I am on the train, traveling south from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva. Three Bedouin women dressed in hijabs (headscarves) enter the train ahead of us, each with a toddler. They see there are no seats together, so they opt to sit on the floor, near the doors. I find seats for my daughter and myself. Across the aisle from us sits a man with a kippah. A Bedouin woman and her toddler sit facing him. The toddler is cranky; she is tired of sitting on mother’s lap. She wants to explore. Her mother holds her firmly, and tries to pacify her, as she squirms and whines. Because she is using simple Arabic, geared to a three year-old, I can understand every word.
It is one of those unpleasant situations that happens all the time, and usually is tolerated in silence, as if it were unnoticed. In this instance, the young man with the kippah reaches into his backpack and withdraws a completed Rubik’s Cube. He hands it to the mother who carefully twists the top row of squares to show her daughter it can move.
When the toddler realizes she will never find out what is inside the cube, she becomes cranky again, and the mother thanks the man, returning it. We sit with the toddler’s discomfort for a while.
We’re almost at the end of 2011.
So can we be done now with the “animal” parents thing? There is no way you can pretend like you don’t know what I am talking about, what with the Oxford English Dictionary having just voted “tiger mother” a runner up for word of the year (the winner was “squeezed middle” aka the 99%).
For much of the year, we have had to endure the nonstop and still ongoing hype over Amy Chua’s “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” But the animal parenting has not been limited to large cats. Lisa Belkin reminded us in her Parentlode blog (for those of you who missed the memo, she recently ended her Motherlode gig at the New York Times and jumped over to HuffPo and gave her blog a more egalitarian name) that there are also “panda dads,” “hippo parents” (not a weight reference), “koala moms,” “pussycat moms,” “free range parents” (as in chickens, and the parenting style advocated by Forward contributor Lenore Skenazy), and “chameleon parents.” Belkin does a nice job explaining what all these different parenting styles are in a slideshow that accompanies her post.
The hardest thing about moving to Israel from the United States has been dealing with the fact that by moving here I have put my children in physical and moral danger. Of course I know that danger lurks everywhere — car accidents, cancer-causing pollutants, violent criminals. When I am in a mall in Israel with my kids I worry about them being blown up, whereas when I am in a mall with my kids in the U.S. I worry about them being abducted. Different place, different dangers. I know that.
Is living in any country morally neutral? America was built on the backs of slaughtered natives; when I lived in New York, I regularly had to walk by homeless people. When I lived in Washington, D.C., the line between black D.C. and white D.C. reminded me of East and West Jerusalem. Growing up in suburban New York, I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school and summer camp; I did not have non-Orthodox Jews in my social circle, let alone non-Jews. Though we had some Christian white neighbors, there were no blacks, Asians or Hispanics and certainly no Muslims.
While I am unhappy with the segregated reality in Israel, at least there are some Muslim and Christian Arab kids in my children’s school, and we send the kids on Arab-Jewish interfaith summer programs. We live in Lower Galilee in a highly Palestinian and Arab-Israeli-populated area, so interact daily with Arabs. My children learn Arabic in school, and we make an effort to socialize with Arabs. My kids are, without a doubt, less Arab-phobic than their peers in Jewish day schools in the U.S.
I had struggles myself with nursing each of my three children, and naturally the first time was the most difficult to deal with.
When my son as born, 15 years ago, the morning after the Friday night C-section I put him on to nurse and thought I was doing just that for a couple of days. Then he spiked a fever and when they ran his labs they found he was seriously dehydrated and put him in the NICU. There was my bruiser of an overdue, wouldn’t-come-out-the-usual-way of a 10½ pound son in with the premature, frailest babies in the hospital.
Why was he dehydrated? Because he wasn’t getting anything from the mama milk bar. I stepped out of the converted broom closet in the NICU where I had been tethered to an industrial-strength breast pump they wheeled in, but where I’d produced just a fraction of an ounce of milk in 30 minutes.
The NICU nurse asked what formula she should give him – regular or soy. Rarely have I felt so helpless and at a loss for what to do. I’d never considered not nursing, at least for a while. But my body was failing us both. I’d failed to go into labor spontaneously, failed an induced attempt to labor him out, and now I was failing to provide him with the only thing he needed. Maternal Jewish guilt had kicked in full-force.
Sara Einfeld says that “A hole in the sheet” saved her life.
The 25-year-old former Gur Hasid and mother of two from Ashdod said in an interview in last weekend’s Yediot Aharonot that she was choking in her life, “a carbon copy of masses of other ultra-Orthodox women, all about kids, cooking, husbands, and meeting friends to talk about kids, cooking and husbands.”
Then she discovered the Internet and began blogging anonymously at “Hor Basadin,” literally “A Hole in the Sheet.” That, she says, “was when redemption came.”
I read this week on Failed Messiah, a blog by Shmarya Rosenberg, about Mrs. Rachel Krishevsky, a haredi woman in Jerusalem who passed away a week before Rosh Hashana at age 99, and left at least 1,400 descendants.
This blessed woman passed away at home surrounded by some of the many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren produced by a marriage that began over 80 years ago.
On the one hand, I can’t imagine getting married (or having any of my children marry) at age 18, to a cousin, as she did.
On the other, I feel a faint twang of something like envy for her prolific fecundity.