Back Off Ron and I are walking slowly on dog-time on West 90th Street. Sniff, sniff, stop, consider, sure why not, take a few more steps, bark, growl, leashes get entangled… Ron tells me that he’s in a dark thriller … Read More
Back Off Ron and I are walking slowly on dog-time on West 90th Street. Sniff, sniff, stop, consider, sure why not, take a few more steps, bark, growl, leashes get entangled… Ron tells me that he’s in a dark thriller that’s filming here in Manhattan. "It’s great not to have to be Jewish in front of the camera, for a change, or make a bracha [blessing]," and then we talk about our winter vacation plans and Ron says they’re thinking of going to Israel but he’s worried it’ll be too cold in December. He asks me if we’ve been in Israel with our kids in December. Yes, we were there last December, I answer, and suppress a shudder, though not because the weather was terrible. How was it, he asks. For a half second I struggle between telling the truth or offering the usual surface platitude, "It was fabulous!" But Ron is an old friend and an actor and he can spy bad acting when he sees it so, tamping down the traumatic flashback, I admit, "Awful." Long, involved flashback: It’s our last day in Israel, and we are cavorting happily amidst the archaeological ruins next to the Western Wall. It’s a gloriously sunny, blue-skied December day in Jerusalem, and to look at me, no one would ever guess what lurks behind my smiling face. I am smiling not only because I get a serious thrill from clambering up and down the remains of a world that existed two thousand years ago, but also because tomorrow we are going home, back to New York City, and this family vacation will be over, hallelujah! Finally, I will be with my friends, who never tell me I spend too much money on taxis, get huffy when I am given the wrong directions and thus get us lost in a foreign city, or deride my inability to bargain. Nor will they gasp in horror and embarrassment when I bend over (in a friend’s house, not in public) not only exposing an inch of flesh but also revealing a glimpse of my thong. At long last, I will be able to use crude language whenever I please and won’t feel I have to apologize for the three glasses of red wine that I chug at Shabbat dinner the second the blessing over the bread and "amen" has been said. After two weeks of this family vacation with my husband and three children, it is time, praise the Lord and pass the brisket, to go home. I’m an easy-going person and an easy-going traveler. Thus, when the taxi driver takes us all over God’s creation before finding the correct small street with gracious limestone homes that look like all of the other small streets with selfsame homes, and with my children muttering, "Unbelievable! This is great, mom!", I am largely unfazed. The heat in the charming (read: lacking amenities) hotel room isn’t working and it’s Shabbat and there’s no one available to fix it, so we have to use a space heater and extra blankets. No problem. "You must be kidding me!" says one child. The problem with my easy going nature, I realize during those two weeks, is that it enables the less tolerant members of my family to throw hissy fits , which then presses my "let-me-fix-it, it-must-be-my-fault" mom button. Over the course of the, for lack of a better word, vacation, I come to realize that I have done an appallingly bad job as a mother, something that I’ve been able to blissfully ignore throughout the rest of the year because my kids are in school all day. We live in a spacious home and, aside from the usual irritations, we get along quite well. At 18, 16 and 13, my kids are past the tantrum phase, say thank you and please and manage their silverware with few mishaps. They have done volunteer work, get good grades and have wonderful friends. Nonetheless, my parenting skills (or lack thereof) became impossible to overlook in Israel when we were stuck with one another 24 hours a day in two hotel rooms. Among the realizations that surfaced during those less than halcyon days and nights, was that way back when they were tots, I should never have given them choices: "Would you like cheese crackers or a cookie?" Also, it wasn’t such a good idea to have encouraged my children to believe that mom would and could move the earth, moon and stars for them – I stood in long lines for hours to see the Power Rangers, watched Winnie the Pooh more times than should be legal, and bought my sons little cars and trains every time (I do not lie) they asked for them! – but that she would also insure that they always had a good time and that the shower was always hot. At the end of the two weeks, I’m seriously wondering what’s the matter with me. It’s no secret that I am indulgent and can’t draw boundaries (I nursed my three children for a total of five years, and the boundary between me and my kids is forever blurred). But have I become some kind of sick, people pleaser? Or do I have entirely too much estrogen running rampant through my body which makes me want to nurture, nurture, nurture, ad infinitum? I suspect that now that I’m getting older, ergo diminished estrogen, it’s dawning on me that I don’t want to be blamed for my son forgetting his jacket and I don’t want to be chastised by my daughter for using environmentally unfriendly paper plates. I’d like to think that those two weeks taught me an important life lesson about refusing responsibility for things that you are not responsible for, and that I figured out how to implement this realization in my life. Alas, I suspect that mom still fancies that she can move the sun, moon and stars. Her children are willing to believe that this is so, and I sort of want to let them believe this fiction, even if it’s exhausting and possibly damaging to everyone to perpetrate silly myths. That intense period of togetherness and adventure reverberated for some time, much like the smell of sulphur from the Dead Sea that lingered on our clothing and in our hair even after repeated washings, and in so doing, offered a quick, visceral flash of the moment itself. Later, I was able to summon up memories that made the trip (almost) worthwhile: Riding a camel in the midst of the desert with my daughter; happening upon the perfect shakshuka – a spicy fried egg and peppers dish – with my older son in Tel Aviv; watching my younger son pray at three of his friends’ bar mitzvahs in Eilat, atop Massada and on a Saturday night in Jerusalem with a view of the city’s lights glimmering outside, echoing the light of the havdalah candle; sharing a Shabbat dinner with our cousins and listening to their son recount his six hour march in the army during which he carried a weapon the size of a small child; praying with my daughter at the Wall, where we imitated the women around us who backed away from the Wall as a sign of respect; and even the evening at my friend, Golda’s house (taxi fiasco), where I inadvertently flashed my thong at my children, prompting three voices in unison to cry out in abject horror, "Oh, God, mom!" Return to present: Ron, believing that I am characterizing the weather in Jerusalem as having been awful, says "Really?", and I reassure him, no, the weather was fine. We disentangle our dogs’ leashes, and I impulsively ask, "Does everybody truly have such a good time on vacation with their kids? I mean, is it just me?" Ron smiles an enigmatic smile, which might mean, "Hell, no!" or "Yes, of course, they do" – he’s giving away nothing. I say goodbye to my bracha-less Jewish friend, and head home to my children who, here on American soil, are adorable. Though I wish I’d had the wit to say to them then, "Back off. You’re in the presence of your Creator."