I just got a new bicycle. She’s shiny and purple, and I’ve named her Anastasia Beaverhausen (don’t ask.) Her lines are sleek and aerodynamic, her seat comfortable, and there’s a small black bell on the left handle that I enjoy ringing whenever the mood strikes. (Which is often.)
With her flawless bone structure and neon purple flash, she’s a perfect combo of class and crass, and I think ours is the beginning of a beautiful friendship
Anyway, it’s true: You never forget how to ride a bike. Anastasia is the first bicycle I’ve ridden since the pink Strawberry Shortcake two wheeler I got when I was 7, and each afternoon when I take her out for a spin before I pick up the kids at gan, sensory memory takes over, and if I close my eyes (just for a second) when riding through the fields, I can pretend that I’m a kid again, the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair, and, oh crap, I think I swallowed a bug.
It’s the most free I’ve felt in… years, actually. My heart pounds. My mind empties. I may be a five minute ride from my children, but the distance feels like light years: My body is all mine again. All that exists in that moment when I careen through the fields is the sun and sky and the tick tick tick of the wheels spinning over and over and over.
And then, when I leave the fields and ride along the roads of the kibbutz, people call out to me: “Tidchadshi! Congratulations on the new bike!”
OK, in theory, it’s nice that people notice. It’s nice that people care. But it isn’t just the bike. Or the tank top I ordered from oldnavy.com. Or the pair of sandals I bought in Tel Aviv. Whenever I wear something on the kibbutz that I haven’t worn before, several people – at least two of whom I’ve never spoken with before in my entire life– will say something: “Oh, you’re wearing a new shirt! I see you have new shoes! Are you sporting new underwear? Is that a different brand of deodorant I smell?”
The gossip mill on the kibbutz works overtime, and the Mossad ain’t got nothing on the intelligence over here: You walk out of the health clinic at 10:00 am, and by 4:00 pm four people will ask you if you’re feeling OK. You pick up a pack of tampons at the convenience store, and your husband gets sympathetic looks and pats on the shoulder for the rest of the week.
And for me, coming from LA where I can wear whatever I want without running commentary, where I can pick up condoms at the pharmacy without knowing looks and the inevitable “what? You don’t want more kids?” this way of living rattles me. Sure, everyone is public domain on the kibbutz. But because I’m an outsider and only exist vis-à-vis B. –the grandson of one of the kibbutz’s founding members, everything I do is closely analyzed with scientific precision beneath that lens. In the eyes of the kibbutz, I am B.’s wife and M. and Little Homie’s mother. (And an American who wears stripper stilettos because it’s summer, and I’ve had to ditch the high heel hooker boots.)
And that’s it.
(As if leaving behind my family and friends and free shipping at sephora.com, not to mention the ease of navigating the peaks and pitfalls of parenting on familiar geographic, linguistic and cultural terrain, weren’t enough, turns out I had to ditch my identity at the El Al ticket counter: “Sorry, Lady – You are only allowed eight suitcases. You have to leave that one behind.”)
And as soon as we arrived on the kibbutz, wherever I went – the hader ohel, the convenience store, the clinic, the bathroom, didn’t matter—people would ask me: “Shel mi at? Who do you belong to?”
“Um, myself?” I wanted to say. (Unfortunately, my Hebrew wasn’t good enough to fire back, and before I could speak, someone would answer for me: “Oh, her? She belongs to such-and-such family.”
She’s their bitch.
But I digress.
So, back to the bike. All the imas on the kibbutz ride bikes that look like two-wheel minivans minus the built in DVD player. Each bicycle is equipped with at least one baby seat, and baskets fore and aft for schlepping groceries and baby bottles and sunhats and diapers and two changes of clothes and house keys and… yeah.
“When are you getting the chairs for the kids like the rest of us?” A neighbor asked me when she saw Anastasia for the first time.
“Nu? Where are the babyseats?” someone I have never spoken with before said when I parked my pretty purple bike by the hader ohel.
I thought about adding the seats and baskets. I even went to the guy who sells and attaches them to the frame to have a look. But clunky and cumbersome, these accessories would tip the balance on my bicycle, rendering it incapable of flying by in a violet blur. And sure, while having these seats and baskets would make trips to and from the gan super convenient, that is so not the point.
So, I left without the seats because this is where I draw the line: I love my family. While together we are greater than the sum of our collective parts, we are still our collective parts. And while I fly through the fields all alone on my shiny purple bicycle, for a few precious seconds, I remember that I am nobody’s bitch, and belong only to myself.