haven't yet cried over her death. Not properly, whatever the hell that means. I've cried at seeing my brother in pain; I've cried over the inexplicable, cruel losses my friends have suffered recently; I've cried over being exhausted from work and scared I'm not doing a good job on any front in my life - professionally, parentally, as a spouse, a friend, a sister.

Maybe that's all crying over her. But I don't think so, and here's why.

Mom's alzheimer's was already rapidly developed by the time Ella was born. I think she may have had some basic cognition about the fact that I'd given birth, and even to a girl. I think, but I'm not sure, that she understood that Ella was named for her mother (or at least the EL from Helen) at whose stonesetting I'd realized I was pregnant. It was what mom would have wanted, but in my typical fashion, not the way she would have actually wanted it, but she was no longer able to get angry at me about it. In an almost crueller way, she just never acknowledged the existence of this child for whom I'm watching my husband blow up a million balloons for as I write, a fact which is making my eyes well with tears right now.

But that's not quite it either.

Although I know that such things aren't really concrete until the age of three or four, my little about-to-be-two-year-old seems, thus far,  to be distinctly left handed.

Why this is so important to me, despite the fact that at certain angles Ella looks a ridiculous amount like my late mother (and tantrums rather similarly too) is that mom was left handed. Her mother, in the fifties, went to great pains to switch her over to being right handed. Even so, I still remember distinctly that she always held her fork with her left, her coffee cup, her Virginia Slims, tightly with a southpaw. When I began kindergarten in 1987 my mother realized, after cleaning up my crayon murals off the walls, that I too was left handed and started switching my hand over to the right as well. When I took up the guitar at age 11, even though I wrote with my right hand, I still wanted to play on my left and initially started playing upside down. It took my parents and guitar teacher months to get me to switch it.

Oh, I'm also stubborn, btw.

As is, of course, the force of nature that is my daughter, Ella Sasha Zimmer. She's stubborn, determined, luminescent, brave, clever, beautiful and kind. She beats the world every day and then gives it and her beloved koala a giant hug. She'll scream down the house until she gets her way, and cover you in kisses once she does. She runs out the back door after her bath butt naked and shares all of her meals with the dog.

With her left hand.

Baby girl, I am NEVER, EVER going to switch your hand, slow you down or refuse to acknowledge you for exactly who you are. Times have changed, and the chain gets broken here. When I look at you, I see all of the past generations of women in our family who were never given the chance to be who they really were. My sole responsibility, I believe, is to give you and your brother all of those chances and more. Along every step of the journey, I will be right here to hold your hand, whichever one you decide to give me, and together we will move forward and choose life.

When mom died and I had to hop on a plane very suddenly, I used the same metaphor my brother did with his daughter to explain to my kids that grandma had gone to become a star in the sky. She was no longer here with us on Earth, but she would always be with us if we looked up and beyond.

Happy Birthday my beautiful Luli. I love you to the moon and back, and all of the stars in between.

Monday, January 5, 2015

05.01.15 - "And he lived" - VaYechi

As I sit here trying to write my Jewish studies class for tomorrow I'm finding myself overwhelmed.

This week's Torah portion, VaYechi, is the end of the Book of Genesis, and describes in detail the moments before Jacob's death; how he blessed Joseph's sons, the younger receiving the blessing instead of the elder; the way he prophesied the future for each of his twelve sons; the way he insisted on returning home.

It all means so, so much in my world.

January, now, is such an incredible time for me. The month begins with celebrating the birth of my daughter. Tomorrow night, my husband will light a memorial candle for his mother Judy, of blessed memory, who passed away six years ago. Just a few days later, on the tenth, I will light a memorial candle for my father, Al, of blessed memory, who passed away four years ago.

When Judy passed away, it was just a few months after we had moved to Israel. We flew back to Australia and were there almost as long as we had been in Israel. When dad passed away I was five months pregnant with my son, in Tel Aviv, and flew back to Melbourne that very night.

Sons. Blessings. Returning home.
Endings making way for new beginnings.

The world is most certainly a different place than I ever could have imagined it even a year ago. "Home" now has several meanings. So much has changed. So much can never change again.

With every change, with every hurdle we overcome and milestone we achieve, we shape and mould and recreate. We sew together memories with present events to create a patchwork quilt of our current reality, our lives and their meaning. We remind our children of whose names they bear and why, what their legacy to impart on the world was, their influence, their essence. We raise a glass to who they were, and we bless and drink to the future of what our children will be.

That 3000 year old book gets me, every single time.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

31.12.14 - A year ago today...

At this time of year, it's not uncommon to cast your mind back to where you were and what you were doing 365 days earlier. It occurred to me that this is a great opportunity to share with you the series of hilarious events that led up to birth of my daughter Ella, whose first birthday we are preparing to celebrate on Thursday, a fact I can barely wrap my head around. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It's pretty funny.

The birthday girl, on her throne. Woo!

December 31st, 2013 - Tel Aviv, Israel

Another day in the office. Heading into work on foot, like I always did, after dropping my son Judah at daycare, my husband Ilan sent me a text message reminding me I'd had another hard night coughing, and that I needed to sit down with my boss to explain that though my due date was two weeks off, I might need to start my maternity leave early since I simply wasn't shaking this bout of sinusitis/tonsilitis.

I nodded and switched on my music, revelling in my 25 minute walk, the most alone time I was afforded during the day.

Throughout the course of that morning, my friend Einat, the company graphic designer, kept telling me to go home, lest I cough the baby out on the floor, sweetheart that she is. I made a cup of tea, smiled and thought I'd act upon my husband's text message. I popped my head into the marketing managers' door and sat down. Slowly. I was 105 weeks pregnant, after all.

To my luck, pregnancy was the name of the game at that time at work. I, the head of business relations and not that anyone else knew, but Einat the graphic designer were all pregnant, as was the wife of google optimiser in our team. My boss, whom I was about to plead with,  also had a pregnant wife at home. Surely he'd be sympathetic, understanding, at a minimum, fair. But to my disbelief, he basically begged with me to stay at least one more week, since they hadn't yet found an adequate replacement and there were too many sensitive items on my "to do" list. To bolster his argument, he brought in the CEO who gave me a whole "you're very hard to replace" spiel and I eventually just nodded and smiled and started thinking about lunch and how I was going to explain this to Ilan.

Lunchtime came and I went and got hummus with extra spicy pickles with my friend Eli. Mmmmm hummus. As was our office custom at the time, we all ate together, and as of late, everyone laid out their bet of when which baby would arrive first. Einat had been convinced that NYE was my date but lo and behold there I was at the table. She moved me up to Jan 5th, even though my date was the 12th, but she and Ruth, the head of media and mother of two, reminded me that second kids come earlier.

Whatevs. I really enjoyed those pickles. Hummus was a good choice, Eli.

After lunch we took a birthday picture for Anat, our affiliate manager, wishing her a happy birthday and sent it to her on her vacation in Europe. I couldn't even sit down properly on the couch where we gathered to take the picture. My team laughed at me.

The day went by as per usual, and I wished my friends happy new year as I headed out the door to pick up my son. On the way home my husband called to say he wasn't feeling 100%, so would stay home with our son tonight rather than get a babysitter and join me at my best friend Gemma's NYE party. I impressed upon him the fact this might be our last chance to go out together for a while; he said nah, we've got time, relax.

After our usual snack and play at the park with friends, I headed home with my son, fed, bathed and put him to bed and headed off to Gem's party. A workmate of my husband's stopped by just before I left to borrow our baby car seat for a visiting family member. He kept asking "are you sure you guys don't need it?" but we were both confident that there was no rush; I wasn't due for two weeks and was heading out partying anyway.

So off I went to south Tel Aviv, where the cool kids live, far more exciting than where we were living, babytown Old North Tel Aviv. The bus ride is about 25 minutes depending on traffic and the bus was pretty full. I was wearing a heavy cardigan and jacket and was immersed in my phone. There wasn't much room on the bus so I decided to stay towards the front near the driver rather than head into the mess. Maybe two stops from where I needed to alight, the 60-some-year old woman who had been sitting in the front seat (usually reserved for elderly, frail and pregnant folk) starts yelling at me in Hebrew for having stood the whole trip; she couldn't see I was pregnant under the jacket how she supposed to know? Why did I make her do that?

Israelis tend to be hilarious like that.

I got to my friends apartment and was greeted warmly, had my jacket taken and I recounted my bus story. This was appreciated by friends but no one more so than my friend Elana (Lan), who was due just a few weeks after me. We sat on the couch and ate the best party food, discussing how much we were looking forward to going to bed soonish and how stupidly people behave towards pregnant women. I laughed at something she said and excused myself to go to the bathroom, like I did every 20 minutes or so.

Except when I got there I realised I didn't need to pee; my water had broken. It was 9pm.

I think my absolutely clearest memory of that night was sitting there chuckling to myself about how textbook this was. And how I totally hadn't finished packing my hospital bag. And then rifing through Gem's medicine cabinet trying to find a pad. Because that would really help right now.

I walked back into the party to see Gem and Lan deep in discussion, and some odd part of me decided to be super polite and wait patiently until they were done, about three minutes later. From what must have been a silly grin on my face, they both asked me "what's up" and I mentioned hey, my water broke so I should probably go now.


So off we went. I texted Ilan quickly to say my water had broken, could he call his sister (to take Judah for the night), oh and finish packing my bag. Please and thanks.

Lan and her husband, Uri, had parked right outside and helped whisk me out the door. For reasons I think only Uri can explain, we took a relatively scenic route home via Sde Dov airport, and Lan kept impressing upon me that I should take my time, shower, lie down a bit, make a sandwich - labor can take hours. I nodded and smiled, definitely thinking a shower was in order considering the Yarkon river was running down my jeans and apologised repeatedly for ruining their car upholstery. As I got out of the car, she squeezed my hand, smiled and said "you'll be great - keep me updated."

I walked in the front door to find Ilan in a mild state of happy panic, which was probably really minor shock. His sister, Ronit, arrived a few minutes later and we bundled Jude out of bed to start our adventure. There was no time for a shower or even a change of pants, much to my dismay. But you gotta go with the flow, literally. Ronit was grinning and so excited, and mentioned how calm I seemed. Which I was - contractions hadn't really started and I found the water breaking part just so proscribed I giggled. But then I realized I hadn't packed my medical forms, which the labor team needs. So they dropped me at the entrance of the hospital with my bag and raced home to get my folder.

9.45pm and I'm sitting out the front of Lis, Ichilov's maternity hospital, playing on my phone, appreciating the cool night air, knowing I'm going to be stuck inside for a little while. In the yellow shadow of the streetlight, I suddenly notice drops on the ground and realize I should perhaps head inside. I've leaked right through my pants.

Very good.

I sit down at the front desk and explain I'm there because my water broke so you know, admit me. These veteran nurses, who see this every moment of every day, are not moved. I fill out the paperwork quietly and patiently and explain my husband just popped home to get my medical forms, he should be in any minute. I head off to do a few tests, play on my phone a little more, and take a seat in the waiting room, looking like I've rightly pissed myself (serves me right for wearing olive green maternity jeans). Ilan eventually arrives, a little paler than usual, to find me in the waiting room chatting to my friend Tanya who lives in Haifa, who had just called to say happy new year, what are you up to and I mention I'm at the hospital etc.

Keep you posted. Cheers.

For the next hour or so, Ilan and I waited, watched and basically laughed. Maybe out of nerves, maybe out of boredom. Because of his addiction to it at the time, and the fact we weren't totally square on the name, he kept referring to the baby as "candy crush" and I kept threatening divorce. At this point I'm sitting in a puddle and starting to have contractions. It's 11.15 and I still haven't been seen, and it seems like every woman in Tel Aviv is going into labor. The nurses are chatting in a corner and wishing mazal tov to a guy whose wife delivered in seven minutes. Isn't that swell? Ilan suddenly jumps up and gets a nurses attention, drawing attention to the fact that we're up to our ankles in amniotic fluid, little help? And so I was seen.

So I'm finally on a bed and being examined. Two centimetres they tell me, you're ok, and tend to other patients. Ilan and I return to the candy crush debate, and the fact they can't seem to read my paperwork properly, and why is this guy besties with the nurses? We laughed some more, checked in with Ronit to see that Judah was asleep, and then suddenly it began to hurt.

I mean seriously, hurt.

The nurse comes to check me to tell me I'm actually seven centimetres dilated and let's get you upstairs. Ok cool. Off we go. Except something, which I'm yet to find out, happened and I was left in the middle of the lobby by the orderlies taking me to the elevator for about ten minutes. Literally, next to the front desk, about 10 feet from the front door. Covered in a sheet, now soaking wet with all sorts of nasty stuff. And my body splitting in two. And no one doing anything.

By chance, a midwife was walking by and seemed to recognize me, and noticed my predicament. She was in fact the first midwife on shift when my son was born, though she hadn't seen me through to the end, she clearly recognized me in that state. She came over, told me to breathe and managed to get orderlies to get me upstairs. I'm not 100% sure she was on duty but from that moment she was. She stayed by my side and made them open up a new room for me. As the lights and equipment were turned on she started asking me questions and looking at my paperwork. She asked if I wanted an epidural, to which I responded "please God yes now" but then informed me with a chuckle as she checked under the sheet that it's a little late, we can see the baby's head.

That was the moment I got scared.

I wasn't scared for the baby - it was clear to me she knew exactly what she was doing and had plans. Ilan looked at me with a great big smile and said "ok here we go - squeeze my hand if it hurts!" and I thought I'd murder him once I came to because I was clearly about to fall unconscious and what the hell was he smiling about the universe was making its way out of my lady parts. I wasn't prepared for this and really wasn't sure I could maintain consciousness. I was suddenly so dizzy and hot and parched. I barked at Ilan to get me water and drop it on my head, which he did after I noticed he was shaking out the broken bones in his hand. The midwife and another off duty nurse who came by to help were encouraging me to push and I apparently was, though I don't recall having the strength to do so. After what felt like the most painful 30 seconds of anyone's life, ever, they told me to stop pushing, and I was terrified. Why stop? What's happening?

The world went silent and froze.

And then the most gorgeous goo-covered, mop-headed, angry little smurf entered the world, was placed upon my belly, then my chest, and made her own way to the mummy buffet.

12.15am, January 1, 2014.

Ella my love, Daddy, Judah and I haven't stopped smiling since the second you were born. Thank you so much for choosing us. We'll do our best to make sure there are fireworks in your honor every year. Happy first birthday baby girl.

I sent this photo to the marketing department whatsapp group mentioning I wouldn't be in today. 
First whole family photo, even if daddy is merely a reflection

Saturday, December 6, 2014

05.12.14 - Some recent realisations

Here's a bunch of things I wish I had never introduced my kids to:
-Goldfish crackers (especially in the car)
-Bananas (kinda anywhere)
-My bed

And this is why:
1. Goldfish crackers, once they enter you car-sphere, never leave. I'm pretty sure they multiply and cover everything in fine cheese dust. And vote Republican.
2. Bananas become a part of every piece of clothing you own, and you never know when it happened. Sneaky yellow bastards.
3. Cheerios, like goldfish crackers, can be found in every crevice of your house. They lack cheese dust but spread their own dust when you unwittingly step on them in your socks.
4. I deserve to sleep in my bed without you climbing on my face. I just got sleep back. Stop ruining it.

But then this happens:
-I'm just still so incredibly thrilled by every time I see my kids eat I don't care.
-I'm so tired I could fall asleep bent over backwards on a fire hydrant.

And without a shadow of a doubt, I just couldn't imagine my life any other way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

03.9.2014 - Same Same...but different

When you have a baby, there are three general things you get "told" when you interact with others:
-Who they look like
-How much hair they have
-What they seem to want (because you didn't actually know)

I find this amusing simply because how has it not occurred to anyone that you, the primary caregiver would know these things, considering you spend every waking (and unconscious) second with this child? Does the amount of hair they have actually have an impact on their future 401k? Were you entirely unaware of them being tired, hungry or just thrilled to have their toes in their mouth?

I'm not mentioning this because I'm particularly pissy at anyone or anything. It just makes me laugh, s'all. I never know if it's just like talking about the weather, or if people genuinely think I need to hash out these pressing concerns. Either way, what never seems to come up, and is a totally huge recent revelation on my part, is the fact that I just didn't give credit to my second child being nothing like my first.

It's not as stupid as it sounds. I'm realising, or at least feeling, that the reason we have more than one child is because we worked out the first one. No joke. Desires towards big families aside, I think it's safe to generalise that most people, once they've had a kid tend to want a sibling for them. I honestly believe you only consider that notion once you've got the first one "working" - eating, sleeping, teething, crawling, etc. Once they are in verb form, you begin to understand that you might be physically and emotionally capable of doing this all over again with another creature that you can love just as much. That in itself is enormous. And wonderful. And misleading.

You embark on the journey again. You start trying, see how long that lasts, and you get to wave around another pee-covered stick in elation. And then all the pregnancy stuff kicks in so much quicker than last time. Your body already knows what to do, plus you notice less because you're running after a maniacal toddler (that's not knocking my son - that's just calling a spade a spade.) And then, with decidedly less pomp and circumstance and definitively more cartoons and soggy cheerios, a new, beautiful soul comes into the world, and you are so much more confident, so much calmer, so definitely in for the shock of your life. Because this new little person is their own, and no matter how much you think you know what to expect, you just don't.

Now, perhaps my experience is unique because it was a girl this time, because she was born at a different time of year, or because we moved countries and I wasn't as "strict" with routine considering the circumstances. Maybe. But I was convinced that #2 would certainly be a piece of cake because I had #1 in full working order by the time he was four months old - sleeping through the night, eating like an olympic champion, crapping on a schedule I could set my watch to. No worries. Thing is though, my daughter is not my son, nor should I ever have "expected" her to be anything like him. They aren't twins; they're siblings. And even if they had shared the womb at the same time, they would still be two different people, fully deserving of respect, attention and appreciation in their own right, in their own way.

It has, unfortunately, taken me this long to sit down and acknowledge that fully, and realising that whatever parenting failures I have been feeling throughout her infancy aren't necessarily failures but in fact just her rules for how she wants to be treated. I owe it to her to sit up and listen, and I need to give myself a little more credit for simply being human. As well, what I see this time around is completely different than the first time. There are plenty of things that she does better than her older brother, both when he was her age and even now (like, being quiet. Or eating broccoli. Or not stepping on my broken toe) so its incumbent upon me to notice that, to not compare but rather respect and celebrate both of my kids as the individuals they are.

It's a tricky job, this parenting gig, and its nuances are far more complex than her having my nose or the way he walks exactly his father.  Once we begin to respect those differences and those things we don't know, rather than harp on the similarities and what we think we do, I feel like we begin to give everyone the fair chance they deserve.