In honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, we’re sharing this story of how one American mother is raising her kids to be independent in Israel.
Let me tell you something: When you move across the world with a 9-month-old who spends more time with your boobs than your high school boyfriend did back in 10th grade, and a 2 1/2-year-old who has mastered the word NO (in Hebrew and in English), and you have no friends, and you don’t speak the language, and your whole entire family is in another timezone, and your marriage is as flaky as filo crust, it’s a freaking mess.
And during the clusterfuck that was the first year in Israel, when no one was sleeping when they should, and when we were bouncing back and forth between the hospital and Misrad Hapnim (Ministry of the Interior), and when there was no one to talk to about how much it sucked, there was one reason and one reason alone that I didn’t haul ass back to Ben Gurion airport.
It wasn’t because I felt like I was fulfilling my Jewish destiny.
It wasn’t because I saw how happy my then-husband and kids were living here.
It wasn’t because (OK, fine, I’ll admit it) I have always loved this place–even when it’s complicated–and have wanted to live here since the first time I hooked up with an Israeli soldier.
It was because of the coffee. Right smack dab in the middle of bucolic bumblefuck was the best coffee in the entire world.
This coffee wasn’t just to die for, it was to stay in Israel for–which at the time seemed a fate worse than death, believe you me.
So I’d go there every day–I’d drop the kids off in gan (kindergarten), and head over to the cafe–my raison d’etre, because, seriously, I had nothing else to do. But whatever: The music was chill, the vibe even chiller, and the coffee was enough to jolt me out of my depression long enough until I’d order the next cup.
I’ll tell you the truth: I made my own mess that year, and each day I made it worse by doing nothing to fix it. I was unhappy, so I fired my blame randomly at anyone around. I was bored out of my mind, so I scattered drama in my wake like rainbow confetti. Six weeks of no sleep during the summer after we moved to Israel was the shock to the system I needed to rewire my brain enough to actually find the energy to clean up the mess I had made of my life.
Which I’m still doing.
Anyway, things have changed, but the coffee has been a constant. And I still go to the cafe almost every day. Only this time, I go with friends, or I bring a laptop and my iPhone so I can work.
And now, it isn’t just the coffee place I love. It’s also the store next to it. And since I’m decorating my new home with the kids, I am always on the lookout for stuff that I just HAVE to have. (Like a candle holder in the shape of a red lotus blossom, or a kitschy picture frame. Or–OMG!–a leopard print broom!)
Yes. A leopard print broom!!! With a matching dustpan!!!
(Can you feel the excitement, people? Let’s see some jazz hands!!!)
Well obviously, I bought it. But not just for me.
“It’s really for my kids,” I explained to my friend as she handed me my two shekels and three agurot change.
And really, it is. I don’t buy dolls for my kids. Or plastic cars. Or puzzles. My kids have a different kind of childhood than most kids I know. For one thing, they have two homes: Half the week they’re with their father, and the other half, with me. And on our days and nights together, the daily grind–doing the dishes, folding the laundry, cooking dinner, sweeping the floor, taking out the garbage, showering, brushing teeth–is all on me.
Nope, strike that: It’s all on us.
When I think back on that first year in Israel when the highlight of my day was ordering coffee, I feel so relieved that I crawled out of that alive. Really, so much has changed: My son is off the boob. My daughter has learned about a million new words to show defiance. I have friends who are like family. My Hebrew is good enough to cuss someone out when I have to.
But with this new life comes the challenge of sustaining a new life: Rent is expensive. Food is expensive. (Yeah, so is my coffee, but that’s just as non-negotiable as the bills I pay to keep us fed and off the streets.) And because of our New (kind of sort of) Normalish, I have to work. A lot.
And I love my job, working for the fastest growing news website in the Jewish world. It’s given me a purpose and a community. But it’s also given me a loooooooooooooot of work. And sometimes–OK, a lot of the times– I have to work when my kids are around.
Because let’s be real: If a news item goes out and no one tweets it or Facebooks it, does it make a sound? (Hamas doesn’t give a flying rat’s ass that I’m with my kids and if they’re going to start shooting rockets from Gaza, they’re going to do it on their time, not mine.)
But, there’s still a home to run, and when I have to work, my kids are my interns. They want a snack? Great. The refrigerator is small and they know where it is. They want water? Awesome. They each have a stool–chartreuse for him, lavender for her–plastic cups are on the counter, and they know how to turn on the tap. They spill their water on the floor? Fine. They know where the paper towels are.
They broke out the basket of art supplies, and now there’s glitter and scraps of paper all over, and the floor looks like the morning after the Tel Aviv Love Parade? No problemo. They have a leopard print broom and dustpan.
Straight up? My kids are rockstars who do more to help keep the house running than they probably should. But there really is no other option.
Maybe it isn’t ideal: It certainly isn’t the childhood I had where my parents were always available to co-host tea parties with my dolls, or build Lego towers, or drive me to a friend’s house or take me to private swimming lessons. It isn’t the childhood I had where my parents had time to “help” me with my homework and gave me an allowance each week and would descend like a Deus Ex Machina to fix things when I’d mess up. And I’ll tell you the truth: I messed up a lot–maybe because I knew I could–and it took moving across the world for me to learn how to be resourceful and clean up my own shit.
I have a feeling that won’t be the case for my kids: I have a feeling that if they ever find themselves a world away from the world they know, they’ll know how to make it work faster than I did. Because if you give a kid a leopard print broom, you better believe he will sweep the floor.
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