First, a little background: When I was 6 years old, I started getting stomachaches. They began shortly after my friend Joey’s roly-poly little brother fell headfirst into the swimming pool of their big, beautiful house in Beverly Hills on a warm Saturday morning. And drowned.
(Up until that point, my only experience with death involved Blind Tom, our one-eyed goldfish.)
Joey didn’t come to school for a while after his brother drowned. Maybe a week passed before he came back. Maybe more. When you’re 6, time is more flexible, and the days and nights are mushed into one long memory. But when he did come back to school, he didn’t talk to anyone. He sat still and silent during story time and stared at his hands.
Then, in the middle of the story Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, Joey gagged and vomited all over the big blue rug.
All the kids shrieked “Eew” at the smell of rancid Cheerios, milk, and goldfish crackers. Joey began to cry and dry heave and the teacher wrapped her dimpled arms around him and rocked him against her until he quieted down. She was crying, too.
That afternoon, I got a terrible stomachache.
The next day, my stomach hurt so much that I went to the nurse’s office. I lay on the vinyl pink couch and counted the cracks on the tiled ceiling while she called my mother and asked her to come pick me up.
My mom took me home and made me peppermint tea, and put on Sound of Music and somewhere around the song “Favorite Things,” I felt better. But later that afternoon, my stomach seized again.
“I’m worried about my stomach. I’m worried about my stomach.” I repeated over and over while bouncing from one leg to the other. I started breathing very fast, and everything blurred around the edges. “I’m worried about my stomach. I’m worried about my stomach.” I was crying and gagging and trying to breathe.
My mom wrapped her arms around me, and held my rigid body tight against hers as she sang the song she had always sung to me whenever I was afraid of the monsters hiding in the closet. Over and over and over she sang until I slumped into sleep.
When my stomachaches didn’t go away, my parents took me to the pediatrician’s office. After running a battery of blood tests, stool samples, and abdominal ultrasounds, after checking my urine for signs of infection, and listening to my stomach with a stethoscope, Dr. Sachs had a firm diagnosis: Stress.
With a lot of love and a lot of patience, countless hugs and kisses, and a little cognitive behavioral therapy, I grew out of it. (Sort of.)
Anyway, you know how I joke around that I’ve screwed up my kids so much that one day I’ll be building a shrink’s swimming pool? Well, psychologists of the world, rejoice, because that day is now.
Yes, just over two decades later, in an incredible show of “karma is a constipated bitch,” my daughter is in pain. Three trips to the doctor (including an impromptu jaunt to the ER), and one enema later have led us to the following conclusion: M. is her mother’s daughter.
All my crap – my aching longing for my friends and family in LA, the loneliness of being here without knowing WTF is going on half the time, the isolation I feel from some of the other mothers on the kibbutz (Guess what? The too-cool-to-talk-to-you-at-preschool mama scene is not exclusive to LA! Mamas can be cliquey bitches all over the world! Who knew?) have taken their toll. I wanna go home. And instead of sucking it up and being the grownup, somehow I’ve let my daughter see that her mother isn’t a pillar of strength. And now, it’s taken her toll on her.
OK, I know it isn’t all my fault. Of course there are other things at play besides my parenting fail(s). But I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve managed to chip away at her sense of security. Just like my trust in life was shattered when Joey’s brother drowned, my daughter feels unsafe.
Before we moved to Israel, everyone told me that the Kibbutz is paradise for children—and it is. I won’t argue that. But ultimately, if mama (or aba) ain’t happy, then ain’t nobody happy, and after eight months of giving it my best effort, I’m tired.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m parenting on the periphery. The imas and abas here all speak in shorthand, and I’m constantly yapping at their heels asking them to translate. I’m tired of being the immigrant mama – of having other imas titter and tell me “it’s so funny when you try to speak Hebrew.” I’m tired of not being able to parent effectively
I’m tired of feeling trapped here, because really, I know it is better for the kids. Unlike LA where so much of life is structured and spent strapped into carseats, the Kibbutz is Gan Eden. Think Pleasantville, (only in Hebrew, in full on Technicolor, and without the orgasms.) But while this place is paradise for my children, I’m suffocating: I’m so damn tired of the seamless sameness of it all where only the flowers change.
And the worst of it is, I’m tired of trying to make it work.
But somehow I have to make it work. Because we’re here, and moving back now would be chaotic for everyone, especially M. So, I’m doing my best to rebuild—to put cement in the cracks I’ve created in her emotional well-being in order to stop the deluge of uncertainty from sweeping out her foundation entirely. Like last night, when she couldn’t fall asleep, instead of getting frustrated as usual, I put on Sound of Music, and we cuddled on the couch.
It was nice.
But still—even with these efforts and help from Julie Andrews—it feels like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. And I don’t know how much longer we can stay afloat.