I’m leaving tonight.
Eight. Days. Eight. Nights. Like Hanukkah, only in August. And not really.
The longest I’ve been away from my kids up until now is, like, eight hours…
“Dude, it’s just eight days!” my friend David reassures me on the phone.
“They’ll survive!” Chris tells me on gchat.
“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Michal messages me on Facebook.
Still, let me tell you about the reaction on the kibbutz:
The conversation starts off innocuously enough at the coffee place where I am smoking my (third) cigarette and sipping my (second) latte.
“What’s new, Sarah?”
“I’m flying to LA next week!”
“Oh how wonderful! And of course you’re taking the kids!” (This is always said without a question mark.)
“Actually, I am going alone.”
You can hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in Lebanon during the silence that follows. And while my news sinks in, I try not to squirm under the unblinking Eyes of Judgment, because Heaven Fore-fucking-fend I should allow myself this treat without turning my stomach in knots first.
After all, what kind of mother puts her own needs first and leaves her children (with a loving father, and savta, and uncle and caring teachers, and wonderful friends and assorted extended family members) for eight days.
The Bad Mother.
I can see The Bad Mother clearly in my mind’s eye: She scatters the words “me time” and “spa day” and “girls night out” like cheap baubles all over the floor—beguiling choking hazards for the kids she brought into this world only to ignore. TV is a cheap babysitter.
The Bad Mother waves bye-bye to her babies at gan each morning, and breathes an audible sigh of relief, while the other mothers stare, wondering what kind of woman does a happy dance and says “FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST, THANK GOD ALMIGHTY I’M FREE AT LAST” when the door slams shut on her child’s plaintive cries. The bad mother drinks. She smokes. She cusses like a trucker on crunk. And while her children sleep, she calls a babysitter and slips off to a bar with friends—more a “desperate housewife” than Susan, Bree, Gabby, and Lynette.
(The bad Mother is Edie Brit.)
I never thought I’d be this kind of mother.
But as I click “CONFIRM” on my airline reservations – eight days and eight nights in LA, and half a world away from my children—I’m not so sure.
What if I go and something terrible happens to my family? What if a war breaks out. What if Ahmadinejad’s trigger finger twitches and Israel goes kablooey or what if there’s an earthquake or a cyclone or a swarm of locusts or something equally biblical or … ?
Or what if I lose the hand-wringing histrionics that would manage to annoy even Woody Allen during his most neurotic moments, and take it down a notch… Still, even if I chill out a little, this issue is fraught with complexities. For instance, an hour to a child is a long time. Eight days is an eternity. And, my babies are both still so young, and without the linguistic capacity to understand that sometimes mothers need a break—a few days away to regroup and recharge, to come back better than before.)
My crisis: How does a helicopter parent fly away from her kids and not feel like a Bad Mother?
Still, I will not cancel, because it all comes down to this: I need to go, because for the last few months, I’ve been neck deep in a crisis of identity. In some ways, things are so much easier over here on the kibbutz than they were in LA. My kids are in gan, and for the first time in over three years, I have time for myself.
(Some days, I work from home—a series of several, meaningful jobs that I love. Other days, I sit with friends and drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes. And then there are days when I swan off to the train station in Rehovot, and go wherever my whim takes me. Tel Aviv. Haifa. Jerusalem. These are days when I talk to strangers, when I realize that while our days are numbered, life is long and the possibilities are almost endless.)
Basically, I’m trying to figure out where I fit in here—what I want to do and if I truly belong.
Because really, time to ruminate is an exercise in masturbatory calisthenics. And not in a good way. And above all, freedom tastes good. (And surprising like Redbull and vodka.) And there’s part of me—that feels like maybe I grew up too fast. Maybe I gave up the things that interested me too quickly to have babies.
(Would I change anything? No. I do sometimes wish that I had traveled to Thailand and eaten shrooms on a mountaintop at dawn. Or gotten that second degree in international relations, joined the CIA, or taken a chance and raced pell-mell down that road not taken instead of waiting for the light to change.
I do. And I think so do a lot of people.
OK, maybe I’m not a Bad Mother. Maybe I’m a Complex Mother who is struggling to figure shit out.
And so, I’m going to LA – because as a wise friend told me over coffee yesterday, “If you don’t go, you’re always going to wonder…” and this will be an eight day trip down a road not taken, and that is reason alone to show up at the airport with a suitcase and carryon. But beyond this, there is a bigger issue: I need to be engulfed by the intimacy of family and the friends that are like family. I am craving this time away to be back amongst my own, with people who really know me, not as just as “B.’s wife,” or “M. and Little Homie’s ima;” not just as “the American,” and not just as “the woman who sits at the café and pounds on the laptop, and drinks too many lattes and wears and sunglasses that make Greta Garbo look friendly.”
And above all, I just want to go home. Like Dorothy, except my ruby slippers are stripper stilettos. And instead of a Glenda the Good, the Scarecrow, etc., I have a wonderful father who is helping spring for the plane ticket, and incredible friends who are going to let me couch surf my way from the Valley to Venice. And while I’m there—home in Los Angeles for the first time in 10 months—I want to know that when I’m there, surrounded on all sides by the people I’ve missed, breathing the fumes belched from the city bus rolling past the Coffee Bean on Sepulveda and Palms, that I long for my home here on the kibbutz.
With the family I’ve created here.
Because then, I can come home again. And even though your ass can’t be in two places at once, flying to LA and back may actually do something that seems damn near impossible: This trip—this journey—may allow me the mental space to revel in the complexity of knowing that I can have two homes at the same time, and be OK with that.